Archived Theatre Reviews (page 6)
January 2007 - December 2007
If you were looking for God, I found him last night at the North Shore Music Theater. I heard the voices of angels, and saw brilliant lights. Although in this case the lights were brought to you by David Neville, who uses beams of light like streaks of paint that create this masterpiece. If your guessing that I thought this production was heavenly, you're right.
Does revenge taste sweeter baked in a pie? This is the long-told tale of a vengeful man who, imprisoned wrongly, returns with revenge in his heart. Upon returning from prison, he finds the judge (who wrongly sentenced him to fifteen years in prison) has ravaged his wife and adopted his precious daughter Joanna. Along with his landlady, played perfectly by Judy Kaye, the judge will get (and be served in) his just dessert.
I found out something I never knew last night at North Shore Music Theater. Everything old is not new again. Sha-na-na not only had nothing new, their old stuff was as dusty and creaky as Grandma's attic. The first time I saw Sha-na-na was in 1970 at the Boston Tea Party. They were full of life. Their music made it impossible to just sit and watch. My feet were moving before the first chorus. Last night, the only time I got to my feet was when the group had the audience stand so they could get us all moving. What did they have us groove to? The Hokey Pokey. Nuff said? Don't waste your time or your money going to see grandpa in a purple suit with a silver star sewn on his butt. I wouldn't even hire this group for a Bar Mitzvah because the kids would think they were totally lame. But if you still must see them you'll have to check your local paper because luckily they were only at the NSMT for one night. * (Poor)
Last night I was treated to more fun than a barrel of monkeys. How much fun do monkey’s really have when you stuff them into a barrel? But that’s aside from the point. The North Shore Music Theater has once again provided an evening of smiles for all. "Forever Plaid" is the story of a fictional 1950’s boy band who are tragically struck down by a parochial school bus just before their big break. Thanks to God, and the folks at North Shore, they are resurrected just long enough to entertain us with their magnificent voices, spot on comedy and some wonderful reminiscing for those of us who remember Ed Sullivan down to the plate spinners. Forever Plaid features a book by Suart Ross and arrangements by James Raitt. And what a selection! There’s everything from Beatles to Belefonte and more…there’s Love is a many Splendored Thing, Perfidia, Three Coins in the Fountain. The cast, starring Chris Crouch as Sparky, J.D. Daw as Jinx, Adam Halpin as Frankie and Kevin Vortmann as Smudge, are every bit as talented as the original foursome I saw in New York a decade ago. Forever Plaid, directed and choreographed by Guy Stroman is at NSMT until Oct. 7, 2007. For tickets: www.nsmt.org or 978-232-7200. I can absolutely promise you Moments to Remember…(My Grade 4.5)
At the Loeb Drama Center in Cambridge, Mass. The American Repertory Theatre in association with Theatre de le Jeune Lune of Minneapolis present "Figaro," based on segments in several plays by Baumarchais and Mozart's classic opera "The Marriage of Figaro." Set in Paris in 1792 during the tumultuous aftermath of the French Revolution, the elderly haughty, demanding and quite ragged Count (now known only as "Mr.") Almaviva and his wily manservant Figaro have taken refuge in a nearly empty and disheveled mansion. With his Master hiding in a wardrobe cabinet, with bombs exploding regularly outdoors, Figaro does his utmost to protect Mr. Almaviva. The frazzled former aristocrat, finding it very difficult to accept the passing of the old ways, muses about his happier times many years before in Seville. Flashback sequences then begin to bring back felicitous moments in Mozart's sublime opera. In creatively innovative and clever fashion another set of performers appear on stage, sliding in from, under, and behind furniture, as younger alter egos of Figaro, his fiancee Susanna, Count Almaviva, his neglected wife Countess Rosina and Cherubino, a frisky young Page, who is smitten with her. They then begin to relive their glorious musical past lives in a succession of majestic and passionate arias and ensembles. Flanked by two very large video projection screens, (before one and to the side of the other, revealing outer city scenes and close up views of the cast), this splendid group of actors and singers bring back vivid memories of Figaro's marriage, the young lmaviva's sprightly and comic attempts at seducing Susanna, as well as the merry mix-ups involving the Countess and the youthful Cherubino. As with their earlier staging of "Don Juan Giovanni," this production was also conceived and developed by Steven Epp and Dominique Serrand, who play the elder Figaro and Almaviva. Once again, the elevated and projected English translations, of the Italian songs, have been adapted by Epp, with the facile and confidently focused Direction, as before, by Serrand. Bryan Boyce and Bradley Greenwald are highly spirited as the early and quite sonorous Figaro and Count Almaviva, with equally engaging and resonant renditions by Momoko Tanno as Susanna, Jennifer Baldwin Peden as the Countess. and Christina Baldwin as the lively Cherubino. Extra mention must also be afforded for the similarly strong singing by Dieter Bierbrauer, Bryan Janssen and Carrie Hennessey in fine smaller supporting roles. As in the previous presentation, the superb string quartet, off to the side, featuring Daniel Stepner and Julie Leven: violins, Laura Jeppesen: viola, and Guy Fishman: cello, were once more praiseworthy from start to finish. Now playing, as previously stated, in repertory with this same Company's production of "Don Juan Giovanni" through October 6. (My Grade : 5)
THE ENGLISH CHANNEL
At their C. Walsh Theatre, Suffolk University in Boston presents the world premiere of "The English Channel," a new play by Robert Brustein. Director, playwright, drama critic Brustein is the prestigious founder of the American Repertory Theatre and is now a Scholar in Residence at Suffolk University. His play's action takes place in 1593 where the young 29 year old Shakespeare is residing in a cramped room at the Mermaid Tavern. He spends most of his time busily writing sonnets due to the fact that all the theatres are shuttered because of the Plague. During the play's one act, 90 minute time span, the fledgling Bard is peripherally enmeshed with the Court machinations of his patron Henry (Hal) Wriothesley, Earl of Southampton (often thought to be the " fair youth" of the sonnets). The Earl is heavily involved in conspiracies against the Queen, for which he was eventually executed, although these intrigues actually occurred six years after the time of this play. However, Shakespeare's most frequent visitor is poet and playwright Christopher Marlowe, who introduces Will to Emilia Lanier, a poetess and the first female to publish professionally. She, too, is often considered to be the "Dark Lady" of Shakespeare's sonnets. Since Will laments the fact that he's able to visit his wife only once a year, he has no qualms about romancing and seducing Emilia, even though she too is married. As Marlowe repeatedly insists on accusing Shakespeare of plagiarism, he also does his best to overtake Wriothesley's patronage. Complications soon develop, however, when a handkerchief, given by Will to Emilia, is reported to have been lost by her. While her fate does not mirror Desdemona's later demise at the hands of Othello, nevertheless Shakespeare remains perpetually suspicious and unforgiving. Central throughout is his well known practice of adapting his plotlines from a myriad of other sources, often with Marlowe as inspiration. Finally, when the Bard learns that this great friend has been violently murdered during a dispute at a local tavern, the play closes with Marlowe's spectre visiting Shakespeare to continue counseling him about his future plays. The small four member cast do reasonably well with their assignments, albeit with fluctuating English accents. Sean Dugan as Marlowe and lovely Merritt Janson as Emilia were both impressive with a generally satisfactory portrayal by Gabriel Field as Shakespeare and somewhat lesser effectiveness by Alex Pollock as Wriothesley. Richard Chambers' small cluttered Elizabethan setting, Seth Bodie's fine period costumes, and Wesley Savick's well focused Direction were all quite noteworthy. The play's title is a symbolic reference to Marlowe's acting as the mentor of his potentially legendary friend. Now playing through September 15. This play will also be performed at the Vineyard Playhouse on Cape Cod, September 19 through 29. (My Grade: 4)
DON JUAN GIOVANNI
At the Loeb Drama Center in Cambridge, Mass., the American Repertory Theatre in association with Theatre de le Jeune Lune of Minneapolis presents "Don Juan Giovanni," based on the works of Moliere and Mozart from an original production by Steven Epp, Felicity Jones, Dominique Serrand, and Paul Walsh. Performed on a bare stage before a large mounted video projection screen, an accomplished ten member cast intermingles both Moliere's provocative views of Don Juan, the legendary libertine, with selected majestic arias by Mozart, from his grand opera Don Giovanni. Set in contemporary America, true to form, the much fabled, licentious Don, together with his vexed man-servant Sganarelle, is cruising throughout the countryside in an actual antique Plymouth auto, in search of new romantic escapades and also some sort of existentialist freedom. As the old car very, very slowly circles round and round the expansive stage (in Becket-like fashion), they arrive at an open-air drive-in movie theatre. On screen they see a "motion picture" starring their alter-egos: Don Giovanni and his assistant Leporello. Suddenly the real Giovanni appears on stage, simultaneously with his own visage on screen, in pursuit of the lovely Donna Anna, his unwilling next intended conquest. When her elderly father, "the Commendatore," rushes to her aid, he's killed in the ensuing melee and his anguished daughter solemnly pledges to avenge his death. Shortly thereafter, Don Juan and these others also encounter the great profligate's estranged wife, Elvire. She, too, is fixated on revenge and will later confront her carousing spouse with her pregnant state. To this extraordinary mixture is added the watchful Charlotte, a nearby bicycling observer, and Giovanni's latest lusty female conquest. Meanwhile, Peter, an anxious gas station's mechanic, and Charlotte's fiance, finds himself being constantly driven about or buffeted by the aforementioned operators of the old car. Sganarelle continues to be unable to convince his master to change his unbridled ways, as Donna Anna still remains aggrieved, and the ghost of her deceased "Commendatore" father appears as the spectral visitor at the play's spirited finale. Throughout Mozart's lofty arias and duets, sung in Italian, act as sublime highpoints to the evening, with fine English translations projected high above the large video screen. This impressive blending of interesting dialogue and magnificent music is effectively acted and superbly sung by the multi-talented cast. As stated, Steven Epp and Dominique Serrand not only developed this production, but Epp also vividly portrays Sganarelle and devised the splendid, projected English translations, while Serrand is also the show's assured Director as well as the searching, focused, and unrestrained Don Juan. Full voiced Bryan Boyce and Bradley Greenwald as Don Giovanni and Leporello, together with resounding Momoko Tanno as Donna Anna, Jennifer Baldwin Peden as Elvire, and Christina Baldwin as Charlotte were all consistently compelling! Equally sonorous and commanding, the highly animated Dieter Bierbrauer as the overwrought auto mechanic Peter, and Bryan Janssen as the phantom senior "Commendatore " were likewise quite imposing. Lastly, much praise is also due for the expert string quartet, off to the side, comprised of Daniel Stepner and Julie Leven: violins, Laura Jeppesen: viola, and Guy Fishman: cello. Now playing in repertory, with an analogous intertwining of "Figaro," based upon the words and music of Baumarchais and Mozart (soon be also reviewed here), through October 6. (My Grade: 5)
ROMEO AND JULIET
On the banks of the Charles River in Boston's Brighton neighborhood, at the outdoor stage in Christian Herter Park, the Publick Theatre presents its new production of "Romeo and Juliet " by William Shakespeare. Once again this classic tale, set in old Verona, of the young, tragic, star-crossed lovers unfolds against the tumultuous events surrounding their bitterly feuding Capulet and Montague families. After meeting at a masked ball at the Capulet home, the youthful sweethearts' forbidden love ignites and is then dimmed and threatened by a calamitous turn of events. When Tybalt, a tempestuous Capulet, slays Romeo's friend Mercutio. Romeo responds in kind by killing Tybalt. Then, when Romeo is banished from Verona as punishment, Juliet, with the help of good Friar Laurence, tries to fool her family by drinking an elixer creating the temporary appearance of her "death." However, unfortunately when Romeo inadvertently remains unaware of Juliet's impending awakening, he takes his own life when grief stricken at Juliet's "death" bed. Similarly, upon reviving, the despairing Juliet, upon discovering her deceased Romeo, joins her beloved in self-imposed death. Vigorously and animatedly portrayed by Adam Soule as Romeo with intense and spirited verve by sweet and youthful Angie Jepson as Juliet. Alejandro Simoes as Tybalt and Ben Lambert as Mercutio were effective likewise, with especially engaging performances by Owen Doyle as Friar Laurence, Steven Barkhimer as Capulet, Juliet's father, and M. Lynda Robinson as her sprightly and helpful nurse. Much praise is also due for Jane Hillier-Walkowiak's fine period costumes and Janie Howland's imposing wooden-structured set with its grand open archways and multi elevated turrets. Ted Hewlett's vividly choreographed swords play and Diego Arciniegas' effectively concentrated Direction were also quite commendable. Now playing in repertory with G. B. Shaw's "Misalliance," (reviewed here earlier) through September 16. (My Grade: 5)
THE THREE MUSKETEERS
The North Shore Music Theatre in Beverly, Mass. presents its new production of "The Three Musketeers," featuring Music by George Stiles, Lyrics by Paul Leigh, and Book by Peter Raby. Staged in San Jose, California in 2000 and this past year by the Chicago Shakespeare Theatre, this is the New England premiere of this musical adaptation of Alexandre Dumas' legendary mid-19th century French novel. Set in Paris in 1625, its top heavy plot faithfully follows the many complicated twists and turns of its classic source. Its main focus is, of course, on the adventures of young rustic D'Artagnan who leaves his country home hoping to join the King's Musketeers in Paris. Once there, he links up with Athos, Porthos, and Aramis, three inseparable friends, lusty and heroic swordsmen, who help him to qualify as a Musketeer. They start by guiding him in proving his courage in battle. Later, upon being romantically smitten after meeting Constance, the Queen's seamstress, D'Artagnan becomes embroiled with the mysterious and malevolent Milady de Winters, and must also confront the ominous Comte de Rochefort, major deputy to Cardinal Richelieu. This sinister and scheming Cardinal is locked in a power struggle which seeks to undermine the King. Still later, with the assistance of Planchet, a friendly and helpful peasant, D'Artagnan journeys to Britain to bring back diamonds that the French Queen has given to her lover, the English Duke of Buckingham. His success leads to Milady angrily plotting against both the Queen and D'Artagnan's sweetheart with dire consequences. With war to come between England and France, the conflicted Milady poisons Constance and ends her own life! Although greatly saddened by the demise of his sweetheart, and overtaken by surprise at the retirement of Athos, Porthos and Aramis, D'Artagnan gratefully accepts the honor of becoming a full-fledged Musketeer. Curiously, in this production, only minimal notice is given to the many malicious machinations of Cardinal Richelieu, with the plot's primary attention centered on the entanglements between D'Artagnan, the Comte de Rochefort and Milady de Winters. Handsome, full-voiced Aaron Tveit is quite imposing as the young, adventurous D'Artagnan with strong support by lovely, sweetly singing Jenny Fellner as his beloved Constance. Beautiful Kate Baldwin's strong, resonant portrayal of Milady, together with Jimmy Smagula, Kevyn Morrow and John Schiappa's vivid perfromances as Porthos, Aramis and Athos contributed much to the show's impact. Mike Bleyer as Rochefort, Steven Booth as Planchet, and Matt Stokes as the power-seeking Cardinal were also quite noteworthy fronting the large, young, enthusiastic, 24-member cast. While, of the show's nearly 20 songs, no one melody stands out as a majestically memorable love song, D'Artagnan and Constance's tender duets, "Doing Very Well Without You," and "Who Could Have Dreamed of You" were still quite appealing. D'Artagnan's rousing wish for " A Good Old Fashioned War," was the evening's most engaging anthem, with similar notice for Athos, Porthos and Aramis' spirited " Count Me In! " ( All for One and One for All.) Lez Brotherston's splendid period costumes and effective in-the-round staging were both very praiseworthy. Equal accolades for Dennis Callahan's spirited choreography, with extra commendations for the evening's vigorous and striking swords play. Of course, the large, full orchestra conducted by Dale Rieling and Francis Matthews' strong Direction also added heavily. Now playing through September 9. (My Grade: 4)
THE PARADE or APPROACHING THE END OF SUMMER
At the Provincetown Theater in Provincetown, Mass. the New Provincetown Players present their production of "The Parade or Approaching the End of a Summer" by Tennessee Williams. A short, recently-discovered unproduced one act, an autobiographical play written by the celebrated playwright in 1940, at age 26, when he was living in Provincetown. It was previously briefly performed in the Fall of 2006 as the major world premiere event of this town's first Tennessee Williams Festival. Expanded into a full-length play by Williams in 1962, and re titled "Something Cloudy, Something Clear," this longer, revised version was staged Off-Off Broadway in 1981. Here now we have this earlier abbreviated work by the then unknown young playwright. It's set on a bare stage with only a plain white backdrop and a flat wooden plank extending forward (acting as a wharf). This slight character study tenderly explores the troubled love-sick relationship between youthful Don, a fledgling writer, and Dick, an older (by seven years) pompous and disdainful dancer-to-be, of seemingly limited potential. After haughtily disparaging Don's poetry, his arrogant and scornful friend effusively welcomes his girlfriend Wanda and drifts off stage with her. Meanwhile, Miriam, a young Jewish summertime visitor, lauds Don's creativity and also assures him that she's "never been bothered by (his) being gay." She's decidedly upset by Don's intense attraction to his supercilious friend and cautions him "Don't go for water to an empty well." Believing firmly in Don's future, she offers to lend him enough money for him to go to New York. " I wish that I could love you, I wish that you could love me" is the young playwright's wistful observation. Although Don is quite dismayed by the many letters of rejection sent to him by publishers he's mailed his work to, the play closes with Miriam remaining confidently steadfast in her belief in his talent. As stated, based on actual people and events, that were the famed playwright's friends and confidantes during his early years in Cape Cod, Canadian dancer Kip Kiernan, with whom Williams did have a strained relationship, was the prototype of Dick, and real-life New Yorker Ethel Elkovsky was indeed one of the young Tennessee's earliest and most dependable supporters. Effectively Directed by Eric Powell Holm, it's being well performed by the small five member cast, with sincere portrayals by Ben Griessmeyer as the sensitive and conflicted Don, and Whitney Hudson as the dedicated and helpful Miriam. Earnest and generally adequate support was offered by Elliot Eustis as the contemptuous Dick, Elizabeth Stahlmann as his girlfriend Wanda, and Bob Seaver as an older officious postman. Now playing every Wednesday, in rotation with several other presentations, through September 5. For more information, about this company's remaining summer season, telephone: 508-487-9793 or 800-791-7487. (My Grade: 3)
At Monument Square on the outdoor stage, in Anne Chamberlin Park in Concord, Mass., the Town Cow Theater Company presents its production of "Bacchus" by Jean Cocteau. Written in 1951 by this legendary French avant-garde poet, novelist, screenwriter, director and playwright, this presentation, open to the general public at no cost, represents its New England debut following its previous New York premiere in 1999. Translated and Directed by Thomas Caron, it's set in a German village in 1523, where a small group of prominent citizens have come together to choose this year's crowned head of the annual wine festival. Young, adult Christine, daughter of the region's Duke, and her teenaged brother Lothar, strongly recommend that Hans, the village's 29 year old idiot, be elected as the new fabled "Bacchus." After being so honored, Hans finds that his new position has given him total undisputed authority over the hamlet and all of its citizens, for one entire week. Thus empowered, it soon becomes evident that Hans was only pretending to be the local simpleton. Now fully in charge, he quickly initiates a multitude of new rules and regulations for the village. Amongst many other similar changes, all jailed prisoners must now be set free, payment of all petty tithes are now also to be canceled, and local merchants must not only reduce all of their prices but also allow any and all village thieves to keep whatever they have stolen. Furthermore, viewing Jesus Christ as the archetypical revolutionary, Hans decries the Church's pomp and ceremony which he asserts promotes public ignorance. As expected, all of these radical changes create an explosive backlash from the village leaders. Lead by the region's Provost and Bishop, with the assistance of an eminent visiting Cardinal (a Papal envoy), their machinations to change and redirect Hans, do not go quite as planned, and result in a series of unexpected consequences in their wake. While the major players in the Company's nine member cast do very well handling their assignments, there is some unevenness by a few of the actors, in the production's various minor roles. Jay Newlon is vividly effective as the freethinking Bacchus, with fine support by Myron Feld as the Duke and Caitlin Carrigan and Eric Sheehan as his highly involved daughter Christine and son Lothar. Although John Small was much too shrill as the local Provost, Tony Dangerfield as the village's Bishop and especially Director and Adaptor Thomas Caron, as the decidedly concerned Cardinal, was especially imposing. Jovanna L. Riollano's minimalist, but still effective, setting, together with Beca Gates' spare but adequate period costumes, served the production well. Now playing through August 26. (My Grade: 3.5)
At the Company Theatre in Norwell, Mass. is their new production of "Miss Saigon," featuring Music by Claude-Michel Schonberg and Lyrics by Alain Boublil with English adaptation and additional material by Richard Maltby. Loosely based on Pucinni's classic opera "Madame Butterfly" reset in Vietnam in 1975 during the last tumultuous wartime days of the American presence there. A major success when it opened in London in 1989, it was equally acclaimed upon its Broadway debut in 1991. Since then, it has been popularly staged and enthusiastically greeted many times in many countries throughout the world. As in Pucinni's original source, its tragic story centers on the ill-fated love between a beautiful, young and sweet Asian female and a member of the American military. Chris, a handsome young Marine stationed in Saigon, meets and falls in love with Kim at the Dreamland Bar, a sleazy local nightclub, where she has been forced to work as a prostitute. After he returns to America without her, not knowing that she has given birth to their son, complications develop for her due to her involvement with the bar's ruthless and cynical manager (known to all as "the Engineer"), and a cruel and relentless Assistant Communist Officer. A few years later Chris returns to Vietnam with Ellen, his new American wife. After an intense and revelatory meeting with her, Kim selflessly and tragically chooses to pave the way for her young child's better life in America with Chris and Ellen. The large highly-accomplished 16+ member cast perform their demanding and multi-layered assignments with great flair and passion. Jennifer Schaffer as Kim and Michael Warner as Chris, both with full and strong voices, are equally compelling as the troubled sweethearts. John F. King is especially engaging and commanding as the duplicitous and unscrupulous "Engineer," with splendid vocally melodic and assured acting support by James A. Valentin as the confrontational Communist Commisar; Kendra Kachadoorian as the new wife Ellen; and Kenneth Harmon as Chris' helpful G.I. buddy John. Kira Cowan, early on as an especially acrobatic cast member, was also quite effective. The grandly impressive and expansive score soars majestically with such memorable songs as "The Heat Is On In Saigon," "The Movie In My Mind," " The Last Night Of The World," and "I'd Give My Life For You." John F. King's vividly animated and dynamic rendition of "The American Dream," a sardonic salute to rampant materialism, served as the show's most imposing, show-stopping number. Similarly noteworthy was Kenneth Harmon's resonant vocal record of Vietnam's countless and abandoned war orphans, sung by him before projected films of these children on a rear backdrop. High praise must also go to Zoe Bradford's many creatively designed scenic units, which were quickly and effortlessly moved on and off to efficiently establish the show's multitude of time and place changes, with extra mention for her well conceived depiction of the chaotic U.S. evacuation from 'Nam, including a dazzlingly gripping helicopter descent and take-off. Shirley Carney's multi-varied and colorful costumes, Sally Ashton Forrest's spirited choreography and Matt Guminski's dramatic lighting, were also most certainly commendable. Of course, the fine full orchestra conducted by Michael V. Joseph and Zoe Bradford and Jordie Saucerman's combined and well-centered Direction were also most certainly evident throughout! Now playing through August 19. (My Grade: 5)
