Tween Life Exposed: A review of Dance Nation










Imagine a hybrid of A Chorus Line, Fame and any “R” rated coming of age show/movie with middle-schoolers and you would have something similar to TheatreLab’s production of DANCE NATION by Clare Barron. The play sort of jumps in and out of the minds and lives of pre-pubescents that make up a competitive dance team. There is a lot of confusion, discussion and acting out surrounding sex, ability and what the future holds.

Maggie Roop deftly takes this well-chosen cast and brings the essence of tween-hood to life with raunchy realness. The cast, like the tweens they portray, see-saws easily from child-like innocence to adults as the script demands. Choreographer, Nicole Morris-Anastasi (who also plays Sophia) is able to make a big show move beautifully in this little space- an impressive feat all by itself.

I loved it.

And if you like in-your-face, cutting edge theatre you will too.

For information click here

Side note: Everything I have seen at TheatreLab this season has exceeded my expectations. This company has grown into a artistic tour de force in Richmond, delivering thought provoking theatre at its best. It deserves attention. If you have yet to see a play there- get online and buy some tickets already.

Shining at the Mill: a review of Bright Star



I love it that artists often venture into mediums outside of their typical schtick. Being an artist is a license to play. Being a successful artist means that you can capitalize on your fame and the stuff you play at can go big. Like when Madonna decided to write children’s books or when Lady Gaga decided she wanted to be an actress in a movie. These artists got to go big with their little projects because of who they are regardless of their artistic merits. Had they been regular unknown artists their projects may never have come to fruition – regardless of their merits.

Bright Star is the perfect example of this. Two famous artists, Edie Brickell and Steve Martin, created this musical and so it went to Broadway… regardless of its artistic merits.

Swift Creek Mills’ production of Bright Star is excellent!

Everything is in place here in terms of theatrical elements and talent. Grey Garrett is a wonderful Alice Murphy, acting and singing up a strong female role in a satisfying way. Her love interest, Jimmy Ray Dobbs played by Jim Morgan is also great, as are the other pair of sweethearts, Margo, played by Olivia Mullins and Billy Cane, played by Ian Page. The supporting cast is also wonderful; dancing, singing and acting up a storm worthy of a hot summer night.

I just didn’t care for the play itself.  The plot is painfully predictable. The music is fine but sometimes extraneous in terms of moving along the plot although it is beautifully performed by the cast.

Full disclosure: blue grass is not my cup of moonshine but I was entertained and glad I saw the show despite its issues.

If you like blue grass, a good production or fabulous performances you will like this show.

For more information click here.


All Dressed Up and Nowhere to go: A review of ATLANTIS



Last spring I traveled to the Sivananda Ashram on Paradise Island in the Bahamas. Among several sacred spots on the 7 acre plot of pristine prime real estate on which the Ashram stands is a temple built around a rock which is supposedly, according to the late Swami Sivananda, is the tip of a spire of an ancient temple of the legendary city of Atlantis which he claimed was sunken underneath the island. Thus the name of the famous resort located right next door to the Ashram.

That tidbit has nothing to do with my review. I just wanted to boast that I have been to the most likely geographic location of the play’s namesake and touched with my own hands the supposed top of that ancient temple.

Anyway, the play, Atlantis, like Paradise Island, is beautiful. A feast of perfectly executed production values in lighting, props, set design and execution,  costumes, make-up, hair (wigs), and sound design. The actors are flawlessly cast, including Broadway worthy leads who are great looking and wonderful singers. Kristen Hanggi’s direction is thoughtful and effective. Anthony Smith’s musical direction is spot on. Kikau Alvaro’s choreography is meaningful and exciting. A beautiful world is created in the script complete with politically correct same sex couples and mixed race families.

So, what’s not to like?….

Despite all of the production perfection, this show is as hollow as a summer fling at the beach. It feels good in the moment to be with that sun tanned, hot-bodied surfer but it lacks the kind of substance that makes a lasting relationship.

The script is so thin that I did not give one rat’s ass that Atlantis was going to disappear into the ocean or that some of its inhabitants were going down with it. (Oh, Oops! Spoiler Alert.) The Disney-esque feel to it made me nauseated. If I wanted to see a Disney show I would go to one.  Most of the songs sounded the same and seemingly all of them ended in a loud crescendo! which left me thinking, “Enough already!”

Please know- I was entertained.

This play is for Andrew Loyd Webber fans.

For more information click here.

