Kool Kat of the Week: We’re Off To See The Wizard Mark A. Harmon: There’s No Place Like the Fabulous Fox This Week!

Posted on: Jun 23rd, 2016 By:
Mark A. Harmon

Mark A. Harmon plays Professor Marvel, aka the Wizard of Oz in the new musical adaptation this week at the Fox Theatre.

By Geoff Slade
Contributing Writer

There is little in American pop culture as universally, cross-generationally and continuously beloved as the 1939 film adaptation of THE WIZARD OF OZ. Everyone knows the characters, the songs, and why wicked witches don’t shower. The national tour of stage musical THE WIZARD OF OZ, running June 21-26 at the Fabulous Fox Theatre, takes audiences arm-in-arm back down the Yellow Brick Road.

Oz had already appeared on the big screen by the time Judy Garland went over the rainbow, including silent versions in 1910 and 1925, and a 1933 cartoon, as well as several stage versions (including one by author L. Frank Baum himself in 1902). However, it’s the MGM classic that became the definitive version immediately upon its release 77 years ago this summer. It was nominated for Best Picture (but lost to GONE WITH THE WIND) and won Oscars for Best Original Score and Best Original Song.

The musical, which premiered in London in 2011, is based on the 1939 film, with all your favorite moments reimagined for the stage. That means Munchkins, flying monkeys, and dead witches! And what would Oz be without the vibrant Technicolor hues of the film—ruby slippers on yellow bricks to the Emerald City! Expect the same rainbow palate on stage. In addition to the classic songs, the production features new songs by musical theater legends Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber.

The Wizard of Oz himself, Mark A. Harmon, took a few minutes last week to chat with ATLRetro.

ATLRetro: I’d wager you’ve been an enormous fan of the 1939 MGM masterpiece your entire life, but I guess you don’t necessarily have to be. Why did you want to be in this production?

Mark A. Harmon: Of course! I’ve been a huge fan! I remember as a child one of the major television networks would run it once a year I believe around Thanksgiving. It was always a major event that you waited for all year. I have to admit that when I was asked to audition I was a little hesitant at first. I thought “How can you possibly do a live version that could even come close to the beauty of the movie?” Then I saw some clips from the first national tour and was completely blown away! We’re seven months into the tour and I’m still amazed at the production quality of this show.

Professor Marvel brings his magical wagon to Kansas in THE WIZARD OF OZ stage adaptation.

Professor Marvel brings his magical wagon to Kansas in THE WIZARD OF OZ stage adaptation.

What new does this production bring to the story?

The main story remains faithful to the movie and all the original songs are performed. There are new songs added by the brilliant Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice. One of them is “Wonders of the World” which is sung by yours truly as Professor Marvel. There have also been some changes to the dialogue. But rest assured, all your favorite lines are still there.

As an actor, is it difficult preparing for such a famous role?

It is a little daunting at first. There’s always the possibility of being compared to such a well known performance. But each actor brings a unique quality to their role. Even though the audience may have a familiar performance in their head, I believe they quickly start accepting you as that character.

In addition to the 1939 film, there have been countless adaptations, interpretations, sequels and prequels to Baum’s original book (1900). What is it about the story that has kept inspiring revisits to Oz for over a century?

I’m sure there are whole books devoted to answering that question. But for me personally, I think it’s one of the classic coming of age stories. What adolescent hasn’t felt misunderstood and wanted to run away?

Dorothy and her friends meet Oz the Great and Powerful in the Emerald City,

Dorothy and her friends meet Oz the Great and Powerful in the Emerald City,

What’s it like on the road? Do you get to spend any time exploring the cities you visit?

It depends entirely on the schedule. This is my third tour and I’m not going to lie, some can be downright grueling. I’ve done tours where we’ve played five or six cities in one week traveling by bus. I think it’s important for people to know that when you go see a touring show, especially one that is only playing one or two nights, that the actors may very well have spent anywhere up to eight hours on a bus that day. This one, however, has been without a doubt the most enjoyable mainly because of the fact that we’ve been playing each city for no less than a week. It’s been such a treat to be able to have the time to do some real exploring!

Thanks again for chatting with ATLRetro. Break a leg!  Anything else you want to mention?

You’re very welcome and thank you.  I’d just like to say that I’m so excited to be returning to the beautiful Fox Theatre and invite everyone, young and old, to come see this spectacular production of THE WIZARD OF OZ!

