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REVIEW: Studio Tenn delivers a sleek, yet vibrant ‘Camelot’

By Amy Stumpfl

Photo by Keoni Keur

Based on T.H. White’s The Once and Future King, the action still centers on the tragic love triangle involving an idealistic King Arthur, his queen Guinevere and the gallant Lancelot. And fans certainly will recognize familiar songs, such as “If Ever I Would Leave You,” “C’est Moi,” “The Simple Joys of Maidenhood” and, of course, the title song, “Camelot.” But David Lee’s streamlined adaptation (which opened at the Pasadena Playhouse in 2010) strips away much of the pageantry of the past, along with a number of supporting characters – including the mysterious Merlin and the loyal Pellinore. It’s an interesting choice, and one that pays off with focused, yet highly theatrical storytelling and a refreshingly crisp pace.

This reimagined version actually trims the cast down to just a handful of players – or “revelers” – who are eager to share the story of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. They deliver concise narration directly to the audience, but also provide a good bit of cheeky stagecraft – easily becoming the “tree” under which Guinevere prays to Saint Genevieve, or the “stone” from which a young Arthur pulls the mighty sword Excalibur. Director Philip Wm. McKinley (Broadway’s Spider-Man: Turn Off the DarkThe Boy From Oz) makes the most of this fast-paced humor. But he also takes care not to rush the audience, drawing us in with some lovely stage portraits and allowing us to savor more poignant moments.

Steffanie Leigh (whose Broadway credits include Mary PoppinsGigi and War Paint) is simply radiant as Guinevere, capturing all the flirty spirit of “The Simple Joys of Maidenhood” and “Then You May Take Me to the Fair.” But she also reveals her character’s genuine heartache in ballads such as “Before I Gaze at You Again” and “I Loved You Once in Silence.”

Brian Gligor offers a thoughtful performance as Arthur, giving us a reluctant king who is at once wise, uncertain and devastatingly human. Gligor occasionally seemed to struggle vocally at Saturday’s matinee, but I thoroughly enjoyed his take on “I Wonder What the King is Doing Tonight,” and his “How to Handle a Woman” is quite tender. And Bryce Dunn (currently a sophomore at Lipscomb University) is excellent as Lancelot, whether leaning into the pompous fun of “C’est Moi,” or serving up an emotional “If Ever I Would Leave You.”

These lead actors receive tremendous support from a seemingly tireless crew of revelers, who jump into various roles along the way. Curtis Reed, Easton J. Curtis and Dustin Davis (who stepped in for Darian Goulding at Saturday’s matinee) are especially impressive as the daring knights who challenge Lancelot to joust. Annie Huckaba is terrific as Squire Dap, and Alan Harrisohn Foeder is charming as young Tom of Warwick. And Abram Guice is a pure diabolical delight as Mordred, scheming against Arthur with “The Seven Deadly Virtues” and “Fie on Goodness.”

Andrew Cohen has fashioned a marvelously crumbling castle set, which ably supports the unfolding action, and Darren Levin’s evocative lighting enhances each scene. Neno Russell and Lauren Roark’s simple costumes feature plenty of medieval flourishes, but never let us lose sight of the merry revelers concept. Music Director Stephen Kummer leads a wonderful orchestra, and Everett Tarlton’s choreography adds polish, with “The Lusty Month of May” providing one of the performance’s most memorable moments.

This may not be the Camelot you’ve seen before. But with imaginative storytelling and vibrant performances, die-hard fans will no doubt find Studio Tenn’s staging quite congenial for “happily-ever-aftering.”

Camelot continues through May 15. Visit studiotenn.com for complete details.


Elf Musical to Return to London’s West End

Philip Wm. McKinley will direct the production based on the 2003 film.
BY ANDREW GANSAPRIL 26, 2022

Elf the Musical, which made its London premiere at the West End’s Dominion Theatre in 2015, will return to the venue for a limited engagement beginning November 14.

Directed by Philip Wm. McKinley, the production will officially open November 24 and continue through January 7, 2023. Casting will be announced at a later date.

Based on the 2003 New Line Cinema film starring Will FerrellElf features a book by Tony winners Thomas Meehan (Annie, The Producers, Hairspray) and Bob Martin (The Drowsy Chaperone), with songs by Tony nominees Matthew Sklar and Chad Beguelin (The Wedding Singer). The musical made its Broadway debut in 2010 at the Al Hirschfeld Theatre and returned there in 2012.

