54th Annual Zilker Summer Musical: The Sound of Music!

The audience gathered on the rolling, green hillside, happy with anticipation. Photo by Margie

Click play to listen to “Preludium” sung by the Nuns as they come in from the hills for prayer.

The hillside around the Zilker Theatre was alive with chatting, eating, and playing on Thursday night as children and adults of all ages lounged on a patchwork quilt of blankets spread across the grass. Some groups had arrived as early as 6 p.m. – two and a half hours before the performance began – in order to claim a spot on the crowded lawn. Others, like myself, were returning to the hillside with fingers crossed, anxiously watching the sky for rain clouds after Sunday’s performance had been rained out.

Phoebe Johnson and other audience members braved the drizzling rain on Sunday to see The Sound of Music at the Zilker Hillside Theatre. Unfortunately the show was canceled due to the weather. Photo by Margie

Instead of rain, we had a glorious blushing pink sky with ethereal clouds and even a cool breeze running across our bare feet from time to time. The evening’s natural ambiance was a fitting backdrop to the beautiful stage set that transformed the open-air Beverly S. Sheffield Zilker Hillside Theater into a picture of the mountains that surround Salzburg, Austria.

The Sound of Music by Zilker Theatre Productions on a lovely summer evening in Austin. Photo by Margie

“How do you solve a problem like Maria?”  Photo by Margie

Undoubtedly, the film production of The Sound of Music with Julie Andrews is, and always will be, the most beloved version of the musical. However the production on Thursday, directed by M. Scott Tatum, would have made Rodgers and Hammerstein sing with joy and pride. With solid and enthusiastic performances by the entire cast, an incredibly beautiful and cleverly maneuvered set design, and an orchestra worthy of its own standing ovation, Zilker Theatre Production’s The Sound of Music is worth getting out of the house to see. All the treasured standards like “My Favorite Things” and “Do-Re-Me” are performed, but fun variations in the musical along with less familiar tunes like “No Way to Stop” allow ZTP’s production to step away from being constantly compared to the movie.

The von Trapp children answer to their father’s whistle. Photo by Margie

Uncle Max Detweiler (Neal Gibson), Baroness Elsa Schraeder (Leslie Hollingsworth), and Captain Georg von Trapp (Joshua Denning) sing a lively version of “No Way to Stop” Photo by Margie

One song that you might miss is “Something Good” between Maria and Captain von Trapp. Similarly in the production though Michelle Hache makes a spunky Maria and the Captain, played by Joshua Denning, is as stern as always, there is some chemistry missing between the two. The Captain’s love interest, Baroness Schraeder (Leslie Hollingsworth), appears as less of an evil character than I remember as a child. The development of her relationship with the Captain is mature and sensible, making her likeable enough to where I almost wish she could have married the Captain after all.  The most entertaining love story, however, occurs between sixteen-going-on-seventeen year old Liesl (Alyssa Muir) and seventeen-going-on-eighteen year old Rolf (Jordan Barron).  Teens in the audience watching Liesl and Rolf’s “timid and shy” romance develop will gain some perspective on young love. Their parents will appreciate the messages relayed about being cautious and kind, and talking to your parents or mentors about your feelings.

Maria (Michelle Hache) frolics on the mountain. Photo by Margie

The most impressive message of the evening – perhaps because it is delivered by Coty Ross’s majestic voice – is that you cannot run away from your problems but must instead “Climb Ev’ry Mountain” to find what is right in life for you. As the von Trapp family ventures out into the Alps of Zilker Park the Mother Abbess (Ross), a kindred spirit of Maria’s who also grew up on the Austrian mountains, gives an inspiring solo bolstered by a pure and robust voice. Every member of the audience will leave happily humming a medley of show tunes and encouraged to follow their dreams as they also climb the hillside back to their cars.

The von Trapp family performs “Do-Re-Mi” before escaping the Third Reich’s Anschluss by fleeing through the mountains. Photo by Margie

The story has something for audiences of all ages. Whether you are attending with your family, on a date, or enjoying an evening with a group of friends, Zilker’s production certainly will not disappoint – unless it gets rained out. So be sure to catch The Sound of Music at the Zilker Hillside Theatre before it is too late!

The performance runs Thursdays – Sundays through August 11, 2012. The show starts at 8:30pm, but get their early (blankets are allowed on the lawn beginning at 6pm) to claim a spot with the best view.

Admission is free, parking is $5, donations are greatly appreciated and well-deserved.

Click here for more information

Follow ZTP’s Facebook for photographs and updates on inclement weather

-M

blog by Margie Eades

Dividing the Estate: A Picture of the South

on stage at the ZACH Theatre for its last weekend!
by Margie Eades
———–
May 29, 2012 – July 1, 2012

Written by Pulitzer Prize and Academy Award-winner HORTON FOOTE
Directed bySTEVEN DIETZ (Doubt, Shooting Star and Becky’s New Car)
———–

Last weekend I visited the ZACH Theatre for the first time ever for the opening weekend of Fully Committed. I was fortunate to have the opportunity to return less than a week later for ZACH’s production of Dividing the Estate, written by the celebrated Texan playwright, Horton Foote (1916 – 2009).