On the banks of the Charles River in Boston's Brighton neighborhood, at the outdoor stage in Christian Herter Park, is the Publick Theatre's production of "Misalliance" by George Bernard Shaw. Written in 1909, and first staged the following year, this classic comedy takes aim at British manners, morals, hypocrisy, capitalism, socialism, and the brashness of youth vs. the reserve of their elders. It then, with much charm and wit, adds a bevy of insightful and satirical observations about it all. At the country estate of British underwear magnate John Tarleton, he and his zesty young adult daughter Hypatia and his arrogant son Johnny, greet their guests, her stodgy and simplistic fiance Bentley (otherwise known as "Bunny"), and his pompous and prominent father Lord Summerhays, the former Governor of a colonial outpost. Although she's prepared to marry Bunny, mostly because it's expected of her, she longs to do more with her life than "to just grow old," and is hoping for something really extraordinary. Without warning, her expectations quite literally explode, with a roar and a bang, when a low-flying airplane suddenly crashes into their nearby greenhouse. Although shaken but thankfully uninjured, Joey, the handsome young pilot, (with a Latino accent), and Lina, his beautiful statuesque passenger, (with a decidedly Polish accent), now in like fashion join the guests. Hypatia's mother has now come to see what all the fuss is about. Lina is revealed to be wearing a colorful acrobat's costume when she removes her aviator's jumpsuit. The manly pilot and his lusty and very attractive gymnastic companion have now become the centers of attraction. As expected, Hypatia's fancy quickly shifts from Bunny to Joey, and everyone else is soon entranced by the fascinating, free thinking, and outspoken Slavic beauty. As Hypatia chases after Joey into the surrounding greenery, and the others leave briefly. Lina, a shabbily dressed commoner brandishing a pistol, stealthily enters the abandoned drawing room. He's come to settle a long festering grievance against businessman Tarleton. In a succession of comic and topsy-turvy turns, he's effectively disarmed and pacified, as Hypatia replaces Bunny in favor of Joey, while the rest continue to be intrigued by the lusty, free and unreserved Lina. Heather Wood is animatedly engaging as the spirited Hypatia, with vivid presence by Debera Ann Lund as the highly charismatic Lina. Much praise is also due for the rest of the cast: Owen Doyle as Mr. Tarleton; Alejandro Simoes as Joey; Stephen Libby as the foppish Bunny; Steven Barkhimer as the prestigious and stuffy Lord Summerhays; Adam Soule as Tarleton's testy son Johnny; and M. Lynda Robinson as Mrs. Tarleton, who's mainly responsible for mollifying Gabriel Kuttner as the radical, revenge-seeking intruder. It should be noted that Director Diego Arciniegas has also made many, with some occasionally striking, cuts in Shaw's provocative dialogue. This otherwise splendid production is now playing, (in repertory with "Romeo & Juliet," which will soon also be reviewed here) through September 9. (My Grade: 4)
At the Robinson Theatre on the campus of the Waltham High School in Waltham, Mass. the Reagle Players present their production of "42nd Street," featuring Book by Michael Stewart and Mark Bramble with Music by Harry Warren and Lyrics by Al Dubin. Based on the highly popular 1933 backstage movie musical of the same title, it opened on Broadway to great acclaim and a lengthy engagement in 1980, followed by a highly successful national tour. This was later followed by the show's equally popular reception when it was also staged in London's West End in 1984. A definite favorite with this company's audiences, this marks its 4th triumphant presentation by the Reagle Players, echoing previous highly popular productions here in 1988, 1992, and 1998. Its classic storybook plot centers on stage-struck chorine Peggy Sawyer, from Allentown, Pa.,breaking into big time stardom when she's suddenly chosen to replace the major star of "Pretty Lady," (the show which is in rehearsal for a big Broadway opening). Peggy gets her fanciful big chance when Dorothy Brock, the original leading lady, accidentally breaks her ankle during the show's tryout in Philadelphia. "You're going out as a youngster," barks Julian Marsh, the show's harried producer, to Peggy, "but you've got to come back a star! " And, of course, so she does. Notwithstanding its simple-minded plot, the show's great popularity rests on Warren and Dubin's wonderful legendary songs from the original Warner Brothers' motion picture, including the addition of a host of this same team's big musical hits from several of their other popular films of the 30's. The majestic score includes "Shadow Waltz," "You're Getting to be a Habit With Me," "Dames," "We're in the Money!," "Lullaby of Broadway," "Shuffle Off to Buffalo," and the grand title tune, amongst many other similarly memorable melodies. To this is also added Gower Champion's brilliant original choreography, recreated here by Susan M. Chebookjian and Eileen Grace. Unfortunately, this was Gower's last show. Tragically,he died on the day the show opened on Broadway. The many colorful and resplendent costumes by Florida's "Costume World," the multitude of quick and eye-catching sets by Robin Wagner, the fine full orchestral accompaniment under Karen Gahagan and Jeffrey P. Leonard's guidance and Eileen Grace's effective Direction, all most certainly contributed toward making this show the great ongoing favorite that it continues to be. Lastly, the large, 17+, enthusiastic and accomplished cast is in top singing and dancing form throughout, with high praise for pretty, full voiced, spiritedly tap-dancing Jessica Greeley as Peggy Sawyer. Equally equipped John Antony as the frantic Producer Julian Marsh; Sue Ellen Estey as the evening's replaced star Dorothy Brock; with Russell Rhodes as Peggy's amorous and animated dancing costar Billy Lawlor; and Beth M. Martin as the show's accommodating assistant Maggie Jones were all similarly effective. This splendid family-friendly show is now playing through August 18. (My Grade: 5)
At Boston's Center for the Arts Plaza Theatre, Company One presents "Mr. Marmalade" by Noah Haidle. A recent Off-Broadway success, this is its Boston premiere. Young and neglected 4 year old Lucy lives in New Jersey with her single, mostly absent, working mother, who often comes home with an occasional man (who Lucy doesn't know). With an uncaring babysitter primarily in charge, Lucy has fashioned an imaginary social world to fill up the emptiness of her life. The prime player in her fantasies is Mr. Marmalade, an arrogant, abusive, foul-mouthed businessman, who visits her regularly with Bradley, his gay subservient valet. It quickly becomes apparent that this imagined "friend" is not a very nice person. Notwithstanding his neat business-like necktie and suit, and his fine professional briefcase, we soon become aware of his addiction to cocaine, and find that his splendid leather case is really stuffed with pornography. His manservant Bradley is also marked with many signs of his Master's physical mistreatment. Alternating between pleasantry and malice, Mr. Marmalade repeatedly veers from browbeating Lucy to placating her with fanciful promises of a happy future vacation together in Mexico. However, his hold on her is suddenly challenged by the arrival of Lucy's new 5 year old friend Larry. Vividly displaying both of his bandaged wrists to her, Larry proudly announces that he's "the youngest suicide-attempt, in the history of New Jersey." Similarly, we soon discover that Larry also has both a talking cactus and sunflower as his own set of imaginary pals. Laced with dark, humor-filled dialogue which engagingly reflects both Lucy's and Larry's profoundly dysfunctional home lives, under Shawn LaCount's well focused Direction, the strong 8 member cast couldn't be better. Rachael Hunt (age 22) is totally believable as 4 year old Lucy, with similarly accurate effectiveness by Greg Maraio (age 25) as her 5 year old friend Larry. The ever potent John Kuntz is quite persuasive as the essentially malevolent Mr. Marmalade, with compelling assistance by Daniel Berger-Jones as his downtrodden servant Bradley. Amanda Good Hennessey as both Lucy's absent mom and unconcerned babysitter, Danny Balel and Tory Bullock as Larry's friendly house-plants, and Mark Abby VanDerzee as boyfriends of both Mom and the babysitter were all in fine form throughout. This grandly provocative one act exploration of a young, sensitive child's fancifully bizarre escape from her very troubled real world is now playing through August 11. (My Grade: 5)
JESUS: THE GUANTANAMO YEARS
At Jimmy Tingle's Off Broadway Theater in Davis Square, Somerville, Mass. is the U.S. premiere of "Jesus: The Guantanamo Years," created by and starring Abie Philbin Bowman. Fully bearded, with his shoulder length locks of hair tied by a small thin band of thorns, and garbed in a bright orange prison jumpsuit, young Irish standup comedian Bowman takes center stage here in this very witty one man show. A surprise hit last year at the famed Edinburgh Festival in Scotland, it was then followed by successful engagements in London's West End with similarly popular presentations in Ireland, in Dublin, Belfast and Galway. The show's provocative premise finds Jesus held as a suspected "terrorist" at JFK Airport and then shipped off to the Guantanamo Prison in Cuba. As a hairy Middle-Easterner, who's had some connection with martyrdom, he was quickly identified as a definite foreign provocateur! Then, in his 75 minute solo turn, (his first onstage reappearance in nearly two millenia), he sounds off candidly about his incarceration, his warm, but still controversial relationship with his Dad, and his quizzical observations about a multitude of related matters. He ingenuously describes how he was first mistakenly believed, by his interrogators, to be a "magician," and then later, when they learned that his name was "Jesus," how they then came to assume that he must be a Mexican.. Then they also arrived at his admission that he is not now and has never been a Communist. Still later, he finds himself wondering about the vast amounts of unpaid Bible royalties still due to him. He further riffs amusingly about how much "no fun it was, being the only Jew imprisoned at Guantanamo,", how Mother Theresa took an amorous fancy to Gandhi, and how he was the only kid ever, who at his birth, broke his own mother's hymen. Of course, all of these spirited recollections were loudly greeted by the full audience with large gales of approving laughter. Later, with still more portentous issues for him to consider, he begins by noting that the Guantanamo internment camp is really run just like a maximum security prison for chickens by KFC, and then seriously asserts that the military commissions there mostly act like "kangaroo courts " concluding that conditions, over all, are woefully un-Christian! Bowman observes that "Many Christians have seen this show, and almost no one has objected to it as blasphemy." This highly engaging and quite stimulating solo performance, which manages to not only playfully jest about religion, but to also raise some humor laced and ultimately probing and insightful ideas about Guantanamo, is now playing through August 12. (My Grade: 5)
At Beatrice Herford's Vokes Theatre in Wayland, Mass. the Vokes Players present their new production of "Blithe Spirit" by Noel Coward. Written by him in 1941, at the height of the Nazis' nightly blitz air attacks against Great Britain, it has proved to be one of this great comic master's most popular and durable comedies. It was also produced as a highly successful British movie in 1945, starring Rex Harrison and Margaret Rutherford. Charles, a prominent writer, preparing to pen his next novel about the occult, plans as part of his research, to hold a seance in his home and has invited Madame Arcati, a local Medium and eccentric, to host this highly special event. Joined by his second wife Ruth and their friends Dr. and Mrs. Bradman, they're all prepared to be grandly amused by Mme. Arcati's 'Tom-Foolery.' After the seance has ended, and Arcati and the Bradmans have left, with no apparent 'other-worldly' evidence, except for her suggestion that some sort of spiritual contact from 'the other side' was imminent, to Charles' complete amazement, and unbeknownst to Ruth, his first wife Elvira reappears before him! She had died young, after only 5 years of marriage, and has now been deceased for 7 years. Since Elvira can only be seen and heard by the astonished and completely befuddled Charles, there's much delightfully constructed comic verbal confusion between Charles and wife #1 and his uncomprehending and totally baffled wife #2. When Elvira finally demonstrates her presence, by moving a vase and chucking its floral contents about the room, Ruth is now finally convinced of the actuality of her new ethereal and dedicated rival! As expected wonderfully crafted and grandly amusing and unexpected complications are added to this amusing mix. While the fine 7 member cast was a bit too overly staid initially, their mirth provoking effectiveness took charge, once Coward's comic complexities began to unfold. David Berti was properly surprised, troubled, confused and finally actively accommodating to the ghostly Elvira, with splendidly witty and spirited support by Melissa Sine as the trouble-making specter; and Pamela Mayne as his initially bewildered and eventually assertive and confrontational second wife Ruth. Robert Zawistowski and Anne Damon were suitably proper and correct as the visiting Bradmans, while Bethany Boles, as Charles and Ruth's ditsy and overly frenetic housemaid Edith, tried much too hard, especially in Act One, for very obvious and easy laughter. On the other hand, Elyse Cronyn as the genuinely odd and hilariously imposing Madame Arcati, was simply wonderful. Much praise is also due here for Eileen Bouvier's creative costuming, Stephen McGonigle's splendid drawing room set, Betsy Burr's dramatic and vivid lighting, Jack Wickwire's effectively pasty and ghostly makeup, accented by Jean Williams' striking hair design and certainly D. Schweppe's lively Direction were all equally noteworthy. Now playing through August 4. (My Grade: 4)
SIDE BY SIDE BY SONDHEIM
At the Mosesian Theatre in the Arsenal Center for the Arts in Watertown, Mass., the New Repertory Theatre has just presented its new and recently concluded production of "Side By Side By Sondheim," an evening of the words and music (and sometimes the verbiage) of the great Stephen Sondheim. Originally developed as a fundraising program for a theatre in Great Britain in 1976, it proved to be so popular that it was soon transferred to a major London showplace. There, it went on to great and long-lasting success and was eventually also mounted on Broadway to equal acclaim. Some of Sondheim's most memorable songs from such classic Broadway shows as "A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum," "Company," "Anyone Can Whistle," "Follies," "A Little Night Music," and "Pacific Overtures," are interwoven with the lyrics he also wrote for such monumental hits as Leonard Bernstein's "West Side Story," Jule Styne's "Gypsy," and Richard Rodgers' "Do I Hear A Waltz?, " amongst others. Also included are rare pieces written by him for motion pictures, television, and even a popular revue entitled "The Mad Show." Since this presentation was first devised in the mid-1970's, music from his "Assassins," "Sunday In The Park With George," "Passion," "Into The Woods," and, of course, "Sweeney Todd," having not yet been conceived, aren't included. A trio of the area's most gifted and grandly vocal performers: Leigh Barrett, Brendan McNab, and Maryann Zchau, accompanied by the spirited twin piano styling of Todd C. Gordon and Joshua Finstein, captivated the full audience with their engaging renditions of the aforementioned roster of compelling tunes. Leigh Barrett was especially impressive with her resounding treatments of "Another Hundred People," ( from 'Company'), "Losing My Mind" (from 'Follies'), and "A Boy Like That," ( from 'West Side Story'). Maryann Zchau was equally enthralling with her full voiced and passionate renditions of "Send In The Clowns," ( from 'A Little Night Music'), and "A Paree" and "I'm Still Here," (both from 'Follies '), as was Brendan McNab grandly singing "Beautiful Girls," and "Could I Leave You?" (also both from 'Follies') and in duet with Maryann "You Must Meet My Wife" (from 'A Little Night Music'), and "Barcelona" ( from 'Company'). Occasionally amusing incidental narration on stage, at a side lectern, obviously reworked and updated with many new and locally inspired theatrical references, was provided by Jonathan Colby, host of the popular WERS (Emerson College's radio station) weekly FM radio show, "Standing Room Only!" Rick Lombardo's well-centered Direction was manifest throughout. It should also be noted that a similarly well received revue entitled, "Putting It Together", was developed for Broadway in 1992 to feature much of Sondheim's remarkable more recent music. (My Grade: 5)
BEEHIVE--The 1960's Musical
Prather Entertainment Group presents "Beehive - The 60's Musical" at the Cutler Majestic Theatre (Emerson College) in Boston, Mass. Originally staged in a reduced version three years ago in Pennsylvania, it now makes its greatly expanded and grandly opulent debut here prior to moving on to Arizona before beginning an 8 month cross-country national tour. Created by Larry Gallagher, this two hour celebration of the legendary female vocalists and singing groups, of the early days of Rock-'n-Roll, centers on the songs and rhythmic styles of such fabled teams as "The Chiffons," "The Shirelles," and,of course,"The Supremes," as well as such formidable stars as Lesley Gore, Connie Francis, Aretha Franklin, and Tina Turner. Notice is also taken of the gals from England such as Petula Clark, Lulu, and Dusty Springfield. In a succession of amazingly fast-paced costume and multi-colorful beehive-tall wig changes, Teanna Berry, Patrice Covington, Elizabeth Gross (no relation), Courtney Washington, Alicia Campbell, Kate Feerick, Emily Cara Portune, and Jillian Nyhan Zygo virtually explode on stage in a nearly non-stop salute to the aforementioned artists. Act One highlights the great early best sellers of the decade such as Patrice recreating Shirley Ellis' extremely popular "The Name Game," and Alicia resonantly continuing on with Carole King's "One Fine Day" (recorded by the Chiffons.) Then, Emily and Jill bring us all right back, to those good old days, with expert simulations of "The Shirelles" doing their "Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?" (also written by King); with everyone then joining in for a tribute to "The Supremes." The entire ensemble grandly assumes their sound, appearance, resplendent evening gowns and big, big, hair-styles, with rollicking, right-on versions of "Where Did Our Love Go?" and "I Hear A Symphony," amongst others. Brenda Lee's " Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree," and "I'm Sorry," followed by Lesley Gore's "You Don't Own Me," and "She's A Fool," and finally Connie Francis' "Where The Boys Are," resoundingly close out the evening's first part. Act Two begins with eye-popping visual and vocal reproductions of the famed Brits such as Petula Clark's "Downtown," Lulu's "To Sir With Love," and Dusty Springfield's "Wishin' And Hopin'." Similarly accurate and triumphant tributes to Tina Turner with "River Deep, Mountain High," and "Proud Mary;" Aretha Franklin's "Respect," and "A Natural Woman." Then, Emily bringing the capacity audience to a thunderous ovation with her extraordinary personification and recreation of Janice Joplin's "Try (just a little bit harder)," and "Me And Bobby McGee," close out this extraordinary evening. High commendations must also go for Jason P. Hayes' 45 glamorous, top-heavy wigs, John P. White's 40 dazzling evening gowns, and the spiritedly rocking six member, on-stage band conducted by keyboard player Beth Burrier. This solid salute, to the great female rockers of the 60's, is now playing an all too brief, very limited, (4 days only) engagement through July 28. (My Grade: 5)
A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM
At the Parkman Bandstand on the green open-air Boston Common the Citi Performing Arts Center presents Commonwealth Shakespeare Company's new production of "A Midsummer Night's Dream" by William Shakespeare. This is the Company's 12th annual free presentation of a Shakespearean play, offered to the general public. Staged in contemporary times and dress, young sweethearts, Helena and Demetrius, and Lysander and Hermia, counter to their parents wishes, elope to a magical woodland ruled by the King and Queen of the fairies. There, Puck, the King's prankish servant, mischievously finds and enchants them all. As a practical joke, the foolish elf has now ensnared these young lovers in a topsy-turvy series of romantic reversals, with Lysander now fixated on Helena and Demetrius similarly smitten by Hermia. To further merrily confuse matters, Puck decides to have some fun with a group of grandly dimwitted tradesmen who are rehearsing a play in honor of the parents of the aforementioned young, enchanted lovers. Puck then transforms Bottom, the featured performer, amongst this foolish band of "thespians," with a jumbo donkey's head (!) as his very special joke. As expected, by the final curtain, all the confusions are cleared up, and all of the sweethearts are properly reunited. Bottom, now with his foolish and actual head once again upon his shoulders, under the nonsensical stewardship of Quince, the band's leading tradesman, is able to perform the play that he and his fellow laborers have so witlessly rehearsed. The large 20 member cast does well with the Bard's jocular play. Jason Bowen as Demetrius, Meghan Bradley as Hermia, Ed Hoopman as Lysander and Hannah Wilson as Helena perform their roles with much comic flair. However, both actresses tended to overdo comically vaulting onto the backs of their mismatched lovers. Antonio Edwards Suarez as Puck, garbed in a resplendent canary-yellow fairy costume, accented by bright crimson pantaloons, was a complete delight. Although their dimwitted play, at the final curtain, was a bit too long and belabored with too many overly slapstick styled antics, nevertheless Larry Coen as the musically sonorous Quince, and his fellow jesters still merit substantial praise. Fred Sullivan, Jr. as Bottom was especially effective as the lustily braying buffoon. Similar praise must also go to Johnny Lee Davenport as Oberon, the King of the Fairies. Beowulf Boritt's verdant, colorful balloon-accented set, Clint Ramos' bright, day-glo hued Fairy costumes, and Nancy Goldstein's dramatic lighting, all under Steven Maler's highly animated Direction were also equally noteworthy. Now playing through July 29. (My Grade: 3.5)
A MARVELOUS PARTY! THE NOEL COWARD CELEBRATION
At the Zero Arrow Theatre in Cambridge, Mass. the American Repertory Theatre presents "A Marvelous Party! The Noel Coward Celebration," an evening dedicated to the songs and wit of the master author, playwright, actor, composer, and screenwriter. Devised by Mark Anders, David Ira Goldstein, and Patricia Wilcox, it was originally produced by Chicago's Northlight Theatre where it was the recipient of the Selma Melvoin Playwriting Award. Now here set in the stellar night club ambience developed for last winter's A.R.T. presentation of "The Onion Cellar," Will LeBow, Karen MacDonald, Thomas Derrah, and Remo Airaldi, a quartet of the A.R.T.'s finest actors, sing the engaging songs and offer the scintillating observations of the legendary multi-faceted Noel Coward. This grandly accomplished cast obviously employed, to quote him, "the kind of spontaneity (he) likes, that comes with 5 weeks of rehearsal." The first part of the captivating 2+ hour program featured many of his brightest music hall type numbers, with the cast resonantly prompting "Don't put your daughter on the stage, Mrs. Worthington," and later, "Any little fish can swim" (but I can't do anything at all but just love you). Then, the always-impressive Karen MacDonald came forth to musically ask " Would you like to stick a pin in my balloon, daddy?" with her fellow performers later wondering "Has anyone seen our ship" (the H.M.S. 'Disgusting')? Soon thereafter, Will LeBow followed by saluting "The stately homes of England." Part 2 included many of Coward's best known and most memorable pieces. Karen again began by chanting the composer's trenchant "Mad about the boy" (will it ever cloy, this odd diversity of misery and joy)? Remo Airaldi, capped with a tall Carmen Miranda styled headgear, hilariously spoofing South American Terpsichore, with "Nina" (from Argentina) and Thomas Derrah fervently intoning the grandly intense, but rarely performed, "Matelot" (where you go, my love will follow), which Coward described as "one of the best songs I ever wrote." Of course, " If love were all, " " Mad dogs and Englishmen" (who go out in the midday sun)," Why do the wrong people travel" (and the right people stay at home), and "I'll follow my secret heart," were also on the evening's agenda. Splendid piano accompaniment was provided throughout by Will McGarrahan, (also a fine actor, in his own right), all under Scott Edmiston's active and wide ranging Direction, which deftly utilized the nightclub's many varied spaces moving from the central stage, adjoining stairway and side, mirrored recess, to lively activity amongst the audience, seated at their tables. Lastly, Karen Perlow's fine dramatic lighting and Carl Danielsen's spirited musical arrangements also added much to this splendid production. This highly entertaining, very aptly entitled, and most definitely recommended presentation, is now playing an extended engagement through August 5. (My Grade: 5)
The King and I
Last night I had the pleasure of seeing The Reagle Players1 production of "The King and I," directed by Robert J. Eagle. I enjoyed it every bit as much as I enjoyed seeing the movie when it first opened. Although he’s no Yul Brynner, David Scannell, who starred as the King of Siam, gave a fairly believable performance. By far the strongest performance was that of Sarah Pfisterer as Anna Leonowens, the school teacher who moves from London to Siam to teach the King’s thirty seven adorable, talented, funny children. This is a production I would not want any child to miss--or their parents for that matter. Kudos to director, Robert J. Eagle for sticking to the authenticity of Rogers and Hammerstein’s original book. Although I’m all for updating and revamping plays, The King and I is such a classic that to change it would be like trying to wipe that smirk off Mona Lisa’s face. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the voices…oh the voices. I’ve never met vocal coach Paul S. Katz, but I’d like to shake his hand. By far the most perfect voices were those of Yuki Sugita and Marcus Calderon as Tuptim and Lun Tha. To not hear them sing I Have Dreamed is to go to Florence and not see the Pieta. To my amazement, every voice was perfect, every note, every beautiful song sung with a clarity that snapped the air. I came home humming and whistling a happy tune. For tickets to this production at the Robinson Theater in Waltham call 781-891-5600 or order online at www.reagleplayers.com. The show runs through July 21. (My Grade: 4.0)
Disney's High School Musical
Last night I sat through the North Shore Music Theatre's presentation of the popular Disney channel movie, High School Musical. By intermission, I could not decide which was more lackluster, the "Musak" or the choreography. But, when I reached the lobby, I noticed something amazing. It was a theater full of young kids who have probably never experienced a musical they could so fully relate to. And, I changed the way I viewed the whole production. Kids do not know that a choreographer is not supposed to just have dancers walk up and down. The grapevine step? But how many kids knew anything about that? So, I would say if you have a child between 6 and 14 they will-- like Molly Taylor from Ipswich-- think it’s "wicked good". The story is nothing new, the "brainiac" girl, meets jock guy and somehow their love manages to bring all the "cliques" in the school together as one. Quite the best part of the performance were the duets sung brilliantly by Addi McDaniel as Gabriella and David Nathan Perlow as Troy the captain of the basketball team and son of the coach. Barry Ivan directs and choreographs this production and--as I have mentioned many times when the choreographer is also the director-- unless you’re Tommy Tune, something has to suffer. In this case, it was the choreography. It was beyond predictable and if I see another jazz box---something that’s poked fun of by Sharpay, played by Kate Rockwell. I could not take it. Yet, Mr. Ivan grabbed for the standard move over and over and over again. Also strange was Sharpay’s twin brother who spends the entire production kissing his sister’s buttocks and practicing his gay handshake. The play was rampant with stereotypes, even to the point where the two African American students end up, of course, together. The coach doesn’t understand his son. The English teacher doesn’t understand the coach and so it goes. For me, it wouldn't be what I'd want my kids to think reality is about, but then Disney has never been about reality--only fantasy. High School Musical is an unrealistic slice of high school in the year 2007. But the kids in the audience know the story and the songs, neither of which have changed from the original movie. So, they stay intensely involved in this live production. High School Musical is playing at North Shore Music Theater in Beverly through July 29. I’d give this production (1 star), but when I polled the kids after it was unanimous that this play was a 5 and then some. What do parent’s know anyway?
