Arts and Entertainment

The ‘King’ rules the Broadway stage

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Jose Llana (right) plays the “King of Siam” alongside Heather Botts (left) in her role as “Anna Leonowens” in the nationally touring production of “The King and I,” which makes a stop at San Antonio’s Empire Theatre from October 17-22. (Photo/ Courtesy)

It says something when a Broadway show still has productions after 66 years. It says even more when, after all its iterations, it still resonates enough for a national tour.

In the latest installment of Broadway in San Antonio at the Majestic Theatre, “The King and I” starts a run from October 17-22. It does not take long to see why it is readily considered a classic and part of musical theatre canon. For the packed house of The Majestic, the anticipation was palpable and once the iconic boat pulled into the Bangkok harbor, they were hooked.

The story follows “Anna Leonowens” (Heather Botts), a widow and school teacher hired by the “King of Siam” (Jose Llana) to educate the children of the royal court with a progressive and Western education. In the process, her and her son, “Louis” (Rhyees Stump) confront the trappings of palace life and the cultural norms that run counter Anna’s English sensibilities.

Along the way, they meet an interesting cast of characters including a concubine, “Tuptim” (Q Lim) sent by the Kingdom of Burma to the king, “Lady Thiang” (Joan Almendilla) the head mistress of the palace, “Prince Chulalongkorn” (Anthony Chan) the heir to the throne and “Lun Tha” (Kavin Panmeechao) the forlorn true love of “Tuptim” who is forbidden from ever being with her.

Amid a large cast, including a fair amount of children in the royal court, Botts finds her place as the voice of compassion and reason. That perfect foil for the stubborn and brash role played expertly by Llana added tension and even touching moments between the pair.

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“Anna” arrives in Bangkok harbor to start her tenure as the private teacher to the royal court in “The King and I” playing at the Majestic Theatre in San Antonio. (Photo/ Courtesy)

“The King and I” joins the list of stage productions that has gotten the Hollywood treatment as of late. The screen adaptation in the 1999 Jodie Foster film “Anna and the King” increased the scope of the story as movies often do. But the charm of the stage is still well intact and this national tour is proof.

Llana approaches the commonly stern role of the king with great comedic timing and tenderness. As his character evolves, we appreciate the stress of being a political leader and father in a rapidly changing world. With every quarrel between his latest hire and himself, more is chipped away at the rough exterior exposing a man simply trying to do his best for his people.

Botts is delightful as “Anna” and effortlessly transitions between a formidable woman and gentle teacher. The internal struggle to leave the real and psychological confines of Siam or stay to teach a new way of life is real and impressive.

Just as stunning is the show within the show reminiscent of “The Mousetrap” in Hamlet. As the royal court puts on a staging of Uncle Tom’s Cabin for English dignitaries, not only is it the most poignant part of the overall show, but is performed exquisitely. The parallels between Tuptim’s personal struggle to return home and the play which she narrates is heart wrenching.

For fans of the Rodgers and Hammerstein, the brilliance in their musical arrangement is no surprise. But we forget just how moving songs like “Hello, Young Lovers,” “Getting to Know you,” “I have Dreamed,” and “I Whistle a Happy Tune” really were.

All that paired with the creative team of director Bartlett Sher, features sets by Michael Yeargan, costumes by Catherine Zuber, lighting by Donald Holder, sound by Scott Lehrer and choreography by Christopher Gattelli and you still have a must see show.

For ticket information, visit the official site of the national tour for a stop near you.

 

 

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‘The Bodyguard’ a tout emotional ride

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Deborah Cox (left) plays the tempestuous diva and songstress “Rachel Marron” as Judson Mills (right) plays her private protection in “Frank Farmer” in the Broadway adaptation of “The Bodyguard.” (Photo/ Courtesy)

Screen to stage adaptations do not usually work. Yet the operative word is usually.

When “The Bodyguard,” the 1992 Warner Bros. film starring Whitney Houston and Kevin Costner, was developed into a musical, one had reason to be skeptical about the final product. After garnering a number of awards in its initial year for best stage production, rest assured it did not disappoint.

Its recent stop in San Antonio’s Majestic Theatre from Sept. 19-24, much like Houston’s legendary voice, was triumphant.

The story follows “Rachel Marron” (Deborah Cox), a spoiled and successful singer and starlet, as she must hire a security detail led by “Frank Farmer” (Judson Mills). Along with tantrums and public appearances, Farmer must also track down an obsessed and dangerous stalker (Sean Rozanski) before it is too late.

Marron’s son, “Fletcher” (Kevelin B. Jones III), and her sister “Nicki” (Jasmin Richardson) are mere pawns in this dangerous game as the tumultuous relationship between the Marron and Farmer gives way to romance at their peril.

For fans of the film, Houston’s iconic voice was a much a character than any actor on screen. Songs like “Greatest Love of All,” “How Will I Know,” “I’m Every Woman,” “I Have Nothing,” “I Wanna Dance With Somebody,” “I Will Always Love You,” and “Saving All My Love” are part of the great American songbook.

This adaptation does them all justice with Cox at the helm of the production. What makes them so indelible is the passion in which they were originally performed and Cox does more than hold her own in her turn on stage.

Intrinsic to the plot is the chemistry between Cox and Mills. Not only does the pair have moments of much-needed levity, but also genuine romance. Much of the challenge in adapting a film to the stage is the logistics making the action compact enough for a theatre.

Consider “The Bodyguard” a tutorial in how to shrink a feature film script, with all its scope and peccadilloes, into a lean and dynamic show. Credit goes to award-winning director Thea Sharrock (Sunshine Boys, Equus, The Misanthrope) and her entire team.

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Deborah Cox performs the iconic song “Queen of the Night” during the stage adaptation of “The Bodyguard.” (Photo/Courtesy)

While much of the acclaim will go to Cox, Jasmin Richardson must be in the conversation for one of the strongest voices in the entire show. Not only does she compliment Cox in the handful of duets they share, but it is also like Houston herself is singing if you close your eyes.

Jones, in his role as her son, is pure energy and joy. Whether dancing along with the ensemble cast or on lead vocals with his impressive voice, such a casting choice was nothing short of inspired.

“The Bodyguard” takes a page from “Jersey Boys” in that it makes the audience a character in the show as they become one of the thousands clamoring for Rachel Marron to hit the stage. It is a clever detail in the transition from the silver screen to the stage and one that only serves to underscore that Cox could be an actual pop star if she so wished.

Matthew Schmidt, Charles Gray, Alex Corrado, Jonathon Hadley and Stefan Raulston all round out the cast on the U.S. tour with 19 stops left.

Tickets are available at the official tour site with five more performances left in the Alamo City.

 

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‘Matilda’ a charming, heartfelt romp

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Jenna Weir is just one of three performers in the titular role of “Matilda” on their tour of the musical of the Roald Dahl classic. (Photo/ Courtesy)

In the literary canon of renowned British author Roald Dahl is perhaps one of the most dynamic heroines ever imagined–and she is only a child.

Thanks to the creative team of Dennis Kelly, Tim Minchim, Matthew Warchus and Peter Darling, “Matilda” takes to the stage in an award-winning musical. After adapting the original book, the whimsy and darkly comedic tones stayed intact as they wowed the audience of San Antonio’s Majestic Theatre.

The story follows Matilda Wormwood (Jenna Weir) as her less-than-capable parents (Matt Harrington and Darcy Stewart) and rather dim brother Michael (Darren Burkett) constantly chide the precocious child for her intellectuals ways. After seemingly finding solace with the help of librarian Mrs. Phelps (Keisha T. Fraser), she crosses paths with Miss Honey (Jennifer Bowles) who is also her teacher on her first day of school.

It is not long before the drudgery of the Dickensian school life is imposed by Miss Trunchbull (Dan Chameroy), the punitive-minded headmistress also intent on crushing Matilda’s bookworm bravado. But that sparks a touching and inspiring relationship with Miss Honey only to reveal a dark secret that slowly unravels with the help of one of the girl’s enthralling tales.

As part of the Broadway in San Antonio season, “Matilda” is a whimsical change of pace in a list of performances by shows like “Cabaret” “Jersey Boys” and “Rent” just to name few. Not long into the opening number of “Miracle” by the whole company, you see why it garnered 50 international awards including  a Tony Award.

That is all the more impressive considering its first official opening night was April 2013. Now with its first tour stopping across the country, the exuberance that keeps it a taut production is dotted with understated and poignant numbers like “Pathetic,” “This Little Girl,” “Quiet” and “My House.”

In truth, this is more than just a children’s show; it is commentary about how quickly potential can be snubbed out by fear, doubt and an almost tyrannical adherence to rules and order. Weir, despite her age, expertly plays a character aptly aware that her background will not define her. That is in sharp contrast to the role Bowles brings to life as someone who simply accepts limitations.

In the usual Dahl way, the hero always win and the villains always lose. But it how they do that that makes it endearing and enjoyable. This production is no different. The comedic notes are left to Fraser as an adult wrapped in attention to every word of the tot’s story–not unlike all of us in the audience.