The production will also have original set and costume design by Tim Goodchild, choreography by Liam Steel, lighting design by Patrick Woodroffe and sound by Gareth Owen. Casting will be by Grindrod Burton Casting.

Elf the Musical is produced by Temple Live Entertainment.


BROADWAY WORLD REVIEW: David Lee’s ‘Sparkling and Winning’ Adaptation of Lerner and Loewe’s CAMELOT at Studio Tenn

Production Marks End of Studio Tenn Residency at Jamison Theatre at The Factory

by Jeffrey Ellis May. 7, 2022  

The cast of Camelot at Studio Tenn – photo by Keoni Keur

Lerner and Loewe’s Camelot, the 1960 musical based on the legend of King Arthur and his knights of the round table and adapted from the T.H. White novel The Once and Future King, is now onstage in Franklin, in an entertaining, sparkling and winningly fast-paced rendition from Studio Tenn. Under the direction of Broadway veteran Phillip William McKinley (The Boy From Oz, Spiderman: Turn Off the Dark) who, with his creative team, brings to life the show’s 2010 update by multiple Emmy Award-winning, multi-hyphenate television producer David Lee (Frasier, Wings, The Jeffersons).

Unlike the original script, which tends to run long (at well over three hours), Lee’s adaptation presents a script that has undergone some judicious editing, excising some characters (say “goodbye” to Merlin, Sir Pellinore, Morgan Le Fay and sundry others), rejiggering some of the dialogue, eliminating some scenes and focusing on what he – and most of the musical’s fanbase, to be clear – believes to be the more intimate and highly engaging story that gives the show its vibrant heart: the romantic triangle of noble King Arthur, his beautiful queen Guinevere and the arrogant French knight Lancelot du Lac.

Brian Gligor as King Arthur – photo by Keoni Keur

McKinley stages the musical with a capable and versatile cast of ten, who portray a band of traveling troubadors or “revelers,” as they are identified in the show’s playbill, who bring the show to exhilarating life with bravado and a sense of fun that pervades the theater, particularly in Act One, and adding a soupcon of levity to the darker scenes that comprise most of the show’s second stanza. With his cast featuring a clever blending of seasoned professional actors – including his leading lady from Broadway in the form of Steffanie Leigh (from Broadway’s Mary Poppins, Gigi and War Paint) – and some fresh-faced younger thespians, McKinley injects a light-hearted, almost confectionary, air that gives the oftentimes dour and broody Camelot a more light-hearted mien that ensures audiences will leave the theater enthusiastically singing the praises of all the talent assembled onstage.

Brian Gligor and Steffanie Leigh – photo by Keoni Keur

While Lee’s script makes for a faster paced show, he manages to retain its romanticism and key points of the Arthurian legend to please most aficionados. In doing so, he is able to create a musical that is more easily accessible to Arthurian neophytes and members of the theaterati who have long preferred the exquisite score by Frederick Loewe over Alan Jay Lerner’s too-talky and overly dense book and lyrics. What was once plodding and heavy is now scintillating and sometimes effervescent in this production.

Yet make no mistake about it, Lee’s Camelot is still Lerner and Loewe’s Camelot. And even the most ardent fans should be able to find much to love in this new adaptation. And remember there is still another revision ahead, with a new revival of Camelot set to open at Broadway’s Lincoln Center in December, directed by Bartlett Sher from a script adaptation by Aaron Sorkin. Should we expect some fast-talking knights and ladies to gather around the round table? Only time will tell.

Bryce Dunn – photo by Keoni Keur

Musical director Stephen Kummer conducts his talented orchestra made up of Nashville musicians, from their location offstage at Studio Tenn’s current home in the Jamison Theatre at The Factory at Franklin. They perform the show’s memorable score with vigor and aplomb, providing the cast with sublime musical support. Everett Tarlton, who has gained a notable reputation for his work on productions throughout the region, provides the show’s ensemble with all manner of fancy footwork that seems new and fresh, with an amusing maypole dance during “The Lusty Month of May” that reveals his cheeky approach to the material at hand.

