Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Review of "Shrek: The Musical"

Just when you think you can't be surprised, a musical as brilliant and buoyant as "Shrek: The Musical" comes along and thrills and delights.

You think you know the story. I certainly did. But what I wasn't prepared for was how delightful and thoroughly entertaining the story would uplift and illuminate.

Based somewhat on the original "Shrek" movie, the musical gives even more context and begins in the early years of Shrek and Fiona's lives. By the time the story aligns with the movie adventure, you are given so much more insight into their individual and collective journeys.

Eric Peterson (Shrek) and Haven Burton (Princess Fiona) are personable and charming but truly the two actors who steal the show are Al Mingo Jr. (Donkey) and David F.M. Vaughn (Lord Farquaad). They offer depth, humanity and hilarity to their roles that far exceed their movie counterparts.

I had the good fortune to interview Vaughn, aka Lord Farquaad (read my Charlotte Weekly story here) and he said that during the national tour some people said they were initially reluctant to see the show because they thought it would be only the movie come to life. But that after the show people would rush up and let them know that the show was so much more. Now I understand why.

The music is memorable and exciting. The costumes and choregraphy brought the nuance and texture to the roles in a way the 2-D version of the movie couldn't. And the whole package results in an uplifting and exciting evening.

Understandably, the show was packed with kids. This is a terrific gateway musical to introduce young children to the delights of live theater.

See "Shrek: The Musical" running at the Blumenthal until Sunday, Feb. 19. You won't be sorry you did!

Friday, May 13, 2011

Review of Opera Carolina's "HMS Pinafore"

Photo courtesy of Opera Carolina. "HMS Pinafore."

Last night Opera Carolina ended their beautiful season dedicated to love with a delightful rendition of Gilbert and Sullivan's "HMS Pinafore."

The show is a delicious delight and the perfect ending to a season that has been uniformly spectacular.

The story is simply about what happens when the one you love is not the one your parent would choose for you. And with the standard topsy turvy world of a Gilbert and Sullivan ending, all turns out right. BTW, seeing the show last night made me want to see the fabulous movie about Gilbert and Sullivan's partnership, "Topsy Turvy," available now on Netflix's instant viewing.

The whole cast was solid but among the standouts worthy to call out include Deborah Fields, who imbues a lot of sass in her rendition of Little Buttercup; Alicia Berneche's Josephine, the captain's daughter, who brought endearing qualities and sweetness; John Muriello as Captain Corcoron and a true send up and class clown, Gary Briggle playing Sir Joseph Porter. They make going to the opera one enchanting evening.

Before the curtain opened, maestro James Meena, executive director of Opera Carolina, took a moment to share the 2011-2012 season, which includes a mixture of opera classics, such as "Il Travatore" and "Madame Butterfly" and a new opera, the Russian classic "Eugene Onegin." It's going to be an amazing next season too, so get your subscriptions early! Learn more at

The opera may be one of the best places to see such a mix of Charlotte lovers of arts. I loved seeing many friends and colleagues from years past.

Take the time out to enjoy a delightful night of arts that is truly entertaining! "HMS Pinafore" is in town until Sunday, May 15. Tickets and more info at the Opera Carolina website:

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Review: Young Frankenstein

Lovers of old fashioned nights at the theater, you know the ones where you sing and dance your way as you exit the theater and felt like you had a rousing good time, will love “Young Frankenstein” now showing at Charlotte's Blumenthal Performing Arts Center until Sunday.

The show’s lead Christopher Ryan (playing Dr. Frankenstein himself) is energetic and delightful charming the audiences on a two-hour fun fest that has all the delight of the classic Mel Brooks movie and more. Ryan offers a deft comedic touch and dancing chops that put Fred Astaire to shame. (To read my interview with Ryan, visit:

When Brooks hit comedy gold by transforming his 1968 sleeper movie, “The Producers” to a Broadway musical at the encouragement of his wife actress Anne Bancroft, he turned around and took the same creative team and they looked to doing the same with “Young Frankenstein.” When the show hit Broadway in 2007, critics’ enthusiasm was a bit muffled but truly the comparisons of the two are unfair.

“Frankenstein” is unique to itself. The audience is so enthusiastic about the material they mouth the lines even before the actors have a chance to. The result is that it’s more of a communal theatrical experience much more akin to “Rocky Horror Picture” but with so much more fun.

The musical numbers you loved in the movie, like “Puttin on the Ritz” is so much more when the real audience gets to play a part. And numbers like “Join the Family Business” take on a life of its own with a reimagined dream sequence that takes the original material to new heights.

