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Joseph Baker

I received my Master of Arts Degree in English from Memphis State University and worked as an English instructor at Christian Brothers High School from 1971 until 2007. When I retired, I was Chairman of the English Department and moderator of the Film Society. I have always been involved in the arts, and upon retirement I pursued my interests in painting (watercolors, acrylics, oils) and sketching (charcoal, pen and ink, graphite), ultimately resulting in a one-man show at WKNO Gallery in 2013. Having taught American, British, and World Drama, I have always had an interest in local theatre; and my reviews of plays at such venues as Theatre Memphis, Playhouse on the Square, and Circuit Playhouse have been posted on FACEBOOK and CALLBOARD in Memphis.
MOST POPULAR ARTICLES
LAST 30 DAYS

BWW Reviews: 'Don't Sit Under the Chandelier with Anyone Else But Me' - PHANTOM Haunts the OrpheumBWW Reviews: PHANTOM Haunts the Orpheum
Posted: Sep. 29, 2014


BWW Reviews: Playhouse Offers ONE MAN, TWO GUVNORS - and Numerous LaughsBWW Reviews: Playhouse Offers ONE MAN, TWO GUVNORS - and Numerous Laughs
Posted: Oct. 3, 2014


BWW Reviews: Circuit Playhouse Remembers THE FANTASTICKSBWW Reviews: Circuit Playhouse Remembers THE FANTASTICKS
Posted: Oct. 13, 2014


BWW Reviews: Theatre Memphis Spit-Polishes THE HEIRESSBWW Reviews: Theatre Memphis Spit-Polishes THE HEIRESS
Posted: Oct. 24, 2014


LAST 365 DAYS

BWW Reviews: DeSoto Family Theatre Storms the Barricades With LES MISBWW Reviews: DeSoto Family Theatre Storms the Barricades With LES MIS
Posted: Jul. 7, 2014


BWW Reviews: Playhouse's GYPSY Offers Rose Her TurnBWW Reviews: Playhouse's GYPSY Offers Rose Her Turn
Posted: May. 12, 2014


BWW Reviews: The Orpheum Proselytizes - Sort of - With THE BOOK OF MORMONBWW Reviews: The Orpheum Proselytizes - Sort of - With THE BOOK OF MORMON
Posted: Jun. 26, 2014


BWW Reviews:  Playhouse on the Square Teases Its Beehives in HAIRSPRAYBWW Reviews: Playhouse on the Square Teases Its Beehives in HAIRSPRAY
Posted: Jun. 21, 2014


BWW Reviews: Theatre Memphis Spit-Polishes THE HEIRESSBWW Reviews: Theatre Memphis Spit-Polishes THE HEIRESS
October 24, 2014

THE HEIRESS, Ruth and Augustus Goetz's 1947 adaptation of Henry James' WASHINGTON SQUARE and currently occupying the Lohrey Stage at Theatre Memphis, has had a long and steady run on stages throughout the world - and why not? Tightly corseted, polite to a fault, and observing proprieties, this intelligently written script captures the essence of the James source material without the convoluted, complex sentences that, alas, repel many readers. As tautly drawn as the material on one of the samplers for which its heroine is noted, when one of the characters punctuates the prevailing politeness with a barbed or telling line of dialogue, it's as if a sharp and jagged blade suddenly ripped through the fabric of the needlework itself. All this play needs for a successful run is a handsome set, period costumes - and four or five gifted players.
BWW Reviews: Circuit Playhouse Remembers THE FANTASTICKSBWW Reviews: Circuit Playhouse Remembers THE FANTASTICKS
October 13, 2014

Just a few weeks ago I was dodging a falling chandelier at the Orpheum's staging of PHANTOM OF THE OPERA; at the 'Phantom Event' held prior to the play, I was reminded of all the physical (as well as fiscal) requirements for properly staging this production. I kept thinking, 'How many small, financially strapped towns would breathe a sigh of relief if the proceeds from such a production were to come their way?' Well, that's one extreme of theatre. Tonight I was exposed to the opposite; Circuit Playhouse's production of Harvey Schmidt and Tom Jones' allegorical THE FANTASTICKS reminded me of Thornton Wilder's minimalism in the staging of OUR TOWN. If musicals like PHANTOM and LES MISERABLES are the 'central air' of theatre, THE FANTASTICKS is rather like a quaint little oscillating fan. Yet, its breeze can be refreshing.
BWW Reviews: Playhouse Offers ONE MAN, TWO GUVNORS - and Numerous LaughsBWW Reviews: Playhouse Offers ONE MAN, TWO GUVNORS - and Numerous Laughs
October 3, 2014

