Theater review: “Annie” like the fun friend that disappoints in the end

“Annie” is at Bass Concert Hall this week with Issie Swickle as Annie and Sunny as Sandy in “Tomorrow.”
“Annie” is at Bass Concert Hall this week with Issie Swickle as Annie and Sunny as Sandy in “Tomorrow.”

Broadway in Austin’s “Annie” is one of those shows you want to love. It’s got all the memorable songs: “Tomorrow,” “Maybe,” “It’s the Hard Knock Life,” “Little Girls,” “I Think I’m Gonna Like It Here,” “Easy Street,”  “You’re Never Fully Dressed Without a Smile” and “I Don’t Need Anything But You.” It also has some songs that make you scratch your head because they weren’t memorable and you now understand why they didn’t make it into a version movie: “N.Y.C.,” “You Won’t Be an Orphan for Long,” and the cringe-worthy closing song “”A New Deal for Christmas.”

The problem with this “Annie,” compared with the movie that came out last December, is it’s incredibly dated. When I asked lyricist and director Martin Charnin about that earlier this month, he kept insisting that “Annie” is a timeless story about a girl’s search and hope to find her family. You can read that preview story here.

He’s right; that part is timeless and feels like something with which today’s kids can relate. The problem is the context of the play. The Great Depression, Hoovervilles, the New Deal — all play heavily in the story line of “Annie.” My 11-year-old daughter kept asking me questions: What are they talking about? When is this? Is this before World War II or after? Who is this Herbert Hoover?

Even though my daughter comes from a family that has talked about history her whole life, and she’s heard stories of her great-grandfathers in World War II and a little about the Great Depression, she’s three, possibly four generations removed from this time period. She grew restless every time President Roosevelt appeared or there was talk about any Hoover — Herbert or J. Edgar. Name droppings of Rockefeller and J.P. Morgan went completely over her head. It was one big “Huh?”

It’s not really her fault. Her fifth-grade U.S. History class has only gotten to the writing of the Constitution. Her brother’s eighth-grade U.S. History class is only at the Civil War. They just don’t know 20th century history. After all, they were born in this century.

The parts where “Annie” continues to shine is anytime Annie, played by Issie Swickle, and the other orphans are on the stage. Miss Hannigan, played by Lynn Andrews, steals and rescues this show. She caused full belly laughs throughout our area, which had a huge number of children my daughter’s age and younger. Even though she’s the villain, there are long stretches during which you hope she’ll come back on stage. We also wanted more Sandy, the dog, even though the dog that played him appeared to be bored the short time he was on the stage.

In keeping with the 1930s theme, Annie affected a 1930s New Englander accent every time she sang that didn’t always match her speaking voice. Lose the accent and her personality would shine through more. The other distraction was how much Issie messed with her wig in the final scene as well as the sailor suit and classic Annie dress. The audience could tell Issie felt uncomfortable in these stiff outfits. Issie has been playing Annie since August. By now, her outfits and her wig should fit her well and feel like second nature to her instead of irritating her.

“”Annie” is also long for its target audience. It’s 21/2 hours, and even with an intermission, it’s a recipe for seat squirming. Broadway in Austin should consider starting kid-oriented shows like the upcoming “The Little Mermaid” at 7 p.m. instead of 8 p.m. There would be a lot less children falling asleep in the theater and being carried out by their parents.

One other note: Bass Concert Hall continues to have sound problems. This time was better than “Mamma Mia,” but some of the talking parts were a bit muffled, especially in the beginning of the show with the orphans.

We’d easily return to see “Annie” for the the kids and Miss Hannigan and we’ve been singing the songs all morning long, but it really is time for “Annie” to get an update, one that is better than the 2014 movie.


When: 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, 2 p.m. Saturday, 1 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. Sunday

Where: Bass Concert Hall, 2300 Robert Dedman Drive

Tickets: $30-$110


SXSW keynote: Paola Antonelli on the future of design

Date/time: 2 p.m. Friday CAAEk29UsAAxAuR

Presenter: Paola Antonelli, senior curator for architecture & design, Museum of Modern Art

The gist: Antonelli — who designed the original MoMA web site that launched in 1994 — presented an overview of where today’s cutting-edge designers are working, from biodegradable bricks made of corn stalks and mushrooms to semi-living food that’s grown from bacteria in vitro. Design today, Antonelli said, is about asking new questions and framing new problems, not focused on the problem-solving of designers of past generations. “(This) is a view of design that is dynamic,  that’s about ambiguity and interstitial spaces.”

From the hall: Omar Gallaga reports that Antonelli’s talk attracted a fairly good-sized crowd with the Convention Center’s Exhibit Hall 5 about 75 percent full though about halfway through, people began to leave. “(Antonelli) didn’t seem to galvanize the audience by the midpoint of her talk,” Gallaga reported. “Al Gore had a pretty sparse crowd this morning, so that may just be opening day slowness.”

