A Kansas native, Frank Benge has been involved in the Austin area theatre scene as a Director, Designer, Writer and Performer for the past 20 years. He holds a double BA in Theatre and English from Washburn University.
W;T is a 1999 Pulitzer Prize winning drama by Margaret Edson. The play also received the 'Best New Play' award for 1999 from the New York Drama Critics' Circle. Edson used her work experience in a hospital as part of the inspiration for her play. Functioning as both the narrator and a character in the play, the character of Vivian Bearing (Kristin Fern Jihnson) shifts between the present and the past, as she experiences stage four ovarian cancer through diagnosis to treatment with high-dosage experimental chemotherapy and finally, to her demise. Along the way, she also examines her life choices to discovers that she prefers kindness to intellectual detachment.BWW Interview: Stuart Moulton and Eighteen Years of Austin Cabaret Theatre August 4, 2018
One of Austin's best kept secrets is Austin Cabaret Theatre, which quietly brings in the best of the New York cabaret scene for one night only performances. This is all due to one man, Stuart Moulton. Stuart lives in New York City, but his love of Austin is unmistakable. We recently sat down with him to talk about their upcoming eighteenth season.BWW Review: Georgetown Palace MARY POPPINS Delivers Disney Magic July 22, 2018
P. L. Travers Mary Poppins magical nanny character was first published in 1934 and resulted in a series of eight children's books that ended in 1988. MARY POPPINS is a stage musical that uses the most iconic songs of the Sherman Brothers, with additional music and lyrics by George Stiles and Anthony Drewe, and a script by Julian Fellowes. The musical is a hybrid of Travers children's books and the 1964 Disney film, which fuses various elements from the two. I have some serious issues with the script, which I intend to discuss, but director Ron Watson and his talented cadre of technical artists produce pure 60's Disney magic.BWW Review: THE ANTIPODES Whip Smart Superbly Performed Examination of Story Telling July 12, 2018
'The rest of the world might be going to hell, but stories are better than ever,' says Sandy (Tom Green), the boss and leader of the think tank in THE ANTIPODES, the newest play from Pulitzer Prize winner Annie Baker currently on stage at Hyde Park Theatre in what is the second production of this fascinating new work. Hyde Park has a history of producing her plays, most recently having staged both John and The Flick. In THE ANTIPODES, Baker examines the very nature of story telling and also has some fun with the concept of time and how it is perceived. It is also interesting to note that the definition of antipodes is 'the opposite'. Baker, in the very construct of the play, is giving us the opposite of traditional plot structure. Sandy reveals a great deal of what Baker is attempting to accomplish in his early remarks to the group: 'If you think about the greatest thinkers in world history: Jesus, Socrates, Confucius; None of those guys recorded anything or wrote anything down. And what we know about them we know through other people telling stories about their stories. Could we go back to the beginning? Could we remake our collective unconscious?'BWW Review: MASS a Towering Achievement That Soars, Lifts and Inspires June 30, 2018
MASS: A Theatre Piece for Singers, Players, and Dancers, is a musical theatre piece composed by Leonard Bernstein with additional lyrics by Stephen Schwartz and Paul Simon. Commissioned by Jacqueline Kennedy, it premiered on September 8, 1971. Bernstein originally intended to compose a traditional Mass, but eventually settled on this more innovative form. It uses the Tridentine Mass of the Roman Catholic Church as its basis. While the liturgical passages are sung in Latin, MASS also includes added passages in English written by Bernstein, composer Stephen Schwartz, and Paul Simon (who wrote the first quatrain of 'Half of the People'). Intended to be staged theatrically, it has also been performed in concert format. This production has the added bonus of subtitling above the stage, although it really isn't necessar y.BWW Interview: J. Robert Moore on Sixty Years of the Zilker Summer Musical and ALL SHOOK UP June 27, 2018
Who hasn't been to one of the Broadway musical gems that play out in the open air amphitheatre during these blistering hot Austin summers? A gift to the community, the Zilker Summer Musical has been part of Austin for sixty years now. Always free to the public, this year's offering is ALL SHOOK UP, a jukebox musical from 2004 setting Elvis Presley's music to a book by Joe DiPietro. The story is based on William Shakespeare's 1602 play Twelfth Night.
Since 1959, audiences have placed their blankets and lawn chairs under the stars at the Beverly S. Sheffield Zilker Hillside Theater to be treated to such Broadway hits as Hairspray, The Sound of Music, The Music Man, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, Oklahoma, The Unsinkable Molly Brown and L'il Abner to name just a few. Shows that, in many cases, no other theatre in town would produce. BroadwayWorld recently had the opportunity to sit down with J. Robert Moore, the Artistic Director of Zilker Theatre Productions to talk about the Zilker musical as well as the organization.BWW Review: RUTHLESS! Unfortunately Misses The Mark June 18, 2018
Leonard Bernstein is an American treasure. He was one of the first American born conductors to receive worldwide acclaim. His fame is derived not only from his long tenure as the music director of the New York Philharmonic, but also from his conducting most of the world's leading orchestras, and from his prodigious body of music as the composer of West Side Story, Peter Pan, Candide, Wonderful Town, On the Town, On the Waterfront, MASS and a range of other compositions, including three symphonies and many shorter chamber and solo works.
