Wednesday, August 20, 2014

3 Redneck Tenors Returns With An All-New Show!

By Kristin Costanza

Back by popular demand, the 3 Redneck Tenors have fine-tuned their stage show, giving focus to their exquisite vocal talents all the while telling a humorous and endearing tale of their rise to fame.

3 Redneck Tenors is composed of three classically trained singers—founder Matt Lord, Blake Davidson, and Jonathan FrugĂ©—who, prior to their current collaboration, have worked with such companies as the San Francisco Opera, Dallas Opera, and the Juilliard Opera Center, and have performed at Carnegie Hall and the New York Metropolitan Opera. They have sung for audiences all over the world, yet they have never experienced more success than from a show that originated as a school fundraiser.

That’s right—founder Matt Lord thought donning a mullet wig and denim coveralls while singing opera would be an amusing way to showcase his talent to a non-classical crowd. He was apparently right, as 3 Redneck Tenors took off beyond anyone’s expectations. Word of mouth spread to other venues and Lord’s fun parody became a national touring act. While the show and two of the three Rednecks have evolved since that first performance, the energy and charm that allowed for the show to grow and improve have been there from the beginning. Clearly, Lord doesn’t take his undeniable singing talent overly seriously and sees the advantage of leaving room for humor.

The name 3 Redneck Tenors is a play on something Lord is critical of in his genre, explaining, “The reason I’m not a big fan of the tenor thing is it’s three vocal types singing together at the same time in unison, and I find it extremely uninteresting.” In this particular trifecta of “tenors,” Lord is a tenor while the other singers are a high tenor and a baritone. A bass vocalist has also been a part of previous shows. This mix allows for a rich and layered sound. And while he is a fan of the original 3 Tenors— Placido Domingo, Jose Carreras, and Luciano Pavarotti—he pokes fun at the “tenor-mania” that seemed to ensue following the success of the original three. Despite this, Lord took advantage of the craze when forming the group who perform in From Rags to Rednecks, acknowledging that “the act initially sold on the name.” These days, the 3 Redneck Tenors have no problem landing opportunities to provide audiences with solid entertainment. 

Their infectious combination of humor and studied singing talent helped the Tenors to further grow their audience when they performed well on the popular television competition show America’s Got Talent in 2007, and when they became a monthly performer at the Luxor in Las Vegas in 2008. They currently are artists-in-residence at the Andy Williams Moon River Theatre in Branson, Missouri, where they perform From Rags to Rednecks up to six times each week.

This is the same show that will be performed on the MBT Main Stage on February 21,2015. From Rags to Rednecks—The True Fictional Story of the Redneck Tenors involves new songs, new medleys, and lots of new laughs and has been a critical success in its previews and residency. As its title implies, the show will take audiences from the group’s start as young singers without representation on to the fame they’re currently experiencing. We’ll see the Rednecks as youth, jailbirds, and finally as world class performers. Where previous 3 Redneck Tenors shows involved a fairly even mix of storytelling and singing, Rags packs in song after song, relying more on visual gags than outward jokes to illicit giggles from the audience. We’ll hear gospel, country, classical, pop, and Broadway, all delivered with power and a unique spin only the Rednecks can pull off. “We don’t parody the singing,” affirms Lord.

Another update to the show is that the content is entirely family friendly, a refreshing change of pace from the oft-adult spin of other stage show parodies. Lord and his collaborators sought broad appeal when mounting Rags, taking huge stock in the benefits of clean humor and paying attention to critical reviews that suggested they didn’t need to rely on “cheap” laughs. One key voice in influencing their content update was Jimmy Osmond (yes, of the Osmonds), who is the current Head of Operations at the Andy Williams Moon River Theatre. Said FrugĂ©, “[Osmond] was not only astounded by the singing quality, but the quality of the humor and the fact it was still funny and we were so willing to change what we needed to change to make this show work for us [and] our audience…”

Lord beams, “We’re so proud of [the show] because it is doing what we set out to do, which is provide something different while making our audience happy.” Get happy with the 3 Redneck Tenors on the Main Stage this season!

