Amy Zipperer is an award-winning playwright whose short plays have been produced across the United States and Canada. She currently teaches creative writing at Georgia Military College in Milledgeville, Georgia.
On Friday evening, Atlanta Lyric Theatre, in a display of pure bravura, opened their 40th Anniversary Season with the regional premiere of the musical War Paint, a new tuner with a book by Doug Wright, music by Scott Frankel, and lyrics by Michael Korie that tells the story of the rise and fall of two of the cosmetics industry's most notable trailblazers, Helena Rubenstein and Elizabeth Arden. The musical opened on Broadway in 2017 to lackluster reviews and played only 269 performances before shuttering, even with two of Broadway's biggest divas, Christine Ebersole and Patti Lupone, at the helm. There's a reason for this. War Paint has what I like to call Sleepless-in-Seattle Syndrome when I'm talking to a group of juiced-up creative writing students. That's a story that, like the Tom Hanks-Meg Ryan film, has this problem: the characters don't share enough time together in scenes to generate the type of tension needed to sustain interest over the course of the story. The musical places too many limitations on itself by remaining true to the real-life story which includes the fact that Helena Rubenstein and Elizabeth Arden didn't actually know each other in real life and ends up painting a stage where the two principal characters are separated by an imaginary wall that can't ever be scaled, not even emotionally, and not even by the most talented actors. But Atlanta Lyric, with their artistic director, Mary Nye Bennett, an absolute mega-talent in the role of Helena Rubenstein, and gorgeous scenic by Stephanie Polhemus, manage to offer up an excellent evening at the theater under the direction of a capable Susan G. Reid. BWW Previews: SUMMER STAGES in Atlanta June 1, 2019
Welcome to Sunpocalypse. So far, this Atlanta summer is 100-in-the-shade. Basically, we're all human-sized Marios running from the evil sun and hoping for a brief respite via some magical pipe that takes you to a cool underground cavern where there's lots of unprotected gold. Luckily, our favorite Atlanta stages have offered up a lot of great summer theatre, so at least we have something cool to look forward to. BWW Review: SINGIN' IN THE RAIN at Atlanta Lyric Theatre April 23, 2019
My love of Singin' in the Rain is deeply rooted in my experience of the beloved 1952 film classic, and it's steeped in nostalgia. It's a love that sees me first in line at classic film festivals when Singin' in the Rain is on the marquee. It's a love that makes my heart flutter when I learn that a nearby theater is staging the 1983 musical. And it's a love that makes me willfully forget that the stage musical … well … isn't that good. It tries hard, but it just doesn't quite work. The "doesn't quite work" is not particularly bound up in the fact that stage adaptations are noticeably absent the great dancing triumvirate - Kelly, O'Connor, and Reynolds - though that certainly doesn't help. What's wrong is that it feels too cinematic and has an inexplicable absence of story energy and razzle-dazzle that made us fall in love with Hollywoodland on the screen. Atlanta Lyric Theatre's earnest new production can't overcome this problem. No production can. But with tremendously entertaining supporting actors J. Koby Parker in the role of Cosmo Brown and Beth Beyer in the role of Lina Lamont, a beautifully sung titular song complete with a gorgeous streetscape and very real rain, and dreamy period costumes by Amanda Edgerton West, Atlanta Lyric Theatre offers up another pleasant evening of theatre. BWW Review: PIPELINE at Horizon Theatre Company April 5, 2019
The play, a fair and angry indictment of social injustice, asks a number of important questions, and the gorgeous cast, under the adept direction of Atlanta-favorite Tinashe Kajese Bolden and Keith Arthur Bolden, and with help from an incredibly able design team, brings the indictment to powerful life.BWW Review: SHENANDOAH at Serenbe Playhouse March 21, 2019
It's sunset on a Sunday evening as I walk up a dusty pathway heading for the Horseman's Meadow at Serenbe Playhouse where a new production of Shenandoah, a musical adapted from the 1965 Jimmy Stewart film of the same name, plays through April 14. Brilliant orange and purple light blankets the open field to my left. To my right, a Civil War campsite moves into view. Canvas tents soak up the last of the sun, and shadows fall on the faces of soldiers as they rest. Here a few soldiers play poker. There a soldier holds a live chicken, dinner for the weary troops. Still farther on, a few tend to the tired horses. The camp is a spectacle that almost trumps nature's best spectacle, the dazzling sunset of an early spring. But even the grand spectacle of the campsite pales in comparison to the battle that unfolds only moments later on the empty meadow.
