Kudos for "Red Death" from The Pitch

 The Pitch has named Red Death as "The Best Fringe Fest Surprise":
The KC Fringe Fest tends to lean heavily on burlesque and blue comedy (not that we’re complaining). But Red Death, Bryan Colley and Daniel Doss’ latest collaboration, surprised us with something new: a deliciously dark chamber opera based on an Edgar Allan Poe plague narrative. The production was as polished as a regular-season premiere, and the moody piano score and striking stage pictures (care of director Tara Varney) made the show a standout for its nuances as much as for its novelty.
Thank you, Pitch!

I should also mention that Red Death was the best attended show of the entire festival, out of nearly 100 different events. Thanks to everyone that came out to see it!

"American Institution" Staged Reading at Midwest Dramatists Center

Midwest Dramatists Center is proud to host a staged reading of American Institution, a new comedy written by Midwest Dramatists Center playwright Bryan Colley and directed by Tara Varney - the team behind Red Death, the best-attended show at the 2014 Kansas City Fringe Festival.

The Cast:

  • Devon Barnes
  • Melody Butler
  • Coleman Crenshaw
  • Amanda Kibler
  • Zac Parker
  • Jeff Smith
Please be part of the crowd at this new crowd-pleaser, and be prepared to share your feedback with the playwright, director, and cast. 

7:30pm Monday, September 8 at the Midwest Dramatists Center/The Writer's Place, 3607 Pennsylvania. Admission is free.

"Red Death" Examiner.com Review by Bob Evans

And the red death comes as a pestilence in the night to strike and destroy all in its proximity with a 30-minute horrific death. No one is immune, and no one has an antidote for this avatar of death based on the Edgar Allan Poe’s short story, “The Masque of the Red Death.”

“Red Death,” by Mummer Opera Company, continues to attract large crowds to the Off Center Theatre in Kansas City’s Crown Center with its unique blend of Poe macabre magic, opera, and ballet. The show features the voice of worldly reknown operatic tenor, Nathan Granner, as Pince Prospero. Equal to the operatic work by Granner and Devon Barnes, the piece stands out for the lyrical ballet, choreographed by Kansas City, Kansas native Amy Hurrelbrink.

According to the Fringe program: “Join Prince Prospero in the safety of his castle as plague and pestilence ravages the land. He will delight and entertain you with a magnificent masqued ball. Tara Varney directs this operatic adaptation of Edgar Allan Poe's "Masque of the Red Death" starring tenor Nathan Granner, with music by Daniel Doss and choreography by Amy Hurrelbrink.”

The show is amazing. As guests leave the auditorium you can hear them talk about the singing the dancing and each person seems to have their own special focus of what they thought was inspiring in the production. The show is a beautiful blend of story, singing, and dancing. Not enough credit can be given to those who performed and produced this entry in the 2014 Kansas City Fringe Festival.

Anyone who is familiar with the short story by Edgar Allen Poe knows that the party is an attempt to make fun of the poor while the rich lock themselves away in the prince's palace to avoid the pestilence of the red death. They believe that they are economically and socially above such demonic plagues, so they party and dance their way to their own death. The seven rooms that lead to the final room are conveyed by changing lighting throughout the piece. It’s very subtle, but it works.

Watch for this show to compete for “Best of Venue” and received the encore performance on Sunday, July 27. The show receives the highest recommendations for general audiences.

Cast includes Nathan Granner as Prospero, Devon Branes as his servant, Coleman Crenshaw as the Red Death, and dancers: Chelsea Anglemyer, Josh Atkins, Amy Hurrelbrink, Tyler Parsons, Tiffany Powell.

The creative team includes: accompanist, Michaelis Koutsupides; music, Daniel Doss; liberetto, Bryan Colley; director, Tara Varney; choreography, Amy Hurrelbrink; costumes, Tara Varney, Sam Varney Cheryl Varney, Amy Hurrelbrink; scenic design, Bryan Colley; lighting, Shane Rowse.