Thursday, August 7, 2014

20 Fun Facts and Highlights of the 2014-15 Season in no particular order

By Kristin Costanza

1. It takes four different puppets to grow a bloodthirsty baby plant into a man-eating giant that devours actors on the Main Stage in the Rep production of Little Shop of Horrors.

2. The Mighty Wurlitzer organ is back and better than ever as it scores 3 silent films from the year MBT opened: 1927!

3. Canadian Brass has contributed more than 600 new works and arrangements to the brass quintet repertoire

4.  It takes over 400 yards of Lycra to create the “Super Trouper” costumes in Mamma Mia - the various worldwide productions saved the Italian mill that supplies the fabric from closing.

5. All four smooth crooners of Under the Streetlamp have portrayed members of the Four Seasons in Jersey Boys.

6. The UK Ukulele Orchestra marks the first time in MBT history that 8 ukulele players perform together at the same time on the Main Stage.

7. The drummers of Kodo built their own performance village on the Japanese artists’s haven Sado Island.

8. The dancers in An Irish Christmas can step approximately 200 times every minute…

9….while the Repertory Dance Theatre performers have mastered moves from over a century of modern dance.

10. Die-hard fans of musical thriller Jekyll & Hyde are called “Jekkies.”

11. Three tours are family affairs: Stringfever is 3 brothers and a cousin, Ladysmith Black Mambazo has 3 generations of Shabalala on stage, and Visions From Cape Breton brings parents Natalie MacMaster and Donnell Leahy on stage with their children for a Celtic family celebration.

12. Speaking of LadysmithBlack Mambazo, they were banned from competing in singing competitions in South Africa in the 1960s because they were deemed too good! Instead, they were allowed only to perform as noncompetitive entertainers.

13. Which production do you suppose uses more wigs: Capitol Steps, Rain or 3 Redneck Tenors? It’s going to be a close contest…

14. Mariachi Divas have been performing weekly at Disneyland for over a decade.

15. Most innuendo in a single show goes to Menopause The Musical — who said mood swings aren't fun?

16. The Blues Hall of Fame tour presents 142 combined years of recording among 3 of the most award-winning blues musicians of our time.

17. The legendary Branford Marsalis is as talented with classical music as he is with jazz, inspiring the phrase, “He’s bringing saxy back.”

18. Ain’t Misbehavin’ comes to Bellingham from the Broadway Center in Tacoma – it’s their first travelling production!

19. The popular game show Name That Tune challenged a contestant’s ability to identify popular songs in only a few notes. Stringfever are game show enthusiasts, bringing back the game during their February 27 performance.

20. What’s a Gantry Bike? We’ll find out when Cirque Mechanics: Pedal Punk rolls into town.

Don’t miss any of this season’s highlights — order your 2014-15 tickets today!

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Forks in Roads

By Cindi Pree

Life-altering choices aren't a new theme in the world of theatre, certainly. Like love and human relationships in general, life’s choices are the stuff of great theatre. Big choices are often also part of the business of theatre, too!

In the summer of 2007, MBT took a new fork in the road by adding in-house productions to our usual touring “road-house” shows. The first self-produced Summer Rep series consisted of three rotating plays featuring a combined cast of four actors. Building on the success of several years of Summer Rep, we launched Winter Rep in February 2010 and Main Stage Rep in October 2011. Winter Rep is a single play with multiple performances, while Main Stage Rep represents yet another fork as a much larger, Broadway-style production.

Summer Rep is now an established annual event at MBT. The upcoming 2014-15 season offers three fabulous chances to explore both the drama and the comedy that happens when we reach a point in our lives that leads to taking a new direction. Most of us who have lived well into adulthood either have faced, or see coming at us, that time where we pause to examine the past, dare to question the future, and perhaps choose a different fork in the road than the one we expected to take.

In Last of the Red Hot Lovers, Neil Simon works his expectedly witty magic as Barney Cashman, overweight and overworked, married and middle-aged, attempts to join the sexual revolution before it’s too late. Barney’s three seduction choices add their own humor in the form of a kooky 20-ish actress, a bundle of neuroses with a foul mouth, and a gloomy, depressed housewife married to Barney’s best friend. 