While Weir is the much-deserved focal point of the show, Chameroy meanders between moments of sadistic discipline and expert comedic timing. That is no easy task considering that the role is such a caricature from the start.

Yet perhaps the most impressive performance was Bowles herself. It was more than a one-dimensional homely school teacher. It was woman so thoroughly wounded, she failed to see herself with even the confidence of her best student. But it is considerably harder to transform into someone who sees a light at the end of a very frumpy tunnel.

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Jennifer Bowles (left) in the role of “Miss Honey” is joined by Gabby Gutierrez as “Matilda” in a previous stop in the tour. (Photo/ Courtesy)

Whoever said never work with children or animals never ran lines with the young cast of “Matilda.” Calling these kids talented is tantamount to simply saying an elite sports car is fast or a gourmet meal just tasty. What these young performers do on a schedule of a tour is nothing short of spectacular. Talent can get you through one song. But stage presence, meticulous attention to your craft, company chemistry and practice get you through fervent and adept choreography while singing an entire list of songs.

Soren Miller, Gabby Beredo, Jacob Anderson, Isabella Stuebing, Jim Kaplan, Molly Richardson, Talia Cosetino and Gregory Diaz IV  are more than worth the price of admission.

You can bet when someone calls “Matilda” a children’s musical, they have never sat in a theatre surrounded by people of all ages engrossed in every word that comes from the child playing the lead on stage.

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French moderns grace McNay

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Rising Tide at Pourville by Claude Monet from the Brooklyn Museum graces the walls of the McNay at “Monet to Matisse: A Century of French Moderns.” (Photo/Courtesy)

“Monet to Matisse: A Century of French Moderns” showcases sixty-five works of art from the Brooklyn Museum’s renowned European collection.

This selection privileges France as the artistic center of international Modernism from the mid-nineteenth to mid-twentieth centuries. Ranging widely in scale, subject matter, and style, these paintings, drawings, and sculptures were intended for public display and for private collections, and were produced by the era’s leading artists.

“Where Brooklyn leaves off in 1929 in aggressively shopping for French paintings and sculpture, Mrs. McNay, our founder, picks up. It is a show about history, taste and collecting. We are on very good standing here in San Antonio,” said Richard Aste, director of the McNay Art Museum.

Those born in France as well as those who studied and showed there, including: Pierre Bonnard, Gustave Caillebotte, Paul Cézanne, Marc Chagall, Camille Corot, Gustave Courbet, Edgar Degas, Jean-Léon Gérôme, Fernand Léger, Édouard Manet, Henri Matisse, Jean-François Millet, Claude Monet, Berthe Morisot, Gabriele Münter, Odilon Redon, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Auguste Rodin, Yves Tanguy, and Édouard Vuillard.

The works in the exhibition exemplify the avant-garde movements that defined modern art in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, tracing a shift from capturing the visual to evoking the idea, from an emphasis on naturalism to the rise of abstraction.

“We took the walls down on this gallery to give people a sweeping view. [This exhibit] shows how pluralistic Paris was from 1850 onward. This was a global moment and the faces in the works were a reflection of that,” continued Aste.

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The Village of Gardanne by Paul Cézanne from the Brooklyn Museum also joins the collection at the McNay Museum of Art. (Photo/Courtesy)

The exhibition explores the themes of portraiture, landscape, and still life, providing an opportunity for a multi-dimensional and flexible installation. “Monet to Matisse: A Century of French Moderns” is accompanied by an illustrated catalogue, co-authored by Rich Aste and Lisa Small, the exhibition’s organizers from the Brooklyn Museum.

The catalogue includes an introductory essay with a general overview of the exhibition and relevant social and artistic histories, brief thematic essays, and short interpretive entries on individual works of art. This exhibition is organized by the Brooklyn Museum.

“1929 was before the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA), so if you wanted [the modern] it was at the Brooklyn Museum of Art. They believed that living artists were best served in Brooklyn,” Aste concluded.

The Elizabeth Huth Coates Charitable Foundation and The Brown Foundation, Inc provided the lead funding at the McNay. The Marcia and Otto Koehler Foundation, the Nathalie and Gladys Dalkowitz Charitable Trust, Frost Bank, the Joan and Herb Kelleher Charitable Foundation, the G.A.C. Halff Foundation, the Director’s Circle, and the Host Committee provide additional support.

The exhibit runs until June 4 at the McNay Museum of Art.

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Carole King bio a ‘Beautiful’ tapestry

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James Clow as “Don Kirshner” (far left), Liam Tobin as “Gerry Goffin” (second from left), Julia Knitel “Carole King” (center), Ben Fankhauser “Barry Mann” (second from right) and Erika Olson as “Cynthia Weil” far right took to the Majestic Theatre stage for “Beautiful: The Carol King Musical” on its national tour. (Photo/ Joan Marcus)

Immortalizing the life of seminal talent, the likes of Carole King on stage often leads audiences to think they know the full journey from humble beginnings to stardom.

“Beautiful: The Carole King Musical,” tells the story of the New York-born songstress as she started her music career with help of record executive “Don Kirshner” (James Clow), at the urging of her mother “Genie” (Suzanne Grodner), with the sale of her first song “It Might as Well Rain Until September.” “Carole” (Julia Knitel) soon finds her husband and collaborative partner “Gerry Goffin” (Liam Tobin).

Amid their rise to fame as prolific songwriters, fellow songwriters “Barry Mann” (Ben Fankhauser) and “Cynthia Weil” (Erika Olson) join the pair as lifelong friends in the pursuit of the ever-elusive number one hit. Along the way comes some of the most influential musical groups to lend their voice to the foursome’s creations.

They include: The Drifters, The Shirelles, Janelle Woods, Little Eva and The Righteous Brothers among others.

While productions like these can quickly devolve into a disjointed concert with vignettes in between hit songs, “Beautiful” strikes an emotional chord with its audience. Knitel expertly plays a young Carole with all the wide-eyed naivete  at the beginning of her career only to transition to the contemplative and soulful singer by the final scene.

The creative malaise and agony of constantly creating from scratch is underscored perfectly in Tobin’s portrayal of Goffin. As their marriage falls victim to the stresses of a music career, it is poignant to see King hold on to a love she know had passed her by. But for all the drama, the comedic expertise comes by way of Fankhauser and Olson who are more than mere sidekicks. They represented the pressure to continually seek the latest sound and encapsulate it in a concise three minutes.

Fankhauser not only displays a talent for breaking the tension, but also for expounding on the life of those in King and Goffin’s shadow. The patter of the dialogue is so sharp thanks to the words of Douglas McGrath, who wrote the source material for the show. Just like many other bio-musicals, we understand where the music comes from in a way that is not usually seen just by listening to records.

It seems an appreciation for the creative writing and recording process comes when the logistics and emotional cost comes to the forefront as in “(You make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman,” later performed by Aretha Franklin.

“Beautiful” is the perfect balance of biography and musical retrospective in a way other productions hope it could be done. It stands as a fitting legacy to one of the most naturally talented singer-songwriters of her generation and a testament to the heights of Broadway shows themselves.

The tour continues with a stops in Texas and across the southern United States with tickets still available.

 

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‘Rent’ pays exuberance forward

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Danny Harris Kornfeld stars as “Mark Cohen” (Left) and Kaleb Wells stars as “Roger Davis”(right) in the 20th Anniversary Tour of “Rent” as it arrived at the Majestic Theatre in San Antonio. (Photo/Carol Rosegg)

There are few musicals as poignant, pertinent  and beloved as “Rent” and the audience that packed the Majestic Theatre on opening night found out why.

The 20th Anniversary Tour rolled through the Alamo City and told the tale of “Mark” (Danny Harris Kornfeld) and “Roger” (Kaleb Wells). The two deal with life amid an AIDS epidemic, love lost and found and growing up or burning out.

Along the for the ride is “Benny” (Christian Thompson) who owns the building where the two  are squatting. “Maureen” (Katie Lamark) and “Joanne” (Jasmine Easler) are contending with their off-and-on relationship. “Collins” (Aaron Harrington) and “Angel” (David Merino) find love, but are are dealing with the ravages of disease and “Mimi” (Skyler Volpe) is just looking for the next high.

“This show is still relevant now,” said Easler, who is celebrating her first national tour. “Our audience is filled with people who have seen the show [numerous] times and those who have never seen it. They are both just as moved because we still have work to do with many of the issues it discusses.”

1996 saw the first production hit Broadway under the watchful eye of Pulitzer Prize winner Jonathan Larson. It was not long after this re-imagining of Puccini’s “La Bohème” that its energy and hopeful message was infectious.That was the case opening night as the first notes of “Tune Up” were the perfect primer of a story that preaches love is only true measure of life and the creative pursuits are their own reward.

Kornfeld did a masterful job of keeping the taut story on track as the concise and compelling show progressed. Not only did his voice hold its own in stirring duets with Wells, but he also provided levity in the midst of the reality of life at the poverty line in New York.

“Because of the nature of the show and its anniversary, there were so many things that set the tone of what were doing. This show is bigger than just one person in the cast, this is about so much history running through its veins,” continued Easler.

