Local theater in Jacksonville gets a bad rep, when it’s paid attention to at all. Those outside of the theater community think that all this town has to offer is rotating performances of My Fair Lady or Little Orphan Annie at the Alhambra. But there are local artists and producers that are taking chances, and doing theater that is thought-provoking, unconventional and daring, at least by Jacksonville standards.
33 Variations, produced by The 5 & Dime, a small Jacksonville-based theater company, is one of the best productions I've seen in town. Drawing from a fantastic script by Moises Kaufman, author of The Laramie Project, the play tells the story of Beethoven's obsession with a seemingly pedestrian waltz, a dying woman's journey to understand that obsession, and her daughter's attempts to be close to her mother despite their distance. In lesser hands, it might have come off as prosaic or overly sentimental, but here it's played gently and honestly. It's touching, funny and beautifully acted, with a minimal set and lighting design that somehow manages to weave three stories from two time periods into one cohesive narrative.
“[The set] is very minimal and almost jarring at first glance,” says Joshua Taylor, a founding member of The 5 & Dime who plays Beethoven's biographer and friend. “But it has been my experience that more minimal sets tend to pull less focus from the audience during the show and really serve to allow the work on stage to shine through.”
With only a backdrop of music sheets and a few tables and chairs, the play goes back and forth between Beethoven's time and the present day. The main character, a musicologist too preoccupied with discerning Beethoven's motivations to spend time with her daughter, is played deftly by actress and former public radio host Sinda Nichols. Her performance is captivating without being over the top. I don't know if it was the pre-show wine, but at one point I noted, …
Einstein A Go-Go, which closed more than a decade ago, was as legendary a nightclub in the Northeast Florida alt music scene as New York City’s CBGB or Whisky a Go Go in LA.
Before the area became a dead zone for new/interesting traveling musicians, the Jax Beach venue hosted an incredible lineup of quintessential ’80s and ’90s bands, from Nirvana and Jane’s Addiction to The Replacements, 10,000 Maniacs and Sonic Youth.
It was a haven for music fans, a second home for many, especially teenagers who couldn’t get in anywhere else (the all-ages club didn’t serve alcohol). Now, surviving A Go-Goers are throwing a reunion party for nostalgic fans to come together and reminisce.
One of the original Einstein DJs — DJ Ricky — spins classic tunes from the era. 8 p.m. July 26 at Eclipse Nightclub in Avondale, $10 door charge (proceeds benefit Gateway Community Services) or donate to Girls Rock Jax online in advance.
At times hokey, vague couplets like “We’re the fire, from the sun/we’re the light, when the day is done” are the norm for this husband-and-wife songwriting duo, but Johnnyswim’s able musicianship on their debut record, Diamonds, made that an easier pill. Amanda Sudano Ramirez, daughter of disco diva Donna Summers, leads most of the catchy, heartfelt pop material with a delicate, affecting voice. It’s pitch-perfect, but not so polished as to sound inorganic. Abner Ramirez, who studied at Douglas Anderson School of the Arts, supports the melodies with an equally able, dynamic voice and acoustic guitar. No earth-shaking going on here, but that’s OK. 7:30 p.m. July 25 at Ponte Vedra Concert Hall, $22.
In a parallel tale of obsession and dying, 33 Variations focuses on one woman’s journey to understand the motivation of one of Beethoven’s last works. Musicologist Katherine Brandt (played by Sinda Nichols), diagnosed with ALS, is trying to make sense of Beethoven’s strange compulsion to put aside other pieces, with failing health and hearing loss, to write 33 separate variations of an Anton Diabelli waltz. The 5 & Dime Theatre Company and director Lee Hamby produce the play, written by Moisés Kaufman (The Laramie Project). 6 p.m. dinner (7:30 p.m. show) July 25 and 26; 12:30 p.m. brunch (2 p.m. show) July 27 at The Cummer Museum of Art & Gardens, Riverside, $37 with dinner, $15 show only (in advance).
YING YANG TWINS
You’ve known the Atlanta-based platinum hip-hop duo Ying Yang Twins ever since hearing their songs in the mid-2000s — they stuck there, like it or not. Club hits like “Get Low,” “Salt Shaker,” “The Whisper Song” and “Shake” were guilty pleasures, what you danced to in the privacy of your living room. It’s weird that these two — Kaine and D-Rock — get crunk on Jack Rabbits’ small indie-rock stage, but weird’s been known to happen. Deal with it, as Ying Yang Twins perform with Drazah & Tunk and Big Boi Moneymakers. 8 p.m. July 25, Jack Rabbits, San Marco, $20 in advance.
Jax Surf Fest II was six long hours dedicated to surf rock that I thought would never end. Seven bands, both local and national, played their own version of the classic Dick Dale genre, most of them pretty standard represenatations of the genre, sticking to the typical mold of surf-rock: a 4/4 rhythm and a fast tempo. Although technically talented, their sounds tended to run together after awhile.