GEORGE M COHAN TONIGHT!
The Stoneham Theatre in Stoneham, Mass. presents " George M. Cohan Tonight! " a one-man show starring Jon Peterson as the legendary song-and-dance man. Written, Arranged and Directed by Chip Deffaa, it was originally produced Off-Broadway in 2006 and has since been very well received in Worcester, Mass., Waterbury, Connecticut, and Rochester, New York, and will soon be staged in the Far East for Asian audiences. Peterson's dynamic non-stop 90 minute solo performance has garnered him the " Back Stage Bistro Award," a " Connecticut Critics' Circle Award, " as well as a N.Y. "Drama Desk" nomination. Although born and raised in London, he is totally effective as this All-American showman. Born in Providence, Rhode Island in 1878 (Cohan's birth date was listed as July 3), but forever after he always insisted that he had been born on "the 4th." In a free-wheeling, highly-detailed, and very anecdotal account of Cohan's life and career, Jon Peterson sings and expertly tap-dances his way through nearly 40 of the many grand old songs that were written and performed by this extraordinary Broadway star. The evening chronicles Cohan's meteoric rise as a teenager, who began writing songs and comedy sketches for his family's Vaudeville act, known as "the Four Cohans," (comprised of George, his mom and dad, and his sister Josie.) From there, he went on his own to his first big Broadway show "Little Johnny Jones" in 1904. It served to showcase his great original songs "Give My Regards To Broadway," and "The Yankee Doodle Boy." His two marriages are also spiritedly described, first to Ethel Levey in 1899 (ending in divorce), and later to his longtime second wife Agnes Mary Nolan, whom he wed in 1907. With Mary, the Cohan family grew to include two daughters and a son. From then throughout the 1920's, Cohan produced over three dozen hugely popular Broadway shows, featuring such memorable song standards, written and sung by him, as "Mary's A Grand Old Name," "H-A-R-R-I-G-A-N," "45 Minutes From Broadway," " Oh, You Beautiful Girl," " Life's A Funny Proposition," "You're A Grand Old Flag, " and the anthem of World War I, " Over There." In 1936, President Franklin D. Roosevelt presented him with the Congressional Gold Medal honoring his great patriotic songs during the First World War, and in 1942 James Cagney starred as George M. Cohan in Hollywood's Oscar-winning version of the great showman's life, entitled "Yankee Doodle Dandy." He died of cancer at age 64 in the Fall of 1942. Vibrantly accompanied by a small onstage ensemble Directed by Sterling Price-McKinney, Jon Peterson's vivid portrayal, involving his rousing, uplifting, energetic and engaging, acting, singing and dancing throughout the show, was most deserving of the capacity audience's thunderous standing approval at the evening's resounding conclusion. Now playing through July 1. (My Grade: 5)
MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING
On the Wellesley College campus in Wellesley, Mass. at the Ruth Nagel Jones Theatre, the Wellesley Summer Theatre Company presents its new production of "Much Ado About Nothing" by William Shakespeare, here transposed from 13th century Italy to the United States at the close of World War II. U.S. Naval Admiral Don Pedro, together with his illegitimate wheelchair-bound sister, Don John, arrive at the home of Leonato, a prosperous American. They're accompanied by Naval Captain Benedick and Claudio, an enlisted seaman, who immediately takes an amorous fancy to Hero, the lovely, young daughter of Leonato, their host. Then, to help this young seaman, the Admiral, posing as Claudio, woos Hero and thereby wins her father's consent for Claudio to marry his daughter. Don Pedro then acts swiftly to thwart his dastardly sister from causing some more serious trouble between these two sweethearts. Meanwhile, Captain Benedick, a confirmed bachelor, and Beatrice, the equally disaffected niece of Leonato, join together in disparaging the state of matrimony. Undeterred, the Admiral, aided by Claudio, his fiancee Hero, and her father, concoct a scheme to change Captain Benedick's mind about marrying Beatrice. At the same time, the nefarious Don John, with the help of his henchmen, Borachio and Conrade, plot to create more problems. Together, they arrange to make it appear as if Hero is cheating on Claudio, which causes the young seaman to denounce her. As expected, after a succession of comic revelations, Don John's malevolent intentions are exposed and all of the various sweethearts are happily united. As is now so often the case, with so many Shakespearean undertakings, loads of unusual liberties are frequently devised. Since this play's time and place have been shifted to post World War II America, not all of the choices, in this adaptation, seem to be right. The Bard's original conception focused on the comical foibles of European Nobility. Now, we have here a high-ranking Admiral promoting the romance between a lowly seaman and the daughter of a prominent (obviously wealthy) citizen, with the latter's immediate approval. Later, the local Sheriff arrests Borachio, the drunken assistant to Don John, after he begins bragging about his involvement with the Admiral's very wicked sibling. The Constable, along with his helpers, (all dressed up as undercover men in trench coats, and puffing away on drooping cigarettes) announce, what has just been revealed to them, in the contrived and unfunny "deez and doze" accents of dimwitted Hollywood mobsters. Correspondingly, with World War II now ended, the entire play, from start to finish, is heavily framed by the recorded songs of the Andrews Sisters, Bing Crosby, Harry James, Louis Jordan, Benny Goodman, and even Spike Jones, amongst others. While this often proved to be more of a distraction than an asset, at one contrasting point Hero walks into the audience over to a tall, floor-model, 40's- styled radio, and sings a tender, antique ballad entitled, "Sigh no more." Again, at still another time, Captain Benedick wistfully intones "the God of love that knows me," yet another grand inconsistent Elizabethan strain. The large nine member cast does well, with their various assignments, with fine performances by Marc Harpin as Admiral Don Pedro, Greg Raposa as seaman Claudio, Kelly Galvin as Hero, Harold S. Withee as her father, Derek Stone Nelson as Captain Benedick, Alicia Kahn as Beatrice, Melinda McGrew as the villainous Don John, and Dan Bolton as her intoxicated accomplice Borachio, all under Peter A. Carey's very active Direction. Ken Loewit's simple set, consisting of a trio of imposing arches flanking the central circular stage, along with Kit Arnold's lively, contemporary-styled, ballroom choreography, were all equally noteworthy. Now playing through June 30. (My Grade: 3)
AND NOW LADIES AND GENTLEMEN, MISS JUDY GARLAND
At Boston's Lyric Stage Theater, Backyard Productions presents "And Now Ladies and Gentlemen, Miss Judy Garland," a new one person show starring Kathy St. George. This 90 minute presentation (with no intermission) was Adapted and Directed by Tony McLean and is divided into two parts. At her hotel suite in London in 1964, Judy Garland began to tape record her thoughts, observations and memories about her long and much celebrated career. She was beginning to prepare for her future autobiography. Unfortunately, she died, unexpectedly, five years later in London on June 22, 1969 at the age of 47. No autobiography was ever finished or published. Amongst her recorded thoughts she considers several possible titles for her intended memoirs and finally settles for the one which now graces this show. The evening's first thirty minutes feature Kathy St. George recreating many of this great star's tape recorded musings. Born as Frances Gumm in Grand Rapids, Minnesota, she wistfully recollects her early years in vaudeville with her two older siblings, when their act was known as "The Gumm Sisters." She goes on to note that, "I've always been in love with the audience, since age two." A few of the topics she then considers are her swift rise to success, her many bouts with fatigue, as well as recurring problems with her fluctuating weight and the ongoing slanderous gossip about her private life. She recollects some of her husbands (both good and otherwise) and her beaming pride in her three wonderful children, and then bristles with righteous anger about all the business associates who she knowingly allowed to cheat her financially. To this she adds, "I was lonely and scared." She then remembers Hollywood's dark underside and bitterly notes the U.S. Government's moves to take possession of her home, in lieu of her unpaid back taxes. These are some of her many concerns during this first part. The show's remaining hour is then fully centered on Ms. St. George's extraordinary recreation of the look, mannerisms, dynamism, and sound of the legendary Judy. She struts her stuff, on a draped but otherwise virtually bare stage, framed by a rear ceiling-to-floor wall of electric lights, which at one majestic point spells out the great star's first name. Accompanied, with great dash and flair, by Tim Evans at the solo piano, nearly two dozen of Judy's celebrated repertoire are superbly performed. "Zing! Went the Strings of my Heart," "The Trolley Song," "Get Happy," "The Man Who Got Away," and---of course-- "Over the Rainbow" are just a few of the splendidly crafted and remarkably executed songs brought back to resonant life by the grandly accomplished Kathy St. George. This genuine and highly recommended tour de force is now playing through July 1. (My Grade: 5)
At the Plaza Theatre in the Boston Center for the Arts, Small World Big Sky Productions presents "Indian Ink" by Tom Stoppard. Based on the playwright's earlier radio play "In the Native State," it was later adapted by him for the stage and as such was first performed in London in 1995. It has since been also produced in New York. This is its Boston premiere. Set in India in 1930 and in England in the mid-1980's, the play's action shifts back and forth between these two different times and places. In the earlier period, Flora Crewe, an independent thinking, free spirited poetess, has come to India for her health. Suffering from tuberculosis, since her physician had recommended "a sea voyage and a warm climate," in her typically headstrong fashion, she has chosen to go to this most unusual and demanding destination. During this tumultuous period, marked by India's struggle for independence from British Colonial rule, Flora becomes acquainted with Nirad Das, an Indian fine artist. As he paints her portrait, many of his country's different cultural contrasts and conflicts are discussed. Among these issues, their different religions, their caste system, their attitudes towards women, and of course, their feelings about colonialism and the British, in general, are deftly explored. Shifting then to the more recent past, Eleanor Swan, the surviving younger sister of the now deceased Flora, is visited by Eldon Pike, an American biographer from Maryland, who's researching her somewhat well-regarded sister's life. She's also visited by Anish Das, the son of the late afore-mentioned artist. Anish is now a longtime, permanent British resident. Of uppermost interest to Eleanor, Eldon and Anish is whether Nirad-- besides his portrait of Flora--had done a nude painting of her, too. If this can be proven, it might also show that an intimate relationship between the two was very much underway. In this context, these disparate English, American and Indian characters vent their quite different views of today's India in contrast to its long history as a British colony. Well acted by the large 15 member cast, under Sarah Krohn's positive Direction, Janelle Mills as Flora, Bharat Bhushan as Nirad, Jean Sheikh as Eleanor, Chuck Schwager as Eldon, and Anurag Mishra as Anish are effectively provocative throughout. High marks are also due for Jeremy Barnett's fine multi-level set, Nicole Yvonne Moody's authentic, traditional costumes, and Nathan Leigh's well chosen incidental Indian music. While ultimately a bit overlong, nevertheless the play's engaging and multi-faceted ideas, perspectives and accounts of India's past and present remained continually fascinating and stimulating. Now playing through July 1. (My Grade: 4.5)
JUST SAY LOVE
In the Plaza Black Box Theatre at the Boston Center for the Arts Stagewrights Corp. presents "Just Say Love," a new play by David J. Mauriello. Set in Boston's South End neighborhood, Guy, a short gay lonely, self-employed vegetarian sits in a local park reading as he meets Doug, a tall straight muscular construction worker. Doug, living with his girlfriend Geeda, enthusiastically informs his new acquaintance that his mate is preparing to give birth soon to their baby. However, the casual encounter between Guy and Doug gradually develops into hesitant and awkward attraction. Guy's fascination with the ideas of Plato leads these two seeming opposites to a brisk discussion about "love" and the great thinker's notions about such strong emotions. Overly quizzical, Doug emphatically concludes that "there is no love... just a physical need." Later, when these two meet at Guy's apartment, Guy wonders if this was all just a big mistake. He's wordlessly answered when Doug begins by removing his T-shirt! Over time, after several lusty sexual encounters, Doug unexpectedly leaves Guy upon receiving news of the birth of his child. After a long, uncommunicative absence, Guy begins to wonder if he'll ever see Doug again. "Damn you...you macho slob," he bitterly notes. Finally, much time later, Doug telephones to inform him that he and Geeda have decided to name their baby "Charlie" instead of Maximilian. Some time thereafter, when Doug does return to Guy's apartment, Guy begins to vent his true feelings. He complains, "I do everything! You do nothing! There's no relationship! There's no strings!" Doug responds, "You want me because I'm straight!" Time passes and later at Christmas, after some holiday cheer together, Doug makes a decision about what he must do. While this short (75 minute) one act play methodically presents the progressive evolution of the developing affinity that these two diverse types come to feel for each other, only scant notice is given to Doug's connection to his girlfriend. Obviously, their relationship, not only regarding his concern about Geeda's pregnancy and the birth of their child, but also his continuing on to the baby's naming, attests to both the strength and durability of his feelings. A fuller exploration of Doug and Geeda's interaction is certainly missing and needed. David Miller's circular grassy set, with its park-type seats and prominently stationed street lamp, together with its elevated rear platform suggesting Guy's apartment, effectively served the play's time and place changes. High marks must also definitely go to Michael Lemieux as Guy and James Ryen as Doug, under David Rothauser's well centered Direction. Now playing through June 30. (My Grade: 3.5)
Kiki & Herb - Alive from Broadway
At the Wimberly Theatre in the Calderwood Pavilion at the Boston Center for the Arts, now on view is "Kiki & Herb - Alive from Broadway," created by and starring Justin Bond and Kenny Mellman. Their cabaret-styled act premiered Off-Broadway in 2003, and in the following year this twosome presented their "Farewell Concert" at Carnegie Hall. Then, ignoring their claim of retirement, they bounced back for their major on-Broadway debut, which was hailed by the New York Times as "one of the top ten Broadway shows of 2006," and garnered a Tony nomination for them. After initially meeting and performing together in San Francisco in the late 80's, they moved to New York and began to develop their popular show during the 90's, leading them to their current success. Sporting a grandly splendid chestnut-hued wig and dressed in a luxurious, floor-length gown, Bond assumes the persona of the "legendary" internationally celebrated chanteuse, Kiki DuRane. At her side, as her tuxedoed accompanist, Herb, sidekick Mellman sits ready to play and sing along at the imposing baby-grand piano. With her lined face glittering with make-up, for more than 90 minutes--sans an intermission-- Kiki, along with Herb, captivated the overflowing audience with songs ranging from Velvet Underground favorites to some borrowed from the likes of Eminem, Pat Benatar, Radio Head, Styx, and Joni Mitchell. These musical interludes were intermingled with a succession of flamboyant stories detailing their 50+ years together in show business. (Bond's age is actually 44, while Mellman is 38.) Their reveries even included some passing references to " He ain't heavy, he's my brother," and " Oh, Happy Day." Kiki's fanciful narrative followed the grand Dame from her birth during the Great Depression, to her early life in a Pennsylvania orphanage, where she met her partner Herb. "Who, (she noted) was a gay, retarded Jew, when it wasn't trendy." These details were accompanied by descriptions of her life's many ups-and-downs, including some noteworthy childhood abuse. To this she added, "If you weren't molested as a child, you must have been an ugly kid." The death of her young daughter Coco and the birth of her biracial baby ("A definite status symbol, now") were also eluded to. Even her early meeting with the legendary Maya Angelou, while both were engaged in burlesque shows, was also recalled. Much later found her vibrantly performing at Monte Carlo in the 60's and then on the Princess Cruises Line aboard the Love Boat in the 80's. Then, in a curious digression, framed by her barbed attitudes to both the "Religious Right" and the Catholic Church, she went on--at great length-- about her unexpected and mystical presence at the birth of Jesus, to the great delight of the surprised audience. As stated, she was vividly supported throughout vocally and at the keyboard (sometimes, a bit too overpowering) by Herb. While their highly specialized show is not geared for every sensibility, it was most certainly greeted by great roars of audience approval at their lively and resonant finale. Now playing through June 30. (My Grade: 4)
LOVE'S LABOURS LOST
In the basement of "The Garage" in Harvard Square, Cambridge, Mass. The Actors' Shakespeare Project presents their new production of "Love's Labours Lost" by William Shakespeare. The King of Navarre has vowed to avoid all pleasures and to not meet with any females for three years. As part of his solemn decision, he has also demanded the same abstinence from his three loyal Lords: Longaville, Dumaine, and Berowne. However, the arrival of the Princess of France with her attending ladies, Rosaline, Maria, and Katharine, creates a myriad of comic dilemmas, especially for the trio of aforementioned Lords. Additional amusing complications also begin to pop up with the involvements of Don Armado, a foolish Spaniard at Court and Moth, his very young Page, as well as Jacquenetta, an uneducated country maid, Costard, a rustic simpleton, Nathaniel, a self-centered Curate, and Holofernes, a pompous educator. Dull, an appropriately named Constable, and Boyet, the Princess' lively chaperone, also add much to the play's merriment! As expected, this fine presentation, under the assured Direction of Benjamin Evett (the Company's Founder and Artistic Director) is being staged with its own decidedly different and engaging focus, and the assured performances of its cast of only six, highly accomplished players, with each (except for Don Armado's very young attendant) assuming three of the play's 15 different roles. Accordingly, the Bard's highly amusing entanglements develop in a flurry, sometimes too overly hectic, of hat, wig, and various mustache changes by the cast members (garnered from a prominently placed tree-like rack at the back of the small stage )! Johnny Lee Davenport as Don Armado is supremely amusing, vividly enunciating his many exaggerated rolling, Spanish accented "r-r-r-r's," as well as his deft handling of the ploys of Boyet and Dull. Changing from blonde to brunette and then back to blonde, Marianne Bassham shines brightly throughout as the country bumpkin Costard, with effective portrayals of Dumaine and Rosaline, too. Similar praise must likewise go to Sarah Newhouse as the Princess of France, Lord Longaville and Jacquenetta, too. Michael Forden Walker as the demanding King, the self important Curate and the attending Lady Maria, and Jason Bowen as Berowne, the schoolteacher Holofernes, and Lady Katharine, were also equally praiseworthy. 12 year old Khalil Flemming was especially impressive as Moth, the Don's very loquacious and extraordinarily animated Page (at one point, rolling, bobbing up-and-down, and thrusting himself about on the stage's floor.) While, as previously noted, the many hectic and quite demanding role changes occasionally made for a bit of temporary puzzlement, otherwise the cast's grandly farcical flair registered as a definite win throughout! Now playing through June 24. (My Grade: 4)
"The Trial of One Short-Sighted Black Woman vs.
