Thursday, June 30, 2011

Spider-Man Turn Off The Dark electrifies skies over Broadway

Story by Dwight Casimere

Images-Courtesy Sony Pictures Entertainment

New York—BOOM! KRAAAACK!! POW!!!! The summer Broadway season is in full swing (pardon the pun) with the stupendous musical production Spider-Man Turn Off The Dark at the Foxwoods Theatre for an extended run. Despite terrible reviews and numerous stops and starts due to on-stage accidents and offstage skullduggery, the show raked in a whopping $3.5 million in its first two weeks and is playing to packed houses every night. This thrill-packed show was well worth the wait.

I found myself humming some of the more melodic rock tunes from the score by Bono and The Edge and from the Book by Julie Taymor, Glen Berger & Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa an engaging mix of comic book legend, wrapped around a can’t miss “boy-meets-girl, adopts secret, web-slinging identity to pursue her” Broadway convention.

Spider-Man is spine-tingling, with heart stopping aerial acrobatic battles happening just feet above the audience’s heads. Spider-Man swoops and soars from the stage to the rafters and into our hearts. The Aerial Choreography by Daniel Ezralaw and Additional Choreography by Chase Brock make this a landmark achievement, worthy of a Tony nomination. Creative Consultant Philip Wm/ McKinley obviously whipped this earlier troubled production into shape and made it sing, based on the Original Direction by Julie Taymor.

Reeve Carney is a convincing and earnest as Peter Parker/Spider-Man. My hat goes off to him for pulling off some of the most physically grueling stunts required by the script. Patrick Page is stupendous in the Norman Osborn/Green Goblin role. He especially seems to play the villanous personae of his character with relish! The Green Goblin costume is among the most effective and creepy of the entire show.

Jennifer Damiano is a charming and silvery voiced Mary Jane Watson. Isabel Keating and Ken Marks are sweet and endearing as Aunt May and Uncle Ben.

Conductor Kimberly Grigsby and the Turn Off The Dark Orchestra lent spirited conviction to the meaty, biting score. The music is truly high-energy and lays the thematic foundation for the action onstage and in the air.

We meet the nine flying Spider-Men at the end of the show. No team of acro-aerial artists were more deserving of the thunderous applause they received as was the technical team that brought forth this thoroughly wondrous treat. Web-sling your way to the Big Apple as quickly as you can to see this thrilling family-friendly show. For more information, visit

PETER PAN: A fantastic virtual flight to a magical CGI world

A fantastic flight into the magical world of Peter Pan-by Dwight Casimere

Peter Pan photos by Kevin Berne

This summer’s “must see” entertainment for the whole family is the spectacular stage production of JM Barrie’s PETER PAN now playing through August 21 under the big white tent at the Tribune Freedom Center North at 650 West Chicago Avenue, between Halsted Street and the Chicago River. The experience will sweep you into the magical world of one of the world’s most beloved fantasy figures.

Fifteen thousand square feet of Hi-Resolution video, three times the size of an IMAX(® screen, create a 360-degree CGI theatre set that completely immerses the entire cast and the audience in the magical world of Neverland. The audience is transported into the skies high above London for a virtual flight along with Peter, Wendy and Tinkerbell over 400 square miles of London and beyond, to Treasure Island and to the bottom of the sea. It is s fantastic voyage that not even Jules Verne could have imagined.

PETER PAN is produced by threesixty® entertainment, a theatrical production company based in London, with Charlie Burnell, Matthew Churchill, and Robert Butters as principals. The cast features members of the original London production joined by American actors, making a truly international theatrical experience. Captain Hook is one of the most deliciously played villains of all time!

Directed by Ben Harrison and designed by William Dudley, with captivating music composed by Benjamin Wallfisch, the script is adapted by Tanya Ronder from the original Barrie story. It is one of the most literate and verbally fluid scripts to ever reach a Chicago stage. William Dudley has more theatrical accolades than anyone in London save Dame Judi Dench. Combined with choreography by Fleur Darkin, sound design by Gregory Clarke lighting design by Mark Henderson, balletic fight direction by Nicholas Hall, puppetry design by Sue Buckmaster and illusions by Paul Kieve, this is truly an experience that makes the spirit soar in a flight of sheer fantasy.