Terrence J. Smith and Cast
Photo by BreeAnne Clowdus
Men, some atop real horses, come from nowhere, and we are drenched in the chaotic sound of rapid artillery fire and the light of explosions - the remnants of shots fired from rifles and the fuses of cannons. We are spectators at some battle where many men will die and where few will be able to articulate what it has all been for. That's the Serenbe way of opening a Civil War play. It's the classic Clowdus go-big-or-go-home welcome, and this play needs all the help it can get to rise above its challenges, a heavy-handed script troubled by weakly drawn characters and a lackluster score. Though the challenges are significant, visionary director Brian Clowdus, along with his creative team and talented cast, including a tentative American Idol-winner Taylor Hicks in his first principal acting role and Broadway's vibrant Rachel Potter, prove that the challenges are not insurmountable as they turn out an effective and memorable staging.BWW Interview: Sierra Boggess Talks EVER AFTER at Alliance Theatre January 14, 2019
There's enough excitement in Atlanta this month to fill a fleet of pumpkin-carriages as Alliance Theatre mounts the highly-anticipated regional premiere of Ever After, a musical adaptation of the popular 1998 film of the same name which made its premiere at Paper Mill Playhouse in 2015. Ever After, loosely based on the Cinderella fairy tale, tells the story of Danielle de Barbarac, the Cinderella-esque young daughter of a 16th-century landowner who's forced into slavery by her stepmother after the unexpected death of her father. When a chance encounter with a prince stirs up considerable excitement for the young servant girl, Danielle finds that she might have the strength to take on her stepmother…and the world. Broadway diva Sierra Boggess, most known for her acclaimed turns as Ariel in The Little Mermaid and Christine Daae in Phantom of the Opera, will take on the role of the vibrant Danielle. BroadwayWorld caught up with Boggess to talk about the show.BWW Feature: The Best Atlanta Valentine's Day Theatre Dates February 5, 2019
Thanks to the aggressive Aquaman marketing campaign, chances are good that your significant other has been immersed in images of hunky Jason Momoa over the past few weeks. That means you better up your Valentine's game. You've got a lot of romance novel wet-hair flips and the chiseled mega-chest abs to drown out, and Bird Box on Netflix and delivery pizza ain't gonna cut it. Luckily, we've recognized the problem early, and we've compiled a list of upcoming Atlanta shows to help you to plan the perfect Valentine's Day theatre date. Because a date night spent at the theatre is always upping your game.BWW Review: THE CHRISTMAS CAROL EXPERIENCE at The Wren's Nest December 16, 2018
There's a new immersive theatrical experience at the Wren's Nest Museum in Atlanta this month, and it's definitely going to ring your Christmas bell. From the mind of visionary Atlanta director Brian Clowdus comes The Christmas Carol Experience, an interactive holiday concoction that's two parts Christmas party and one part Dickensian storytelling. The storytelling component of the evening offers little more than a wave at Dickens' frumpy and heavy-handed holiday novella, A Christmas Carol. Instead, it relies on the audience to bring a bit of working knowledge of Ebenezer Scrooge, literary history's most famous mizer, while it, bolstered by an impressive cast of five actors, provides the perfect 19th-century atmospheric backdrop, courtesy of The Wren's Nest, one of Atlanta's oldest homes with ghost-story spookiness built right in, and an abundance of holiday cheer.
Here's how it works: The audience, mourners at Jacob Marley's funeral with Christmas cocktails in hand, are free to travel about the open rooms of the museum. What happens next depends on which characters are in the room. If Ebenezer and his deliciously ghostly guide, Marley, are present, the rooms offer up newly reimagined versions of Ebenezer's encounters with the ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Yet to Come. If Ebenezer and Marley are not present, the rooms offer up interactive holiday cheer - maybe a singalong or a fun game. Newsflash: If you don't end up singing a solo in a room full of strangers before you leave, you did it wrong.
