‘RENT’ Brings Heart & Nostalgia to DPAC – January 28th – February 2nd


Aiyana Smash & Coleman Cummings – RENT 20th Anniversary Tour (photo by Amy Boyle)

It is a little hard to believe that RENT first hit Broadway back 1996. I’ve seen this musical three times since then. First in New York almost 17 years ago, and twice on tour now at DPAC. While the story remains unchanged, the energy of each performance has been a different each time as each cast puts their stamp on their character. I am still struck however by how this story about a year in the life of a group of young artists dealing with addiction, love, and AIDS in 1989 New York City remains as relevant today as it was more than two decades ago. RENT ‘s powerful message still resonates after all this time. In the face of fear, it reminds us to celebrate joy and measure our lives with the things that truly matter, friendship and love.

Mark (Cody Jenkins) and Roger (played by Coleman Cummings) are both struggling artists that can’t afford to pay the rent for their old apartment that coincidentally doesn’t’ have heat or electricity. But their friend and landlord makes them a deal, they can continue to live in the apartment for free if they can stop Mark’s ex-girlfriend, Maureen, from holding a protest in opposition to his redevelopment plans for the block.


The Company of RENT 20th Anniversary Tour (photo by Amy Boyle)

The highlight of the first act is when audiences are first introduced to Mark’s ex-girlfriend Maureen (Kelsee Sweigard) who arrives on stage via motorcycle and delivers a hilarious (and intentionally overacted) protest song “Over The Moon” in the form of performance art that left the audience rolling. Aiyana Smash as equally impressive as Mimi, Mark and Cody’s drug addict neighbor who works as a dancer. She plays the love interest of Roger as the two struggle with opening up about the fact they each have AIDS. She truly shined during her signature number “Out Tonight” that was filled with energy as she kicked and danced along a platform high above the stage without missing a beat.

Other Standout performances include Shafiq Hicks who does a magnificent job and brings warmth to the endearing character of Tom, an HIV positive professor who falls for Angel, a drag queen and street musician suffering from AIDS, played by Joshua Tavares. This is Joshua’s first national tour, though you wouldn’t know it by his solid performance of this iconic character. In fact, I think I enjoyed his portrayal of Angel the most out of the three times I’ve seen the show. The chemistry between Angle and Tom is palpable throughout the show in comes to head during the sad but moving number “I’ll Cover You” in the gut-wrenching second act.


Shafiq Hicks & Joshua Tavares – RENT 20th Anniversary Tour (photo by Amy Boyle)

It’s difficult to believe this show started its journey more than two decades ago, but Rent remains a timeless musical with a few doses of nostalgia that hark back to it’s early 90’s origins. RENT serves as a reminder that the strength to endure and the compassion and support of our friends and loved ones is what can help us maintain that unbreakable spirit that flows through each and every one of us as we travel through life – as long as we focus on what counts.

RENT plays at the Durham Performing Arts Center through this Sunday, February 2nd. For more information and to order tickets visit https://www.dpacnc.com/events/detail/rent-1

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“Come From Away” at DPAC Will Restore Your Faith in Humanity


Everyone has a story about where they were that day. September 11, 2001 was a day none of us will ever forget and for many it still evokes raw emotions. Even now, almost twenty years later I tend to shy away from movies and stories about that day. I am however drawn to stories that show the good in people and their ability to come together as a community and show the very best of humanity in the face of the worst. That is exactly what the musical Come From Away is all about. Going into the show at DPAC this past Tuesday I wasn’t sure exactly what to expect. I purposely had done very little research about the show beforehand so I could go in with an open mind. What I experienced that night was a wonderful uplifting performance about the power of community and strength of human spirit. Yes, the backdrop of this story are the attacks, but its focus is on the good born out in response and not the dark.

