Austin Critics’ Table announces 2015-2016 award nominations

And they’re in: The Austin Critics’ Table today announces the nominations for its 2015-2016 arts awards.

Now in its 24th year, the Critics’ Table in an informal group of arts writers from the American-Statesman and the Austin Chronicle who annually recognize achievement in the arts.

The free awards ceremony is at 7 p.m. May 23 at Cap City Comedy Club.

Also being honored this year as new inductees to the Austin Arts Hall of Fame are Austin Symphony Orchestra music director Peter Bay, Ballet Austin executive director Cookie Ruiz and Ballet Austin artistic director Stephen Mills.

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Jade Walker’s “Four Cornered.”

ART

"99 White Balloons," by Invivia, part of "Field Constructs"
“99 White Balloons,” by Invivia, part of “Field Constructs
  • Independent or Public Project
    “Field Constructs Design Competition,” Rachel Adams, Catherine Gavin, and Igor Siddiqui.
    “Omission,” Juan Deleon, TEMPO/AIPP
    “Las Piñatas,” David A. Goujon, TEMPO/AIPP
    “Sew Wasted,” Los Outsiders
    “Sound Atlas,” Steve Parker, Drawing Lines
  • Gallery Body of Work
    Camiba Gallery
    Grayduck Gallery
    MASS Gallery
    Pump Project Gallery
    Wally Workman Gallery

DANCE

KDH Dance Company's "True Stories." Photo by Stephen Pruitt.
KDH Dance Company’s “True Stories.” Photo by Stephen Pruitt.
  • Short work
    “Desire” from Director’s Choice, Ballet Austin
    “Motherwell Amor,” Erick Hawkins Dance Co./Shay Ishii Dance Co.
    “A Part,” Rosalyn Nasky (Chaddick Dance Theater)
    “Stream,” Ballet Austin (Director’s Choice)
    “Early That Summer,” Ballet Austin (Director’s Choice)
    “Echoes of Veiled Light,” Ballet East
  • Choreographer
    Collective choreography by Charles O. Anderson, Lisa Nicks, Kate Warren and Kathy Dunn Hamrick, More Than One Complication
    Kathy Dunn Hamrick, True Story
    Sally Jacques, Edge of Grace
    Andrea Ariel, “Echoes of Veiled Light”
    Acia Gray, In Your Shoes
Aare Krumpe and Paul Bloodgood in Stephen Mills' "Desire." Photo by Anne Bloodgood.
Aare Krumpe and Paul Bloodgood in Stephen Mills’ “Desire.” Photo by Anne Bloodgood.
  • Duet
    Paul Michael Bloodgood & Aara Krumpe, “Desire”
    Nathan Brumbaugh & Lisa Del Rosario, “Echoes of Veiled Light”
    Matt Shields & Tony Merriwether, Sophisticated Ladies