Bernstein was the first conductor to give a series of television lectures on classical music, primarily aimed at youth, starting in 1954 and continuing until his death. As a composer, he has created pieces that are, without question, part of the fabric of our lives.
'MASS: A Theatre Piece for Singers, Players, and Dancers' was composed by Leonard Bernstein with text by Bernstein and additional text and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz. Commissioned by Jacqueline Kennedy, it premiered on September 8, 1971. The performance was part of the opening of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C.
Austin will have the rare opportunity to experience this glorious piece as part of the Bernstein at 100 celebration this month. BroadwayWorld recently had the opportunity to talk to conductor Peter Bay, Musical Director and Conductor of the Austin Symphony Orchestra about the upcoming production.BWW Interview: Dane Laffrey Talks About His Tony Nominated ONCE ON THIS ISLAND June 10, 2018
Recently, BroadwayWorld had the opportunity to interview Dane Laffrey who recently received his first Tony nomination for his work on the Broadway hit ONCE ON THIS ISLAND.
Dane's design is an explosive exercise in controlled chaos. Since ONCE ON THIS ISLAND is a tale of magical realism set in the Caribbean, Dane channeled the current conditions of regions hit by 2016's Hurricane Matthew. The stage is covered in sand, a crashed semi-truck takes up a corner of the space, a pool of water is held back by a pile of sand bags, and a downed power line has even crushed some of the seats. It's a complex set that has engrossed countless audiences seated in its theatre in the round setting. A seasoned scenic design veteran, Dane has designed sets for productions across Japan, Australia, Norway and the United States. Throughout his twelve years in the New York circuit, he's built sets for Broadway productions such as Spring Awakening and Fool For Love, along with off-Broadway hits such as The Maids and Woody Harrelson's Bullet for Adolf, as well as the upcoming production of Tennessee William's Summer and Smoke.BWW Review: LUCKY STIFF Stylishly Executed Musical Souffle June 10, 2018
LUCKY STIFF is a musical farce with lyrics and libretto by Lynn Ahrens and music by Stephen Flaherty, that is notable historically for several things. To begin with, It was the first collaboration for the team whose later collaborations include Ragtime and Once On This Island. It was created and performed at Playwrights Horizons off-Broadway in 1988, and won the Richard Rodgers Award for that year. LUCKY STIFF is based on a 1983 novel The Man Who Broke the Bank at Monte Carlo by Michael Butterworth. It received a full production in London's West End in 1997 but, to date, has never had a Broadway production. In 2015, a film version was created but it has only been seen at film festivals.BWW Review: SMALL MOUTH SOUNDS Packed With Superb Performances May 21, 2018
SMALL MOUTH SOUNDS is a new play from Drama Desk Award-winner Bess Wohl that looks at how we address life's biggest questions when you can't use words. Under the watchful eye of their unseen guru, six people (who are about as different from each other as one can get) have gathered for a week-long retreat in the woods. What makes this retreat unusual is the fact that it is a silent retreat. In the process of listening to their spiritual leader, they discover that silence is not only golden, but also more than a little passive-aggressive. As they confront their inner demons, they find their vows of silence colliding with the basic human need to connect.
Rules have been laid out (including no cellphone use except in cars with the windows rolled up, no candles or incense, no food in the rooms), but over the course of the retreat, every rule gets broken. In the quiet of the woods, they attempt to abandon technology and observe their vow of silence. There are some remarkable moments of tenderness in this play, but SMALL MOUTH SOUNDS is also a wickedly satiric look at this comodified inner peace industry where nirvana is just a guru, mantra or self-help book away.BWW Review: AN ADULT EVENING OF SHEL SILVERSTEIN is Delectably Demented May 13, 2018
Sheldon Allan 'Shel' Silverstein was a decidedly American writer who has been translated into more than 30 languages, and whose books have sold over 20 million copies. He was the recipient of two Grammy Awards, as well as a Golden Globe and an Academy Award nomination. Silverstein created a remarkable body of work that spans the gamut from county and western songs to children's literature, from poetry to short plays. He also illustrated much of his own writing. In AN ADULT EVENING OF SHEL SILVERSTEIN, adapter and director Steph Carll has pulled judiciously from this body of work to craft a delectably demented, sublimely saucy and blissfully bawdy evening of adult entertainment. What is also revealed in the process is just how much Silverstein has contributed to the fabric of our lives. You may find yourself thinking more than once 'I didn't know he wrote that...' .BWW Review: WISH - A MUSICAL ADVENTURE is Wise, Witty and Wonderful May 9, 2018
