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True to its mission, The Skeleton Rep explores modern myth in a production of Wendell & Pan by Katelynn Kenney. Directed by Ria T. DiLullo, this production utilizes space at The Tank in a way I’ve never seen before, and it dramatizes the complicated and deep ways that grief can affect how we connect to ourselves and each other.

Wendell & Pan is an inquisitive tale that explores what happens to a family dynamic in the midst of grief. Wendell (Nick Ong) is an 11-year old bookworm who is trying to appease his sprite-like best friend Pan (Shavana Clarke) while coping with his grandfather’s illness. Kayla (Nya Noemi), Wendell’s older sister, is dismissive and attached to her phone, seeking solace from a not-friend. Their parents, Father (Anuj Parikh) and Mother (Margot Staub), are contending with the cold between them while dealing with their children – sometimes poorly – and their own concern for grandfather. Along their journey, they discover magic and secrets that push them apart before bringing them together.

Shavana Clarke and Anuj Parikh in Wendell & Pan – Photo by Ria T. DiLullo

Katelynn Kenny has the delightful ability to write humor into grief-stricken circumstance. There is something about the absentminded aspect of grief that leads a person to occasionally ridiculous behavior, or making off-hand dark remarks, and Ms. Kenny has the necessary talent not only to write this human element honestly, but to place it well within a scene. Additionally, she makes sure her characters do not reveal crucial information until it is absolutely necessary for the audience to know it – which means she excels at laying out and wrapping up her breadcrumb trails – the loveliest of those being Wendell’s monologues about exploding stars.

Both the achievement and the challenge of Wendell & Pan is that in its quest to display grief within the family, it creates the overwhelming scene of a few emotional people who are uniquely lonely and individually coping while they simultaneously miss connections with each other. While the portrayal of this passive chaos is realistic, it generates a wealth of information for the audience to digest and too many opportunities for the audience to miss a few important elements. I won’t beg the removal of important elements of the story, but perhaps more intentional bread crumbs are necessary.

Director Ria T. DiLullo and set designer Caitlynn Barrett use the space at The Tank in a way I’ve never seen before. By using levels (and removing a usual section of the audience), they ensure the magic of the space is captured in both design and movement. The actors capture a family dynamic that while slightly cliché, is genuine; they portray strange rituals and attachment to the space. And yet something is missing. There is an element of going through the motions, which is natural in the presence of grief, but I want to see a culture or tradition that is specific to this family.

Nya Noemi, Shavana Clarke and Margot Staub in Wendell & Pan – Photo by Ria T. DiLullo

Margot Staub (Mother) and Nya Noemi (Kayla) capture that teenage-girl-revolution versus joking-mom dynamic perfectly, and the brother vs. sister game is equally honest. Anuj Parikh (Father) seemed to anticipate more often than he reacted, but in those softer moments of act two, he excelled in displaying sensitivity. Nick Ong (Wendell) creates a genuine 11-year old with delightfully awkward pre-pubescence and mature intellect. Shavana Clarke (Pan) is pure energy as she walks that fine line of playful innocence and malicious mischief; her vibrant presence carries the innocent and dangerous tenor of the piece.

The set design by Caitlynn Barrett is its own enchanting spectacle. As a cross between an earthy living room and a magical tree house, the space provides an alternate sensation to the tension of the play. There are a number of oddities that stand out – the pastel blue clock, a pillow with an embroidered bird, the ship’s helm in the tree house, fairy lights, and a lawnmower – and they add to the “lived in” feeling of the play.

Emily Auciello’s sound design and compositions by Emily Rose Simons capture the joy and danger of Pan’s presence, as well as the high and lows of the piece. Miranda Poett’s light design gives and takes magic with color and intensity. Costumes by Sophie Costanzi impress youth into each character and demonstrate their ordinary humanness.

