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Playing Around

After the initial success of the movie “Bring It On,” filmmakers did what they do best: Made a lot of lame sequels. The first one was “Bring It On Again,” and somehow they made three more after that.

Then, Tony Award-winning writer Jeff Whitty had another idea, transforming the original movie script into a musical. That’s when the magic happened and made it on Broadway.

“Bring It On: The Musical” is about the bonds formed from two rival high school cheerleading squads. It is loosely based on the 2000 original “Bring It On” starring Kirsten Dunst.

Much like fried chicken and waffles, cheerleading and musicals seemed an unusual mix, but they won critics over. The Broadway musical scored Tony Award nominations for best musical and best choreography.

The show has a particularly diverse cast with some real-life cheerleaders who have very little experience in theater and others who have never cheered before this show.

“Everyone had their strengths and everyone had their weaknesses,” actress Mia Weinberger says. “So everyone helped each other out and that’s what really made it seem like a team effort.”

Weinberger has been singing, dancing and performing for most of her life. She’s starred as “Legally Blonde,” “Berenstain Bears LIVE!” and “Wizard of Oz.” In “Bring It On,” she’s currently playing Kylar, a ditsy character with a heart of gold.

Weinberger admits that she can be a little ditsy at times herself, “I like to call them my Kylar moments.”

“Between the music and the choreography, I just think there’s a lot to offer. And everyone can find something they love in it,” Weinberger says.

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PLAYING AROUND

At first, the concept of Christian metal might send up a red flag. It’s an oxymoron between the worlds of furrowed-brow conservatives and the carefree piss-and-vinegars giving them a collective, pounding migraine.

But it’s a thing, and if you’re not keen on hearing damage on tap, call-help-there’s-blood-in-my-larynx screaming and tattoo placement that will shatter the prospect of gainful employment — stick to Toby Keith, ‘cause most of that is still here. If you are into that kind of stuff but don’t want the holy business shoveled down your gullet, this is a convenient genre; you can’t begin to decipher the message without a thorough listen-a-long with the lyric book liner (necessary) in one hand and a bottle of aspirin (recommended) in the other.

The only quick indicator of this being a unique, niche area of metal is the audience. These are pretty average, yes-ma’am-no-ma’am, A-B Honor Roll kids. About 520 of these bright seeds packed into Murray Hill Theatre March 23 to watch The Devil Wears Prada play tunes to make them want to head bang themselves into whiplash and generously clobber the pulp out of one another in a form of dance more closely resembling a merciless blood-sport than any outward expression of merriment.

But it’s all in good fun, and the Dayton, Ohio, five-piece (now touring as a six) didn’t disappoint. Everything about their sound is urgent and intense. Crushingly loud guitars layer over crashing cymbals, piercing snare drum and that growling, impassioned singer. Like traditional metal, the band utilizes very tight stop-and-go-rhythms — head-banging and scissor kicking and generally making a ruckus of things along with them.

Guitarist Jeremy DePoyster impressively managed to nail every note on the guitar and his sung choruses despite having a mop-head of hair in his face the entire set — and that’s not saying the music is simple to play. It’s not. The speed at which Prada performs their songs, …   More

Playing Around

Like that awkwardly funny DJ Huey Calhoun, "Memphis" might seem rough around the edges. But that fantastic cast — Huey would say "fantastical" — makes this the best of Artist Series' Broadway season.

Yes, those spectacular blue guys from Blue Man Group invited me on stage in January, but I'll still take the sometimes sweet and sometimes sultry sounds of "Memphis." Presented by Artist Series, the production continues through March 23 at the Times-Union Center for the Performing Arts in Downtown Jacksonville.

In 1950s Memphis, white DJ Huey falls hard for black club singer Felicia Farrell, and he's eager to help her get on the radio, though he has to get there first. He finds his ticket to stardom while playing "race music" for white folks and helping give birth to rock 'n' roll.

Huey and Felicia are a mismatched pair, not only because he's a graceless doofus and she's a true talent, but also because this is the segregated South.