WISH is a world premiere new musical for young audiences that is set 100 years in the past and uses a highly theatrical and presentational storytelling style that successfully combines magic, music and youthful optimism with action and adventure. This unique and original story imagines the America of 100 years ago as a mythical place where the bold scientific discoveries and inventions of the era meet magic, superstition and wonder. It is even set in a town called Ideal. It is the story of young Samantha Major (Megan Hudson) and her friend Grace Strickland (Katya Welch) as they journey from the East to West coast to find and possibly save her father, inventor Tom Major (Scott Poppaw).BWW Review: Festival of New Texas Plays at Austin Playhouse May 2, 2018
Austin Playhouse recently produced staged readings of the three winning plays from their Festival of New Texas Plays. EIDOPHUSIKON by Reina Hardy kicked off the festival on Friday, April 27, NUTSHELL by C. Denby Swanson was on Saturday, April 28, and MONROE by Lisa B. Thompson concluded the lineup on Sunday, April 29. Along with the professional staged reading, which featured Austin Playhouse directors and company members, each of the winning playwrights received a $500 prize.BWW Review: THE SUNSHINE BOYS is Sparkling Simon Done Right April 23, 2018
THE SUNSHINE BOYS is a 1972 Tony Award nominated play by Neil Simon that ran for 538 performances on Broadway. It was turned into a feature film in 1975 and a TV movie in 1996. THE SUNSHINE BOYS is the story of two old vaudeville stars, Lewis & Clark, whose iconic act ended when Al Lewis walked away after 43 years of animosity and retired leaving Willie to try to make it as a solo act. When Willie didn't succeed, the duo never spoke again. When his nephew Ben, a talent agent, tries to resurrect the act for a TV special, the big question is whether they can put aside their differences long enough to make one final appearance.BWW Review: MY FAIR LADY Gets Loving Revival at Georgetown Palace April 22, 2018
MY FAIR LADY is a 1956 musical based on George Bernard Shaw's Pygmalion, with book and lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner and music by Frederick Loewe. The musical is the story of Eliza Doolittle (Martina Ohlhauser) a Cockney flower girl who takes speech lessons from professor Henry Higgins (Damon Brown), a phoneticist, in order to improve her station in life by passing as a lady. The original Broadway production was both a critical and popular success, setting the record for the longest run of any show up to that time. It has been revived multiple times, including the current production on Broadway and has been turned into a popular film. It won the 1957 Tony Award for Best Musical. MY FAIR LADY features one of musical theatre's greatest scores, including 'Wouldn't It Be Loverly?' 'The Rain in Spain,' 'I Could Have Danced All Night,' 'On the Street Where You Live,' and 'Get Me to the Church on Time.'BWW Review: RAGTIME a Work of Great Power and Beauty Brilliantly Executed April 20, 2018
RAGTIME is a 1996 musical about the American experience at the turn of the 20th century with a book by Terrence McNally, lyrics by Lynn Ahrens, and music by Stephen Flaherty. The score is inspired by the musical styles of the period and includes marches, cakewalks, gospel and, of course, ragtime. Based on E. L. Doctorow's 1975 novel of the same name about early 20th century America, the story weaves together the disparite lives of three groups: African Americans, represented by Harlem musician Coalhouse Walker Jr. (Ben Toomer); the White upper-class of suburbia, represented by Mother (Emma Hearn), a New Rochelle matriarch; and immigrants, represented by Tateh (Trevor Berger), a Jewish immigrant from Latvia. The musical's message of acceptance and hope in the face of challenges is even more relevant today than it was two decades ago.BWW Review: Hilarious Touring Production of THE BOOK OF MORMON Packed With Talent April 19, 2018
THE BOOK OF MORMON is a satirical musical with book, lyrics, and music by Trey Parker, Robert Lopez and Matt Stone. Parker and Stone, the creators of the long running Comedy Central animated series South Park, along with Lopez, the co-composer/co-lyricist of Avenue Q and Frozen, have created a show that simultaneously deconstructs the American musical while paying loving homage to it. THE BOOK OF MORMON is the story of two young Mormon missionaries who are sent to Uganda on their first mission. The only thing the two boys have in common is their naive outlook on life. When they try to spread 'the word' among the locals they discover that religion is the last thing the villagers are concerned about.BWW Review: VIOLET Charms at St. Edwards April 17, 2018
VIOLET is a 1997 musical with music by Jeanine Tesori and book and lyrics by Brian Crawley. It's based on the short story 'The Ugliest Pilgrim' by Doris Betts. The musical first premiered Off-Broadway in 1997 and won the Drama Critics' Circle Award and Lucille Lortel Award as Best Musical, it was later produced on Broadway but considered a revival. While it was Tony Award nominated, it did not win.BWW Review: Danko Delivers Dynamic Debilitating Dark Descent in GROUNDED April 15, 2018
GROUNDED is a 2012 drama from George Brant that won the National New Play Network's 2012 Smith Prize and the Fringe First award at the 2013 Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Street Corner Arts production of the play is the first time his work has been done in Austin since he graduated with an MFA in Writing from the Michener Center for Writers at the University of Texas at Austin. George Brant's play was one of the earliest theatrical explorations of this unnerving new form of war.