Uncontrolled: A review of Animal Control at the Firehouse Theatre




As audience members stood to give Friday night’s performance of ANIMAL CONTROL an ovation, I was genuinely confused. Perhaps, like the two sides of the Notre Dame re-build situation, I felt overwhelmingly different about the play than they did. In fact, if they thought the show was deserving of such kudos, I know we were in different camps because I found it inane, boring and generally a poor production.

Since this is a short review I will deliver my observations succinctly:

I liked that all sides of the dog story were presented, giving the audience  thought provoking perspective.

In all three acts, there were characters on stage waiting for another character to appear. It felt like 15 minutes of each act was filled with script that neither provided any information about the characters nor moved the plot as the waiting commenced. That is a lot of time on stage in plot purgatory.  And it wasn’t just me that seemed to think this. The woman sitting directly in front of me took to checking her emails on her smartphone and sharing them with her husband halfway through the third act.  A man in the second row nobly fought sleep.

The play is supposed to be about people and how they behave like the dogs they are discussing. There is A LOT of talk about the dogs. Dogs are special to their owners. Discussion of specific dogs and their issues is interesting to the folks directly involved.  To the rest of us it is dull conversation. And even though I personally experienced a similar situation as the plot presents with my own dog biting another dog, I felt nothing for the characters.

I did feel sorry for the actors, however. They had to stumble through this insanely inane script, trying to bring rather one dimensional characters to life with perhaps, little to no direction. They all appeared a bit unsure of exactly what they should be doing on stage.  One actor was so choppy in their line delivery and disengaged from the other actor in the scene, that I thought they might be a last minute substitute allowed to read their lines off of a phone.

My favorite line from this play is:

“What’s taking so goddamned long?”

Because it summed up my feelings as I waited for the ending.

This play is great for people who like theatre for the sake of it and want to cheer on our local actors and new playwrights.

For more information go to the Firehouse website.


Cyra-no: A review of bad wigs


Last night I saw Swift Creek Mill Playhouse’s production of Cyrano with two friends from Charlottesville and we were all mystified by the strange uneven-ness of the melodrama of comedia del arte and realism that ensued. We were all three simultaneously confused and amused at the attempt to overplay a beautiful tragedy with such silliness and felt that it, particularly cheapened the portrayal of Roxanne, the pivotal character of the play.

And then there were the wigs. Seemingly borrowed from various productions and plopped on the heads of the male actors, one looked like it was borrowed from the set of Gigit with bangs and Dippity Do flip in tact.

Things that were great about the play: Deborah Wagoner (Duenna/Nun), Jeff Clevenger (Ligniere/Cadet Vadim/Monk) and Dean Knight’s (multiple roles) performances, Joe Doran’s lighting design and Frank Foster’s set. Despite the problems with the production I was honestly entertained.

Gratitude to the Mill for dedicating the show to the late Andy Boothby who was slated to play the title role and died just before rehearsals were slated to begin.

Click here for more information.

Go because it is a classic (though I disliked this version of the translation).


I Saw a Beautiful Show: Once (a review)



Every now and again I am really impressed with the whole of a production. Virginia Rep’s production of Once is one of them.

The play is about a moment in time when a broken Irish musician has a chance meeting with a dynamic Czech woman who becomes the catalyst for resuscitating his life. The story is primarily told through a clever script and some rollicking folk rock music. What blew me away the most in this show is the level of proficiency required by the actors. They must be able to act, dance, sing and play a musical instrument very well and all at the same time – which they did beautifully.

Aside from moments when accents seemed to get a bit muddled, I spent an evening of pure bliss in the theatre.

Highlights: Ken Allen Neely as Guy, Katherine Fried as Girl and seeing a kid (Trevor Lindley Craft) whose performance cracked me up in a Live Arts version of Xanadu all grown up and being fabulous onstage with some heavy weight actors.

This show is a gem that shines brightly in the Virginia Rep crown. I put it in my Must See category of shows for this season. Good for ages 10 and up – especially hopeless romantics.

Warning: The title song will get stuck in your head.

For more information click here.


Praising the Greeks, Amen!: A review of Oedipus, a gospel myth

Complete with the passing of a collection plate, Oedipus: a gospel myth is an exploration in how classic Greek tragedy is like a service in a gospel church. Director and set designer, Vinnie Gonzales, has done a great job conceptualizing this intriguing take on the full text of Sophocles’ play about a man who fulfills a gruesome prophecy without his knowledge.

Easter eggs include: the Greek Isles, the number 3 and rhinestone broaches.

