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.
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.BWW Review: Immerse Yourself in the Magic of PERFORMANCE PARK April 1, 2018
PERFORMANCE PARK is an interactive and immersive theatre piece, conceived and directed by Bonnie Cullum, that transforms the Vortex compound into a choose-your-own-experience environment where you are free to wander and pick what you will watch, what games you will play and the order in which you experience them. It is entirely unlike most other theatrical experiences in that you have the option to take a break to digest what you have seen and try to figure out what it all means and what you should do next.BWW Review: SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE A Love Letter to Theatre March 26, 2018
SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE is a 2014 stage adaptation by Lee Hall of the 1998 Academy Award winning film by Marc Norman and Tom Stoppard of the same name. It was first created under the auspices of Disney Theatrical Productions and Sonia Friedman Productions. The story concerns an imaginary love affair involving Viola de Lesseps (Claire Grasso) and playwright William Shakespeare (Stephen Mercantel) while he was writing Romeo and Juliet. Many of the characters are based on historical figures, and many of the characters, lines, and plot devices allude to Shakespeare's plays. The production, now playing at Austin Playhouse, is one of their biggest productions to date. This script has become one of the most produced plays in America this season, and rightfully so, as it as entertaining as the 1998 film was.BWW Review: Razor Sharp Black Comedy THE SECRETARY Turns the Gun Debate On Its Head March 24, 2018
THE SECRETARY is a world premiere comedy by Kyle John Schmidt that shines a dark and wry light on America's love affair with guns. Initially developed at the Ingram New Play Lab at Nashville Repertory Theatre and workshopped earlier this season at Hyde Park Theatre, this razor sharp black comedy gets a slick, polished and professional production from Theatre en Bloc, now playing at The Long Center. When the sweet elderly secretary at a local high school deals with a threat in her office by firing off six bullets, the local gun manufacturer gets the idea to name their brand new gun 'The Secretary', after her. Sales are slumping and they take advantage of the unfortunate modern reality that news of each new shooting is good for business. As production begins on their newest firearm, their guns begin going off without anyone pulling the trigger. Featuring an all female cast, THE SECRETARY is a black comedy with an extremely timely message.BWW Interview: Elizabeth Doss and Lisa Laratta on paper chairs newest Original Work THE REPENTANCE OF ST. JOAN March 22, 2018
Austin theatre troupe paper chairs has been creating original works of theatre here for the past eight years that consistently push boundaries both verbal and visual. These fresh and exciting works are, in no small part, due to two women who were among the founding members, Elizabeth Doss and Lisa Laratta. Opening on March 23 is their latest offering, THE REPENTANCE OF ST. JOAN, a new play by Austin playwright Patrick Shaw. Broadway World recently had the opportunity to sit down with them to get a deeper look into both the company and their upcoming production.BWW Review: A GENTLEMAN'S GUIDE TO LOVE AND MURDER a Stylish, Witty Comic Musical Romp March 21, 2018
A GENTLEMAN'S GUIDE TO LOVE AND MURDER is a 2014 musical comedy, with a book and lyrics by Robert L. Freedman and music and lyrics by Steven Lutvak. This winner of four Tonys, including Best Musical, is based on the 1907 novel 'Israel Rank: The Autobiography of a Criminal' by Roy Horniman. The novel was also the source for the 1949 British film Kind Hearts and Coronets. The film and musical are both examples of black comedy and the musical also spoofs the antiquated musical form known as operetta. This frenetic farce has a marvelous score that recalls the best verbal gymnastics of Gilbert & Sullivan and Stephen Sondheim.BWW Review: BAD JEWS a Brutal and Vicious Familial Battle March 18, 2018
BAD JEWS is a 2012 play by Joshua Harmon that is billed as a dark comedy. Harmon says his inspiration for the play came 'after attending a service in which grandchildren of Holocaust survivors were invited to speak.' When the beloved patriarch of a New York Jewish family dies, he leaves behind a treasured family heirloom that is a culturally significant piece of jewelry. The item in question was a piece of jewelry, traditionally worn by men, that he succeeded in hiding from the Nazis during the Holocaust. His grandchildren gather to attend to family business and end up fighting over not only the family heirloom, but over faith, cultural assimilation, and each other's life choices while reliving, sharing and remembering.BWW Review: WHITE RABBIT, RED RABBIT is an Exercise in Manipulation March 17, 2018
WHITE RABBIT, RED RABBIT has been called a play. This experiment in audience participation is an experience that has become a global sensation that no one is allowed to talk about. The award-winning playwright, Nassim Soleimanpour, is Iranian. While he himself has been censored in his homeland, this work has escaped his country and thus has escaped censorship and is always presented without a set or director. Each actor (it is a different actor each night, and each actor can only perform it once) opens and performs the script, following Soleimanpour's instructions, before the audience that evening. They experience it right along with the audience for the first time. WHITE RABBIT, RED RABBIT is a unique experience that is different each night and is unlike anything you've experienced beforeBWW Review: Beth Leavel Charms in KICKING AND SCREAMING at Austin Cabaret Theatre March 17, 2018
Beth Leavel, Tony Award winner for Best Featured Actress in a Musical, winner of the Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Featured Actress in a Musical, and Outer Critics Circle Award winner for Outstanding Featured Actress in a Musical for playing Beatrice Stockwell in The Drowsy Chaperone, recently brought her cabaret show, KICKING AND SCREAMING, to the Sterling Events Center, as part of their 17th season. Ms. Leavel charmed the audience for 90 minutes with stories of her life in the theatre and sang songs that she has become famous for, along with some musical surprises that were an absolute delight.BWW Review: Texas Light Opera Inagural Production of THE LAST FIVE YEARS is a Winner March 4, 2018