Lanford Wilson’s 1980 Pulitzer Winner Talley’s Folly joins Sally Talley in her journey as she explores her choices: probable spinsterhood or life with a kindred spirit she is sure her family will never approve. Set in 1944 Missouri, these characters find a touching wholeness rare in human relationships.

In the final selection of this summer’s season, we take a devious and delightful romp with Becky Foster as she explores a different fork in the road that is her life. Becky’s New Car, by Steven Deitz, takes a look at the temptation Becky faces to flee her middle-age, middle-management, middling-marriage life.

Whether you have already faced that proverbial fork in your life’s road, wonder how you would react if you did, or you just want a great theatre experience, this stellar selection of plays will amuse, delight, and likely provoke some interesting conversations.

MBT Summer Rep runs July 15 through August 10.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Music: The Universal Unifier.

By Kristin Costanza

When I was a preteen and still rebelled against my bedtime, I looked forward every night to The Underground Planet on my local radio station. At 9 PM, the last of “today’s hits and yesterday’s favorites” would segue into what was sure to be my next favorite song. The energetic DJ Sini Man hosted an hour of music that wouldn't otherwise make the commuter cut. I could trust that what Sini introduced to me as a loyal listener would be edgy, alternative, and may even be deemed inappropriate by the parents who could hear my radio’s hum down the hall. Just by tuning my dial to 93.5 FM, I was taken away to a place that felt customized for a girl like me.

One night, Sini welcomed a very special guest to do an in-studio interview and performance. I had no idea who the talent I was hearing was, but I was enthralled with the humor passing between the young men delighting in each other’s conversation as they revealed stories about first love, hard times, and how music made it all okay. I was so enthralled that I began taping (yes, on a cassette tape recorder) the show, anticipating that I’d wish to revisit this moment in the future. The two finished the broadcast in a duet of the up-and-coming artist’s first single, “April Fools,” which I listened to on repeat for the next few weeks. The artist I was introduced to that night was Rufus Wainwright, a singer-songwriter who has since become the writer of an opera and one of today’s most iconic adult contemporary performers, and who remains one of my biggest musical influences.

I can’t help but recall my reverence for radio when thinking about the upcoming Memphis, a new Broadway musical that explores music’s power to connect people. DJ Sini introduced me to new music because he delivered it with such enthusiasm and genuine interest.. In Memphis, we are given Huey Calhoun as our faithful DJ, who does the unthinkable by playing “race music” to a listener base made up almost entirely of white people. It’s a shared love of this powerful, danceable music that brings Huey and Felicia, a black club singer, together, and it’s the music that eases the tensions cast on them by their 1950s Southern society. These characters are compelled beyond what’s expected of them in their choice to pursue their love, and it’s all thanks to the foot-tapping, finger-snapping music known today as the all-embracing rock ‘n’ roll. Memphis offers a look back at a time in history that today’s younger generations may not be aware of, the residual effects of which are still alive in the popular music of today.

You’ve got two chances to connect with this uplifting, rocking production at MBT May 20-21, so don’t miss one of the best shows of the season!

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

That Classy Cocktail Sound

By Katharine Conrad

When it comes to entertaining, Thomas Lauderdale knows his stuff. The talented pianist made a name for himself at Harvard, not by playing piano (though he did plenty of that), but by appointing himself “cruise director” of his dorm. He planned group getaways for spring break, welcomed incoming freshmen by handing out Twinkies and flowers, and eagerly assisted the fashion-challenged. Sporting outrageous-yet-chic outfits, Lauderdale became legendary for his fabulous parties, glamorous theme bashes he organized to make up for what he felt was a distinct lack of glamour. A Lauderdale shindig was no typical college kegger – his parties are described as grand Gatsby-esque affairs: waltzes with live orchestras and ice sculptures, disco masquerades with giant pineapples on wheels, midnight swimming parties, and more. Pizza and beer were nixed in favor of more refined refreshments: strawberries and whipped cream, fresh squeezed orange juice, smoked salmon, and, for “chocoholiday” parties, mountains of chocolate.