Other notable performances included Lamark and Volpe in the roles of two of the strongest female character in the Broadway canon. Volpe, like many of her cast mates, celebrate their first national tour with Merino making his professional debut in the production. The trio shined as the perfect foil of youthful abandon, hopeless optimism and the eventual clash with reality.

“Growing up, I saw these characters as confident adults,” concluded Easler.”But during the rehearsal process, we saw they were on their first steps away from home. The parts where we hear their parents checking up on them is so important because of that and it’s actually one of my favorite parts of the show.”

“Rent” exemplifies why Broadway shows exist. In the lives of the seven artists chronicled, the various disciplines shine a light on the creative process and the eventual catharsis that follows. The final product is a genuine moment with the audience through their triumphs and trials.

Director Evan Ensign has brought his substantial experience to a show celebrating it twentieth anniversary. It has reached this milestone for a simple reason–as long as there is someone willing to spotlight the human experience, there will always be a captive audience.

“Rent” continues its tour across the country after three shows in San Antonio.

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SA stirs up cocktail class

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Opening night of the 2017 San Antonio Cocktail Conference meant drinks under the stars in Plaza Juarez. (Photo/ Kristian Jaime)

Founded in 2012, the San Antonio Cocktail Conference (SACC) was the start of something equally delicious and altruistic.

The week of events was more than a reason to hold  festivities in the Alamo City’s pristine and historic locations. It also serves as a fundraiser for Houston Street Charities, thus making it parties with a purpose.

Named “one of the top three cocktail festivals in the country” by Fodor’s, San Antonio Cocktail Conference ranks among the nation’s most dynamic gatherings for cocktail enthusiasts and professional mixologists

Over the course of five days, guests enjoy exclusive access to lectures and demonstrations with the industry’s top talent, as well as an impressive range of beverage tastings, paired dinners and cocktail-centric nightlife.

Founded by Bohanan’s Prime Steaks and Seafood, the conference was designed to serve the larger San Antonio community through the leadership of non-profit Houston Street Charities. Each year, the programming and charitable giving generated by SACC have grown considerably, thanks in no small part to the vision and expertise of the Bohanan’s team, and in particular, executive chef Mark Bohanan and co-founding cocktail consultant, the late Sasha Petraske.

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Patrons of this year’s cocktail conference found no shortage of whimsical party details to commemorate the annual event. (Photo/ Kristian Jaime)

Opened by Chef Mark Bohanan in 2002, Bohanan’s has received critical acclaim for its flavorful cuts and civilized old-world ambiance. Over the years, this “classic steakhouse done right” (Zagat) has become synonymous with service, passion and Texas pride. A native Texan with more than 30 years of industry experience, chef Mark Bohanan is a co- founder of the San Antonio Cocktail Conference and one of the most respected leaders in the city’s food scene.

Both the Bohanan’s bar program and SACC have also benefitted from the passion and expertise of mixologist and Cocktail Conference cofounder Sasha Petraske, best known for his exceptional cocktails at Milk & Honey in New York City.

When the opportunity arose to give back to the community while further developing San Antonio’s cocktail scene, Bohanan and Petraske jumped in with both feet. Building on the city’s flair for public celebrations, food and drink, the dedication and leadership of the entire Bohanan’s team has helped make SACC one of the most impressive and educational cocktail gatherings in the country.

The nonprofit oversees the charitable endeavors of both the San Antonio Cocktail Conference and Bohanan’s Prime Steaks and Seafood. Over the past five years, the organization has donated over $400,000 to local children’s charities.

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‘The Illusionists’ is pure magic

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Kevin James, the inventor, makes it snow during the performance of “The Illusionists” at the Majestic Theatre running till January 15. (Photo/Joan Marcus)

Magicians get a bad rap. What most think of as little more than entertainment relegated to children’s parties has become so much more.

The usual fodder of rabbits out of hats and picking any card has given way to the arts of deduction, disembodiment and feats of survival and escape. Thus earning them the moniker of “illusionists.”

After so many accolades for the new faces of magic, Broadway itself came calling and the hit “The Illusionists,” was born and now touring across the country. With 51 stops left, the mix of comedy, whimsy, the macabre is enticing audiences everywhere.

The cast includes: Andrew Basso, the escapologists; Colin Cloud, the deductionist; Jeff Hobson, the trickster; Kevin James, the inventor; An Ha Lim, the manilupator; Dan Sperry, the anti-conjuror and Jonathan Goodwin, the daredevil. With San Antonio a stop for the most sought-after productions, the Alamo City was as enthralled from the first slide of hand to the pièce de résistance, a chained escape from a chamber of water a la Harry Houdini.

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An Ha Lim, the manipulator mesmerizes audiences with little more than a deck of cards in the touring show, “The Illusionists.” (Photo/ Joan Marcus)

As Broadway hits go, this is a new take on a traditional ensemble cast as each of the talented illusionists have found success individually. While the likes of David Blaine or Criss Angel may be the most publicized talents in recent memory, the cast behind “The Illusionists” are becoming a household name with every show.

Calling them magic tricks seem to sell them short.But the feeling the audience gets with a simple slide of hand allows us to suspend our disbelief. The beauty of magic is that we can hardly outgrow the childlike wonder. Despite an auditorium full of patrons who knew there was a simple explanation, it was the perfect escape from a world that keeps our feet on the ground.

“The Illusionists” is an experience to enjoy before it vanishes.

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The ‘Boys’ are back Jersey style

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Jersey Boys  (left to write) Nicholas Dromard, Keith Hines, Hayden Milanes and Drew Seeley tell the riveting story of Frankie Valli and Four Seasons and their rise to fame. (Photo/ Jeremy Daniel)

A stroll down memory lane has never been more entertaining than with the crooners from “Jersey Boys.”

The recent performance of the Broadway hit at the Majestic Theatre in San Antonio, Texas was a reminder that the rise to fame was hardly without turmoil. Furthermore, the evolution from four guys singing by the glow of the streetlight to the legendary group now in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame came with many iterations.

“Frankie Valli” (Miguel Jarquin-Moreland) is just one of The Four Seasons that includes “Tommy De Vito” (Matthew Dailey), “Nick Massi” (Keith Hines) and “Bob Gaudio” (Cory Jeacoma). Under the tutelage of producer “Bob Crewe” (Barry Anderson), these street punks with golden voices are turned into an iconic quartet responsible for a number of entries in the great American song book.

Along the way, there is love, loss and more than their fair share of shady deals and consequences with the New Jersey underworld.

“Jersey Boys” is a cautionary tale of fame and fortune that many have already heard. The point where humility gives way to success and eventually excess is the making of any true Hollywood story. But the crisp and exceptional songwriting provided by Gaudio and Valli’s expansive vocal range was a match made in recording heaven.

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(Left to right) Steve Gouveia, Joseph Leo Bwarie, Quinn Van Antwerp and Matt Bailey take the stage on the tour of “Jersey Boys.” (Photo/Joan Marcus)

The performance turned in by Moreland is charmingly innocent at times and poignantly heart-wrenching at others. Playing someone who is not only living, but also still touring has its challenges. Yet with 17 stops left in the nationwide tour, Moreland and company bring you behind the glamour of the music industry in an entertaining and impressive way.

Dailey as the main narrator of the story delivers with all the swagger and grit of a native son of the Garden State. He not only serves up the comedic foil for the drama of fame, but also the final straw that led the group to go their separate ways.

Hines as the bassist is more than a background singer. He is the silent observer who finally has his say after much of the story unfolds. Though he also leaves the group, his performance is replete with comedic timing.

Last but far from least is  Jeacoma in a role that is one of the best supporting roles in any Broadway production. It stands as one of the most endearing elements in “Jersey Boys”largely because it was a real partnership even with the real Gaudio speaking at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction for the group.

Anderson as the voice of industry experience amid a journey spiraling out of control is  heartfelt and ambitious. The inevitable clash between the decorum of stardom and the bad habits from the old neighborhood is as integral to the story as the music itself.

Ultimately, “Jersey Boys” is the prime example of reality as the best source material for the stage. Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons is testament that there is much more to music than talent and a dream. With the final notes of the performance, we feel that we have come full circle along with the cast itself.

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Sound on Sound serves up ye old revelry

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Run the Jewels drew many to the Dragon’s Lair main stage at the inaugural Sound on Sound Music Festival in Sherwood Forest outside of Austin. (Photo/Kristian Jaime)

While Texas music festivals are becoming more ubiquitous, the inaugural Sound on Sound Fest (SOS) was one not to be missed

SOS took place last weekend in Sherwood Forest, 35 miles east of downtown Austin. In their opening year, the festival offered three days (Nov. 4-6) of high-profile musical performances, film screenings, wrestling, comedic performances and anything to satiate music and renaissance enthusiast of all types.

SOS did not fail to give you a nature filled experience with the option of camping and capturing the stars at night. Once inside, a hidden forest with castles, festival goers in full costume and joust was a full attraction on its own.