My favorite thing about Wendell & Pan is that it tells a story we do not often hear. It is about experiencing grief in childhood, thoughts of suicide or self-harm, and it says something about how people react to death or mental illness. All people experience this at some point or another, and yet it is so little discussed openly! I agree with the playwright when she says, “If we tell more of these stories, maybe we’ll feel a little less strange, a little less alone.”

 

Wendell & Pan, The Skeleton Rep, The Tank, 312 W. 36th St, 1st Fl, New York, NY 10018. Closes January 20th.

Tickets at http://www.skeletonrep.org/

Virginia Jimenez is a writer, dancer and teaching artist in New York City. She teaches for various companies focusing on dancing for musical theatre, ballroom dancing, theatrical skills and story building. Bringing arts education to students in NYC is incredibly rewarding for her because she is passionate about arts integration and using the arts to facilitate an emotional education. As a writer, Virginia believes in the power of words and stories to challenge and encourage audiences to seek growth and modes of expression. She likes tequila and ice cream - though not necessarily together. www.vmjimenez.com

Cabaret

My View: Carole J. Bufford…”You Don’t Know Me”. ( Now We Do)

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Her show is titled “You Don’t Own Me” and if anyone in the Palm Beach audience didn’t know Carole J. Bufford before, they certainly do now after her exciting performance last night at Cafe Centro.

Carole J. Bufford, award-winning cabaret star and powerhouse vocalist, returned to Cafe Centro last night with a tribute to the fearless, fabulous females of the 1960s. With the music made famous by Janis Joplin, Tina Turner, Carole King, Dionne Warwick, Dusty Springfield, Nancy Sinatra, Cher, and more, Carole and her quartet put their own inimitable spin on those great song classics in her show You Don’t Own Me. Her electrifying  musical tour de force celebrated a time of great change and transition in America and across the pond.

As Carole noted, the musical and cultural landscape was never the same after these bold and daring women planted their flags and ensured their voices were heard.  Well, Carole Bufford’s voice was authoritatively heard in West Palm Beach last night as she took charge of each song and brought the music of the 60’s back to life.  The moveable spot in the club illuminated this dynamic entertainer thrilling each table in a room filled with her Palm Beach fans.

Ms. Bufford’s good friend and co-producer of the evening Sandy Fisher introduced Carole to the enthusiastic Cafe Centro audience.

Next up in the Fisher/Sorokoff Cabaret series is Dawn Derrow on March 12, and on April 24th one of the hottest acts in show business “The New Belters” Seth Sikes & Nicolas King will be bringing their music to  Cafe Centro.

CAROLE J. BUFFORD

HERE’S CAROLE!

CAROLE J. BUFFORD

CAROLE J. BUFFORD

CAROLE J. BUFFORD

CAROLE J. BUFFORD & SANFORD FISHER

STEPHEN SOROKOFF & CAROLE J. BUFFORD

EDA SOROKOFF, GIO MOLLA, RON ABEL, SANFORD FISHER

ROB RUSSELL, CAROLE J. BUFFORD, RON ABEL

DAWN DEROW & CAROLE J. BUFFORD

JEFF LEIBOWITZ & ROB RUSSELL

SANFORD FISHER & ISANNE FISHER

PETER CALO

CAFE CENTRO

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Cabaret

My View: Direct From Florida..The King’s Academy Jazz Ensemble Heats Up 54 Below

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Spectacular, awe-inspiring, and sensational were all words being uttered by the audience after The King’s Academy Jazz Ensemble’s high-energy, horn-powered, Big Apple style weekend performance at the iconic 54 Below Club. In that intimate and elegant room, these students matched the part with their classy black suits and stunning stylish dresses. Their debut show in New York City called “Students of the Songbook” gifted listeners with a youthful and reimagined spin on many jazz favorites. TKA Jazz performed with a level of confidence and excellence often reserved for season veterans.

