Austin actor, producer and educator Billy Harden has died

Billy Harden, co-founder of Spectrum Theatre Company, died early Tuesday of colon cancer. He was 64. An actor, producer and educator, Harden appeared in many shows with Spectrum, Zach Theatre and permutations of Austin Playhouse.

lkbilly
Austin actor, producer and educator Billy Harden has died. Larry Kolvoord/American-Statesman

“(I’m) wrecked today at the loss of Billy Harden,” posted Lara Toner Haddock, artistic director of Austin Playhouse, on social media. “I met Billy when I was 12 years old and for 30 years he served as an unparalleled example of kindness and integrity. … I’m grateful to have known him and so saddened by his loss.”

Harden earned a doctorate in educational leadership and served as a teacher, instructional coach and administrator. He was former head of school at Goodwill Industries Charter School and assistant principal at the Austin School District’s Alternative Learning Center.

Among his memorable performances were multiple stagings of “I’m Not Rappaport” with fellow actor Tom Parker. Other standouts include roles in “Porgy and Bess,” “Purlie,” “Spunk,” “Our Town,” “The Gospel at Colonus,” “Death of a Salesman,” “Two Trains Running,” “The Exonerated,” “Five Guys Named Moe,” and many more.

“Billy was such as sweet soul,” posted actor Felicia Dinwiddie on social media. “And so talented and surely he will be missed. … He has taken his final bow into the hands of the Lord.”

“Billy F. Harden was present from some of the earliest parts of my venture into this industry,” posted actor Vincent Hooper. “A constant source of wisdom, experience, kindness, and support; Billy was always such a positive presence to have around. You could always find him involved in something bigger than himself.”

Harden served as executive director of Spectrum, Austin’s leading African-American theater company, founded by Harden with Jacqui Cross, Janis Stinson and Carla Nickerson.

“There’s an old gospel song that says, ‘May the work I’ve done, speak for me’,” Stinson said. “Although Billy is now safe in the arms of Jesus, his works will continue to speak. I will truly miss my dear friend of 33 years. We have shared the stage many times, often cast as husband and wife. In fact, Billy would sometime introduce me as his ‘stage wife.’ So as your friend, castmate and stage wife, I say, ‘Take your rest my friend.'”

RELATED: Billy Harden on desegregating the city’s schools.

He is survived by his mother, Ada Harden, brother, Roosevelt Harden, Jr., and sisters, Marilyn Harden and Anita Davis.

UPDATE: Visitation will take place at 4 p.m.-7 p.m. April 13; funeral at 11 a.m. April 14. Both will be held at Metropolitan AME Church, 1101 E. 10th St.

UPDATE: In an earlier version of this post, Lara Toner Haddock’s name was misspelled.

Zach Theatre’s next season blazes ahead with new and rekindled shows

Zach Theatre‘s next season includes three new musicals, one musical revival, two new plays and the return of two holiday favorites. Add to that some family options on the Kleberg Stage.

Andrew Rannells played Hedwig in Zach Theatre’s first production of “Hedwig and the Angry Inch” in 2002. He went on to a red-hot Broadway career. Ha Lam/American-Statesman

The list includes:

“Once” (Sept. 19-Oct. 28, The Topfer). It was quite a leap from the screen to the Broadway stage for this intimate story about an Irish musician and a Czech immigrant. But it worked and the stage version won the Tony Award for Best Musical. This will be its first Austin-based staging.

“Notes from the Field” (Feb. 27-March 31, The Kleberg). There are many Anna Deveare Smiths. There’s the TV and movie actor (“Nurse Jackie,” “Blackish,” “Let Me Down Easy”), there’s the documentary playwright (“Fires in the Mirror,” “Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992″) and the restless theater artist who has previously done research in Austin. She returns to Zach with a new piece about people caught in America’s school-to-prison pipeline.”

“Matilda the Musical” (April 3-May 12, The Topfer). Roald Dahl charmed with his story about the spunky title character. The musical version took that heartwarmer a step further with a rousing cast of singers and dancers. Think “Annie” meets “Billy Elliot.”