THEATER

Jacques Colimon as Jaybo Freeman and Jennifer Underwood as Eller Freeman in "Terminus"
Jacques Colimon as Jaybo Freeman and Jennifer Underwood as Eller Freeman in “Terminus”
"The Wild Party," UT Dept. of Theatre
“The Wild Party,” UT Dept. of Theatre
  • Ensemble Performance
    “Mr. Burns, a post-electric play,” Mary Moody Northen Theatre
    “The Wild Party,” UT Austin Department of Theatre and Dance
    “The Diary of Anne Frank,” UT Department of Theatre and Dance
    “The Dumb Waiter,” Capital T Theatre
    “Topdog/Underdog,” Viceroys
    “The Tree Play,” Robi Polgar
    “Tortoise & Hare,” Summer Stock Austin
 "Mr. Burns, a post-electric play." Photo by Brett Brookshire.
“Mr. Burns, a post-electric play.” Photo by Brett Brookshire.
  • David Mark Cohen New Play Award
    Tender Rough Rough Tender,” Sarah Saltwick
    Fixing Timon of Athens,” Kirk Lynn
    “The Tree Play,” Robi Polgar
    “Hands Up Hoodies Down,” Zell Miller III
    “Hunger,” Ebony Stewart
    Tortoise & Hare,” Allen Robertson & Damon Brown
  • Costume Design
    Talena Martinez, “Marie Antoinette”
    Curtis Uhlemann and Bobby Moffett, “The Warriors”
    Mercedes O’Bannion, “Mast/The Government Inspector”
    Kelsey Vidic, “The Diary of Anne Frank”
    E. L. Hohn, “The Wild Party”
    Jenny McNee & Jennifer Rose Davis, “The History of King Lear”
    Court Watson, “Evita”
"Dancestry," Shay Ishii Dance Company
“Dancestry,” Shay Ishii Dance Company
  • Lighting Design
    Patrick Anthony, “Year of the Rooster“/“Hunger“/“Terminus/”Medea”/”Marie Antoinette”
    Stephen Pruitt, “In Your Shoes”/”Frankenstein: The Trouble Puppet Show”/”True Story”/”Lumen”
    Megan Slayter, “Dancestry”
    Jennifer Rogers, “The Tree Play”
    Po-Yang Sung, “The Diary of Anne Frank”
    Michelle Habeck, “Sophisticated Ladies”
    Sarah Maines, “Mr. Burns, a post-electric play”
  • Sound Design
    Robert S. Fisher, “Gusev/The Night Alive/The Realistic Joneses”
    K. Eliot Haynes, “Frankenstein: The Trouble Puppet Show/Mr. Burns, a post-electric play”
    William Meadows, “Edge of Grace”
    Lowell Bartholomee, “The Tree Play/Year of the Rooster”
    Ben Campbell, “The Diary of Anne Frank”
    Craig Brock, “Evita”
  • Video Design
    Lowell Bartolomee, “When the Rain Stops Falling”
    Eliot Gray Fisher, “The Warriors”
    Jared LeClaire, “The Wild Party”
    Julia Smith, “Gusev”
    Matt Smith, “The Diary of Anne Frank”

CLASSICAL MUSIC

  • Singer
    Donnie Ray Albert, Aida
    Tuija Knihtilä, Aida
    Chan Yang Lim, At the Statue of Venus
    Lior, Compassion
    Eric Neuville, The Poet Sings: Emily Dickinson
    Issachar Savage, Aida
    Karen Slack, Aida
    Julia Taylor, Three Decembers
    Sonja DuToit Tengblad, The Poet Sings: Emily Dickinson
  • Chamber Performance
    Anton Nel & Bion Tsang, Butler School of Music
    Medieval Pilgrimage in Iberia, Texas Early Music Project
    The Late Show, Austin Chamber Music Center
    Pléiades, line upon line percussion
    The Poet Sings: Emily Dickinson, Conspirare
    Start the New Year With Bach, La Follia
    Traffic Jam, Steve Parker
  • Instrumentalist
    Catherine Davis, Illusory Impressions
    Jessica Mathaes, Compassion
    Anton Nel, Anton Nel & Bion Tsang
    Stephen Redfield, Start the New Year With Bach
    Michelle Schumann, The Poet Sings: Emily Dickinson/In the Face of Trouble
    Bion Tsang, Anton Nel & Bion Tsang
    Keith Womer, Start the New Year With Bach, La Follia

Austin Shakespeare’s free “Macbeth” runs all May

For 32 years, April showers bring Austin free Shakespeare in the park for the month of May.

And so Austin Shakespeare continues the decades-long tradition of presenting a show in Zilker Park.

A new production of “Macbeth” has a modern military look — along with plenty of sword fights, ghosts and eerie aparitions and odd, creepy witches.

The show features two of Austin’s most regarded classical actors: Marc Pouhé reprises his acclaimed 2008 portrayal of Macbeth and Helen Merino stars as Lady Macbeth.

Marc Pouhé and Helen Merino 1 Austin Shakespeare's Macbeth Photo by Bret Brookshire
Marc Pouhé and Helen Merino star in Austin Shakespeare’s “Macbeth.” Photo by Bret Brookshire

Shows are 8 p.m. Thursday-Sunday through May 29.

Picnics are welcome and bring a blanket to sit on. Dogs must be kept on a leash. Glass containers are not allowed and smoking is definitely not allowed in the park.

The Beverly S. Sheffield Zilker Hillside Theatre is directly across the drive from Barton Springs Pool in Zilker Park. Free. Go to austinshakespeare.org for more info.

