Theater Review: A Pleasingly Bittersweet Sound of Music at the Academy of Music

Kerstin Anderson (Maria) and the children in The Sound of Music at the Academy of Music.

Kerstin Anderson (Maria) and the children in The Sound of Music at the Academy of Music.

It might surprise The Sound of Music‘s legions of adoring young fans to learn that the show originally got mixed reviews. Oh, it was a commercial hit — and it took home a number of Tonys, including one for Mary Martin, the beloved Rodgers and Hammerstein muse who created Maria. But several prominent critics sniffed at the show’s sentimentality. “Hackneyed,” wrote Brooks Atkinson, while Walter Kerr deplored that the creative team “was moved to abandon snowflakes and substitute cornflakes.”

You don’t need me to tell you that the naysayers had little impact. In the ensuing 50-plus years, the show has only gained popularity, and I’m convinced that audiences love The Sound of Music in part because it’s kitsch. A decade ago, Judi Dench brought down the house at a London gala, when she played — wait for it — Liesl. The hugely popular midnight movie sing-along shows are an exercise in camp. NBC’s live holiday telecast a few years ago was best appreciated ironically (could anyone possibly mistake the tiny AstroTurf mat where Carrie Underwood performed the title song for an alp?).

So the tricky question for directors and producers who revive The Sound of Music is — how do you get people to take the show seriously, when it’s not even clear that’s what they want? Read more »

Opera Philadelphia is All About the Ladies Next Season

Christine Goerke

Christine Goerke

The big news from today’s 2016-17 season announcement from Opera Philadelphia is pretty simple: It’s all about the ladies.

In fact, when browsing the full lineup for the upcoming year, the three main highlights can easily be boiled down to Opera Philadelphia’s casting of two superstar singers for 2016 and 2017, plus the premiere of a female composer’s new work. Here’s a breakdown of the leading ladies that will be taking center stage:

Christine GoerkeThe soprano caused quite a stir back in 2013 when she appeared as Die Färberin in the Met Opera’s production of Die Frau ohne Schatten, garnering massive critical acclaim which led the company to sign her as Brünnhilde in Wagner’s Ring Cycle during the 2018-19 season at the New York venue. Goerke won’t be singing Wagner while in Philly, but she will star as the title role in Puccini’s final opera, Turandot, at the Academy of Music, September 23-October 2.

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5 Questions with Gabrielle McClinton

Gabrielle McClinton in "Pippin."

Gabrielle McClinton in Pippin.

The award-winning revival of Stephen Schwartz’s Pippin is heading to Philly’s Academy of Music later in February, featuring high-flying acrobatics created by Les 7 Doigts de la main throughout the production. The show also includes the memorable score and signature choreography in the style of the great Bob Fosse. But it may be the decision to cast a woman in the traditionally male Leading Player role that best sets the revival apart from the original. One of the actresses who has tackled the challenging part, Gabrielle McClinton, played the role both in New York and on tour. We caught up with McClinton to discuss her experience with Pippin, and how touring life is different than a steady one on Broadway.

Up until this revival, the Leading Player was always associated with Ben Vereen. How does the gender switch impact the role, if at all?
I don’t feel like it impacts it that much. I watched Ben Vereen on YouTube and was amazed by him, but when I went in for the role, if anything, it feels more awesome that a woman, especially an African-American woman, is doing it. She’s so strong and it is saying something that there is no difference between her and others.

I know that you went to Carnegie Mellon to study theater, so are you a Pennsylvania native? Is this your first time performing in Philly?
I’m from Los Angeles originally, but training at Carnegie Mellon was a really great experience. I performed in Philly at a press event at one of the local theaters, but this is the first time that I’m doing a full show. Read more »

REVIEW: Cold Mountain at Opera Philadelphia

Isabel Leonard and Jarrett Ott in "Cold Mountain."

Isabel Leonard and Jarrett Ott in Cold Mountain.

Most of the characters in Jennifer Higdon‘s first opera want to return to the literal Cold Mountain. However, at the end of the nearly three-hour show, which had its East Coast premiere with Opera Philadelphia on Friday evening, you’re left to wonder why. There’s no doubt that this operatic adaptation of the classic novel-turned-film sparks some sparks with a fabulous cast, but the overall pacing of the production makes you feel like you’ve been physically fighting in the drawn-out American Civil War depicted in the opera.