This unusual rendering of the holiday classic demands only five actors, and each one is up to the challenge of providing a believable, up-close-and-personal experience. Of particular note are the performances of the beautifully Bah Humbug-gy Daniel Burns in the role of Ebenezer Scrooge and an incredibly talented Jordan Patrick in the role of the doomed-for-eternity Jacob Marley. Their laudable non-verbal storytelling skills nicely supplement the thin script, leaving the audience with a rich and satisfying experience. Lilliangina Quinones, Julie Trammel Key, and Rosie Gyselinck, all playing women from Scrooge's life who take on the roles of Ebenezer's Christmas ghosts, are, in addition to carrying their equal parts of the forward movement of the story, all up to the demanding task of leading rooms full of people through carols and games while remaining firmly rooted in the 19th-century sensibilities of their characters.
The production is, unarguably, a pure sensory delight. The Wren's Nest, with its creaky floorboards and weather-stained walls and ceiling, is the important sixth character in this cast, and it is impressive in its role. In addition to the authentic Victorian oppressiveness that comes with the house, thick fog and eerie lighting aptly service the needs of the story and underscore the beauty of Clowdus's carefully crafted stage pictures.
Here's a helpful tip: Follow Scrooge and Marley into the first room if you can. The experience is disorienting by nature, and following the story from beginning to end will likely quell some of the initial feelings of bewilderment you might face. But if Marley slams the door in your face while you are trying to enter that first room, as he did mine, don't fret. The story, as it is meant to do, will culminate in a softer and more charitable Scrooge, and it will leave you feeling the joy of the holiday season no matter the order in which you experience it.BWW Review: A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM at Alliance Theatre September 25, 2018
I consider myself a Shakespeare purist of the worst sort. I wax snobbish at Shakespeare productions where Hamlet, language updated, sounds like a California surfer: 'Dude. It was my uncle, Bro.' I scoff at productions that situate themselves in some setting that's divergent from the original. Macbeth cannot be a one-man show set in an insane asylum, and Midsummer is definitely no good in a Catholic school for girls. But soft! Methinks I've stumbled upon an anomaly that's making me rethink my whole purist disdain for the Creative Shakespeare Catalogue O' Crap. That anomaly is Alliance Theatre's production of A Midsummer Night's Dream that's playing on an outdoor stage at the Atlanta Botanical Garden through October 21. Though the production liberally infuses the Bard's most delightful play with a healthy dose of our 21st- century American vernacular, frames the action of the play in a moern garden being outfitted for a wedding, and cuts a significant portion of the original play, it's still pretty darn magical. BWW Review: 42ND STREET at City Springs Theatre September 19, 2018
Look out, Atlanta! There's a new musical theatre hotspot in town! The City Springs Theatre Company opened its inaugural season in the Byers Theatre at City Springs Civic Center over the weekend with a razzle-dazzle production of the fluffy 1980 tuner 42nd Street, adapted from the Bradford Ropes novel and the subsequent 1933 film of the same name. The lavishly staged production, featuring Tony Award Winner Shuler Hensley, who also serves as the Associate Artistic Director for the new company, and Atlanta favorite Deborah Bowman at her best, is a bonafide triumph for director Brandt Blocker. It's well-acted. It's well-sung. And… those dancing feet. Oh, those dancing feet!BWW Review: THE SEAGULL at Serenbe Playhouse September 9, 2018
Fresh off the mammoth production of the musical Titanic, a production that garnered a boatload of much-deserved national press, Serenbe Playhouse is offering up something radically different this month: a modern reimagining of Anton Chekhov's The Seagull, complete with hypnotic Balkan music by talented composer Anais Azul. The ambitious play, under the direction of Elizabeth Dinkova, the adaptor of the work, is worth seeing for the gorgeous site-specific staging at Peek Lake near Serenbe, a setting that a purist's Chekhov would also flourish in, but Dinkova's experimental script tries too hard to make a statement about art's power to blur the boundaries between reality and illusion, relying much too heavily on the intrusive narratorial voice of Constance, a gender-flipped Konstantin from the original work, to frame out its profundity for us. In addition, turning the heavy language of Chekhov into the spare language of today's texters and tweeters is a tricky business, and Dinkova's dialogue often feels clunky and forced. In the end, the production, though visually stunning and mostly well-acted, never quite takes flight.BWW Review: TITANIC at Serenbe Playhouse July 28, 2018