“The Ballad of Klook and Vinette” (April 24-May 26, The Kleberg). This world premiere musical comes with an asterisk: Pending final approval. Not sure yet how it’s a world premiere, since it comes with rave reviews from the U.K., but we’ll report as soon as we find out.

“Fire and Air” (June 12-July 14, The Topfer). Terrence McNally is becoming something of a house playwright for Zach Theatre. Texas-born McNally has contributed quite a few plays and musicals to the company past seasons. This is his newest play, based on the history of the Ballets Russes.

“Hedwig and the Angry Inch” (July 31-Sept. 8, The Topfer) Zach was way ahead of its time staging this punkish musical centered around a song stylist who is also the victim of a botched sex-change operation. And its previous staging starred Andrew Rannells, who went on to Broadway’s “Book of Mormon,” “Boys in the Band,” etc. (He also returned to Zach for the opening of the Topfer). Any chance of his return?

HOLIDAY

Zach Theatre’s unique retelling of ‘A Christmas Carol’ returns for the 2018-2019 season. Contributed by Kirk Tuck.

“A Christmas Carol” (Nov. 21-Dec. 20, The Topfer). A special Austin brand of good will suffuses this musical adaptation of the Dickens tale.

“The Santaland Diaries” (Dec. 5-30, The Whisenunt) Some writer at the Statesman called it: “Sardonic tonic for the holidays!”

MOODY FOUNDATION THEATER FOR FAMILIES

“Tortoise and Hare” (Sept 8-Feb. 27, The Kleberg) Allen Robertson and Damon Brown devised this musical version of the ancient fable. It runs for a long time.

“Holiday Heroes” (Nov. 29-Dec. 13) More stage love from Allen Robertson, this time in collaboration with Shuan Wainwright Branigan and Jerome Schoolar.

So how do you obtain season tickets? If you are a subscriber, the deadline to renew your seats is April 15. New subscriptions will go on sale in May. Call 512-476-0541 x1 or go to zachtheatre.org.

 

A record 38 Austin area high school musicals up for awards

A record 38 area schools won nominations for the 2018 Greater Austin High School Musical Theatre Awards, which return to the Long Center for the Performing Arts on April 18.

If you haven’t already heard, this is one of the most entertaining — if overlong — evenings of the season. Not only are songs from nominated shows performed, the nominees for Best Actor and Best Actress sing medleys, and the Long Center Select Ensemble adds its polished skills to still more show tunes. Can there be to many?

RELATED: All rise for Austin high school musicals!

The celebrity emcee this year will be Tyler Mount, who created Playbill’s “The Tyler Mount Vlog.” A graduate of St. Edward’s University and alumnus of Summer Stock Austin at the Long Center, Mount also has performed and produced on Broadway.

RELATED: Look who won the 2017 Austin high school musical awards.

More than 4,000 students participated in the 38 nominated shows.