The Wizard of Oz runs June 21-26 at The Fox Theatre. Show times and ticket information are available  here. All photos are used with permission.

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Kool Kat of the Week: Tiffany Engen Just Wants to Have Fun in Shoe-Stopping Broadway Musical KINKY BOOTS

Posted on: Mar 29th, 2016 By:
Lauren (Tiffany Engen) dances with shoes on her hands in the Broadway tour of KINKY BOOTS. Photo courtesy of Austin Northenor.

Lauren (Tiffany Engen) dances with shoes on her hands in the Broadway tour of KINKY BOOTS. Photo courtesy of Austin Northenor.

By Geoff Slade
Contributing Writer

Broadway hit KINKY BOOTS opens the Atlanta leg of its national tour on Tues. March 29 and runs through Sun. April 3 at the Fox Theatre. Multiple Tony Award-winner Harvey Fierstein (TORCH SONG TRILOGY) wrote the book, and Tony, Grammy, Emmy and my heart winner Cyndi Lauper (mostly this and this) wrote the music and lyrics. Check here for show times and ticket availability.

The musical chronicles a shoe factory in trouble and reborn thanks to a performer’s desire for sturdy stilettos. Inspired by true events and based upon the 2005 film of the same name, KINKY BOOTS premiered in Chicago in 2012 before its Broadway debut in 2013. It was a huge success and earned 13 Tony nominations, winning six, including Best Musical and Best Score for Lauper (the first woman ever to win that award by herself!). It began its US tour in 2014.

Kool Kat of the Week Tiffany Engen (Lauren) is one of many actors among the principal cast with impressive Broadway, Off-Broadway, film and television roles under their belts (including Jim J. Bullock). She previously performed in the Broadway and first national tour productions of LEGALLY BLONDE, the movie HAIRSPRAY (2007) and the TV shows RAISING HOPE and SMASH.

Tiffany took a few minutes before the opening of this week’s Atlanta run to chat with ATLRetro about the musical, her favorite roles and a little bit about life on the road.

Where are you from? How did you become an actor? What was your first production? How old were you?

I am originally from Minnesota. I have loved singing, dancing, acting since I was a kid.  My parents took me to see shows whenever productions would be in town. In second grade I played a chicken in THE GOOSE AND THE GOLDEN EGG. I had one line. I’ve been hooked ever since!

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KINKY BOOTS on tour. Photo courtesy of Austin Northenor.

Which of your past performances are you most proud of?

I feel very lucky to have worked on some incredible shows.  LEGALLY BLONDE, HAIRSPRAY, ROCK OF AGES all have held a special place in my heart. I’m most proud of this role and this show. The role of Lauren is so fun to play. She is tough, bold, vulnerable, funny and sassy. This show is so special and has touched so many people. I’m so proud to be a part of a show that is changing people’s hearts and minds.

If you had to play one role for the rest of your career, what would it be?

This one!!!

Before taking on the role, were you familiar with the KINKY BOOTS movie? The Broadway production?

Yes, I was a fan of both the film and the Broadway production. I actually got to see a run-through of the Broadway production before they moved to the theater. And even in a rehearsal studio with no lights or costumes you could feel that this show was special. 

What should we know about your character?

Lauren is a factory worker at Price and Son. She is not afraid to speak her mind to her new boss, Charlie. I love that she is the one who says the factory needs to find a niche market to cater their product to. She provides the lightbulb moment for Charlie. 

KINKY BOOTS on tour. Photo courtesy of Austin Northenor.

KINKY BOOTS on tour. Photo courtesy of Austin Northenor.

How long will you guys be on the road? Where else are you performing?

I joined the company in November and we have played wonderful cities. The tour has dates booked well into 2017, so I’m so excited that it has been embraced by theaters across the country. After Atlanta we head to Kansas City then LA, Seattle, San Francisco—the list goes on.

What should Atlanta audiences expect?

A joyous, thought-provoking, entertaining night of theatre. This show won six Tony awards including Best Musical. We love it when people say that this is the best show or their favorite show they have ever seen!

How would you describe the music?

Cyndi Lauper has written and incredible musical score that is unlike anything you’ve heard before. She writes ballads that will break your heart and then turns around and writes a foot-stomping finale that radiates joy in every line. 