Dark threatening clouds hang low over the Inn Lake at Serenbe as I clump up the dirt pathway towards the unsinkable R.M.S. Titanic, the ship of dreams, represented here tonight by a massive industrial steel scaffolding structure that rises out of the lake, climbing high into the menacing sky. The sky, providing the natural backdrop for visionary artistic director Brian Clowdus's doomed ocean liner, seems tonally apropos considering that I, along with several hundred other patron-passengers, have driven out specifically for the purpose of revisiting the horrifying deaths of 1503 people in the frigid waters of the Atlantic Ocean on an April evening of 1912 when the festive notes from the ship's orchestra must have peppered the excited night air in much the same way that this ship's gorgeous, first-rate orchestra, perched some 100 yards away in a shipping crate on a hill above the floating stage, does. As we reach the ship, crew members in gorgeous period costuming by Alan Yeong, beckon us aboard while impressive billows of smoke pour out of the kettle drum-smoke stacks perched high atop the scaffolding and ship blasts signify that our immersive journey is about to begin. At that moment, I am simply along for the ride, not knowing as I listen to the women behind me munching on popcorn and clamoring about which Clowdus show has been their favorite, that this production of the lackluster 1997 Titanic, a musical that scooped up a slew of undeserved Tony Awards for Maury Yeston and Peter Stone, is going to be one of the most memorable and dazzling theatrical spectacles I have ever witnessed.BWW Interview: The Walking Dead's Jayson Warner Smith of BLACKBIRD at Robert Mello Studio Blackbox July 16, 2018
David Harrower's celebrated 2005 play, Blackbird, is coming to Atlanta this August at The Robert Mello Studio Blackbox. The Tony-nominated play, which The New York Times called 'gorgeous' and 'unsettling,' tells the story of Una, a young woman, who shows up at the office of Ray, her former lover, who, after having been imprisoned at the age of 40 for his illicit relationship with the 12-year-old Una, has tried to make a new life for himself. A new name. A new relationship. But when Una pops up 15 years later to rehash the details of their former love affair after seeing his picture in a trade magazine, Ray's carefully constructed new life begins to collapse. BroadwayWorld recently caught up with The Walking Dead star Jayson Warner Smith to chat about his turn as Ray in the self-produced run.BWW Review: THE COLOR PURPLE at Actor's Express June 20, 2018
The production of The Color Purple that opened at Actor's Express over the weekend is a strong, spirited, stripped-down production that aims straight at the heart of Alice Walker's beloved story. Here, the aesthetic improvements to the stuffy and overcooked original Broadway production's concept are inspired by John Doyle's recent acclaimed minimalist revival on Broadway, and in the hands of a talented ensemble and a luminous Latrice Pace in the role of Celie, this musical becomes exactly what it should be: a heartfelt portrait of the resilience of the human heart.BWW Review: NEWSIES at Peach State Summer Theatre! June 19, 2018
Disney's Newsies is currently playing at Peach State Summer Theatre in Valdosta, and if you're looking to get out of the hustle and grind of Atlanta for a weekend road trip to a place where they're not paving I-285, this is definitely your best-bet theatre destination. Peach State Summer Theatre's energetic production, propelled by a solid book by Harvey Fierstein and memorable music and lyrics by Alan Menken and Jack Feldman, showcases how well this 2011 tuner has aged. It's a story about bucking the corrupt establishment and fighting for an America where everyone has a chance at a piece of the dream-pie (or at least a piece of bread) in exchange for hard work. And Peach State Summer Theatre's talented cast, led by a dazzling Andrew Poston in the role of Jack Kelly and supported by Jason Lee Courson's effective scenic design and Jason Celaya's urban choreography, knows exactly how to tell this story.BWW Road-Trip Review: MILLION DOLLAR QUARTET at Peach State Summer Theatre June 16, 2018
