The soul of Streetcar

The soul of Streetcar

In the Director’s Notes for the current Live Arts production of A Streetcar Named Desire, John Gibson writes, “There have been 20,000 productions…there might seem little left to discover at 632 Elysian Fields Avenue.” But Gibson decided to give it a shot, based in part on the events surrounding Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath.


“I was after an authentic New Orleans experience, a tapestry of street life surrounding the action,” says Streetcar director John Gibson (front).

Tennessee Williams is specific about musical directions for the play, but the idea of live music performed by the cast members is one aspect of the current production that was wide open for exploration. The music, which features blues piano and tunes from the era (“Blue Skies” for example), is there to make the audience feel it’s in late 1940s New Orleans.

Gibson says that the music is often subtle—it plays underneath dialogue to accentuate the action on stage—but the cast adds music in all of the places that Williams’ script asks for it. The director says, “We must be respectful of the play and still find the extra dimension that supports it.”

Gibson was lucky enough to find four actors who also brought a musical component to their parts: Michaux Hood plays accordion, banjo and violin, Ken Ferguson plays piano, Mark Gruber plays blues guitar and Kathleen Thompson plays percussion. While he relied on Live Arts mainstay Cristan Keighley to work out what music would be played, Gibson says that the four performers stepped up in a big way to contribute to the production.

Every member of the cast gets an opportunity to sing, even Stanley, who has an offstage moment singing the recurring theme of the play, a waltz titled “Varsouviana.”

Gibson is deeply familiar with staged musicals. As a kid in Raleigh, North Carolina, he was in the chorus of many productions. He also brought us The Hogwaller Ramblers in a Live Arts production of Threepenny Opera in 1993 and an updated version of Jesus Christ Superstar in 1999. “In a wide perspective, music and theater is all performance. While this show is not a concert, it is a very musical event. I was after an authentic New Orleans experience, a tapestry of street life surrounding the action.”

If you have never seen Streetcar, it is a powerful play, and the Live Arts production, which celebrates the play’s 60th anniversary, is a fine opportunity to check out an adventurous director and hear the locals sing. The show runs through June 10.

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In an equally theatrical vein, a version of Wunderkammer, last summer’s arts carnival, is back this year. This summer’s carnival is christened Shentai and is under the artistic direction of longtime Foolery member Jennifer Hoyt Tidwell. The multimedia extravaganza will include sculpture, film, dance and, of course, plenty of live music. Tidwell says that this year’s event is not a sequel, but is very much inspired by last year’s performance. The festival this year will be a more cohesive presentation centered around the main theme of “shentai,” a Japanese term roughly translated as “strange appearance and disappearance.” All artists and performers have been asked to respond to the concept of shentai.


Wunderbar: Shentai, a version of last summer’s arts carnival, Wunderkammer, under the artistic direction of Jennifer Hoyt Tidwell, will begin in mid-June.


Accordion Death Squad will be a “large presence,” says Tidwell. The band will appear at every show and is writing a piece of music that will be featured during the beginning of each performance. And, unlike last year, musical artists will appear during each show rather than at the conclusion. Sarah White will be one of the acts featured. In addition to live original music, some musicians have recorded pieces that incorporate a musical sample provided.

Shentai will run at The Ix Building from June 14 to July 1.

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And finally in the movie theaters, go and see the big summer blockbuster, Pirates of The Caribbean: At World’s End, and you will hear music scored by Nick Glennie-Smith, who was a Scottsville resident for the past 15 years. Glennie-Smith has had a long, successful career, playing and recording with the likes of Tina Turner, Paul McCartney, Roger Daltrey, Phil Collins and others. McCartney asked him to tour, and he was in the band when Pink Floyd performed its magnum opus, The Wall, in Berlin in 1989. Lately though, he has been writing scores for films like The Da Vinci Code, Lion King II, Crimson Tide, Mission: Impossible II  and Gladiator. Glennie-Smith says that composing for the first Pirates film was a lot of fun and that the music for the second sequel took a very long time. Not one to relax, he is at work on a score for an upcoming film based on the very poplar kids’ toy: the Transformers.

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