MammyLouise and Safreeta Mae"
At the Boston Center for the Arts' Plaza Theater the Roxbury Crossroads Theatre has just concluded its production of "The Trial of One Short Sighted Black Woman vs. MammyLouise and Safreeta Mae," by Karani M. Leslie, after a brief engagement. Set in a courtroom, Victoria Dryer, a successful African-American TV producer seeking justice, has begun legal proceedings against two longstanding stereotypes of Black American womanhood. The accused have been drawn from the standardized and hackneyed conceptions of Black women, as they are being depicted in a fictional motion picture set on an early 19th century southern plantation. MammyLouise is quite content that she's a slave, and is really very happy to do whatever is asked of her by her Master (whom she's devoted to and loves.) On the other hand, Safreeta Mae is an alluring and oversexed temptress who uses her wiles to entrap decent young white men. However, just like MammyLouise, she too loves and is anxious to serve her Master. In the course of the trial, a number of witnesses are called to testify. Producer Clyde Evans declares that he's only giving the public what they want and expect. He points to the lack of native African science, art, and literature. In rebuttal, the court offers a parade of contrary evidence pointing, among other aspects, to the legendary traditions of African wood sculpture, which played such a monumental role in the evolution of Modern Western Art. Next is Leroy, a former stand-up comedian, who, thanks to his subservience to the studio bigwigs, is now a film executive, only too willing to play their game. All they want from him is to make it look as if he's really concerned for his people. Turning to Victoria, the defense prompts her to admit that she prefers dating white boy friends, and is unfamiliar with the names of America's top African-American literary figures. MammyLouise is then quick to remind her that, just like Leroy, she too owes all of her good fortune to the great Civil Rights struggles of the recent past. Act Two brings slave-master Colonel Jessie Reems to the stand. He admits that he and MammyLouise loved each other, but that he had to beat her when she didn't help him to capture her runaway son. However, while Safreeta Mae was always good for breeding, he still had to consider her lusty behavior in respect to the sanctity of white females. Safreeta then confesses that Colonel Reems was her father, and that she made advances to him to help her sister. She even admits that her self imposed facial scar was evidence of her efforts to make him leave her alone. We also finally learn that, unlike the happy Hollywood version being offered, MammyLouise had actually poisoned her Master in retribution for the dismemberment of her captured runaway son. The trial concludes with summations by both the defense and the prosecution. The former declares the utmost importance for all not to disguise or cover up the truth about the horrors of slavery, while the latter suggests that to liberate the present and insure the future, we must finally come to admit our common past and become much better. Victoria thereby comes to a more rounded understanding of what has really defined her. Well acted by the fine eight member cast with passionate performances by Kortney Adams as Victoria, Anich D'Jae as Safreeta Mae, Valencia Hughes-Imani as MammyLouise, Christian De Jesus as both Leroy and the court's Bailiff, and Jeff Gill as both Clyde Evans and Colonel Reems. High marks are also due for the impassioned portrayals by Talaya Freeman as the Judge, Valerie Lee as the Prosecutor, and Marvelyn McFarlane as the Defense, all under Jacqui Parker's strong Direction. (My Grade: 5)
BILLY CONNOLLY LIVE
At the Loeb Drama Center in Cambridge, Mass. under the auspices of the American Repertory Theatre, "Billy Connolly Live" is now being presented for a very limited engagement. Scottish comedian Connolly is best known here for his frequent American TV Talk Show guest appearances, his many motion pictures here and abroad, co-starring with such film luminaries as Dame Judi Dench, Jim Carrey, Michelle Pfeiffer,and Tom Cruise, and his many solo concerts in the U.S. and U.K., as well as in Australia and New Zealand. An observational comedian, lacing his thoughts with earthy profanities, he had the capacity audience roaring its thunderous approval throughout Billy's 2 1/2 hour (with no intermission) performance. Soon after beginning, he cautioned the audience "not to expect punch lines," ( because he doesn't have any.) Continuing on with a widely diverse range of topics, some of these notions included such varied subjects as his bouts with Sleep Apnia, "a snoring disorder, " which like pre-menstrual problems also causes suffering on those not so afflicted. He similarly elaborated on "the aging process," which made him the target of many physicians probing his backside. To this he added that "a doctor cupping his genitals wasn't the worst thing that ever happened to him." To these ideas he also offered his wife's comment that "as a man, you don't actually know what being invaded really is." Later, his most provocative descriptions also included a lengthy discussion of his elderly father's very serious health problems. Not usually a subject one would expect to be treated lightly, Billy went on to elaborate on his dad's tenuous survival, after suffering seven strokes. Going on extensively, in recreating the old man's trumpet-like outbursts, (defining his inability to speak), Billy generated ongoing gales of laughter from the surprisingly accepting and enthusiastic audience. He finally brought his extended performance to its highly raucous conclusion with animatedly detailed descriptions of three separate encounters--each years apart--with his very messy involvements with several lady friends suffering from some very nasty stomach upsets. While it's quite obvious that Billy Connolly is most certainly a gifted, assured, highly aware, and audacious monologist, be also advised that some of his many amusing and entertaining observations may also include some definitely substantial turn-offs, too! Now playing through June 16. (My Grade: 4)
Now at the Boston University Theatre is the Huntington Theatre Company's new production of "Present Laughter" by Noel Coward. First staged in 1939, this scintillating comedy, generally regarded as semi-autobiographical, has been revived many times and has been a favorite role not only for Coward, but also for such stars as Clifton Webb, Peter O'Toole, Albert Finney, Ian McKellen, and George C. Scott. Unfolding in three acts, it's set in the posh London apartment of successful actor Gary Essendine. Vain and self-centered, admitting to being 45 (but really at age 52), he's actively getting ready for an extended tour of Africa and is somewhat concerned about a possible impending midlife crisis. As he prepares for his big trip, he's confronted by a succession of seductive females, admirers, associates, and fawning hangers-on. They include young stage-struck 24 year old Daphne; scheming former bedmate Joanna; his estranged wife Liz (separated for 11 years), and his durable and dependable secretary Monica (at his beck and call for 17 years.) Garry is also faced by his business partner Henry, as well as Morris (a theatrical producer) who's having an affair with Henry's wife, Joanna. He's also visited by Daphne's aunt Lady Saltburn, a patroness, and a grandly kooky and genuinely off-the-wall, young aspiring playwright named Roland Maule. This ditsy writer goes on-and-on, to hilariously absurd lengths, to demonstrate his imagined creative talents to his host. In the final act, as Gary and his secretary are ready to leave for Africa, first Daphne and then Maule arrive anxious to join the great star on his trip. Further comic complications develop with the surprising appearances of Joanna and Liz. Everything then comes to a comic boil when Henry and Morris come to challenge Gary about Joanna, with delightfully amusing consequences! The large, nearly perfect cast is in top form from start to finish with multi-talented Victor Garber at full comedic pace as Essendine. Holley Fain as young Daphne, Pamela J. Gray as predatory Joanna, Lisa Banes as Gary's long-gone wife Liz, Sarah Hudnut as dependable secretary Monica, Marc Vietor as the tempestuous producer Morris, and Nancy E. Carroll, as Gary's shuffling and cigarette puffing maid, were all genuine comic winners. Brooks Ashmanskas as the wildly, over-the-top playwright Maule was especially noteworthy. High praise must also go to Alexander Dodge's elaborate and dazzling day room setting, with its splendid central ascending curved staircase, Mariann Verheyen's resplendent costumes, Drew Levy's engaging musical choices including some infectious recorded moments by Coward singing his "Living in a Changing World," and Nicholas Martin's strongly focused Direction. Lastly Garber, seated at a piano on stage, singing the author's "World Weary " at the onset of Act Two, and doing the same at the final curtain, singing his "I'll See You Again," really added just the right tone to this highly entertaining presentation. Now playing through June 17. (My Grade: 5)
CLOSER THAN EVER
Last night I went to the Metro Stage Company’s production of Closer Than Ever, directed by Jennifer Honen Galea. My friend and I arrived at the theater for the press preview at 7:30. We were the only ones there. It turns out that the show had been plagued with obstacles, the choreographer quit, one of the leads was sick with laryngitis, and most of the press could not be there on this particular night--yet despite all that, it was a very cute, well written piece. Richard Maltby Jr. and David Shire make wonderful music together. The revue features 24 original songs by this duo. The lyrics were poignant, funny and moving. The choreography was not any of those things. It’s a good thing the choreographer left-- she didn’t know what she was doing, anyway. The cast, which included Robert Case, Abigail Cordell, Will Larche, Paula Markowicz, Tracy Nygard, Mary O’Donnell and Aaron Velthouse, were in great voice. I especially enjoyed She Loves Me Not sung by Mr. Case, who has a voice that could make a snow woman melt. Also notable was Tracy Nygard’s rendition of You want to be my friend. I would not run to see it, but with ticket prices at $20.00 and $17.00, it would be a fine "date" show. It’s playing at the Metro Stage Company on June 8, 9, 14, 15, and 16 at 8:00 p.m., and on June 10 at 2:00 p.m. For tickets go online to www.metrostagecompany.com or call 617-524-5013. (My grade: 2.5)
SNAPPY DANCE THEATER
Currently at the Wimberly Theatre in the Calderwood Pavilion at the Boston Center for the Arts is the Snappy Dance Theater, a Boston-based modern dance company, which is now celebrating its tenth year. Composed of seven members (4 women and 3 men), they have toured nationally, as well as in France, Russia and Japan, to much acclaim. Performed on a bare stage, their 90 minute program unfolded in two parts, with a brief intermission, utilizing a witty and wide ranging combination of constant fluid movements inspired by athletics, gymnastics and a myriad of other related dance styles. Part One was comprised of five short segments. The first entitled, "Four Fourths," featured two males and two females perched up on each others backs--and then later, with one being held upside down by the others, followed by each being bodily thrust from one to the other, all to spirited viola and cello accompaniment. "Limning Twilight" opened with only two females hunched over like insects, with their loosely dangling arms and rubber-like leg movements eventually evolving into many combinations of interlocking arms and legs, all suggesting many different changing patterns. "Odd Egg Out" came next. Danced to the guitar of Carlos Paredes and then later to the sonorous strains of Ottorino Respighi, it featured a female and three males forming a human pyramid, then having her become the horizontal bar of a living letter "H," and finally seeing her riding offstage atop the backs of her male partners. "Au Lait," performed to Billie Holliday's classic recording of "Good Mornin' Heartache," amusingly featured an obviously annoyed housewife animatedly attempting to pry her husband's nose, at their breakfast table, from that morning's newspaper. "Lumen" concluded the program's first half with all of the company athletically dancing mostly in stark silhouette against very large, bold and strikingly changing background colors. Part Two featured only one piece, "String Beings," their full-length, world premiere presentation. Developed in collaboration with M.I.T. media specialist Jonathan Bachrach and the Boston Symphony Orchestra's first violinist Lucia Lin, it combines full, proscenium high and wide, live video projections allowing the entire company to interact with their lively and jumbo shadowy televised selves. These grandly inventive video images, ranging from energetic linear swirls and huge constantly changing abstract patterns turning into the cavorting shadows of the dancers, then surprisingly splitting into two. Then with the cast's lively upper halves drifting away from their lower dancing bodies, the now freed torsos actively began bobbing to and fro way up and above. Danced vividly, for this premiere's full 45 minutes, to the percussion laced music of Michael Rodach, the evening's finale featured the B.S.O.'s virtuoso playing her violin while being seated first upon a dancer's upright legs and then onto his shoulders! The highly accomplished cast: Andrea Blesso, Danielle DiVito, Bonnie Duncan, Rogerio Fernandes, Carey Foster, Tim Gallagher and Jeremy Towie richly deserved the capacity audience's standing and roaring approval, with Marsha Mason, the company's highly-gifted Founder and Artistic Director being especially noteworthy. She was prominently featured, performing on stage, in all of the program's initial pieces except for the beginning "Four Fourths." Now playing through June 10. (My Grade: 5)
At the Roberts Studio Theatre in the Calderwood Pavilion at the Boston Center for the Arts, the SpeakEasy Stage Company presents its new production of "Parade," featuring Book by Alfred Uhry and Music and Lyrics by Jason Robert Brown. Saluted with a multitude of Award nominations, such as those of the Tony's, Drama Desk, and Outer Critics Circle. At the time of its Broadway debut in 1998, it also proved to be one of Lincoln Center's most ambitious and controversial undertakings, thanks to its serious and heavy subject matter. This presentation represents its Boston area professional premiere. Set in turn of the 20th century Georgia, its focus is on the notorious trial and conviction for murder of Leo Frank, and its aftermath. As the town parade in Marietta, Georgia, celebrating Confederate Memorial Day in the Spring of 1913, passes by the local pencil factory, 13 year-old Mary Phagan has come for her $1. 20 payment to the office of the owner Leo Frank. Although he was born in Texas, having been raised in New York City, as a prosperous educated Northern Jew, he was the object of obvious suspicion and prejudice. When Mary Phagan is found murdered later that day in the factory's basement, the area's ambitious District Attorney, having pieced together some very flimsy evidence and anxious for a speedy arrest and trial, quickly turns his attention to Leo Frank. As the bewildered factory owner is brought in handcuffs from his warm, middle class home to his cramped jail cell, he protests " I have never committed an illegal act in my life!" Later, in a virtual "Kangaroo-styled" court room proceeding, a succession of young factory employees, and assorted others, systematically implicate him as Mary's killer. Especially damaging was the factory custodian's declaration that Frank had tried to bribe him after admitting his guilt. (Many decades later, this rogue was finally revealed as the actual murderer.) "They were coached," shouts the anguished prisoner, to no avail as he's lead away. Unwilling to accept Frank's choice of a northern defense attorney, he'd been assigned a laid-back, inconsequential country lawyer, instead. Undeterred, after losing his bid for an appeal, Frank searches for answers in a multitude of legal texts. Lucille, his loving and passionately involved wife, (southern born and raised) unwilling to sit idly by as her husband is steadily moved to his ultimate death sentence, works relentlessly to expose the mountain of contrived evidence and false witnesses who have testified against her husband. After finally confronting the state's Governor, and demonstrating the wide range of questionable testimony in her husband's trial, he agrees to commute Leo Frank's sentence to life imprisonment. Tragically, the town's people, incited by the zealously anti-Semitic editor of a local newspaper, take matters into their own hands. At night, a mob breaks into Frank's prison cell and lynches him, bringing to a close this early, bitter and disgraceful piece of American history. The large 35+ member cast (not including the extensive ensemble) is impressive throughout. Full voiced and impassioned Brendan McNab and Bridge Beirne are totally compelling as Leo and Lucille Frank. Much praise is also due for the commanding performances by David Krinitt as the ambitiously duplicitous prosecutor; Timothy John Smith as an alcoholic news reporter who becomes quite involved; Gerard Slattery as Frank's irrelevant, court-appointed lawyer; Brett Cramp as the bigoted newspaper editor; Kerry A. Dowling as the young murdered Mary's mother; and Edward M. Barker as Leo Frank's major false "witness." Jason Robert Brown's stirring score composed of nearly 40 diverse songs in varied styles ranging from folk, ragtime, blues and even a cakewalk to tender ballads was especially effective. Paul Daigneault's well centered Direction, Eric Levenson's imposing multi-level set comprised of 4 central brick columns framing a host of rear projected scenic panoramas, Stacey Stephens' fine period costumes, David Connolly's spirited choreography and the splendid orchestra conducted by Jose Delgado, all came together very successfully in this genuinely riveting presentation. Now playing through June 16. (My Grade: 5)
NO MAN'S LAND
At the Loeb Drama Center in Cambridge, Mass. the American Repertory Theatre presents its production of "No Man's Land" by Harold Pinter. First staged at London's National Theatre to great acclaim in 1975, starring John Guilgud and Ralph Richardson, this same production was equally enthusiastically received on Broadway the following year. Guilgud and Richardson repeated their legendary roles on British television in 1976. It was again revived in London in 1992 (starring the playwright), and returned to Broadway in 1994 with Jason Robards and Tony nominee Christopher Plummer playing the leads. The high levels of performance and production in this new edition certainly makes it a worthy successor to these past versions. Hirst, a successful and elderly poet, has met Spooner, a down-on-his-luck writer, at a local Pub, and they've both come back to Hirst's large and impressive home. As they sit together drinking heavily in the imposing drawing room, the well dressed Hirst, who has long been burnt out, feels that all of his creativity is gone, while the shabby and disheveled Spooner tries to engage his host by extravagantly boasting about his poetry. The evening finally ends with Hirst literally dragging himself out of his drawing room in a drunken stupor, while Spooner is confronted by Hirst's surly and highly assertive servants, Foster and Briggs, who seem to be firmly in charge. Later, Spooner finds himself locked in that same room for the night. The next morning Hirst seems to have forgotten everything about the previous evening and, beginning to drink again, greets Spooner as an old Oxford acquaintance. Spooner, hoping to be hired as Hirst's clerk, actively assents to his delusions. However, as a new day's intoxication fully manifests itself, Hirst remains oblivious to Spooner's needs. This play, as in many of Pinter's other works, is open to many different interpretations, such as the need for connection and/or meaningful relationships. However, the title here seems to mainly suggest the futility of old age. At one point, Hirst goes on to speak of "the last lap of a race he had forgotten to run," ultimately leaving him, and others "in no man's land...which never moves,...changes,...grows older, but which remains forever icy and silent." Vividly acted by Paul Benedict as Hirst and especially by Max Wright as Spooner, with equally strong portrayals by Henry David Clarke and Lewis D. Wheeler as Foster and Briggs. J. Michael Griggs' handsome and expansive drawing room setting, composed of an elaborate wine and spirits cabinet, amidst two large, floor-to-ceiling draped windows, with a central easy chair and side table and even a Baby Grand piano, off to one side, was certainly most impressive. Of course, David Wheeler's assured Direction was also prominently in evidence, throughout. Now playing through June 10. (My Grade : 5 )
Seven Brides for Seven Brothers
Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, directed by Scott Schwartz is a collaborative production by three regional theaters--in Texas, New Jersey and right here at the North Shore Music Theater in Beverly. It is the story of…well…seven brothers who live together in the Oregon territory in the mid 1800's. Adam, the oldest brother, makes the long trek down the mountain to town for provisions. His list includes everything from chewing tobacco to a wife. He gets both and more than he bargained for in Milly a feisty, sassy, sexy lady who teaches his unruly brothers etiquette and takes them into town for a social, in order to find them wives of their own. Adam and Milly are played by Edward Watts and Michelle Dawson, who will be playing the same roles in TX and NJ. They were very enjoyable to watch. Ed Watts has a wonderful rich voice that blended well with Michelle’s. The brothers played by Randy Bobish, Chritian Delcroix, Travis Kelley, Luke Longacre, Eric Sciotto and Karl Warden are all great dancers and gymnasts and really wonderful to watch. The Seven Brides played by Stephanie Fittro, Margot De La Barre, Christina Rae Hedrick, Sarah Marie Jenkins, Kate Marilley and Denise Payne danced every lick as good as the guys. They dance together like they were made for each other and in the end, they are. It’s a lovely, albeit unlikely, love story originally written for the MGM 1950 version. This is the second revival of Seven Brides and one that had to be adapted for NSMT's theater in the round. The original choreography was by the incredibly-talented Michael Kidd. This writer gives a "10" to Patti Columbo, who had to choreograph this piece for three different stage types. She managed to make it just as goofy and astonishing as the original. It’s a combination of dance and gymnastics at its craziest heights. You can see Seven Brides at the North Shore Music Theater between now and June 17th. Tickets are $35-$75 and can be purchased online at www.nsmt.org or by calling 978-232-7200. I would not drive a long distance to see this production-- or pay $75.00 for it-- but I would pay $35 or stand in line to Rush to see it. (pun intended). (My grade: 3.5)
THE SECRET GARDEN
The Turtle Lane Playhouse in Newton, Mass. presents their new production of "The Secret Garden," featuring Music by Lucy Simon and Book and Lyrics by Marsha Norman. Based on the classic 1911 novel by Frances Hodgson Burnett, this beloved story has also been made into three major theatrical motion pictures, in 1949, 1984, and 1993. It was also produced as a Hallmark presentation on national television in 1987. It opened as a musical on Broadway in 1991, where it went on to garner a Tony award and its pre-teen child star became the youngest actress to ever win a Tony for her performance. Young ten year old Mary Lenox, orphaned when her parents died in a cholera epidemic in India, is sent from the Far East to live with Archibald, her depressed and reclusive uncle, in his country estate in England. He's still mourning his wife Lily, who died a decade before during childbirth. Wracked with grief, he's also anguished over Colin, his young bedridden, sickly, and crippled son. When little Mary befriends her juvenile, invalid cousin, they learn about his late mother's secret and abandoned garden, from several of his father's servants, Martha, young Mary's cheerful maid and her brother Dickon; and Ben, the manor's gardener. Together, they gradually begin to tend this enclosed and forgotten plot of ground and, as it starts to flourish and blossom, its rejuvenation acts to change the lives of Mary, Colin, and especially Archibald, for the better. Colin finds that not only is he able to walk, but that he had been deliberately convinced that he was handicapped by Neville, his father's greedy and scheming, physician brother. Also, throughout the play, the spirits of Archibald's deceased wife Lily, as well as young Mary's late, disease-stricken parents, and their friends, act as a ghostly chorus, underscoring the story's highs and lows. They are similarly abetted by the specter of Ayah, young Mary's former Indian maid. Third grader Alexandra "Lexi" Ryan was most praiseworthy as Mary Lenox, with splendid support from equally young Cameron VanderWerf as Colin. On stage for much of the rather elongated evening, each one was equally imposing both singing and acting their very substantial roles! Jim Fitzpatrick as the dejected Archibald, Michael Goodwin as the duplicitous Dr. Neville, and Elisabeth Robinson as the ghostly Lily, were also quite commendable. Plaudits must also go to Michelle Mount as Martha the housemaid, Gary Ryan as her brother Dickon, James Tallach as the gardener, and Tracy Nygard as the spirit of Indian Ayah. The lengthy score, consisting of more than two dozen songs, was well sung and performed by the fine, large cast. Especially notable amongst these were Archibald and Neville's resonant duet saluting the majesty of "Lily's Eyes," young Mary fervently singing "The Girl I Want To Be," and "Show Me The Key" (to that secret place) along with Lily and Colin chanting, "Come To My Garden." Michelle M. Aguillon's strong Direction, John MacKenzie's impressive Victorian settings, combined with his well focused projections of Michelle Boll's colorful painted backgrounds, and Richard Itczak's nicely appointed period costumes, were all quite effective. Although, at nearly three hours, this show does play a bit too long, nevertheless it still definitely stands as one of this Company's best. Now playing through June 3. (My Grade: 4.5)
ARMS AND THE MAN
The Lyric Stage Company of Boston presents its new production of "Arms and the Man." Written by George Bernard Shaw, it was first produced in 1894 as part of his collection of so-called "Plays Pleasant," and was one of his initial works focused on war and the absurdities of the idealism and heroics associated with its conduct and goals. Set in Bulgaria during the war between that country and Serbia, Captain Bluntschli, a Swiss mercenary fighting for Serbia, takes refuge from the Bulgarian army in the bedroom of Raina Petkoff. She is the lovely, young daughter of a prominent Serbian family. Fascinated by this handsome young warrior, she's anxious to discuss a recent battle with him. After some lively discussion she becomes very annoyed when Bluntschli begins to make disparaging remarks about her fiance, Sergius. She is quite overcome with patriotic pride thanks to her fiance's having just commanded a victorious assault against Bulgarian forces. To her dismay, Bluntschli points out the many foolhardy combat errors committed by Sergius, which just miraculously averted defeat. Throughout the rest of the evening he steadfastly remains unruffled by her protestations. Act Two opens during peacetime. Although Raina and Sergius have declared their love for each other, he soon begins to take a fancy to Raina's maid Louka, even though she's engaged to Nicola, the family's butler. Surprisingly, the maid encourages Sergius' interest in her. To further complicate matters, Bluntschli unexpectedly arrives at the Petkoff household. He's come back to return an overcoat that he's borrowed. Now that the war is over, the Petkoff's are quite pleasant to their new guest. As the evening wears on, the spirited conversation soon makes it quite clear that Bluntschli was a far better soldier than the pompous and self-congratulatory Sergius. Raina's early elation over her fiance's great patriotic accomplishments now begin to seem foolish and unwarranted. As Raina also becomes increasingly aware of Sergius' obvious attraction to Louka, she, too, begins to have misgivings about him. Maybe she really doesn't love him at all! It just may be that Bluntschli is really the one she might be in love with. Now feeling threatened by his "fiancee's" new attitude, the supremely vain Sergius feels compelled to challenge his rival to a duel. However, thanks to a series of comic reversals, the duel is called off and Sergius finally admits that he loves Louka. Now, with Raina no longer engaged to Sergius, when her parents discover that Bluntschli has inherited his late father's great wealth, they enthusiastically welcome their daughter's now revealed ardor for her new suitor. Early on, in the play's first act, much is made of Bluntschli's cravings for chocolate cream candy. This aspect of the play eventually served as the inspiration for the highly popular Oscar Straus operetta "The Chocolate Soldier." The splendid nine member cast is in top form throughout, with high marks for Barlow Adamson as Bluntschli, Ellen Adair as Raina, Sarah Abrams as Louka, and most especially James Ryen as the fatuously self-important Sergius. Fine support is also provided for them by Peter A. Carey as Nicola and Ken Baltin and Bobbie Steinbach, as Raina's parents. Extra praise must also go to Cristina Todesco's easily adaptable metallic, lattice-like set; Molly Trainer's nicely appropriate period costumes; and the varied, nationalistic incidental music by the spirited five-piece orchestra, conducted by pianist Jonathan Goldberg. Of course, as usual, the assured Direction of Spiro Veloudos was evident at all times. Now playing through June 2. (My Grade: 5)
At the Boston Playwrights' Theatre Out of the Blue Theater and Green Shoe Productions present "Action Jesus," a new one woman 90 minute play, written and acted by Leslie Harrell Dillen. It's being performed by her on a bare stage with just a rocking chair, a stool, and a small night table, on which sits a glass of water, as her only props. After a surprising financial inheritance, when her writer husband leaves for an exploratory trip, Leslie finds the time to meet with a spiritual study group. Up until then, she had prayed to God "only for big things, and to Jesus just for parking spaces." Now, emboldened to seek out greater faith-based enlightenment, she decides to try to find it in New York City, during this month that her husband's away. As a whimsical gesture to her theological pursuits, she brings along her recent and very special Christmas gift...a small action figurine of Jesus. Soon, her stay in the "Big Apple" leads her to a succession of mildly amusing situations. For example, after she arrives in Greenwich Village, she passes by the house where she lost her virginity, which was also the place where her grown daughter was conceived. Tatiana, being her daughter's name, by an extraordinary coincidence this same residence is right next to a business shop called "Tatiana's Dry Cleaning." Later, with her "Action Jesus" firmly in hand, she's intent on finding a very affordable new skirt, on sale, which she accomplishes with His help, too. Then, a chance meeting at a restaurant, with a spiritually concerned fellow diner, leads him and her back to her temporary apartment. Much later, after lots of uplifting discussion, once again, with her tiny Jesus as her guide, she's able to get her new found acquaintance to leave with only a "goodbye" kiss. As the full measure of Manhattan's intellectual and artistic ferment then starts to assert itself upon her, Leslie begins to realize that writing a book all about it, actually represents the true meaning of her quest. This slight and occasionally amusing search for Leslie's spiritual awakening is being performed by her with much fanciful effectiveness, all well focused by Melissa J. Wentworth's decidedly centered and animated Direction. Now playing through May 27. (My Grade: 3.5)
THE CURSE IS REVERSED
At the Abbott Memorial Theatre in Waltham, Mass. the Hovey Players present "The Curse Is Reversed," featuring Book and Lyrics by David Kruh and Music and Lyrics by Steven Bergman. An earlier version of much of this same subject matter received its world premiere in 2001 when it was presented by the Lyric Stage Company of Boston, under its earlier title "The Curse of the Bambino." It was also performed, using this same title, in Stoneham, Mass. in 2004. This substantially revised version is now being given this new premiere. Of course, the "curse" in the show's title refers to the aftermath, from the sale of Babe Ruth to the New York Yankees in 1920, by Red Sox owner Harry Frazee. The Babe was sent to the Bronx because Frazee needed cash to finance his big production of the musical show "No, No, Nanette" on Broadway. As a result, baseball's "World Championship" eluded the Bosox for 86 years, until their spectacular triumph in 2004. As expected, the plot still courses around Frazee's infamous misjudgment, but with its focus no longer on the show's original main characters. A quartet of spiritedly accomplished performers, referred to as "the Royal Rooters," acting as a chorus, in song and dance define the various Red Sox championship defeats throughout the years. Each number is vividly played, sung and danced in the musical style of its time period. These memorable moments range from such diverse harmonious modes as the "Barbershop Quartet" to the more recent strains of Disco, Soul, Hip Hop, and Rap. However, notwithstanding this change for the better, some inconsequential elements of the show's original plot do still remain. Betty, the niece of Colonel Ruppert, (owner of the New York Yankees), and a fledgling newspaper reporter, is romantically involved with Steve, the Boston Red Sox Business Manager. She's using his influence and her access to the inner Red Sox circle to benefit her uncle, as well as her career, with contrived and predictable consequences. However, as stated, the show's focus is now firmly on the Red Sox's perpetually supportive fans. These Royal Rooters: Gordon Ellis, Steve Key, Andrew McKay, and Ronny Pompeo are the real stars. As the various missed Championship opportunities are repeated, each defeat is vividly described "play-by-play" by Mike Soulios, as the on the field announcer, in a mock radio studio to the side of the small stage. The team's many ups and downs are resoundingly relived in the show's 15 winning songs, such as "The Curse of the Bambino," (Just when things are going up, they go from bad to worse), 1946 - "The Red Sox Boogie" (another World Series defeat), " Pass the Buck" (Bucky F'n Dent!), and yes, you guessed it, "There's Always Next Year." To the audience's great delight, John Small, as Harry Frazee, really belts out his full-voiced salute to "Show Biz," while later petite and sweetly singing Kathleen Dalton finally acknowledges her deception with her rendition of "What a Woman Can Do." Performed, for the most part, on a bare stage, the only set change occurs occasionally when the limited stage's back wall is opened up to reveal McGreevey's "Third Base Bar," (the last place you go before you go home!). There, these same Royal Rooters now portray a variety of avid ethnic (Russian, Irish, Italian, and Polish) fans. Here, as always, they excel with their rollicking singing of such lively songs such as "Everybody's Got Their Heroes" (mine's Babe Ruth), and "The (Russian Proletariate's) Baseball Manifesto., Tom Berry's strong Direction, the highly spirited small band conducted by keyboardist Stephen Peters, and Linda Sughrue's creative and grandly amusing Choreography, enhanced by Kimmerie H.O. Jones' spare and colorful costumes, demonstrate again how much can be done, with such limited resources, by a group of talented performers supported by a large highly capable and inventive production team! Now playing through May 26. (My Grade: 5)