With its emphasis on improvisation, stock characters, and a genial carnival atmosphere, the Commedia dell' arte (dating back as early as the 16th century) has never had much appeal to me; I generally find the productions thumb-twiddling after a while. I certainly had my reservations about Playhouse on the Square's current production, ONE MAN, TWO GUVNORS, adapted by British playwright Richard Bean from a 1743 play by Venetian Carlo Goldoni. However, as much as I cringe at the thought of a play written in this tradition, at the opposite end I am very much a fan of British humor at its silliest - from the 1930's and 40's comedies of Will Hay (who, at least in a number of films, utilized his own kind of stock company) to the sketches of Benny Hill and Rowan Atkinson's delightful MR. BEAN (and wasn't there a group called MONTY PYTHON?) That said, Mr. Bean's sublimely silly little take on the Goldoni play, removed in time and place to early 1960's Brighton, has a plot that bounces from corner to corner of the proscenium like a ping pong ball on Ritalin.
BWW Reviews: 'Don't Sit Under the Chandelier with Anyone Else But Me' - PHANTOM Haunts the OrpheumBWW Reviews: 'Don't Sit Under the Chandelier with Anyone Else But Me' - PHANTOM Haunts the Orpheum
September 29, 2014

When Gaston Leroux published THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA back in 1911, little did he realize the numerous chandeliers that would come crashing down through the decades, and I've witnessed a good number of them. First, in 1925, there was 'the Man of a Thousand Faces,' Lon Chaney, Sr., who frightened poor Mary Philbin (a well-done version, even IF the film was silent); then, for Universal in 1941, Claude Rains (Bette Davis' favorite co-star) was a more subdued vocal coach for soprano Susanna Foster (a wooden Nelson Eddy, alas, is a greater impending horror as 'Raoul'). I could go on - even Herbert Lom, the actor who was the harried police superior to Peter Sellers' 'Inspector Clousseau,' took a swing on the old light fixture. (And let us not forget diminutive Paul Williams in the slightly askew PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE.) All of these pale, of course, in comparison to the legendary interpretation by Michael Crawford in the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical, which first brought the audience to its feet in 1986.
BWW Reviews: MEMBER OF THE WEDDING Has Reception on Theatre Memphis' Next StageBWW Reviews: MEMBER OF THE WEDDING Has Reception on Theatre Memphis' Next Stage
September 22, 2014

Following the recent triumph of the musical THE ADDAMS FAMILY, and nestled quietly in the more intimate setting of Theatre Memphis' Next Stage, Carson McCullers' touching THE MEMBER OF THE WEDDING offers yet another 'Addams Family.' This time, however, the trio of performers who dominate the play - tomboyish 'Frankie' (nee 'Frances'), odd little 'John Henry,' and warm, nurturing 'Berenice' - easily draw the audience members into the world of their kitchen and garden area. It may seem a ridiculous notion, but I couldn't help seeing a similarity between the two plays. In both plays, the main characters are removed from an outside, 'normal' world; and in both plays, there are characters who wish to be seen by others as normal. Yet, THE MEMBER OF THE WEDDING, despite its moments of humor (and there are many such moments), is full of longing and pain and frustration.
BWW Reviews: BEST OF ENEMIES Enlightens as It EntertainsBWW Reviews: BEST OF ENEMIES Enlightens as It Entertains
September 2, 2014