In the early scenes, Joey Elrose portrays awkward so well, I was beginning to doubt he could pull off the transformation to DJ star. He proved me wrong.

Jasmin Richardson's voice would lift any cast. Her "Someday" and "Colored Woman" along with her part in "The Music of My Soul" are moving.

This cast is full of scene-stealers from Avionce Hoyles as Gator, belting out "Say a Prayer" to close the first act, to Jerrial T. Young as Bobby delivering a resounding "Big Love." He also displays some amazing moves.

Joe DiPietro's story proves more raw than expected with one beating and one use of the N-word that drew gasps from the opening night audience.

Even when the tone is light, this is Memphis in the 1950s, so we go from "hockadoo!" to "hock-a-fucking-doo" in no time.

Historians of rock 'n' roll might notice the story is based on real-life DJ Dewey Phillips, remembered for being the first to play a record of a young Elvis Presley. Phillips later asks Presley on air what high school he attended to make sure …   More

PLAYING AROUND

“What is this even … a spaceship taking off?” a girl in the audience turns and asks as the first notes of Leverage Model’s set March 8 at Burro Bar. Apt guess.

Churning, synthesized electronics flow over pounding drumroll and anxiety-inducing guitar feedback. Ready for lift off.

Our interstellar guides look like they just beamed out of some Wes Anderson flick. Hell, maybe they did. If so, the ship must have found its home planet, because this audience is a spitting image.

Shannon Fields tangos his away up and down the stage while recounting the majesty of our Wells Fargo and Bank of America buildings (with what might be sarcasm or irony — take your pick) in a voice so effects-laden it appears disembodied from his nimble frame. The drummer looks like he just punched-out of his job in IT and the guitarist wears a Roaring '20s flapper-era headband with pearly bead tassels that bounce across his bushman face. You know, quirks for quirks' sake.

“We have a moral imperative to present ourselves with the upmost decency,” Fields says with businesslike candor.

Everything is offbeat, except for the tunes. Well, literally anyways.

It’s an entertaining assault on the senses. Soaring falsettos lead into frenetic, jittery grooves as Fields alternates between mic and megaphone. Dance beats drive every moment. There’s a lot going on, and it’s surprising to see such a layered and versatile amount of textures and tones coming from just four musicians. The synthesized samples and beats are expected and welcome in the pop genre Leverage Models calls home, but there’s a rock-and-roll, devil-may-care presence here, too.

Fields is energetic. One minute he’s dropping tango moves with the audience, the next he’s walking on any platform he can crawl on top of and the next he’s rolling around on stage. He’s the primary writer and driving force behind the project, and the backing band seems to perform as such. They’re professional, and …   More

PLAYING AROUND

Starry Nights will return to Metropolitan Park with progressive rocker Chicago and five-time Grammy Award winner Christopher Cross joining the Jacksonville Symphony Orchestra for two concert events this spring.

Billed as Jacksonville’s edition of Saturday in the Park with a full orchestra, Chicago rocks out on its 1970s and ‘80s hits on May 31. Christopher Cross, best known for the album “Ride Like the Wind” and singles “Never Be the Same” and “Say You’ll Be Mine,” performs with the symphony on June 6.

The concerts are both set for 8:15 p.m. and gates open at 6 p.m. The concerts take place race or shine, unless conditions put the musicians or concertgoers in danger, symphony officials said during the official announcement on Thursday, March 6.

Subscriptions to both concerts are now available with table seating ranging from $70-$170 per seat and $500-$1,250 for full tables of six or eight. Lawn seating is available at $30 for adults and $10 for children younger than 12.

Single event tickets will go on sale Monday, April 7 — table seats at $35-$85 and full tables at $250-$550. Lawn seating is $15 for adults in advance, $20 at the gate (children are $5).

For more information or to buy tickets, call 354-5547 or visit the box office at the Times-Union Center for the Performing Arts in Downtown Jacksonville.

 

Note: Christopher Cross' Starry Nights concert was originally scheduled for June 7, but it was moved to June 6 after the U.S. men's national team scheduled its Sendoff Series soccer match against Nigeria for June 7.