Jacksonville locals The Crowkeepers went on while the sun was still shining. There was hardly an audience this early, but they played like there was one. Full of energy, but not too much. It was very fitting of typical surf music. The second band, Tidal Wave, a three-piece from Tampa, started things off much faster, bending chords, and strumming more chaotically. "Are you ready for a beach party!?" shouted the lead singer, and then played their most popular song "Beach Party." It sounded like a party on the beach or something.
There are long breaks between each band. Too long. Everyone takes forever to set up, and they all have their own gear. The only thing to keep the audience entertained between sets is a merch table with skateboards up for raffle.
The Surge is the band that takes the stage when an audience starts to funnel in. Lead guitarist Eddie Katcher is known in surf rock circles as a legend, and a veteran of the Atlanta surf music scene. A smile is on Katcher's face the whole time, perfectly in tune with the other three members. They perform in uniform, red shirts and all with greying hair. They break up their set of originals with a lively rendition of "Hotel California," which the crowd immediately recognizes. It was a welcome surprise, and the band pulled it off well.
Another Atlanta-based band, MOONBASE, takes the stage and offers thanks to their predecessors: "Eddie Katcher is my hero. I wouldn't be standing on this stage if I hadn't met him." They had more of a punk sound, focusing on loud drums. But then it was back to the same old …
BIGGEST SCOREBOARDS EVER!
FULHAM vs. D.C. UNITED
Gather round for the great unveiling of the monolith … er … the new EverBank Field scoreboards — basically the biggest TVs ever, bigger than anything in Texas, bigger than a million jumbo jets (according to billboards around town). Fulham F.C. (aka Shad Khan’s European soccer team) will face off against the MLS’s D.C. United, then comes the unveiling of the 55,000-square-foot big screens (so what, they don’t want to show us soccer on video boards?). Khan’s fiesta for his new scoreboards wraps up with a performance by country superstar Carrie Underwood. 6 p.m. July 23, EverBank Field, Downtown, $29.70-$61.95.
ELECTRONIC REGGAE POP
Braided Sun is all about duality; it’s their motto. They appreciate life’s yin and yang, and try to convey that through their electronic music project. The duo from Ponte Vedra Beach, Luke and Nadine Walker, just began releasing music, and have already scored a few stops at this summer’s Warped Tour. Their reggae-tinged music has an electronic dance vibe that sounds like something from an Ultra Music Festival. Put on your sunscreen, pretend – or “pretend” – you’re on acid and chill out with Braided Sun’s we’re-in-this-together vibe at the local premiere of Taylor Knox’s new surf movie De Passage. With Hoyle, 6:30 p.m. July 20, Freebird Live, Jax Beach, free.
It can be difficult to predict what something will become when you’re close to it. Whether it will endure. If it will stay relevant in a fickle market. How it will grow, if at all.
Though the bohemian artists in John Larson’s Rent faced similarly uncertain futures, there was no doubt in the musical’s enduring potential when it debuted off-Broadway in 1996.
With 160 in attendance for opening night on Players by the Sea’s Main Stage, the cast and director Alejandro Rodriguez rose to the occasion note-for-note. The size of the stage and sparse set might have seemed too minimalist in staging one of the best musicals ever written. Two tables, three simple scaffoldings and a backdrop painted by Chip Southworth (Keith Haring’s Ghost) was the whole of home-sweet-slum New York. But like the characters that inhabited the stage, the theater made ends meet with no shortage of charisma and charm.
And it really was the small details that added that charm. You could smell the matches as Roger stamped them out on the floor during “Light My Candle.” You could hear the live band just out of eyeshot off stage flip their sheet music or tune an instrument. You could feel Joanne’s heels as she stomped and dragged them during “Tango Maureen,” and you could see the tears trickle down the cheeks of the company on the emotional “I’ll Cover You — Reprise.”
Charming as those things were, they were simply background noise to the talented voices in this cast.
The narrative starts slow with Mark and Roger (Ross Frontz and Elias Hionides), but the 525,600 minutes of their story kicks into overdrive when the live band and company arrive to perform “Rent."
Some of the best performances of the night came from songs that featured the entire company, as the actors created harmonies with each character pushing their voice to pop out of the melody and then back in with …
Even heavyweights in the DJ remix world get flak from music purists for not treading new ground in songwriting. But a true remix, one that takes a song’s core element in a completely new direction, is a legit discipline on its own. Lars Behrenroth, host of the global weekly radio show Deeper Shades of House, has mastered that discipline, and he brings beats he uses to move and groove audiences the world over to Northeast Florida. Presented by The Garage, 10 p.m.-2 a.m. July 19, St. Augustine Amphitheatre, $15.