It’s that same sort of glamour that Lauderdale brings to Pink Martini, the Portland-based “little orchestra” he founded in 1994. Pursuing an interest in politics at the time, he quickly became distracted by the so-called “entertainment” at the functions he attended, finding it “underwhelming, lackluster, loud, and un-neighborly.” Much like he did at Harvard, Lauderdale took it upon himself to add posh and polish to the city’s fundraiser soundtrack. His initial quartet quickly blossomed into a 12-piece ensemble, becoming successful enough that he was able to persuade Harvard classmate and vocalist China Forbes to join his cause. The two have been writing songs together ever since.

The heart of those songs is Lauderdale’s own sample-a-bit-of-everything style, asking, “What kind of band do I want to hear personally?” He compares the group’s repertoire to mixtapes of favorite songs, describing it as “sort of a big multi-cultural, multi-lingual, multi-style kind of project.” The result is an eclectic, even eccentric, collection that includes Abba’s “Fernando” sung in the original Swedish, an eerily nostalgic rendition of “Que Sera, Sera,” the vintage dreamy romance of Irving Berlin’s “What’ll I Do,” and many, many original works. Forced to classify his music, Lauderdale says it’s “Hollywood musical crossed with global pop.”

For Pink Martini’s new album, Dream A Little Dream, Lauderdale reached out to collaborate with the von Trapps, the great-grandchildren of Capt. Georg and Maria von Trapp of The Sound of Music fame, and a talented ensemble in their own right. Lauderdale has mentored the group since they met two years ago in Portland, helping them broaden their repertoire to develop their own musical identity while staying true to their roots. In fact, the new album includes two songs from the famed film: the lighthearted “Lonely Goatherd” and, of course, the stirring “Edelweiss.” Frivolity and finesse: a true Lauderdale combination.

Pink Martini brings their signature sophistication, and the von Trapps, to the MBT Main Stage on Tuesday, April 15, 2014, at 7:30pm.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

More Than Just Flirts in Skirts

By Katharine Conrad

Quick: name a competitive event that involves hurtling a teammate into the air mid-synchronized backflip routine. Full points if you guessed competitive cheerleading (half points if you guessed its cousin, gymnastics). The term can be misleading – while so-called “sideline cheerleaders” operate in the traditional sense, rallying crowd support for players on the field or court, competitive cheerleaders are their own brand of athlete, less focused on cheering and more focused on elaborate displays of superior physicality.
Competitive cheer is a serious business – squads train with the same rigor as other athletes to develop the muscle tone and balance needed to execute stunts, flips, and tumbles. The person balancing on one leg fifteen feet in the air needs to be able to trust her teammates implicitly – one wrong move can lead to serious injury, so synchronization and teamwork are absolutely fundamental. Competitive cheerleaders must also be adept at a variety of physical techniques and styles, with routines borrowing and combining aspects of dance, gymnastics, and even acrobatics.

It’s a distinctive style of competitive movement, one the creators of Bring It On: The Musical wanted to get right. Choreographer/director Andy Blankenbuehler had won Tony and Drama Desk Awards for Outstanding Choreography for the 2008 Broadway hit In the Heights, but, having attended a cheerleader-less all-boys school, he didn’t have much experience in choreographing cheer routines. So he did what any self-respecting creative mind would and immersed himself in the world of competitive cheer, attending national competitions, consulting with respected judges and choreographers, and spending hours watching video clips online to get a feel for the different styles of cheerleading. Once he had an idea of the stunts he wanted, Blankenbuehler turned to the staff of the Universal Cheerleaders Association and the Varsity Cheerleading company for help in realistically (and safely) bringing them to life. To add extra authenticity, Blankenbuehler cast some of the most skilled competitive cheerleaders in the nation as squad members in the show.

The result is nothing short of astounding: Bring It On: The Musical features stunt after stunt and flip after flip, leading The New York Times to remark that the cast “should probably be racking up frequent-flier miles, so often are they airborne.”

Rounding out the show’s hit choreography are a slew of contributions from fellow Tony winners: movie-inspired original story by Jeff Whitty (Avenue Q), music and lyrics by Lin-Manuel Miranda (In the Heights), music by Tom Kitt (Next to Normal), lyrics by Amanda Green (High Fidelity), and music supervision by Alex Lacamoire (In the Heights). Blankenbuehler believes this all-star creative team has resulted in a show even non-cheerleaders can appreciate, telling, “Throughout our lives we find our passions, we find out what we love, and we must have the courage to go for our goals. In this production, that’s all told through the lens of cheerleading, so if someone doesn’t know anything about it, they will still be able to relate.”

