The Freshest Snow Whyte at Imagination Stage Written by Psalmayene 24

Katy Carkuff stars in “The Freshest Snow Whyte,” a futuristic, hip-hop update to the famous fairy tale.

Imagination Stage was so pleased with its hip-hop trilogy — “Zomo the Rabbit: A Hip-Hop Creation Myth,” 2009; “P. Nokio: A Hip-Hop Musical,” 2012; and “Cinderella: The Remix,” 2014 — that it has commissioned the same team again.

Playwright Psalmayene 24 and composer Nick “tha 1da” Hernandez will soon unveil The Freshest Snow Whyte, the first of a five-play series about science, technology, engineering, art and math. “ ‘The Freshest Snow Whyte’ is my exploration of technology through the lens of hip-hop,” Morrison says.

The heroine of the title, a brilliant graffiti artist played by Katy Carkuff, lives in the year 3000. Instead of spray cans, she uses a graffiti device that she programs and then “sprays” onto walls (with the help of designer Tewodross Melchishua’s projections).

She raps to the audience:

Said my name is Snow Whyte

But not the Disney version

Cuz this remix

Is just a bit more urban

And these raps are tight

Just like a turban

My talent reveals the light

Like an open curtain

Replacing the evil stepmother is a jealous uncle named Kanye East (Calvin McCullough). A longtime graffiti star himself, he goes a little crazy when he hears that Snow Whyte is now considered the best graffiti artist in the land. His servant, 3 Pac (Frank Britton), and magic mirror, Mira (Jonathan Feuer), can’t reassure him. So he spirits his niece to a backwater planet where they still use spray cans and her work won’t be seen. Of course Snow Whyte triumphs.

Read the full article fro the Washington Post here.

Funny, Scary, Delightful: First Stage Turns ‘Goosebumps’ into a Charming Musical

inreview_firststage_a_bypaulruffolo-widea

Based on the series by R.L. Stine, First Stage Associate Artistic Director John Maclay and Music Director-Composer Danny Abosch have adapted the novel into a musical which will charm audiences of all ages. The “big kids” will immediately recognize the storyline from Andrew Lloyd Webber’s The Phantom of the Opera while the “littler ones” easily pick up on all the Disney references. When Brooke and Zeke are cast in a show about a phantom, strange things begin to happen at the school. Is someone playing tricks? Or is there a real phantom out to stop this production?

Director Niffer Clarke masterfully keeps the silly suspense turned up high amid the solid musical numbers and her own well-executed choreography. With Stine’s books, it’s the kids who are the smart ones and Brooke and Zeke certainly rule here as they try to figure out who—or what—is actually behind all the ominous warnings.

The Chills cast of young performers handled the acting chores at last Saturday’s matinée with the utmost enthusiasm and professionalism. Chantae Miller is already a veteran of local productions and it shows in her pitch-perfect performance as Brooke. Jake Koch’s Zeke is the perfect comic foil and Mallorey Wallace hits all the rights notes (literally) as “mean girl—kinda-sorta” Tina. Veteran stage actors Carrie Hitchcock and Chris Klopatek serve this production well as the befuddled teacher and scary janitor, respectively.

Read the full article by Harry Cherkinian from the Shepherd Express here.

First Stage’s “Goosebumps” Conjures a Fabulously Frightful Night for Families

It’s not always the case that a play lives up to either its title or its billing, but First Stage, as you might expect, does just that with “Goosebumps,” which opened over the weekend.

The full title of the play is “Goosebumps: Phantom of the Auditorium: The Musical,” based on a book by R. L. Stine, who wrote a series of novels for children that have sold over 30 million copies worldwide.

The musical was yet another world premiere for First Stage and was written by John Maclay, who wrote the book, and Danny Abosch, both clients of the Gurman Agency, who wrote the music. The two combined to write some of the best and most interesting lyrics I’ve heard in a long time.

A high school drama class is going to stage a play under the thoughtful and hopeful direction of Mrs. Walker (a marvelously disguised Carrie Hitchcock). The story of the play is about a phantom who prowls the halls of the school auditorium. There are eight students (in the Chill cast which I saw Saturday) who have various roles in the production, headlined by Brooke Rodgers (Chantae Miller) and Zeke Matthews (Jake Koch) who is really the phantom.

Goosebumps runs through Nov. 13.

Read the full article by Dave Begel from OnMiluakee here.

‘Goosebumps the Musical’ is frightful fun from Oregon Children’s Theatre

goosebumps
R.L. Stine’s mega-selling “Goosebumps” children’s book series comes to the stage in a world premiere musical from Oregon Children’s Theatre. (Owen Carey)

“Goosebumps the Musical: Phantom of the Auditorium,” opened this weekend at the Newmark Theatre, and it retains the Stine signatures: campy horror, personal growth for the tween protagonists, and a supernatural twist in the final pages.

Based on the 24th book in the series, the musical is the logical, initial adaptation to launch what may develop into a stage franchise that could run for decades. The play mostly takes place in a middle-school theater, and the ghostly phantom is one of the author’s least gruesome villains, which dials down the fear factor for younger theatergoers. (Oregon Children’s Theatre suggests the show is a fit for ages 8 and up.) And the story is no sillier than Andrew Lloyd Webber’s overblown version of Gaston Leroux’s chiller, but here there’s no pretension, no tacky chandelier trick and no faux operatic caterwauling.