Standing 100 feet high, the tent that houses PETER PAN was shipped from London to San Francisco and then Chicago. With 15,000 square feet of CGI, it is the largest CGI venue in the world and the world’s first fully 360-degree projected movie for live theatre performance. The production employs 12 projectors using 10 million pixels to project the images. Those are merely numbers. PETER PAN has to be experienced to realize the full effect. In a word, it is dazzling. For information on PETER PAN, please visit or

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Deborah Voigt explores Schoenberg's complex psycho-drama with NY Philharmonic

Reviewed by Dwight Casimere

Photo of Deborah Voigt and Guest Conductor David Robertson in performance by Chris Lee/New York Philharmonic

New York-Deborah Voigt received a rousing ovation the moment she walked on stage for the New York Philharmonic’s performance of Arnold Schoenberg’s Erwartung (Expectation), a Monodrama in One Act, conducted by David Robertson.

She looked stunning in a mauve gown, accented with a splash of bright silvery sequins across the upper bodice, designed by Henry Schickerling of TOSCA New York. Her voice was even more so, with its rich, caramelized mezzo undertones (she was once tutored by Leontyne Price. It shows.) Her appearance was a welcome departure from the warrior-princess garb she wore as Brunnhilde, in the Met’s recent production, Die Walkure.

It all began idyllically enough; a woman wanders through a verdant expanse in search of her lover, reflecting upon the sightings of birds and the smell and rustle of leaves and grass along the way. Quickly, the listener realizes that they are being plunged into the dense psychological forest of a mind engulfed in Freudian delusional hysteria. The woman stumbles upon his bleeding corpse. Without too much of a creative leap, it quickly becomes evident that she, in fact, may be the murderer.

Such are the psychological underpinnings of Schoenberg’s unsettling vocal drama. Based on a libretto by Marie Pappenheim, a former medical student turned poet. The story she wrote was loosely based on a famous chapter in Freud’s book, Studies on Hysteria, The Case of Anna O, a patient of Freud’s co-author, Josef Breuer, who was, coincidentally, a relative of Marie Pappenheim.

Add to that story the layering of Schoenberg’s own personal experience of his wife’s brief liaison with a friend and collaborator Richard Gerstle, whose failed career as a painter and failed romance resulted in him tragically ending his life in dramatic fashion. He turned himself into his final piece of visual performance art by stabbing and then hanging himself in front of his studio mirror. Those dear readers are, in a nutshell, the less than cheery facts surrounding Erwartung.

Voigt plunges us directly into the icy atmosphere of Schoenberg’s torturously esoteric meanderings. She scales the chromatic crevasses without the aid of guide rope or Sherpa, daringly grasping the highest tonal peaks with ease. Her mastery as an interpreter of modern repertoire was evident as was her perfect pitch. She was

vocally dazzling and delivered a breathtaking performance.

What preceded Erwartung were two examples of guest conductor David Robertson at his best. He delivered Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 1 with all of the dance-like, youthful fervor with which it was written. Shostakovich was barely out of Conservatory and on his way to becoming Russia’s most revered, and at times, reviled, composer. His stormy relationship with Stalin had yet to materialize, but the magnificent expression of Soviet temperament, pride and spirit were evident in its declamatory themes as expressed in the ringing trumpets and sonorous strings. Even the tonal percussion of the timpani was utilized to its fullest to introduce a theme that would be replicated throughout the piece.

Rachmaninoff’s The Isle of the Dead, Symphonic Poem, was Robertson’s interpretive personal best. He conveyed through musical impressionism the visual colors and textures of Swiss symbolist artist Arnold Bocklin’s painting Toteninsel (Isle of the Dead). The painting depicts a ghostly figure transporting a coffin in a boat to a rocky outcropping that is more mausoleum than land mass. Robertson and the New York Philharmonic gave an inspired reading of this otherwise somber tone poem.

For information on upcoming performances of the New York Philharmonic, visit

Monday, June 13, 2011

2011 Tonys go over the top with Hollywood glamor, Broadway glitz

Reviewed June 12,2011

Story and Red Carpet photos by Dwight Casimere

New York-The 65th Annual Tony Awards brought out Hollywood’s best and brightest, bowing in the Art Deco opulence of the Beacon Theatre, ending a 14 year tradition of holding the ceremony at Radio City Music Hall, and presenting a glitzy, over-the-top Awards program that the Oscars would do well to emulate.

The Tony’s are billed as Broadway’s biggest night, but it was Hollywood’s best and brightest that dominated the limelight, from the likes of Samuel L. Jackson, Whoopi Goldberg, Al Pacino and TVs Alec Baldwin and Sara Jessica Parker soaking up the major wattage on the Red Carpet, awkwardly placed behind the theatre entrance due to the logistics involving the Puerto Rican Day parade held earlier in the day.