THE LAST FIVE YEARS is a 2001 off-Broadway musical by Jason Robert Brown that took the author's own failed marriage to Theresa O'Neill as inspiration for this intimate yet powerful musical. It was also adapted into a film in 2015. The story is a look at the five-year relationship between Jamie Wellerstein, a rising novelist, and Cathy Hiatt, a struggling actress. Structurally, it is unique in that the story is not only mostly sung through, with just the barest of spoken dialogue, but also in how it tells the story from two different perspectives. Jamie (Joseph Urick) tells the story chronologically, while Cathy (Ginger Martel) tells the story backward. They only sing together once, during their wedding in the middle of the show. While the characters do sing together at the end, the songs are counterpoint to each other rather than both characters singing the same song. THE LAST FIVE YEARS is the inaugural tour being presented by ARIA Creative in association with the newly formed Texas Light Opera.BWW Review: Ken Webster Gives Tour de Force Performance in WAKEY WAKEY March 3, 2018
'Is it now? I thought I had more time.' So begins Will Eno's new play WAKEY WAKEY, currently receiving a regional premiere production at Hyde Park Theatre. It is, in fact, only the second production of Eno's new work. These first words are spoken by Guy (Ken Webster), a man who is coming to terms with the knowledge that his time here on Earth is extremely limited. He is about to die. In a profoundly moving and luminously human meditation, Guy proceeds to utterly shatter the fourth wall in order to engage the audience in questioning why we are here and examining the various paths we take only to all arrive at the same place when all is said and done. WAKEY WAKEY is a subtly sublime examination of what, in the human experience, is actually worth celebrating and treasuring; and it does it while maintaining a decidedly dark, yet humorous tone. While this may sound like a depressing subject, Guy reminds us that 'We're not here to mope, right? We're here to listen to music and drink some grape juice, maybe get a free T-shirt. We're here to say goodbye, of course - there's always someone or something to say goodbye to, and it's important to honor the people whose shoulders we stood upon and fell asleep against.'BWW Review: AGENT ANDROMEDA: THE ORION CRUSADE Comical Camp Cosmic Circus Caper February 27, 2018
AGENT ANDROMEDA: THE ORION CRUSADE answers that age old question: 'what would the love child of Cirque du Soleil and Flesh Gordon look like?'. The answer is this riotously funny burlesque science fiction production that is part brilliant aerial work and part circus spectacle. The piece may have been inspired by sci-fi classics like Barbarella, but it has become its own wholly unique work that is simultaneously sexy, visually arresting and funny.BWW Review: ENRON Engaging and Thought Provoking High Tech Entertainment February 27, 2018
ENRON is a 2009 play by British playwright Lucy Prebble. The play is based on the financial scandal and eventual collapse of the American energy corporation, Enron, based in Houston,Texas. Enron executive Jeffrey Skilling (Annemarie Alaniz) and his boss Ken Lay (Kayla Johnson) are the main characters along with Skilling's protege Andy Fastow (Caroline Beagles), who rises to become the chief financial officer.
Prebble's play is a heady mix of multimedia razzle dazzle, morality play and political satire. To avoid being dry as dust, Prebble has taken complex financial concepts and framed them in terms of the entertainment world: market analysts become a boy band, the Lehman Brothers are presented as Siamese twins, Arthur Anderson is a ventriloquist act, to name just a few. Capitalism is, in general, presented as the tricks and illusions of the sideshow con man. Spanning the years between 1992 and the present, Prebble's play does take some dramatic license. Prebble makes Jeffrey Skilling, Enron's top executive, the main villain, instead of founder Kenneth Lay. Skilling gets the top job because of his vision of the future: Enron won't just provide natural gas; it will trade in energy, the internet, video streaming and even the weather. Skilling makes Andy Fastow the chief financial officer when he comes up with the plan to create shadow companies to disquise Enron's escalating debts as assets. Eventually, the whole corrupt bubble bursts.BWW Interview: Kate Clark on THE CURATE SHAKESPEARE AS YOU LIKE IT February 24, 2018
Coming in March, The Baron's Men will be presenting the rarely performed The Curate Shakespeare AS YOU LIKE at the Curtain Theatre. This unique piece of theatre is subtitled 'the record of one company's attempt to perform the play by William Shakespeare.' The piece came about when the playwright, Don Nigro, was asked by a professional theatre company to adapt AS YOU LIKE IT for performance by a company of seven. Mr. Nigro wrote an original play about a motly company of actors, led by a daft curate, who present Shakespeare's AS YOU LIKE IT. The result is a comedy about their attempts to impersonate all of Shakespeare's characters. The play has had numerous productions nationwide and has become a cult theater classic.
We recently had an opportunity to sit down with director Kate Clark for a deeper look at bringing this wholly unique piece to Austin audiences.BWW Review: NOISES OFF First-Rate, Fast, Furiously Funny Farce February 18, 2018
NOISES OFF, English playwright Michael Frayn's 1982 farce, had its start as a one-act play called Exits, written in 1977. The title comes from the theatrical stage direction used to indicate when a sound comes from offstage. The three act comedy is three looks at the first act of a British sex farce called 'Nothing On'. 'Nothing On' is your run of the mill sex farce where young girls run around in their underwear, old men drop their pants and a multitude of doors are constantly opening and closing. Act One is the less than perfect final technical rehearsal of the play. Act Two takes place backstage, during a matinee performance a month later, showing the audience the complete chaos that has erupted behind the scenes and is mostly done in silence. Act Three is the final performance of the tour where everything that can possibly go wrong does. The audience never sees the rest of 'Nothing On'.