2018 HIGH SCHOOL MUSICAL AWARDS NOMINATIONS

Best Production

Akins High School—Hairspray

Cedar Ridge High School—Grease

Dripping Springs High School—The Addams Family

Jack C. Hays High School—The Mystery of Edwin Drood

McCallum Fine Arts Academy—West Side Story

Round Rock High School—Guys and Dolls

Rouse High School—Shrek the Musical

St. Stephen’s Episcopal School—Chicago

Best Direction

Akins High School—Hairspray

Dripping Springs High School—The Addams Family

Jack C. Hays High School—The Mystery of Edwin Drood

McCallum Fine Arts Academy—West Side Story

Round Rock High School—Guys and Dolls

Rouse High School—Shrek the Musical

St. Stephen’s Episcopal School—Chicago

Vista Ridge High School—Monty Python’s Spamalot

Best Ensemble

Cedar Ridge High School—Grease

Dripping Springs High School—The Addams Family

East View High School—Damn Yankees

Jack C. Hays High School—The Mystery of Edwin Drood

Leander High School—The Addams Family

McCallum Fine Arts Academy—West Side Story

St. Andrew’s Episcopal School—Catch Me If You Can

St. Stephen’s Episcopal School—Chicago

Best Actor in a Leading Role

Jacob Hensey—Austin High School

Hunter Anderson—Bastrop High School

Evan Vines—Cedar Park High School

Justin Florie—Elgin High School

Brough Cosgrove & Ben Miller—Jack C. Hays High School

Keaton Brandt—McNeil High School

Keaton Pugh—Rouse High School

Nicholas Topfer—St. Andrew’s Episcopal School

Stone Mountain—St. Andrew’s Episcopal School

Best Actress in a Leading Role

Sydney LePage—Austin High School

Abigail Holtfort—Cedar Park High School

Katie Haberman—Dripping Springs High School

Erin Swearingen—Jack C. Hays High School

Maddy Sparkes—James Bowie High School

Helena Laing—McCallum Fine Arts Academy

Heidi Wilding—Round Rock High School

Brooke Silverstein—St. Stephen’s Episcopal School

Brittany Young—Vandegrift High School

Best Actor in a Supporting Role

Jack White—Cedar Ridge High School

Preston Willis—Dripping Springs High School

Anthony Collins—Lanier High School

Jordan Williams—Leander High School

Zane Sanchez—Liberty Hill High School

Cooper Ward—Round Rock High School

Elliot Esquivel—Rouse High School

Andrew Yow—St. Stephen’s Episcopal School

Ryan Mills—Vista Ridge High School

Best Actress in a Supporting Role

Quinn Skarnulis—Anderson High School

Jessica Marcano—Cedar Ridge High School

Emily Warkentin—Dripping Springs High School

Taylor Cooper—Jack C. Hays High School

Riley Sugrue—James Bowie High School

Zoe Gonzalez—Lake Travis High School

Caroline Holmes—Leander High School

Christine Ashbaugh—Marble Falls High School

Lexi Wood—Round Rock High School

Best Featured Performer

Sadie Seddon-Stettler—Anderson High School

Shawn Patterson—Cedar Creek High School

Emily Pesina—Del Valle High School

Cassie Martin—Dripping Springs High School

Noah Wood—East View High School

Krista Hollins—Lanier High School

Sean Hall—LBJ/LASA High School

Jared Brown—Lehman High School

Lucas Boyles—Rouse High School

Catherine Hipolito—Stony Point High School

Darrin Redford—Tom Glenn High School

William Sheriff—Vista Ridge High School

Best Orchestra

Akins High School—Hairspray

James Bowie High School—Mary Poppins

LBJ/LASA High School­—9 to 5 The Musical

McCallum Fine Arts Academy—West Side Story

McNeil High School—The Hunchback of Notre Dame

Round Rock High School—Guys and Dolls

Rouse High School—Shrek the Musical

Vista Ridge High School—Monty Python’s Spamalot

Best Scenic Design

Akins High School—Hairspray

Austin High School—Avenue Q School Edition

Del Valle High School—The Addams Family

Elgin High School—Seussical

Lanier High School—Avenue Q School Edition

Leander High School—The Addams Family

Rouse High School—Shrek the Musical

St. Andrew’s Episcopal School—Catch Me If You Can

Best Musical Direction

Cedar Ridge High School—Grease

Dripping Springs High School—The Addams Family

James Bowie High School—Mary Poppins

McCallum Fine Arts Academy—West Side Story

Round Rock High School—Guys and Dolls

Rouse High School—Shrek the Musical

St. Andrew’s Episcopal School—Catch Me If You Can

Vista Ridge High School—Monty Python’s Spamalot

Best Costume Design

Akins High School—Hairspray

David Crockett High School—Heathers (High School Edition)

Dripping Springs High School—The Addams Family

Lehman High School—Pippin

Rouse High School—Shrek the Musical

St. Andrew’s Episcopal School—Catch Me If You Can

St. Stephen’s Episcopal School—Chicago

Vista Ridge High School—Monty Python’s Spamalot

Best Lighting Design

Akins High School—Hairspray

Dripping Springs High School—The Addams Family

Hendrickson High School—Heathers (High School Edition)

