‘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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“Hamilton” Returns to DPAC for Another Fabulous Run!

Hamilton” touring production (photo by Joan Marcus)

Ever since it was announced that the touring production of “Hamilton” would be making its return to Durham it has been the most sought after ticket at DPAC. The show opened earlier this month to a packed house and shows through this Sunday, June 5th. What can I say about this show that has not been said before? This musical was even better the second time around. Back in 2018 when I first saw the touring production during their first visit to DPAC it was one of those rare and beautiful instances where something with a lot of buzz really does live up to all the hype….and it still does this time around too!

Like many before me I have oftern wondered how a hip-hop based musical about one of our nation’s more obscure founding fathers could work so well. But work it does. Hip-hop is not just a music style it is also the voice for the underprivileged – a perfect match for the title character who is an orphaned outsider from the west indies, who for all his influence on the founding of our government, will never be eligible to be president.

In retrospect delivering the story of Alexander Hamilton in the hip-hop style makes perfect sense and is actually a pure stroke of genius. First of all there with so many historical characters in the show and the extensive history covered in both acts, there is simply a massive amount of information the audience needs to take in.

Hamilton” touring production (photo by Joan Marcus)

It just so happens that hip-hop fits four times as many words into each measure of music compared to other styles of music – making hip hop a perfect delivery mechanism. But the real genius of it all is that through the fusion of hip hop and the musical form, the creators of this show transform American history into a contemporary format reflecting the fact the America’s history and the road ahead belongs to all men and women regardless of their color.

The show starts off fast and does not let up until the intermission. In the first number “Alexander Hamilton” we are introduced to the title character, played this time around by Edred Utomi, his compatriots, including the man who will ultimately take his life – Aaron Burr, played by the wonderful Josh Tower.

Every single member of this cast delivers a performance that makes you think they were born for the role they are playing. Morales and Walker are wonderful as Hamilton and Burr. Both command the room whenever they are on stage and when they share it you can sense the growing tension of these one-time friends drifting apart through life as their beliefs and politics evolve resulting in their tragic duel in the final act.

Hamilton” touring production (photo by Joan Marcus)

Every single member of this cast delivers a performance that makes you think they were born for the role they are playing. Morales and Walker are wonderful as Hamilton and Burr. Both command the room whenever they are on stage and when they share it you can sense the growing tension of these one-time friends drifting apart through life as their beliefs and politics evolve resulting in their tragic duel in the final act.

The entire ensemble is so strong, but a few really stand out. Like Zoe Jensen as Eliza Hamilton, Paul Oakley Stovall as George Washington and David as both Lafayette and Thomas Jefferson (many of the lead roles in this production were double-cast). It was a pleasure seeing each of these actors pouring their souls into these historical figures and their portrayal of their unique personalities. I just can’t say enough about the fantastic job Park did as the energetic Lafayette and Jefferson. I felt that every time he was on stage his charisma stole the scene if not the show.

The set itself is kind of secondary to what you are seeing on stage and doesn’t really change much throughout the performance. I’m not sure if the muted scenery was done on purpose, but in the end that works perfectly and lets the focus be on the actors and their words.

Transitions from scene to scene are seamless and the use of simple props works well. There is also the crafty use of a rotating stage that works wonders for scenes where multiple actors are walking and interacting, providing multiple perspectives of the action as well as smart “rewind” and slow motion sequences.

In the end “Hamilton” is a cultural wonder with choreography and vocals that are among the best I have ever seen. With its talented cast, this touring production delivers an amazing theater experience on all levels. I am grateful that this production made a second visit to in Durham and that I had the opportunity to see such a wonderful show like this again that has such a cultural impact that is sure to continue for years to come.

 “Hamilton” performs at the Durham Performing Arts Center through Sunday, June 5th. For tickets and more information visit https://www.dpacnc.com/events/detail/hamilton-2022.

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