Joining Ryan are Cory English (Igor) and Johanna Glushak (as Frau Blucher) who are truly spectacular. Musical numbers “Translyvania Mania” and the “He Vas My Boyfriend” are worth seeing the show for alone.

Whether you are a fan of the classic movie or newbie, go see “Frankenstein” and have a delightful evening. It’s old-fashioned entertainment in the very best way imaginable!

Tickets for “Young Frankenstein” can be purchased at or by calling 704-372-1000.

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Book Review: Butterfly's Child by Anne Davis-Gardner

Editor's Note: You are most welcome to submit book reviews by e-mailing them directly to me at alison at

Review of Butterfly’s Child by Angela Davis-Gardner
By Vera Woo

"Butterfly’s Child" is a unique and beautiful story and the imagined sequel to Puccini’s beloved opera, “Madam Butterfly.” Written by Angela Davis Gardener, who spent time when she was a professor emeritus in Japan, “Child” is a captivating novel of love, guilt, sin, sorrow and finally joy.

Set in the early 1800’s when America did small trade with Japan, the novel’s fascinating the transcultural theme sets the perfect back drop and yet remains particularly relevant today.

The story begins where “Madam Butterfly” ends. Expansively imagined, carefully researched and beautifully told, Davis-Gardner has written this book for anyone who longed to know what came next after the famous unhappy ending of the famed opera.

With a narrative that sweeps from the farmlands of Illinois to the Japanese settlement of
San Francisco to Butterfly’s homeland in Nagasaki, Japan, the story starts with Butterfly (Cio- Cio) being introduced by Sharpless, an American seaman, to Colonel Pinkerton in Nagasaki, Japan. They enjoyed each other’s company and Cio- Cio ends up conceiving a child from the union.

Colonel Pinkerton is recalled to duty in America but promises that he will return to Japan. He does return two years later, but with an American wife.

Cio- Cio is so distraught over this; she fakes suicide with a sword – the same one her father used to commit suicide. Prior to committing suicide, she butchers the family cat and lies on the cat. Her lover and his wife come in and see her in a pool of blood and take her son away with them home to Illinois to live with his mother. Though they introduce the boy, Benji, as an orphan his arrival raises eyebrows with his looks. Benji sports blond hair and a big nose similar to Pinkerton.

Kate, Pinkerton’s wife, is a good woman. She treats the boy well and even teaches him English. In the meantime she tries to get pregnant but miscarries each time. She joins a literary group to keep busy. She gets invited to a “Suffragettes” meeting but because of her illness declines.

When Benji finds a photograph in his kimono with inscription on it, he takes it to one of the Suffragettes to read it, since she is a woman of the world. The woman looked at it but said nothing to Benji. Instead she gossiped with her host that Pinkerton was in the photo. Soon, the news spread like wild fire in the village.

Benji heard of this and decided to run away, before his father heard the news.
He saddles his horse and leaves home that night. He rides as fast as he could towards the West Coast with a goal to reach San Francisco. His idea is to make his way to Japan to seek his mother’s relatives.

On his way he makes friends with a Japanese business man who does Import/Export. This man gets him a Birth Certificate and a Passport so he can boards a ship to Nagasaki.
When he arrives in Japan he sets out to find his mother’s relatives. But along the painful search in the Geisha district, he meets a woman who knew of his mother’s tale.

To say any more would deprive you of the joy of reading how the skilled author resolves the plot but needless to say, this is a very fulfilling read. Fans of Puccini’s opera will also find some fascinating clues as to how the true story of “Butterfly” came to international acclaim.

Davis-Gardner explores and researched this book with great tenderness. It is beautifully written and deeply moving. Once you enter Benji’s world and begin his journey, there’s no turning back. I read this book in 48 hours and did not stop until I finished the book.
I enjoyed the book and loved every bit of the author’s style. Now I am looking forward to reading more her previous book, "Plum Wine."

"Butterfly's Child" is available at booksellers everywhere.

Turning a new page...

Hello all!

Where has the time gone? It feels like just yesterday that we met to discuss the fabulous "Juliet" book by Anne Fortier.

While we retool before our next book club selection (more news on that soon!) I'm going to be updating the blog with the latest and greatest books for your reading pleasure.

Please sign up on the blog so you can receive these updates directly in your inbox.

What are you reading now? Send me your news or comment here on the blog.


Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Review: In the Heights, Charlotte

If you're looking for a fabulous experience where your heart soars, you wipe tears away from your eyes and you struggle to stay in your seat because the beat of the music wants to make you salsa your way down the aisles, run, don't walk to see "In the Heights" playing at the Blumenthal Performing Arts Center until Feb. 20.