Lake Travis High School—The Wedding Singer

Lanier High School—Avenue Q School Edition

Marble Falls High School—Guys and Dolls

McCallum Fine Arts Academy—West Side Story

Rouse High School—Shrek the Musical

Best Technical Execution

Bastrop High School—Little Shop of Horrors

Dripping Springs High School—The Addams Family

East View High School—Damn Yankees

James Bowie High School—Mary Poppins

Round Rock High School—Guys and Dolls

Rouse High School—Shrek the Musical

St. Andrew’s Episcopal School—Catch Me If You Can

St. Stephen’s Episcopal School—Chicago

 

 

 

 

Austin theater veteran Ken Johnson dies at age 82

UPDATE: Kenneth O. Johnson: A Celebration of Life will be 11 a.m. April 28 at Hyde Park Theatre, 511 W. 43rd St.

Austin theater veteran Kenneth O. “Ken” Johnson died at home Friday of a heart attack. He was 82.

“Ken died here on Gault Street sitting in a red swivel chair in front of his computer and TV,” said longtime friend and housemate Maggie Cox. “Two of his dogs were in his office with him.”

According to his friends, Johnson came to Austin from Port Arthur in 1965. He transformed the community theater troupe known as Austin Civic Theatre into Zachary Scott Theatre, which is now Zach Theatre. Johnson named it after an Austin-reared stage and movie star who died in 1965 and whose family had been prominent in the city through several generations.

Kenneth O. “Ken” Johnson, 1935-2018

Johnson had long runs as the director of at least two other groups, Center Stage and Hyde Park Theatre, and he participated in the revival of the Paramount Theatre. Johnson wrote many plays and screenplays, most notably “Jesse’s Closet,” his stage drama that he adapted and directed for the screen.

Tempestuous and sometimes controversial, Johnson kept close a coterie of theater friends. Cox worked with him in various capacities for decades and invited him to share her home during his later years. She said that Johnson raised the general level of quality in Austin theater, including at what would become Zach.

“His abrasive nature was like a grain of sand in an oyster shell before he left,” she said. “Strong  management practices after that helped propel Zach Theatre toward the grand theater it is today.”

Dock Jackson, a Bastrop public servant who worked with Johnson mainly in the 1970s, praised his skills as director, producer, writer, theater owner, actor, singer, set designer, costume coordinator and master carpenter.

Jackson: “There wasn’t anything he didn’t or couldn’t do in the theater.”

Johnson worked energetically until the end. He eagerly took to YouTube and created many short films for that format.

Memorial services are pending.

 

Former Austinite Harvey Schmidt of ‘Fantasticks’ fame has died

We just read that Harvey Schmidt, co-creator of “The Fantasticks,” the longest running musical in history, has died at age 88.

The 2010 cast of ‘The Fantasticks” at the University of Texas. Contributed by Lauren Tarbel

The last time we chatted with Schmidt, a former Austinite who attended the University of Texas, he was in town in 2010 with his lyricist, Tom Jones, to toast the 50th anniversary of his hit, which ran for nearly 42 years at the 153-seat Sullivan Street Playhouse in Greenwich Village — 17,162 performances! — before closing in 2002. It returned in 2006 at the Theater Center and ran until its New York total since 1960 reached 21,552.

Word Baker, who directed the show, also attended UT.

In Austin during the 1950s, Schmidt and Jones were part of the Curtain Club, the extracurricular drama group started by critic and scholar Stark Young in 1907. Both “The Fantasticks” and their much less successful “Celebration” relied heavily on their theater historical training at UT.

Harvey Schmidt. Contributed by Photofest

Two more of their best remembered Broadway shows were “I Do! I Do!,” a two-actor musical about love and marriage that was mostly a showcase for Mary Martin and Robert Preston, and “110 in the Shade,” based on “The Rainmaker.” Their major musicals have been revived here periodically. More evidence hometown loyalty: The Paramount Theatre was one of the few in the country that ever exhibited the ill-fated 1995 movie adaptation of “The Fantasticks.”

