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Live Culture: Vermont Arts News and Views


August 11, 2013

Broadway Legend Len Cariou Sings in Vermont

Len's Head Shots 001You may know him as the bloodthirsty Sweeney Todd in Stephen Sondheim's musical of the same name. Or that guy Jack Nicholson pounded in About Schmidt. Or, perhaps as Tom Selleck's dad on CBS' popular police procedural "Blue Bloods."

But on August 17, at 7:30 p.m., Len Cariou will play the real-life role of cabaret chanteur at a benefit for the Greensboro Arts Alliance at that town's Mountain View Country Club. A dinner precedes the show at 5:30 p.m.

The veteran singer and actor introduced his show "Musical Memoirs" last November at New York nightclub 54 Below, which specializes in cabaret shows starring well-known Broadway performers.

He'll perform it for the first time since then in the Green Mountains, which he says he last visited to film skiing scenes in Stowe for Alan Alda's 1981 directorial debut, The Four Seasons.

Although the act is a new one, the 73-year-old says that he got his start in show business singing in clubs in his native Winnipeg as a teenager.

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July 15, 2013

Brian Anthony Wilson: From "The Wire" to 'The Whipping Man'

Brian Anthony WilsonIs anyone else smitten with this guy? He's not quite a household name, considering that a number of his films, and small parts in them, are pretty forgettable.

But Brian Anthony Wilson's guest turns on "The Wire" are not forgettable. On the HBO series, sadly long over, Wilson had me at "detective." That is, Detective Vernon Holley. (Who comes up with these names?) And I remember his face, if not specific roles, on the "Law and Order" franchise, and spotted him in the more recent Silver Linings Playbook.

Wilson, 53, has played numerous film and TV characters since his 1997 breakout in a movie called The Postman. A big man with a bald head and piercing brown eyes, he seems a natural for tough-guy parts. (Me, I love his freckles.) But, btw, he can sing, too.

Right now, Wilson, a Philadelphia native, is summering in Vermont. That is, by acting in Dorset Theatre Festival's production of The Whipping Man. The show, penned by Matthew Lopez, is lately being produced all over the place, perhaps because it is the 150th anniversary of the Civil War. In it, Wilson plays a character named Simon, who is a former slave and a de facto father figure to other characters. In an interesting wrinkle, he is also a Jew, having been "owned" and raised by a Jewish family.

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July 05, 2013

Raves for Sandglass Theater's "D-Generation"

D-Generation Florence-278x500For Alzheimer's patients memories are elusive, but as far as Doug Anderson is concerned, "D-Generation" is unforgettable.

In addition to the usual publicity avenues, the executive director of Middlebury's Town Hall Theater is sending personal emails extolling the latest work by Sandglass Theater. Sure, he has a little conflict of interest: Sandglass' "D-Generation: An Exaltation of Larks" is appearing tonight and tomorrow at THT.

But Anderson is not the only one raving about this puppet-theater piece based on stories written collaboratively with individuals with late-stage dementia.

"The idea of sensitively portraying Alzheimer's patients with puppets proved inspired," writes Boston's Hub Review. "Sandglass has developed some superbly realized marionettes."

Fans of Putney-based puppeteers Erik Bass and Ines Zeller Bass already know the extraordinary artistry of their work, and that the couple has tackled heady topics before, using texts from the likes of Bertolt Brecht and Jewish literary critic Walter Benjamin. Of course, Sandglass has created child-centric pieces as well (think flea circus, or a hippo who lives in a tree).

"D-Generation: An Exaltation of Larks" seems a work of another order. Its three puppeteers act as the caregivers, its five puppets residents of a senior care facility. Set to original music by Paul Dedell, the text derives from the "complex world" of individuals living with dementia and those who take care of them. It was created using TimeSlips, an improvisational storytelling technique developed by Anne Basting for individuals with cognitive impairments.

A serious and frightening subject for many, memory loss is also, sadly, germane to just about all of us. According to a description on its website, Sandglass explores the "dark private terror" of dementia, but also its playful moments and "lyrical inner visions."