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KOOL KAT OF THE WEEK: Tromaville in L5P: Nick Arapoglou Radiates as the First Superhero from New Jersey in Horizon Theatre’s THE TOXIC AVENGER

Posted on: Feb 17th, 2016 By:
Kool Kat of the Week Nick Arapaglou as Toxie in Horizon Theatre's production of THE TOXIC AVENGER. Photo credit: Greg Mooney.

Kool Kat of the Week Nick Arapaglou as Toxie in Horizon Theatre’s production of THE TOXIC AVENGER. Photo credit: Greg Mooney.

By Geoff Slade
Contributing Writer

Horizon Theatre’s production of THE TOXIC AVENGER (Wed-Sun., through March 13) is a musical comedy based on the cult 1984 Troma film.  If that means anything at all to you, it is likely the best news you’ve heard all day. The plot will be familiar to fans, and I don’t want to spoil anything for the rest of you. All you need to know about the show itself, depending on how seriously you want to take it, is to expect social commentary on pollution, corrupt politicians and a deft satire of the superhero genre. And a seven-foot tall mutant with superhuman strength and a heart of gold. The original stage production opened in New Jersey in 2008, followed by a successful Off-Broadway run in 2009.

Local actor Nick Arapoglou plays the lead. Nick, originally from Huntington, NY, went to high school in Atlanta and moved back here after college. He has been acting professionally for about a decade, notably as Princeton (for which he learned puppetry!) in all three local productions (at three different venues) of AVENUE Q, and he won 2011’s Suzi Bass Award for Lead Actor in a Musical. Other roles during the past few years include Asher Lev in MY NAME IS ASHER LEV (Theatrical Outfit), Romeo in ROMEO AND JULIET (Shakespeare Tavern) and Bobby Strong in URINETOWN (Fabrefaction Theatre). “Of course, I also enjoyed THE GIFTS OF THE MAGI at Theatrical Outfit, because my wife played opposite me in that show for three years straight!” Nick said.

In addition to a diverse stage career, the actor has done lots of on-camera work . Look for him later this year in the films TABLE 19 (with Anna Kendrick, Lisa Kudrow and Craig Robinson), THE ACCOUNTANT (Ben Affleck, Anna Kendrick), THE BOSS (Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Bell), and CONFIRMATION (Kerry Washington).

Needless to say, those are some fantastic credits, but yeah, we admit we made Nick Kool Kat of the Week now because we think he’s in the role of a lifetime. And we’re absolutely troma-tized that he took time from his trashy schedule to talk Toxie with ATLRetro.

Photo credit: Greg Mooney.

Not funny! Photo credit: Greg Mooney.

First of all, what’s it like to portray a pop culture icon? (and make no mistake…)

Ha! I think when you are playing a role where there are those kinds of expectations, you have to make sure there are moments when you give a tip of the hat to the fans. We certainly have those moments placed within the show. But putting on a big green suit and kicking ass with a mop is about as awesome as you think it is!

Were you a fan of the films?

I’m going to be honest—I still haven’t seen them. I know that might make some people gasp! But there’s a reason why I didn’t once I accepted the role. There are very few new shows and musicals that hit the stage in Atlanta. They’ve usually been done in New York first. So it’s always important to me to try to bring my own take on the role and do a recycled impression of an impression of someone else’s take. That’s a huge trap in musicals especially. People listen to the CD so much and that colors their performance. So, the point is, I didn’t want to see the film and then have my performance be shaped by someone else’s. I did watch the trailer though and laughed hysterically—so you can bet once we close this thing that’s the first thing in my queue.

Had you seen or were you aware of any of the previous productions before this one came along?

Yes, we were aware especially of the award-winning Off-Broadway performance in NYC. I listened to the score a few times to get a sense of the music, but then stopped before it got in my head too much!

How did you end up cast in the lead?

Well, this is the same creative team that was behind AVENUE Q. Our excellent director Heidi McKerley (who won the Suzi Award for Best Director for AVE Q) and I have now done 11 or 12 productions together. She was one of the first people to cast me years ago and we have developed quite the resume of kickass musicals at this point. Also the music director Renee Clark (Suzi Award for Best Music Direction for AVE Q) and I have also worked together for years and years. She is an unbelievable talent, and every show she works on is better because of her presence. So I’m sure the working relationships I have with both those two fierce ladies led to their trust in casting me as the lead in this show.

dont-drop-him_24148250873_o

Don’t drop him! Photo credit: Greg Mooney.

