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A second slice: Ensemble Theatre takes on Sondheim and ‘Sweeney Todd’

 David Studwell and Heather Ayers are two of the actors performing in Ensemble Theatre Company's "Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street." David Bazemore photo


David Studwell and Heather Ayers are two of the actors performing in Ensemble Theatre Company’s “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street.”
David Bazemore photo

Last week Santa Barbara audiences sat transfixed by the odd blend of dance and theater that was Adam Barruch’s “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street” at the Lobero Theatre. In the audience watching the performance was Ensemble Theatre’s Jonathan Fox, who just that day was rehearsing his own version of Stephen Sondheim’s bloody and dark musical, set to open this coming Thursday. It was one of those weird coincidences in Santa Barbara theater than happens now and then – like two productions of “Other Desert Cities” in 2015, one at the Rubicon, one at PCPA – despite every company trying for a unique season.

“It’s kind of a funny story,” says Mr. Fox, just before rolling into a story of schedules, contracts, dropping a previous plan, and thinking of returning to the world of Stephen Sondheim. “A Little Night Music” was the first performance at The New Vic. Rick Mokler, some 20 years ago, had put on a production of “Sweeney Todd” at SBCC, but it had never returned to our city.

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Brad Williams returns for second year of the LOL Comedy Festival

"I had such a great time in Santa Barbara and it did so much for me personally," says Brad Williams, a comedian who will return for the second year of the LOL Comedy Festival. Courtesy photo

“I had such a great time in Santa Barbara and it did so much for me personally,” says Brad Williams, a comedian who will return for the second year of the LOL Comedy Festival.
Courtesy photo

The Santa Barbara LOL Comedy Festival was new last year, but quickly ingratiated itself into Santa Barbara’s increasingly crowded arts fest scene with six nights of stand-up comedy, most of them filmed for cable TV. One of those specials was for Brad Williams, the “little person” comedian – though he’ll gladly call himself a dwarf or a midget, and more about that nomenclature later – who got his big chance to have a full-hour set recorded last year at the Lobero Theatre for Showtime.

Mr. Williams loved it so much that not only is he coming back this year, but he’s the “Ringmaster” of his own show next Friday, bringing on his own favorite – yet still unknown – fellow comedians.

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Death rituals: Adam Barruch Dance brings the blood sacrifice in a striking new Sweeney Todd

From left, Adam Barruch, Jodi McFadden and William D. Popp will open tonight in the Adam Barruch Dance production at the Lobero Theatre. David Bazemore photos

From left, Adam Barruch, Jodi McFadden and William D. Popp will open tonight in the Adam Barruch Dance production at the Lobero Theatre.
David Bazemore photos

Adam Barruch is on to something that might be new in both the world of theater and the world of dance. Mr. Barruch’s adaptation of Stephen Sondheim’s “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street” is not a dance interpretation of the musical. Neither is it Mr. Sondheim’s musical with extra dance numbers. Sitting in on the rehearsals at the Lobero Theatre – Diane Vapnek and her DANCEworks secured the space as a gift for his residency – it’s hard to say what Mr. Barruch’s “Todd” will finally become until tonight’s premiere.

William D. Popp plays Sweeney Todd, yet he’s often working alongside the other dancers singing about himself in the third person. These are concepts, not characters, to be possessed by at will. There’s something primal about it, like Mr. Barruch has gone back to druidic times, thinking more of blood sacrifice, and less dreadful about human meat pies.

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Future Broadway stars: Gustafson Dance Program produces an evening of Broadway numbers

Students from the Gustafson Dance Two-Week Junior Intensive program perform Broadway numbers during the 2014 show. Photo courtesy John Conroy Image

Students from the Gustafson Dance Two-Week Junior Intensive program perform Broadway numbers during the 2014 show.
Photo courtesy John Conroy Image

There’s a chance to see the fruits of an intensive summer workshop of dance this weekend, and no, it has nothing to do with Fiesta. Instead, Gustafson Dance’s Two-Week Junior Intensive program brings an evening of Broadway hits to the Lobero. And while many a parent and family member will be there, the event is open to the public.

Gustafson Dance is the official school of State Street Ballet. Allison Gustafson is director of the dance school and Rodney Gustafson is artistic director of State Street Ballet.

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Up in the air: ‘Belline’ is the culminating work for the 2nd annual Floor to Air Festival

 Santa Barbara Contemporary Floor to Air Festival's "Belline" can be seen tonight only at the Lobero Theatre. Courtesy photo


Santa Barbara Contemporary Floor to Air Festival’s “Belline” can be seen tonight only at the Lobero Theatre.
Courtesy photo

How does one spot an aerialist dancer in the wild? They don’t have the feet of a ballerina, as they don’t spend a lot of time on the ground.

“You can tell by her back,” says Chicagoan now Santa Barbaran Ninette Paloma. “If she has a nice, beautiful back and broad shoulders, that is an aerialist. A slight little gait in her walk, because she always has shoulders in to protect them. And incredible forearms. Gorgeous, yes, gorgeous forearms.”

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Stand-up Maria Bamford mines her own troubles for comedy gold

Stand-up comic Maria Bamford, performing at the Lobero on Sunday, says she owes her career to the Internet. Susan Maljan photo

Stand-up comic Maria Bamford, performing at the Lobero on Sunday, says she owes her career to the Internet.
Susan Maljan photo

Maria Bamford’s story is one of keeping at it until it works, no matter what comes in the way — anxiety, depression, attempted suicide and what has been dubbed “unwanted thoughts syndrome” (examples of which might be too disturbing for the average reader). But she has emerged as a stand-up comic who mirrors our own dysfunctional times, her stage persona a stunned version of herself that dives in and out of multiple characters and voices. Yet her jokes do not exist to invoke pity, they are just brutally honest.