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June 20, 2013

The Secret Circus Spotted in Montpelier

Vermont actor James Gallagher was in the right place at the right time. Strolling through the Montpelier farmers market one recent weekend, he caught a spontaneous circus act. Luckily, he had his camera with him. He shot and edited this short film, set to music he created, and sent it to us.

"It's pretty cool to stumble upon talented street performers!" he wrote in an email.


The nimble performers call themselves Agents Honeymoon and Butterfly, and their act — filled with acrobatics, juggling and "comedic weaponry" — is the Secret Circus

Their real names are Brent and Maya McCoy. The Greensboro-based husband-and-wife duo has performed around the U.S., Canada and Europe since 2009. If you sense a little Bread-and-Puppet vibe in their show, you're right on: Maya apprenticed with the troupe after studying at the New School in New York City. Brent has performed his solo show, The Real McCoy, around the world since 2005.

On their website, the McCoys describe their show thus: "Honeymoon and Butterfly's operations contain the intensity of Mission Impossible, the skill of Circus Arts, and the fashion sense of Napoleon Dynamite."

June 18, 2013

Broadway Star Kelli O'Hara to Perform at Flynn/Lyric Benefit

Kelli-3318-EditWhen one of Broadway's hottest stars got booked for a benefit concert at the Flynn Center for the Performing Arts, we were curious: What is four-time Tony nominee Kelli O'Hara's connection to Vermont?

Turns out it's one of those six-degrees-of-separation stories. Flynn executive director John Killacky explains.

O'Hara is married to actor/singer Greg Naughton.

Naughton, a Middlebury College grad, is in a band called the Sweet Remains.

Also in that band is Rich Price, a brand-new Flynn board member.

Price gave O'Hara's agent's info to Killacky. Et voilà!

Actually, that wasn't even six degrees. But there's a bit of a backstory for how this serendipitous connection came up in the first place.

"I was having lunch with Rich and told him we were talking with Harry Connick Jr. about coming to the Flynn — he's on tour this summer," Killacky says. "And Rich said, 'I sang with Harry at Kelli O'Hara and Greg Naughton's wedding.'"

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June 12, 2013

Play-Me Pianos Pop Up Around Middlebury

Five years since the Town Hall Theater opened in Middlebury, executive director Doug Anderson decided a celebration was in order. This past Memorial Day, he planted five pianos — painted and adorned by local artists — around downtown, then floated by in a glorified truckbed in the Memorial Day parade, playing a sixth piano. The idea was that passersby would sit down to the ivories and give impromptu concerts.

The THT's festivities culminate on Saturday, June 22, at the Town Hall Theater’s 5th Benefit Birthday Gala. Performers from past productions — including bluegrass duo the Connor Sisters, dancer Patty Smith, the cast of Annie, and the Hadippa Dancers, among many others — return for two shows, at 5 and 8 p.m. In between those performances, Merchants Row will be roped off for a street party, complete with snacks, birthday cake and music.

As for those pianos, they're only up through July 4, so take advantage while you can.

I recently spent some time loitering by the pianos and capturing the sounds of Middlebury's newest street performers.

Click to listen.                                                                                                                                                                                 IMG_0547

Henry, age 9/2 — born on a leap day, he explained. 

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May 24, 2013

Barre Cultural Alliance Pools Its Many Resources, Presents Story-Based Celebration

History4What do socialist presidential candidate Eugene Debs, anarchist Emma Goldman, dance troupe Pilobolus and South African singers Ladysmith Black Mambazo have in common? Go ahead, think on that.

Give up? The answer is this: All have appeared on the stage of the Barre Opera House. Granted, the first two and last two were decades apart, but that just illustrates the long cultural history that Vermont's Granite City has had. And that's not even to speak of the colorful, artistically and politically rich past fostered by the granite industry itself.

But we will speak of that, because the Old Labor Hall — once the site of immigrant stoneworkers' intense socialist gatherings — last year joined the Barre Opera House and two other local institutions as charter members of the Barre Cultural Alliance.

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May 06, 2013

Monday's Child: Potato Sack Pants Back in Action, With Baby

Hagfest3Spotted this weekend on the Church Street Marketplace: Meredith and Andy Gordon, in from Underhill and having a romantic dinner of sandwiches outside the Red Onion.