It's hot down here in Valdosta! And that's not just the heat from the Georgia sun in June we're feeling. It's the heat emanating from the Peach State Summer Theatre's production of Million Dollar Quartet. The musical revue, playing this summer in repertory with Disney's Newsies and Hello, Dolly!, recreates the legendary jam session at Sun Records, a session that marks the only time that rock and roll giants Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, and Johnny Cash were ever assembled in the same room. The tuner is little moas re than an excuse to play a catalogue of some of the most popular rock and roll songs of all time, but when music sounds as good as it does here, that's alright. That's alright!BWW Review: TARZAN: THE STAGE MUSICAL at Atlanta Lyric Theatre June 9, 2018
When Tarzan swung into Atlanta Lyric Theatre on Friday evening, it carried a lot of heavy baggage with it. At its opening on Broadway in 2006, the seldom-produced tuner, with songs by Phil Collins and a book by David Henry Hwang, was decidedly unpopular with the critics. The New York Times called it "restless," "fidgety," and "a giant green blob with music." New York Magazine said, "You are going to be bored." I could go on, but why bother? You get the picture. Neither the musical nor the production was favored, and, unsurprisingly, the musical lasted only 486 performances on Broadway, which, in the world of the Disney musical, is like dying while you're still a tadpole. But Robert Adams' production of Tarzan, owing much debt to the extraordinary lighting design by Mary Parker, the efficient scenic design by Daniel Pattillo, and the vigor of the acrobatic cast, sheds all of that baggage and finds a way to soar.BWW Previews: SUMMER STAGES in Atlanta June 5, 2018
We've barely welcomed June, and it's already sizzling hot here in Atlanta, so as we all head inside to foster meaningful relationships with our air conditioners, there are really two viable options for leisure time: fight with randos about Donald Trump on Twitter until you legitimately expect that you might have a stroke or head to the theater for a few blissful hours of phone-free, air-conditioned joy. Translation: Go to the theater this summer. It's good for your health. BWW Interview: Christopher Sieber of CANDIDE at Alliance Theatre May 13, 2018
Two-time Tony Award nominee Christopher Sieber is back in Atlanta where he's taking on the roles of Dr. Pangloss and The Narrator in Leonard Bernstein's 1956 operetta, Candide, a collaboration between Alliance Theatre and the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra. BroadwayWorld caught up with Christopher Sieber to talk about the project.BWW Interview: T.K. Habtemariam of SORDID LIVES at Out Front Theatre Company May 2, 2018
Sordid Lives, a dark comedy by Del Shores, is playing at Out Front Theatre Company this month. BroadwayWorld caught up with T.K. Habtemariam, an Atlanta-based actor who plays Earl "Brother Boy" Ingram in Out Front's upcoming production, to talk about the show.
I haven't seen this show before, but I've done a little bit of reading. So, it's about a woman named Peggy who trips over her lover's wooden legs in a hotel room and dies.
Yeah. Exactly. And it's funny that her name is Peggy, too.
Yeah. I mean, because the fact that she dies because of the wooden legs. Peg-gy.
That's really funny. I'm interested to know how your character figures into this story.
Brother Boy…Earl Ingram… probably was a little bit before his time, and at the age of 18, he was kicked out of his household for being one big old queer boy. And he was actually put into a mental institution for wanting to either impersonate women or for liking someone of the same sex. And, essentially, back when I was 18, I had a friend named Wardell, and he found out that I had a crush on hi, and he beat me up to a bloody pulp, and my mother, Peggy, who ends up tripping over her lover's wooden legs, put me in a mental institution because she believes the world is not ready for me and my place in this world. But Wardell, 20 years later, ends up busting me out of the mental institution.
This is kind of interesting because when I read about the show online, it sounded like a straight silly comedy, but now it sort of sounds like it tackles some real issues.
Oh, it's definitely a black comedy, and it definitely tackles a lot of issues. It's traditionally an all-white cast, and we color-flipped the main family, and we've kind of found ourselves in a new definition of the kind of topics that it tackles It was written in the 90s, and it kind of reflects the Southern mentality form the 90s, but now that we're putting it in the context of a black family, there are so many other social issues that are underlying that wouldn't have been beforehand.