Resources like these at the festival allowed people to enjoy them rather than fight to get to the front of the stage. Unlike other popular festivals, this one was for those seeking a little something more who enjoyed what SOS offered rather than being on their phones waiting for the next act to start.

With fun activities surrounding the forest, there were also enough vendors in which to indulge, including Dark Horse wine. Winemaker Beth Liston paired fruity Sauvignon Blanc with grilled cheese, smoky Chardonnay with Indian food from India Gourmet and the robust Merlot with a brisket sandwich from Micklethwait Craft Meats.

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Some of the festival delights were also Texas favorites such as smoked brisket with chips and homemade pickles by local restaurants. (Photo/Kristian Jaime)

The wine tasting proved that Liston was well prepared to make her wine pair well with certain foods. There may have been competition up her sleeve with other vendors, but she played it to blend her wine with a beverage that paired well with any food at SOS.

Food and activities made the experience convenient and organized, but it was the big acts that amplified the music festival experience. The festival cheered on headliner Phantogram, who performed new songs from their album “Three,” on the first day. Acclaimed hip hop super group Run the Jewels, Thee Oh Sees, Hinds and Empress Of also kept the crowd going on the dark, beautiful first night.

On Saturday, we could not forget the wedding of Ryan and Catherine at the globe stage that added a fairy tale ending for both husband and wife. After this incredible show, the majority of the crowd staged at the Dragon’s Lair Stage to watch indie-band Wild Nothing, The Dead Milkmen and Deerhunter and Big Boi. Beach House and Purity Ring closed the night with flashing lights on stage, keeping the crowd awake to enjoy daylight savings time.

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The experience was going smoothly on Sunday morning watching early acts like Sailor Poon and Leopold and His Fiction until the rain forced the evacuation of the park. The festival was closed for at least four hours until social media posted that the park will re-open to the 6:05 showing of Kero Kero Bonito.

The rain did not stop the crowd from going back to the park to watch headliners including Big Freedia, Young Thug, Courtney Barnett and Explosions In The Sky. These talented artists convinced festival goers to fill up the Forest and Dragon’s Lair Stage, making up for the unfortunate events of the day.

SOS Fest was ultimately a good place to hold a festival with delicious food, endless activities and one of the best lineups this year. However, may this be a lesson for the organizers to better prepare for the unthinkable next year.

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FWSA honors Selena on runway

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“Selena: A Salute to an Icon” paid tribute to the singer and her timeless style with a runway show at Studio 109. (Photo/Kristian Jaime)

As the fifth year of Fashion Week San Antonio kicked off, style and entertainment icon Selena Quintanilla was honored on the runway.

“Selena: A Salute to an Icon,” held at studio 109, featured looks inspired by some of the fashion seen in her performances and photo shoots. The clothes was provided by Forever 21 and Urban Outfitters with David Melgar acting as creative curator.

Also on hand was contributing stylist and Selena’s sister, Suzette Quintanilla. The contemporary looks were the blend of urban couture and polished evening looks. While the packed house snapped photos and sang along to the songstress’ greatest hits, the runway looks proves that she may be gone but far from forgotten.

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Fashion Week continues with Cesar Galindo, Celestino, Moda and Jorge Duque Velez at venues that include the San Antonio Food Bank, Studio 109 and Brick located in the Pearl.

This year’s complete list of events includes 15 designers and brands, 10 venues and 16 events.

The valiant and villainous converge on Comicon

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Among the celebrities attending the Alamo City Comicon were famed artists that worked on original panels for fans. (Photo/Kristian Jaime)

As the 2016 Alamo City Comicon (ACCC) opened its doors, heroes and villains from across the genre flooded the Henry B. Gonzalez Center.

The weekend-long celebration of fantasy, comics and cult favorites included such big names as: Doctor Who’s David Tennant, Billie Piper and John Barrowman; Daredevil’s Charlie Cox; The Walking Dead’s Jon Bernthal; The Karate Kid’s Ralph Macchio and William Zabka; American Pie’s Shannon Elizabeth and Mena Suvari; and from Stranger Things Millie Bobby Brown, Gaten Matarazzo, Caleb McLaughlin and Noah Schnapp to name a few.

It also featured artists Greg Capullo, Brian Pulido, Matt Hawkins, Dave Wilkins, Adam Warren, Tom Raney, Eddie Nunez, Carlos D’Anda, Brandon Peterson, and Marat Mychaels. With DC, Marvel, IDW and Image well-represented on the convention floor, fans were able to get signed panels to mark occasion.

Alamo City Comicon also had the usual fare of the cosplay and costume contests complete with signings held with cosplay celebrities.

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Panels from the comicon included question and answer sessions with actors from the Star Wars franchise and the beloved Doctor Who. With thousands making the 2016 Alamo City Comicon an unqualified success, next year looks to be even more comprehensive.

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‘Cabaret’ soars in Majestic staging

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“Sally Bowles” played by Andrea Goss (left) is surrounded by the “Cabaret” girls as the emcee and narrator is played by Randy Harrison (right) in the traveling production of the iconic Broadway show. (Photo/ Joan Marcus)

Productions like “Cabaret” performed by the Roundabout Theatre Company at The Majestic Theatre is why there is no match for live shows.

The tumultuous tale of a bawdy burlesque club in Berlin, Germany circa 1929 is more than a parallel love stories between American Clifford Bradshaw (Benjamin Eakeley) and starlet Sally Bowles (Andrea Goss). It is a juxtaposition of romance that cannot exist because of the fog of detached and shortsighted youth and a political reality of an impending world war.

To highlight this, Bradshaw’s landlady, Fräulein Schneider must abandon her chance at love with a well-meaning fruit vendor Herr Schultz on the count that he is Jewish. With talk of a growing Nazi Party and increasingly violent retribution against both the Kit Kat Klub and the inn, the spiral of strained personal and political relationships leads to a sobering reality that even life itself is cheap when facing a great evil.

As Bradshaw and Bowles’ affair dissolves into chaos, so does the world around them once the Nazi scourge takes full hold of the country. It is then he must make the difficult choice to leave the land of lace and leather for the safe haven of the United States.

“Cabaret” is a Broadway staple for a reason. It is equal parts recklessly sublime and brutally stark. Under the watchful eye of directors Sam Mendes and Rob Marshall, the Roundabout Theatre Company produces a taut and compelling show. From the opening song to its reprise in the final scene, it appears the Kit Kat Klub is merely a temporary escape from the brutality of antisemitism and dictatorship.

Along for the ride is a cast of dancers that soon become the perfect backdrop of a world so intrinsically tied to the bacchanalia from whence it came. It is soon the victim of one of the darkest points in all of human history.

Rosie (Hillary Ewkwall), Lulu (Dani Spieler), Frenchie (Aisling Halpin), Texas (Margaret Dudasik), Fritzie (Alison Ewing) and Helga (Sarah Bishop) round out the cast as the “Cabaret” girls and become indispensable in capturing the seethe side of the making a living in show business.

Much of what works in this new production does so because the story is allowed to stand on its own. It is no filler with superb energy from Randy Harrison. Goss equally commands the stage and they play off each other so well so as to compliment the source material. More than anything, “Cabaret” is about chemistry and the Roundabout Theatre Company has it.

It gets saucy, seductive and sad. When it makes the turn for any one of those themes, it is as unapologetic as it is entertaining.For any novice of Broadway, not spending time in the Kit Kat Klub is a crime.

If pushing the limits of a character and confronting the demons in our history is the obligation of good art, then “Cabaret” stands as a testament to that and more. It exists to ultimately teach us the price of not reading the the writing on the wall and that great injustice can creep slowly into society unless we are vigilant. Most importantly, for the Roundabout Theatre Company, it means success.

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Kit Kat Klub welcomes SA

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Sarah Bishop as “Helga” (left), Andrea Goss as “Sally Bowles” (center) and Alison Ewing as Fritzie (right) take the stage tonight at the Majestic Theatre in “Cabaret.” (Photo/ Joan Marcus)

Broadway in San Antonio’s second production of the season at the Majestic Theatre would like to welcome you to the world of the Kit Kat Klub and “Cabaret.”

The traveling production is part part of their fiftieth anniversary season. The Roundabout Theatre Company is proud to present Sam Mendes (“Skyfall” and  “American Beauty”) and Rob Marshall’s (“Into the Woods,” “Nine” and “Chicago”) Tony Award-winning production of “Cabaret.”

“Everyone knows this show and the film and they expect to hear the songs [they love]. The directors really stripped away anything that was decorative about the play,” said Alison Ewing who plays “Fräulein Kost” in the national production of the show. “They just made it about the acting and rawness of the show. So you got a chance to dive right into the text and develop your character.”

While many can recall the seminal role played by Liza Minnelli in the iconic film, this production is much more stage friendly down to full cast and the not-so-large costumes.

Ewing also is a veteran of the production having first performed in it in 1998. Since then, it has been time well spent getting to know the various iterations the production has undergone by equally varied companies.

While it first hit the stage on Broadway on November 20, 1966, it quickly became a favorite for theatergoers not just for its saucy decorum, but also its poignant political backstory underscored by its grand finale. Now as it celebrates its fiftieth anniversary, it continues to build its following to this day.