You’re two weeks into a scheduled six-week run. How have audiences responded so far? Gotten any feedback from Troma fans yet?

I know I’m supposed to say this, but audiences love the show. No matter if the theater is sold out completely or we have maybe a smaller crowd on a Wednesday, they jump to their feet by the end of the show. I mean jump to their feet. It’s happened every night. We are really proud of what we are doing. The cast is a firestorm of musical theatre rock talent. Don’t believe me? Come watch, you’ll see!

We have definitely gotten some Troma fan feedback. It’s been awesome. They are always satisfied and super happy to take pictures at the end of the night with Big Green Freak.

How would you describe the show to (warn?) fans of musical theater that don’t recognize the title?

Nothing to warn about really. Because it’s a musical, obviously the gore factor has to be toned way down for audiences. But that doesn’t take away from the story and the fun at all, believe me. I think this show is rated PG-13, but a hilarious PG-13. It’s a train. It’s campy, and ridiculous, and hilarious. Everyone leaves smiling. If you don’t leave that way, you were trying not to like it, and in that case, I feel bad for you.

toxie-comes-alive_24148251913_o

Toxie comes alive! Photo credit: Greg Mooney.

The movies feature absurd, disgusting, hilarious violence. Any chance you rip some punk’s arm off onstage?

Some punk’s arm? How about multiple punks’ arms.

The musical was written by New Jersey natives Joe DiPietro and David Bryan. Their last collaboration, MEMPHIS, won the 2010 Tony Award for Best Musical. Bryan wrote the music (and co-wrote the lyrics with DiPietro) during downtime from his day job, keyboardist for another ’80s Jersey juggernaut, Bon Jovi. So is it safe to say the score rocks?

The music is just fun. We have a kicking band. You’ll hear some sick guitar distortion solos and bass, hot keyboard play and insane drum solos.

And this cast can sing. Make no mistake—it rocks.

THE TOXIC AVENGER runs through March 13 at the Horizon Theatre. Showtimes are Wednesday, Thursday and Friday at 8pm, Saturday at 3pm and 8:30pm, and Sunday at 5pm. Tickets start at $25. www.horizontheatre.com or 404-548-7450 for tickets and info.

The play contains adult language and content, and even though they’d love it, is not recommended for children.

All photos provided by Horizon Theatre and used with permission.

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More Than Still Standing: Melba Moore Talks About Growing Up in Jazz, the Summer of Love, and Living the Dream Again in GOOD GOD A’MIGHTY

Posted on: Feb 16th, 2013 By:

Melba Moore, 1985. Photo credit: James Mitchell.

Legendary R&B vocalist Melba Moore stars as the bombastic director of a Southern church choir in Lolita Snipes‘ gospel musical GOOD GOD A’MIGHTY, playing Feb. 14-24 at 14th Street Playhouse. A hilarious behind-the-scenes look inside a southern African-American church faced with a vibrant new pastor from New York, the play marks a bit of irony in that Melba is a born-and-bred New Yorker herself.

Because Melba is best known for a string of ’70s and ’80s Billboard hits starting with “I Got Love,” it’s easy to forget that her first big break came on Broadway when she replaced Diane Keaton in HAIR. She went on to win a Tony Award for playing Lultiebelle in PURLIE and appeared with Eartha Kitt in TIMBUKTU. Then her recording career took off, she started touring, and would not return to the theater until after a painful break-up with her husband. She used her remarkable life story as the backdrop for a one-woman play, I’M STILL STANDING, and soon was back on Broadway as Fantine in LES MISERABLES. Since then she has continued her comeback, including appearing with Beyonce and Cuba Gooding Jr. in the movie THE FIGHTING TEMPTATIONS (2003) and recording a new CD entitled FOREVER MOORE on her own label, A’Moore Music.

ATLRetro recently had the pleasure of interviewing Melba, and we couldn’t resist not just asking about her role but also her own Retro experiences growing up in a musical family in New York in one of the most exciting jazz music eras, the summer of love, working with Eartha Kitt, and much more. The conversation turned into a who’s who history lesson of some of the top names in recording which we couldn’t be happier to share.

How did you first get involved with GOOD GOD A’MIGHTY?