I wasn't quite sure what to expect from Circuit Playhouse's production of Mark St. Germain's BEST OF ENEMIES - a civics lesson or an evening at the theatre. As I settled into my seat and gazed at the essentially bare set (a few platforms and chairs), I listened to bits and snatches of speeches and recollections by the likes of Barry Goldwater, Lyndon Johnson, Martin Luther King, and 'ordinary' people affected by the changes wrought by Civil Rights legislation and, in particular, the desegregation of schools. While waiting for the play to begin, I recalled just having seen MARY POPPINS last weekend at Playhouse on the Square; I thought of 'Just a Spoonful of Sugar' making the medicine go down - and considered Playhouse's crowd-pleasing musical version of John Waters' HAIRSPRAY, which drew theatre-hungry crowds just a few weeks ago. Waters, I thought, had the right idea: The seriousness of racial injustice was made delightfully palatable by the sweetness and humor of the songs in that show. I dreaded what was to follow. However, like the main characters of the play I was about to see, I had my own misconceptions, for BEST OF ENEMIES held many surprises for me - and all of them good.
BWW Reviews:  Theatre Memphis Nudges Us to Buy Halloween Candy Early with THE ADDAMS FAMILYBWW Reviews: Theatre Memphis Nudges Us to Buy Halloween Candy Early with THE ADDAMS FAMILY
September 1, 2014

There's Nothing Dead About Theatre Memphis' Ghoulishly Delightful Production of THE ADDAMS FAMILY
BWW Reviews: MARY POPPINS' Umbrella Soars at PlayhouseBWW Reviews: MARY POPPINS' Umbrella Soars at Playhouse
August 25, 2014

The lessons of MARY POPPINS are made more palatable by those spoonfuls of sugar.
BWW Reviews: Hattiloo Goes to Haiti for ONCE ON THIS ISLANDBWW Reviews: Hattiloo Goes to Haiti for ONCE ON THIS ISLAND
July 28, 2014

Hattiloo Theatre, the shiny 'new kid on the block' in the midtown theatre district of Memphis, has shed its 'ugly duckling' feathers and suddenly become a sleek swan; no longer limited in facilities and seating, it has taken exotic flight with a fanciful musical staging of Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty's calypso-driven ONCE ON THIS ISLAND, based on Rosa Guy's MY LOVE, MY LOVE; or, THE PEASANT GIRL.
BWW Reviews: POTS at The Works Series Takes a Giant Step with 4000 MILESBWW Reviews: POTS at The Works Series Takes a Giant Step with 4000 MILES
July 13, 2014

Amy Herzog's family drama (albeit a drama with a number of very funny moments) 4000 MILES is unobtrusively generating a thoughtful, low-key alternative to the outsized HAIRSPRAY (already a sellout at 'Big Sister' Playhouse on the Square just a block or so away); and it's a safe bet that a number of theatre-going Memphians are already trekking south to DeSoto Family Theatre's epic presentation of LES MISERABLES. However, this intelligent, intimate little piece is currently providing a rewarding alternative at Theatre Works, quietly nestled across from the parking garage at Overton Square.
BWW Reviews: DeSoto Family Theatre Storms the Barricades With LES MISBWW Reviews: DeSoto Family Theatre Storms the Barricades With LES MIS
July 7, 2014

There were several reasons that I almost denied myself the pleasure of attending DeSoto Family Theatre's new production of Boublil and Schonberg's LES MISERABLES, the epic (and enduring) musical version of Victor Hugo's massive nineteenth century novel. I hereby state my preconceived notions - and hope to explain why I was so ill-opined.
BWW Reviews: The Orpheum Proselytizes - Sort of - With THE BOOK OF MORMONBWW Reviews: The Orpheum Proselytizes - Sort of - With THE BOOK OF MORMON
June 26, 2014

I see them occasionally - white shirts (usually with pockets), black trousers, clean-shaven, and cradling folders and totes. They often are on a corner; at times, they are walking through the parking lots of apartment complexes. They are unfailingly polite; more often than not, they respect our 'Puh-lease'-don't-bother-me looks or our efforts to look as if more important business is calling us elsewhere. These sweet-natured people are usually more interested in our welfare than we ourselves are, and, well, that's nice.
BWW Reviews:  Playhouse on the Square Teases Its Beehives in HAIRSPRAYBWW Reviews: Playhouse on the Square Teases Its Beehives in HAIRSPRAY
June 21, 2014

When Playhouse on the Square first showcased the musical version of the giddy John Waters' romp HAIRSPRAY a few seasons back, terpsichorean dynamo Courtney Oliver (as 'Tracy Turnblad') and theatre veteran Ken Zimmerman ('Miss Edna') left the stage each night with clamorous standing ovations for them and their colorful cohorts. I saw it more than once; it was the kind of theatrical experience that not only made you want to see it repeatedly, but one to which you longed to introduce others. I was thrilled to learn not only that HAIRSPRAY would return to end the current season at Playhouse, but that it would also reunite most of the original cast - and would be directed by the ever reliable Dave Landis.
BWW Reviews:  Theatre Memphis Toots Its Horns in THE MUSIC MANBWW Reviews: Theatre Memphis Toots Its Horns in THE MUSIC MAN
June 16, 2014