The Red Carpet hoopla was temporarily distracted by an impromptu picket line, protesting the portrayal of the black American experience in the musical The Scottsboro Boys, one of the nominees for Best Musical, among other major categories. The group’s pamphlet claimed the musical, based on the real-life trial of nine black men accused of raping a white woman in Mississippi, had reduced the gravity of its subject matter to what the group termed “a minstrel show.” Not having seen the play, I can’t comment on the validity of their complaint.

In keeping with the over-the-top tenor of the evening, perhaps the most outrageous musical to ever reach the Broadway stage, The Book of Mormon, by South Park Comedy Central cartoon creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone, took Best Musical honors, along with a raft of Tony’s for nine awards out of 14 nominations.

There were few surprises in the handing out of statuettes. The Normal Heart, the Broadway revival of the AIDS-themed drama, took Best Revival of a Play. Anything Goes, the Cole Porter repository of many of his greatest hits, took Best Revival of a Musical and War Horse, reviewed here in this space a month ago, won for Best Play.

The night’s most outstanding performance, hands down, was the dance number from the nominated musical revival How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, with Harry Potter himself, Daniel Radcliffe, front and center, in the lead role.

The night’s most emotional moment was provided by Norbert Leo Butz, who won for Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Musical for Catch Me If You Can. Butz dedicated his trophy to the memory of his sister, Teresa who was slain in 2009 by an intruder while the musical was previewing in Seattle. Her alleged killer is currently on trial. In a post-Tony interview, Butz also dedicated the award to his father, upon whom he says he based his character.

Meanwhile, The Book of Mormon continues its sold out run at the Eugene O’Neill Theatre on Broadway through 2011. The show is set to tour the country in 2012.

Friday, June 10, 2011

American Ballet Theatre celebrates Spring with The Bright Stream

Story by Dwight Casimere

Photos by Rosalie O’Connor/ABT

1.Gillian Murphy as the Ballerina in The Bright Stream. Photo: Rosalie O'Connor

2.Martine van Hamel and Victor Barbee as the Dacha Dwellers. Photo: Rosalie O'Connor

3. Paloma Herrera as Zina and Marcelo Gomes as Zina’s husband. Photo: Rosalie O’Connor

New York-After the day’s record-breaking sweltering heat was broken by a welcome shower of more spring-like rain, American Ballet Theatre (ABT) held the New York premiere of the delightfully frothy comic ballet, ABT Artist in Residence Alexei Ratmansky’s The Bright Stream for the opening of its spring residency at the Metropolitan Opera House at Lincoln Center.

As masterful as it is colorful and imaginative, the work is a restaging of a Shostakovich ballet production first premiered in 1935 in Leningrad that had been banned by Stalin. Disgraced, Shostakovich never wrote another ballet and the original director, Fyodor Lopukhov was fired as director of the Bolshoi Ballet and the author of the scenario, Adrian Piotrovsky, was hustled off to the Gulag, never to be heard from again.

None of those stormy machinations were evident, however, in ABT’s heartfelt revival. The entire premise of Bright Stream seems to look at the past through a distorted looking glass that makes faults seem comically garish.

Conductor Ormsby Wilkins brings the most sparkling and dynamic elements Dmitri Shostakovich’s music to the forefront. Tempos are lively and the overall tone is awash with color. The sets by Ilya Utkin, coctumes Elena Markovskaya and lighting by Brad Fields convey both the social context of the ballet and its underlying themes which glorify the life of workers on the collective farm and role of the artist in nurturing the proletariat spirit. The central theme of the ballet involves reconciling the role of the artist with that of workers in the farm collective.

Much of the psychological ethos of Bright Stream is lost on today’s audiences, but they seem to revel in the lighthearted antics of the lithesome dancers onstage.

There are a number of scenes in which the sheer artistry of the dancers seem larger than life. Gillian Murphy as the Ballet Dancer, dazzled early on and David Hallberg as the Ballet Dancer, kicked it into high gear. Paloma Herrera is luminous as Zina, the local amusements organizer and Marcelo Gomes gives it his all as Pyotr, her agricultural student husband. A later Ballet Trocadero-like romp by some cross-dressing dancers in Act II stole the show! Also, you’ve gotta love the cycling dog. The waltz by the corps du ballet was one of the best I’ve seen by any company. The dancers of ABT are truly a gifted lot. As for the tone of the entire ballet, it could not have been carried off better.

