Tuesday, November 9, 2010

The Virtues of Versatility and Virtuosity

Shortly after West Side Story had its Broadway premiere on September 26, 1957, a new term emerged in theatrical circles. Just as athletes competing in a triathlon were required to swim, run, and cycle their way to the finish line, casting agents started to look for "triple threat" performers who could act, sing, and dance.

Unlike musicals from previous decades (where a cast member's skills might be limited to singing or dancing), the new ideal was a performer who could handle any challenge thrown at him by a director or choreographer. The concept of a triple threat artist has since evolved to include other fields of creativity. Not merely content to be singer/songwriters, actor/models or cater/waiters, actors have become filmmakers and playwrights, playwrights and dancers have become directors, and directors have become choreographers.

In today's entertainment industry, a person is no longer expected to be able to do only one thing. That's not to say that a person can't achieve great fame for doing one thing exceedingly well. However, a multifaceted artist who can create more challenges for himself, stretch his talents further, and achieve greater revenue by owning the copyrights to his work has a much greater chance of building a long career.

Crossing over has never been so popular. As a result, some artists defy the public's expectations:
Two productions new to San Francisco were created by artists whose talent falls solidly into the multiple-threat genre. Because each performance featured the actor performing his own words, there was a much greater sense that these performers were living "in the skin" of their characters and "owned" their roles.

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Since its inception, 42nd Street Moon has focused its energy on giving new life to classic or neglected musicals from the past.  However, when Greg MacKellan and Lauren Hewitt attended a reading of Murder For Two, A Killer Musical at the National Alliance for Music Theatre's 2009 Festival of New Musicals, they were so taken with this two-character, 90-minute show that they offered to present its West Coast premiere. In the following five video clips, Kellen Blair and Joe Kinosian discuss how Murder For Two was born and how the project has developed since its original concept.

As seen on opening night at the Eureka Theatre, Murder For Two is an absolute delight with great potential to become a meal ticket for its creators and performers.
  • Because it only requires two performers, a piano and a chair, Murder For Two is an extremely economical show to produce.
  • Murder For Two's minimal physical requirements also make it ideally suited to touring the college circuit.
  • Once Murder For Two's performers are equipped with body mikes, they should have no problem performing in larger venues.
Adam Overett and Joe Kinosian in Murder For Two
Photo by: James Shubinski

There's lots to love in Murder For Two -- an intelligently written show that is deftly performed by two men with charisma and strong audience appeal. This is also the kind of show I would happily return to for a repeat experience.

Adam Overett had just enough earnestness to make you want to believe that Officer Marcus Moscowicz of the Collarhorn Police Department is a right kind of guy. Not only must he solve the murder of Mr. Whitney, he's also been charged with the task of finding out who stole the ice cream from Mrs. Whitney's freezer.

Watching Joe Kinosian portray a surprisingly diverse group of suspects is an absolute delight.  His characterizations include:
  • Mrs. Dahlia Whitney: a middle-aged woman who has thrown a surprise birthday party for her husband (who hates surprises). Just when the guests are supposed to scream "surprise," there is a gunshot and her husband lies dead in the middle of their living room.
  • Steph Whitney: Dahlia's niece who is visiting for the weekend while trying to finish her thesis.
  • Barrette Lewis: a mysterious ballet dancer (and possibly Mr. Whitney's mistress) who has been invited to the birthday party by Mrs. Whitney.
  • Dr. Griff: a psychiatrist well known to several of the guests.
  • Murray and Barb Flandon: the Whitneys' next-door neighbors.
  • Timmy, Yonkers, and Skid: three kids from the neighborhood.
Although the following clip is taken from a workshop, Overett and Kinosian are now "off book" and much more confident in their performances.

I'll be curious to see how well audiences embrace Murder For Two after its opening night performance in San Francisco. This show offers a golden opportunity to 42nd Street Moon's management, which has slowly been branching out into salon-type evenings devoted to a specific composer or lyricist as well as classes for aspiring musical theatre performers.

As 42nd Street Moon's audience has grown increasingly geriatric, the need for new blood becomes painfully obvious. If MacKellan can be convinced to make a slight shift in programming to include one relatively new show (that is probably just as neglected as some of the old musicals the company has produced) in each season, he may find himself with new sounds, a new audience, and fewer challenges in negotiating musical rights.This could allow 42nd Street Moon to tackle shows like:
Broadening its repertoire could also provide an invaluable opportunity for 42nd Street Moon to stage shows that were previously presented at NAMT's Festival of New Musicals. My personal recommendation?  A Gilbert & Sullivan parody from the 2007 festival  entitled The Beastly Bombing (you can listen to most of the score online).

In the meantime, Murder For Two continues at the Eureka Theatre through November 21 (you can order tickets here). Don't miss it!

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Over in Berkeley, the Aurora Theatre Company is presenting the Bay area premiere of Dave Cale's one-man show, Palomino. Written, directed, and performed by Cale, it is a remarkable piece of writing that has evolved with a rare sensitivity toward the loneliness plaguing a group of single, rich women who indulge themselves by hiring an escort.

However, Kieren McGrath is not just any escort.  An Irishman who has been living in New York and taking people for rides around Central Park in a horse carriage drawn by a palomino, Kieren wants to become a writer. He's a voracious reader who seems to be blessed with good things constantly coming his way.

David Cale as Kieren McGrath in Palomino (Photo by: David Allen)

At first reluctant to accept a woman's offer to "take out her friend," Kieren soon warms to the idea of having friends with very expensive benefits. However, as a person who has always rejected love, he's both surprised and angry when he finds himself developing feelings for one of the women he sees. After she offers to take him to Malta, they have a minor falling out and Kieren heads off to London, where he decides to write a memoir about his sexual escapades.

David Cale as Edward the Editor in Palomino (Photo by: David Allen)

Cale is not the kind of actor one would associate with romantic leads. However, soon after he starts to speak, something magical happens. With a minimum of body language, Cale makes the audience believe that he is a  butch Irishman, a brazen madam, a befuddled, lonely widow, and a beautiful young woman who once had an unexpected tryst with Kieren on a deserted beach in Monterey.

Palomino is one of those one-man shows that has heart, soul, and a refreshing lack of misogyny. Cale has the rare power to communicate the emotional vulnerability of older women to an audience through a man's voice and acting. Deeply moving, surprisingly poignant, and all too human, he offers audiences a masterful achievement in storytelling and solo performance art. 

Palomino continues at the Aurora Theatre Company through December 5.  You can order tickets here.

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