Tickets can be purchases at the venue’s door, or online at the KC Fringe website.

Read the review at examiner.com

"Red Death" Pitch Review by Liz Cook

Red Death, a chamber opera based on an Edgar Allan Poe tale, lived up to some early hype it had generated. You don't need to be an opera fan to appreciate Daniel Doss' moody score and Bryan Colley's lush libretto, and the action — directed by Tara Varney and choreographed by Amy Hurrelbrink — was lean and tightly focused. Nathan Granner gave rich voice to Prince Prospero, narrator and ill-fated reveler. Devon Barnes offered a haunting, expressive performance as his servant, though her two-tone vibrato challenged her pitch at times.

Read the review at The Pitch

"Red Death" KC Stage Review by ChaimEliyahu

The Fringe, bless its heart, brings us lots of work-in-progress: artists taking advantage of the chance to stage new work, to see how new scripts play before live audiences: simply staged, cut to suit the Festival's crowded schedule — gems in the rough. But here's one that I'd call a gem, cut and polished, all its facets working together: "Red Death" is an operatic diamond.

I blame opera’s social trappings for burying its roots as popular entertainment. Bugs Bunny parodies, if not direct personal experience, leave us with nightmare fantasies of being trapped in swollen Wagnerian productions that just won't end. Never fear! "Red Death" packs its powerful punch in record time: I clocked Friday's opening performance at just 32 minutes.

This will leave you time to admire Bryan Colley's libretto, available on the "Red Death Lyrics" sheet on a table by the Off Center Theatre door. Its story is adapted mainly from Edgar Allan Poe's familiar "Masque of the Red Death, with credited infusions from more esoteric sources (Lucretius, Montaigne and Ecclesiastes). This gem is set by composer Daniel Doss and brought to brilliant musical life by two outstanding singers — tenor Nathan Granner and soprano Devon Barnes — with pianist Michalis Koutsoupides filling in for the orchestra.

But opera is the original multi-medium, and director Tara Varney, ably supported by choreographer Amy Hurrelbrink, has marshaled an artistic team that has these three musicians surrounded and outnumbered. Varney's family, with Hurrelbrink's help, has costumed a cast that includes five fine dancers. Chelsea Anglemyer, Josh Atkins, Tyler Parsons and Tiffany Powell join the choreographer herself in animating that silent threat that's inspired Granner's Prince Prospero to attempt their protection as guests in his party. Dance sequences flow smoothly into and out of the singing as the dancers support and advance the action. Actor Coleman Crenshaw needs no words — only his sinister, masked presence — to spoil the fun as the Uninvited Guest. But no spoiler alert is needed: even if you've somehow missed reading Poe, the title itself reminds us of the inevitable.

Colley has brought his economical art not only to the libretto, but also to the stage setting, subtly enlivened by Shane Rowse's dramatic lighting. The lyrics sheet spells out his scheme rather more distinctly than it has felt in performance. Varney's direction brings all these elements and actors together in a performance that embodies the essential power of opera.

Which you experience this week, quite cheaply and without any dress code. You will not leave the theater humming any of Doss's tunes. But you will be impressed by what a company of hard-working artists can do with a little space and a little of your time as their audience.

Read the review at KC Stage

"Red Death" KC Stage Review by kellyluck

It seems every year at Fringe there comes along a show that I find myself wishing could be brought out to full length. This year, one such show is Bryan Colley's "Red Death", an operatic take on Edgar Allen Poe's classic "The Masque of the Red Death". Poe's works--indeed, gothic horror in general--is by its nature so inherently operatic that it's amazing that it isn't tapped as source material more often. Really, the closest we have to an musical adaptation of the story before this is Fishbone's "Party at Ground Zero".

