“Dear Evan Hansen” at DPAC through this Sunday!

This past Tuesday I returned to DPAC for opening night of Dear Evan Hansen. This wonderful touring production of the Broadway musical tells the story of a textbook loner Evan Hansen. Evan is an anxious and shy high school senior that gets caught up in a social media-fueled frenzy of grieving and good intentions after a classmate takes his own life.

As embodied with quirky and twitchy interest by actor Anthony Norman, Evan Hansen is mostly overlooked by his classmates as he struggles to connect with them socially and goes to therapy to help him break out of his shell. Part of this process involves him writing self-affirmation letters to himself

A school hallway encounter with the angry and somewhat bully-like Connor Murphy (Nikhil Saboo) turns mildly violent, but later, in a moment of uncharacteristic kindness, Connor agrees to sign Evan’s cast. But in the process finds one of Connor’s therapy letters that mentions his sister and storms off with the letter in hand.

The very next day the the school community learns that Connor has taken his own life. Connor’s family finds the letter and assumes their son had written it to Evan, a misunderstanding that Evan quickly embraces once he sees how much it comforts Connor’s parents and sister Zoe (Alaina Anderson), whose affection he is seeking.

The rest of the story hinges on the fallout from this misdirection and confused identities as the truth finally comes to light as Evan’s series of lies and deceptions spiral out of control, and force Evan to examine his own motivations.

This production is helmed by a wonderful cast using a smart and simple set to tell the story about how we all struggle with “being seen”, friendship and navigating society and trending social media in this complicated digital age.

‘Dear Evan Hansen’ performs at the Durham Performing Arts Center through this Sunday, November 6th. For tickets and more information visit https://www.dpacnc.com/events/detail/dear-evan-hansen-2022.

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‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ Review: An American Classic Comes to Life at DPAC!

Justin Mark (“Jem Finch”), Richard Thomas (“Atticus Finch”), Melanie Moore (“Scout Finch”) and Steven Lee Johnson (“Dill Harris”). Photo by Julieta Cervantes

It has been over 30 years since I last read Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird” so I went into Tuesday night’s performance at DPAC not knowing exactly what to expect. What I experienced was a magnificent performance of the Aaron Sorkin adaptation masterfully delivers a new look on a classic tale anchored by a supremely talented cast.

Set in Alabama in 1934, a black man named Tom Robinson (Yaegel T. Welch) is on trial for a crime he did not commit, and his fate hangs in the balance as he faces a jury of all white peers that could send him to the electric chair if he is found guilty. This is and enduring story of racial injustice and childhood innocence. At the center of the story is one of the most popular characters in American literature, the honest and meek small-town lawyer Atticus Finch (Richard Thomas), who grapples with his vision of justice and its place in the world. The adaptation manages to capture the very essence of the novel and it skillfully grapples with the age-old question: Who deserves to be treated with respect?

Melanie Moore (“Scout Finch”) and Jacqueline Williams (“Calpurnia”). Photo by Julieta Cervantes

The amazing cast for this fantastic production is rounded out with a small but wonderful set of characters that includes Atticus’s daughter Scout (Melanie Moore), her brother Jem (Justin Mark), their housekeeper and caretaker, Calpurnia (Jacqueline Williams, their visiting friend Dill (Steve Lee Johnson) who help cast a wary eye over some of the books more idealistic details as well as provide some well times comic relief set against the more serious tone of many of the scenes. In fact, one of the play’s greatest strengths is its ability to showcase a wide variety of emotions by including several humorous and childish moments along with the somber, serious, and sad ones.

Visually, the show is remarkable. The sets offer a great sense of depth with scenes set in the house managing to create both an inside and outside world. Alongside lighting and costumes, it perfectly complements the mood of the scenes and transforms the stage into the 1930s Alabama. The set transitions are very smooth and natural, with the acting seamlessly carried through.

‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ Touring Cast. Photo Credit: Julieta Cervantes

The play stays true to the source material while also switching things up a bit with scenes that jump around from place to place in a non-linear fashion – I really enjoyed this approach to telling the story and found it well-paced and very easy to follow. The non-linear timeline also allows for contrasting scenes to be pitted right up against each other, enabling the audience to see many sides of the complicated narrative.

I truly enjoyed seeing this story played out on stage and appreciate the fine performance of the artist who have brought this American Classic to life. This production artfully tackles serious, relevant questions, and the cast delivers brilliantly, making this run of the show a must-watch in my book!

‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ performs at the Durham Performing Arts Center through Sunday, August 7th. For tickets and more information visit https://www.dpacnc.com/events/detail/to-kill-a-mockingbird

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Raleigh Sunflower Field ~ 2022

I stopped by the sunflowers at Dix Park early this morning and they are in full bloom! The field looks great! The combination of rain and sun these past few weeks has helped produce a healthy crop of flowers this year. The flowers are the shorter variety (3’-4’) but still make for great photos. A new addition this year is the oversized “selfie couch” set up next to the field to enhance your Instagram shots. To enjoy the blooms in their prime I believe this week and next will be the best time to visit as the flowers tend to wilt after a few weeks of the July sun.