 

 

Ghostly apparitions in "Macbeth."
Ghostly apparitions in “Macbeth.” Photo by Bret Brookshire.

 

Witches - Hannah Rose Barfoot, Crystal Bird Caviel, Jessica Hughes Austin Shakespeare's Macbeth Photo by Bret Brookshire
Hannah Rose Barfoot, Crystal Bird Caviel and Jessica Hughes play the witches in Austin Shakespeare’s “Macbeth.” Photo by Bret Brookshire

Magic Lights Up Austin at Esther’s Follies

Ray Anderson worked his magic on Ellana Kelter during an audition for Esther’s Follies years ago when she performed an illusion without even knowing it. Something clicked and they formed a partnership rooted in passion and trust, performing dangerous illusions three nights a week in downtown Austin.

“People can tell we love one another,” Anderson said.

Ray and Ellana 2

During the show, Ray and Ellana descend onto the stage in a huge metal cage. As they dance passionately and seductively, Ellana disappears before the audience’s eyes, reappearing as she bursts through the cage, and lands in Anderson’s arms.

“I can’t wait to look deep into his eyes. That’s part of what makes it easy, nothing is fake,” said Kelter. “The magic is really us. It’s our own personality. Each piece, its own story.”

In another illusion, Ellana springs up out of a fiery box. Anderson hypnotizes her to the driving beat of KONGOS song, Come With Me Now, and suddenly she levitates.

“Entertaining an audience is true magic,” Anderson said. “We get the same gratification when it’s successful. To share that moment with someone else is spectacular.”

Theater review: Rude Mechs’ “Fixing Timon of Athens” rejuvenates Shakespeare

(This review is written by American-Statesman freelance arts critic Andrew J. Friedenthal.)

 

Austin’s Rude Mechanicals have turned “fixing” some of Shakespeare’s less produced, lesser-known works into something of a habit, beginning with Kirk Lynn’s Fixing King John.

Now, the playwright (and co-producing artistic director of the Rude Mechs) has created Fixing Timon of Athens, a rejuvenating take on Timon of Athens that modernizes the language, reconfigures gender imbalances, and streamlines the plot for a contemporary audience.

"Fixin Timon of Athens." Photo by Bret Brookshire.
“Fixing Timon of Athens.” Photo by Bret Brookshire.

Variously classified as one of Shakespeare’s tragedies or one of his complex, ambiguous “problem plays,” Timon of Athens is rarely produced these days, in part because of its somewhat unfinished nature, with strange lapses in plot and character that go unexplained by the text. Many scholars, in fact, believe that Shakespeare wrote the play in collaboration with another author.

In Fixing Timon of Athens, that collaboration extends even further to Lynn who has modernized the language of the play (particularly the curse words and dirty jokes) and simplified the plot in order to focus on the intriguing characters created by Shakespeare.

In Lynn’s hands, these engaging personalities are on dazzling display, including the profligate Timon (Tom Green), his devoted servant Flavia (Elizabeth Doss), her proud lover Vinnie (Robert Faires), the ascetic Apemantia (Barbara Chisholm), vengeful Amazon Alcibadia  (Ellie McBride), and the comedic duo of Braymount (Lowell Bartholomee) a painter, and CeeCee (Robert S. Fisher), a conceptual poet.

Photo by Bret Brookshire.
“Fixing Timon of Athens.” Photo by Bret Brookshire.

Lynn’s paired-down script and the cast’s energetic, meta-aware performance (with frequent moments obliterating the fourth wall) make for a dynamic evening of theater that brings a new exuberance to this lesser-known Shakespearean text.

Indeed, as odd as it is to say, what flaws there are in Fixing Timon of Athens largely come from Shakespeare.

The second act of the play diverges wildly from the first, arresting both plot and characterization for the sake of a kind of philosophizing that might be more at home in King Lear. When the action does come to a conclusion, it seems to be trying to shoehorn in too many morals at one time, focusing on message rather than on character or story.

"Fixin Timon of Athens." Photo by Bret Brookshire.
“Fixing Timon of Athens.” Photo by Bret Brookshire.