A number of years ago, I was ordering breakfast at the Dogwood Cabin in Gatlinburg, Tennessee, and before the food arrived, a barbershop quartet began to harmonize. 'How delightful,' I thought - and then there was another song, followed by yet another: A barbershop quartet convention was in town, and several groups were scattered throughout the restaurant and waiting for their opportunity to perform. Before my pancake syrup was even out of the bottle, I was already craving some antidotal 'heavy metal.' Such experiences remind me of Mark Twain's story CAPTAIN STORMFIELD'S VISIT TO HEAVEN: Upon first arriving behind the Pearly Gates, the Captain is delighted to hear the heavenly harps; but as time passes, the harmonies become stultifying. Thankfully, the barbershop quartet that strolls through Theatre Memphis' colorful new production of Meredith Willson's THE MUSIC MAN never overstays its welcome.
Summer Stages: Spring and Summer Find Theatre Blooming in MemphisSummer Stages: Spring and Summer Find Theatre Blooming in Memphis
June 4, 2014

As barbecue fests, music venues, and baseball elbow their way into spring and summer in Memphis, there is still reason for theatregoers to be excited about the arrival of several stagings either taking place or about to take place in the area.
BWW Reviews: Circuit Invites the Audience into THE LYONS DenBWW Reviews: Circuit Invites the Audience into THE LYONS Den
June 2, 2014

There's a moment in the first act of Nicky Silver's THE LYONS when dying patriarch 'Ben' is asked whether he is in pain; his response, a monosyllabic 'Yes,' hardly ranks with any of the brilliantly barbed lines scattered throughout the play, but as intoned by veteran actor Ron Gephart, it acquires a startling variety of shades. As uttered by this gifted performer, a number of insights can be gained into the unfortunate Ben's character: Frustration, resignation, intolerance. If Mr. Gephart can manage that by simply saying 'Yes,' imagine what he is able to do with the dialogues and monologs that follow.
BWW Reviews:  New Moon Theatre Ghost Hunts with HAINTBWW Reviews: New Moon Theatre Ghost Hunts with HAINT
June 1, 2014

For some months, I had been hearing strong, positive comments about a previous stage reading of actor/singer Justin Asher's original HAINT, and finally, tonight, after mounting publicity (including a spot on WKNO's Checking on the Arts and an article in The Commercial Appeal's GO MEMPHIS), I was able to attend the first, complete performance of the play, staged by New Moon Theatre at Theatre Works. Not since Jerre Dye's original CICADAS have I left a theatre in such a state of excitement; like Mr. Dye's play, which recently had a highly successful production in Chicago, this is a play born of a region and time - in this case, the isolated Ozarks of Arkansas in 1953.
BWW Reviews: BEST OF BROADWAY 2 Proves You Don't 'Gotta Have a Gimmick'BWW Reviews: BEST OF BROADWAY 2 Proves You Don't 'Gotta Have a Gimmick'
May 25, 2014

Stage Door Productions BEST OF BROADWAY 2 Proves You Don't 'Gotta Have a Gimmick'
BWW Reviews: Playhouse's GYPSY Offers Rose Her TurnBWW Reviews: Playhouse's GYPSY Offers Rose Her Turn
May 12, 2014

The collaboration of Jules Stein and Stephen Sondheim on GYPSY provided the late Ethel Merman with a career boost into immortality. What isn't familiar about this material? Everyone knows the general outline of the play itself - 'Mama' Rose is 'Mommie Dearest' without the wire hangers; at the beginning of the play, she practically declares war on a quiet home life and, taking with her daughters June (the precocious and 'pretty' one) and Louise (the shy and recessive one), she practically declares war on domesticity and seeks to channel her dreams through their success.
BWW Reviews: Theatre Memphis Goes Hare Hunting with HARVEYBWW Reviews: Theatre Memphis Goes Hare Hunting with HARVEY
April 26, 2014



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