“Come From Away” is the inspiring story about how a small town in Newfoundland that unexpectedly finds themselves host to over 7,000 stranded airline passengers from 38 planes diverted to their small airport in the wake of the terrorist attacks that day. The musical opens by introducing us to the residents of the small town of Gander played by twelve actors who tirelessly perform nonstop on stage for over an hour and a half with no intermission as they use small wardrobe changes to seamlessly transition from portraying local townsfolk to stranded plane passengers. There isn’t an actor on stage who doesn’t find themselves playing at least three different parts.


I can’t say enough nice things about this cast as each and every one of them knocks it out of the park for each character they play. They are each wonderful in their own way as they capture the anxiety of the plane passengers starving for information as they wait stranded on the tarmac. And they bring a wit and humor to their roles as residents of Gander as they struggle to deal with the logistical issues that come with the sudden influx of people from around the world in their small town.

The set is simple and modest with just a few tables and chairs to quickly change scenes between the plane and shelters throughout the town. Set designers make clever us of a rotating stage to create motion and the transition of time as the passengers and locals slowly come to terms with unfolding events as the stranded passengers settle in to the town over five days amid local scrambling for supplies to provide for them and the new arrivals struggle to come to terms with what happened and connect with their loved ones in the United States to let them know they are alright.


A few of the standout performances for me we delivered by Marika Aubrey, who plays Captain Beverly Bass, the first female captain of an American Airlines plane. She has a wonderful solo, “Me and the Sky” that captures her lifelong desire to fly and her dismay at the use of the things she loves as a weapon.  Chamblee Ferguson is delightful as Nick, a Brit who finds himself falling for a fellow passenger named Diane (played by Jenny Ashman) from Texas. It isn’t all laughs however as some of the harsh realities of the events that day impact some of the passengers directly. Hannah, played by Danielle K. Thomas reminds brings levity to the story as she anguishes over not being able to reach her son who is a New York firefighter. In the end the passengers and the townspeople all lean on each other to help one another cope with the unfolding events of the day.

I also need to give a quick nod to the amazing musicians in this production. They are on stage hidden behind a few trees on the set, and simply put they are FANTASTIC and bring a special energy to the show. I am so glad they have their moment to shine during at the final curtain!

At its core this show is about how even during the darkest times people will open their hearts and their homes to help strangers in a time of need. You will experience the full range of emotions seeing this production, but I promise you will come out smiling and feeling optimistic about humanity. This show is not to be missed. Truly one of my all-time favorite performances at DPAC.

“Come From Away” has performances at DPAC through Sunday, January 19th. For tickets visit https://www.dpacnc.com/events/detail/come-from-away.


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Norse Brewing Company Now Open in Downtown Wake Forest


Norse Brewing Co. is located at 203 Brooks Street in Wake Forest
(photo courtesy Norse Brewing Co.)

You now have another another great reason to visit downtown Wake Forest. The folks behind the Triangle’s latest brewery, Norse Brewing Company, announced this week that they will open to the public on Thursday, December 19th at 4pm and they are ready to welcome family, friends and fellow beer lovers to join them on their first night serving! The new brewery is located at 203 Brooks Street in Wake Forest (just down the street from one of my favorite coffee shops – Black & White Coffee Roasters).

Since they are just getting started it will take a few more weeks to fill their tanks with their own beers, but in the meantime they will be serving beer from the collaborations they’ve been working on over the last couple of months with other talented Triangle brewers. The official grand opening celebration for the brewery will take place in early 2020.

Fore information about the brewery check them out on facebook and Instagram.

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Weekend Picks: The Nutcracker, Bulltown Strutters Holiday Throwdown and Raleigh Flute Choir


Saturday & Sunday 12/14-15
The Nutcracker @ DPAC
Take a journey to a land of whimsical characters featuring magical illusions, magnificent sets, and beautiful costumes. Listen as a live symphony orchestra plays Tchaikovsky’s famed score. The Nutcracker is the perfect story ballet for the young and young at heart. You’ll want to visit once, twice, or more during this Holiday season!