While “Fie On Goodness,” “Then You May Take Me to the Fair” and “What Do the Simple Folk Do?” are lighter-than-air buoyant entertainments, the musical highlights of Camelot remain its beautiful ballads: “If Ever I Would Leave You” is sung with confidence by Bryce Dunn as Sir Lancelot who, despite his relative youth, exudes unrequited love and heartache in his rendering of the song. Likewise, Steffanie Leigh’s Guinevere blends pathos and despair in her haunting “I Loved You Once in Silence,” which provides the musical’s lyrical high point (with her “Before I Gaze At You Again” vying closley for that designation).

Brian Gligor is well-cast as Arthur, ably embodying the somewhat reluctant monarch who comes into his own through the course of the play. Leigh, with her crystalline soprano and regal stage bearing, not to mention her own comedic abilities, creates a Guinevere who is at once chaste and sensual. Her stage presence is palpable and her chemistry with Gligor’s Arthur and Dunn’s Lancelot is noteworthy.

Dunn is quite good as Lancelot and when one considers that he is a college sophomore the appreciation for his performance only intensifies. He affects a nicely comical French accent, for the most part, although he has trouble maintaining it over the play’s two-and-a-quarter hour playing time.

 Abram Guice, Curtis Reed, Easton J. Curtis and Darian Goulding – photo by Keoni Keur

Stage veteran Curtis Reed is sublime as Sir Lionel, excelling in the physical comedy at which he is especially adept. Two of local college theater’s most exceptional leading men – Belmont University’s Darian Goulding as Sagramore and Lipscomb University’s Easton J. Curtis as Dinadan – once again show the talents that herald successful theater careers still to come. In addition, Dustin Davis, Annie Huckaba and Alan Harrisohn Foeder lend their talents to the production’s commendable ensemble.

But if one member of the cast is to be singled out for his extraordinary contribution to the production, the spotlight should be focused on young Abram Guice (yes, he’s the younger brother of the talented Arden and Aubrey Guice), who virtually steals the show as Mordred, Arthur’s illegitimate son. His performance and sheer command of the stage elicits warm applause from the audience, but perhaps more importantly he makes certain all their attention is riveted to him when he is onstage.

Brian Gligor and Alan Harrisohn Foeder – photo by Keoni Keur

Performed on a visually appealing and clearly stageworthy set designed by Andrew Cohen, McKinley’s clever staging emphasizes a swashbuckling flair that seems ideal for Camelot, while Darren Levin’s gorgeous lighting design gives an able assist to the audience in helping to focus their attention on the scenes playing out onstage. Costumes, designed by Neno Russell and Lauren Roark, are imaginative and timeless, allowing for the addition of elements every now and again to signify the essence of the scene in which they are worn.

 Steffanie Leigh, Brian Gligor and Bryce Dunn – photo by Keoni Keur

On opening night, there were some troublesome moments (Leigh had difficulty removing the cloak she was wearing in the wedding scene and her microphone failed her in another scene and there were some overlong transitions that could use some polish) that we suspect were eliminated by the second night of performances.

Camelot is the final production to be presented at the venue. Studio Tenn artistic director Patrick Cassidy announced prior to curtain on opening night that his company is collaborating with The Factory’s owners to build “a real theater” in the space, which real include balcony seating, better dressing rooms and rehearsal space, and ample restroom facilities. For the 2022-23 season, still to be announced to the ticket-buying public, Studio Tenn will perform in various local venues.

Lerner and Loewe’s Camelot. Music and lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner. Music by Frederick Loewe. Based on The Once and Future King by T.H. White. Book adapted by David Lee. New orchestrations by Steve Orich. Directed by Philip William McKinley. Musical direction by Stephen Kummer. Choreographed by Everett Tarlton. Production stage managed by Cecilia Lighthall. Presented by Studio Tenn at Jamison Theatre at The Factory at Franklin. Through May 15. For further information and for tickets, go to www.StudioTenn.org. Running time: 2 hours, 15 minutes (with one 15-minute intermission).


Circus Voices w/ Jonathan Lee Iverson

Jonathan Lee Iverson

I recently had the opportunity to sit down with Jonathan Lee Iverson, Ringling Bros. & Barnum and Bailey’s first black ringmaster for his Circus Voices podcast. Jonathan and I had a few good laughs as we reminisced about our days at Ringling with the Feld family.