“Every single person of the play is vital regardless of their role. There really is no time to rest since we have to develop a sense of ensemble very quickly,” Ewing continued. “You can’t play the end of show because no one knew how bad the politics would get. If you [tip your hat] then it wouldn’t be as effective. From the beginning you can’t be shy.”

“Cabaret” is as unflinching as is visceral, which led many to wonder all those many decades ago  if the performances went too far. As Ewing points out, it needs to be a roller coaster that exists independently of the political reality of the time. As a production that has become synonymous with Broadway, that unapologetic approach has paid off.

Among the elements of the show that draws viewers in is the audience becomes part of the Kit Kat Klub. At times, it breaks the fourth wall where we get cheeky inside jokes and at others, we become the omniscient viewer. The transitions to either are both subtle and effortless.

“If we’re doing our jobs right, I hope people leave with a sense they saw a window to the past. I think the show is always current because politics repeats itself and we’re in a politically polarized climate [even now],” Ewing concluded.

While the current run will take The Roundabout Theatre Company to 21 other locations, Ewing is grateful that she can have the outlet of being various people on stage. Even now, she is prepared to roll with the ebbs and flows of a show–especially in the topsy turvy world of “Cabaret.”

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An exhibit of cathartic care

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Artist Franco Mondini-Ruiz painted portraits on site of the patrons hosted by the Ecumenical Center on the night of the exhibition. (Photo/Kristian Jaime)

There are times when counseling needs to be as creative and expansive as any artistic masterpiece, and thanks to the Ecumenical Center for Education, Counseling and Health, it is.

“Art Heals Hearts: The Power of Expression,” an exhibit at the center recently displaying 150 artworks along with music and poetry, was about the pieces created by those undergoing art therapy.

The exhibit brought in artists such as Gini Garcia, Lionel Sosa, Ricardo Romo and Steven Smith that introduced their creative gifts and healing journeys that connected internally and interpersonally to the community.

“It gives people the freedom to know that they can find a means to express what is in their heart,” said Mary Beth Fisk, CEO and executive director of the Ecumenical Center. “It is healing that someone else can find that you are not alone in your grief. It is also special to walk into the show and to see different images; each of the artists has displayed it with wholeness.”

The exhibit, which runs until January 6, is just one of a whole host of approaches to therapy for children all to the way to adults including veterans dealing with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

The Ecumenical Center currently serves 20,000 people per year and half of those are children. To expand resources and to allow more admission, The “Art Heals Hearts” exhibit also celebrated the launch of Therapeutic Expressive Arts institute of South Texas that same night.

Launching Therapeutic Expressive Arts institute of South Texas was the first step in introducing diverse forms of therapy.

“Our therapy is so special because it allows the children to find a way in creating a voice about issues they could not sit down and talk about,” continued Fisk. “Being able to tell their story through art and to say what one their heart is and what is troubling them can now be spoken in a different way.”

It is the first of its kind in South Texas and will provide a diversified array of therapy options for clients using visual art, poetry and prose writing, therapeutic rhythms and music therapy. It is building upon a highly successful program started at the Ecumenical Center some years ago and hopes it expands to include the gamut of individuals in need.

“Here at the center one of the things we are blessed to have a building where they walk in and instantly, they feel at home,” Fisk explained. “The space is quiet, serene and creativity will flow and produce the ability to find their language and to their journey. It is another form of assisting children with resolution of difficult traumas in their past.”

Among the artists on hand for the event was Franco Mondini-Ruiz, who painted impressionist-inspired portraits onsite. While the pieces on display were for sale with all the proceeds going to the Ecumenical Center, the real winners were the burgeoning art collectors who received a one-of-kind painting.

The success of the event proved, once again, that art belongs to everyone despite the individual’s motivation behind its creation.

More information on the full slate of creative therapy options at the Ecumenical Center is available at www.ecrh.org.

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‘The Sound of Music’ hits all the right notes

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Ben Davis plays the role of Captain Georg von Trapp in  Jack O’Brien’s touring production of “The Sound of Music” at the Majestic Theatre. (Photo/Matthew Murphy)

Even before Jack O’Brien’s production of “The Sound of Music” hit the stage at the Majestic Theatre on Tuesday, it was already ingrained in the American consciousness.

So imagine the monumental task of stepping into the iconic roles played by the likes of Christopher Plummer  as “Captain Georg von Trapp” and Julie Andrews as “Maria Rainer.” Yet the latest offering by “Broadway in San Antonio” is more than another iteration of a beloved classic.

“You come into this production with an incredible amount of respect for the history of this show and for the people that are best known for playing these roles. What I hope to do is bring something new to the role,” said Davis in an interview with March Magazine.

What you hear is more than “The Sound of Music,” it is the cast taking the source material and being inventive, and even ingenious, with a new infusion of whimsy, romance and suspense.

The story follows Maria Rainer (Kerstin Anderson) as she leaves the confines of her nunnery to become the governess at the home of famed Captain Georg von Trapp (Ben Davis) and his seven children (Paige Silvester, Roy Gantz, Ashley Brooke, Austin Levine, Iris Davies, Kyla Carter, Anika Lore Hatch). Amid an insidious Nazi threat in their home country of Austria, widower Captain von Trapp must navigate a less than ideal relationship with a potential wife in Elsa Schraeder (Teri Hansen) and a sycophantic companion in Max Detweiler (Merwin Foard). The tide of political fanaticism soon forces the family to flee for their lives.

Knowing the film and knowing this production are not the same. The chemistry between Davis and Anderson is palpable and is most evident when the pair shares a dance at a party held at the von Trapp house. Despite knowing the story, you still rooted for Anderson’s character to not turn her back on a match made in Broadway heaven.

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Ben Davis, just hours before opening night, takes some time to practice guitar before hitting the stage as “Captain Georg von Trapp” in “The Sound of Music.” (Photo/Kristian Jaime)

It takes a certain caliber of production to make you forget the far more famous film now entering its fiftieth anniversary. Yet O’Brien achieves that with subtle, but comedic performances by Foard and Hansen. Credit the entire cast for hitting all the right notes with soaring vocals, comedic timing and chemistry that simply exudes on stage.

“The great thing about this show is that it has a great book to it. The book for the stage version is so strong, you don’t have to superimpose many things on it. The stage version has much more danger in it than the movie does and is more political,” Davis continued.

Whoever advised to never work with children or animals never had the pleasure of sharing the stage with Paige Silvester, Roy Gantz, Ashley Brooke, Austin Levine, Iris Davies, Kyla Carter, Anika Lore Hatch. As the von Trapp children, they not only brought levity and innocence to the show, but also vocal talent that paired well with their adult costars.

“It was a natural evolution of a relationship with the [kids in the cast]. It was a complete joy and honor to watch them grow as performers and kids. Now we just watch what they bring to the stage and relate to them individually,” concluded Davis.

Among the standout performances included Silvester as the oldest of the von Trapp children, Liesl. As a girl on the cusp of becoming a young lady, not only was she an exemplary older sister, but also an individual actively wondering what life truly had to offer.

“The Sound of Music” is the first production of the new season of “Broadway in San Antonio,” and it is starting off on the right foot. Despite the considerably smaller scale than its grand MGM musical counterpart, it moves with fluidity and poise. The story is as engaging as ever and is a credit to the lineage of productions across the world.

O’Brien shows why he has won three Tony Awards and how, under his tutelage, a classic can be a fresh re-telling. “The Sound of Music”  will be in San Antonio from September 13-18 at the Majestic Theatre and tickets are available at Ticketmaster or through Broadway in San Antonio.

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SA hears ‘The Sound of Music’ approaching

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Merwin Foard stars as “Max Detweiler” (left) along with Teri Hansen as “Elsa Shraeder” (middle) and Ben Davis as “Captain George Von Trapp”  (right) in “The Sound of Music” performed at the Majestic Theatre September 13-18.  (Photo/Matthew Murphy)

2015 marked the fiftieth anniversary of the iconic film, “The Sound of Music.” As of September 13, it will continue its legacy with its performance at the Majestic Theatre.

The musical is currently on tour across the country with Jack O’Brien at the helm as director. The three-time Tony Award winner took on the project after the recent renaissance the show has experienced capped by its live performance on NBC in December of 2013.

Yet the longevity of the show is due to its story lines complete with romance, family dynamics and even an impending military conflict as it is set during World War II.

“People feel like they know the show and plot. But seeing this musical at this time with the political situation affects people differently. We can perform everything the same, but the volatility of the world today  makes it feel different,” said Merwin Foard, who portrays “Max Detweiler” in the production.

Merwin, a 35-year veteran of Broadway, knows all too well there are few productions that that do not juxtapose the comedic and the calamitous. His role as “Max Detweiler” though, is the levity in story arc that changes tone from one half to another. That has not dampened the worldwide reception to the film version, though, as it out-grossed “Gone with the Wind” and stands as the most successful musical film to date.