Here’s a snip from something I wrote back in 2010 before the UT event: So just how did “The Fantasticks” get its start in Austin? The composing pair closely studied the source material, Edmund Rostand‘s “Les Romanesques,” with (UT professor and director) B. Iden Payne and witnessed multiple student versions of the story about parents who bring their children together by pretending to keep them apart. They collaborated on deliriously popular student revues at UT and creative projects in New York before “The Fantasticks” took off, boosting the careers of Jerry Orbach, Robert Goulet, Glenn Close, Rita Gardner, Richard Chamberlain, George Chakiris, John Davidson and others. (The book to read is “The Amazing Story of The Fantasticks: America’s Longest Running Play” by Donald C. Farber and Robert Viagas.)

This is what I wrote afterwards: We witnessed history. Oct. 15, on the first night of the University Texas’ celebration of the 50th Anniversary of “The Fantasticks,” a perky set of undergraduates performed a sharply contoured revue of songs by Texas exes Tom Jones and Harvey Schmidt. The portfolio included fewer than two dozen from the composing team’s 1,000+ songs, written over the course of 60 years. Yet it polished up rare gems, like alternative versions of the “I Do! I Do!” title song and the duo’s work as UT students and cabaret composers during the 1950s.

At the end of the show, Schmidt and Jones, now in their eighties, met at the piano. They sang four short songs, but — oh! — it was well worth witnessing the composers of America’s longest running play jazzing it up for the crowd. Two instant hits were “Mr. Off-Broadway,” their self-descriptive salute to the movement they helped popularize, and “Freshman Song,” the first they ever wrote together, 60 years ago for a wildly popular UT student review. How many can say they have witnessed the crowning of such a career at one’s alma mater?

The song’s shy, hopeful lyrics set loose the waterworks for the assembled guests, mostly alumni who packed the weekend of performances, panels and parties. The subsequent reception outside the Brockett Theatre was like old home week for seven decades of theater and dance students.

The eldest member of the Curtain Club — which predated the drama department — spoke of joining in the early 1940s. She was the picture of grace and eloquence.

The next morning, UT playwright Steven Dietz delivered a philosophical keynote speech about theater preparing us “to be.” Texas Performing Arts director Kathy Panoff, with help from music director Lyn Koenning, interviewed Schmidt and Jones for a delightful hour of anecdotes and reminiscences. Both Texans retain a ready wit and literate array of references.

Playwright Kirk Lynn and arts editor Robert Faires then led a discussion of how new work changes theater, dance and training. The panel linked choreographer Kitty McNamee, playwrights Robert Schenkkan, Kim Peter Kovac and Carson Kreitzer. They made a convincing case for the act of making something from nothing.

Costume designer Susan Mickey helped me corral a raucous crew of talents: Bruce McGill (“Animal House,” “The Legend of Bagger Vance”); Todd Lowe (“Gilmore Girls,” “True Blood”); and Brian Danner (Los Angeles fight director). We discussed whether a university arts education was worth nothing – or everything. Other talks and demonstrations honeycombed the Winship Building before a performance of “The Fantasticks.”

 

In the mood for a rom-com? ‘Much Ado About Nothing’ still charms

There are a lot of shows opening in Austin the next few weeks specifically themed for the holiday season, but if you’re looking for a fun, cozy comedy full of warmth and cheer, Austin Shakespeare has an option that might fit the bill without a hint of tinsel in sight — their new production of “Much Ado about Nothing,” running through Dec. 3 in the Rollins Theatre at the Long Center.

Max Green, Susan Myburgh, Toby Minor and Colum Morgan in Austin Shakespeare’s “Much Ado About Nothing.” Contributed by Errich Petersen Photography

“Much Ado” is one of Shakespeare’s most popular comedies, in large part because of how influential it has been over the entire genre of the romantic comedy as we know it today. The bickering between romantic leads Beatrice and Benedick, full of sarcastic jabs, evolves over the course of the play into loving jests just as in modern rom-coms.

The story of the younger lovers, Claudio and Hero, doesn’t age quite as well, defined as it is by men taking the false word of other men over the protestations of women they supposedly love. But this production does its best to mitigate the text’s inherent misogyny through strong character work. Joseph Banks, as Claudio, is delightfully charming and soft-spoken in the show’s first half, focusing more on the character’s feeling of betrayal than his rage upon learning of Hero’s “unfaithfulness.” Corinna Browning, meanwhile, showcases Hero’s quote strength and self-assurance rather than allowing her to simply become a punching bag and victim to the schemes of the play’s villains.