That was one of the questions that I was going to ask was how the story has changed because of this casting. This is the first all-African-American cast ever, right?
Yes. It is. And it's such an honor for me to say I'm the first African-American Brother Boy because Leslie Jordan originated the role, and I remember seeing this movie in high-school and revisiting, I was like "Oh, my goodness. I actually did see this movie." And it is definitely a fantasy in the sense of what anyone of color could get away with. If there was anyone who was queer and of color in a mental institution for being gay, I don't know if that person would still be alive. And Wardell, who busts into the mental institution, comes in with a gun and busts me out, and we both tell this white lady to get the hell out of this place. If that were to happen in the 90s in South Texas, I promise you they wouldn't be alive. And, you know, it does bring in the idea of the interracial relationship, but that's kind of at the bottom of the barrel when it comes to all of the other issues that we cover. Even though I would like to say that Brother Boy has access to mental healthcare and someone who's queer and of color…that's kind of like the last group of people who get healthcare. And also there are moments where black women talk back to white men. There are moments when a black woman tells off a white man. There are moments, when it comes to social diversity back then… You know, we think of period pieces like To Kill a Mockingbird where we are so used to saying, "Okay. Well, at this time, black people were called niggers, so we're just going to have to expect it, you know?" But when it comes to things like I'm a black male in a mental institution for fantasizing about country queens like Tammy Wynette, and I do believe that my character would probably identify as a trans person but back then "trans" wasn't in our vocabulary, so there's the interesting discussion there to happen. So, it just kind of flares up a lot of things that couldn't have happened back then, but today we're using theatre as a way to tell a story that probably wouldn't have ever happened to bring up discussions today. We've had lots of conversations as a team about what these things mean to us today, and a lot of things have to be dug up. For instance, there's a line where a character calls somebody a mulatto. When we think of a white-trash family, we kind of accept the fact that they're going to poke fum at somebody being mixed, but how does it look when a white person says that to a black person? There have been some modifications, of course, with the generosity of Del Shores, where we've kind of said, "Can you rework this or find a way to make this…"
And he was into that? He was willing to make those changes?
Oh, yeah! He had to think about the script and rework it and rewrite some lines. There are some lines where - I am a black person, and we have to take into consideration that I wouldn't just idolize Tammy Wynette, you know? There are so many other queens at that time. We found moments where I can bring up Aretha Franklin and Tina Turner because that would be reflective of the culture and of the time.
When you first auditioned for the role, what was it about the role that really resonated with you?
I think that number one is my character type. You always have to think about what kind of roles you are peaked for, in all honesty. I'm usually someone who's taking someone down or who is being taken down. My character-type is the "betrayer" or the "betrayed." And Brother Boy is that kind of character. And then, I do drag as a little side passion project here in Atlanta, and I work with a predominantly queer POC group called Southern Fried Queer Pride, and I've had opportunities to perform in drag, write drag shows, and the play is kind of an amalgamation of both theatre and drag. And it's a cult classic role! Why wouldn't I want to be a part of it? And once I started meeting my castmates and we had rehearsals and what not, the bigger picture started panning out and I stated to see, "Oh, okay. This is what this is really all about."
Do you have any projects coming up this summer that we need to know about?
There's a passion project that I'm working on. It's kind of like the second installation of it. It's called Weavestock, and it's going to be through Country Fried Queer Pride. It's going to be hopefully happening sometime in August, and it's a project that I'm writing, directing, and being a part of. It's kind of like a play on Woodstock and Wigstock, a phenomenon that happened in New York in the late 80s and early 90s. Lots of drag icons used to perform at Wigstock. Weavestock is basically a celebration of all-black drag. It moves like a jukebox musical where there are written scenes with drag performances. A lot of times, you know, you have to create your own opportunities. Right now, I'm working on cultivating my writing skills and my directing skills and just hoping to create more opportunities for myself herein Atlanta.
Sounds like you're on the right track! Looking forward to seeing the show.