That tenuous balance between the lighter side of the Von Trapp family and the reality of a growing Nazi threat is not easy to strike. Yet it is possible with the music by Richard Rodgers, lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II, book by Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse, suggested by “The Trapp Family Singers” by Maria Augusta Trapp.

Sometimes, it is a simple as building a rapport with the cast to make the softer moments that much more poignant.

“That balance is right there in the script and it allows for that see-saw effect that comes with the [political conflict],” Foard continued. “I’m a dad and my experience with the children in the show is colored by me being a father. We like to spend as much time off-stage with these children actors through field trips to The Alamo for instance.”

That chemistry is vital to the retelling of a story with so many iterations being performed across the country from high schools to community theaters to even large venues like the Majestic Theatre.

Director Jack O’Brien and Foard hit it off almost instantly with both seeing “Max Detweiler” as the comedic foil of the production. The 28-city tour was more than enough time to feel out the character and make the cast a traveling family of its own.

In a career that has included roles in “Annie,” “Sweeney Todd,” “Oklahoma!” “The Phantom of the Opera,” and “Mame” to name a few, that relationship made this production stand out.

“To say that I’ve had a 35-year career on Broadway is a rarity, and to be part of this show is absolutely the highlight thus far,” Foard said.

For many, musical theater is synonymous with east coast bastions like New York, but through “Broadway in the San Antonio,” the Alamo City is getting the attention of such high-profile shows like “Cabaret,” “Jersey Boys,” and “Rent” as some of the shows in 2016-2017 season.

While the energy of a live audience is unique to the performing arts, it quickly becomes another player in the show especially on Broadway.

“We drive our performances off that audience’s reaction and response. So every performance is going to be completely unique. That combination of people in the audience and the people onstage for the three-hour window exists in that moment only,” concluded Foard.

“The Sound of Music” will hit the stage September 13-18 at the Majestic Theatre and tickets are available at Ticketmaster or through Broadway in San Antonio.

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Jazz, TX plays first notes at Pearl

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“Doc” Watkins and his jazz band took to the stage during the preview of the Jazz, TX located at the Pearl near downtown San Antonio. (Photo/Kristian Jaime)

The Pearl has taken one more step to becoming the city’s preferred spot to live and play with the opening of Jazz, TX.

The latest addition to San Antonio’s nightclub scene differentiated itself as a bastion of live jazz care of the acclaimed “Doc” Watkins band. On a night that served as a preview of the music and meticulously prepared menu, it was also a chance to finally see the long list of renovations the basement of the bottling plant has undergone.

“This is a historical event for all of us with the [type of cuisine] and the music sets the tone for everything else. We’re very simplistic, Chef Lorenzo Morales made a great menu that’s delicious and [easy to appreciate],” said Sandra Trevino, Maitre’D of the Jazz, TX.

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The first official opening night will be Tuesday, August 23 with patrons able to enjoy a full bar with unique libations like the “Bit A’ Grit,” “Ensemble,” “Yellow Rose” and “Butterfly Bee Keeper.” Yet the mixologists behind the bar are prepared to handle any order from the fascinating to the familiar.

For the famished, the menu features starters like Foie and Brisket Taco and Chilaquiles. Full entrees include pan-seared flat-iron steak called “The McCrae,” with a side of Fried Okra. For the sweet tooth, people can continue on to the “Peach Cobbler.”

“It’s a different atmosphere here and we want everyone to enjoy it. It’s not the usual clientele at most bars,” continued Trevino.

While jazz is the new club’s bread and butter, it will also feature blues, big band, Texas swing, salsa, conjunto, and Americana to boot. Jazz, TX is even complete with a dance floor for those suddenly feeling light on their feet.

Expect to pay cover at the door when the club hits its stride after the opening week. But with virtually no venues offering live music of this caliber, it will more than be worth it.

The addition of Jazz, TX is part of a master plan to expand The Pearl to the area surrounding The Can Plant apartments already brimming with tenants looking to take advantage of the downtown culture.

With many in the band even putting in their own sweat equity from building the stage to tiling the bathrooms, this is truly a self-made venue poised to become the focal point of the city.

For more information, visit the official facebook page for dates and ticket sales.

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SA Film Fest wraps up a banner year

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Jeff Bridges (left)  joins San Antonio native Gil Birmingham (right) in “Hell or High Water” directed by David Mackenzie. (Photo/Courtesy)

SA Film Fest has another one in the books and if this is any indication of next year, the Alamo City has much to boast about.

Not only were 145 films screened, but 29 of them were by local filmmakers. The headliner, “Hell or High Water,” even starred San Antonio native Gil Birmingham. The musician and veteran of film and television served as a reminder that star power is not reserved for the traditional cradles of the film industry.

“This is a neo-western and being able to screen it in my hometown is very thrilling for me,” said Birmingham. “It great that we have this because we have so many  great films that have limited resources to get distribution and this may be the only time people can come out and see them. So it’s great that people support them.”

“Hell or High Water” follows Marcus Hamilton (Jeff Bridges) and Alberto Parker (Gil Birmingham), a pair of Texas Rangers as they hunt down two bank robbers, Tanner Howard (Ben Foster) and his brother Toby (Chris Pine), in a race to justice or away from it. With a film that strikes such a delicate and effective balance between humor and tragedy, the ambiguity of whether all crimes are done for malicious intent forces the audience to question their sense of morality.

“Hell or High Water” marked the peak of the annual event that turned 22 this year. It also made it possible for the audience to ask Birmingham some questions after the screening to get some insight about his role and his longevity in such a competitive industry.

“I play a Texas Ranger and being from this state helps [a great deal]. Also my father was a career police officer so I had that to draw on as well including a really good technical advisor in Joaquin Jackson. So all of that was very helpful,” Birmingham continued.

Amid an expansive Lone Star setting, the production of the film centered around the dusty little hamlets that dot the state. Even the rustic confines of traditional Texas ranches served as a beautiful backdrop for the uncertainty and violence of robbing banks for a living.

For Birmingham, there is no hard and fast rule for what project to choose next. For that matter, he quickly pointed out that aspiring filmmakers and actors would follow a similar journey as him in terms of following one’s passion.

“It’s always a matter of people following the passion in your heart. If you feel you’re destined to do this work, then it’s a matter of the perseverance and the discipline to stay with it and follow through,” Birmingham said.

The selection process for the star of over 40 films returns to the writing. Scripts must resonate with him as they must for any actor. Among the many reason he chose to act alongside Bridges was relationship dynamics between his character and his law enforcement partner and that between Foster and Pine’s characters.

The CBS Films release opens in limited cities across the country later this year.

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SA Film Fest hits the big screen

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Ben Foster (left) and Chris Pine (right) star with Jeff Bridges in the premier of “Hell or High Water” at the SA Film Fest. (Photo/Courtesy)

22 years ago, Adam Rocha had an idea to feature some of the up-and-coming filmmakers the Alamo City had to offer.

After over two decades of the annual event, it has hit its stride as the largest film festival in the South Texas with film formats such as shorts, documentaries, full-length features and, for the first time, children’s films. With Rocha at the helm as founder and executive director,  he would not have it any other way.

“It’s alot of teamwork and it takes about nine months to put together and it’s a labor of love. Our staff is all volunteers and we are exhibitors of the artists themselves. So we respect that it’s a difficult challenge to put these films together,” said Rocha.

This year’s festivities kicked off at the Pearl Stable with an opening night screening of “Trust Me, Your Famous,” by Director Ryan Tower from Los Angeles. From there, it will return to the meticulously detailed Tobin Center for the Performing Arts for the “Legend of Swee’ Pea,” by director Benjamin May of Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Then it is time for the short documentaries to take center stage July 26. Yet not far behind is serious star power in films like “Ma Ma,” starring Academy Award winner Penelope Cruz from acclaimed Spanish director Julio Medem. This not the first time the SA Film Festival has gotten attention from Hollywood.

This year the festival features the screening of “Hell or High Water,” directed by David Mackenzie and stars Chris Pine, Ben Foster, Jeff Bridges and Gil Birmingham. The story revolves around a crude, but principled Texas Ranger and two brothers with nothing to lose but their family farm to foreclosure. Birmingham, a San Antonio native, will be on the red carpet on Saturday, July 30. His roles include parts in “The Lone Ranger” and “Rango” alongside Johnny Depp.

“San Antonio is like Austin in the 90s insofar as we’re launching careers and educating filmmakers by being a platform for contemporary cinema,” Rocha continued. “We’re explaining to our city that these are artists that need to be cherished. We have [films] that have been made by people that have been doing this for some time and other who are just starting.”

Among the film pioneers that many still do  not know is Marcia Nasatir. The San Antonio native achieved success as a producer and as the first woman to serve as vice-president of production at a major Hollywood studio, United Artists, and later served as president of Johnny Carson Productions. Marcia was involved in the making of some of the greatest films in Hollywood history: “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” “Rocky,” “Carrie,” “Three Days of the Condor,” “The Big Chill” and others.

For that Reason, SA Film Festival has started a petition to presented to the Board of Governors of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to grant Marcia Nasatir with The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Honorary Award.