Colley of course is a fixture at the Fringe, and it's always interesting to see what he comes up with. This time around is a bit different than the usual fare, but this is no bad thing. The story is more or less the same, Prince Prospero (Nathan Granner, Tenor) walks his guests (and by extension, us) through the multicolored rooms of his stately pleasure palace, while the uninvited but inevitable guest (Coleman Crenshaw) stalks along behind. A servant (Devon Barnes) has been added to the story as a counterfoil to the prince's decadence. From room to room, they debate pleasure and pain, life and death. This provides an interesting counterfoil to the show, but still the whole thing clocks in at about 40 minutes.

As someone who regularly covers the opera beat, I meet many people who would like to give it a try but are too intimidated by it. "Red Death" is, as operas go, about as accessible as it gets. It is short, sung in English, with a story that most people know, and you don't even have to get dressed up for it. The principals are both seasoned singers--Granner's tenor voice being particularly noteworthy--and the chorus keep things interesting without becoming intrusive. It is on the short side for this reviewer's taste, but then, can wanting more really be a bad thing?

Read the review at KC Stage

"Red Death" KC Metropolis Review by Lee Hartman

Composer Daniel Doss and librettist Bryan Colley have strong source material in their new opera Red Death. Edgar Allen Poe’s gothic sensibilities in “The Masque of the Red Death” have been supplemented with text from Lucretius, Ecclesiastes, and Montaigne for the one-act, forty-minute opera playing at Off Center Theatre.

Nathan Granner stars as Prince Prospero, host to some unafflicted revellers in his cloistered estate. The Red Death has been killing anyone who contracts it within a half hour. Barring the gate to new entries and from anyone leaving, and thus safe, Prospero throws a masque filled with circus acts, dancing, and laughter. Devon Barnes as Prospero’s servant has already seen her family succumb to the Red Death and wonders if all this revelry is premature.

The production values of Red Death put many other Fringe shows to shame. Directed by Tara Varney, the blocking is crisp around Bryan Colley’s sets and make excellent use of the space with Amy Hurrelbrink’s engaging choreography. Shane Rowse’s lighting design is particularly moody with its saturated reds, greens, and oranges. Granner’s costume is lux and Coleman Crenshaw’s mask as the Uninvited Guest is a work of beauty. However, the company’s costumes seem more appropriate for a production of Pippin with their lime green accents, clashing florals, and fluorescent pinks.

Doss’s music, especially his accompaniment, is more in the vein of musicals than opera. His score is tonally conservative and lacks the Grand Guignol of the subject matter. If Doss could add more dissonance, space, and silence in his busy treatment, that disconnect would be diminished because as it stands now, Red Death strives to be darker than it actually is. Which isn’t to say it’s not enjoyable; there is plenty to like. Doss’s prosody of Colley’s text is masterful even when dealing with cringe-worthy Lloyd Webber-esque rhyming couplets. With that skill, the story is never lost. Granner, at full volume for most of his singing, is convincing with his laissez-faire attitude and Barnes, aside from a few diction issues of American versus British pronunciation, is an equal match. Accompanist Michalis Koutsoupides is kept busy with the noty score and maintains a constant, solid presence throughout.

Red Death should be on your “to see” list for this year’s Fringe. It tries something new, albeit conservatively, but the performances and production are worthy of attention.

Read the review at KC Metropolis

"Red Death" KC Star Review by Robert Trussell

Those who have attended performances at KC Fringe though the years expect to see something unusual, but few of us have seen anything quite like “Red Death.”

This one-act chamber opera from composer Daniel Doss and writer Bryan Colley offers a concise 40 minutes of vivid gothic horror filled with impressionistic images. The show, directed by Tara Varney and choreographed by Amy Hurrelbrink, is almost as much dance theater as it is opera.

This adaptation of “The Masque of the Red Death” by Edgar Allan Poe tells the tale of Prince Prospero, who retreats to his castle for a night of revelry with his entourage and servants while a plague ravages the countryside.

According to the program, Colley’s libretto borrows not only from Poe, but from the Roman poet/philosopher Lucretius Carus, Renaissance essayist Michel de Montaigne and Ecclesiastes in the Bible, but I confess that I’m too meager a scholar to comment on Colley’s choices. I can say that his libretto is loaded with compelling images.