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PLAYING AROUND

Julio Iglesias thinks nearly all his songs are “sexy.” And he made sure to introduce them as so.

For the 1,400 fans clapping and laughing March 2 in Downtown Jacksonville, Iglesias probably couldn’t turn that charm off.

In between songs, he took a seat on his stool to talk and joke with the audience.

He asked only for a small favor, “If you make love tonight and you get pregnant, name [the baby] Julio.”

Julio Iglesias’ charm reflected in both his singing and his on-stage delivery, energizing about his fans at the Moran Theatre in the Times-Union Center for the Performing Arts.

He thanked the audience again and again for coming to his concert on Oscar night.

Iglesias sang in Spanish, French and English. He drew the biggest reaction with his rendition of Elvis Presley’s “Can’t Help Falling in Love.”

Two ballroom dancers added an extra kick as they danced throughout many of Iglesias’ Spanish songs. They had an electrifying chemistry, and Iglesias later explained that they were married. He then asked the man, “Can I kiss your wife?” before he proceeded to kissed her.

One of the most defining instruments in the performance was the saxophone. Even Iglesias remarked, “If I played the saxophone like you, I would invite all my girlfriends to bed and play for them.”

Iglesias is so natural on stage that one can’t help but think it is second-nature for him. The entire performance seemed like it was improvised, yet it flowed so smoothly and seamlessly.

Iglesias might have surprised some with his exit. After an hour and a half, he walked off stage, the band finished, and the lights turned on. That was the end of that.

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PLAYING AROUND

In the world of subjectivity, art reigns supreme. The very definition is slippery, hard to tack down. Perhaps it’s not too bold to claim that most well-done art tells a story. It makes you think and, regardless of the opinion you form of it, leaves its impression just by doing so. It can crash down on you the moment you experience it and still subtly seep in on the drive home. It keeps leaving something to contemplate.

The Alvin Ailey Dance Company left about 1,400 people in The Times Union Center’s Moran Theater with plenty to chew on after its one-night performance Feb. 25.

Their show opened with “Home,” an urban contemporary piece. This, like the other three choreographies of the evening, told its own unique story. It opened with a single light cascading down from the top of the stage. The entire company stood in abstract, some contorted, positions. Their collective shape was a thing of art in its own right against the cool palette of teal and purple on the backdrop screen. The soundtrack began with a timid thump like a heartbeat, the dancers flawlessly matching its intensity as the beat grew and morphed and became more present. The initial, controlled imitation of slow motion and discovery of their surroundings grew and soon dancers were sprinting and jumping and pirouetting across the stage.

The momentum slowly winded down until the company, all except one dancer, was back into standing into one group. That one dancer turned over his shoulder, addressed the audience with a glance, and as he returned back into the rest of the company, the group gave a sudden, gasping inhale and the lights went out.

Like that last breath, the company used sound very sparingly and effectively. Each dancer was incredibly composed and light on their feet. Aside from the backing track, most of their highly athletic jumps and maneuvers were executed with complete silence. When they did make a sound, it was there for a reason. It served a purpose in the …   More

PLAYING AROUND

It’s easy to see when somebody loves what they’re doing. It’s plain as day to spot and nearly impossible to imitate. They could repeat it every day and night for years and still their eyes will light up and they’ll look like a kid who just surprised themselves, learning how to do some exciting new thing.

Five decades into an illustrious career, Tommy Emmanuel still loves playing the guitar. That was clear for his audience on the opening night of his two-day performance with Martin Taylor at the Ponte Vedra Concert Hall on Feb. 20, because he’s damn good at it.

The duo draws a motley crowd — a near-even mix of Van Halen-era tour tees and double-starched collars. Of snarled manes and wispy greys. When Emmanuel picked up the guitar, the reason behind the dichotomy became clear.

The man can shred the cheese. He’ll out-solo the best of ‘em, and then just keep going until he feels like doing something else, giving the audience his self-assured wink-and-nod service the entire time. Still, there’s a sophistication to his playing. Ten fingers conduct their six-stringed orchestra, coaxing an eclectic array of textures and moods and percussions out of one instrument. It looks like a parlor trick, and he’s very aware of that, making extraneous, often humorous moves with his hands as bedroom rock-stars young and old study the master’s every move, hoping to witness his secret.