The festival is more than just an opportunity to see under-appreciated films and come away with valuable education. Among the panels will be the business basics of the motion picture industry and women in film and television.

“As a cinema artist, your not only nervous to show your film to your actors and crew, but also to the world. It’s difficult to get into our festival now, which is a nice thing for us. This year, we are screening 29 films from San Antonio of 145 films from around the world,” explained Rocha.

With the next horizon always within view, the SA Film Festival is always working on next year’s event–shocking to some, that even includes during the current festival. After 22 years, Rocha has learned what it takes to continue his labor of love and, in so doing, the magic of the silver screen for those thinking outside the box.

For more information or to purchase tickets, visit safilm.com.

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Float Fest ready to set sail

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Cool River Ranch in San Marcos, Texas is once again the site of tubing, live music and revelry by those flocking to beat the heat. (Photo/Kristian Jaime)

Stages going up for another year at Cool River Ranch means only one thing–Float Fest is returning for a third year in San Marcos, Texas.

This year features an impressive line-up of national acts such as: Chromeo, Rick Ross, Santigold, Future Islands, Big Gigantic, Kongos, Metric, Bleachers, Yeasayer, Bone Thugs N Harmony, Slim Thug, Rooney, Auto Body, Nina Diaz, Fat Tony, Wild Moccasins, Night Drive, Emily Bell & The Talkbacks, Blue Healer, Holiday Mountain, Riders Against the Storm, Blue, The Misfit, Pop Pistol, Buhu, and Löwin–all between between two stages.

This year, purchasing a general admission ticket covers camping and tubing on the river. Float Fest is one of the few festivals during the summer that is more than just music. Even with a line-up that is garnering bigger names than in past years, San Marcos is the known for being a Mecca for staying cool during summer.

During the previous two years, it has quickly become known as a a festival on the rise. According to a blog released by festival organizers, this year’s theme is very clear.

“We would not be a Texas Festival if we did not celebrate everything that makes Texas great,” explained the statement. “This year we will be combining, Austin’s live music, San Marcos’ river floating, Dallas’ Style, San Antonio Swagger and Houston’s Parties! We will be working with top local vendors, artist and stylist in Texas to make our festival celebrate everything great about The Lone Star State.”

Thousands are expected at this year’s festivities, but with only two stages, it retains it the intimate charm that often falls by the wayside at larger music festivals.

Another component of this year’s concerts will be a the effort to keep the natural beauty the way it is. According to the campaign using #KeepTheRiverClean, municipal concerns come along with accommodating festival-goers.

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Those attending this year’s festival can look forward to camping and floating the river made that much easier. (Photo/ Kristian Jaime)

“We pride ourselves on the pure waters of the San Marcos; it’s what keeps our festival afloat (literally), and why we take personal responsibility to ensure our Ranch’s rubbish never reaches the river, no glass bottles breach the banks, and all junk jettisoned by floaters is reclaimed from the rapids before it can do the environment harm,” said a blog post to those attending the Float Fest.

Still, with all the logistics behind an emerging festival, Cool River Ranch is ready and willing to continue its tradition of providing a relaxing oasis of marquee music and friendship.

“We’ve listened to all your feedback, and this year will be something for the books. From our lineup up, ambassador programs to floating improvements, and booking bigger acts, we can’t wait for you to see Float Fest 2016,” concluded a media release by organizers.

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‘Oz’ wows at Majestic Theatre

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Mark A. Harmon as The Wizard, Morgan Reynolds as Scarecrow, Sarah Lasko as Dorothy, Aaron Fried as The Cowardly Lion and Jay McGill as the Tin Man in the “Wizard of Oz” (Photo/Daniel A. Swalec)

Reviving a cultural touchstone like the “Wizard of Oz” is no easy task. Since it first appeared to the public in 1900, it has always found an audience.

The latest iteration to hit the stage premiered at the Majestic Theatre to a packed house to no one’s disappointment. The adaption from the iconic 1939 film features Sarah Lasko as Dorothy in her national tour debut that is in San Antonio till June 5.

Alongside Lasko is: Mark A. Harmon as The Wizard, Morgan Reynolds as Scarecrow, Aaron Fried as The Cowardly Lion, Jay McGill as the Tin Man, Shani Hadjian as the Wicked Witch of the West and Rachel Womble as Glinda the Good Witch.

The story follows Dorothy Gale as the tribulations of being a teenage girl exists even on the dusty plains of Kansas. Upon running away, she meets a mysterious magician ready to show how large and wondrous the world really is. Yet their flight of fancy is interrupted when a twister barrels through the town and lifts her home to the titular land of Oz.

Once there, her journey back home begins with befriending a brainless scarecrow, a heartless tin man and a cowardly lion. Yet hot on their heels is the Wicked Witch of the West avenging the loss of her sister as a result of Dorothy’s wayward house.

Their allies come by way of a Glinda the Good Witch who assists her along her journey on the yellow, brick road and The Wizard who possesses fabled powers to send her back home. Her eventual showdown with the wicked witch reveals the truth behind Oz and her nefarious grip on the magical land.

“Oz” is the final performance of the season for “Broadway in San Antonio” presented by North Park Lexus. “The Sound of Music,” “Cabaret” and “Jersey Boys” all makes stops in the upcoming season with many more slated to arrive.

It is hard not to enjoy “The Wizard of Oz” since it hearkens back to most people’s childhoods. While it is not on the grand scale of an MGM-style extravaganza, it loses nothing in translation to the stage.

Lasko has a range and power to fit any song no matter how innocent or triumphant. There is no better example than her rendition of “Over the Rainbow.” It is delivered with sensitivity and naivete at the heart of Dorothy’s character. Yet her supporting cast of Harmon, Reynolds, McGill and Fried provide the perfect comedic foil for the trip.

“If We Only Had a Plan,” allows all three to shine as compatriots and talented voices in their own right. If a great performance is comprised of multifaceted characters and stirring music, then “Oz” hits every note perfectly. The stage design was expertly used and evolved with every scene. In many ways, the bright pallet of Oz or ominous pallor of The Haunted Forest was a character unto itself.

Womble and Hadjian play the juxtaposition of good and evil to perfection and throw in a pithy exchange or two for chuckles between songs like “Arrival in Munchkinland” and “Red Shoes Blues.” Not to be outdone was Harmon as a menacing and then fraudulent trickster.

But perhaps the most audience-inspiring character onstage was the cairn terrier named Nigel in the role of Toto. For the person who warned never work with animals, they never saw the meticulously-trained Nigel.

“The Wizard of Oz” was more proof San Antonio is as viable a home for the performing arts as any. With every note and beloved story arch in this seminal musical, the Alamo City’s love for “Broadway in San Antonio” is over the rainbow.

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Texas revs up for music festival season

Texas summers have become known for more than the heat. It has become the gateway to a year’s worth of music festivals.

With the Austin City Limits Music Festival taking up much of the spotlight, it is easy to overlook the plethora of other locations making their name on the live music scene. They range from the bustling downtown skylines of Austin and San Antonio to the banks of a hill country river to a verdant gem known more for communing with nature than tour buses.

ACL Music Festival, September 30-October 2 and October 7-9

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A broken leg did not stop Dave Grohl and the Foo Fighters from being one of the most anticipated main stage acts at ACL. (Photo/Kristian Jaime)

Among the most sought after ticket is to the annual pilgrimage to Zilker Park.  Headliners include: Radiohead, Mumford and Sons, Kendrick Lamar, LCD Soundsystem, Major Lazer, Willie Nelson, M83 and Cage the Elephant to name just some. The lore surrounding the ACL Music Festival is as magnetic as the performers themselves. With the combination of perpetually successful and relevant acts and an atmosphere reminiscent of Woodstock itself, it will be a tradition tailor-made for the Texas capital.

Fun Fun Fun Fest, November 6-8

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Asobe Seksu was just one of the numerous bands that has graced the Fun Fun Fun Fest stages on their way to becoming headliners in their own right. (Photo/Kristian Jaime)

Often regarded as the little brother to the ACL Music Festival, Fun Fun Fun Fest is in its tenth year and brands itself as a progressive and underground event. With many of its acts not yet on the national stage, it is one of the few festivals that features spoken word and comedy. It features such specialized stages such as metal, indie, comedy and hip-hop. Every year, Auditorium Shores is transformed from a favorite spot for runners to a frenzied  gaggle of music lovers. In recent years, Fun Fest has come into its own as an emerging festival with headliners such as: Jane’s Addiction, Wu-Tang Clan, NOFX, alt-J, Modest Mouse, MGMT and Passion Pit. It has slowly garnered a following that now rivals that other annual event at Zilker Park.

Float Fest, July 16-17

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The Digital Wild is one of the upcoming bands that have found a national audience because of smaller festivals such as Float Fest. (Photo/ Kristian Jaime)

What happens when you combine tubing in San Marcos, Texas and wide open spaces enough for 25 bands? You get this year’s Float Fest complete with Chromeo, Metric, Rick Ross, Future Islands and Santigold to name just a few. File this festival under the more intimate and relaxed music events in the region with tickets prices still reasonable enough for the busloads of college students that flock to both the river and the stages. While Cool River Ranch is no stranger to major acts, it still manages to draw local talent on their way to the top. The limited number of stages makes it perfect to really enjoy the complete lineup without feeling overwhelmed. In short, Float Fest is about quality rather than quantity.