Lolita Snipes, the producer and writer of GOOD GOD A’MIGHTY, and her partner and husband, Jerome [Snipes],  got in touch with my manager and myself. We met in New York, and she said she had been watching me for quite a long time and knew I would be prefect for the role. I was a little surprised because though I do have a Tony Award for a comedy performance, I haven’t done a lot of comedy. She said the main reason she wanted me for the role was the music. She wanted the Melba Moore sound. She also wanted to make sure born-again Christians were involved in the play, and she wanted me because I had a reputation of being amenable, in harmony with the person in charge. She wanted to make sure that it was a real Christian play with the real Christian spirit, which is love.

You aren’t from the south but you certainly have a lot of experience with New York City having grown up there. Is there anything particular which resonates to you about this story personally?

It’s great in terms of a family culture because pretty much all of us originated from the south because we came here as slaves. We were farmers and eventually moved to the north, and we still have cultural clashes between north and south. Northerners are often considered educated and uppity by Southerners. These cultural clashes are nice food for comedy.

My mother was a professional singer and away all the time so I was raised in New York by a nanny who never learned to read or write, but came from a family of tobacco growers and sharecroppers. She was trying to get off the farm and get a job that was not so hard even if it was as a domestic or nanny. The thing that set many African-American families free was our music and the music industry, so my family was typical of that combination.

Tell us about your part and did you do anything in particular to prepare for it.

THE FIGHTING TEMPTATIONS. Look at the role that LaTanya Richardson – she’s the wife of Samuel L Jackson – played in that. She was feisty, bossy; she runs everybody. She doesn’t care who you are, she’s the boss. She will bring you down to size all the time. She’s a very selfish, mean-spirited ogre. That’s my part.

But it’s not dark or brutal. This is a Christian musical, so we don’t want to tell the bad news. She is not mean or evil. That’s one of the things that sets apart gospel plays or musicals. You’re not telling a negative story nor sympathizing with the bad guy.

This musical just sounds like a lot of fun. Is there a favorite part that you’d like to share?

It’s going to be so much fun. First of all, gospel comedies are the funniest type of comedy, and maybe one of the reasons they are is they don’t pander to the lowest elements of people. They don’t resort to cursing or really poking fun at people. They don’t have to be deep, but really have to be funny. They have to be joyful, really lift your spirits. That’s the point of it.

You grew up in a musical family. Your mother was a singer, your father a saxophonist and your stepfather a jazz pianist. Can you talk a little bit about growing up with jazz in the golden age of the 1940s and 1950s, maybe share a favorite memory?

My stepfather [Clement Moorman] is 97 years old. He still plays the piano and keeps his art. He plays better than ever before. My mother, though, has passed away. I grew up in an environment with a passionate love for music, and in an age when African-American artists had to be 10 times better because of racism. I grew up meeting Sarah Vaughan and Ella Fitzgerald. I thought I was going to be a piano player. I thought I’d be the next Horace Silver. I knew I was not going to be the next Oscar Peterson. My brother and I learned how to play these piano solos because we were so passionately enmeshed in this music. We were equally impassioned by classical music so also Leontyne Price or Marian Anderson. As I look back, it’s not just nostalgia, it just was truly a golden age. I majored in music in high school. I didn’t know if I had enough talent but I knew it was going to be my life’s work. I didn’t know if I would be a musician or singer, but I grew up listening also to Miles Davis and Nancy Wilson. I was totally enmeshed and absorbed in their recording.

Who was your favorite jazz performer in those early days and why? Outside of your family, of course.

They kept changing. Bill Evans and Horace Silver were two of our favorites. We’d sing all the solos. The Adderley Brothers, Nat Adderley, and the sax player Art Farmer. I can’t remember them all. There was just a plethora. I also loved Melba Liston because she had my name. And Ella Fitzgerald. I can sing her solos now, but I couldn’t then.

What was it like spending the summer of love in New York City and ending up cast in HAIR?

It was very unexpected. I was teaching music from kindergarten thru age 12 of high school in northern New Jersey, and I quit because I felt like if I stayed in teaching, I never was going to find out if I had enough talent to be a singing artist. My father took me to New York, where I met Valerie Simpson, who got me involved in overdub singing, At one of the recording sessions, Galt MacDermott, who wrote the music for HAIR, asked us all if we could come and sing for the director, choreographer and producer because they were still looking for strong voices. I was the only one who said yes. It was like I can’t even describe it – moving to another planet.