AND THEN THERE WERE NONE
The Stoneham Theatre in Stoneham, Mass. presents its new production of "And Then There Were None" by Agatha Christie. Written by her as a mystery novel in 1939, its great popularity inspired her to develop it as a play in 1948. Its title has also gone through several controversial name changes over the years, too. Its most recent title was "Ten Little Soldier Boys." It has also been produced three times as major motion pictures, in 1945, under its current designation "And Then There Were None," and earlier as "Ten Little Indians," in 1966 and 1975. Ten disparate visitors are invited to spend a weekend at a remote island retreat off the coast of England. Young, lovely Vera Claythorne thinks she's to be employed as a secretary, while affable William Henry Blore, initially claiming to be a visiting South African, turns out to be a Detective. Dr. Armstrong, a nerve specialist, believes he's been invited as a medical consultant. Retired General MacKenzie, elderly dowager Emily Brent, playboy Anthony Marston, and Justice Wargrove all assume they've come to meet old acquaintances. Captain Phillip Lombard is there as Vera's companion. They're all greeted by Mr. and Mrs. Rogers, the butler and his housekeeper wife, who inform them that their host--a mysterious Mr. Owen-- has not yet arrived. Later, after dinner, Rogers plays a voice recording, made by Owen, in which he accuses each one of them of having gone forever unpunished for crimes that they've committed. After realizing that not one of them, including Mr. and Mrs. Rogers, knows who Owen is, they begin to deduce that they've all been brought to this island for some ulterior motive. Soon, they also begin to associate their situation to a posted child's poem entitled "Ten Little Soldier Boys." In each poetic verse, one by one, each toy soldier suffers a dire demise, such as by choking, or by chopping wood, drowning, by a bee's sting, or even by gunfire. Then, as they learn that the boat, that was to take them back to the mainland, will not come, and that there also is no telephone, they begin to suspect what is in store for them. Concluding that Owen may actually be one of them, they begin to acknowledge that he has convened them on this island to exact his deadly punishment on each and every one of them! As their unknown avenger systematically murders each of them, somewhat akin to the poetic fashion assigned to each aforementioned toy figurine, only one guest is finally left to confront Owen. The crazed killer is revealed in a surprising and extraordinary face-to-face encounter. Under Caitlin Lowans well focused Direction, and allowing for some occasionally fluctuating and/or unconvincing British accents, it was all deftly performed by the fine ten member cast. Steven Barkhimer as the Detective, Shelley Bolman as the Doctor, Gene Fleming as the General, Colin Kiley as the Playboy, Stephen Russell as the Judge, Ann Marie Shea as the Matron, Jack Neary and Eve Passeltiner as the Butler and his wife, Robert Najarian as the Secretary's companion, and attractive Anastasia Barnes as the Secretary handled all of their varied roles quite effectively. Judging by the enthusiastic response, when the killer's identity was finally exposed, the large audience was in complete agreement. Lastly, high praise is also due for Katheryn Monthei's splendid art-deco styled set. Now playing through May 27. (My Grade: 4)
At the Boston Center for the Arts in the Calderwood Pavilion's Wimberly Theatre, LCM Productions has just concluded their presentation of "David - the musical," featuring Book and Lyrics by Craig Costanza, with additional Book and Lyrics by Rich Lyle, Music by Tim Murner and Script Adaptation by Michelle Holmes. A much larger production consisting of a cast of 75 premiered at Boston's Cutler Majestic Theatre in 2001. Now this revised version, with a pared down cast of 32, returned for only a very brief five day engagement. Not having seen the larger production six years ago, I'm unable to offer any comparisons. This time, it's being performed in contemporary attire on a minimalist set, composed of several multi-colored low level raised platforms, flanked by three tall crimson pillars. The highly involved plot centers on the legendary Biblical adult ruler of ancient Israel, with its focus on the Royal family's downfall pitted against the King's tumultuous efforts to remain in power, (amidst the swirl of counter plots surrounding him) while effectively struggling to realize his divine inspiration, concerning the building of God's Temple. Unfortunately, the show's lengthy and rather static First Act suffers from sluggish pacing and uneven performances, primarily by many of the cast's obviously amateur supporting players. Act Two, however, is somewhat better with a few strong performances by the show's principals. Featuring a score of 25 songs, of varying styles, running the gamut from Pop and Soul to Gospel, with only several being either genuinely impressive or noteworthy. The play's Music Director Adam T. Rosencrance was reasonably effective both singing and acting the show's title role, as was sweetly voiced Allison Linker as his love interest Bathsheeba. They both shone brightly singing their loving duet "I Need Never Dream Again," (You're my heart, which is forever true.) However, by far the evening's strongest performances were offered by Devon Stone as Sheba, a kind of solo Greek Chorus and militant observer, and Michelle Holmes as Sodoma, a lusty temptress, who works her wiles on Amnon, King David's eldest son. Devon Stone was most compelling with his full voiced rendition of "This Is War" (send us all your loved ones...especially your sons.) Equally notable was Michelle Holmes' vividly animated interpretation of "A Woman And A Man" (throughout eternity) as well as her exuberant praise of Amnon singing, "You Make Me Happy." The fine small four piece orchestra (Michael: keyboard, Bilgehan Tuncer: guitar, Jeremy Indick: bass, and George Moomjian: drums) provided spiritedly rhythmic accompaniment throughout.(My Grade: 2)
CONFESSIONS OF A MORMON BOY
At the Boston Center for the Arts Boston Theatre Works presents "Confessions of a Mormon Boy," an autobiographical solo play created by and starring Steven Fales. After its debut in Salt Lake City in 2002, his play was also well received in subsequent presentations in Chicago,Atlanta, San Diego, Los Angeles and finally Off-Broadway in Manhattan where it won an Overall Excellence Award for a Solo Show at last year's New York International Fringe Festival. A dispute, over his decisive refusal of onstage nudity, served to delay his play's award-winning New York premiere until last year. This presentation is its Boston debut, and as already stated above, includes no nudity. Performed for 90 minutes without an intermission on a bare stage with only a small table and a bench as props, 37 year old Fales animatedly and with a winning blend of charm, humor and poignancy, recounts the tumultuous events of his life. Although his grandparents were Greek Orthodox, he was raised as a devout Mormon, and his play follows his life beginning at age 19. It starts then with his two year proselytizing mission in Portugal in behalf of his Church. Later as a young student at Brigham Young University he engaged in his first homosexual experience and was somewhat troubled by "feeling so good after such an abominable act." Asking for help from his Church, he tried unsuccessfully to "change" through some hypnotherapy attempts. Still longing for transformation, after a 4 month engagement, he married his wife Emily and she bore him their two wonderful children, a boy and a girl, whom he loved very much. After seven years of marriage, he still suffered much anxiety over his ongoing attraction to homosexual behavior. He still had male sex fantasies even while making love to his wife! Divorce and excommunication from the Mormon Church soon followed. After transferring full custody of his children to his wife, and with only $250 (given to him by his father), he moved to New York City. Soon, cold, alone, and broke, he set his hopes toward becoming an actor aside, and drifted into the big, "easy," money offered by male prostitution. Pimps, drug addiction, excessive partying, and the incessant and often overly and graphically detailed demands of his many, many clients eventually exacted their heavy and debilitating toll. Writing and performing this play ultimately became his saving therapy. Marshaled by the show's original strong Director Jack Hofsiss, together with Steven Cohen's effective and dramatic lighting, this provocative one man show is now playing through May 19. (My Grade: 4)
THE WILD PARTY
At the Mosesian Theatre in the Arsenal Center for the Arts in Watertown, Mass. the New Repertory Theatre presents its new production of "The Wild Party" featuring Book, Music and Lyrics by Andrew Lipa. Based on the legendary poem by Joseph Moncure March, written in 1928, which was not only the inspiration for this musical play, but also for one (with this same title) written by John LaChiusa. While both plays were very well received Off-Broadway in 2000, they are markedly different. Andrew Lippa's version is substantially darker with his focus being primarily upon the very troubled relationship between Burrs, a brutish vaudeville clown and his much abused mistress Queenie, a tough streetwise dancer, who decide to try to calm their unrest by inviting all of their totally uninhibited friends to a "wild party" at their flat. John LaChiusa's play, on the other hand, being more frolicsome, just revolves around the antics of the invited guests, free from the expected social and/or moral constraints of the time. By a curious happenstance, both plays were performed in Boston, by completely separate companies in two different theatres, several years ago, within a relatively short time between each presentation. As with its previous strong productions of "Sweeney Todd" and "Ragtime," this time also "The New Rep" has again staged a very potent musical evening. As the night wends its way to dawn, hookers, brawlers, drunkards, addicts, lotharios, and assorted other young and old revelers lustily express themselves in a succession of nearly 30 gritty tunes. Burrs starts off by exuberantly chanting "What a Party" as all of his friends join in, while Queenie then continues with her raucous declaration for all to "Raise the Roof." Still later, Devilishly full-voiced Madelaine energizes the rough-and-ready assembly with her declaration of what an "Old Fashioned Love Story" is like "for an old fashioned dyke like me." The evening continues to roar on with the arrival of good-time Kate singing, in a really big way, "Look at me now," with the emphasis on her having "been to Hell and back." However, the evening's vibrant and unfettered celebration reaches its most volatile and devastating apex when Burrs realizes that Queenie has become attracted to Black, a tender, caring and quietly understanding newcomer. The evening's animated frivolity is abruptly reversed, when Burrs explosively decides to challenge Black, with dire consequences. Todd Alan Johnson as Burrs and Aimee Doherty as Queenie (a strikingly effective last minute replacement for the ailing Marla Mindelle) were both stirringly intense and passionate! Similarly strong performances were also offered by Maurice Parent as the concerned Black and Sarah Corey as the rowdy and tempestuous Kate. Leigh Barrett, one of this area's grandest actress-singers, wowed the full audience with her effervescent rendition of the amusing, aforementioned "Old Fashioned (Lesbian) Love Story." The large 17 member cast, Janie E. Howland's impressive brick-walled set, flanked by a series of window-like mirrors, and the highly spirited nine member orchestra conducted by Todd C. Gordon were all quite praiseworthy. As expected, Rick Lombardo's vigorous Direction and assured Musical Staging were prominently in evidence. Now playing through May 20. (My Grade: 5)
At Boston's Citi Wang Theatre the Boston Ballet presents its production of the classic "Giselle " with its sublimely stirring Music by Adolphe Adam (arranged by John Lanchbery), Produced, Staged and Choreographed (after Coralli, Perrot, and Petipa) by Maina Guilgud. Its legendary, romantic and other worldly story centers on Giselle, a fragile peasant maiden, who loves Albrecht, who although disguised as a rustic, is in reality a Prince! When she discovers that he's betrothed to another, her despair leads to her untimely death from a broken heart. Act Two takes place in a luxuriant woodland inhabited by Wilis, the ghosts of unfulfilled maidens, who have died before the day of their weddings. They must now dance, nightly and ceaselessly until dawn, enticing any man, who enters their forest, to join them dancing until he too dies! When the sorrowful Albrecht arrives, as Myrtha, the Wilis' Queen, attempts to use her wiles to lure him to his doom, Giselle intervenes, thereby saving the despairing Prince's life. Superbly danced with grand flair and verve by Larissa Ponomarenko in the title role, with equally dazzling vigor by Kathleen Breen Combes as the alluringly deadly Queen Myrtha and Reyneris Reyes as a contentious Village peasant (also attracted to Giselle). Rie Ichikawa and Melanie Atkins as the lead Wilis, Misa Kuranaga and Joel Prouty dancing the vividly compelling Peasant Pas de Deux, and Roman Rykine as the grieving Prince Albrecht, were also very worthy of the thunderous audience approval. Equally noteworthy was Peter Farmer's splendid Costumes and impressively verdant Forest Setting and Ricco Chicorelli's effectively dramatic Lighting. High praise must also go to the vibrant full Orchestra conducted by Jonathan McPhee. This genuinely majestic and quite memorable presentation is now playing through May 20. (My Grade: 5)
At the Plaza Black Box Theater in the Boston Center for the Arts, the Zeitgeist Stage Company has presented its production of "Valhalla," a new play by Paul Rudnick. A substantial success Off-Broadway during its enthusiastically received 2004 engagement, this new presentation was its New England premiere. Rudnick's fanciful story intertwines the lives of Bavaria's 19th century "Mad" King Ludwig and the play's young fictional, recklessly non-conformist James Avery, who's growing up in the 1940's in small town Danesville, Texas. Beginning with them both, at age 10, fixated on "beauty," as exemplified by a majestic swan, Ludwig is captivated by one he's seen in the Royal Estate's lake, while James delights over a stolen crystal swan snatched by him from a local department store. Continuing on, into their teenage years and young adulthood, Ludwig is continuously confronted by his assertive and overly demanding Queen Mother, who insists that he must marry. On the other hand, the bisexual James sets his sights on both his young school mate Henry Lee Stafford, as well as pretty young Sally Mortimer, daughter of the owner of the aforementioned department store. Later, Helmut, the young Ludwig's muscular physical fitness instructor, introduces his regal student to the joys of sexual pleasure! At this same time, James, both bored and annoyed by his stultifying home life, burns down his family's simple rural house for "fun" and is sent to Reform School as his penalty. Meanwhile, at the Queen Mother's ongoing persistence, Ludwig grudgingly begins to consider a number of young ladies as possible wives. However, since he's very obsessed with the operas composed by Richard Wagner, (especially "Lohengrin"), Ludwig becomes quite enthralled by the humpbacked and opera-loving Princess Sophie. (" There was no contest. She was the loneliest hunchback in all of Europe. ") Undeterred by her deformity, he's impressed by her inner beauty (which he observes "is very tricky because you can't prove it.") Still later, after he ascends to the Bavarian throne, Ludwig decides to finally fulfill his quest for "beauty" by overseeing the construction of a host of lavish castles, fashioned after those suggested by Wagner's operas. As this all unfolds, with the U.S. fully involved in World War II, James and Henry Lee enlist as Paratroopers and eventually find themselves bailing out into Bavaria! There, these two are finally able to discover and marvel at King Ludwig's recreation of the beauty of "Valhalla!" Vividly performed by Brian Quint as Ludwig and most especially by Jon Ferreira as James Avery. Christopher Michael Brophy as both Henry Lee Stafford, as well as the lascivious Helmut, Elisa MacDonald as Sally Mortimer and Princess Sophie, amongst several others, and Rick Park in an equal bevy of multi-varied and dissimilar characterizations, were all quite praiseworthy. Maureen Adduci, as Ludwig's demanding Queen Mother, James Avery's backwoods Texas Ma, and as an uproariously amusing Long Island Tour Guide, leading a group of travelers in post-war Bavaria, was especially memorable! Paul Rudnick's rapid fire witty dialogue bubbled brightly throughout the evening to the complete delight of the large audience. Seth Bodie's splendid period costumes, most especially exemplified by deftly crafted, prancing hobby horse outfits, designed for the play's amusing jousting-match episode on horseback, were quite impressive. Similar accolades must also go to the play's assured co-Directors David J. Miller and Rick Park. (My Grade: 5)
At the Boston Playwrights Theatre The Nora Theatre Company has presented its recently- concluded production of "Buried Child" by Sam Shepard. First performed in 1978 to much acclaim, it later went on to win the Pulitzer Prize. It has been staged by many companies nationwide ever since. Set in rural Illinois, in the American heartland, it is the story of a monumentally dysfunctional family, whose dark secrets lie at the center of their being. Dodge, the family's elderly ailing Patriarch, reclines on the living room sofa as his unseen wife Halie, speaking to him from their upstairs bedroom, insists on reminding him to take his prescribed medication. Ignoring her, he continually resorts instead to a small bottle of whiskey he has hidden in the sofa. He's soon joined by Tilden, his middle aged, eldest son. Recently returned from many years away in New Mexico, he's both confused and penniless. Laden with many ears of freshly picked corn, Dodge insists that his son must have stolen them since their farm has been barren for many years. Tilden protests that he picked them "out back." Bradley his adult, younger brother appears later, and as his elderly father lies sleeping on the sofa, begins to trim his parent's hair with an electric razor. He does so, knowing that this will greatly displease his father when he awakens. Soon after, when Halie leaves to visit Father Dewis, their Minister, at the local Church, Dodge realizes that his wife is having an affair. Later, quite unexpectedly, Tilden's prodigal son Vince appears with his girlfriend Shelly. Unaware that his father has returned, Vince, after a six year absence, is on his way to visit his dad in New Mexico. To his and his sweetheart's amazement, all of his relatives refuse to acknowledge him as a member of their family. Then out of confusion and desperation, when he agrees to drive out to the distant town to buy some more whiskey for his grandfather; his girlfriend is left behind. The mystery that has haunted and torn this household apart for so long, is finally revealed in a chilling confrontation between the young female and all the members of the family. Intensely performed by the small, accomplished cast, with very strong portrayals by William Young as Dodge, Nancy E. Carroll as Halie, Will McGarrahan as Bradley, and especially Mark Peckham as Tilden. Matthew Shawlin as Vince, Cristina Miles as Shelly and Dale Place as Father Dewis were equally effective. Brynna Bloomfield's starkly simple setting with its rear staircase leading up to the unseen yet strangely provocative upper level living quarters, was also most certainly praiseworthy. The repeated and almost other-worldly use of offstage dialogue also heightens this drama's all pervasive sense of mystery and foreboding! At the play's center is the playwright's recurring use of metaphoric symbolism and multi-levels of meaning underlying repressed memories. However, one does wonder at his choice of such a revealing title. (My Grade: 4)
At Boston's Citi Wang Theatre, the Boston Ballet concludes its 2006-2007 season with two formidable programs. The first is comprised of works created by George Balanchine, who's credited by the New York Times, in the evening's program accessories, as "One of the greatest Choreographers in the history of Ballet." Under the umbrella title of "Classic Balanchine," three masterful pieces by this great innovator were presented for only four evenings ending on May 6. The initial work was "Ballo Della Regina," featuring music by Giuseppe Verdi, a rarely performed dance segment taken from his opera " Don Carlos." Its fanciful story follows the efforts of a fisherman searching for the perfect pearl. Balanchine's interpretation, however, is all dance and with out plot, and is highlighted by deftly executed duets by Lorna Feijoo, en pointe, with fleet footed dancing by James Whiteside. Spirited support is provided for them by Rie Ichikawa, Lia Cirio, and Melanie Atkins. Ben Benson's simple and quite delicate costumes and Alexander V. Nichols' effective lighting were both equally noteworthy. Balanchine's second piece was entitled "La Valse," with a somberly majestic score by Maurice Ravel. Divided into two, the first half " Valses Nobles et Sentimentales," centered on dexterously engaged macabre waltzes which were followed by Part two " La Valse," wherein the personification of Death (Carlos Molina) finally seduces the piece's lovely young maiden (Karine Seneca) to her untimely demise! She is then carried off uplifted high above the outstretched arms of the spellbound and spirited dancing ensemble. However, "The Four Temperaments," Balanchine's final gem on the evening's program, proved to be the night's most impressive. Framed by Paul Hindemith's compelling music with the ballet's focus being specifically on the basic quartet of body attitudes. In a genuinely captivating departure from classic dance, the Company dazzled the large audience with their eye-popping multi-varieties of extraordinary, angularized body movements. These ranged from knocked-together knees, and the intertwining of arms, then legs, by the group, later to the dancers' legs astonishingly turned outwards and then their midsections forcefully pushed forward! Roman Rykine's restrained "Melancholic," Larissa Ponomarenko and Nelson Madrigal's vivid "Sanguinic," Carlos Molina's cool and collected "Phlegmatic," and finally Kathleen Breen Combes' passionate and gripping "Choleric," brought the evening's memorable trio of Balanchine masterworks to a genuinely compelling finale! The Company's concluding presentation "Giselle" will be then staged by them, for a much more extended engagement, later this week. (My Grade: 5)
On the campus of the Leventhal-Sidman Jewish Community Center in Newton, Mass. the Jewish Theatre of New England presented the area premiere of "Picon Pie," (subtitled "the Molly Picon Musical") a new play by Rose Leiman Goldemberg. After its successful debut Off-Broadway in 2004, it was equally well received when later staged in California and in Florida. For two hours, including a brief intermission, the life story of this petite show-business dynamo unfolded before an enthusiastic capacity audience. She was born in Philadelphia in 1898, and the evening begins as she looks back at her long career before the footlights, now near the end of her life at age 94. Married for 56 years to her business manager Jacob Kalich , she affectionately refers to him, throughout the evening, as "Yonkel." She proudly affirms that "he taught me everything I know." From her early teenage years she quickly rose to become one of the leading and most beloved stars of New York City's Second Avenue, which came t o be known during the years from World War I through the Great Depression as "the Yiddish Broadway." By the late 1920's and early 30's, her fame had spread so far and wide that, while touring throughout pre-W.W. II Europe with her husband, her occasional onstage appearances were fully and eagerly applauded. It was then also in Eastern Europe especially that she also encountered the early bursts of ethnic hatred that would soon tragically engulf the Jews of Europe. During her European excursion she also initiated her long career as the star of many Yiddish movies, which then blazed even more brightly after her return to America. This was also topped off by her triumphant engagement at New York's famous Palace Theatre. Financial setbacks, marital problems, (with a happy reconciliation), a nervous breakdown , followed finally by a full recovery, culminated with her return to Europe at the War's end. She came back to provide some comfort and solace by entertaining many survivors of the Holocaust. Her 56 -year marriage to Yonkel ended with his death at age 77, soon after her return to America. Her sorrowful retirement from Show Business ended when she was finally recruited by Hollywood. She soon returned to the limelight appearing in such films as "Come Blow Your Horn," with Frank Sinatra, "For Pete's Sake," with Barbra Streisand, and of course "Fiddler On The Roof." Broadway, soon beckoned again with Molly starring in the hit musical "Milk and Honey," and then also in London as the star of "A Majority of One. " Many subsequent guest appearances on National TV brought her happily to her final curtain in 1992. As expected the evening bubbled over continually with a bevy of her most popular Yiddish songs (complete with full English explanations) as well as such American novelty tunes as "Pony Boy," "Yaaka Hula Hickey Dula, " and "Shoo Fly. " Broadway's Tony Award nominee June Gable excelled singing,dancing, and even sometimes somersaulting as the ever effervescent Molly with grand support by Stuart Marshall as Yonkel. The rhythmically spirited Klezmer-styled, onstage, musical accompaniment was deftly provided by pianist Steve Sterner and Clarinetist Adrian Mira, with the entire presentation under Pamela Hall's assured Direction. (My Grade: 5)
At the Boston Center for the Arts in the Calderwood Pavilion the Huntington Theatre Company presents the world premiere of "Persephone" by Noah Haidle. His play offers us an unusual treatise on Greek mythology. Its central character is a carved statue of Demeter, the Goddess of the Harvest. The ancient tale states that when her daughter Persephone was kidnapped and taken to the underworld by Hades, in response the despondent Demeter vowed to impede the blossoming of the Spring until such time as her daughter was released. Act One is set in Venice, during the Renaissance, in the studio of Giuseppe, a young aspiring sculptor. His Patron Alfonso has commissioned him to create a statue of Demeter in honor of his deceased daughter. Concentrating on his work, Giuseppe , troubled by some difficulties fashioning his statue's arm, is joined by Celia, his lovely model, who entices him to forego his work and spend the rest of the evening partying with her! His statue of Demeter contemptuously observes Celia and, after they leave, ruefully comments on what she has seen, but only the audience and the studio's friendly mouse can hear what she has to say. Act Two is set 500 years into the future, in a neighborhood park in present day New York City. Now as a public statue, battered by pigeon droppings, graffiti, pollution and acid rain, Demeter is mounted there as an ever present observer of the constant parade of public despair, humiliation and depravity! She stands as a witness to hookers, homeless derelicts, corrupt police, defacing vandals, perverse priests, vicious thieves, drug dealers and drug addicts. Her only solace comes from an elderly woman whose daughter was killed in that same park, and finds comfort by coming daily to clean the muck from her favorite public statue. As before, Demeter thoughtfully comments on all of the malaise surrounding her, with the audience and a cultivated urban rat as her only listeners. Her rodent visitor advises her that he spends most of the rest of his time soaking up "culture" at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, while scurrying about to avoid being trampled underfoot! While Act One is mostly laced with similarly earthy humor, Act Two centers mainly on its bleak view of current humanity. Later, in a surprising, and ultimately unsatisfactory twist, Demeter's daughter Persephone is able to provide her mother with a measure of reassuring hope. Melinda Lopez is vividly effective as Demeter, with fine portrayals by Seth Fisher as Giuseppe, and assorted other contemptible contemporary characters. Mimi Lieber gives equally spirited performances initially as Celia and later as Demeter's elderly comforter, amongst others. The ever reliable Jeremiah Kissel shines as Alfonso and then as the Renaissance mouse and still later as the Museum's favorite rat. Assuredly Directed by Nicholas Martin with an impressive antique art studio setting followed by a splendidly verdant contemporary park designed by David Korins. Equal praise must also go to the excellent period costumes by Jenny Mannis as well as Ben Stanton's creative lighting.The comparison between Demeter's relatively untroubled beginning and her later contemporary distress proved to be both engaging and provocative. However, then when the author proceeds to offer us his unsettling observations on the underside of modern life, his last minute attempt to reintroduce a Greek mythological focus to it unfortunately really seemed to be ill considered and quite contrived. Now playing through May 6. (My Grade: 4)
409 Edgecomb Avenue
At the Boston Center for the Arts in the Plaza Theater, the Up You Mighty Race Company has presented its, now just completed, premiere of "409 Edgecomb Avenue, " a new play by Katherine Butler Jones, Directed by Akiba Abaka ( the Company's Founder and Artistic Director ). Set in Manhattan in the 1930's, her play takes its name from a legendary 13 story red brick apartment house in Harlem's celebrated "Sugar Hill" neighborhood. It was the area's main attraction because of its grand multi-columned lobby with its splendidly uniformed doorman and his equally properly outfitted attendants. As one entered they were always impressed by the reception area's commanding wide and splendidly tiled-mosaic floor as well as its centrally placed elevator. During its heyday, in the 20's, 30's and 40's, it was the home for many of the most prominent African-American leaders of the 20th century such as: W.E.B. DuBois, Thurgood Marshall, Walter White, Roy Wilkins and its fascinating central personality, Madame Stephanie St. Clair. Of French-Caribbean descent, she had become Harlem's self-defined "Queen of Policy." Thanks to her innate determination, skill and extraordinary intuition, she was the undisputed director of the region's "Number's Game," and even wrote a weekly column in the local newspaper. Because this illegal gambling operation generated so much big revenue it soon caught the attention of Dutch Schultz, the infamous mobster and bootlegger. Since he controlled all the rackets in New York City, he set his sights on Madame St. Clair. How she ultimately outwitted him, until he was killed, while trying to evade the I.R.S., became one of the highlights of her memorable life. Second only to this event was her marriage to Sufi Hamid, a prominent Harlem Moslem and Labor organizer. Later, when she discovered him cheating on her, with a popular local female fortune teller, she shot kill him--but he didn't die. This notorious incident resulted in her imprisonment for five years. After completing her confinement, she returned to her former glory at her residence on Sugar Hill. Throughout, she was much admired and beloved by the people of Harlem for her many philanthropic efforts in their behalf. As one can understand,Madame St. Clair's life has all the ingredients for a compelling theatrical drama. Unfortunately, Ms. Jones' overly talky play, while informative, unfolds so very, very slowly, with just about all of the tumultuous events in this grand Queen's life happening as offstage descriptions. We only hear about but never actually do see Dutch Schultz, and are just told about his threats against her. Of course, this also holds true still later for his violent demise. Even the crisis caused by her husband's infidelity is only spoken of! As a consequence, when she finally does confront her wayward spouse and shoots him, it really lacks the strong impact that it should otherwise have had. Happily, her play suddenly and briefly perks up, during Act Two, when Madame St. Clair animatedly discusses her imprisonment and her still ongoing endeavors in behalf of the people of Harlem with Eunice Carter, her Counsel. Carter, an assistant in the District Attorney's office, had previously been an effective opponent because of St. Clair's illegal gambling practices. Fulani Holmes is both striking and stately as Madame St. Clair, with engaging portrayals by Michael Nurse as the uniformed Doorman and Christina Marie Bynoe as Eunice Carter. Regrettably, Keith Mascoll's listless performance as the philandering Sufi Hamid and Lau Lapides' uneven acting, as his fortune teller sweetheart, were both surprisingly inadequate. However, Peter Coloa's impressive set, Joy Adams' elegant costuming especially for Madame St. Clair, and Ben Truppin-Brown's well chosen vintage recordings, as musical bridges for each new scene, by such artists as Louis Armstrong, Bessie Smith, Duke Ellington and Josephine Baker, amongst others, really did much to establish the play's time, place and mood. (My Grade: 2)
CRAZY FOR YOU
Who could ask for anything more…a beautiful evening, wonderful dancers, and reasonable prices and it’s all at the North Shore Music Theater now through May 13.