Part of that may very well have to do with the scope of narrative that’s trying to be covered here, told through a series of interconnected scenes and flashbacks. It’s almost too much: Gene Scheer‘s libretto is heavy and often times puts unneeded weight on both the action and the singers. The first act of Cold Mountain suffers tremendously from this, as the one huge stationary set piece (which eerily looks like the barricades from Les Miserables) doesn’t allow for the action to move beyond a small playing area.

Higdon’s score, while complex, layered, and interesting, often fell victim on Friday night to conductor Corrado Rovaris. The orchestra severely overpowered the singers, especially in act one, and there were multiple times when the top-notch performers could hardly be heard over the pit. Read more »

Academy of Music Cancels Anniversary Ball Due to Winter Storm Jonas

Photo via the Kimmel Center Facebook page.

Photo via the Kimmel Center Facebook page.

The Academy of Music has cancelled its 159th anniversary concert and ball, which was scheduled to take place Saturday evening. This is said to be the first time in its history that the event, a winter tradition in Philadelphia, has been canceled because of anticipated bad weather.

The board’s news release announcing the cancellation stated that the decision was made “out of respect for the safety of our patrons” and in light of the state of emergency declared by Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf as well as the snow emergency declared by Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney.

Sources said the board “very reluctantly, but unanimously” voted to cancel the ball “based on the state of emergency declared by Gov. Wolf” at a 1 p.m. emergency board conference call. Read more »

REVIEW: Once at the Academy of Music

Mackenzie Lesser-Roy and Sam Cieri.

Mackenzie Lesser-Roy and Sam Cieri.

I don’t think there’s been a recent Broadway musical as polarizing to New York theatre goers as Once, the winner of 2012’s Tony for Best Musical: They either are absolutely bowled over by it’s style, or totally hate it for it’s unconventional staging and music. After watching the Dublin-inspired show on Friday night at the Academy, I lean much more towards being deeply moved and wowed by the heartfelt score and story, not to mention the insanely talented company. Read more »

Doylestown’s Liam Fennecken Makes Academy of Music Debut

Liam Fennecken 3

The first thing Liam Fennecken is going to do once he gets to Philly is hit the flagship Wawa on Broad and Walnut. He hasn’t been yet, and he’s through trying to explain the store to his Once touring cast members.

“I’m so excited,” he said. “It’s such a Philly-specific thing that people just don’t understand.”

Fennecken, who grew up in Doylestown and went to Archbishop Wood High School, is making his Philadelphia professional theatrical debut this January in Once, the Irish-infused Broadway musical coming to the Academy of Music. He tackles the role of Svec, and has to do a lot more than just sing and act; he plays four instruments on stage. We caught up with the multitalented performer who received his theater training at Penn State.

You’re the second person I’ve talked to recently who came out of the theater program from Penn State and is touring as a lead with a Broadway show. I’m curious to hear about your experience at the college and how it prepared you.
I loved it. First of all, I wasn’t even looking to go into theater. I went into Penn State as an Animal Science major, which is still a passion of mine. I started going and seeing the shows and thought, “Why am I not doing that?” I really lucked out and decided that I wanted to do theater for my life. It’s such a wonderful program: All of the faculty and teachers have worked in the industry for years and are supportive and help get you connections outside of school. Read more »

REVIEW: Matilda: The Musical at the Academy of Music

Photo by Joan Marcus for Center Theatre Group/Ahmanson Theatre.

Photo by Joan Marcus from Center Theatre Group/Ahmanson Theatre.

Is a show like Matilda: The Musical too big to properly tour?

That question was definitely on my mind last evening after I left the performance at the Academy of Music. The touring Broadway musical has come a long way since, say, the first national tour of Cats, which pretty much employed a strand of Christmas tree lights on the stage and called it a “set.” But at least that set worked.

Last evening’s Matilda was plagued with technical malfunctions throughout the performance, including one that literally stopped the show during act one, causing an announcer to broadcast that the set was having difficulties. The other major malfunction took place during the climax of the show. I won’t give the plot away, but the moment was supposed to involve a piece of chalk magically writing a message on a board. Let’s just say the chalk stopped working. Read more »

7 Awesome Concerts to See in Philly This Week

7-shows-philly-collage

The indie and electronica fan will have a good time this week on the music scene, especially at Union Transfer. With the classic indie rock of Minus the Bear, the masterful synths of Neon Indian, or the futuristic pop melodies of Grimes, it might just feel like summer again. Feeling more in the mood for a throwback icon? Catch Don Henley of The Eagles at the Academy of Music. Click through to each day, or check out the full list below.

MONDAY | TUESDAY | WEDNESDAY | THURSDAY | FRIDAY | SATURDAY | SUNDAY

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