Jill’s Jottings: Triple Sensation

November 1, 2007

S’Wonderful: CBC’s “Triple Sensation” Soars!

I was lucky enough to be in Toronto earlier this month to catch the third and final episode of the CBC’s “Triple Sensation,” the best reality show I’ve ever seen. Make that one of the best TV shows I’ve ever seen, period. Think “American Idol” with heart and a Broadway bent, in which singer/actor/dancers aged 16 to 26 competed across Canada for the title of “Triple Sensation.” First place: a $150,000 scholarship to study theater arts.

Maybe Canadians are just nicer, or perhaps the show’s creator—producer Garth Drabinsky—wanted to prove that reality TV doesn’t need humiliation and infighting to entertain. Whichever—for theater junkies of any stripe, “Triple Sensation” was pure charm.

I won’t torment you. You can see bits and pieces of the show on the Web.  But before you do, here’s what you need to know: After initial open-call auditions, a select group of 12 contestants strove to impress a panel of judges (Drabinsky, actress Cynthia Dale, composer Marvin Hamlisch, choreographer Sergio Trujillo and director Adrian Noble) and assorted instructors as they endured the rigors of “Master Class,” an exhausting, weeks-long regimen of dance, vocal and drama instruction. This group in turn was whittled down still further to a final six, who, in the series’ last hour, each performed a Gershwin standard, plus a monologue and dance number, before a huge Toronto audience.

Throughout, contestants needed to show not only talent, courage, moxie and endurance, but the ability to grow and learn as well. That meant that even the super-talented were penalized if they were merely super-talented when all was said and done.

The winner? Click below. He was my personal favorite, a decided long-shot, and only 16 years old. But you will fall for every one of these kids, all of whom are sparkling and original and following their own brilliant stars. Sutton and Hunter Foster better be watching their backs.

(Click on http://www.triplesensation.ca/index.html#videos to access videos of winner John-Michael Scapin, plus highlights from the series.)

Jill’s Jottings: Primary Urges

October 19, 2007

“Primary” Season Is Here

City in a Swamp Productions gives the presidential primary season an unofficial kick-off with “Primary Urges,” its witty and smart send-up of the all-American election process.

Part “Damn Yankees,” part “Capitol Steps,” the show centers around a meek congressman (Doug Smith) turned presidential candidate and his sly, Mephistophelian political adviser (Michael Bruno). Along the way, we meet a
well-coiffed Hillary Clinton (Rachael Goldman), the candidate’s wary spouse (Marilyn Bennett), a Lola-like temptress (Goldman), two fresh-faced staffers (Mary Jean Bruno and Michael Miyazaki), and an ardent, very ardent, Obama fan (Miyazaki). Heck, the spirit of Luciano Pavarotti (Miyazaki) even gets in on the fun.

Everyone is terrific, especially Goldman, whose excellent Hillary is replete with spot-on mannerisms and loony laugh, and Miyazaki, whose hilarious Pavarotti warbles a Rudy Giuliani-themed “Message From Beyond.”

The original songs by Howard Bennett and Nicholas Zill are fresh and fun, the skillful choreography by Nkemjika Ofodile makes effective use of the small stage, and the live musical accompaniment at the back of the room makes for an especially dynamic theater experience. Special kudos to percussionist Stan Ismart, whose hilarious sound-effects are courtesy of an amazing gizmo he invented himself.

“Primary Urges” is playing at the Warehouse Theater until November 10. Tickets: $25.  For info, visit www.cityinaswamp.com/Home/home.htm or call the Warehouse at 202-783-3933.

Jill’s Jottings: Hello Amanda, Or What I Learned in College

October 14, 2007

Michael’s terrific interview with Amanda McBroom back on October 4 got me thinking about my own brush with McBroom back in 1989.

It was one of my first assignments for the UCLA Daily Bruin. I was to review a new cabaret show at the Westwood Playhouse, a small theater just down the hill from campus. It was called “One Enchanted Evening” and starred McBroom and her husband, George Ball. Coinciding with Valentine’s Day, the revue comprised love songs of all stripes–cynical (“The Little Things You Do Together”), lilting (“Some Enchanted Evening”), heart-breaking (“It Never Entered My Mind”).

It was outstanding–and especially appealing to me. I’d been away from home for only a year and a half, and was still finding my bearings in college. Hearing McBroom and Ball sing the music I loved–“my” music–I at once felt plugged in, affirmed, less alone.

I went straight back to the Bruin office and wrote my story. When it was published the following Monday, I cut it out, put it a card, bought a bouquet of purple irises and took the whole package down to the Westwood Playhouse with instructions to deliver it to Amanda McBroom. Maybe I wanted her to know that the UCLA Daily Bruin had given her and Ball a thumbs-up. Or maybe I wanted to reciprocate, and give her something in return for what she’d given me.

McBroom wrote me a lovely thank you note, which she addressed to the Bruin office and which found its way to the door of our media adviser, who tacked it there as an example of what a theater critic is not supposed to do. Yes, I had compromised my journalistic integrity and risked losing my new job on the competitive Bruin. And for what? A thank-you note from Amanda McBroom.

It was totally worth it.

Jill’s Jottings: Cowardly Lives

September 21, 2007

Barbara PapendorpBarbara Papendorp

(The wonderful Jill Leger has agreed to provide occasional reports from the field.  Henceforth, they’ll be known as “Jill’s Jottings”)

Don’t Quibble, Sybil! Catch Lyrical “Private Lives” at the Playbill

When Sir Noel Coward’s “Private Lives” first opened in 1930, it featured the original song, “Some Day I’ll Find You.” Washington Shakespeare Company has added two more Coward compositions to its spirited, clever production, recently extended until September 30 at the Playbill Cafe.

There’s also a new character: a platinum-haired chanteuse in a killer black dress and sheer black gloves, played behind a gauzy curtain by cabaret-scene veteran Barbara Papendorp (pictured above), whose lovely vocals between acts lend Jazz Age ambiance to Coward’s “intimate comedy.” The talented Papendorp (accompanied by a recording of James R. Fitzpatrick on piano) delivers playful interpretations of “Nina” and “A Room With A View”-and her tender “Some Day I’ll Find You” provides touching commentary on the pathos floating just beneath the surface of Coward’s tale.

For anyone who missed last month’s “Coward Cabaret,” when Papendorp and the excellent Will Heim performed an entire evening of Coward standards, this is a rare opportunity to hear the works of Coward the composer-lyricist performed live-and well.

“Private Lives” is playing in the back room of the Playbill Cafe Thursdays through Saturdays at 8pm, and Saturdays and Sundays at 2pm. Saturday matinees are pay what you can. For tickets, go to www.washingtonshakespeare.org/privatelives.html or call 703-418-4808.  The Playbill Café is located at 1409 14th Street, NW.