Doss’ lush score, performed by pianist Michalis Koutsoupides, is darkly romantic, often returning to a haunting waltz-time motif. The music is so compelling that you can easily imagine what it would sound like performed by a full orchestra.

Tenor Nathan Granner plays Prospero with Shakespearean flair and his voice, as usual, is mesmerizing. Soprano Devon Barnes is impressive as Prospero’s unnamed servant, whose perception of the futility of existence draws her magnetically toward death.

Many Fringe shows are bare-bones affairs but this one shimmers, thanks to a delicate, evocative lighting design by Shane Rowse and elegant costumes designed and created by Varney and her collaborators. A cadre of dancers create dreamlike stage pictures.

In essence, this piece is a 19th-century meditation on death, but the combination of music, dance, creative lighting and inventive costumes will linger in the viewer’s memory.

Read the review at the KC Star

"Red Death" KC Stage Review by Detailer

A very strong performance of an effectively creative adaptation of Edgar Allan Poe’s The Masque of the Red Death.

I am not an opera fan, but this presentation could convert me. First, it’s in English, it began with the spoken word, and the company gave out printed lyrics for those of us not used to listening to opera.

But the printed words weren’t needed to understand Nathan Granner. His voice was strong and clear, and his character was compelling. Gorgeous singing. That alone was worth the time.

Devon Barnes had a lovely voice when singing low and soft, but some of her higher sections had a piercing quality to me. Her physical reactions, particularly to the Uninvited Guest, were emotionally effective. Her acting came across as truthful, the emotions coming from within.

Bryan Colley’s libretto and Daniel Doss’s music were quite impressive. They captured the story succinctly, getting us in the spirit, enjoying the characters, and building to the climax. The entertainment at the ball provided emotional variety, and gave the individual dancers a moment in the spotlight, which they deserved. Michalis Koutsoupides accompanied with just the right volume, not drowning out the voices as too often happens in musical productions.

Tara Varney’s direction and Amy Hurrelbrink’s choreography created a powerful experience. The movement was natural, provided a variety of stage pictures that evoked emotion and added visual interest, and covered the audience well. The dancing enhanced the mood and the story, and it gave a fascinating visual behind Nathan’s powerful singing. Dancers Chelsea Anglemyer, Josh Atkins, Amy Hurrelbrink, Tyler Parsons, and Tiffany Powell blended beautifully as an ensemble, and also embodied unique personalities. They listened actively and carried out business that made the scenes realistic without pulling focus. The choreography allowed each of them moments to be featured. At one point their frantic, almost jerky, movements gave the impression of many more dancers than there were. This was an effective contrast to the fluidly slow movements, particularly when Coleman Crenshaw as the Uninvited Guest drew attention merely by his intense stage presence.

Bryan Colley designed a sparse setting that allowed Shane Rowse’s lighting to set the mood. One window lighted in red in one corner, a white-lighted clock in the diagonal corner, a bench with just enough props to give the dancers realistic business on one side and allow them ways to create pictures on different levels—that was perfect to set the tone and give space for the story to unfold. The patterned lighting changes were very effective, and the white light always pinpointed the main action. Tara Varney punched the ending with an evocative image.

read the review at KC Stage

"Red Death" KCUR Interview by Julie Denesha

Edgar Allen Poe's 1842 short story "The Masque of the Red Death" serves as the inspiration for a new opera called "Red Death" that premieres next week in Kansas City, Mo. The opera will be part of the KC Fringe Festival. With music composed by Daniel Doss and a libretto by Bryan Colley, it follows Prince Prospero (played by Nathan Granner) as he attempts to escape a plague raging outside the castle walls.

Interview highlights:  

On a "zany" Prospero
"I am singing the role of Prospero in the "Red Death,'" says tenor Nathan Granner. "Prospero is a little zany, but also very brainy and fun. So there is the zany part that’s like, 'Let's have a party.' We’re going to lock the doors. No one gets in. No one gets out. And also, the red death doesn’t get in."