Gwendolyn Kelso and Marc Pouhé in “Much Ado About Nothing.” Contributed by Errich Petersen Photography

Gwendolyn Kelso and Marc Pouhé, as Beatrice and Benedick, are no slouches, either. They have some of the wittiest and silliest moments of the play, milking both types of comedy for big laughs from the audience. Indeed, the entire production is silly, in a truly endearing way. Gifted physical comedians Toby Minor and Susan Myburgh, as the chief of the city’s citizen-police and his partner Verges, respectively, bring the show its moment of broadest humor as well as the few times that the humor gets a bit over-the-top.

The decision by director Ann Ciccolella to place this production in the Belle Époque, to the saucy rhythms of bossa nova music (with original compositions by Greg Bolin), works beautifully with Shakespeare’s text, turning the setting of Messina, Sicily, into a swinging beachside resort that provides a delightful backdrop for love and hijinks. Scenic and lighting designer Patrick Anthony’s all-white set, evocatively illuminated by a variety of clever lighting schemes, work with Benjamin Taylor Ridgway’s costumes to further develop this atmosphere that’s ripe for a romp.

Though not as soul-searching as Shakespeare’s tragedies, and certainly filled with gender politics that are particularly painful and abrasive in the culture of today’s world, “Much Ado About Nothing” still stands up as an endearing love story filled with wacky situations, clever jokes and, of course, a happy ending.

“MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING”
When: 7:30 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, 3 p.m. Sunday through Dec. 3
Where: The Long Center, 701 W. Riverside Drive
Cost: $22
Information: austinshakespeare.org

Today’s hires, fires, gifts and honors in Austin arts

We lied. This post reports on no firings. You can relax.

Yet “hires, fires, gifts and honors” sounds like a good catch-all headline. We might use it again.

Zilker Theatre Productions makes two key hires

The group that has staged the Zilker Summer Musical for 60 years has taken on J. Robert “Jimmy” Moore as artistic director. Moore, remembered recently for “Buyer and Cellar” at Zach Theatre, will work alongside Executive Director Kate Hix, already in place. Also, one of those beloved behind-the-scenes heroes, Shannon Richey, has been drafted as director of production. Moore and Richey are trusted veterans who will undoubtedly bolster this free and singularly Austin tradition. No word on next summer’s selection.

J. Robert Moore is now artistic director for Zilker Theatre Productions. Contributed

RELATED: Moore joins the Brotherhood of Barbra.

Austin Opera elects new board chairman

Arts benefactors Gail and Jeff Kodosky. Contributed by Becky Delgado

Austin Opera‘s board of trustees has designated Jeff Kodosky, founder of National Instruments and inveterate arts lovers, as its next chairman. He takes over the position from Elisabeth Waltz, who has served as chairwoman 2016. Kodosky has been with the board and the company through thick and thin since 1996. I’m sure this quiet, smiling man could tell some tales about the group that almost went away at least twice, but also has triumphed repeatedly. Next up is “Carmen” in November.

Huston-Tillotson is now an all-Steinway school. Contributed

Huston-Tillotson is now an all-Steinway school

Following a gift of $800,000, Huston-Tillotson University will become the only institution of higher learning in Central Texas, the fourth historically black college or university in the country, and the 196th college or university to join the All-Steinway School club. University officials will unveil the Steinway pianos during their Charter Day Convocation 10 a.m. Oct. 27, 2017 in the King-Seabrook Chapel on the campus at 900 Chicon Street. In addition, Steinway artist Marcus Roberts and the Marcus Roberts Trio will headline a special concert.

Tracy Bonfitto is the Ransom Center’s new curator of art. Contributed by Pete Smith

Ransom Center selects new curator of art

Austinites generally think of the Ransom Center as a literary treasure trove with out-of this-world strengths in modern literature, movies, performing arts and photography. And, oh yes, the Watergate papers. Yet is also houses, preserves and exhibits a lot of excellent visual art, too. Over the summer, Tracy Bonfitto was named curator of art. She comes with sterling credentials from Getty Research Institute, the Fowler Museum at UCLA and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. She’s also a University of Texas grad.

