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10/7/2010

The Arts

Culture 2 Go
Photo by Wanzie Presents

 

A clever bit of Broadway
[title of show]
Through Oct. 23 at Footlight Theatre
The Parliament House
410 N. Orange Blossom Trail
407-425-7571
www.wanzie.com
$16

Conventional wisdom contends that you can’t make it to Broadway today without a jukebox full of familiar hits, an established Hollywood franchise and a bunch of B-list celebs. But songwriter Jeff Bowen and playwright Hunter Bell defied the norm with [title of show], a scrappy, self-referential musical that made it all the way to 45th Street’s Lyceum Theatre in 2008. Common sense says you can’t stage an autobiographical show about staging an autobiographical show without the authors playing themselves. But that didn’t stop producer/director/choreographer Michael Wanzie, in league with co-director Kenny Howard and a New York-caliber cast, from bringing this entertaining meta-musical to the Footlight Theatre.

As the story unfolds, underemployed friends Jeff (Rob A. Lott) and Hunter (Kevin Kelly) decide to submit a script to the New York Musical Theatre Festival and call upon perpetual understudy Heidi (Melissa Mason) and Susan (Robyn Kelly) to assemble one in three weeks. Unfamiliar with the original cast, I found Orlando’s actors convincing in their roles (save the absurdity of Robyn Kelly’s bad singing). The four banter and bicker as they brave the journey to the Great White Way, with a charming camaraderie that counteracts the script’s self-indulgent streak. 

At its core, [title of show], is an insider’s love letter to Broadway’s best and worst. With name-checks from The Coast of Utopia to Carrie, the show targets anyone still saving their Nick & Nora playbill. Under its precious post-post-modern surface, [title of show] provides lessons about art, creativity and self-promotion in the age of YouTube. The soundtrack – a medley-heavy mélange of pop pastiche and Schoolhouse Rock – might never be as popular as Wicked, but I’m sure Bowen and Bell have achieved their goal of being at least “Nine People’s Favorite Thing” (one of the memorable songs from the show).

Longtime collaborators Wanzie and Howard have the pitch-perfect sensibility for this type of wink-nudge comedy, and their trademark sloppiness has been tamed without losing an improv-esque edge. The set described by Hunter and Bowen as nothing but “four chairs and a keyboard” (masterfully manned here by deadpan musical director John DeHaas) fills the Footlight’s slender stage as well as any I’ve seen, with the exception of some slight opening-night audibility issues. Seeing Wanzie’s version of [title of show] makes me wish I’d seen it in New York, but I can’t imagine it being much more endearing than this production.

— Seth Kubersky

Missing the big picture
Under Vine and Fig Tree
Through Oct. 10
Holocaust Memorial Resource & Education Center of Florida
851 N. Maitland Ave., Maitland
407-628-0555
www.holocaustedu.org
Free

Under Vine and Fig Tree, a new exhibit at the Holocaust Memorial Resource & Education Center, strives to encapsulate more than 500 years of history shared by the Jewish and Turkish cultures. Instead, it sheds a dim light on how Turkey, a Muslim nation, handled freedom of worship with its Jewish community,
especially during World War II. The small assembly of images organized by the Nile Foundation, Orlando’s Turkish cultural center, doesn’t do justice to the complicated history shared by the Jewish and Turkish people. 

The Nile Foundation teamed with the Holocaust center for a 10-day presentation of this collection, on loan from the Istanbul Center of Atlanta. It’s a hodgepodge of 20 or so photos mounted on foam core with brief descriptions posted nearby. There are several contemporary shots of existing synagogues in Turkey as well as the Jewish Museum of Turkey in Istanbul, located at the former site of the Zulfaris Synagogue, said to date back to 1671; it closed in 1985 due to lack of support. 

A few archival images help hold the presentation together, giving it a sense of history. The sketched cover of the June 9, 1877, Illustrated London News shows a Jewish prayer ceremony for the victory of Turkish armies during war against Russia. Also, there’s a photograph of Turkish and Jewish soldiers marching together after an 1893 decree allowing non-Muslims to serve in the military rather than pay a “poll tax,” as had been the previous custom. Most intriguing is a lone collage of headlines dating to the late 1800s taken from Turkish “Ladino” newspapers. Ladino is a Sephardic dialect that fused Old Castilian Spanish and Hebrew, and it kept Turkey’s Sephardic Jews, many of whom traced their roots back to Jews thrown out of Spain in the 15th century for refusing to convert to Christianity, informed about the world. Portraits of two Turkish leaders, Behiç Erkin and Selahattin Ülkümen, tell the story of how some Turks helped save Jewish lives during World War II. 

Noticeably absent in Under Vine and Fig Tree, however, is any mention of Turkey’s own historical controversy: the Armenian Genocide, committed by Ottoman Turkey during and after World War I. Armenians were systematically deported, tortured and executed, though the Turkish government still denies it ever happened – similar to how anti-Semitic Holocaust deniers insist the World War II atrocities committed in Germany never happened. The fact that this issue remains unaddressed in this exhibit detracts from its credibility, however well-intentioned the organizers may have been.

— Lindy T. Shepherd

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