Band Leader Wes Lowe hosted the night of jazz. Due to the limited space on the stage, Mr. Lowe introduced the songs and players stage right. He would then step off stage allowing his band of twenty high school and middle school students to masterfully make their instruments sing as he trusted them to navigate the night musically under their own direction.

Between lead trombonist Julia Basile who wowed the audience with her rendition of Black Orpheus, Julia Drahos on lead trumpet, and Stephen Boylan on lead alto sax, the lead horns kept a tight energetic performance all night. The rhythm section of drummer Ashton Horne, bassist Hadiya Stewart, and pianist Breck Dorow played in the pocket behind the horns in absolute perfection. Early on I noticed how young middle school trumpeter William Smith phrased like Louis Armstrong, letting his solo melodies breathe as they also swung. Soon however, I realized that they all did this as well. This young band of instrumentalists and soloists play well beyond their years.

Changing up the mood, Wes Lowe called upon several beautiful and talented ladies to add their vocal talents to the night. Ella Garcia, although new to the group, sang classics such as “It Had to Be You” with a soulful tone. Current Young Artist Award Winner from the Society for the Preservation of the Great American Songbook, Maddie Begin, sang show-stopping numbers such as “Feeling Good” and “But The World Goes Round.” She is a name to remember with a powerhouse voice you won’t forget. And making a surprise appearance, TKA Jazz alumni Annie Matot graced the stage singing the classic “I’ve Got My Love to Keep Me Warm.” These young women took the audience from sing-along moments to complete moments of absolute awe.

In addition to TKA Director of Instrumental Arts and Band Leader Wes Lowe entertaining skillfully as the host, his colleague, Associate Director of Instrumental Arts, Mickey Smith Jr. also played the hottest solo of the night with his rendition of the Bill Wither’s classic “Just the Two of Us” on the alto sax. With that being said, everyone’s solos packed melodic invention in a confident swagger. Even more fun were the breathtaking syncopated conversations when the horns all played full force. The energy in the room was palpable for the entire evening. This was a hot performance on a cold night in New York City at 54 Below that was above and beyond anything anyone could have expected.

WES LOWE, DIRECTOR

THE KING’S ACADEMY JAZZ ENSEMBLE.   

MICKEY SMITH JR.

THE KING’S ACADEMY JAZZ ENSEMBLE

MADDIE BEGIN

ANNIE MATOT

JULIA BASILE

THE KING’S ACADEMY JAZZ ENSEMBLE

MADDIE BEGIN

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Cabaret

My View: Cast Party Celebrates Billy Stritch’s Birthday ( Also Other People)

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Two of the worst kept show-biz secrets in February were the birthdays of Jim Caruso ( last Monday) and Billy Stritch, (last night).  Word got out on every social media platform and the lines to get a seat at Jim Caruso’s Cast Party stretched down 44th street to the Birdland front door.  I’m a senior member of the Cast Party alum who has had way too many birthday celebrations at the club. I can attest to the fact that it’s one of the most fun filled and musically exciting places to be in with friends for your big day.  Being with friends Christine Ebersole and Bill Moloney, along with Doug Major, Christina Rose and Lionel Casseroux to celebrate Billy’s birthday made it extra special.  It was also extra special to see Klea Blackhurst and Susie Mosher start the evening off by presenting the birthday cake to Billy, and how about having long time Billy friend and occasional partner in music Two Time Tony-Award Winner Christine Ebersole on Caruso’s open mic list? Yes it was a special evening for our special friend Billy Stritch.

Here are some cell phone pics

BILLY STRITCH, KLEA BLACKHURST, SUSIE MOSHER, JIM CARUSO

CHRISTINE EBERSOLE & JIM CARUSO

EDA SOROKOFF & CHRISTINE EBERSOLE

DOUG MAJOR, JULIE BENKO, BILLY STRITCH, CHRISTINE EBERSOLE

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Columns

My View: “I Can’t Believe How Good This Sounds”

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When George Gershwin was composing Rhapsody In Blue he didn’t have the tools of today’s composers and orchestrators.  No computers or synthesizers to play the notes being put on paper.  Legend has it that George rented an NBC radio studio in 1935 and personally hired the musicians to play his newly created score of Porgy and Bess.  Luckily a technician turned on a recording device for a few minutes and George can be heard saying “ I can’t believe how good this sounds” as he hears his notes played by an orchestra for the first time.

