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Halton, We Have A Problem

In this space, no one can hear you sing

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In its second season, Halton Theater is the entertainment jewel of the CPCC campus and one of the finest music venues in Charlotte. With its 1,000-plus seats, Halton's size nestles nicely between the intimate McGlohon and the lordly Belk. Word has certainly spread. National acts of Judy Collins stature are beginning to congregate at our newest musical cathedral.

They'd all be wise to load in their own sound systems and technicians. CPCC Theatre's current revue, Rodgers & Hart: A Celebration, conclusively demonstrates that CP doesn't have its audio act together. Microphone performance only veered toward reliability when we reached Act 2 on opening night.

What happened in Act 1 was the stuff of nightmares. After the wayward mics had already wreaked their havoc, a loud hissing, fizzing noise began emanating from the stage right wing. Like a large deflating dirigible. Or a sparkly fireworks fuse. This white noise ostinato lasted between 10 and 15 minutes while performers smilingly ignored it.

Problems with this R&H didn't end with the CP audio glitches. Voices of the performers frequently sounded ragged. At first, I suspected that director/choreographer Ron Chisholm had over-rehearsed his cast. But it soon became obvious that the Luther Henderson orchestrations were also taking a toll, attacking the women with especial brutality.

Rodgers & Hart songs should be easier to sing than Rodgers' subsequent collaborations with Oscar Hammerstein III. Yet Marsha Colbert was forced to sing the bridge of "You Took Advantage of Me" with her head voice. Up in that stratosphere, the lecherous lilt of Lorenz Hart's lyric that closes out that song -- "So lock the doors/And call me yours" -- is completely lost.

When Mike Collins is indisputably the best singer onstage, there's a problem. Mike's mic failed him twice in the first act on his solos, he flubbed lyrics before and after intermission, and he badly cracked the last note of "You're Nearer." Still, he outclassed everyone else. Collins respected and pointedly delivered the profusion of lyrics he did remember with the least overall vocal strain. Best were his "Johnny One Note" and -- despite the muffed lyric -- "You Mustn't Kick It Around."

Success was spottier for the other guys, Jerry Colbert and Kevin Harris. Colbert's imitation of Chevalier on "Mimi" won't be his passport to Vegas, but there's a nice suavity to his "Have You Met Miss Jones?" late in the show, and his duet with younger sister Marsha, "Dancing on the Ceiling," floats to us with just the right levitation. After a painful duet with Rodena Barr on the all-too-aptly titled "This Can't Be Love," Harris shows what he can do in a comfortable key on "My Romance."

Barr negotiated her song list with the least audible stress among the ladies, most seductively in "This Is My Night to Howl." But she tended to lose contact with Hart's lyrics, occasionally garbling them past recognition. Colbert showed her mettle best in "Ten Cents a Dance" -- after being spared the indignity of participating in the ensemble that mauled "Dear Old Syracuse."

Eve White didn't make a truly favorable impression until deep into Act 2, teaming capably with Collins on "Blue Room" and with Jerry Colbert on "There's a Small Hotel." White's best solo comes even later as she vamps in, dressed in red, to do the verse -- and almost a full chorus -- of the imperishable "The Lady Is a Tramp."

With nearly 60 songs on the bill, "Tramp" isn't the only great number that fades away too soon. But another hit is always just around the corner, and after the CP cast rests their tonsils for a few days, the second weekend of R&H could sound appreciably better.

Scene design by James Duke actually outclasses what I've seen from the PAC and dearly departed Charlotte Rep when they mounted similar revues at Booth Playhouse. Chisholm's direction actually has a nice flow, but ... perhaps dispirited by the shrieks and struggles -- and that damned hissing noise! -- they're accompanying, the six-piece band directed by Drina Keen has a listless sound, a tad slow and short on pep.

Everybody's mood might lift if CP could straighten out its miking woes. Or toss away its current sound rig and replace it. Until then, Halton has a problem.

We are very fortunate that Hank West and Nijinsky's Last Dance met up at this stage of the actor's development. Earlier in his extensive career here in Charlotte, West carved out a pouting, bratty niche that would have palled over the length of this demanding one-man show.

Actors Scene Unseen has also evolved interestingly, pursuing director Elizabeth Peterson-Vita's fascination with abnormal psychology -- in the crannies of history. The Norman Allen script, connecting us with the renowned dancer/choreographer at a Swiss insane asylum, allows West to review the Russian's meteoric impact on modern dance without forcing him to simulate his legendary grace and athleticism. Not required in a straitjacket.

Peterson-Vita sprinkled some nice multimedia effects over the live performance at Hart-Witzen Gallery (bringing back fond memories of Moving Poets' exploits at that same space) as projections of a dance trio, [project incite], flashed onto a wall behind West. But P-V doesn't help West to clearly articulate Nijinsky's scrambled narrative, nor has she assembled the lighting and sound design team that could help West transition more effectively between the characters in Nijinsky's life.

Allen's script, though it does solve some problems for the actor encountering Nijinsky's formidable gifts, is less than satisfying when our protagonist brushes against such luminaries as Pavlova, Diaghilev, Rodin and Stravinsky. So while West was astonishing in reaching into the torment and insanity of Nijinsky, there was no vehicle available to him that would carry us into the true greatness of his soul.

Let's hope that Jean-Pierre Bonnefoux hasn't chosen the wrong staple to revamp in North Carolina Dance Theatre's repertoire. That seemed to be the case when his Cinderella returned intact to Belk Theater last week -- with a freshly reimagined Nutcracker slated for a December rendezvous.

When you're devoting the better part of two hours to telling the world's most familiar fairytale, there's really no reason why you can't amply include all the plot points. If you're packing the stage with a fairy godmother and four fairies, one for each season, one of them should find a moment to point to a clock or a wristwatch and remind Cindy of her famed curfew.

And if you're troubling to stage a wedding, kindly invite some guests -- or at least a pastor -- to join the bride and groom onstage.

The world premiere of Dwight Rhoden's "Tantrum" was far more auspicious, easily the most polished and individual piece Rhoden has offered up to NCDT. New faces onstage among the men, Abdul Manzano and Randolph Ward, meshed well with mainstays Sasha Janes and Vladimir Lut, and the women are as formidable as ever -- even with Mia Cunningham and Kati Mayo absent.

With Rhoden draping such quirky enchantments around J.S. Bach and Glenn Gould, it's suddenly very exciting that he's hanging around as NCDT's resident choreographer.

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