The Gordons are the married twosome of the sextet that make up Burlington's sketch-comedy troupe Potato Sack Pants Theater. Since last September, Meredith and Andy have also been parental units — to Henry Allen Gordon. And now that the little tyke is almost 8 months, his mom and dad and their zany friends are exploiting him, er, staging a performance in his name: HAG Fest 2013.

Billed as an "artist market and sketch comedy," HAG Fest will be held at — where else? — the Off Center for the Dramatic Arts next week for two nights, May 17 and 18.

The Gordons were sans child for their outing on Saturday for said romantic dinner; apparently they'd left him safely at home in a dresser drawer. Totally kidding!

But I've seen numerous photos of young Henry on Facebook, and he sure is cute. Given his genetic profile, he is probably also hilarious. I sure hope so, because otherwise his parents are going to be highly embarrassing in about 13 years.

When Meredith mentioned the upcoming show, I suggested it might be nice to announce it so that, you know, someone would show up to see them. Hence I received the poster at right.

HAG fest is not part of Burlington's five-day  Green Mountain Comedy Festival, which doesn't start until May 22. But there's no such thing as too many laughs, right? Right?

If you've never seen Potato Sack Pants Theater — which also includes Stetson Ward, Erin St. Cyr, Chad Hayden and Kelsi Goodall — you could read my 2011 story about them here. Tix here.  

May 02, 2013

Casting Call: Audience Needed for 'Gruesome Playground Injuries'

Gruesome3Two of my favorite actors in Burlington make up the entire cast of Gruesome Playground Injuries, which opened tonight at the Off Center for the Dramatic Arts. In fact, the promise of Jordan Gullikson and Chris Caswell onstage together drew me to Rajiv Joseph's intense — and intensely interesting — play despite its off-putting title.

I'm tempted to give a mini review here, but I won't. Seven Days theater critic Alex Brown will provide that in next week's issue. Suffice it to say that Gruesome, which starts out in a school nurse's office following a playground injury, far surpasses childhood mishaps.

In a series of nonchronological vignettes about the entwined lives of Kayleen and Doug over 30 years, it reveals deepening layers and kinds of hurt that adults can bear. At times you just want to reach out and give these two a hug; at other times, you want to slap them.

By turns sweet, funny, wrenching and horrifying, the play could have been titled Walking Wounded. But I suppose Gruesome Playground Injuries is more provocative.

Joseph's one-act was a finalist for a Pulitzer in 2010. In 2011, it was presented by Second Stage Theatre in New York City. In 2013, Heat & Hot Water Production's staging with Gullikson and Caswell, directed by Mark Alan Gordon, deserves to be seen. On opening night, fewer than 10 people did.

So I'm doing my bit to urge you: Go. This Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m., plus Saturday matinee at 2 p.m.; and next week, May 8-11, same deal. 

Photo courtesy of stage manager Dylan Friedman.


April 25, 2013

Vermonters Remember the Civil War Like It Was Just 150 Years Ago

VcsPRAsset_527897_87879_d4ac7e6f-ff9b-40a0-847a-0ad97738780f_0I'll confess I did not realize until yesterday that Vermont had a Civil War Sesquicentennial Commission, but it does, and it's been busy. And to save you having to look up "sesquicentennial," it means 150th anniversary. So yesterday that commish and the Vermont Department of Tourism and Marketing announced the top 10 exhibits and events that were chosen "for their efforts to bring to life Vermont’s Civil War experience with history from the homefront and battlefield."

It's been hard not to notice the recent uptick of interest in the period, though, starting with reruns of Ken Burns' The Civil War on PBS and the movie Lincoln last year. And this week, Seven Days previews the original musical Ransom, based on letters from Rochester, Vt. soldier Lt. Ransom W. Towle and produced by Montpelier's Lost Nation Theater (which is celebrating an anniversary itself this year — the silver one). Ransom opens on Friday.

If you have an interest in commemorating America's Civil War period, and Vermonters' role in it, you'll want to know who's got the top-10 events and exhibits. Here they are, courtesy of VDTM, with handy hyperlinks courtesy of me:

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