This lively show features an over the top performance by Jeffrey Denman as Bobby Child, the millionaire's son, who wants nothing more from life than to dance, dance, and dance. When he’s sent by the president of the bank-- his mother-- to foreclose on an old theater in Deadwood Nevada (an old mining town) his wishes all come true…eventually.
Once again this reviewer was duly impressed with the creative, amusing choreography of Richard Staford, also the director. As the audience happily hums along with George and Ira Gershwins’ toe tapping score, we are treated to tap numbers that are creative and fresh. By far, the most outstanding dance performance was by Denman, who is a combination of Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly. His co-star, Amanda Watkins, holds her own against his top-notch performance. Together they are very believable as Bobby and Polly, the stareyed lovers who, of course, come together in a beautiful waltz in the end.
Kudos also go out to William Ivy Long for his impressive costumes and John McKernon for amazing lighting. But I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the cast of 23 that brings the house to life with their talent, enthusiasm and joy. This production was a pleasure to see. So if you need a little happiness in your life, take a friend and get a little "Crazy"! (My Grade: 4.0)
AN EVENING WITH DEBBIE REYNOLDS
At the Robinson Theatre on the campus of the Waltham High School in Waltham, Mass. the Reagle Players present "An Evening With Debbie Reynolds. " Now celebrating her 75th birthday and looking, singing and performing as good as ever, this captivating Hollywood legend held the near capacity audience in the palm of her hand for her nearly two hour solo show. Accompanied by a spirited two member band on stage, she regaled the large assembly with anecdotes about the many great stars of the past that she's either known or performed with, such as Clarke Gable, Gary Cooper, and Spencer Tracy. Laced with her grandly comic, right on target, imitations of such celebrities as Katherine Hepburn, and Zsa Zsa Gabor, she literally lifted everyone out of their seats with her riotously amusing send-up of Barbra Streisand. Complete with long-haired wig and fake nose, Brooklyn accent, svelte long gown, and highlighted by really splendid recreations of "People," "Don't Rain On My Parade," and "The Way We Were," she really wowed everyone! Not one to shy away from a good, spicy joke (especially about Paris Hilton), she kept her many fans in stitches with many other assorted stories in "dialect." Since two of her several failed marriages were with Jewish husbands, her near-perfect Yiddish accent was quite impressive, considering her earlier reminiscences about her pre Hollywood years, growing up in El Paso, Texas. Act two featured compelling performances of the songs of Irving Berlin and the Gershwins, ending with a grand tribute to her longtime friend at MGM, Judy Garland. "For Me and My Gal," "Get Happy," "Meet Me In St. Louis," "Embraceable You," "The Man Who Got Away," "The Trolley Song, " "The Boy Next Door," and of course, "Over the Rainbow," were rendered in full voiced, strong, and compelling fashion. She ended the evening with a tender rendition of "Tammy," her big mid-1950's hit recording, much to the delight of the enthralled audience. Now playing just a brief, weekend only, engagement through April 22. (My Grade: 5)
ON THE TOWN
At the Cutler Majestic Theatre in Boston, Mass. the Stage and Musical Theatre Society of Emerson College presents their new production of " On The Town," featuring Book and Lyrics by Adolph Green and Betty Comden and Music by Leonard Bernstein. Initially premiered on Broadway in December 1944, as the United States was still heavily involved in World War II, it proved to be a mega-hit and firmly catapulted the careers of its three legendary creators. In 1949, it was also produced as a highly-acclaimed Hollywood movie where it likewise propelled the fortunes of its stars Gene Kelly and Frank Sinatra. Inspired by an earlier ballet piece entitled, "Fancy Free" by choreographer Jerome Robbins, its fanciful wartime plot centers on Gabey, Chip, and Ozzie, a trio of U.S.Navy sailors, on leave for only 24 hours in New York City. They come ashore lustily singing their triumphant salute to "New York, New York" (it's a helluva town.) Then, riding on the subway, they notice a prominently-posted display of Ivy Smith "the Miss Turnstyles" contest winner. Immediately enthralled by her photo, Gabey convinces his buddies to help him to find her. Checking her interests, as described on the subway's poster, Gabey heads for Carnegie Hall, Ozzie starts off to find the nearest museum, and Chip seeks out some advice from a nearby taxi driver. Hildy, a cute, perky female cabby, takes an immediate fancy to Chip and quickly musically and very assertively invites him to "Come Up To My Place." Of course, he's more than happy to comply. At the Museum of Natural History, Ozzie meets Claire, the Institution's lovely, but engaged-to-be married, anthropologist. With her stodgy fiance Judge P.W.Bridgeworth in agreement, by him singing "I Understand," she decides to show Ozzie the city's main attractions. Meanwhile Gabey, looking for Ivy in Central Park, chants the poignant "Lonely Town." Soon after however, he bumps into her-- an aspiring classically focused actress and singer-- backstage at a study room in Carnegie Hall. Unfortunately, Madame Dilly, her exacting and pompous singing coach, against Ivy's wishes, threatens to tell Gabey that her student is just a cabaret-singer at a Coney Island honkey-tonk joint. As they then go their separate ways, Act Two ushers in a succession of very lively visits by Chip and Hildy and Ozzie and Claire to a host of Manhattan's night clubs, such as "Diamond Eddie's," "the Congacabana,"and "the Slam Bang Club." As expected, risking to overstay his military leave-time, Gabey goes to faraway Coney Island to finally reassure Ivy of his real affection for her. The large young enthusiastic, and full voiced cast were genuinely impressive in their multiple and varied roles. David Burdett as Gabey, Justin Perez as Chip, and Mark Linehan as Ozzie, all equally adept both at singing and dancing, were similarly and vividly supported by sweet Sara Dobrinich as Ivy, spirited Jordan Kai Burnett as Hildy, and vivacious Haley Petersen asClaire. Chelsea Paice as Ivy's strict vocal coach, Gregory Kanter as Claire's stuffy fiance, and Amanda Smith as Hildy's sickly room-mate, were also quite noteworthy, as were Brittany Bara and David A. Sharrocks as talented nightclub entertainers. High praise for Director Stephen Terrell, whose splendidly athletic choreography, conceived together with Marlena Yannetti (brimming with tumbles, spins, slides and somersaults) was consistently impressive. Crystal Tiala's masterful and fluidly changing sets (nearly 17 very different, expertly crafted, graphic units, lowered on stage, from high above, or smoothly moved into place from both left and right) and the splendid full orchestal accompaniment, conducted by Scott Wheeler, were totally engaging throughout. While the show's overlong book (2 hours, 40 minutes, including a brief intermission) would really benefit from some judicious trimming, otherwise this truly grand presentation by ALL concerned, of this very rarely produced musical, is a definite winner all the way! Now playing, for an all too brief and limited engagement, through April 21. (My Grade: 5)
A Young Lady From Rwanda
At the Stoneham Theatre in Stoneham, Mass. is their production of " I Have Before Me A Remarkable Document Given To Me By A Young Lady From Rwanda," a new play by Sonja Linden. The young British playwright, the Jewish daughter of Holocaust survivors, gives the following explanation for choosing such a lengthy and cumbersome title. " Impatience...with the West's indifference to a Genocide taking place in a tiny country off the map in faraway darkest Africa...My long title is a deliberate challenge to our short attention span where Rwanda is concerned." Her play had a highly successful London premiere in 2003 and was later adapted for BBC World Radio. It made its American debut in Missouri in 2005, and since then has also been produced by many regional companies from coast-to-coast, as well as being similarly well received in Dublin, Ireland. This presentation is its New England premiere. Her one act ninety minute two-character drama concerns the interaction of Juliette, a lovely young 20+ year old refugee from the 1994 Rwandan Genocide, now living in a spare room in a Hostel in London, and Simon, a troubled married writer-in-residence at a local Refugee Center. Juliette, a surviving Tutsi, witnessed the massacre of her entire family by warring Hutus. This brutally incited civil strife evolved out of racially divisive theories promoted to serve the interests of the Belgian ruling colonizers. After gaining its independence in 1962, Rwanda has been stricken repeatedly by racial conflict reaching its peak in 1994. Juliette miraculously survived her family's tragedy, and now has decided to write a full personal account of what happened. She's come to the Refugee Center planning to find someone there to help her publish it. Simon, a writer and poet, experiencing some creative blocking, is a volunteer at the Center, hoping to thereby re-inspire himself by helping others. After reading the lengthy description of her horrific experiences, he tells her that her story is much too factual and impersonal. He strongly advises her to add many more details about her family, her siblings, and her grandparents, too. Heeding his advice, she's gradually uplifted from her burgeoning feelings of fear, despair and depression. By so doing, Simon is also re-energized and begins to write poetry. As both vent their personal doubts and anxieties, by expressing their innermost thoughts as monologues, each becomes stronger, more confident and self reliant. Later, upon learning that her youngest brother has also survived, and is living in Uganda, (unable to gain entry into England for him), she enthusiastically returns to Africa briefly to joyously reunite with him. By devoting most of her play to the step-by-step emotional growth and revitalization of these two strikingly dissimilar personalities, and leaving Juliette's detailed description of the Genocide to the very end, the playwright made her account of the horror that much more potent! It's being sensitively played with tender insights and even some touches of gentle humor by Dorcas Evelene Davis as Juliette and Owen Doyle as Simon, on a raised platform--on a bare stage centered by a large hung white drapery behind them-- with just two chairs and two small tables as props, effectively focused by Weylin Symes' confident direction. Now playing through April 22. (My Grade: 5) P.S. The play's title has been reduced simply, on both the Theatre's marquee and Program cover, to " A Young Lady From Rwanda."
In the Basement of "The Garage" in Harvard Square, Cambridge, Mass. the Actors' Shakespeare Project presents their new production of "Titus Andronicus" by William Shakespeare. This early, rarely-performed work, greatly influenced by Christopher Marlowe, was reputedly a popular favorite, with its heavy focus on gore and violence. Titus Andronicus, Rome's great General, victorious against the Goths, is chosen to succeed the recently deceased Emperor. However, he decides to refuse the Monarchy, after ordering the sacrifice of Alarbus, the eldest son of his prisoner Tamora, Queen of the Goths. Instead, he chooses Saturninus, the son of the late King. When he discovers that his brother Bassianus has eloped with Lavinia, the daughter of Titus, (whom the monarch-to-be had considered marrying), Saturninus resolves to marry Tamora. When the captive Queen's other sons, Demetrius and Chiron then respond by assassinating Bassianus, they cap that off by raping Lavinia and not only cutting off her hands but also slicing off her tongue. Not to be outdone, Tamora's malevolent Moorish lover Aaron, accuses the sons of Titus of the killing. After they are sentenced to death, Lucius, yet another son of Titus, is exiled. Still later, followed by similarly horrific events, Titus is hoodwinked into severing his own hand in a desperate failing effort to save his sons. This overly violent stew eventually reaches its extraordinary crescendo when Titus slays Chiron and Demetrius and then serves their remains up as a baked pie. (Certainly a surprising forerunner of the more recent Sweeney Todd.) As expected, this unusual feast culminates with the violent deaths of Tamora, Saturninus, Lavinia and Titus. When Lucius finally becomes Emperor, Aaron also meets his fate by being lashed to a pillar and left to slowly die. Vividly performed by Robert Walsh as Titus, with strong support by the large unusual all-male fifteen member cast. Doug Lockwood as Saturninus, Daniel Berger-Jones as Bassianus, Michael Forden Walker as Lucius, Bill Barelay as Demetrius, Dan Beaulieu as Chiron and Dmetrius Conley-Williams as Aaron, were especially compelling. As stated above, garbed in feminine attire, and with totally shaven heads, manly John Kuntz and Paul Melendy vigorously portrayed Queen Tamora and daughter Lavinia! Cam Willard's striking sound design, echoing drone-like tones, high pitched metallic bleets, and rhythmic drumming, Adam McLean's rousing combative episodes and David R. Gammons potent direction all served the evening's excessive violence quite effectively! The unusual choice of "the Garage's" grey-concrete basement also proved to be quite apt. While its superabundance of corpses and chopped limbs may not suit everyone's taste, the production's overall impact was certainly impressive! Now playing through April 22. (My Grade: 4.5)
The Lyric Stage Company of Boston presents the area premiere of "Miss Witherspoon" by Christopher Durang. It made its debut at Princeton in 2005, soon followed that same year in New York, where it was equally well received. As the year 2000 approaches, middle-aged, long divorced Veronica, world weary and now in an obsessed panic upon learning that "Sky Lab," the American Space Station, has crashed into the earth, has decided to end her life. However, instead of arriving in Heaven, she finds herself in the "Bardo," (the Tibetan Buddhist netherworld where the soul awaits reincarnation.) There, she's welcomed by a sweet, but very assertive, Sari-clad Indian guide named Maryamma. "You're like some negative English woman in an Agatha Christie book..." she observes, and therefore decides to rename Veronica with the nicer calling of "Miss Witherspoon." She notes that it's her way of bestowing a new aura on Veronica. She explains that this will facilitate Veronica to experience several different reincarnations in order to then be able to finally achieve total acceptance as part of the collective human soul. Raised as a Christian, the newly re-christened "Miss Witherspoon" insists on meeting St. Peter, whom she believes will usher her into either Purgatory or Heaven. Maryamma, on the other hand, suggests alternate afterlife destinations for her such as those offered to the soul by Hinduism or Buddhism. Surprisingly, Miss Witherspoon is instead fascinated by her Eastern guide's description of the Jewish "non-afterlife," (which the playwright curiously describes as a kind of prolonged, limbo-like 'anesthesia'.) Notwithstanding this, Maryamma reasserts that Miss Witherspoon must first undergo a series of reincarnations. These rebirths then transform her first into a vocally inquisitive infant, with doting, middle-class parents, and then again as yet another baby being brought up by dissolute, drug-using hippies. (Her "baby-in-a-cradle" outfit is very cleverly and humorously staged!) Still later, she finds that she is the happiest as a frisky dog chasing a ball. After these many trials, now with a clearer understanding of the meaning of "life," Miss Witherspoon finally gets to meet Jesus, who appears before her as a nicely dressed black woman. She urges Miss Witherspoon to now effectively use her much greater wisdom back on earth in her next reincarnation. However, when she responds by suggesting that Jesus do this instead, Christ answers "I did that once, now it's somebody else's turn!" Paula Plum, one of this area's finest actresses, gives a genuinely tour de force performance in the title role. It's a truly splendid successor to her equally impressive portrayal last year in the American Repertory Theatre's production of Sartre's similarly other worldly "No Exit." Mala Bhattacharya as Maryamma, Jacqui Parker as Jesus, and Marianna Bassham and Larry Coen as both the upstanding middle-class parents as well as the degrading hippies were likewise very compelling. High praise must also be given for Janie E. Howland's see-through celestial setting, with its multitude of amusing baby dolls, hung high up above the set, Gail Astrid Buckley's fine costumes, and of course to Scott Edmiston's very strong and assured direction. Now playing through April 21. (My Grade: 5)
THE CONQUEST OF THE SOUTH POLE
At the Charlestown Working Theatre in Boston's Charlestown neighborhood, Molasses Tank Productions presents "The Conquest of the South Pole" by Manfred Karge. Translated from its original German by Tinch Minter and Anthony Vivis, this is the play's Boston area premiere. Written in the 1980's by Karge, a prominent member of the Berliner Ensemble, the legendary theatrical company founded by Bertolt Brecht a few years after the end of World War II. As an adherent, he was greatly influenced by Brecht's politically critical tradition. Set in a small German community, four young men, still unemployed for a very long time, try to alleviate their ongoing desperate boredom by re-enacting Amundsen's successful expedition to the South Pole, during the early part of the 20th century. They've all congregated in the attic of the home of one of their buddies, and they're playing a "game" which was thought up when Slupeniak and his two pals Braukmann and Buscher unexpectedly showed up to discover their compatriot Seiffert trying to hang himself. Slupeniak attempts to defuse his friend's depression by suggesting that they all try to recreate Amundsen's triumph. They all see it as a possible relief to their persistent killing tedium. Reading from a book about this historic achievement, the white laundry, hung about the attic space, becomes a substitute for the polar ice caps. As interpreted by Slupeniak, the great Norwegian explorer's victory becomes a symbol for the challenges they face from a system that, in spite of their desire and ability to work, leaves them both perpetually unemployed and also convinced that they themselves are somehow to blame. However, Buscher, being a realist, contests this view by suggesting that the failure of a competing Polar expedition at that same time, by the explorer Shackleton, is the true example that relates to their present troubled situation. But whether they must look to Amundsen's celebration or Shackleton's defeat, they all agree, whatever outcome their play-acting arrives at, that they all still remain lost in the system's dead end of unemployment. Effectively performed by Jason Beals as Slupeniak, William McGregor as Buscher and George Saulnier III as Braukmann, with an equally strong portrayal by Janelle Mills as Braukmann's very hard-pressed and concerned wife. While several of the other minor roles were unevenly performed, Steve Rotolo, the drama's fine director, did quite well in his brief appearance as a fascistic neighbor. Christopher Allison's minimal set, composed mainly of tall lengths of wooden framing, served the production just barely, while George O'Connor's musical choices proved to be more effective. Now playing through April 14. (My Grade: 4)
THE LAST 5 YEARS
At the Mosesian Theatre in the Arsenal Center for the Arts in Watertown, Mass. in the Center's lower level smaller Black Box Theatre, Blue Spruce Theatre presents their new production of "The Last 5 Years." A musical play written and composed by Jason Robert Brown, which made its debut in Chicago in 2001 and later in 2002 won off-Broadway's "Drama Desk's" Best awards for Music and Lyrics. It is an essentially autobiographical treatise on Brown's own failed marriage. Its one act, ninety minute story, is entirely sung alternately, from beginning to end, in more than two dozen songs by Jamie and Cathy, its two (and only) characters. He sings about their marriage, from its happy start to its downturn, while she counters musically, in reverse, by starting with their breakup. Jamie is a promising Jewish writer. Cathy is an aspiring actress and a Christian. Much is made in song, throughout, of their fine interfaith relationship. However, as his success blossoms, her prospects do not, and he becomes increasingly involved in extramarital activities. As expected, this ultimately leads to the dissolution of their marriage. Brown's impressive score tells their touching story. Beginning with Cathy's wistful "Still Hurting," (about their parting), followed by Jamie's intense fascination with his lovely "Shiksa (gentile) Goddess, " their love affair peaks when they finally exchange rings with the pointed refrain of "The Next Ten Minutes," culminating with the tender "If I Didn't Believe In You." Soon their relationship begins to falter, as Jamie sings the troubling "I Can Do Better Than That," and finally crumbles with the tortured "Goodbye Until Tomorrow." Splendidly sung by Jeffrey Prescott as Jamie and Alyson Van De Giesen as Cathy, under Jesse Strachman's well focused direction, with fine orchestral accompaniment (two keyboards, guitar, violin and cello) as conducted by Michael Kreutz. Regrettably, except for a mounted doorway on the bare stage, and a few pieces of uninteresting furniture, little real ingenuity seems to have been paid to assembling a creative scenic design. Nevertheless, notwithstanding this deficiency, this was an otherwise very engaging and compelling presentation. Now playing through April 15. (My Grade: 4.5)