Gonzales puts great care into his work and pulls out good performances in his cast. Highlights are the chorus (Shalandis Wheeler Smitth, Shalimar Hickman Fields and Shantell Dunnaville), Jeremy V. Morris as the Preacher, Toney Q. Cobb as  Terresius and Messenger, and Keaton Hillman as Servant whose monolog at the end seals the deal on the show.

Favorite line from the show: “You’d make a rock angry”.

This play is appropriate for anyone who can stomach the content. If you don’t know what I mean, look up the Oedipus myth. But you should see it because it is a very good interpretation of a classic that is rarely staged. Basically, Sophocles kicks our ass with this play even though he tells us how it will end at the beginning. (All High School students should definitely go.)

6_Shalandis Wheeler Smith, Shantell Dunnaville, Shalimar Hickman Fields, Jeremy V Morrs (photo by Bill Sigafoos)

For information click here.

Uneven Talk: Talk Radio Review (a love poem to John Minks)

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If you have ever listened to the rants of Rush Limbaugh and the like, you will recognize the switchblade narcissism of Barry Champlain, the host of a night time talk radio show deftly played by Scott Whichmann.

The plot is about Barry and the way he manipulates his audience, sponsors and co-workers with a twisted punishment and rewards system that makes him a radio star.

The shining stars in this production are Roger Price, the sound designer and technician who nails the critical sound cues making the show believable; our beloved, Scotty, who brings Barry to irritating life; and John Minks, who plays a drugged out teenager who gets to meet Barry in person and do a little air time.

Morrie Piersol directed, and I love you, Morrie but this was a little messy. The cast is drastically uneven in ability which would be more distracting if it weren’t for the powerhouses of Wichmann and Minks. In fact, Minks was such a breath of fresh air when he arrived onstage in the second act (both as his character who proves a gentle, balancing foil to Barry’s harshness and a beaming talent among a less nuanced group of supporting actors) that my perspective may have been skewed. At any rate I wanted to get on stage and hug him but waited until after the show like a good little theatre goer.

As an aside: My escort and I agreed that Minks is such a good actor at this point that he could have easily delivered a stellar performance as Barry. Hopefully, he will soon be pulled out of the “teenager” roles he is so often given and promoted to leading man.

This play is for people who can tolerate in your face cigarette smoke and foul language while enjoying some thought provoking theatre. AND for those who want to witness two brilliant performances of the season.

For more information, click here.

WNRN Culture Connection for Feb 2 – 8

Punksatawney Phil master groundhog prognosticator has deemed we are in for six more weeks of winter which means it is a good time to explore some history.  This week’s WNRN Culture Connection features three events that offer you that chance:  Henley Street Theatre Company’s production of The Lion in Winter,  music from the swinging ‘60’s at Four County Players’ Songs in the Cellar: Broadway by the Decade, and a chance to view the VMI Cadets parade on post is full dress.

To learn more about these featured events click on the links below. To hear a podcast of this week’s Culture Connection go to and click on the “features” tab to find Culture Connections.

The Lion in Winter:

Songs in the Cellars:

VMI Dress Parade:

Stay warm and have a great week!



From wnrn Culture Connection Sept 16 – 22

It is important to take time to fill your spirit during the busy fall season and this week I have found some cool ways to do just that with some yoga, a lecture and a trip to a forbidden planet.

Get your OM on during a 36 hour Yogathon at nonprofit Project Yoga in Richmond starting at 6 am Wednesday through 6 pm on Thursday. This consciousness raiser features 24 class segments, 2 DJ’s and a class or two taught by local yoga rock star J. Miles. (I took a class with J. Miles at Floyd Yoga Jam a few weeks ago and let me tell you, it was totally fun.  He really knows how to combine his love for music and yoga into a true mind/body experience.)

Then dash to the Tandem Friends School in Charlottesville on Thursday night for    From Burundi with Love    a talk on forgiveness and reconciliation, by Burundi native and author, David Niyonzima. Sponsored by nonprofit African Peace Partners this event is free.

Now that your are full of peace love and understanding head to Staunton on SATURDAY  AFTERNOON (This is a correction from the actual spot broadcast on the radio. Check the ASC schedule to see what is actually playing Friday night. Apologies for any inconvenience.) to enjoy an evening of truly entertaining theatre at nonprofit American Shakespeare Center’s production of Return To the Forbidden Planet, a B-movie style Sci-fi musical loosely based on William Shakespeare’s The Tempest featuring rock-and-roll hits from the 50’s and 60’s.

If you have a cool event coming up shoot me an email at .

See you out and about!


The Culture Maven

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