I’m sure she will meld partnerships with the other distinguished and closely related cultural spots in that area of Austin, including the Blanton Museum of Art, LBJ Presidential Library, Briscoe Center for American History and Bullock Texas State History Museum as well as UT’s highly regarded Landmarks public arts program and its Visual Arts Center. Maybe the new Ellsworth Kelly house will help point the way visually and viscerally for more of a interrelated cultural campus.

Secrets, lies and revelations in new theater company’s first production

Austin is home to many theater companies but a dwindling number of performance spaces. That’s why, though it’s always exciting to see a new group arise from the city’s artistic stew, one approaches them a bit cautiously. Many are the first productions of brand new companies; fewer are the second productions.

From left, Emily Rankin, David Moxham and J. Kevin Smith star in “Betrayal,” the first production from Filigree Theatre, Austin’s newest women-led theater company co-founded by Elizabeth V. Newman and Stephanie Moore. Contributed by Joshua Scott

With a solid production of a classic play, a clear mission statement and a fully planned out inaugural season, the Filigree Theatre looks to be a company that will buck that trend.

Headed by artistic director Elizabeth V. Newman and managing director Stephanie Moore, Filigree has as its inaugural production Harold Pinter’s “Betrayal,” playing through Oct. 8 at the Santa Cruz Theatre. The show, directed by Newman and produced by Moore, was written in 1978 and tells the story of an extramarital affair by jumping chronologically backwards in time, revealing layers of secrets and adding more layers of mystery as it goes. Filigree’s production, thanks to its talented cast, cuts to the heart of these secrets with an intriguing, close-vested, nuanced version of the play.

The secret to the success of this production of “Betrayal” is its three main cast members — David Moxham, Emily Rankin and J. Kevin Smith (Felix Alonzo rounds out the cast in a charmingly comedic bit part). In the first scene, we learn about the seven-year affair between Moxham’s Jerry and Rankin’s Emma, just after Emma’s marriage to her husband, Robert (played by Smith), has fallen apart. As the play progresses, it goes backwards toward the start of the affair, playing with the audience’s consciousness of the tale’s tragic (or, perhaps more accurately, pathetic) ending alongside the continued revelations of new facts and misremembered events.

RELATED: New Austin women-led theater company makes spirited debut

To play these deliciously layered levels of text and subtext requires extremely nuanced performances, and all three actors are more than up to the task. The subtle gestures, facial tics and posture changes of the characters speak volumes amid the famous “Pinter pauses” that litter the text, revealing as much through what remains unsaid as is told in the dialogue. Each character is constantly at odds, hiding secrets from the others as well as from themselves.

The simmering sexuality of the scenes between Jerry and Emma is matched by the quiet resentments of Emma’s relationship with Robert, and Robert’s dual jealousy and deep love of Jerry. Each relationship in this love triangle has its own tragic implications and secret possibilities.

Many of the play’s mysteries remain unresolved at the end, and it is quite possible that audience members — and the actors themselves — may come away with different beliefs about what they saw depending on the particular evening. For a set text to retain that level of spontaneity and individuality is quite a feat, but “Betrayal” pulls it off handily.

With such an accomplished first production under its belt, we can only hope to see continued work of such quality and excitement as Filigree Theatre continues to make itself known throughout Austin.

“BETRAYAL”
When: 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, 5 p.m. Sunday through Oct. 8
Where: Santa Cruz Studio Theatre, 1805 E. Seventh St.
Cost: $30
Information: 512-496-5208, filigreetheatre.com

 

 

10 big Austin arts stories from the past 7 days

En route between two glorious musicals — “A Chorus Line” at Texas State University and “Singin’ in the Rain” at Zach Theatre — on Saturday, my traveling companions paused to consider the American-Statesman arts coverage for just the past week. We were able to rattle off at least 10 significant stories by staff reporters and freelancers during the previous seven days, Sept. 22-28.