Fortunately, director Madge Darlington and co-director Alexandra Bassiakou Shaw bring some dynamic staging to the second act that counterbalances the stagnation of the plot, bringing the audience through to a dramatic conclusion that regains the magic of the play’s opening.

Fixing Timon of Athens revivifies a “lost” Shakespearian text with a well-placed dose of contemporary language, creating a work that feels a lot like a translation of a text from another language.

In a way, that’s exactly what Lynn has done, taking a piece of classic theater that may not quite speak to modern audiences and putting it in the voice of our times. In so doing, he – and the entire cast and production team – have created a work that gives Shakespeare a sorely needed biting edge.

“Fixing Timon of Athens” runs through Feb. 27 at the Off Center. www.rudemechs.com

Theater review: Zach Theatre’s “The Santaland Diaries” gets a cabaret makeover

(This review is written by American-Statesman freelance writer Wes Eichenwald.)

 

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Meredith McCall, Jason Connor and Martin Burke in “The Santaland Diaries.” Photo by Kirk Tuck.

When the Holidays with a capital ‘H’ come around, so do certain staples of the stage, as inevitable as bluebonnets and SXSW in spring. We speak of the “Nutcrackers” and “Christmas Carols,” those reliable cash cows purpose-built to herd well-padded bottoms of all ages into theater seats. In the past two decades a decidedly minor-key, adult-oriented, dyspeptic addition to the canon has joined them, a corrective comment on the American way of Christmas: “The Santaland Diaries.”

The inextricable bond between Christmas and shopping, as if true holiday spirit can only be found in a major department store, is at the heart of “Diaries,” which made David Sedaris a household name – in households tuned in to NPR, anyway – after he wrote the original essay in 1992. The story, a semi-true account of how he was driven by job-seeker desperation to don the cap and bells as Crumpet the elf at Macy’s Santaland, was first staged in 1996.

But who needs Sedaris when we’ve got Martin Burke, who first played Crumpet at the Zach in 1998 and continued it annually for some 15 years (in 2012 he swore he was retiring the role; happily, it didn’t stick).

Burke has the jaundiced, self-hating misfit-elf schtick down cold, but helping him in no small measure to spice up this season’s holiday punch is his longtime friend Meredith McCall, the veteran Austin actress and singer who’s trod the Zach’s boards at least as much as her co-conspirator. Accompanied by stoic but up-for-anything pianist/musical director Jason Connor and (sometimes) Burke, the elegant McCall, resplendent in several shimmering ‘50s style dresses and gowns, set the foundation of a warm and laughter-filled evening with 45 minutes of cabaret, ranging from traditional Christmas songs with Austin-specific lyrics written by director Abe Reybold (plenty of traffic jokes; anyone who crawled forever down Mopac and Lamar to get to the show could relate) and topical takes (“Text Me Merry Christmas”) to lesser-known numbers like the delicious Brecht-Weill parody “Surabaya Santa” where a sardonic Mrs. Claus takes center stage at last. There are also some very silly and very non-PC bits of business.

It’s clear to even casual observers that Burke was born to play the hapless elf subjected to one humiliation after another in Santaland. The actor is possessed of a huge head with swept-back pompadour, set on a compact torso that never stops moving, suggesting a living caricature of himself or an occasionally profane wind-up doll. The Whisenhunt Stage, an intimate round bandbox of a theater, almost ensures the audience is part of the show, proven by Burke’s frequent comic interactions with some of them (good sports, all); at one point, he had us all rise from our seats to do the Wave.

The interplay and physical comedy between Burke and McCall was priceless; as one bit of Burkian stage business led to another – this is likely the only show with spot-on impressions of Miley Cyrus and Billie Holiday – she played the role of tolerant but patronizing straight woman to perfection. (For those with long memories, she pretty much channeled Keely Smith during the Louis Prima era.) This held true during the “Diaries” itself, as McCall moved into the role of Santaland hostess/elf dominatrix, where her chemistry with Burke allowed for tons of looseness and ad-libbing. If the show makes it safe for us to laugh at what we do to ourselves every December, sanity peeks through at the end, hope and love triumphing (if briefly) over cynicism, echoing McCall’s standout rendition of David Friedman’s touching, wise “The Truth About Christmas” in the cabaret segment.