What was it like working with Eartha Kitt in TIMBUKTU?

She definitely was an icon and an artiste and her own self-person. She was intimidating in a sense. She was so strong and so confident and so good, and my personality was totally opposite. I was just starting to get some confidence now, but I have a gentle body language. We’re both petite women but total opposites. She was a cat and I was a kitty.

You started acting in musical theater in your twenties in HAIR and then winning the Tony for PURLIE, but then concentrated on your music career. How did you end up coming back to Broadway in 1995 to play Fantine in LES MISERABLES?

After TIMBUKTU, I went on tour and had my first hit record. I did 10 to 15 years of recording and touring. Then my marriage to my husband, who had been responsible for my success, disintegrated. During that time, I was trying to stay alive, much less stay in the industry. I did a one-woman play [SWEET SONGS OF THE SOUL, later renamed I’M STILL STANDING], and I began to climb back up the mountain. Richard Jay-Alexander, the casting director for LES MISERABLES on Broadway, saw me in Florida in my own play. He said he came in to see the play., but what he saw different sides of Melba Moore that he had never known. He had only seen me in PURLIE. He didn’t know I had a classical voice, or the other aspects of personality. It was thanks to I’M STILL STANDING that Lolita and Jerome found me, too. It was a wonderful audition piece for me.

You were the first African-American to play Fantine, the role that Anne Hathaway is favored for an Oscar this year. Can you talk a little about that experience?

I was just trying to survive, and then someone takes me and puts me into that role. When I got into it and realized what it was about, I thought, God put me here. How do you go from nothing to a lead role in LES MIZ? It showed me this is my destiny, where my good luck will happen. It was so much more than just playing a role and was a natural one to me.

It seems like certain songs play special roles at different times in one’s life. You have a long repertoire. Is there one song from it that means more now than it ever before, and if yes, why?

There are two songs. One is “I Got Love” from PURLIE, and the other is “Lean on Me,” written by Van McCoy. The longer I sing it, the more that I see that the song is my life. It’s always relevant, and the longer I sing it, because it is about your life going the right way, the more powerful it is again. It doesn’t depend on any age, any gender gap. It’s about people coming together, and the place that unites us is that magic of music which unites us. Some things pass away. With GOOD GOD A’MIGHTY, this play, I am beginning again at a fresh point. All those things that are retro and nostalgic have a fresh life again. That’s what music can be. In pop culture, we try to make things old and passing away, but that’s not what art is. Art lives.

Purchase tickets for GOOD GOD A’MIGHTY here or at the Woodruff Arts Center Box Office.

 

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Retro Review: Succumbing to REEFER MADNESS; Be Sure to Inhale the 1936 Cult Propaganda Classic at The Plaza

Posted on: Feb 11th, 2013 By:

REEFER MADNESS (1936); Dir: Louis Gasnier; Starring Dorothy Short, Kenneth Craig; Starts Friday, February 15.; The Plaza Theatre; Trailer here.

By Andrew Kemp
Contributing Writer

REEFER MADNESS is invading your town. Your children could be next….or yours…. or YOURS.

REEFER MADNESS is one of those films that cast a huge shadow for reasons that have nothing to do with quality: the plot of the movie is pretty standard for a 1930s hand-wringer, the cast is clumsy, and the production values are Ed Wood-cheap. Still, the film’s campy charm and incredibly sincere doofiness has helped elevate it to true cult status. REEFER MADNESS was cult before cult was cool.

The plot is suitably scandalous. Bill (Kenneth Craig) and Mary (Dorothy Short) are teenagers in love. They play tennis together, take walks together, and even discuss Shakespeare while sipping hot chocolate on Mary’s idyllic patio. But when a sinister drug dealer lures Bill into the corrupt wonderland of an apartment run by Mae (Thelma White), just one puff of “marihuana” is enough to send Bill down into a spiral of sex and murder that dooms the sweet, chaste Mary as well. The film’s cautionary tale is spun by a stern high school principal demanding parents warn their children about the dangers of smoking reefer—a drug more dangerous than opium, heroin or any other narcotic known to mankind!