The play follows the familiar dysfunctions of a Southern family, exaggerated by financial troubles and imperturbable greed. The Gordon children and grand-children constantly bicker about the future of their family’s historic – and valuable – estate, while Mamma Gordon (excellently portrayed by Marijane Vandivier) prefers to reminisce on days of a bygone era with her elderly servant, Doug (Eugene Lee).

Stella Gordon (Marijane Vandivier) and Doug (Eugene Lee) remember the “good old days” in Dividing the Estate. Photo by Kirk Tuck

If nothing else, Foote’s play serves as historical record of Texas in the 1980s: a Texas where big money and big hair ruled society and a strange sort of veiled racism still tinged the Southern mindset. I would even go as far as to say that this production of the play presents an opportunity for a brutally honest analysis of present-day Texan mentality towards issues such as race.  It was painful to see the characters of Mildred (Janis Stinson) and Cathleen (Sharayah Reed), the estate’s domestic workers, reduced to the stereotype of the large, overbearing Mammy figure. Historically, the Mammy archetype is one of the two roles (the other being the sensual Jezebel stereotype) that have been imposed upon Black actresses throughout the history of popular entertainment.

Mammy Stereotype (from Ethnic Notions by Marlon Riggs 1986)

However Foote must have been aware of the weight of the topic he was dealing with when writing the roles of the Black female domestic workers into the play, right? He did write the screenplay for To Kill A Mockingbird (1962) after all. My concern on Friday night was with how many of Foote’s fellow Texans actually caught on to the seriousness of these depictions. With the audience’s hearty laughter at every cliché “Mmmhmm” and cheeky comment made by the cook and her helper, I had to wonder how many others in the audience were having the same considerations I was about the historical and racial implications of these women’s roles in the script. Perhaps the fact that young Cathleen is attending a junior college while Emily and Sissy Gordon and their thick-headed mother Mary Jo can hardly do simple division presents a more accurate statement from Foote about the status of African-Americans in the South.

Mildred (Janis Stinson) and Cathleen (Sharayah Reed) in Dividing the Estate. Photo by Kirk Tuck

Mary Jo’s character, defined by relentless greed and a bad case of “youngest child syndrome”, is responsible for setting the tone of the entire drama. Unfortunately on Friday night, the lively actress Barbara Chisolm was unable to perform due to a death in the family and was temporarily replaced by Lauren Lane. While Lane played her new role bravely and whined and schemed very convincingly, her reading from a script inevitably took away from the play as a whole.

Marijane Vandivier’s portrayal of Stella “Mamma” Gordon hit straight to home, as I already mentioned. Her facetious quips about “overly educated women” divorce, living through the Great Depression, God’s wrath, reinstating plantation life, and Baptists versus Methodists are quintessentially “Southern grandma”. Whether it is her quirky and stubborn feminine ways or her pursed pink lips and permed white hair, there is something in her character that will remind every Texan of their grandmother. Her comments alone are revealing of the philosophy on life native to the South and make Foote’s play and ZACH’s production worth seeing.

Catch Dividing the Estate in its last weekend on the Kleberg Stage. A few more performances have been added due to popular demand. Get your tickets while you still can!

-M

Fully Committed: A Night of Comedy at Austin’s ZACH Theatre

by Margie Eades

——————- 

June 14, 2012 – September 2, 2012
at ZACH Theatre’s Whisenhunt Stage

written by Becky Mode
directed by Dave Steakley
starring Martin Burke

———————————————–

One man, three desks, and forty-one characters could either be the ingredients for a long and confusing night at the theater, or for an entertaining hour and a half of the most unique theater experience you might ever have.

Perhaps as someone who was raised more on Russian ballet than comic theater, I am being overly enthusiastic, but I enjoyed every minute of Becky Mode’s Fully Committed which opened this weekend at the ZACH Theatre. The comedy features Martin Burke as the reservationist (and the Maître d’, and the chef, and the hostess, and all the guests trying to make reservations) for a trendy Manhattan restaurant who, like the rest of us, is just trying to do his job well and make it home alive at the end of the day. Yet there is more to the show than a series of funny impressions poking fun at the status driven socialites of New York. At its heart is Sam, a struggling actor trying to “make it big”, make rent, and make it home to see his widowed father for Christmas. While every character played by Burke is entertaining in his or her own right, the underlying plot is what takes Fully Committed from being any comedian’s nightly act to an engrossing story that the audience can connect with.