Sunday December 15th
Holiday Throwdown @ Blue Note Grill
The Bulltown Strutters return to the Blue Note Grill this Sunday to unleash New Orleans Style jazz inspired Christmas Carols and Yuletide cheer at the 2nd Annual “Holiday Throwdown”. This event is free and open to the public. No Cover but come eat dinner or have drinks with friends as the Strutters perform holiday classics with a New Orleans twist! Music starts at 5pm.


Sunday December 15th
Raleigh Flute Choir Holiday Concert @ NC Museum of History
This unique chamber ensemble utilizes the entire flute family, from the tiny piccolo to the 8-foot contrabass, along with concert flutes, piccolo, alto and bass flutes. Their Holiday Concert is 2-3:15 this Sunday at the NC Museum of History. $10 General Admission.



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Irving Berlin’s “White Christmas” Brings Classic Holiday Magic to DPAC!


Kerry Conte and Kelly Sheehan, White Christmas Touring Company
(Photo by Jeremy Daniel)

The 1954 classic Christmas movie “White Christmas” is one of my favorite movies to watch this time of year. It was a real treat to see the wonderful touring musical production open at DPAC this past Tuesday and I highly recommend fans of this holiday classic scoop up tickets before the show draws its final curtain in the Bull City this Sunday.

The theatrical version of the musical follows closely the original 1954 movie starring Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye as two World War II vets that team up as singing duo after the war. In the film Rosemary Clooney and Vera-Ellen play the Haynes sisters who have their own travelling act. The four entertainers come together through a series of hijinks and ultimately to try and save a Vermont inn owned by General Waverly, who lead the men on the battlefield during the war. Sadly, a heat wave has struck Vermont and the lack of snow has put a damper on the inn’s bottom line during the holidays and the bills are starting to stack up.

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White Christmas National Touring Company
(Photo by Jeremy Daniel)

Working together the four come up with a plan to put on a holiday how to help out the general and save the inn just in time for Christmas! Of course along the way a romance begins to develop between each of the sisters and Wallace and Davis so you just know there will be a few bumps in the road in this holiday tale.

The four leads – Davis Elder (Bob Wallace), Jeremy Benton (Phil Davis), Kerry Conte (Betty Haynes), and Kelly Sheehan (Judy Haynes) all do a wonderful job filling the big shoes of these legendary actors. It was a delight to see them bring the classic Irving Berlin numbers to life on stage, from the title song and endearing rendition of “Count Your Blessings Instead of Sheep” to Benton and Conte’s delivery of a spot on rendition of “Sisters” you will leave the theater humming these melodic numbers from Berlin.

The energetic cast puts a lot of energy into this performance and it shows. Sheehan in particular shines during the dance numbers as she is an absolutely fabulous tapper. Other standout performances include theater veteran Lorna Luft (daughter of the famous Julie Garland) with her funny portrayal of the inn’s concierge Martha as well as Conrad John Shuck as the stoic but warm former general and now owner of the inn.

Photo: Jeremy Daniel(Instagram @JeremyDanielPhoto)

White Christmas National Tour Company
(photo by Daniel)

The entire ensemble does a terrific job with vocals and the fancy footwork. There are several big “show stopper” numbers with the entire ensemble that dazzle the audience. One of the most memorable numbers of the evening is the addition of Berlin’s “I love a Piano” that is delivered with the entire chorus on stage performing an incredible tap number set to a red-black-and white backdrop that really brings the Broadway magic to the stage.

In fact, the set and costume design is wonderful throughout. There are lots of pastels and boldly colored backgrounds and seamless transitions from train stations to cozy Vermont barns that transport the audience in mere seconds. This show is true to the time period with sharp mid-century dress and dialogue that does not feel dated, but instead adds a level of class and authenticity to this classic story.

I really enjoyed this musical and think it is something both fans of the movie and newbies alike will enjoy. Happy Holidays!

Irving Berlin’s White Christmas has performances as DPAC though Sunday, December 8th. For more information and tickets visit https://www.dpacnc.com/events/detail/irving-berlins-white-christmas

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