This edition of “Santaland” is something special: rather than a one-man show, it’s a real three-person effort. Burke, McCall and Connor have created something all too rare in this town, an Austin approximation of a New York-style piano-bar cabaret with a holiday slant. It’s all about kindred spirits having fun, showing off, and in doing a little soul-baring, getting under the audience’s collective skin. Those attending the festivities knew they were among friends – no, among family – and they were home.

“The Santaland Diaries” contains through Dec, 27 at the Whisenhunt Stage at Zach Theatre, $59  zachtheatre.org

“The Little Mermaid” at Bass Concert Hall enchants visually, emotionally

“The Little Mermaid” musical, which is onstage at Bass Concert Hall through Sunday, is magical. Characters fly through the air, skate and dance as if they are swimming through the ocean. It’s one of the few musicals that use all the stage from top to bottom, back to front. You never know where Ariel will appear next.

Disney's "The Little Mermaid" stars Alison Woods as Ariel.
Disney’s “The Little Mermaid” stars Alison Woods as Ariel.

The musical rounds out the Disney movie by creating back story as well as letting us into the minds of more than just the lead character, Ariel. Ursula the sea witch is actually King Triton’s older sister. Who knew? Triton loves Ariel the most because she has her mother’s voice. And that mother is the reason why Triton hates humans. He thinks his wife was killed by them.

To give all this back story, the musical adds a lot of songs — a lot. More than half are not in the movie. They blend well, though, and feel like they should have been, but if you have “Little Mermaid” purists, it will be a tough sell. And if you have little ones, the hour and 23 minute movie becomes a two and a half hour musical with a 15 minute intermission. It also feels like all the secondary characters: Prince Eric, his adviser Grimsby, Ariel’s friend Flounder, the crazy seagull Scuttle, King Triton, Ariel’s sisters, and Ursula’s henchmen Flotsam and Jetsam were all given their signature song, which doesn’t always move this story forward.

Still, as a production, it is visually stunning, incredibly heartwarming and stunning. Alison Woods, who plays Ariel, has her precociousness and naiveté down. Her voice sounds straight from the movie, not an easy task considering the range that Ariel is expected to have. Jennifer Allen as Ursula is pure fun in her evilness. She gives a memorable performance and the choreography smartly uses her eight octopus legs to be characters of their own.

Also of note, the is one of the first productions at Bass Concert Hall where the sound was well done. It did not feel as if the actors were singing through mud and you could understand the lyrics almost all of the time. There was no whispers from the audience of “What did she say?” Instead, a lot of kids and even adults were repeating the lyrics or lines during intermission or after the show in approval of their cleverness.

“The Little Mermaid

When: 8 p.m. Wednesday-Saturday; 2 p.m. Saturday, and 1 p.m. and 7 p.m.Sunday.

Where: Bass Concert Hall, 2350 Robert Dedman Drive

Tickets: $35-$115

Information: texasperformingarts.org

Review: Pollyanna Theatre’s “Sarah the Dinosaur” at the Long Center

When we first see Sarah from Pollyanna Theatre Company’s “Sarah the Dinosaur,” she is meek. The second-grader and her class are visiting a museum and all the other kids pair up and are having a fine time. She is left out.

"Sarah the Dinosaur" is at the Long Center through Sunday.
“Sarah the Dinosaur” is at the Long Center through Sunday.

When we last see Sarah, she has found her voice and learned how to use it appropriately, and has learned a lot of cool things about dinosaurs.

The production at the Long Center is designed for preschoolers and early elementary-school children. It was written by Kathleen Fletcher and Andrew Perry, and five actors play all the characters from students and teachers to family members and dinosaurs.

In this production, you get to see a little bit of how theater is made as you watch a stagehand or the actors move the sets to turn a museum into a home, school yard or classroom. You also watch a table turn into a bed. It’s a great entry into theater for children who have never seen a live production.

“Sarah the Dinosaur” is also insight into a young girl’s mind. As Sarah played by Uyen-Anh Dang reads a dinosaurs book, dinosaurs appear on the stage and act how she might imagine. They do the hula, they fly like an airplane, they go to the grocery store for a steak. It reminds kids that imagination and creativity are good.

