Wednesday, June 18, 2014

WorldFest 2014 at Venice Theatre -- Part 1

It's a whirlwind here at WorldFest 2014.   We are less than 36 hours into the six day festival and my head is already spinning from everything that I've seen.

Ben Vereen was a special guest at the Festival's opening ceremony.  He is magnetic.  All he had to do was walk onstage and the audience was his.  He spoke about the importance of the arts to a civilized world.  (Do I hear an "amen" in the house?) He sang "Magic To Do" from Pippin (the show for which he won the 1973 Tony for best actor in a musical).  The chorus of "join us" seemed particularly apt as the Festival got underway.  He also performed "There's No Business Like Show Business" with some help from the Venice Theater crew.  What a start!

Each afternoon and evening features a block of two or three performances (typically in both the Main Stage and Pinkerton theaters).  The Festival kicked off with "Crowns" by a U.S. troupe from Mississippi, "Noah and the Flood" by a German duo, and "The Winged" from an Armenian group.

I have been to JazzFest in New Orleans a couple of times, and the gospel tent is always a favorite venue.  So it's no surprise that I loved the gospel music in "Crowns" with its strong voices all around.  The show was part musical/part vignette (reminiscent of "Love, Love, and What I Wore" with the unifying theme of hats).  As one of the judges said, they could have used some scissors to trim the performance (which ran well over 90 minutes), but who can blame them in their excitement to show off their stuff?   And I must say that the ladies' "crowns" were magnificent!

"Noah and the Flood" began with Mr. and Mrs. Noah entering from the back of the theater, he strolling as he strummed his guitar and she schlepping all of the necessities for their voyage -- including a life preserver. The audience didn't need to speak German to understand this comedic performance as Mrs. Noah unpacked her bags and loaded their items onto the ark that they constructed onstage.  There was toilet paper and wine and kitchen items and--oh yes--the animals to be taken on their journey.    Kerstin Plewa-Brodam seemed to be channeling Lucille Ball with her facial expressiveness and physical comedy as she imbued the stuffed animals with life and personality, making the monkeys play and the lions roar and the bunnies proliferate.  It was a wonderful feel good story that had the audience on its feet at the end.  I loved it.

The final show in this block of performances was "The Winged" from Armenia.  It is impossible to find the words to describe this performance, which was one of the most visually stunning works I have ever seen.  The show started with the bird-man pictured here coming to life.  Each of the characters was masked and one was more funky (yet beautiful) than the next. (It was killing me not to take pictures during the show as the costumes were so incredibly unique.) Throughout the show, music in different genres played--sometimes piano, sometimes African, sometimes almost Cajun--and the performers danced and connected in ways that I didn't begin to understand.  I wanted it to go on forever.

The Festival was off to an amazing start.  I'm exhausted already -- and all I'm doing is watching!   WorldFest 2014 is on through Saturday.  There's lots more to come, including performances by the troupes from Australia, South Africa, China, Latvia, Denmark, and New Zealand. If you're in the area and have any interest in the theater, run--don't walk--to get tickets to this celebration of theater.

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