Arts

Sweet Tea Shakespeare’s ‘Sweeney Todd’ — oh, that’s good!

08 Sweeney Todd  As of this writing, seats for the remaining performances of Sweet Tea Shakespeare’s “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street” are selling fast. So, allow me to get right to the point: Call the box office at 910-420-4383 or visit www.sweetteashakespeare.com for tickets. The show runs through Feb. 3, and you don’t want to miss it.

Sweet Tea Shakespeare’s production of Stephen Sondheim’s “Sweeney Todd” probably wouldn’t be your first choice for a post-Christmas/pre-Valentine’s outing, but it should be. The talented cast running around the Fayetteville Pie Company is the right mix of fun and madness to balance out the macabre tale.

The story is about London barber Benjamin Barker, who is wrongly imprisoned by Judge Turpin, who wants Barker’s wife, Lucy. After 15 years, Barker returns, calling himself Sweeney Todd, and begins working as a barber over Mrs. Lovett’s meatpie shop on Fleet Street. Seeking revenge, Todd takes his razor to unsuspecting customers, biding his time until he can get the evil judge in his barber chair.

You’ll find no sympathy for Judge Turpin in this story. After driving poor Lucy to suicide, the judge takes the barber’s young daughter, Johanna, as his ward. He locks her away, intending to marry her, and thinks she should be grateful for his kindness.

Todd is a lunatic, for sure, but he has had 15 years in prison to plot his revenge, all the while growing ever more psychotic. Jeremy Fiebig, STS founder and artistic director, plays the title character with an eerie calmness — the kind that makes you a bit uncomfortable in your seat.

Aiding Todd in his revenge plot is the widow Lovett, played by Marie Lowe. Lovett has fancied the barber since before his imprisonment and sees not only a monetary benefit but also a romantic one to helping Todd dispose of the bodies. It is her idea to bake the victims into her meat pies. The secret ingredient boosts her business and has her dreaming of a retirement by the sea — with Todd.

Lowe steals the show with her upbeat and energetic delivery in a Cockney accent. She is so delightfully sinister, I found myself rooting for her character. But, in a tale about death, revenge and insanity can there really be a happily ever after? Not in this tale, which also  has a few twists. No spoilers here, but the ending makes plain that one cannot profit from revenge.

Director Medina Demeter pulls together a fantastic ensemble cast and crew to bring to life the tale with horror, excitement and entertaining music. The cast includes Aaron Alderman, Jennifer Czechowski and Joyce Borum. Heather Eddy plays Johanna and Tyler Graeper is her love-struck beau, Anthony. Allison Podlogar is Tobias Ragg. Gabriel Terry, Jackie Rednour-Hallman and Tohry Petty complete the ensemble.

The Fayetteville Pie Company in Westwood Shopping Center lends its multilevel restaurant as the stage. It is an intimate experience that allows the creative efforts of STS to shine. The restaurant also provides phenomenal pies to audience members for this production as part of the admission price.

For more information on the show or tickets, contact the STS box office at 910-420-4383 or visit www.sweetteashakespeare.com.

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CFRT presents ‘Annie’

01 cover “Annie,” the family-friendly musical based on the “Little Orphan Annie” comic strip, debuted on Broadway in 1977 and has endeared itself to audiences the world over ever since with such crowdpleasing tunes as “Tomorrow!” and “It’s a Hard Knock Life.” In the play, Orphan Annie sets out to find her parents and meets many interesting characters, including millionaire Daddy Warbucks, along the way. Starting Jan. 31, Cape Fear Regional Theater brings “Annie” to town with a stellar cast, including Robert Newman in the role of Daddy Warbucks.

Although he also starred in “General Hospital” and “Santa Barbara,” Newman is best known for portraying Joshua Lewis for 28 years on the soap opera “Guiding Light,” a role for which he earned two Emmy nominations for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series.

“Everyone is excited that Josh, Reva’s husband, is coming to town,” said CFRT Artistic Director Mary Kate Burke, referencing Newman’s “Guiding Light” character.

She added, “Our Ms. Hannigan will be Erin Fish, who just performed the same role on the national tour of ‘Annie.’”

CFRT’s “Annie” will be directed and choreographed by Robin Levine.

Backstage, the cast is no less professional. Be it the stark simplicity of “Miss Saigon” or the rollicking onstage bar of “Music City” or a romp through the medieval landscape of “Monty Python,” sets at CFRT productions have always been impressive. Designing the set for “Annie” is Charles Glenn Johnson, who also designed last season’s hit “Crowns,” according to Burke.