Some of the performances are over-the-top, especially from the dinosaurs, which made the audience giggle. However, there a disconnect between how the children act and the idea that they are second-graders. Some of their behavior makes them feel more like preschoolers, yet they are reading and writing.

The mother is a 1950s housewife stereotype with a robe and hair rollers. All she’s missing is the dangling cigarette. The teacher is like no elementary school teacher I know. She’s unobservant and unprofessional. She definitely doesn’t have control of this classroom. She has a good heart, though.

The obnoxious kids and the dumbed-down adults remind of the shows on the Disney Channel that present an idea that parents are always stupid and children can get attention for being  obnoxious.

“Sarah” definitely sends a message that is worth seeing: Growing up is not just about getting bigger; it’s about growing on the inside by admitting when you are wrong and learning how to find your voice.

Summer can be a hard time to find good theater for kids to see. This summer, we’ve been lucky: “Inside Out” is in movie theaters and “Sarah the Dinosaur” is on stage. Think of them as companion pieces to the lesson of growing up and dealing with emotions.

Pollyanna Theatre Co.presents “Sarah the Dinosaur.”

When: 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, 4 p.m. Saturday.

Where: The Long Center, 701 W. Riverside Drive.

Tickets: $11-$15.50.

Information: thelongcenter.org.

Read about past Pollyanna Theatre productions here, here and here.

Theater review: Doctuh Mistuh Productions’ of “The Rocky Horror Show”

(This review is written by American-Statesman freelance arts critic Cate Blouke.)

 

For anyone who has ever even thought about attending a midnight showing of “The Rocky Horror Picture Show,” or who’s seen the movie and delighted in its wacky campy humor, Doctuh Mistuh Productions’ “The Rocky Horror Show,” playing through July 11 at Salvage Vanguard Theatre, is an absolutely necessary experience.11168394_942711552417943_4622373073052659769_n

If, by some strange turn of events, you’ve never seen “Rocky Horror” in theaters or at home, this will be an evening of theater you won’t quickly forget. The basic premise is that a couple’s car breaks down, and they seek shelter and aid from a castle full of (what turn out to be) sex-crazed aliens. But all you really need to know is that it’s strange, sexy, and awesome.

The 85 minutes of science-fiction, burlesque show shenanigans are as hilarious as they are fabulous. And if you’ve enjoyed shouting at the screen in the past, shouting at the actors is a whole new level of fun.

The live show offers additional delights via persistent peanut-gallery comments from the off-stage ensemble – adding raunchy tag lines to even the most innocuous statements.

A sixteen-person rendition of “Time Warp” is just one of the treats the show has in store. Keaton Jadwin provides a stand out performance as Riff Raff, hitting the high notes with gusto and leaving us wanting more.

Celeste Castillo opens and closes the show with saucy singing as the Usherette. Chase Brewer is adorably uptight as Brad, and Sarah Zeringue’s tap-dancing rendition of Columbia is truly delightful. We also get hilarious appearances from Jose Villarreal (Dr. Scott) and Stephen Mercantel (Narrator).

Gray Randolph stars as Frank, and when the already-tall actor makes his entrance in seven-inch stilettos, he dominates the stage in more ways than one. He also displays a delightful penchant for showing off his posterior as he struts around in fishnets and a g-string for much of the performance.

Glenda Barnes’ costumes bedazzle the stage with sparkle and sex appeal. The actors triumphantly dash around stage in stilettos, corsets, and stockings, providing enough eye candy to satisfy audiences of any persuasion.

For tickets and show time see: www.doctuhmistuh.org

Mean, timeless and hilarious: Musical ‘Heathers’ delivers

(Regular freelance arts writer Cate Blouke reviews the Doctuh Mistuh production of “Heathers” at Salvage Vanguard Theatre.)

Mean girls are timeless, and high school is rough for everyone. It’s an awkward time as adolescence struggles to evolve into pre-adulthood, and teens can be especially vicious to each other.

But if you add some singing and dancing to the hormones and havoc, you get the hilarious musical adaptation “Heathers: A New Musical,” playing through July 11 at Salvage Vanguard Theatre.