At the Roberts Studio Theatre in the Calderwood Pavilion at the Boston Center for the Arts, the SpeakEasy Stage Company presents "Fat Pig," a new play by Neil Labute. After its highly successful premiere Off-Broadway in 2004, it has been equally well received nationwide in many popular regional productions. This is its initial Boston-area presentation. At a local cafeteria, quite by chance, Tom meets Helen during his lunch break. He is a tall, slim, handsome corporate employee, working in a high-powered nearby business complex. She is a charming, substantially overweight librarian of moderate height, obviously well read, with a pleasant face. She also has a fine sense of humor. They feel an almost instant comfortable sense of rapport, and soon a full blown romantic attraction develops. Sometime later, after their relationship has fully blossomed, while these two sweethearts are having dinner one evening at a Chinese restaurant, they are noticed by Tom's friend Carter, a glib and overly intrusive co-worker. Later, at their workplace, Carter is eager to let Tom know that he was aware that his buddy was just involved in some sort of a "business meeting." Curiously, Tom makes no effort to correct Carter's false assumption. As more time passes, it becomes apparent throughout the office complex that Tom is really involved in a serious romance. Known to be relentlessly inquisitive and persistent, Carter soon discovers that Tom's big affair is with that same big girl he had previously seen Tom with. When this news comes to Jeannie, the young attractive account manager, with whom Tom had recently had a heavily amorous involvement, she angrily bursts into his office demanding to know "who this other woman is." Now quite unnerved and chagrined by the many hostile, snide and nasty remarks, by both Jeannie and Carter, concerning Helen's girth, Tom does his best to stay calm, composed and unresponsive. Still later, at an office seaside beach party, away in a removed and secluded area, Tom and Helen, resting on a blanket and wearing their swim suits, are unexpectedly greeted by Jeannie. Trying her best to be "nice, " she looks quite voluptuous in her tiny and brief bikini! She then leaves them shortly after some strained and awkward pleasantries. Alone again, and now truly experiencing much uncertainty, Helen finally turns to Tom to ask him to unconditionally express the full measure of his feelings for her. She just doesn't know, at that point, what his response will be. Assuredly directed by Paul Melone and extremely well acted by the accomplished four member cast. Equally strong performances by James Ryen as Tom, Liliane KLein as Helen, Michael Daniel Anderson as Carter, and Laura Latreille as Jeannie, served the play's provocative message very well. Our culture prizes youth and physical appearance to an excessive degree. It is paraded nearly nonstop, round the clock, on TV, movies, advertisements and constantly invades all aspects of public thought. With overweight's health risks also being so well understood, a myriad of diet plans, and surgical procedures are likewise regularly offered in the media. It's no wonder then that Helen still feels so much uncertainty about slim, handsome Tom, and why he's so moved by what his co-workers think. The playwright's engaging examination of our overwhelming and ongoing prejudice against anyone who is "fat," (the last generally acceptable intolerance), reaffirms how confused our values are. Now playing through April 7. (My Grade: 5)
At the Mosesian Theatre in the Arsenal Center for the Arts in Watertown, Mass., the New Repertory Theatre just recently completed their current season's final production of their new Downstage series performed in the Center's smaller Blackbox Theatre. "White People," a new play by J.T.Rogers, initially premiered in Philadelphia in 2000. This engagement was then followed by a highly successful presentation later in Los Angeles where it went on to receive the L.A. Drama Critics' Circle and John Barrymore Award nominations. It later enjoyed similar approval off-Broadway in New York, which lead to many other significant regional productions. This is its Boston area debut. Its focus is on three interwoven monologues, performed without an intermission, which forcefully confront current American attitudes towards race relations. A young liberal Manhattan university professor, while pondering the various aspects of his city's early Dutch settlers and New York's many tributes to the questionable Peter Stuyvesant, remains somewhat dismayed by the general lack of involvement of most of his uninformed pupils. Although he's fascinated by his most promising student, a young black woman, nevertheless he continues to harbor many mixed feelings toward her because of his negative assumptions about most of her fellow African-Americans. A former star North Carolina high school cheerleader and homecoming queen who married the campus' prize "macho" catch only to see his promise and good looks eventually melt away "year after year...beer after beer," becomes mired in housewifely drudgery while being continually challenged as the mother of a young boy with a rare form of encephalitis. Throughout, she still remains resolutely indignant about jobs being usurped from real Americans by immigrants. "We were here first," she bitterly protests. An arrogant Brooklyn lawyer who has relocated to St. Louis "to be in a community of people who look like me," rages against "Hip-Hop" and hateful "Rap" music. He sees "Ebonics" as the black man's pathway to only being "a burger-flipper for life." He confidently knows that his success is primarily based on his maintenance of a proper code of speech and dress as well as his firm ability to carry out "the Rules." Like the puzzled New York academic, who's very concerned about the condition of his pregnant wife, and the pompous, resituated lawyer-- who is likewise concerned by his dysfunctional relationships with both his wife and kids-- each finds their lives completely turned upside down by unexpected and very horrific events. Intensely and compellingly acted by Robert Kropf as the quizzical professor, and most especially by Georgia Lyman as the profoundly disillusioned former high school beauty queen and Stephen Russell as the pretentious and narrow-minded racist lawyer, under the well centered and assured direction of Diego Arciniegas. This is a strongly written, fervently performed play which doesn't shrink from resolutely re-examining the still common threads of fear and uncertainty which still persist at the core of our racial attitudes. (My Grade: 5)
At the Boston University Theatre the Huntington Theatre Company presents "Well," a new play by Lisa Kron, who is also its central performer. Originally staged at New York's Public Theatre in 2004, it was soon transferred to Broadway where its success earned its playwright-star a "Best Actress" Tony nomination in 2006. Obviously influenced by the works of the great Italian playwright-innovator Luigi Pirandello, this highly autobiographical exercise begins with Ms. Kron directly addressing the audience, which (without intermission) she continues to do for most of her play's one hundred minutes. While so doing she's repeatedly interrupted, and corrected by her mother, who's stretched out on a recliner-couch, in the family's cluttered living room at stage left. The rest of the stage primarily represents Lisa's home town of Lansing, Michigan, as well as a variety of other localities important in the author's life, and also most certainly a Chicago hospital clinic. Ms. Kron tells the audience that the evening is not really a play but rather "a multi-character theatrical exploration of health and illness..." both as they pertain to the individual and to the community. Lisa's mom, living briefly with an African-American family in Baltimore in the early 1950's, awakened her to the urgent need for racial integration and moved her to found a neighborhood social committee dedicated to the healing of black-and-white community relationships. However, on a personal level, this old matron still felt perpetually plagued by persistent illnesses due to her many allergies. As such, her daughter Lisa, throughout all of her growing-up years, also seemed similarly overwhelmed. Her mother's fixation on all of her allergic susceptibilities, while repeatedly denying being a hypochondriac, also became the central issue in Lisa's own life, too. Seeking help in her late adolescence, she even checked herself into a hospital allergy unit, with uncertain results. Still later as an adult, by finally moving to New York City, she began to become "well" by being amongst so many "healthy" people. Throughout, not only do mom and Lisa stop the "play" to directly talk to the audience, but so too do the other four cast members. At one point mom not only offers some soft drinks to the audience, but also, to their surprise and delight, pitches a few small packaged bags of snacks at them, too. While most of this folksy interplay succeeds in its deliberate way, it also occasionally seems a bit labored and contrived. Lisa Kron is especially effective in her play's central role, with a potent performance by Mary Pat Gleason as her "energetic mom, trapped in an exhausted body." John McAdams, Barbara Pitts and Colman Domingo do equally well in a wide variety of supporting roles, with extra notice for Donnetta Lavinia Grays as Lisa's especially aggressive, pre-adolescent, bullying schoolmate. High marks must likewise go for Tony Walton's fine cluttered setting and Leigh Silverman's strong and fluid direction. Now playing through April 8. (My Grade: 4)
A DELICATE BALANCE
At the Lederer Theater Center in the Dowling Theater in Providence, Rhode Island the Trinity Repertory Company has just completed their new production of "A Delicate Balance" by Edward Albee. Originally staged on Broadway in 1966, it went on to become a Pulitzer Prize winner the following year and was equally well received when presented nationally on television, and in theatres, in 1973. We find upper class Tobias and Agnes, long married husband and wife, living in their comfortable, nicely furnished suburban home with their recently divorced 36 year old daughter Julia, and her Aunt Claire (sister to Agnes). As they sit together sipping their free-flowing cocktails, we learn that Julia is now emerging from her 4th unhappy marriage while Claire, chortling over her times in "A.A.," insists repeatedly that she is Not an Alcoholic, " ...just a willing Drunk!" However, their fine equilibrium is soon disturbed by the unexpected arrival of Harry and Edna, the life-long best friends of Tobias and Agnes. These new visitors announce that they've come because they've been overwhelmed by an unexplainable sense of terror in their own home. While Tobias and Agnes are immediately and warmly responsive they soon also realize that these dear friends, laden as they are with substantial luggage, intend to move in with them for a really lengthy stay. Of course, by thus displacing Julia, who must now to her bristling consternation, somehow find some sort of accommodation with her mother, they have sparked her into an uncontrolled eruption of hysterical outrage. The ensuing dilemma forces them all to decidedly confront their long held notions about family, friendship, and their responsibilities to one another, with provocatively disquieting consequences. Well acted by the small accomplished cast, with especially strong portrayals by Anne Scurria as the uninhibitedly boozing Claire and Angela Brazil as the overly and explosively ousted Julia. Cynthia Strickland and William Damkoehler as the mysteriously terrified "guests" were equally effective. While Janice Duclos as Agnes often seemed a bit too unruffled by the strains placed on her family by these surprising visitors, Timothy Crowe was appropriately convincing as her troubled husband Tobias. Michael McGarty's pleasantly bright and nicely furnished suburban dayroom setting, enhanced by Deb Sullivan's well conceived lighting, under Kevin Moriarty's strong direction all vividly came together in this stimulating and engaging play. (My Grade: 4.5)
This is the closest I have come to giving a production a 5 star rating since I’ve been writing reviews. This was a most breath-taking performance, an absolute MUST SEE! Syncopation is an intricate dance whose words and movements are choreographed to perfection by an incredibly talented Adam Pelty, who also stars as Henry Ribolow. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a more riveting performance, save for perhaps Anthony Newly in Stop the World I Want to Get Off back in the 1960's. Adams’ costar, Stacey Harris, who plays Anna Bianchi, gives a very convincing performance as a factory worker who answers Henry’s ad for a dance partner to "dance for royalty". Together, Pelty and Harris dance us through lessons in life and love. And in the end…no, no, no, I would not ruin the ending for you. Suffice it to say this theater critic drove home overwhelmed.
The direction by Maggie Mancinelli-Cahill was perfection. With only two characters to work with, she weaves images of characters not present. The audience gets to know Anna’s workmates, fiance and Henry’s mother as if they were standing on the stage right in front of our eyes. The play moves like a Viennese waltz and takes the audience for a spin in its arms.
This is my second trip to the Merrimack Repertory Theatre and both times I was duly impressed both with the caliber of the productions and the friendliness of the staff. It’s theater the way it should be, an evening out that satisfies mind, soul and heart. I can’t encourage you enough not to miss this performance. It truly is a once in a lifetime piece.
Syncopation, by Allan Knee, is playing at the Merrimack Repertory Theatre in Lowell, MA from now through April 16th. For tickets call 978-454-3926 or visit www.merrimackrep.org. I give this production 4 3/4 stars. DON’T MISS IT!
(My Grade 4.75: Excellent)
DINAH WAS DINAH-MITE
I drove to Lowell, MA thinking I would see just another ordinary community theater production…WRONG. This show was ‘blow your mind’ great. I want all my friends to go but they won't. It’s the middle of winter and who wants to go to Lowell tonight? What I found in Lowell, to my surprise, were many swank restaurants and bars…everything from fine Indian food to French cuisine.
The Merrimack Repertory Theatre is a wonderfully restored theater that is so civilized they let you bring your drink to your seat. It serves up a comfortable, friendly atmosphere along with a Broadway caliber production.
The Obie-winning play, written by Oliver Goldstick, takes place in the lobby of the Sahara hotel where Ms. Washington, the first African-American to headline on "the Strip", is being told that she must stay in a trailer rather than the hotel room. She takes a defiant stand and waits with her suitcases in the lobby while the hierarchy (played by J. Bernard Calloway and W.T. Martin) goes crazy trying to figure out how to accommodate this larger-than-life lady who ain’t goin' nowhere but up the elevator. While she waits, we are treated to snippets of her tumultuous life.
Ms. Washington is brilliantly played by Laiona Michelle who belts out renditions of "Baby, You Got What It Takes", "Come Rain or Come Shine", as well as a very authentic version of "What a Difference a Day Makes". Ms. Michelle’s acting is topped only by that of Nadiyah S. Dorsey, who plays three different roles so well the audience at times did not even realize it was the same actress. I was duly impressed by her acting but when, as Violet the kitchen worker at the hotel, she joins Ms. Michelle in singing a show stopping rendition of "A Rockin’ Good Way".
I would be remiss in not mentioning the brilliant lighting (pun intended) and set. The two meld together to give the audience an unexpected light show. The floor to ceiling chiffon shims change color with the mood and the mood in the Merrimack Theatre Saturday night was up, up, up-- and I suggest that anyone reading this review get up, up, up out of their desk chairs and run to see it!
Dinah Was is playing at the Merrimack Repertory Theatre in Lowell, MA for the remainder of the month. I give this production 5 stars…and this is the first time I’ve given that rating to anything I’ve reviewed for PMPnetwork.
The best thing about this play was that it reminded me of when my kids were young and used to put on stupid shows (that went nowhere for hours) in our playroom. Almost, Maine written by John Cariani as an antidote to all of the sharp, quick witted urban theater that is usually set in New York (or some other New York-esque city). He wanted to tell the stories of simple folk who live simply and love the big sky and sometimes each other. He succeeded in his simple message… simple people in Maine are just as stupid about love as the rest of us.
In eight vignettes, the play write tries to convince the audience that: 1) Sitting next to each other is actually the furthest distance between the two (if you walk in opposite directions.) 2) That a girl would wait 15 years to show up on her high school sweethearts' doorstep thinking he'd be just there waiting for her without having moved on (perhaps in Maine they do such stuff) and 3) Two best friends, Phil and Lendall decide that romance with women is too complicated and suddenly realize, as Phil is falling on the ice, that it's some kind of message…he is actually falling in love with Lendall. So if you’d enjoy watching two grown men scream "I'm falling in love with you" as they fall all over the fake ice, then you would enjoy this play. And then there’s the vignette about two grownups who have been dating every Friday night for five or so years and have never kissed. Well, they kiss right out there under the big sky and then rip each other's clothes off, decide to call in sick to work the next day and then go inside the house to spend the night naked together. The whole thing left me thinking "either people in Maine are this stupid or the play write thinks the audience is."
The actors were nothing to write about, but the set was beautiful. It did remind me of the beautiful night sky up north. I guess Almost, Maine was just like the real place, simply stupid and mind numbingly beautiful.
Almost, Maine is playing at The Boston Center for the Arts, 527 Tremont St., in Boston's South End. For tickets you can call the box-office at 617-933-8600 or go online to www.SpeakEasyStage.com.
(My Grade: 1.0)
I Love You. You’re Perfect. Now Change
I thought nothing could melt the Valentine’s ice, silly me. I made my way to the newly refurbished Lynn Memorial Auditorium for a special performance of this wildly true revue about love, dating and marriage. What else would a hot, single, baby boomer be doing out on a Valentine’s night like this? I would tell you-- but PMPNetwork.com is a family friendly place to browse!
After skidding my way down Market Street and getting lost going around the corner to try to park, I was quickly warmed by the friendly helpful staff. After I was seated, I had a chance to look around at the newly refurbished auditorium that had gone to seed for many a decade. I relaxed into my new cushy seat just as the lights dimmed and the music, played by a very talented Steve Saari, heralded the beginning of what would be a most enjoyable evening.
In the opening scene, we are greeted by the four-robe clad actors: Adam Arian, Malina Linkas, Amy White, and a most amazing stand-in performance by Chip Phillips. If the change in cast had not been announced prior to curtain, one would swear that Chip had been rehearsing diligently with Adam, Malina and Amy. All four performances were strong, believable and oh, so enjoyable. Not a clunker in the group. As a matter of fact, I’d go see any of these actors in their future roles.
The book and lyrics by Joe Dipietro are as Perfect today as they were almost ten years ago when this revue first appeared at the American Stage Company in Teaneck, NJ and New Haven’s Long Wharf Theater. I guess Lasagna and condoms go together as well today as they did back before the turn of the century. And when you think about it, aren’t both a comfort thing?
The polish on the production comes from a very talented Joel Bishoff who does more with an eyebrow lift than Fosse does with a wrist. Okay, that’s creative exaggeration on this writer’s part. But know that I started out as a dancer and Fosse is one of my idols so, when I compare director Joel Bishoff to Bob, it is the ultimate compliment.
I don’t know where Perfect will rear it’s lovely head again (this was a one evening special performance) but if you want to laugh at yourself…and I guarantee you are in there somewhere…make your way to the very next performance that comes around.