One of the things that makes this performance so special is the intimate Whisenthunt Stage – one of the ZACH’s two stages, with another addition of the new Topfer Theatre opening in September . Small but comfortable, the Whisenhunt Stage is an octagonal “theatre-in-the-round”  that makes you feel as if you are right in the office with Sam, even if you are sitting on the last row. This atmosphere allows more interaction between the audience and the actors – or actor in this case – which makes the experience more personal and enjoyable for both parties. During the performance it was obvious that Burke was thoroughly enjoying himself, feeding off of the audience’s laughter and even cracking himself up; the audience in turn was fully involved in every word, every inflection, every grimace and smirk of the performance.

Then again, how could we not have been totally engrossed in the play? Burke is handsome; he could make you fall in love with his twinkling blue eyes in an instant if he weren’t so busy running around the office answering phones! From the moment he rushed on stage, he was energetic and enthusiastic – so much so that he was sweating after only half an hour.

— “Sorry sir, we’re fully committed on that day”

— “Yer full o’ WHAT?!”

–“Uh, we don’t have any tables sir..”

From the restaurant’s fabulous French Maître d’ Jean-Claude:

–“Oh. My. God. She has a face like zee catfish.”,

to Naomi Campbell’s gay secretary Bryce:

–“You betcha I’ll hold!”

and other celebrities and wannabes in between, Burke is delightful and fascinating in his ability to switch between so many characters and not end up with some sort of identity crisis.

The script leaves room for improvisation and name-dropping. Such an instance pokes fun with a VIP reservation for Mort Topfer – “who the **** is that?!” -whose family the newest  theatre at ZACH is named after. Burke takes advantage of these opportunities to subtly and cleverly engage his audience with Austin related references. There are way too many characters to go on in detail; you simply have to see the performance yourself to enjoy its full hilarity.

A native of Austin, Burke has participated in dozens of local productions. He is most notorious for playing a Macy’s Christmas elf in the David Sedaris’ holiday favorite, The Santaland Diaries. Burke’s outstanding work has been recognized with numerous B. Iden Payne Awards, including one for “Outstanding Featured Actor in a Play” in Twelfth Night, directed by Robert Faires (Sneck Up! Productions, in association with VORTEX Repertory Company). Both The B. Iden Payne Council and VORTEX have participated in Austin Creative Alliance’s Sponsored Project program.

On Saturday as the lights were being dimmed, I counted only 4 empty seats in the entire theater. At the same time, I could not help but notice that less than a handful of the audience was under the age of thirty. A shame considering that my guest for the evening, my best friend’s 18 year old little sister and mass consumer of all things funny on Netflix, YouTube, Facebook, and any other popular or obscure website, absolutely loved the entire theater experience and found Fully Committed’s shenanigans and sentiments endearing.

My friend will be a sophomore at UT in the fall and has been wanting to do “more interesting artsy cultural activities”. Last Wednesday we attended the City Hall Council Meeting together to learn about the Imagine Austin Plan, for example. It is my hope, as a young adult who has grown up loving the arts, that producers andsupporters of the arts in Austin would continue to strive to reach out to young people like my friend and help them realize that the arts are for people of all ages.  If you need some incentive, ZACH offers discounted tickets for students an hour before every performance!

-M

Check out some of ZACH’s upcoming events below:

Upcoming Events:

Dividing the Estate

May 29, 2012 – July 1, 2012

Xanadu

July 17, 2012 – September 2, 2012

Fully Committed

June 14, 2012 – September 2, 2012

TOPFER THEATRE OPENING WEEKEND

ONCE UPON A DREAM

Thursday, September 27th, 2012
 Featuring:  JOHNNY MATHIS

ONCE UPON A DREAM will be a spectacular black-tie gala, which will showcase ZACH’s new Topfer Theatre in its greatest light. A cocktail reception in the theatre will be followed by a seated dinner on the People’s Plaza under a stunning custom tent. Then, Johnny Mathis himself will christen the Karen Kuykendall stage with an once-in-a-lifetime concert featuring his iconic songs. Tickets on sale soon!

DEEP IN THE HEART OF ZACH

Saturday, September 29th, 2012
 Featuring:  BRIAN STOKES MITCHELL, Broadway star of RAGTIME and Tony Award winner for KISS ME KATE, who will be joined at the end of his concert by ZACH performers in a rousing review that will include a special sneak peek at RAGTIME!

The Topfer Theatre and the entire ZACH campus will be ‘party central’ for our DEEP IN THE HEART OF ZACH! opening gala event. Besides concerts by Broadway headliner Mitchell, shows in ZACH’s other venues will take place concurrently all evening.

ZACH’s talented artists will be featured on the Kleberg and  Whisenhunt stages, while area bands perform on the Plaza.  VIP guests can attend Mitchell’s   first or second concert in the Topfer, then be free to partake in all the remaining festivities, and conclude with an exclusive post-concert reception.  All attendees will enjoy the opening ceremonies, food, drink, bands and ZACH performances. This progressive party will offer Austin’s choicest food vendors in a variety of food stations throughout ZACH’s campus.

Tickets on sale soon! 
Be on the lookout for an email from ZACH announcing more event details.