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Based on the 1988 cult classic film, it’s the story of a bright but unpopular smart girl, Veronica (Aline Mayagoitia), who stumbles into the group of “it” girls (all, as you might guess, named Heather). The Heathers maintain their popularity through a combination of beauty and cruelty — staying on top by keeping others down. And when they turn on Veronica, her troubled teen boyfriend, JD (Gray Randolph), strikes back with deadly force.

Produced by Doctuh Mistah Productions under Michael McKelvey’s direction, the show is camp at its most delightful. McKelvey and his company boldly bring us musicals we otherwise wouldn’t get to see (such as last year’s production of “Silence! The Musical” — a joyfully ridiculous adaptation of “Silence of the Lambs”).

With a huge cast of talented performers drawn from musical theater programs across the country, McKelvey makes “Heathers” as much fun as one could hope for. The show features songs about (un)popularity, Slurpees and frustrated teenage sexuality.

Gray Randolph glides his way from sexy bad boy to creepy sociopath so smoothly that Aline Mayagoitia doesn’t know what hit her. But any former teenage girl can relate to Aline’s angsty love affair with her damaged fellow, and she does a great job of carrying the lead.

The three Heathers (Taylor Bryant, Kassiani Menas and Celeste Castilo) are all marvelously sexy and vicious, and as the dumb, bullying jocks (Kurt and Ram), Jeff Jordan and Ricky Gee add a lot of laughs to the show.

The choreography is snappy and the songs are hilarious, though the live band often competes with the vocals rather than accompanying them. That along with some technical and microphone hiccups detracted a bit from the show’s overall polish, but it’s still an impressive display of sinister silliness.

“Heathers” will run in repertory with a live version of “The Rocky Horror Show,” which opened Wednesday, as Doctuh Mistuh brings a delightful summer of cult classics to Austin that are even more fun on stage.

Theater review: Austin Shakepeare’s “The Taming of the Shrew”

(This review is written by American-Statesman freelance arts critic Cate Blouke.)

 

Old time country music twangs and a cool spring breeze blows across the Zilker hillside as the moon hangs low on the horizon. Our unseasonably pleasant spring weather this year is a lovely start to the Zilker Hillside Theater season and a compelling reason to bring out the picnic blankets and coolers for Austin Shakespeare’s production of “The Taming of the Shrew,” running through May 24. 11182286_10153799668523222_7020810462981748141_n

One of Shakespeare’s most popular comedies, “Taming” has inspired plenty of re-tellings over the years: from “Kiss Me Kate” to “10 Things I Hate About You,” we’ve watched countless men conspire to marry off a shrewish elder sister so that others may woo her demure younger sibling.

For those able to overlook the overt sexism and problematic currents of domestic violence in the play, this production is an entertaining foray into romantic comedy silliness.

In keeping with Austin Shakespeare’s tradition of late, director Anne Ciccolella has set the production far away in time and space from Shakespeare’s original imagining. Rather than the streets of Padua, characters ramble through the Texas hill country back in the 1890s, and to set the scene, the cast treats audiences to a rousing rendition of “Deep in the Heart of Texas” at the top of the show.

Admittedly, it takes a while for our ears to get used to hearing “Austin” and “Fredericksburg” inserted into the verse, but the southern setting allows for some dramatic license that’ll get laughs.

Another feather in the production’s cap is the talented Marc Pouhé playing the romantic lead (Petruchio). Pouhé commands attention in his ankle length black duster and cowboy hat, which turns out to be a surprisingly fitting ensemble for the proud and blustery suitor.

With its thick layers of silliness, the production makes for a cute evening.

Bianca (Sara Cormier) walks onstage licking a lollypop the size of her head and the rodeo-style wrestling with her elder sister Kate (Gwedolyn Kelso) ends up remarkably well supported by the text. Tony Salinas also stands out for his clowning as Grumio, Petruchio’s hapless servant.

The quirky setting brings Texas charm to the Bard’s story at some inevitable cost to textual integrity. So while the production’s liberties will likely make Shakespeare purists cringe, the familiarity of the setting allows for some extra-textual fun that more laid-back audiences will certainly appreciate.

“The Taming of the Shrew” continues 8 p.m. Thursdays-Sundays through May 24 at Zilker Hillside Theatre. www.austinshakespeare.org