Takeaways: Design is a continually diversifying discipline whose best practioners today understand that design must be flexible, nimble, responsive. “Design as Parkour: use what is at hand in different ways” Antonelli said.

Session hashtag: #antonelli

Worth a read: Pac-man as art, Facebook ‘uncensors’ critic, museums just say no to selfie sticks

A few stories and cultural news moments that caught our eye this week:
In 2012 the Museum of Modern Art announced that it would begin to acquire video games — yes, including Pac-man — for its esteemed collection. Paola Antonelli, the MoMA’s design and architecture  curator who made that decision, is a keynote speaker at SXSW Interactive. Antonelli discusses her love Pac-man among other topics in this Q-and-A.

Pac-manMany cried foul hot-mouthed art critic Jerry Saltz was shut out of his Facebook account, presumably because Facebook felt his images of medieval and ancient art were too racy. However, Saltz is back on the social media site. And with n explanation from Facebook, either continue to post.

The Smithsonian museums in Washington are among the latest cultural institutions around the world that have banned the use of selfie sticks. Officials say it’s a preventative measure to protect museum objects. Perhaps it’s also to protect hapless visitors from the instruments of narcissism.

Book fans have been atwitter since it was announced in December that the reclusive writer Harper Lee would publish a second novel more than half a century after her masterpiece, “To Kill A Mockingbird.” However many contend that the 88-year-old’s mental health is not the in state in which she could have made such decision. Lee netted a Pulitzer for “Mockingbird” which has never been out of print since it debuted in 1960. (

“Mamma Mia!” fun but loud

Mamma MiaFox Theater

The musical "Mamma Mia!" is coming to Bass Concert Hall for a limited run.
The musical “Mamma Mia!” is coming to Bass Concert Hall for a limited run.

“Mamma Mia!”, the musical based on ABBA music, dances on Bass Concert Hall’s stage this week. It’s part of the Broadway Across America tour.

A young girl, who grew up on a Greek island, is about to get married. She invites three men from her mother’s past who could be her father. Her mother’s gal pals from the past also invade for the weekend. It’s a high energy comedy with many laughs and music that has the audience tapping their feet and sometimes singing along.

It is delightful, bringing together an audience of mostly women of all ages and occasional dates.

But at Tuesday night’s performance, the solo vocals were mostly strong, but drown out by the way-too-loud backing band and the way-way-way too loud Greek choir. At one point, audience members had their hands covering their ears as the band came in way too loud to start the second act.

There were also problems with diction. If you knew the music, you could understand the lyrics. If you didn’t grow up with ABBA or weren’t too familiar with the songs, some of the lyrics were muddled. At several points, my daughter turned to me and whispered “I have no idea what they are saying?” or “What did she just say?”

It’s a shame, too. You want to enjoy all the innuendo that makes ABBA music fun.

Bass has had sound problems in the past and even underwent a renovation to improve the sound among other things. Perhaps, after last night’s struggles, producers will rethink the sound mix for this stage to make it more understandable and more enjoyable.

The cast, though, makes this a fun show. The groom’s guy pals were especially phenomenal dancers and the mother’s two side kicks delivered laughs in both witty remarks and physical comedy.

Mamma Mia!” continues at Bass Concert Hall. 8 p.m. Wednesday-Saturday, 2 p.m. Saturday and 1 and 7 p.m. Sunday. $30-$100. 2300 Robert Dedman Drive.


Arty Small Business Saturday at Canopy

Artists and galleries at the Canopy arts complex — at 916 Springdale Road — are participating in Small Business Saturday from 12 noon to 6 p.m. with open studios, complimentary beverages while you shop and a gift wrapping service.

Participating galleries include: Art.Science.Gallery, No. 4 St. James, Modern Rocks Gallery
and the cafe Sa-Tén Coffee and Eats

Participating artists include: Jenn Hassin, Rebecca Bennett, Jaelah Kuehmichel, Maria Montoya Hohenstein, Troy Allen, Brian Maclaskey, Flip Solomon, Andrew Auten, Amber Cunningham

Rebecca Bennett’s “Zen Stripe IV”



Replay the #EASTart social buzz for EAST 2014 weekend one

Did you miss the first weekend of the East Austin Studio Tour 2014? Check out what attendees were tweeting and instagraming on social media (and then check out our guide to EAST before weekend two begins!)

SXSW throws a party at EAST

Austin’s festival culture — and its attendant side-party-to-a-festival culture —  may have just hit the tipping point: the very-much-for-profit SXSW is hosting a party during the non-profit East Austin Studio Tour.  photo-21 copy

That’s a little like somebody’s parents crashing the cool kids’ party.

Somebody’s disapproving parents that is. SXSW has long griped about the many side parties and unofficial showcases that have piggy-backed on to its own official events.

SXSW’s  “Sunday School” party is, however, an official, or at least sanctioned, EAST event.

The happening features DJ Jes Carpenter is 3 to 9 p.m. Nov. 16 at Delta Millworks, 4701 E. Fifth St., at the corner of East Fifth St. and Springdale Road.