Utopiafest, September 29-October 2

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The rabid fans of Shaky Graves were not disappointment with his set  at last year’s Utopiafest. (Photo/Kristian Jaime)

So maybe you want a camping retreat along with your music. Utopiafest is right up your auditory ally. Unlike other festivals eager to sell as many tickets as possible, this yearly affair limits the total number patrons to avoid feeling like a massive herd of sunburned, tattooed audiophiles. With free camping allowed on the premises, the performers are not playing the Samsung or Honda stages at Zilker Park just yet, but it is still worth the ticket. Attending Utopiafest is more like going to a series of private concerts with 3,000 of your closest friends. That seems like a sizable crowd until you imagine the likes of Coachella only selling 3,000 tickets on purpose. If intimate is what you want, that is exactly what you get. The only downside? It is scheduled at the same time as the first weekend of the ACL Music Festival. Decisions, decisions.

Vans Warped Tour, June 25

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August Burns Red is not for the faint of heart and neither is anyone at the Vans Warped Tour. It leans more to metal and punk and has done so since its inception. (Photo/Kristian Jaime)

Contrary to popular belief, you do not have to go to Austin for every music festival. Staying in the Alamo City means catching up with one of the longest running festivals in the country. Unlike many of the ones on this list,  this is unique in that it is a traveling show with interchanging bands at every stop. Aficionados of the metal and punk scene will appreciate how the Warped Tour has stayed true to its roots. While Vans were at the core of the skate culture, the music that developed around it was just as pervasive. Before long, it was more than what deck you had and also about what you listened to and wore. Bands like Atreyu, Bullet for My Valentine, Good Charlotte and Whitechapel for example now serve as the latest iteration of the tour.

River City Rockfest, May 29

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Linkin Park was among the more famous alumni of this festival held on the grounds of the AT&T Center. (Photo/Kristian Jaime)

Held in the shadows of the revered AT&T Center, the River City Rockfest is a bastion of Metal standards. Legendary band Anthrax was among its performers along with the Late Scott Weiland. Linkin Park was its most recent headliner and the this year keeps the tradition alive. Disturbed, Scorpions and Megadeth are at the helm in 2016 and the blend of the latest and greatest lives on in this festival. River City Rockfest now stands as the city’s only purely rock festival since the future of Maverick Music Festival is up in the air.

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The magic and melancholy of Coney Island

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“Coney Island: Visions of an American Dreamland, 1861-2008” is a 140-piece exhibit displaying one of the country’s most unique and entirely fantastical locales. It can be seen at the McNay Art Museum through September 11. (Photo/Courtesy)

Few places evoke such nostalgia as America’s Coney Island. Thanks to the latest exhibit at the McNay Art Museum, its whimsy and woe is front and center.

“Coney Island: Visions of an American Dreamland, 1861-2008” holds 140 pieces and runs until September 11. Among its art and artifacts are original banners for those simply called “freaks” in their day, photographs of life on the shores of America’s playground and paintings inspired by what it meant to the national zeitgeist.

“The modernity of Coney Island at the turn of the century, its exuberance and astonishing style, was the initial motivation and then I started doing some research and I discovered that an astounding array of artists are taking Coney Island as their subject,” said Robin Jaffee Frank, the show’s organizing curator.

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Robin Jaffee Frank, the exhibitions curator explains some of the finer point of some of the master works in the collection to docents of the McNay Art Museum. (Photo/Kristian Jaime)

What emerged as a retreat for the rich soon gave way to people from all social and economic backgrounds. The intermingling of so many cultural influences was the perfect incubator for those simply looking for a weekend escape and those looking to carve out a unique culture along the boardwalk.

Before long, it was called “the people’s playground” and encompassed the Astroland Amusement Park. Where once stood miles of solitary coastline there were now purveyors of all sorts of entertainment. From the provocative to the childlike, Coney Island was the quickly becoming a microcosm of the American landscape itself.

“I discovered by looking at more works, paintings, photographs and films  was that many of those artists perceived it as a prism in which to view the American Experience. The works of art varied widely in style and mood,” continued Frank.

Its role in American history was second to none as servicemen off to fight on the European and Pacific fronts of World War II had their last moments of innocence before becoming the greatest generation. Coney Island was also the site of many-a-love story with an intrinsic romanticism along its shores.

Yet for many, Coney Island was the epicenter of their disenfranchisement. People suffering from physical abnormalities became spectacles and their lives were little more routine exploitation. For a generation that made Coney Island a haven, it was a last resort for others.

“[The individual pieces] seem to convey together the sense that Coney Island is not just a strip in the borough of Brooklyn,” Frank explained. “But is in fact a singular place for the American imagination. [The art] conveys changing ideas abut leisure and the mixing of people of different backgrounds and transitioning social boundaries.”

“Coney Island: Visions of an American Dreamland, 1861-2008” was originally organized by the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art in Hartford, Connecticut. The McNay Art Museum will be its only stop in the Southwest and included artists such as: William Merritt Chase, John Henry Twachtman, Diane Arbus, Walker Evans, Red Grooms and Yasuo Kuniyoshi to name a few.

“It is the first exhibition I can think of that delves into the material culture of the time and the fine artists inspired by it. These are survivors of an era rather than art that museums traditionally collect,” concluded Dr. William J. Chiego, director of the McNay Art Museum.

For more information on admission to “Coney Island: Visions of an American Dreamland, 1861-2008,” visit www.mcnayart.org.

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Linda Pace Foundation presents a ‘Secondary Story’ journey

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This week, Linda Pace Foundation presented “Secondary Stories,” an exhibit created by Brazilian artist Rivane Neuenschwander that will be taking place now through July 2017.

Neuenschwander is known for her adventurous transitory work using language, nature, social interactions and the passing of time.

Showcasing her work for the first time in Texas, the Brazilian artist dives into the exhibit and take viewers through the looking glass of how confetti plays a big role in the Hispanic and Latin culture. She also created images that pop into the alphabet, the role of insects and films going over the topic of love and human condition.

“I feel like this is a contemporary exhibition that features a diverse group of media that will appeal to a lot of different interests for people of all ages. I think it will also draw in people who do not know that much about contemporary art,” said Kelly O’Connor, collections exhibition officer at the Linda Pace Foundation. “There are different elements that anybody can appreciate, including the fact that Rivane is Brazilian will relate to Latino community in San Antonio.”

The central installations feature the theme of the annual Brazilian Celebration, Carnivale, which is a festival in the Latin American country that celebrates the establishment of Lent. Neuenschwander opens guests to “Secondary Stories,” (2006) a constellation of large confetti visible floating all around the room including the transparent ceiling marking the beginning of Carnivale, bringing her back into her childhood.

Before you get to the end of Carnivale, Neuencshwander takes the audience into other topics of her work using photography to tell the story. The “Accidental Alphabet,” (2003) one can see that Neuenschwander enjoys viewing perspective in a different light; and for the display, she found different landscapes to integrate the alphabet together.

The images in “Belongs Does Not Belong,” (2000) give a visual of how Neuenschwander pulled in a mathematical set theory to her exhibit. The images illustrate the conceivable links between three beetles and three soap bubbles using collaboration, a phenomena that is constantly overlooked.

The “Quarta-Feira de Cinzas/Epilogue,” (2006) is a film projection where she collaborated with Cao Guimarães, naming it after Ash Wednesday. Both Neuenschwander and Guimarães depict the end of Carnivale and filmed ants that are engaged in collecting and organizing the leftover confetti, left as fragments of festivities the day before.

In the exhibit, Neuenschwander and Guimarães collaborate again for “Inventory of Small Deaths (Blow),” (2000) in Super 8 digital projection capturing a large, formless soap bubble floating across different landscapes without ever bursting. The video imagery acts as a metaphor for the human condition of dealing with the passing of time and the transformations that we face daily.

Rivane and Sergio Neuenschwander collaborate in “Love Lettering,” (2002) a film projection where goldfish swim back and forth with tiny banners attached to their tails using words to express love, loss and longing. The words begin to form grammatical elements and reveal possible fragments of a love letter.

Using different elements to tell her story, Neuenschwander presents a stellar exhibit that will give many a reason to get a full grasp into her work. O’Connor believes that with the help of the Brazilian artist, people will learn that art is not only a picture on a white wall, but also something you can watch to interact with others.

“I think the exhibit is going to appeal to everyone because a majority of time, you are told not to touch anything or to stand back. This artwork really encourages you to engage so with the confetti piece for example, and the pieces falling on top of you,” concluded O’Connor.

If you are interested in playing a role in art, visit the Linda Pace Foundation, located at 111 Camp Street, between Wednesdays through Sundays from 12 to 5 p.m. For more information, visit www.lindapacefoundation.org.

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