This is all fairly standard propaganda, but REEFER MADNESS stands apart by virtue of its total, dedicated dunderheadedness. What the hell are these kids smoking? To hear the film tell it, smoking marijuana causes fits of maniacal laughter followed by hallucinations, temporary insanity, rabid sexual urges and even permanent psychosis. But, despite apparently being laced with Joker gas, marijuana was then and remains today a cornerstone of the counterculture. People know the plant, we know what it does, and it definitely looks like a different weed in REEFER MADNESS. Few things cheer up the underground as when the mainstream gets it so terrifically wrong.

The origins of REEFER MADNESS are hazy. A church group supposedly funded the film to promote marijuana awareness, but there seems to be no real record of which church paid the money or how they acquired a budget hefty enough to hire a bunch of Hollywood B-movie players. A rumor claims the film was really bankrolled by the federal government as part of Harry Anslinger and William Randolph Hearst’s anti-marijuana campaign, but there’s more speculation than evidence to support this. The film seems to have appeared in a puff of truly excellent smoke, cashed in by filling a few programming slots under titles like TELL YOUR CHILDREN and THE BURNING QUESTION, and then faded into obscurity.

Enter Bob Shaye, a young entrepreneur in late-1960s New York City. After getting a good laugh at a screening of REEFER MADNESS, he realized that one could get mighty rich screening a hilarious anti-weed polemic on college campuses. And get rich he did. Shaye’s newly-founded production company, New Line Cinema, made millions screening the public domain film, and the cult of REEFER MADNESS has been growing ever since. Today, a fan can find REEFER MADNESS posters, merchandise and colorized versions of the film. In 1998, Dan Studney and Kevin Murphy (of MYSTERY SCIENCE THEATRE 3000 fame) created the musical version, REEFER MADNESS!, which later received its own film adaptation.

Since the original REEFER MADNESS is in the public domain, there are oodles of ways to see it. You could see it alone right now on your couch if you chose to, but why would you do that? REEFER MADNESS is a group project. Like THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW (1975), THE ROOM (2003) or the up-and-comer MIAMI CONNECTION (1987, and also back at the Plaza this week), most of the joy of REEFER MADNESS comes from hearing a crowd full of people in the know laugh their heads off at whatever unbelievable scene they just saw. You should definitely see REEFER MADNESS with a crowd at the Plaza, but if you do, please remember that marijuana is a scandalous, dangerous drug and unfit for public consumption. What you do in Mae’s apartment, or your own, is completely up to you.

Andrew Kemp is a screenwriter and game writer who started talking about movies in 1984 and got stuck that way. He writes at www.thehollywoodprojects.com and hosts a bimonthly screening series of classic films at theaters around Atlanta.

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Oh What a Night! Carlos Valdes Works His Way Back to Atlanta in Broadway’s JERSEY BOYS

Posted on: May 30th, 2012 By:

Wes Hart, Brad Weinstock, Brent DiRoma and the Company of JERSEY BOYS Photo: Joan Marcus

By Jordan Barbeau
Contributing Writer

For any up-and-coming stage actor, making it to the Big Apple to perform on Broadway is the ultimate fantasy that drives everything you do. For Carlos Valdes, this fantasy became a reality. An University of Michigan graduate with a passion for arts, he has devoted his life to theater, tirelessly pursuing his dream with a passion that eventually led him where every stage actor dreams of going – New York City.

Playing at The Fox Theatre through June 10, Carlos’s most recent production, the Broadway Across America tour production of JERSEY BOYS, takes audiences back in time almost half a century, chronicling the rise and fall of the famous pop rock quartet, The Four Seasons. In JERSEY BOYS¸ Carlos is a swing actor; instead of having a set role, he is tasked with knowing several of the songs throughout the entire play, and must take the stage to perform these tracks in the event that one of the other actors cannot.

As any actor will tell you, it is impossible to go into every role with the exact same mindset. Every role is drastically different, and if you don’t place yourself in your character’s shoes, the performance will not feel as authentic. Carlos is no stranger to this. He admitted that performing a role from so long ago was difficult, simply because he had never experienced this time period in his own life.

This challenge did not impede his success, however; to prepare for such a role, Carlos says he immersed himself in the music and events of the 1960s. He studied the voice and personality of Frankie Valli, the lead singer of the Four Seasons and one of the show’s main characters. Carlos pointed out that there is a certain timelessness to the music, and that while he did not grow up in the ‘60s, the music is so easy for anyone to connect to that the transition felt smooth and natural.

Carlos Valdes. Photo courtesy of Brave Public Relations.