Bringing Johnson’s design to life is the job of Master Carpenter Willie Burgess and Assistant Carpenter Terry Remer, under the direction of Production Coordinator Ken Blinn and Technical Director Adam Lindsay.

Sarah Harris, who was associate costume designer for last season’s “Sense and Sensibility,” is designing “Annie’s” costumes. Once her drawings are finalized and approved by the director, Harris will consult with Andi Nicks, costume shop manager, to determine what can be pulled from CFRT’s costume inventory to bring Harris’ artistic renderings to life.

After meeting with the director to discuss the desired mood and ambience of any given show, a professional lighting designer creates a lighting “plot” for each CFRT production and submits a detailed drawing of how the instruments should be hung and focused. “There are usually over 100 instruments that get hung in the air in different configurations for each show,” said Burke. Staff technicians at CFRT then run the lights according to the plot.

Jillian Zach, a Julliard graduate, is the musical director for “Annie.” Local professionals comprise the band for the show. A piano accompanies the actors during rehearsals, but the entire band — along with all the designers and technicians — assemble for what is known as a sitzprobe, where the actors hear the actual instruments for the first time, and then a wandelprobe, which is a walk-through for blocking with the band.

Once the sitz and wandel are completed to everyone’s satisfaction, there is a tech rehearsal followed by a final dress rehearsal before opening night takes place.

“The whole show is mounted in only three weeks,” said Burke. “So, between the first rehearsal and the first preview, there are only 20 rehearsals and a total of 100 hours rehearsed.”

“Annie” opens Jan. 31 and will run through Feb. 24 with show times at 7:30 p.m. and matinees on most weekends. Tickets cost from $17-$32. Visit www.cfrt.org for information about tickets and performance dates. “Annie” is so family-friendly that CFRT offers a special cast meet-and-greet and a sing-along and dance especially for community children. See the website for details.

Meet Daddy Warbucks

Newman is no stranger to North Carolina nor to the character he’ll portray in “Annie.” Some would say he has a heart just as big and just as soft as Daddy Warbucks’.

In the summer of 2010, Newman played Daddy Warbucks for the North Carolina Theatre’s production of “Annie.” For that production, he partnered with St. Baldrick’s Foundation in its quest to raise money for childhood cancer research and let St. Baldrick’s publicly shave his head. The theater joined in the effort and gave 20 percent of ticket sales to the foundation, too. “We were able to raise a good bit of money for the charity,” Newman said. “After the fact, I was talking to my wife about maybe keeping my head shaved. She was not having it and quickly said, ‘Robert. Grow your hair back.’”

When Burke reached out to the North Carolina Theatre about Newman, the staff there remembered him fondly. “They were so effusive about him. They said he’s an incredible actor and an even more amazing human,” she said.

While Newman enjoyed playing Daddy Warbucks before, he said he is looking to bring something fresh to the experience at CFRT. “There is nothing worse than an actor who says, ‘I’ve played this role before. This is how it is supposed to be done,’” he said.

“The last time I played Daddy Warbucks was nine years ago. I was a different person, it was a different time and place. I am looking forward to exploring this experience and the father-daughter relationship between Annie and Daddy Warbucks. As a character, Daddy Warbucks has everything as far as money goes, but he meets Annie and his world begins to change — and he begins to change,” Newman added.

One of the things that makes acting so rewarding for Newman, he said, is the human aspect of it. When Newman was in college, he had plans to become a psychology major. In his third year, though, he found acting. “And I discovered the two are very similar,” he said. “They are both a study of the human dynamic.”

Newman is impressed with the way the play as a whole is coming together. “Robin Levine is directing it, and I am excited about where she is taking this production,” he said.

While “Annie,” which ran for almost six years on Broadway starting in 1977, is not a new story, it’s one that audiences love. It’s heartwarming. It will make you laugh, and it will make you cry.

“It is the right time for a play like this,” said Newman. “There is so much divisiveness in the world today, and this is a place where the audience can leave that behind for two hours and come and enjoy a heartwarming story.”

As for his other North Carolina connection, Newman has participated in several charity golf tournaments around the state. He calls golf his Zen time, when he can leave his worries behind and focus on something he is, in his words, “sometimes good at and other times not.”

So far, his experience locally has been positive. “Everyone here is so nice. The people here are great. I have only been in town a few days, and I already love it here.”