The Bright Stream was a delightful evening of dance from beginning to end. As the curtain fell on the field workers gathered for the final scene of the harvest festival, the audience seemed reluctant to leave. ABT continues is spring season at the Metropolitan Opera House with The Bright Stream through Jine 20 and Coppe’lia June 16-20, Cinderella June 21-25 and Swan Lake June 27-July 2, and Sleeping Beauty July 5-9. Next, ABT traels to the Los Angeles Music Center, Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, Jule 14-17 and then to Japan, to perform in Tokyo, Hyogo and Shiga, July 21-31. For tickets and information, visit

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

South African Wines Debuts U.S. Tour at James Beard Foundation

South African wines make 2011 U.S. Debut

Wines reviewed Tuesday, June 7, 2011

  1. Dwight The Wine Doctor with Vernon Henn-Thandi Wines-Western Cape, South Africa
  2. Aja’ Robinson-Fever Clothing
  3. Winemaker Ken Forrester
  4. Richard Kershaw and his Mulderbosch Faithful Hound
  5. The fauna among the floral wines at the Jsmes Beard Foundation Greens Wines of South Africa tour event

New York-Wines of South Africa Winemaker Tour 2011 kicked off in New York’s famed Village neighborhood near Washington Square with a tasting of 50 of their outstanding new wines in an event at the historic Astor Center hosted by James Beard Foundation Greens. In addition to sampling the best wines from South Africa, participants had an opportunity to nosh on South African inspired hors d’oeuveres created by South African native, Chef Hugo Uys of Paris Commune. The event was a foodie’s delight!

Some of the wines were familiar to American wine lovers, such as Henry Kotze’s Morgenster and Richard Kershaw’s Mulderbosch Estate. Others, such as Black African winemaker Vernon Henn’s Thandi wines, were new to the U.S. market. The event provided a cornucopia of tastes and textures unique to South Africa.

Nearly a dozen South African winemakers were present to pour their wines and describe, first-hand, and the verdant growing regions that are unique to their country. Stellenbosch, South Africa’s most famous winegrowing area, was well represented by such stellar labels as Raats Family Wines,De Toren, DeMorgenzon, Morgenster, Waterford Estate and Warwick Estate and Vilfonte, among others. Distributors were also on hand to let everyone in the toney crowd know where they could find the wines at their local wine shops.

Surprisingly, most of the wines I tasted and enjoyed the most were in the very comfortable $10-$24 dollar range. I was amazed at the quality of wine that was available, in abundance, under $30. The price and the wine's outstanding flavors and accessibility, makes for an ideal summertime value, especially for those interested in pairing wine with food. With summertime here, South African wines, with their bright, sunny flavors and easy drinkability are the perfect match for a picnic, a sailboat ride or an afternoon on the lawn, taking in a summer festival concert. Ravinia and Millennium Park, here I come, bottle of Mulderbosch in hand!

Some of my personal picks and favorite among the throng are:

Mulderbosch Chenin Blanc 2009 (Western Cape) -$13.99. This is what Chenin Blanc is all about and no one does it better than this venerable winemaking estate. The flavors are redolent with lush, vivacious tropical fruit. The aroma of perfumed flowers hits you before you even get the glass to your mouth. This wine is sex in a bottle!

Thandi Shiraz/Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 W.O. Western Cape-$13

Winemaker Patrick Kraukamp really nailed it with this youthful, fruit-forward beauty. The word Thandi meanings nurturing, loving care and that’s exactly the principal that guides both the winemaking a business models of this progressive winery. The Thandi project was one of the first Black Economic Empowerment projects set up by the post-Apartheid government. As a result, the workers now own 2/3rds of the shares of the winery. In 2004, Thandi met strict government standards to become the first Fairtrade certified winery and has become the model for subsequent awardees. The Fairtrade Premium provides money for education for the families that live in the community. This is a classic red blend that combines a rich, ruby-red color with semi-sweet fruit concentration, a bit of pepper plant spice and hints of roasted coffee on the nose. Its available at most local wine shops and, from the comments garnered at this tasting, it will be moving off the shelves fast!

Reyneke Reserve White 2009-Stellenbosch from Indigo Wine Group.-$15

Winemaker Norman Goodfellows knocked it out of the park with this one. It’s become my summertime white “go-to” wine. This Organic wine made from100% Sauvignon Blanc has intense notes of grapefruit and melon and a honeysuckle perfume on the nose. It is crisp and flavorful with an underlying note of the slate soil

that informs its rich character. This is a great wine with summer salads, seafood or just drinking alone on the patio.