When asked why he pursued JERSEY BOYS, Carlos had nothing but praise and adoration for the show. He says that JERSEY BOYS is an incredibly well-constructed show, weaving great songs into a gruff, authentic Jersey story. He states that music has such a powerful ability to conjure memories in the listener, and as such, the audience does not simply watch a play; they experience and relive an entire era, a saga from start to finish.

It is not a secret that no work, no matter how good and no matter what medium, can appeal to every single audience. When asked about how a show that takes place almost 50 years in the past would appeal to younger, more modern audiences, Carlos was confident that audiences would have no problem connecting with the play. “I think the difference in the times is actually one of the main appeals of the show,” he says. Despite the fact that many audience members may not have experienced these times, or even heard of the Four Seasons, Carlos believes that the theme of constant change that the show embraces can relate to anyone, assuring a strong connection with the audience.

As a native of Cobb County, Carlos is returning to his hometown for the first time in his professional career. During JERSEY BOYS’ May 22-June 10 run at the Fabulous Fox Theatre, Carlos says he is sure to return to his old stomping grounds, such as Marietta Square or Kennesaw Mountain.

Tickets to JERSEY BOYS are available at the Fox Theatre Box Office or online here

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Julie Johnson Takes a Broadway Train Back to MEMPHIS at the Fox Theatre

Posted on: Jan 31st, 2012 By:

Bryan Fenkart as Huey Calhoun and the Broadway Cast. Photo credit: Randy Morrison

By Jordan Barbeau
Contributing Writer

The Tony Awards are the theater equivalent to the Oscars – the most prestigious awards any production or stage actor/actress can earn. As huge of a feat as this is, MEMPHIS, a Broadway hit show about a boy with rock ‘n’ roll in his heart, easily did just that. With its emotionally gripping story and fun numbers, MEMPHIS had no trouble winning the award for Best Musical in 2010. Overwhelming praise from fans and critics alike, along with its earning of this prestigious award, prompted a national tour of the show, and lucky for Atlantans, it’s here at the Fox Theatre for a week run from Tues. Jan. 31 through Sun. Feb. 5.

Julie Johnson, a singer and actress from Texas, holds the distinct honor of getting to portray one of the more interesting characters in the play – the mother of the main character, Huey. Scared and staunchly against her son’s plans, “Mama” does everything in her power to keep her son away from “black music,” refusing to accept his love of the art. It can’t be a coincidence that she has the same name, Gladys, as the mother of Elvis Presley, Memphis’s most famous rock n roll son.

Julie Johnson.

Julie, unlike her character, fully appreciates and embraces the art of singing and performing. According to the actress, it’s been her destiny since she was a child to perform in front of people. “It’s almost like my DNA was in the shape of a microphone,” she laughs. One glance at the list of Julie’s past productions assures that no one is going to argue that fact. Besides being an accomplished solo artist, Julie has performed in plenty of Broadway productions ranging from SWEENEY TODD to CABARET.

Even to an experienced actress such as herself, one would think that performing in such a widely loved production in front of thousands of people a year would be intimidating. To Julie, this is apparently not the case. She says the fact that the audience already knows and loves the play makes it easier. “It’s like being an ambassador,” she says of bringing the once Broadway-exclusive show to those around the country. “You feel like Bruce Springsteen.”

It goes without saying that one cannot perform in a musical about 1950s rock ‘n’ roll without having some prior knowledge of the genre. It would be like a child trying to run before he learned how to crawl. Julie is no exception. W hen asked about the time period, Julie says that her favorite artist from the ‘50s is one of the most famous blues artists of all time, Mr. B. B. King himself.

Felicia Boswell (Felicia) and the Touring Cast of MEMPHIS. Photo credit: Paul Kolnik.

Huey’s mom may be a very close-minded character, but Julie does not fault her for that. In fact, she understands her fears, having grown up surrounded by similar feelings and thoughts. In the end, despite all of the initial hesitation to accept the change, Julie says that the music is what makes everyone and everything whole, allowing folks to do what seemed impossible – unifying a split time.

Fortunately for the people of Atlanta, Julie says that audiences here will connect with MEMPHIS even more than most, due to the city’s deep roots in black music. She adds that she has not had the opportunity to spend much time here in the great ATL, but when MEMPHIS comes to the Fox this week, Julie hopes to explore the city and see what she’s been missing!

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