When I talk to her over the phone two weeks before her trip to Santa Barbara to play the Lobero on Sunday, she’s “in the back room of a bookstore,” one of the places where she feels comfortable, surrounded by reading material.

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Hollywood magic: Producers Panel shows that there’s many ways to get a film made

SBIFF brought in seven producers of last year's best movies to talk about the often long and difficult road taken from idea to premiere. The popular annual panel featured, from left, Los Angeles Times film writer and panel moderator Glenn Whipp, Cathleen Sutherland ("Boyhood"), Teddy Schwarzman ("The Imitation Game"), Robert Lorenz ("American Sniper"), John Lesher ("Birdman"), Jon Kilik ("Foxcatcher"), Jeremy Dawson ("The Grand Budapest Hotel") and Lisa Bruce ("The Theory of Everything"). NIK BLASKOVICH/NEWS-PRESS

SBIFF brought in seven producers of last year’s best movies to talk about the often long and difficult road taken from idea to premiere. The popular annual panel featured, from left, Los Angeles Times film writer and panel moderator Glenn Whipp, Cathleen Sutherland (“Boyhood”), Teddy Schwarzman (“The Imitation Game”), Robert Lorenz (“American Sniper”), John Lesher (“Birdman”), Jon Kilik (“Foxcatcher”), Jeremy Dawson (“The Grand Budapest Hotel”) and Lisa Bruce (“The Theory of Everything”).
NIK BLASKOVICH/NEWS-PRESS

Santa Barbara film lovers packed the Lobero Theatre Saturday for the Santa Barbara International Film Festival’s Producers Panel. Although one of the speakers joked about having to explain to Mom what a producer actually does, the audience seemed to know, as attendees sat rapt listening to the often-entertaining stories of the struggle of movie-making. Despite large budgets and years of industry experience, things sometimes go wrong, and sometimes ingenuity is the best weapon.

Los Angeles Times film writer Glenn Whipp sat down with six producers of this year’s Best Picture Oscar nominees: Cathleen Sutherland (“Boyhood”), Teddy Schwarzman (“The Imitation Game”), Robert Lorenz (“American Sniper”), John Lesher (“Birdman”), Jeremy Dawson (“The Grand Budapest Hotel”) and Lisa Bruce (“The Theory of Everything”). Jon Kilik of “Foxcatcher,” also on the panel, didn’t get a Best Picture nomination this year but took his “snub” with great humor. (He was nominated in 2007 for a Best Picture Oscar for “Babel,” so he’s in the club.)

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The 805 keeps it reel: Local filmmakers at the film fest and how short documentaries show off our town

Ocean explorer Jean-Michel Cousteau, filmmaker Jim Knowlton and a team of scientists explore tiny Swains Island in "Swains Island: One of the Last Jewels on the Planet. SBIFF

Ocean explorer Jean-Michel Cousteau, filmmaker Jim Knowlton and a team of scientists explore tiny Swains Island in “Swains Island: One of the Last Jewels on the Planet.
SBIFF

The Santa Barbara International Film Festival brings Hollywood to our own backyard, but what about the filmmakers who are already here? The festival has long given our writers and directors their own sidebar to show off the many documentaries and fiction films produced here. Some come out of the many production courses available here, others from small production studios and others just have to make films by any means possible.

For the first time this year, SBIFF offers a prize for Best Santa Barbara Feature, and all the contestants are documentaries.

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The power of myth Boxtales celebrates 20 years of innovative theater

Twenty years ago in 1994, a 30-year-old Michael Andrews was a successful plumbing contractor with the itch to move on to a completely different place in his life, to follow his passions in the theater world and the music scene. And he managed to do both. His band Area 51 is still playing around town, and the company he helped create, Boxtales, celebrates two decades of bringing the world of myth and storytelling to audiences young and old. Boxtales will do so starting this Thursday with a three-day celebration of its best work.

They’ll return to the Lobero with “Prince Rama & the Monkey King,” “The Odyssey,” “Leyendas de Duende” and “B’rer Rabbit and Other Trickster Tales.” The shows have all the hallmarks that have made Boxtales a success: imaginative masks, great costumes, clever stage design, and original adaptations of classic myths that streamline the sometimes convoluted stories down to their entertaining essence.

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Burnished love: Mary Chapin Carpenter brings her insightful songs to the Lobero

Mary Chapin Carpenter brings her seemingly never-ending tour to the Lobero Theatre. Courtesy photo

Mary Chapin Carpenter brings her seemingly never-ending tour to the Lobero Theatre.
Courtesy photo

This is the tour that never ends,” says singer-songwriter Mary Chapin Carpenter of her current tour supporting “Songs from the Movie,” her January 2014 album of greatest hits arranged for the singer and a full orchestra. Because it involves arranging a different orchestra for each city, whether it’s Los Angeles, Pensacola or Glasgow, Scotland, it’s not the usual round of bus and plane rides from city to city.

“I see the (orchestral tour) as having a life that goes on … past the horizon. It’s not timed to anything. It exists as long as orchestras invite us to come and present it.”

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