(My Rating: 4.0)
THE WINTER'S TALE
At the Cambridge Multicultural Arts Center in Cambridge, Mass. the Actors' Shakespeare Project presents "The Winter's Tale" by William Shakespeare. Leontes, King of Sicilia, becomes unreasonably obsessed with the notion that his pregnant wife Hermione has been unfaithful with his visiting guest Polixenes, King of Bohemia. After Polixenes' hasty departure, Leontes insists that Hermione's unborn child is not his own and places her under arrest. Upon giving birth to a daughter while in prison, Hermione's maid Paulina brings the newborn to Leontes, who orders the maid's husband to abandon the infant in a far off desert. In similar fashion, Leontes likewise demands that their eldest son (pre-pubescent Mamillius) also be taken away from his wife. Even proof of Hermione's fidelity by the Oracle of Delphi does not dissuade Leontes. Later, upon learning of the death of young Mamillius, the anguished Paulina reports to the fixated King that Hermione has also died. Reports of such a horrific succession of tragedies finally forces Leontes to reconsider his suspicions, and to then become repentant. Meanwhile, the newborn infant, left to die in the desert, is rescued and raised by a kind shepherd. Act Two takes place 16 years later. Hermione's abandoned baby has grown up to be the beautiful Perdita, and is now the beloved of Prince Florizel, son of King Polixenes. At a local sheep-shearing festival, Polixenes unexpectedly appears and announces that he plans to disinherit his son and then to execute Perdita, if the two sweethearts do not part. Oblivious to this tempestuous confrontation, Autolycus, an itinerant scalawag, wanders about the festivities stealing from the unaware locals. Then, when the two young lovers plan to elope, Camillo, counselor to Leontes, advises them to go instead to Leontes in Sicilia, suggesting the possibility of reconciliation. Later he also gives the same advice to Polixenes. Then, before the contrite Leontes, the two former friends are indeed reunited. Now with proof of Perdita's royalty revealed, both Monarchs also bestow their blessings on the two sweethearts. The play concludes when the feisty maid Paulina reveals to Leontes that what he had thought to merely be a beautiful statue was in actuality his fully alive wife, Hermione. Vividly staged arena-style under the firm Direction of Curt L.Tofteland, the renowned Artistic Director of the Kentucky Shakespeare Festival. He is the Founder of the acclaimed "Shakespeare Behind Bars" Program at the Luther Luckett Correctional Complex, and is the driving force behind the much applauded motion picture documentary of the same title. The large accomplished cast is in top form throughout. Ricardo Pitts-Wiley is quite formidable as the deluded Leontes, with equally impressive portrayals by Paula Langton as the falsely accused Hermione; Cristi Miles as the sweet young Perdita; James Ryen as her Prince Florizel; Joel Colodner as his father King Poloxines; Doublas Theodore as Counselor Camillo; and Richard Snee as the rescuing shepherd in the desert. Especially noteworthy also are Bobbie Steinbach as the assertive and helpful maid Paulina and John Kuntz as the sublimely prankish Autolycus. As he meanders through the outer edges of the festive crowd pilfering their gold, he's grandly amusing as he rhythmically and quite artfully toots on his surprising saxophone. Lastly, much praise is also due for Pianist Peter Bayne's striking and inventive musical accents. Now playing through February 18. (My Grade: 5)
At the Plaza Black Box Theatre in the Boston Center for the Arts the Zeitgeist Stage Company presents "Sacred Hearts" by Colleen Curran. It made its debut as part of the Alberta Theatre Festival in Canada in 1989, and thereafter was well-received Off Broadway in 1995. Later, a radio adaptation presented on the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation also won an International Gabriel Award. This production is its New England premiere. Set in a small village in Quebec, Canada, the plot centers on devoutly Catholic Bridget, who has retreated to this remote outpost in the wake of a failed romance and an undesired pregnancy. Having given her unwanted baby away for adoption, she has also dropped out of Law School, and now spends her days as a shepherdess. However, everything changes for her, one special morning, when she goes to pray at a statue of the Virgin Mary in the Village Square. It's the Feast Day of the Blessed Virgin, and Bridget is the sole witness to a phenomenon, when she sees the statue move by itself and face in a different direction! To her great consternation, try as she will, she's unable to keep this occurrence to herself. Violet, the leader of the local Catholic Women's League, and the Village's prime gossip, quickly spreads the word about the "miracle." She also envisions her hamlet as another "Lourdes." Father Phil, the Village Priest and a highly motivated social activist, hopes that the event "will make us think of those less fortunate." Gradually a clandestine romance also develops between Bridget and Evan, the unhappily married Editor of the Village's weekly newspaper. As busloads of tourists begin to arrive to witness "the Statue," Gretchen, a fledgling reporter (on the above mentioned journal), sees all of this as her golden opportunity. Armed with some very basic video equipment, she manages to expose the Village's big scoop on local TV. Meanwhile, all of this notoriety has prompted Bridget's brother Tim to return. A Government official, he's hurried back, concerned that his sister has now sacrificed her law career. He does not want this "miracle" to be the cause of Bridget's never fulfilling herself. All of these complications finally (and rather expectedly), with the majestic strands of "Ave Maria," being sung in English, Bridget ultimately comes to a decision as to what her future course should be. Eliza Lay is quite absorbing as Bridget with effective support by Ed Peed as Father Phil, Greg Maraio as Tim, Curt Klump as Evan, Melissa Baroni as Gretchen and especially Renee Miller as the highly intrusive and gossipy Violet. David J. Miller's well centered Direction and his fine Village setting, defined by its imposing three dimensional statue of the Virgin Mary, were equally noteworthy. While Ms. Curran's exploration of the effect the commercialization, brought to a religious experience, has on those who are truly devout, was generally engaging, it also proved to be much too predictable and somewhat overlong, too. Her story seemed overly loaded with its full measure of highly detailed entanglements. Some judicious trimming and tightening is certainly needed. Now playing through February 17. (My Grade: 3.5)
At the Loeb Drama Center in Cambridge, Mass. the American Repertory Theatre presents its new production of Jean Racine's rarely-performed 17th Century masterpiece "Britannicus." Set in Ancient Rome, the play focuses on the power hungry and volatile Nero, who has been named Emperor instead of his half-brother Britannicus, thanks to the machinations of their mother Agrippina, widow of their father Claudius. However, to insure her steadfast control over him, she has actively promoted the marriage of her other son Britannicus to Junia, a descendant of the Emperor Augustus. Nero, on the other hand, also having fallen in love with Junia, fears that if she marries Britannicus it will reinforce his half-brother's claim to the throne. To forestall this, Nero ensnares Junia and forces her to reject Britannicus, but soon discovers that she has secretly reassured his brother that she still loves him. Thereafter, when Nero has Britannicus arrested, Agrippina beseeches him to actively seek some sort of reconciliation. Similarly implored by his trusted advisor Burrhus, Nero agrees. However still later, Narcissus, a seemingly loyal confidante to Britannicus, convinces Nero to do otherwise. Then at the festive banquet, dedicated to their new found cooperation, Nero poisons his willing half-brother with a glass of deadly wine. Intensely performed for two hours, without an intermission, this vivid production is provocatively engaging from start to finish. The strong nine member cast is supremely effective throughout. It's being acted in contemporary attire, on primarily long horizontal platforms, framed by a wide and extended background of Venetian blinds. These same decorative window shades also serve to display fascinating extra large video projections of the faces of some of the various players in the ongoing power struggles. Alfredo Narciso is quite commanding as the aggressively determined and snarling Nero. Armed with a highly amplified rock-styled guitar, and occasionally vigorously playing it, he is at all times totally convincing. Joan MacIntosh as the assertively grasping and scheming Agrippina, Kevin O'Donnell as the controlled and compromised Britannicus and Merritt Janson as the loving and abused Junia all give highly compelling and assured portrayals. Similar praise is also due for John Sierros as the accommodating Burrhus and David Wilson Barnes as the duplicitous Narcissus. A huge banner proclaiming, in large foot high block letters, "Empire Creates Its Own Reality," hangs high above and behind the gathering where Nero waits to first warmly greet and then to assassinate his brother. It is a potent summation of the corrupting aspects of governmental power, both past and present. With this gripping presentation, Director Robert Woodruff brings to a close his association with this Company. He was most certainly deserving of the thunderous standing ovation that greeted his onstage appearance with the cast, at the final curtain. Now playing through February 11. (My Grade: 5)
At the Mosesian Theatre in the Arsenal Center for the Arts in Watertown, Mass. the New Repertory Theatre presents its production of "Silence" by Moira Buffini. Winner of the Susan Blackburn Award after its London bow in 1999, it was equally well received at its recent debut in New York. This presentation is its New England premiere. Set in Britain during the Dark Ages, Ymma, a tempestuous young French Princess, has been exiled to England and is being forced by Ethelred, the English King, to be married. Threatened by hostile Viking incursions, the Monarch has demanded that Ymma wed the Lord of Cumbria, a half-Viking Commander. However, upon receiving word of the soldier's death, he has ordered her to marry the warrior's young son, instead. Overriding her vigorous objections, she is wed to the very youthful 14 year old, Lord Silence. Totally unexpected revelations about her young husband, together with expectations of imminent Viking attacks, compel the newlyweds to try to escape from England. Accompanied by Ymma's feisty handmaiden Agnes, a querulous and doubting Priest named Roger, and Eadric Longshaft, an assertively protective Security Guard, they attempt to make their way to the land of Cumbria, (Silence's principality). During the perilous journey, their vivid and boisterous attitudes about love, religion, sexuality, and even surprising revelations, about the mind-bending potentials of mushrooms(!), come bubbling to the fore. While Act One is laced with a brisk succession of grandly bizarre and quite amusing twists and turns, Act Two makes a dramatically sudden and very dark shift. King Ethelred, now confronted with the facts of Ymma's flight, comes to the realization that she must be his wife, instead. Summoning his army, he pursues Ymma, Silence, and their companions, with deadly purpose and unanticipated consequences. It is all very animatedly performed by Marianna Bassham as Ymma, Emily Sproch as Silence, and Lewis D. Wheeler as King Ethelred. Anne Gottlieb as handmaid Agnes, Christopher Michael Brophy as their Guardian Eadric Longshaft, and especially Michael Kaye as the doubtful cleric Roger, were all quite effective. Much praise must also go to Rick Lombardo's striking, chanting sound design, and most certainly for his strongly focused Direction, as well as Frances Nelson McSherry's interesting period costumes and Cristina Todesco's stark, rock-like set, complete with its onstage water-filled moat. This provocatively engaging exploration of multi role-playing, diverse identities and sexuality, with religious overtones, meanings and expectations ultimately framed by the authority and power of the State, is now playing through February 11. (My Grade: 4.5)
THE CHERRY ORCHARD
At the Boston University Theatre the Huntington Theatre Company presents "The Cherry Orchard" by Anton Chekhov in a new translation by Richard Nelson. It is this great Russian master's last play. Madame Ranevskaya, a widowed landowner, returns to her large estate in the Russian countryside after a long sojourn in Paris. She has remained away for several years, overcome with grief due to the drowning death of her small son, and is accompanied by her teenaged daughter Anya. Soon, she's confronted with the realization that her splendid country home is about to be sold at auction to pay for her many debts. Lopakin, a former peasant and now a rich merchant and family friend, suggests a way by which Madame Ranevskaya may be able to resolve all of her financial problems. But because of her family pride and generally lax attitude, she rejects his suggestion that she cut down her estate's majestic and beloved cherry orchard to make way for the construction of a number of rent-bearing cottages. She finds it increasingly difficult to forthrightly face the impending sale of her estate because it holds so many tender family memories. Her brother, Gaev, foolishly expects some possible fanciful surprising solution, maybe by a rich aunt, or even if Anya were somehow able to marry into some great wealth. However, when their prized estate is finally being put up for auction, in her typically unrealistic fashion, Madame Ranevskaya decides to hold an elaborately fancy social Ball. Lopakin arrives, in the midst of all of the family's levity and procrastination, to announce that he has bought their cherished mansion with definite intentions to cut down the cherry orchard. Sensitively performed by the large and splendidly accomplished cast with compelling portrayals by Will LeBow as Lopakin, Jessica Rothenberg as Anya, Mark Blum as Gaev and Joyce Van Patten as a haughty family Governess, as well as Jeremiah Kissel as an involved neighboring landowner. Kate Burton gives a poignantly engaging performance as Madame Ranevskaya, overwhelmed by the prospects of the great social changes which the sale of her treasured estate portend. Solid praise is due for Ralph Funicello's imposing set, with its high ceiling to floor windows, mirrors and door bordered by its exterior expanse of tall thin trees, as well as Robert Morgan's well conceived period costumes. Michael Friedman's original music (defined by its interplay of piano and violins), and Donald Holder's effective lighting design, were all quite noteworthy. Of course, the production's success is determined by Nicholas Martin's assured direction. Now playing through February 4. (My Grade: 5)
SEE WHAT I WANNA SEE
Boston's Lyric Stage Company presents the area's premiere of "See What I Wanna See," featuring John LaChiusa's compelling Words and Music, based on the stories set in ancient Japan, written by Ryunosuke Akutagawa. His story "In the Grove" became the basis for Akira Kurosawa's 1951 award-winning motion picture "Rashomon," which explores the different meanings of truth from the varied perspectives of a bandit, and an aristocrat and his wife. Here now it also becomes the source for the first part of this striking musical drama, while Akutagawa's similarly renowned tale, "The Dragon," which focuses on the malaise brought about by festering doubt and disbelief, became the origin for the evening's second segment. The extraordinary success of Kurosawa's film also spawned the development of a popular American theatrical version of "Rashomon" by Fay and Michael Kanin, which made its highly anticipated Broadway debut in 1959. Then again in 1964, this same material was made into a major Hollywood motion picture, reset in America's Old West, and re-titled "The Outrage." LaChiusa's new version was originally produced by the Williamstown Theatre Festival and was then very enthusiastically received at New York's Public Theatre in 2005. Now reset again in 1951, this time in Manhattan, the evening's first half is entitled "R...Shomon," (due to a misspelling on a nearby movie theatre's marquee). The events now take place primarily in New York's massive Central Park. Once again, a beautiful young wife was either raped or agreed to be seduced, as her prominent husband was either murdered or took his own life, because of their involvement with an aggressive petty thief. Their descriptions of these turbulent incidents unfold as three distinctly different accounts, first by the thief, then by the young lovely wife, and finally, with a medium's help, also by the deceased husband. The thief lustily sings about the wife's eager compliance. "You'll Go Away With Me (you know you will)," he smugly chants. However, her response only resoundingly asserts the details of the thug's violent assault, while her dead husband, recollecting through the medium, resonantly intones all the aspects of a vicious knife fight between himself and his criminal assailant. It is then left to the audience to decide where the "truth" lies. The evening's second half, entitled "Glory Day" concerns a disillusioned priest, now filled with doubt, because of the horrific attack on 9/11, and the apparent ineffectiveness and/or indifference of religion. He's inspired by his skeptical, elderly aunt who sings to him of how "Faith has only proved to be The Greatest Practical Joke." Later, to demonstrate the futility of faith-bound expectations, he spreads the word to all throughout Central Park, declaring that a wondrous spiritual event will occur there in three weeks, knowing this to be an outright lie. He reinforces his specious prediction by triumphantly singing "There Will Be A Miracle." Then, at the declared time, to his own amazement, he is unexpectedly prompted to sing about "Glory...Rising Up," ushering in to all nearby, a new and commanding sense of "Hope." Passionately performed and resoundingly sung by Aimee Doherty as "R...Shomon's" conflicted wife, and then as an anticipating participant in "Glory Day." Similar dual roles were likewise acted and vividly sung by Andrew Giordano, first as the deceased husband and later as a confused CPA; and Andrew Schufman, initially as the assertive criminal and later as a querulous news reporter. Most certainly, Brendan McNab initially as a Manhattan janitor acting as a witness in "R...Shomon," and then later most impressively commanding as "Glory Day's" dubious cleric, with fine fully voiced support by June Baboian first as the medium and finally as the priest's old disbelieving aunt. Much praise is also due for Brynna C. Bloomfield's highly atmospheric, abstract-like stone setting, Rafael Jaen's strikingly varied Japanese and/or Western costumes, and the vibrant small orchestra conducted by pianist Jonathan Goldberg. Lastly, plaudits must certainly be extended for Stephen Terrell's strong overall direction. Now playing through February 3. (My Grade: 5)
GUYS ON ICE...THE ICE FISHING MUSICAL
At the Stoneham Theatre in Stoneham, Mass., straight from the wintry midwest to its debut here in the Boston area, is "Guys On Ice...The Ice Fishing Musical," featuring Book and Lyrics by Fred Alley and Music by James Kaplan. Developed in 1998 as part of Wisconsin's Sesquicentennial Celebration, it has been enthusiastically acclaimed in many productions ever since in Milwaukee, Minneapolis, Detroit, and Buffalo, New York and even such distant engagements in Oregon and California, as well. Little insulated and heated wooden huts, anchored on a thick and solidly frozen lake's surface, serve as the center for one of the region's most popular winter activities throughout the cold, cold Midwest. There, many spend a happy day or two (after having drilled a deep hole in the super thick ice) guzzlin' down more than a few cold beers, as they spend the hours fishing in the icy waters beneath them. As Lloyd and Marvin await the arrival of a local TV crew that plans to present a video segment about them and ice fishing, they speculate about their lives, and their beloved Green Bay Packers, in a succession of grandly comic songs and anecdotes. "The best thing of all is a snowmobile suit....When it's 30 below, there's just no substitute" and (Like Elvis) "I'm the King of all you see (in de old fishin' hole)," or "Leinenkugel's is the best beer...cuz, it ain't just for breakfast, anymore", and of course, "Fish is the Miracle Food ", are a few of the evening's delightfully winning vocalized gems, complete with a bit of rollicking choreography, too. In the midst of all their frivolity their old buddy, "Ernie the Moocher" shows up to inform them that the TV presentation has been canceled because of a serious accident. He also tells them that maybe Lloyd's ever neglected wife has gone off to be with her folks. It's this news that prompts Lloyd to decide to give his precious Packers seats to Marvin so that he may spend more "special time" with his spouse. Vividly acted and sung by Bill Stambaugh as Lloyd, Cory Scott as Marvin, and William Gardiner as Ernie the Moocher, under the spirited Direction of Jason Southerland, (the Founding Artistic Director of Boston Theatre Works), Jenna McFarland Lord's creatively designed on stage wooden fishing hut, and the small, vibrant orchestra conducted by Jose Delgado likewise were all equally impressive! This splendidly engaging show (recommended for the entire family) is now playing through January 28. (My Grade: 5)
SAILING DOWN THE AMAZON/HAIKU
At the Boston Playwrights Theatre two new one act plays are now being presented. Each play is being performed on a nearly bare stage with just a few elementary beach chairs or furniture pieces. The first piece is entitled "Sailing Down the Amazon," by Rosanna Yamagiwa Alfaro. This rather slight monologue was also recently performed at the Vineyard Playhouse in Martha's Vineyard, Mass. Its sole performer is 70 year old Rima, a feisty former actress, on board a cruise ship with her husband, (also a retired actor.) Diagnosed as having the beginnings of Alzheimer's Disease by her physician, and scheduled by him to undergo an "MRI," she has opted to do otherwise. The play's title tells it all. Worried by some terrifying "glitches " and the impending onset of memory loss, she has instead booked passage with her (unseen) spouse on a ship bound for the Amazon River. She ruefully observes: "Life doesn't coil around. It ends up strangling you," as her husband, who had recently been rescued by the ship's crew, after tripping and falling overboard, dozes nearby. In retrospect, she wonders whether he really intended to drown himself rather than face the daunting prospect of caring for his soon to be completely helpless wife. These, as well as similar concerns, take up her time as she muses about her future and, for the immediate present, also about being "penned up" with these same people for a whole week. This brief and somewhat slender character study is paired with "Haiku" by Kate Snodgrass, who is also the theatre's Artistic Director. Her short and provocative play (the best of the evening) recently garnered the Actor's Theatre of Louisville's Heideman Award. Elderly Nell has spent many years caring for her very mentally disabled adult daughter Louise, while Billie, her other adult daughter, after having long been away, has now returned for a brief reunion. Concerned about her sister's disability, she questions their mother's strong belief that Louise is "better." Vibrant memories of early childhood rivalries with Louise also come strongly to her mind as she wonders about her mom's optimism. Their conversation eventually shifts to her mom's creative interests. Nell has published a book of Haikus, and Billie asks her why she hadn't dedicated it to Louise. "Is it because she just doesn't understand?," she asks. Nell's reply surprises Billie. She triumphantly responds: "Louise has changed" and claims "By holding back her medication, sometimes she's able to translate my thoughts and feelings into fine haikus." Nell goes on to insist that "Louise composes the haikus, not me." Soon thereafter, while being prompted by Nell, Louise then completely astounds Billie with her responses. Extremely well acted by Emily Sinagra as Billie and June Lewin as Nell (who also shone in the evening's earlier solo performance.) Kippy Goldfarb's vividly animated portrayal of the severely handicapped Louise, certainly provided the evening's most compelling moments! Both short plays were very sensitively directed by Victoria Marsh. Playing now through January 21 at the aforementioned Boston Playwrights Theatre, and then from January 26 to 28 at the West End Theatre in Gloucester, Mass. (My Grade: 4)
In Wellesley, Mass. on the Wellesley College Campus at their intimate Ruth Nagel Jones Theatre, the Wellesley Summer Theatre Company presents "Bronte" by Polly Teale. This is the third and last play of the trilogy authored by Ms. Teale related to or defined by the works of the Brontes. "Jane Eyre," of course, was her dramatization of Charlotte Bronte's classic novel, while "After Mrs. Rochester" explored the life and works of Jean Rhys whose novel "Wide Sargasso Sea" was conceived as a prequel to "Jane Eyre." Written and staged in England in the late 90's, this presentation, as was the case in this company's previous productions, represents the American premiere of this last of the trilogy. This time however, Ms.Teale's focus is on the extraordinary lives of Charlotte, Emily and Anne Bronte and their phenomenal literary achievements. She offers us some possible insights as to how three relatively isolated and unwed young women living, in the early 19th century with their elderly, austere father and their doomed, wastrel brother, on England's bleak Yorkshire Moors, came to write the brilliant and passionate novels that still intrigue readers to this very day. Of course, their strict widowed father, acting counter to the prevailing notions of the time concerning females, strongly advocated the positive aspects of education, especially as inherent in great literature. From early age on, he always encouraged them to read everything, and they were ever eager to comply. This obviously nurtured their strong inner sensibilities and stretched the ranges of their imaginations. Naturally, their father's highest expectations centered on their brother Branwell. His illicit and disastrous affair with a married woman, compounded by his soaring indebtedness and perpetual drunkenness dashed all of his early hopes to be "a great poet or painter." Challenged by Charlotte, as she exclaimed, "How we all sacrificed, only to see that you be a success...as you squandered and ruined every opportunity!". He taunted her by replying, " How much worse for me to succeed and you to see what should have been yours!" Undaunted, the publication of "Jane Eyre," followed by an unprecedented second printing, brought some fame to her, as well as a brief visit to the great city of London, and even a meeting with William Thackeray. Similar success then also came to her sister Emily as well, with the printing of her novel "Wuthering Heights." In like fashion, Anne's "The Tenant of Wildfell Hall," also brought some early recognition thereafter to her, too. Throughout, as the play's story unfolds, images of the sisters' great fictional characters appear on stage to revisit their creators. Anne's "Huntington," and Emily's "Heathcliff " along with his "Cathy," and Charlotte's " Rochester " and his very secret and troubled wife, come repeatedly and vividly to life on stage. The splendid eight member cast perform their various roles with compelling effectiveness. As in the earlier plays, in this trilogy, Alicia Kahn is once again strongly persuasive as Charlotte with equally engaging portrayals by Catherine LeClair as Emily, Kelly Galvin as Anne, and most definitely by Greg Raposa as Branwell. John Davin as the Bronte's stern father, and Derek Stone Nelson, Melina McGrew and Dan Bolton as the personifications of the fictional "Rochester," "Cathy," and "Huntington," amongst others, were also quite noteworthy. Ken Loewit's spare and simple setting and his dramatic lighting, Nancy Stevenson's highly appropriate period costumes, and as expected Nora Hussey's well structured Direction all came together to shape this intensely performed, provocative and intelligently staged production. Now playing through February 3. (My Grade: 5)
DESIGN FOR LIVING
At the Boston Center for the Arts Plaza Theatre the Publick Theatre presents "Design for Living" by Noel Coward. Written in 1932, its sophisticatedly risque plot, centering on the amorous interplay between three worldly wise free spirits, caused a sensation at its Broadway debut. It dazzled audiences, at that time, because of its seeming reflection on its original stars, Alfred Lunt, Lynn Fontanne and the playwright, himself. As expected, it has since gone on to be regarded as one of Noel Coward's greatest plays. Shortly after completing its original New York engagement, it was also produced, in a somewhat toned down adaptation by Ben Hecht, as a popular Hollywood motion picture. This current staging also represents the first ever, wintertime indoor presentation by the Publick Theatre (famed for its annual summertime performances at its local open-air theatre). Unfolding in three acts, lovely unmarried Gilda, an aspiring interior decorator, is living with Otto, a little known fine-arts painter, in Paris. However, their idyllic relationship is disrupted when Otto returns, after a brief absence, to find Gilda entwined with Leo, a budding playwright and longstanding mutual friend. Act two, 18 months later, finds Gilda, having decided to leave Otto to be with Leo, now living with him in London. By now Leo has also enjoyed some major success and their relationship seems to be enduring. Unfortunately, once again the reappearance of Otto, (now also having gained some acclaim as an artist) rekindles Gilda's romantic interest in him. Amidst all these frothy interactions, there is yet another: Ernest, a longtime confidante of Gilda's. A prominent and very business minded art dealer, he remains very much uninvolved in his friend's romantic escapades. However, now faced with some uncertainty, caused by Otto's unexpected return, Gilda decides to leave both Otto and Leo. Act three, two years later, reveals Gilda now married to Ernest and living with him high up in a skyscraper apartment in New York City. By this time, she too has achieved some fame as an interior decorator. Once again, the reappearance of Otto and Leo together, finally compels Gilda to reconsider her relationship to them both, to the surprise and outrage of Ernest. The splendidly accomplished cast is in high form throughout, deftly performing Coward's provocative "menage a trois" plot developments and his engagingly witty dialogue. Susanne Nitter (the Company's highly capable Producing Director) as Gilda; Diego Arciniegas (the Company's innovative Artistic Director) as Leo, and Gabriel Kuttner (one of the Company's best actors) as Otto, vividly perform their captivating roles. Nigel Gore is properly upright as Ernest with a fine spirited performance by Beth Gotha as a sprightly housemaid. Unfortunately, the somewhat static and relatively unchanging set, designed by J. Michael Griggs, (purportedly inspired by an early reference in the play to the renowned artist, Henri Matisse), except for a few furniture additions and removals, between the three acts, does not adequately reflect the play's distinctly varied place and time changes. Although defined by bright basic colors and a large permanently unaltered central window, this device serves only to inadequately expose a bit of each act's different exteriors.The evening's "where and when" remain obscure except for the printed program notes and an occasional and/or pointed reference spoken by the various performers. On the other hand, high praise must go to the well focused Direction by Spiro Veloudos, the Publick Theatre's former Artistic Director,(now similarly at the helm of Boston's Lyric Stage Company) as well as the charmingly fanciful choices of popular antique recordings of 1930's tunes, which vibrantly establish the play's sparkling period and mood. Now playing through January 27. (My Grade: 4.5)
THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST
At the Loeb Drama Center in Cambridge, Mass. The American Repertory Theatre presents the Ridiculusmus production of "The Importance of Being Earnest." This grand comedy of upper-class British manners was written by Oscar Wilde and first performed in 1895, and has long since been hailed as a comic masterpiece, with its sharply pointed focus on the pretentious foibles of the idle rich. The amusing plot revolves around Algernon and his friend Jack, two single wealthy young English playboys. To avoid the machinations of his pompous Aunt, Lady Bracknell, Algernon spends most of his time away from London in the countryside. Similarly, his friend Jack spends most of his days in London, in order to avoid the restraints imposed on his country-estate lifestyle by the stern Governess of his lovely young ward, Cecily. To do this, Jack has made them all believe that he's taking care of his (totally invented and unseen) brother "Ernest" in London. To complicate matters, although Jack loves and hopes to marry Algernon's cousin Gwendolen (Lady Bracknell's daughter), he's very troubled by her intense attraction to "Ernest." Even more fanciful entanglements develop when Algernon, posing as "Ernest," visits Jack's countryside home hoping to finally meet Cecily. Later, complete confusion erupts when Jack returns declaring that "Ernest" has died. Although Wilde's comedy centers around a cast of at least eight players, David Woods and Jon Haynes, the complete cast of Ridiculusmus, are now here, as they did earlier in London and then in Europe, performing all of the play's roles by themselves! Certainly an extraordinary concept, which at best succeeds only fitfully. Constrained by such limitations, Wilde's genuinely witty dialogue must now compete with the convoluted facial, vocal, and costume changes required by the unfolding plot twists and turns. As such our focus is, at first in Act One, on the often frenetic exits and prompt re-entries, defined by a succession of funny hats, wigs, blouses, gowns, and jackets, etc., with all the necessary voice changes added, too. Still later in Act Two, when the various deceptions and misunderstandings must finally be resolved by most of the play's principal characters' interacting, Woods and Haynes must quite speedily assume all of their dissimilar roles with virtually no time even for the brief costume changes they had accomplished earlier. Instead, by shifting all of the various, aforementioned hats, wigs, gowns and jackets in their grasps, to and fro, they must quickly try to tie all of the plot's loose strands together. While occasionally some of the witty observations by the major characters do trumpet through, the ongoing, highly-animated, nearly nonstop transformations by these two exceptional performers, ultimately overwhelm the entire evening. Now playing through January 13. (My Grade: 2. 5)