It’s free, too.

Drinks from Austin Beerworks, Lagunitas, Treaty Oak, and Juiceland. Food from Micklethwait Craft Meats and Vegan Nom.

And you have marvel at the (ironic?) coincidence that such a confluences of festivals happens to be in building whose owners commissioned an artist to paint a mock (ironic?) version of South Austin’s now iconic “I Love You So Much” graffiti.

Yet no sooner did “I Hate You So Much” appear on the Delta Millworks wall along Springdale Road then street artists began a rather clever series of alterations.




Line Upon Line launches new concert season

Twice named Outstanding Ensemble by the Austin Critics Table, the continually inventiveLine Upon Line Percussion starts their Austin concert season Nov. 7, again commandeering Big Medium Gallery as their venue.

Enthusiastic purveyors of new and adventuresome music, the trio — Matthew Teodori, Cullen Faulk and Adam Bedell — will premiere Andrew Greenwald’s “99 Words” for three heavily-altered snare drums, a piece the group commissioned.

Also on the program is Toru Takemitsu’s “Rain Tree” (for a trio of marimbas and vibraphone) and Rolf Wallin’s “Stonewave” by Norwegian composer Rolf Wallin who use often uses fractal algorithms as the creative basis of his music.

Line Upon Line recently joined the TCA Texas Touring Roster which hopefully will mean other cities around the state will

8 p.m. Friday. Big Medium Gallery, Canopy, 916 Springdale Road. $10-$30.

Line Upon Line Percussion. Photo by Rino Pizzi
Line Upon Line Percussion. Photo by Rino Pizzi

Sunday arts pick (And Things We Love About Austin): Elisabet Ney Museum

On Oct. 24, we published “175 Reasons We Love Austin,” an idiosyncratic list of the lists various members of the American-Statesman Arts & Entertainment staff came up with.

The sprawling list of our personal lists went viral. You can read the whole thing here: (subscription-free link).

I chose things having to do with art and architecture for my list. And because I haven’t stopped loving them, I’m going to trickle them out on this blog in the next couple of weeks.

As it so happens, on Sunday, Oct. 26, the Elisabet Ney Museum is hosting “Polkapocalypse” a free celebration from noon to 5 p.m. of polka music with bands including Conjunto Los Pinkys and Grammy-winners Brave Combo. See the Facebook entry for the event here.

What I love about the idiosyncratic limestone building Ney built in 1892 and named “Formosa,” is that though eventually the German-born artist would add living quarters and a kitchen, the place was first and foremost an art studio not a house.

Hence the building’s odd architectural composition — it’s driven by the demands of Ney’s large-scale figurative marble sculpture-making.

Ney had moved to Austin in 1892 to resume her career as a sculptress after a 20 year lapse. She had just been commissioned to sculpt Sam Houston and Stephen F. Austin for the 1892 Chicago World’s Fair.

Her art was her priority, not housekeeping. Most nights she slept on the roof. “Women are fools to be bothered with housework” she once said.

At first, the building — with its quirky mash-up of stylistic details both neo-Gothic and neo-Classical — was a large high-ceilinged studio with a small antechamber on one side.

Ney built her studio on the shore of Waller Creek in the Hyde Park neighborhood.
Ney built her studio on the shore of Waller Creek in the Hyde Park neighborhood.
First iteration of Formosa, Elisabet Ney's studio.
First iteration of Formosa, Elisabet Ney’s studio.


Only in 1902 did Ney add the tower and two-story addition that has a kitchen in the basement and sleeping quarters upstairs.

And the tower? Yes, there’s a “secret” door that leads out to Ney’s favorite place — the roof.





Austin Lyric Opera rebrands as Austin Opera

After 28 years, Austin Lyric Opera is changing its name, officials with the organization announced today.

From now on, the company will be known as Austin Opera.

General director Joe Specter said the change is meant to reflect the professional stature and forward-thinkingof the company.

“We’ve been known as Austin Lyric Opera for many years, and it has served us well. It is an important part of our history, and we are proud to be an opera company with that kind of longevity,” said Specter.

“As Austin continues its remarkable growth, we want our name to let people know that we are offering the kind of sophisticated opera experience that suits our creative and thriving city. As a name, ‘Austin Opera’ is elegant and inviting.”

Specter reported that in the past three season, the opera has seen a 33 percent increase in subscriptions. And artistic director and principal conductor Richard Buckley has now signed a four-year contract that will bring his tenure with the company to 16 years.

The company also signed a contract renewal with Local 433, American Federation of Musicians, to extend the opera orchestra’s term for an additional three years.

The company begins its season with a new production of Giuseppe Verdi’s A Masked Ball, Nov. 8, 13 and 16. On the production team are stage director Leon Major and Wendall Harrington, one of the world’s foremost projection designers. Harrington’s participation comes through a  partnership between Austin Opera and UT’s School of Theater and Dance.