In this episode of Circus Voices, Phil McKinley director, choreographer, writer, and producer, shares with us unforgettable anecdotes from his remarkable career, the sage advice of mentors that still inform him decades later, and he’ll recount for us a real time example from one of his more recent endeavors, of how live shows may COVID proof their productions. Philip William McKinley is the creator of multiple shattering extravaganzas around the world. From Salzburg to Tokyo, Broadway to Las Vegas to the Circus. He is an artist of immeasurable depth, range, and generosity.

Enjoy the interview at this link:

https://circustalk.com/news/johnathan-lee-iverson-in-conversation-with-phil-mckinley-circus-voices-podcast


The BIG APPLE CIRCUS featured in New York Daily News Photo Gallery

The New York Daily News is featuring pictures of the circus performers from this year’s edition of The Big Apple Circus – “Making the Impossible Possible”. The production is being produced by Michael Cohl, Arny Granat and Nik Wallenda and directed by Philip Wm. McKinley and is scheduled to run through the end of January at Lincoln Center. It stars amazing circus artist from around the world. Check out the amazing photos taken by NY Daily News photographer Adam Schwartz. https://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/ny-big-apple-circus-2021-wallenda-making-the-impossible-possible-20211213-ntbownditzh4jey6xvr2kg37ym-photogallery.html

THANKS ADAM FOR THE INCREDIBLE COVERAGE!!!


Augustana College present exhibit of McKinley Collection

Beginning January 2, 2022 – February 3, 2022, Augustana College will present an exhibit of articles, photographs, memorabilia from the Philip Wm. McKinley special collection.


Making the Impossible Possible – The Big Apple Circus Is Back!!!

DAREDEVIL NIK WALLENDA AND CAST OF PHENOMENAL ARTISTS
SET TO PUT A MODERN TWIST ON
THE BIG APPLE CIRCUS

RETURNS TO LINCOLN CENTER NOV. 11

TICKETS GO ON SALE SEPTEMBER 26 AT NOON

New York, NY — For the first time in the Wallenda family’s 200 year history, world-renowned aerialist, high wire artist and Guinness World Record holder, Nik Wallenda will helm the production of The Big Apple Circus , a circus he has chosen to revive.

Aptly titled “Making The Impossible, Possible!” Wallenda has partnered with a team of live entertainment super producers from the circus world, live music and Broadway – Phillip Wm. McKinley , Michael Cohl and Arny Granat – to make Big Apple Circus even better, and more exciting by adding a modern flair to this beloved classic.

Revered for its intimate and artistic style, the producers are passionate about revitalizing the circus for modern-day audiences, with unique and astounding human feats from performers with incredible real-life stories.

A New York Times Critic’s Pick every year since its reconstitution in 2017, Big Apple Circus continues a long-standing tradition of inclusivity, highlighting the finest talent from around the globe for an equally diverse audience

The Big Apple Circus will return to Lincoln Center on Nov. 11

Tickets go on sale Sunday September 26th at noon at www.bigapplecircus.com

Wallenda, a world-renowned aerialist who has been featured in five nationally televised TV specials is the first and only person in the world to walk a wire directly over Niagara Falls, the Grand Canyon and an active volcano.

Seen by over 250,000 people in Times Square, Nik, will be joined by his family of thrilling high wire artists, and an all-new award winning cast from Australia, Brazil, Colombia, Ethiopia, Germany, Russia, and the United States, some of whom have previously been featured on America’s Got Talent, YouTube and The X-Factor.

For decades, The Big Apple Circus captured the hearts of New Yorkers with death-defying feats that produce oohs, ahhs and gasps throughout the crowd, putting a contemporary twist on the beloved classic. The show was forced to close in 2017 due to financial challenges and after reopening had to shut down again due to the pandemic. However, the revival has been several months the making, with Wallenda, McKinley, Cohl and Granat bringing their extensive credentials to the table:

  • Director Philip Wm. McKinley has directed record-breaking productions from Broadway to Salzburg to Tokyo. Known for his direction of spectacle, his work includes the blockbuster Spiderman: Turn off the Dark, the Tony nominated The Boy from Oz and the water spectacular Le Reve at the Wynn Hotel Las Vegas.
  • Emmy and Tony Award winner Michael Cohl is CEO of S2BN Entertainment and the former Chairman of Live Nation. Over his career he has produced and promoted tours for some of the biggest musical and theatrical acts in the world including Moscow Circus Bolshoi, Spiderman turn off the Dark, Bat Out of Hell, the Musical, Rock of Ages, Yo Gabba Gabba, Barbra Streisand, The Rolling Stones, Pink Floyd, and U2.
  • Arny Granat is CEO of Grand Slam Productions and co-founded Jam Productions, which became one of the largest independent concert promoters in North America. He has won nine Tony Awards for shows including “Spamalot,” and “The Band’s Visit!”and promoted the first ever Farm Aid concert and has worked on tours for Robin Williams, Rolling Stones, Madonna, Eric Idle. Frank Sinatra and the Baseball Hall of Fame traveling exhibit.