"So he thinks that he has it all worked out," says Granner. "And then, by of course, the end of the opera he finds that he is entirely wrong. (laughs) Just wrong. And he has to face his own mortality."

On the question: What does Edgar Allen Poe sound like?
"It’s fascinating to think about what does Edgar Allen Poe sound like? Or, what do the color of his words sound like?" says Daniel Doss, composer of "Red Death." "So that’s the fun part as a composer is taking the text that is on the page and then thinking, 'Ok, what would this sound like in music?'"

"It’s fun when in a moment the emotion changes very rapidly and it goes into something else and then that sounds like this and it is a fascinating thing," Doss says. "The music that you are creating can represent so many different emotions."

On the folly of a man trying to avoid death
"A lot of people will simply see it as a class issue where it’s rich against the poor," says librettist Bryan Colley, a screenwriter and playwright. "And it’s the rich people thinking that their wealth can protect them from death and that’s a very valid way to view the story, but to me it was more about the whole folly of man trying to avoid death."

On the surprise of a joyful opera
"I am surprised how full of life and how joyful the whole thing is going to be when it’s finally done," Colley says. "It’s like, even though the text really dwells on death, the whole performance of it is so lively and fun and beautiful. It’s all about how great life is."

listen at KCUR

Jupiter Kansas Projection Art at Union Station

Short notice but exciting news! 

I will be doing a show of my projection art on the Union Station Extreme Screen at the KC Fringe Festival Visual Arts Launch on Sunday, July 13 from 2-4pm. 

Come and see prints of my work on display, vote for me in the Fringe Prize Invitational, and then see my work projected on the giant Extreme Screen. 

For those that don't know, my work is painted onto 35mm glass slides and is designed to be projected on a big screen, so I'm excited to be showing my art on one of the biggest screens in town. 

There will be other cool events happening that day, including Tweet Rain by VML. And it's all free! See you there.

Rehearsing "Red Death"

"There's no picture on the box to guide us in this process."

Tara Varney has written up a great blog post about directing Red Death.

Project Playwright Round 1, Scene 1

This is the first scene I wrote for Project Playwright back in 2012. I had one night from 8pm to 8am to write the script, then the actors and director had from 8am to 8pm to memorize and rehearse everything before the performance. It was a lot of fun, and this was the winning play that night (those are the judges sitting in the front row).

Showtimes and Location Announced for "Red Death"

Here are the dates and times for my new opera Red Death at the Off Center Theatre in Crown Center.

8:00pm July 18
3:30pm July 19
7:30pm July 21
7:30pm July 23
6:00pm July 24
9:00pm July 26

Tickets are $10 with a $5 Fringe Button and will be available at the box office or online at kcfringe.org.  See you at the Fringe.

"Red Death" Fundraiser Pictures

Thank you to everyone who came and donated to our very successful fundraiser. Here are some photos from the event, and you can see more at our event page.

Masks for the "Red Death" Fundraiser

Please join us for entertainment, food, a silent auction, a mask-making "craft buffet," and a photo booth to show off your creations! This is a fundraiser benefitting the production of the original opera, "Red Death," based on Edgar Allen Poe's 1842 classic story, "The Masque of the Red Death."

The fundraiser will be held at 7pm, Saturday, May 31 at St. Peter's UCC Fellowship Hall, 700 E. 110th (on the corner of 110th and Holmes). Individual tickets to the fundraiser are $15, or 2 for $25. Kids 12 and under are admitted free.

If you can't attend but would like to make a donations, just click the button below:

"Red Death" at the 2014 Kansas City Fringe Festival

The Mummer Opera Company will produce a new opera, Red Death, at the 2014 Kansas City Fringe Festival. Written by Bryan Colley with music by Daniel Doss, the opera is adapted from Edgar Allan Poe's The Masque of the Red Death. Tara Varney directs her seventh collaboration with Colley at the Fringe, which includes  Khaaaaan! the Musical, Hexing Hitler/Sexing Hitler, and Chicken Heart.