As they say in South Africa, “Bakgat!” (Well Done!)

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Brothers of the Dust: Greed and Hubris in the Age of Civil Rights

Reviewed by Dwight Casimere June 3, 2011

1. Congo Square Theatre logo

2. photo courtesy Congo Square Theatre

3. The Problem We All Live With , copyright 1964 The Norman Rockwell Estate Licensing Company. Photo Courtesy of the Norman Rockwell Museum at Stockbridge.

Combine the heady, greed-driven desperation caused by Big Oil in Paul Thomas Anderson’s Academy Award-winning 2007 film There Will Be Blood, with the family entanglements, conflicts and moral depravity of Tennessee Williams’ Pulitzer Prize-winning play A Streetcar Named Desire and you have the underpinnings of Darren Canady’s superlative production, Brothers of the Dust, now onstage at the Chicago Center for the Performing Arts, 777 N. Green, presented by Congo Square Theatre Company through June 26.

The acting is terrific and the directing by Daniel Bryant keeps the pacing tight as the play moves like a hurricane through its two and a half hour length. Stage Manager Razor Wintercastle, Scenic Designer Andrei Onegin, Lighting Designer Casey Diers and Properties Designer Jesse Gaffney make the most of the production’s minuscule performance space and minimal set. Sound Design by Rick Sims heightens the drama of key scenes and serves to underscore the denouement to the plot. Music is an integral part of the action and selections from Howlin’ Wolf, Big Momma Thornton and other blues legends of the late ‘40s and early ‘50s add pithy undertones to the play’s steamy, Deep South atmosphere.

The story takes place on the Colton family farm in the Ozarks sometime during the late ‘50s (brother Ollie references the Little Rock Nine, whose effort to integrate Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas in September, 1957 prompted President Eisenhower to send members the 101st Air Airborne Division to escort each of the children, individually, into the school. The event is the subject of a famous Norman Rockwell painting, The Problem We All Live With, which began as a Look magazine article illustration and was later displayed at the Guggenheim Museum in New York and now resides in the Norman Rockwell Museum at Stockbridge). The story takes place amidst the continued exodus of upwardly mobile African Americans seeking to escape the horrors of Jim Crow.

The irascible Roy Colton has both his ire and suspicions raised when his two brothers. Ollie and Wilson, return unexpectedly to the family farm. Both had run North to escape the quicksand of poverty and racism that seem to have consumed Roy. Neither brother achieved the success he had hoped for. Dreams having eluded them, they returned home with hopes of cashing in on the promise of oil wealth beneath the rich, dark soil of the Colton farm. White speculators, in the form of surveyors, loom offstage as a constant, ominous presence.

James Alfred raises Roy’s vainglorious rantings, with all their twisted logic and explosive profanity, to an almost Shakespearean level. He is at once possessed by the blinding jealousy of an Othello and the regal delusions of King Lear. In spite of his assertion that he is the master of his domain, he, as his long-suffering wife Mayetta (played with magnificent, Ruby Dee-like intensity by Shanesia Davis) proclaims is enslaved by the almost supernatural hold that the land has over him. So enraptured is he by the land, that Roy is willing to dash the hopes and dreams of his only son, Jack (an energetic Edgar Miguel Sanchez) who strives to gain a college scholarship against his father’s wishes.

Roy will do anything to preserve the integrity of the Colton farm, even if it means tearing the family apart. He is not above destroying everything and everyone in his path, be it emotionally, or, as in one tense moment, physically, to impose his will.

His uncle Wilson (a superbly devious Anthony Irons) sets the skullduggery in motion by manipulating young Edgar into betraying his father’s trust. Brother Ollie, a Langston Hughes wannabe, on the run after some shady dealings in Chicago, has hooked up with the daughter of a prominent black newspaper publisher and has dragged her down home with the hope that she’ll buy into the family’s murky mess. Not surprisingly, he has an embarrassing secret that is violently brought to light.

Tracey Bonner as Ollie’s black princess girlfriend, Audra, delivers some of the most dramatically telling lines of the play and Velma Austin Massey as Wilson’s streetwise and tell-all wife Nella, drips venom as she spouts off the play’s sassiest lines with relish.

The play is currently Jeff Recommended and it wouldn’t be at all surprising if it were nominated for a Jeff Award for Best Drama. It certainly deserves a serious look by those who enjoy excellent stagecraft and the art of acting at its best. For tickets and show times, visit