“Circus entertainment is family entertainment, and we want to invite your family to be a part of ours. We can’t wait to reveal the new show that will certainly mix traditional circus with modern updates,” said Wallenda.

“Working with these three legendary producers who are so passionate about revitalizing the Big Apple Circus, we have come up with a jaw-dropping show that will captivate our audience,” McKinley said.

“We were in disbelief when the doors of the Big Apple Circus shuttered, but now it’s time for one of America’s most endearing shows to make a triumphant return. We plan to offer new surprises in a safe, family environment and hope it will provide some respite from this rough period in our country. We’re looking forward to welcoming back the kids, and presenting an amazing evening for parents and their kids that’s safe for everyone , but Nik’, said Cohl.

“I’m proud to partner with Michael, Nik and Phil to present the Big Apple Circus to fans who have been missing out on this one-of-a-kind entertainment. We’re determined to make it an experience you won’t forget,” added Granat.

The Big Apple Circus will follow New York State, New York City and CDC guidelines to ensure the safety of our Big Apple Circus guests, cast, employees and production staff, as a priority. Attendees over 12 must wear masks inside and show proof of vaccination. Children under 12 must wear masks.


Conversation with Patrick Cassidy

I had the great pleasure of appearing on Patrick Cassidy’s Studio Tenn Talk show this past week. Patrick and I have known each other for several years. It started with our friendship when he and his mother, Shirley Jones appeared in a concert version of The Music Man at the Hartford Symphony. The first fifteen minutes is an interview with Kenny Dozier who is doing great work at the Kennie Playhouse in Nashville. Enjoy!


A look back at “Le Reve – the Dream”

The articles below were posted when the re-imagined “Le Reve – the Dream” reopened in 2018. The company of Olympic skilled performers, creative artistic staff and talented crew created one of the most outstanding and award winning spectacles in the history of the Las Vegas. I had the honor of serving as director with this creative team of theater artists whose dedication to their show was undying. Unfortunately, “Le Reve – the Dream”‘ closed in March of 2020 due to Covid 19. It is my sincere hope the pandemic will not take away the grand spectacles that defined Las Vegas entertainment.

Enjoy the look back at “Le Reve – the Dream.” photo by Tomasz Rasso


Covid 19 takes its toll

Wynn Las Vegas closes ‘Le Rêve’ for good

Dacha Nedorezova created the synchro ballets for “Le Reve”
By Brock Radke (contact)

Published Friday, Aug. 14, 2020 | 6 p.m.

Updated Friday, Aug. 14, 2020 | 10:45 p.m.

The first large-scale Las Vegas production show to permanently close due to the coronavirus pandemic is one of the most acclaimed performances to ever hit the Strip. Wynn Las Vegas confirmed “Le Rêve” has shuttered for good after more than 6,000 shows over the last 15 years.

“As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent physical distancing requirements for which an end-date cannot be predicted, but are necessary to keep our guests safe, we have been forced to close the award-wining show ‘Le Rêve — The Dream.’”

That is the official statement released by Wynn about the resort’s signature show, which was awarded Best Production Show in Las Vegas for a record nine consecutive years by the Southern Nevada Concierge Association.

A cast and crew of approximately 275 are now without work.

Before March’s entertainment shutdown, “Le Rêve” was performed twice nightly Fridays through Tuesdays at the custom-built, 1,500-seat Wynn Theater. The acrobatic, aquatic spectacular premiered on May 6, 2005, as the new resort’s resident show and was originally created by Franco Dragone, the former Cirque du Soleil director who also created “O” at Bellagio and Celine Dion’s “A New Day” at Caesars Palace.

“Le Rêve” was renowned for its dramatic theater-in-the-round setting and high divers and acrobats flying in and out of a 1 million-gallon, 27-foot-deep pool. The show was refreshed with new costumes, music, choreography and lighting concepts in 2018 and continued to run as one of the most popular shows on the Strip.