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Enjoy a magical, musical evening with Mozart

12Mozart Come join the Fayetteville Symphony Orchestra for a magical evening of “Magical Mozart” at St. John’s Episcopal Church in downtown Fayetteville. The concert, set for Thursday, Jan. 17, is the first concert for FSO in the new year. St. John’s Episcopal Church provides an intimate venue for listening to a sampling of works by the famed composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

Mozart, a child prodigy who began composing music at the tender age of 5, authored more than 600 symphonies, concertos, operas and chamber music pieces designed for smaller venues, such as a palace chamber, before his death at age 35. Each selection at St. John’s will be discussed prior to the musicians playing it, so guests will know what makes each piece special.

Many people are not aware of the reach of Mozart’s influence but have most likely observed his effects on modern culture. At some point, almost everyone has watched the Looney Tunes cartoon-opera “The Barber of Seville” where “The Marriage of Figaro” is the hilarious ending to the cat-and-mouse game frequently played by Bugs Bunny and Elmer Fudd. Even the band Queen gave an open nod to Mozart in their classic mock opera “Bohemian Rhapsody.” And, of course, the 1984 movie “Amadeus” featured a fictional portrayal of Mozart’s life.

The song “Rock Me Amadeus” by Falco is a historical pop song dedicated to the composer. Mozart’s works are also used in commercials, movies and TV shows today.

According to FSO President Chris Kastner, the beauty of “Magical Mozart” is that it is set in a historical church with excellent sound quality in the heart of Fayetteville. “There is nothing better on a cold winter’s night than being enveloped with the sound of the music,” she said.

St. John’s seats about 300 people, and the acoustics are perfect for chamber music concerts.

FSO prepared a program to highlight Mozart’s three most popular operas, “The Magic Flute,” “The Marriage of Figaro” and “Don Giovanni,” as well as “Serenade No. 12 in C Minor,” to be played by eight wind instruments in this instrumental-only performance.

“This program is great for high school students or others that may want to perform,” stated Kastner, “and small chamber concerts allow for novices to hear individual instruments where they typically cannot in a large orchestra setting.”

Kastner also noted, “The intimacy of the setting allows attendees to appreciate how hard the musicians work during a performance.” Whether you are a seasoned classical music aficionado or a novice looking to expand your horizons, the FSO concert at St. John’s is a fantastic setting for listening to music by one of the world’s greatest composers.

Tickets can be purchased online or at the door the evening of the performance on Jan. 17. Find out more at https://squareup.com/store/fayettevillesymphony-orchestra/item/magical-mozart-tickets.

St. John’s is located at 302 Green St. The show starts at 7:30 p.m.

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Relive Motown’s glory days at ‘So Good for the Soul’

13Mo Town Supremes The Givens Performing Arts Center presents “So Good for the Soul: A Tribute to Motown Music” Saturday, Jan. 12, at 8 p.m. in Pembroke.

“We are excited to start the new year with this nostalgic concert,” said Chad Locklear, marketing director of GPAC. “It will feature a cast of about eight veteran entertainers and their bands.”

Locklear said some of the entertainers are former members of The Marvelettes, and some are past Broadway performers who have had leading roles in shows like “Dreamgirls,” “Porgy & Bess” and “Show Boat.”

The show’s director, musical director, choreographer and costume designer have jointly won more than 25 of America’s most prestigious theater awards. Cumulatively, the cast members have performed on recordings with more than 30 million record sales and have more than 40 years of experience.

“It is a very talented cast of performers, and it is a tribute to Motown music (with) a lot of the songs everyone will be familiar with because folks have grown up with them,” said Locklear. “They are iconic songs by performers that everyone will be familiar with like Marvin Gaye, Smokey Robinson, Gladys Knight & The Pips, The Temptations, Four Tops, Stevie Wonder, Lionel Richie and many more.”

Locklear added that the show pays tribute to a lot of Motown performers and their songs throughout the 1960s and ’70s.

“We try to do concerts that are nostalgic and will appeal to our older generation, alumni and a wider audience,” said Locklear. “This is one of those familyfriendly shows that any age group can appreciate.”

Adding an extra bit of flavor to this show, there will be a themed meal before the performance. Tickets for the dinner will be sold separately.

“There is going to be a soul food meal prepared by our chef on campus and it will be held in the Chancellor’s dining room,” said Locklear. “The dinner will begin around 6 p.m. We’ve got a grant from the Robeson County Arts Council, The North Carolina Arts Council and McDonald’s Rust Enterprises, and we are grateful that they are sponsoring us. We look forward to everyone coming out to enjoy the show.”

Ticket cost is $21-$36. For more information, visit www.uncp.edu or call 910-521-6361.

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