Line of the Night: “The show must go on. No one’s going to scare me off. It’s my time,” aspiring lead actress Brooke (Katie McClanan) proclaims after she’s fed up with the phantom’s antics.

Strengths: While the movie was a nostalgic feast for young parents who devoured two or three books over rainy weekends during their tween years, John Maclay’s play chiefly serves kids. And that feels absolutely correct. There’s no need for clever winks to Stephen King or cameos from Stine’s stable of other creatures. (Although the opening number, “Goosebumps,” delivers a quick shout-out to Slappy the demonic ventriloquist’s dummy, who’s the unofficial mascot for the series.) We can limit our nostalgia intake and let the kids discover all of the frightful fun for themselves.

Danny Abosch’s creepy, slightly pop score sounds much more suited to Stine’s material than Danny Elfman’s erratic, overly cute instrumental arrangement for the recent film. In fact, Sony Pictures should grab the play’s opening song for the upcoming “Goosebumps” movie sequel. This is one of those rare musicals with a tune that sticks in your head, playing over and over, days later.

Weaknesses: This is one of those rare musicals with a tune that sticks in your head, playing over and over, days later.

Most Significant Performances: Drama teacher Ms. Walker (played by Laurie Campbell-Leslie) and her convincingly anxious, spacey, funny and determined middle schoolers are a credit to theater geeks everywhere. The young cast owns their characters’ idiosyncrasies like natural personal traits.

McClanan handily pivots from tenacious, Tony-bound thespian to an adorably awkward crushing tween. As Zeke — a hyperactive, junior Johnny Knoxville whose pranks finally backfire — Skylar Derthick is all-heart, no Ritalin. He chews through his scenes with good-natured ferocity, like a hamster chewing through a shoebox.

Take-away: Small scares, little life lessons and a title track that, for better or worse, you’ll take to your grave.
— Lee Williams, for The Oregonian/OregonLive

“Goosebumps the Musical: Phantom of the Auditorium”

When: 2 and 5 p.m. Saturday, 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. Sunday (no 11 a.m. shows Nov. 6, 13 or 20) through Nov. 20

Where: Newmark Theatre, 1111 S.W. Broadway

Tickets: $14-$32, octc.org or 503-228-9571

Read the full article by Lee Williams for The Oregonian here.

‘Grace for President’ Deserves Your Vote

Grace (Talia Robinson) decides she’d like to represent her third-grade class in “Grace for President” at Children’s Theatre of Charlotte.
Grace (Talia Robinson) decides she’d like to represent her third-grade class in “Grace for President” at Children’s Theatre of Charlotte.

If a musical that explains the electoral college sounds like theater detention, skip the rest of this review. But you’ll miss out on an hour of fun in “Grace for President,” the world premiere now at Children’s Theatre of Charlotte.

Your child might tell you the story comes from a 2008 book by Kelly DiPucchio and illustrator LeUyen Pham, in which a third-grader looks at a wall full of presidential portraits and asks, “Where are the girls?” Grace decides to run for class president and, because uncontested elections take place only in dictatorships, an opponent is found: Thomas Cobb, a superachiever with an ego the size of his C.V.

What your child doesn’t yet know is the cleverness with which composer-librettist-playwright Joan Cushing has converted this narrative to a musical. We get a harmonized hymn to maleness in “Boys Boys Boys,” a plaintive song about participation in “My Vote Counts,” and a hip-hop showstopper in “The Democracy Rap” that borrows from the “Hamilton” playbook.

Yet Cushing makes a lot of good points: We should vote for the person best qualified for the job, not the blowhard who makes empty promises with no intention of keeping them. Long-term policies, not short-term gratification, matter most. Shy or hesitant people need to be invited to participate, whether in a school cafeteria or life. And a single vote can sway an election, as all historians know.

She tells the story so rousingly that children in the audience were cheering for Grace and Thomas by the end, like nominators at a political convention. Director Michelle Long, aware that politics can be a staid subject, keeps things moving cleverly: At one point, the student portraying Washington gets “rowed” across the classroom on a movable desk by fellow students. Talia Robinson’s energy, a combination of exuberance and justifiable irritation, makes the progressive Grace a charmer.

Read the full article by Lawrence Toppman for The Charlotte Observer here.

Sure, ‘Hamilton’ Is a Game-Changer, But Whose Game?

hamilton2-1940x1293

Lamentably, however, much of the acclaim that has and will accrue to Hamilton brands it as one of the first pieces of theatre to successfully incorporate hip-hop elements and sensibilities. That’s like someone thinking they’ve discovered rap music after hearing Eminem’s song “Stan” (coincidentally, and arguably, another white narrative). This is unfortunate; it not only ignores the 20-plus year legacy of hip-hop theatre in the U.S.—Idris Goodwin, Eisa Davis, Psalmayne 24, Hip-Hop Theatre Junction, Teo Castellanos, Will Power, Universes, Marc Bamuthi Joseph, etc. It also, more disturbingly, ignores LMM’s own In The Heights, a hip-hop-infused musical with a contemporary story about Latinos in a changing neighborhood that ran on Broadway for 3 years, won 4 Tonys and recouped its money after just 10 months. Yet we’re still in a cultural landscape where In The Heights and other hip-hop generation stories will never be celebrated to the extent that Hamilton will be, simply by virtue of who the show is about.

-April 23, 2015 – Excerpt from a piece by Danny Hoch for American Theatre.  Read it all here.