Poe's famous 1842 short story follows Prince Prospero's attempts to avoid a deadly plague known as the Red Death by locking himself and other wealthy nobles in his abbey. There, they indulge in a fantastic masquerade ball to flaunt their defiance of death. The opera uses additional text from Lucretius, Ecclesiastes, and Montaigne to explore classic philosophical issues of the meaning of life and inevitablity of death.

Red Death will star operatic tenor Nathan Granner as Prince Prospero and Devon Barnes as a servant of the castle. It will feature choreography by Amy Hurrelbrink, who will join dancers Chelsea Anglemyer, Josh Atkins, Tyler Parsons, and Tiffany Powell on stage. Hurrelbrink appeared in the previous Colley/Varney Fringe productions Lingerie Shop, Khaaaaan! the Musical, Sexing Hitler and Chicken Heart.

Granner is a founding member of the Sony Masterworks recording group The American Tenors and has been featured in lead roles in L'Elisir D'amore, Cosi fan Tuta, Falstaff, and Die Zauberflote. He has received critical acclaim from The Boston Globe, The London Times, The New York Times, Opera News, The Washington Post, USA Today, The Kansas City Star, and KCMetropolis.org. A graduate of the UMKC Conservatory, he has appeared with the Lyric Opera of Kansas City and performs regularly with Ben Gulley, Beau Bledsoe, Jesse Lynch and Mark Lowrey. He was also artistic director of Homecoming, an Evening with Virgil T at the Kauffman Center.

The Kansas City Fringe Festival runs July 17-27, 2014. Tickets are $10 with a $5 Fringe button. Performance dates, times, and location will be announced at kcfringe.org and jupiterkansas.com/red.

Lost "Khaaaaan!" Think Geek video discovered

Digging through the jumbled nether regions of my hard drives, I unearthed this digital gem from way back in 2011: the unfinished music video we created for ThinkGeek.com.

Think Geek graciously provided some awesome merchandise for us to use as a fundraiser for Khaaaan! the Musical. We promised them a music video in return, but despite our best efforts it was never quite finished. So here it is in all it's raw glory.

If you like the song, here's an mp3. It's a variation on "The Illogical Song" that we performed in the show. You can download the entire cast album for free here.

"For Serious" Screening at KC FilmFest

I will be hosting a Q&A with filmmakers John Sheehan and Andrew Gajkowski when they attend the premiere of their first film "For Serious" on Saturday, April 15 at 5:15pm at the Cinemark Palace on the Plaza.

Come check out this very funny indie movie and meet the makers who are coming all the way from Austin.

Here's the trailer:

"Variations on a Theme by Tara Varney" Rescheduled

"Variations on a Theme by Tara Varney" has been rescheduled to 7pm, March 15 due to weather.
This is a reading of her new play, followed by an artist talkback.

A father and daughter. Co-workers. Two strangers at a bus stop. This series of humorous and heartfelt episodes explores the connections – and disconnects – we experience in our daily lives. Some mature themes. Some decidedly immature themes.

Starring Teri Adams and Parry Luellen. 

7pm, March 15. Tickets $10. 1715 Wyandotte. Seating limited.

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"Variations on a Theme by Tara Varney" Play Reading

Tara Varney has a new play being read at the Fishtank.

A father and daughter. Co-workers. Two strangers at a bus stop. This series of humorous and heartfelt episodes explores the connections – and disconnects – we experience in our daily lives. Some mature themes. Some decidedly immature themes.

Starring Teri Adams and Parry Luellen. 

7pm, March 2. Tickets $10. 1715 Wyandotte. Seating limited.

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2013 Movie Reviews

Some of you might know that I write movie reviews of every movie I see - mainly as a way of remembering them (there's no room left in my head for all these movies).

Here's all of my movie reviews from 2013. 

I've been doing this since 2006 and I'm posting older (and newer) reviews on Letterboxd, if you're interested.

(The photo is from City of Life and Death, one of the best movies I saw this year.)