Later I thought, hey, 10 in seven ain’t bad. Why not share the bounty here? Dates are for original digital publication. This fat list doesn’t even include substantial descriptions of arts events that appeared on Page 2 of the Austin360 section, thanks to the extraordinary Ari Auber.

From left, Sydney Huddleston, Annika Lekven, Adrian Collins, Maria Latiolais, Kelsey Buckley, Estrella Saldaña, Kenzie Stewart, and Shonagh Smith in Hyde Park Theatre’s production of “The Wolves,” by Sarah DeLappe. Contributed by Bret Brookshire

Sept. 22: Girl power puts ‘The Wolves’ ahead of the pack.

Sept. 24: Preview: Broadway classic ‘A Chorus Line’ connects with Texas State performers.

Sept. 25: Interview: Bring on the music, bring on the tap dancing for ‘Singin’ in the Rain.’

Sept. 25: Review: Young actor gives tar turn as troubled, tempestuous ‘Prodigal Son.

Sept. 25: Pairing the Ballet Austin Fête with the Thinkery’s Imaginarium.

Sept. 26: Review: Texas State’s ‘A Chorus Line’ is a singular sensation.

Se[t 27: Biennial art exhibit takes the long way to get back.

Sept. 28: A world of dance alights at the University of Texas.

Sept. 28: Austin to kick off citywide Day of the Dead celebrations.

Sept. 28: Scary laughs, Eddie Izzard, Kevin Nealon and plenty of sex.

 

 

All singin’, all dancin’ for Zach Theatre’s ‘Singin’ in the Rain’

For our money, there’s never too much singing and dancing in a stage musical. So we rejoiced at the chance to interview dance maker Dominique Kelley (“Sophisticated Ladies,” “Priscilla, Queen of the Desert”) and Austin newcomer Luke Hawkins, who plays Don Lockwood in Zach Theatre’s staging of “Singin’ in the Rain.”

READ FULL STORY HERE

Sasha Hutchings and Luke Hawkins star in “Singin’ in the Rain” at Zach Theatre. Contributed by Kirk Tuck

Here’s some catnip:

“Tap dancing will always be with us. It’s a quintessential American dance form.

And Austin, with its nationally respected Tapestry Dance Company, is a tap hub of sorts.

Yet tap dancing doesn’t play a huge role in the contemporary Broadway theater. Especially given the numerous jukebox musicals derived from postwar pop or rock music, or equal number of hits based on animated movies, which might include a smattering of rhythm dancing, but nothing on the scale of, say, “Singin’ in the Rain,” which can be seen at Zach Theatre starting Sept. 27.

“There certainly are tap elements in current shows,” says Dominique Kelley, who made the dances for this “Singin’ in the Rain.” “A friend of mine always includes it. He doesn’t always use tap shoes, or it’s in the way back, but there’s always tap. Some say that tap is dying, but you can find people who can do it, like you can find krumping, flamenco or break dancing. I can find good people to do it, but do they fit the type? Can they actually sing and act, too? When you whittle it away, you don’t necessarily get the best tappers.”

Combing through Zach auditions held in Los Angeles, New York and Austin, Kelley and director Abe Reybold came up blank for a leading man who could do all these things as Don Lockwood in this stage show based on the revered 1952 Gene Kelly movie.

“Then someone said: Do you know Luke Hawkins?” Kelley remembers. “Just hire him.”

Hawkins, who grew up in his mother’s dance studio outside Sacramento, Calif., has been a go-to guy for a type of tap dancing that requires more than mere rhythm.

“In my 20s, my agent sent me out for a lot of tap shows,” he says with a heart-melting smile. “But it was for the ensemble. I am a soloist tap dancer. Because I’ve devoted so much time and practice to falling in love with tapping, where it’s been and where it’s heading, being an ensemble member was too easy in shows I didn’t love. I didn’t feel challenged.”

Suffice it to day that “Singin’ in the Rain,” which costars Sasha Hutchings as Kathy Seldon, presents a challenge even for Hawkins.

“This pretty much utilizes everything,” he says. “Singing, acting, ballet-ish dance, tap dance. Because of Dom, I’m allowed to improvise, too, and that’s so rare. Most other choreographers don’t allow it.”