Flash forward….yesterday Eda and I had the thrill of being seated a few feet in front of the 70 musicians of the New York Pops and Maestro Steven Reineke as he rehearsed the soloists and orchestra for the February 9th Concert at Carnegie Hall which celebrates Gershwin and a century of Rhapsody in Blue.  As the small rehearsal room filled with the glorious sounds of Gershwin, played by the New York Pops and Steven heard the orchestra play the program he constructed for the first time,  I couldn’t help recalling George Gershwin’s words…” I can’t believe how good this sounds”!  Carnegie Hall is sold out for tonight’s concert and the audience is in for an outstanding musical evening as Montego Glover sings many of Gershwin’s most famous songs and pianist extraordinaire Lee Musiker performs an exciting innovative Rhapsody In Blue.  I’m sure the 2,800 audience members will be exclaiming “ I can’t believe how good this was” as they leave Carnegie Hall tonight.   

STEVEN REINEKE & MONTEGO GLOVER

LEE MUSIKER & STEVEN REINEKE

LEE MUSIKER & MONTEGO GLOVER

STEVEN REINEKE, LEE MUSIKER, MONTEGO GLOVER

MONTEGO GLOVER

LEE MUSIKER

LEE MUSIKER

LEE MUSIKER & STEVEN REINEKE

CARNEGIE HALL

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Cabaret

My View: A Household Name In Households Where Music Matters….BILLY STRITCH

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This morning, I need to borrow a well used word this year….”MAESTRO.” I honestly believe the word suits the inimitable BIlly Stritch, a man gifted with many talents, all on display, regularly, under all types of situations and in an endless array of combinations. Any song to which Stritch turns his attention can easily make it a work of art.

The newly minted Fisher/Sorokoff producing team began our curated Cabaret Series at Cafe Centro last night with one of the most respected and gifted artists on the Concert/Nightclub circuit, Mr. Billy Stritch. I am also proud to call him a friend and couldn’t be prouder than to have launched this new venture with an entertainer whom I love, trust, and admire.

The venue is a favored eatery and music oasis in West Palm Beach and was filled with notables from Boca to Palm Beach who came to hear one of, put simply, the best.

What made last night so special was how he curated the evening of songs ranging from Broadway and Hollywood Musicals, to  Jazz,Gershwin and Irving Berlin, as always, exhibiting his innate charm and knowledge. You had to be there and, Billy, you are welcome back any time.

We were proud to have a premier sell-out engagement and look forward to presenting more special artists for your enjoyment.

BILLY STRITCH

BILLY STRITCH at CAFE CENTRO

BILLY STRITCH

BILLY STRITCH & SANFORD FISHER

BILLY STRITCH & STEPHEN SOROKOFF

BILLY STRITCH & AVERY SOMMERS

TAYLOR MORGAN (Legends Radio) & BILLY STRITCH

EDA SOROKOFF & PERRIN BLANK

CASEY PAUL & BILLY STRITCH

JEFF BOLTON (Actors Fund) & BILLY STRITCH

JANE ROTHCHILD & FRAN WEISSLER

MAX VON ANHALT, EDA SOROKOFF, SUNNY SESSA

STEVEN TANNENBAUM, WENDY TANNENBAUM, ARNOLD FELD, LYNN FELD

CATHERINE ADLER & HELMUT KOLLER

SANFORD FISHER & TAYLOR MORGAN

KAREN DONNELY, EDA SOROKOFF, BILLY STRITCH, CASEY PAUL

BILLY STRITCH & “SAL” Cafe Centro

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