This show has been described as a modern day "West Side Story" but it's so much more. Born as the brainchild of creator Lin Manuel Miranda, this 2008 Tony-award winner for Best Musical is the inspired tapestry of stories from residents living in NYC's Washington Heights. Fear not, the New York-inspired stories translates well; much like Seinfeld's humor became universal. It works because it tugs at the heartstrings and carries the universal stories no matter who you are or where you're from.

The entire company is inspired. But absolute standouts include Joseph Morales ("Usnavi,") Genny Lis Padilla ("Nina") and Danny Bolero ("Kevin.") The ensemble carry the same type of intensity and energy that made this show such a hit on the Broadway stage. Know that this is a modern show, one that honors the best of Broadway musicals of great storytelling, beautiful sets and magical lighting but brings something entirely fresh and modern that we haven't seen in a contemporary setting before.

Miranda's lyrics blend the best of hip-hop, rap, and a pop beat mixed with salsa, meringue and bossa nova beats. All set within the American Dream. That's a pretty high bar and "Heights" surpasses it in every song.

This is a show that will be enjoyed by anyone who ever had a dream and put it all on the line to make it happen. It's one of the most entertaining and inspired theatrical experiences I've had in awhile. 2011 is shaping up to be a fabulous season for the arts in Charlotte. See "Heights" and know your heart will soar the heights, too!

Alison Woo
Arts & Entertainment Reporter, Carolina Weekly Newsgroup

To read my interview with "Heights" actress Genny Lis Padilla, click here.

Friday, February 04, 2011

Review: Opera Carolina's La Traviata

Opera Carolina's sensational production of "La Traviata" debuted to delighted Charlotte audiences providing a spectacular no one will soon forget. Giuseppe Verdi's beloved opera tells the story of true love found, noble sacrifices and love triumphant.

The story is a classic: Violetta is a courtesan in Paris in the 1850s when Alfredo professes his unabashed love for her. As someone who uses love as currency, she never believed that true love could happen to her. But she allows life grand experience to happen to her, her entire life changes. She begins to heal from the consumption she battles and they move to the country. Three bliss-filled months later, Alfredo's father asks her to give up their love to save their family from scorn. She does with much difficulty, returns to her life as a courtesan in Paris and tries to convince Alfredo that she no longer loves him. After a duel with her patron, Alfredo's father tells him of her sacrifice. He rushes to her side and they reunite but her illness takes her life shortly thereafter.

Leads Jennifer Black (Violetta Valéry) and Jonathan Boyd (Alfredo Germont) bring the lovers to life with full splendor. Ms. Black, a recent graduate of the Metropolitan Opera prestigious training program (think American Idol for opera singers) is spectacular and will be the next great opera star. See her in this production now so you can say you knew her when.

The production was brought to life under the guidance of guest conductor Joel Revzon, house conductor for the Met. The entire set glitters with spectacular costumes, evocative lighting and a score that has you humming out the door.

If you're looking for one artistic experience this season to lift your spirits and send your soul soaring, see "La Traviata" before the run ends. This show reminds us why classics deserve to live on for so long and Opera Carolina's production of the show is truly world class.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Steve Harvey Rocks the House!

Photo Credit: By Adriana Medina
Steve Harvey feels his mission is to empower women. During his visit to a packed Barnes & Noble at the Arboreteum this weekend, he shared his story. Six years ago his life changed and he's now doing something for women. He believes that "failure is a wonderful teacher." He feels he hasn't always gotten it right, so the books are about him and sometimes his friends and trying to get it right.
Question for Harvey: "Due to the advent of social media sites such as Facebook and, many people are reconnecting with former loves. From a male perspective, if a guy finds and reconnects with a former love, what's he thinking, what does that mean to him?"
His respond was that this is exactly what happened to him. His wife was a woman he had dated 20 years earlier. He thinks that the reconnection is "God telling you, 'let me show it to you again. Please, listen to me this time.'" I asked him if he thought it was any different if a woman reconnected with the man, and he responded, "No. Love is love." As he answered other questions, he mentioned his belief about men, specifically, that "real men need to take care of business." And that "if [a man] promises something to a woman, he needs to keep that promise."
He also expressed his belief about women. He said, "women, you are so powerful. A man cannot hold your hand without your permission. He cannot hug you without your permission. He cannot kiss you without your permission. He cannot lay with you without your permission. Women, you are so powerful. Stop giving up your power."
By Adriana Medina, CW Book Club member