Visitors are welcome to check out the sunflowers all month long from dawn to dusk. The fields can be a little muddy if it has been raining and it is always a good idea to wear a hat and bring some bottled water. There isn’t much shade out there and it gets super-hot under the July sun!

The sunflower field at Dix Park is located off Hunt Drive near the soccer fields and the historic cemetery. The best way to find them is to enter the park on Hunt Drive off Western Boulevard. Once on Hunt Drive you will quickly notice signs for parking in a large soccer field and gravel parking lot on your right. You can park there and easily access the field from the gravel lot.

Click here for a google map of the field location (or just punch in the address 75 Hunt Drive into your GPS. For more information visit https://dixpark.org/sunflowers.

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Paragon Theaters is Now Open in Cary’s New Fenton Shopping District!

This past 4th of July weekend I had a chance to check out the new Paragon Theaters for their Grand Opening at Fenton in Cary. The theater is awesome and a great addition to this new development located off Cary Towne Boulevard. If you haven’t visited Fenton yet check out their Instagram so you can stay up to date on the latest restaurants and shops opening in this new shopping district.

Paragon provides the ultimate moviegoing experience with cutting edge technology like the Axis15 Extreme Theater w/ 65’ tilt screen, laser projection, and amazing sound w/ Dolby Atmos immersive sound. You can actually feel the rumble of actions scenes come through your seats!

Speaking of seats, they have these awesome heated zero gravity recliners in every theater and Lux Box Suites offering a semi-private experience with at your seat dining. From the Lux Box seats you can enjoy full-service mobile ordering using your smart phone for in-theater dining for a private and luxurious movie experience.

This theater is a great date night spot or location for a party w/ a full kitchen and bar full offering chicken wings, potstickers, sliders, burgers, tacos, wraps, quesadillas, pizzas and vegetarian options. Enjoy at the spacious Agency Bar and Social or order right from your theater seat!

For showtimes & reserve tickets at www.ParagonTheaters.com and follow them over at Instagram at @ParagonTheaters.

Paragon Theaters – Fenton
21 Fenton Main Street – Suite #110
Cary, NC 27511

facebook: https://www.facebook.com/ParagonTheaters
Instagram: @paragon_theaters

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Review: ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’ is Simply Wonderful at DPAC

The company of the North American Tour of JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR. (Photo by Matthew Murphy, Evan Zimmerman – MurphyMade)

The 50th-anniversary national tour of “Jesus Christ Superstar” now rocking the Durham Performing Arts Center delivers a top-notch and timeless production of the seminal musical anchored by a strong cast that you simply do not want to miss. The production, which originated in Britain and won the Olivier Award for best musical revival in 2016, manages to simultaneously embrace the rock-concert vibe and high energy originally intended for the musical while also feeling incredibly theatrical. 

From the very start, this production, part rock concert, part dance show, part light show – will grab you and capture your attention for the full 90 minutes. There is no intermission, which I thought was just fine because you will not want to be interrupted. With music and lyrics by Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony winners Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice, Jesus Christ Superstar is set against the backdrop of an extraordinary series of events during the final weeks in the life of Jesus Christ as seen through the eyes of Judas.

The company of the North American Tour of JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR. (Photo by Matthew Murphy, Evan Zimmerman – MurphyMade)

Aaron LaVigne does a fantastic job playing Jesus in this production with the vocal chops to handle the range required and he hits the high notes with ease as he plays his plugged-in acoustic guitar as he sings. Omar Lopez-Cepero was excellent as Judas and a perfect counterpoint to LaVigne’s Jesus. Jenna Rubaii is equally tremendous as Mary Magdalene. Her scenes where she comforts and supports Jesus provide soft spots in an otherwise hard-hitting musical. Rubaii’s rendition of “I Don’t Know How to Love Him” is simply wonderful.

The supporting cast is mostly comprised of Jesus’ disciples and the various government officials hunting him down. This is one hard working ensemble as they are dancing non-stop throughout the show, and the choreography is superb. Their costuming, along with Jesus’ and Judas’, is simple. Hoodies, t-shirts, loose work-out clothes and sneakers. In contrast, the costumes for the priests are both simple and ornate.

The company of the North American Tour of JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR. (Photo by Matthew Murphy, Evan Zimmerman – MurphyMade)

The staging for this production is simple but very effective. The multi-level set, which elevates an 11-piece band looks like it is made from weathered I-beams and provides an industrial like backdrop with moving beams of lights enhance the Superstar experience.

This production of Superstar is as high energy as they come filled with rock and melodic ballads with a healthy dose of high drama and irreverence. I loved this show and think you will to. Don’t miss it this weekend as it wraps up its visit to Durham this Sunday!

“Jesus Christ Superstar performs at the Durham Performing Arts Center through Sunday, June 5th. For tickets and more information visit https://www.dpacnc.com/events/detail/jesus-christ-superstar.

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