Bring It On: The Musical tumbles across the MBT Main Stage Wednesday, March 5, 2014, at 7:30pm.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

The 39 Steps: A Path to Hilarious Hitchcock

By Katharine Conrad

Though the upcoming Winter Rep production of The 39 Steps is a comedy, the original book was anything but. Scottish author John Buchan’s adventure novel The Thirty-Nine Steps was written while Buchan was ill in bed being treated for an ulcer. According to son William, the title originated when his sister was counting the stairs at the convalescent home where their father was recovering. Said William, “My sister, who was about six, and who had just learnt to count properly, went down [the stairs] and gleefully announced, ‘there are thirty-nine steps!’” The tale was first published as a magazine serial story in 1915, becoming the first of five novels to feature main character Richard Hannay.

In the book, Hannay, an average-Joe-type Scot, is minding his own business in pre-WWI London when his mysterious American neighbor, Franklin P. Scudder, suddenly appears at his door. Scudder claims to be in fear for his life after discovering a scheme to assassinate the visiting Greek Premier, and says he faked his own death in pursuit of a ring of German spies. When Scudder is murdered in Hannay’s apartment, our hero becomes the most likely suspect, forced to go on the run to clear his name and stop the assassination.

Buchan called the book a “shocker,” an adventure story with unlikely events that readers can just barely believe. It was one of the first to feature the “innocent man-on-the-run” thriller archetype so widely used in books and movies today, and the non-stop espionage suspense made John Buchan the Tom Clancy of his day. The novel became a hit, especially with soldiers in the trenches of WWI, and spawned four sequels and numerous media adaptations.

The first and best-known adaptation was the 1935 black-and-white movie by Alfred Hitchcock. Deviating significantly from the book, this version introduced two female characters to the book’s all-male roster, altered the story to remove plot holes, and added the music hall and Forth Bridge scenes now widely associated with the film. Despite these changes, Hitchcock’s The 39 Steps is routinely counted as one of the best British films of all time, and is widely considered to be superior to the screen adaptations that followed. Following Hitchcock came a 1959 color remake of that film, followed by a brand new movie version directed by Don Sharp in 1978. Sharp’s The Thirty Nine Steps starred Robert Powell and included a host of well-known British actors in bit roles. This version moved the action back to pre-WWI London, featured the iconic image of Hannay hanging from the hands of Big Ben, and spawned the prequel television series Hannay also starring Powell, which then led to a new BBC tv adaptation in 2008.

Beyond film, Buchan’s story remains popular enough to be reincarnated through 70 years of changing technology. Radio adaptations began with a 1939 Orson Welles broadcast, a 39 Steps video game debuted in early 2013, and Penguin Books released a so-called “interactive fiction” digital book called The 21 Steps in 2008. Technophiles of all generations have been enthralled by the novel’s nail-biting dramatic suspense.

That being said, the most inventive, truly unique reinterpretation of The Thirty Nine Steps brazenly defies sophisticated technology in favor of the world’s oldest entertainment platform: a stage. Originally debuting in 1995, the play is a send-up of the Hitchcock classic that puts a remarkably funny twist on the espionage thriller. Specifically, it calls for the entire 1935 film to be performed live with just a four-person cast. Those four people play over 150 characters without the benefit of movie magic, relying on speedy costume quick-changes, body language, fake mustaches, and the inherent comedy that comes from an actor performing a scene opposite himself. On-stage train rides and plane crashes are part of the mix, as are dozens of in-jokes and references to other Hitchcock classics like Psycho and The Birds. Productions of the play have received six Tony nominations and two wins, an Olivier Award, and a Drama Desk Award.

This funny, award-winning adaptation is one of the most popular versions of The Thirty-Nine Steps yet, a perfect combination of Buchan’s swashbuckling adventure and Hitchcock’s signature suspense, with an extra dose of comedy for good measure. It’s no wonder that MBT Winter Rep is eager to share the fun. The 39 Steps opens on February 14, 2014, in MBT’sWalton Theatre.