The secret is, there is no secret. It’s apparent from the ear-to-ear grin and the way he struts about the stage that he’s simply a big kid playing with his toys — he's just been playing with them a whole lot for a quite a long time.

The show is nearly all guitar-driven, though Emmanuel does chime in with his Australian take on a honky-tonk drawl for a few verses of “Deep River Blues.” When he does sing, it takes a backseat to his playing and when he doesn’t, you don’t really miss it — and that’s not a knock against his voice. Like classical music, …   More

PLAYING AROUND

“War Horse” requires a commitment.

When you read “horse puppeteers,” the fact is, your brain might tell you, “I’m not going anywhere near a play with horse puppets.”

But the stellar cast and creative team go all out staging this emotional two-act play, based on the 1982 novel by Michael Morpurgo and presented by Artist Series Feb. 18-23. The beautiful minimalism of this production delivers the simple story of a young man, Albert, leaving his British village to look for his horse Joey in the chaos of World War I.

Ultimately, the most important commitment must come from the audience, suspending disbelief on those horse puppeteers, two inside the adult horse Joey and one controlling his head.

The puppeteers controlling the title character — James Duncan, Adam Cunningham and Aaron Haskell — carry this production. They breathe life into “War Horse,” causing some theatergoers to tear up at the connection formed between Albert and Joey.

The intensity of the actors, particularly Michael Wyatt Cox as Albert, puts the spotlight clearly on Joey, not the puppeteers. The entire production hinges on it.

It must be said that for some, it’ll truly be too hard to look past the puppeteers. Those pondering taking a chance on “War Horse” for its eight-show run through Feb. 23 would be advised to watch videos of Joey first and judge for themselves.

A goose, controlled by Gregory Manley, proves to be a scene-stealer, injecting some much-needed humor.

But the production might very well lose some of its audience in the first 10 minutes when the foal Joey — not nearly as impressive — is up for auction. Albert’s father Ted bets the mortgage to win, and the drunk’s half-cocked decisions drive the plot throughout the first act.

The 120-pound Joey bursts in not a moment too soon and rather dramatically.

Joey is challenged to take to the plow, then goes off to war before Albert is old enough to join. Later, Albert enlists and the …   More

PLAYING AROUND

Joey, the 18-hand-high star puppet of "War Horse," towered over reporters Feb. 18 just before meeting two real horses from Diamond D Ranch on the morning of opening night before beginning a six-day performance at the Times-Union Center.

'Bama (as in Alabama) and the miniature horse, Honey, were unimpressed with the celebrity of the evening. 

“Horses have a very strong sense of smell,” Jessica Krueger, a rear-leg puppeteer said. “Bama can tell she’s smelling three puppeteers, not a horse.”

Joey couldn’t win the mares’ hearts, but the puppet had its notebook-and-camera-toting audience following its every trot, rear and neigh. Journalists remarked that, though they could clearly see the three puppeteers manipulating Joey’s movements, the puppet felt very lifelike as it approached and interacted with them.

Krueger said months and months of preparation has gone into creating that effect. She said the production team and the puppeteers studied everything they could about the movements of horses and their behavior — every detail down to a skin flick to shake off a fly or foot stomp or nostril flare. 

They studied real horses with a little help. 

“Luckily, a lot of horse owners like to post videos of their horses on YouTube,” Krueger said. “So we’ve been able to do a lot of research from those.”

One of the biggest crowd-pleasers was the convincing neigh Joey’s puppeteers could belt out on demand. It’s a layered, three-person a cappella that could echo through the Times-Union Center lobby. Krueger said that horses have lungs about three times as large as that of humans, so it worked out conveniently that it takes three performers to maneuver the full size puppets.

“We really have to train our voices for that,” puppeteer Danny Yoerges said. “We had six weeks off one summer and our voices were so out of shape, we were …   More

 
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