Archived Theatre Reviews (page 7)
January 2008 - December 2008
Also at The Calderwood Pavilion's Wimberly Theater at the Boston Center for the Arts, Judy Gold is now appearing in her 90 minute solo comedy presentation, "Mommy Queerist." This is a follow-up to last year's highly popular comic act "25 questions for a Jewish mother," similarly performed by her at this same theater. This focuses mainly on Ms. Gold's gay relationship with her former partner Sharon (who prefers to be identified by the fictitious name of "Wendy"). Disconcerted Judy then responds by referring to her as "Shwendy," with many amusing references to their many comic bouts with "gay couples" therapy. Of course, Judy's Jewish mother's concerns about Judy's sexuality becomes a frequent topic. She's regularly perplexed when Judy openly discusses such matters. "When did you know, Judy?" To which she answered "when I was two years old and wanted to wear a necktie." Other similar themes are also bridged, such as Judy's early years at summer camp. Being 6 feet tall, at age 12, she felt compelled to never take off her swim suit! Explaining sex to her two young adopted sons, learning about her period when she was only 13 years, and bringing her elderly mom to a nursing home were also among the evening's brightest moments. However, the show's genuinely compelling finale centering on Judy's comparisons between legally disenfranchised gay partnerships (such as hers) and such officially sanctioned marriages as those of such luminaries as O.J. Simpson and the Menedez brothers ,brought the entire approving audience to a roaring, standing conclusion. Now playing through December 31, 2008. (My Grade: 4 )
At Boston's Opera House the Boston Ballet once again presents its prime holiday presentation, "The Nutcracker," based on E.T.A. Hoffman's classic 1816 tale. Enriched by Tchaikovsky's sublime music, conducted with full orchestra by Jonathan McPHee, defined by Mikko Nissinen's grand choreography, David Walker and Charles Heightchew's colorful costumes and most certainly Helen Pond and Herbert Senn's eye-filling elaborate sets. On Christmas Eve, 1835 Drosselmeier (Yury Yanowsky), a magical doll-maker, brings his special fanciful mannequin, a military Nutcracker-type toy doll, to the Silberhaus family's festive holiday party. His plaything is a gift for Clara (Alexandra Heier), the family's young daughter. Late that night after everyone has left, Clara awakens to play with her new toy. Confronted by a small army of house mice, Clara's Nutcracker doll is challenged to a duel by the King of the Mice (Bradley Schlagheck). Victorious, upon slaying the mouse king, the little Nutcracker is transformed into a tall, handsome, cavalier (Roman Rykine). As the family's decorated Christmas tree elevates to an enormous height, Clara's robust new champion leads her to a jumbo air-borne balloon where they are whisked away to the kingdom of sweets. There they're entertained by a succession of impressive international dancers, after being welcomed by the smoothly cascading snow queen and king (Lia Cirio and Pavel Gurevich). First passionately moving crimson and black costumed Hispanic dancers perform and then sultry Arabians (Kathleen Breen Combes and Maime Diaz) fascinate them. A bevy of colorfully outfitted Orientals, twirling bright umbrellas, then form behind their Asian mistress and master (Dalay Parrondo and John Lam), ultimately followed by a corps of high vaulting Russian dancers (Jared Redick, Boyko Dossev and Altankhuyag Gugaraa) all to loudly roaring audience approval! Their visit to this lovely fairytale kingdom culminates with ballerina Misa Kuranaga's sublime waltz of the flowers followed by the majestic grand pas-de-deux gracefully performed en pointe by the sugarplum fairy (Larissa Ponomarenko) and the Cavalier (Roman Rykine) spinning and soaring, again to a grand audience response! Now playing through December 28, 2008.
THE CHRISTMAS REVELS
Now in Sanders Theatre at Harvard University Memorial Hall in Cambridge, Mass. is the 38th annual "Christmas Revels," a yearly holiday celebration, in traditional word, music, song and dance, of the winter solstice. This year's "folkloristic" program is based on Thomas Hardy's novels about English country life in the mid-nineteenth century, featuring a very large 75+ member ensemble, dressed in period costumes, of male and female singers, dancers, actors, and musicians, including a large group of similarly talented pre-adolescent children. The evening's two hour long (including a brief intermission) schedule consists of 33 lively seasonally inspired segments. A sampling of a few of the night's many captivating moments certainly includes the Pinewoods Morris Dancers (a male sextet, garbed in white, with tinkling bells strapped onto their knees) capering about while waving white hankies to the strains of "the lass of Richmond Hill." Then, to the spirited tune "click go the shears," dancer Gillian Stewart and fiddler Andrea Larson, cavorted about in black wooden clogs, accompanied by a host of similar young, white apron wearing maids, much in the fashion of contemporary Irish step dancing. This was followed by a song by David Coffin, the evening's general emcee and song leader, accompanied by the visiting Mellstock Musicians, from England, whose name and instrumentation is based on the 19th century English Village and lifestyle, described by Thomas Hardy. David led them all by chanting the classic convivial drinking song: "How Happy the Man" ("we'll drink and we'll sing." ) Still later, the Mellstocks resounded once again with "Arise and Hail the Joyful Day," ("Raise up your voices to the sky") vividly accompanying a stage full of dancing, costumed villagers. Especially memorable was an assortment of "Songs and Games for Children" including a Yorkshire Wassail song "We've been awhile A-wandering" (we are your neighbor's children) and with them wearing sparrow and pig-like headgear: "There was a pig went out to dig." The evening's first half came to a close with David Coffin again leading the entire cast including the Cambridge Symphonic Brass Sextet singing ever vibrant "Lord of The Dance" to a compilation of traditional old English dance steps. Part two began with the "Abbots Bromley Horn Dance," with the Pinewoods Morris Dancers prancing about in semi-darkness, dressed in white, with all bedecked by imposing elk horns! Later, all the young children, hand-in-mouth, formed a large circle to sing "The Apple Tree Wassail" a variant of an old carol, during which a young girls went skipping about carrying a tree branch laden with hanging apples. This was followed by David Coffin leading the cast and the audience singing "Alleluia" in a cycle of melodious rounds. The evening's high point came with a legendary mummers' (traditional festival merry-making) play-styled version of a costumed, mild-sop type St. George vanquishing a fearsome Saracen. This was then followed by the 6 Morris men performing their "sword and dance" encircling the victorious St. George with their blades interlocked above him! The grand finale then came with everyone (both cast and audience) shouting "welcome Yule" and singing "The Sussex Mummers' Carol" (G-d Bless the Master of this House.) Besides the aforementioned David Coffin, other prominent performers included Tim Sawyer, Mary Casey and Richard Snee. This highly recommended holiday treat is now playing through December 30th, 2008. (My grade: 5)
ALICE'S ADVENTURES UNDERGROUND/EINSTEIN'S DREAM
Now at the Central Square Theatre in Cambridge, Mass. the underground railway theater group presents "Alice's Adventures Underground," an engaging adaptation by Debra Wise of basic statements from Lewis Carroll's "Alice in Wonderful," "Through the Looking Glass," and "The Hunting of the Snark." First performed in this area back in 1998 to enthusiastic acclaim, its return has been much anticipated. Featuring Ms. Wise as the show's star, the evening begins with her as the mother of young pre-adolescent Carol, reading her daughter the classic story. As she reads, she begins to turn into Alice. Deftly transported through a creatively transparent looking glass, with the help of Steven Barkhimer and Robert Najarian, (who round out the show's entire cast), Alice meets all of Lewis Carroll's great characters. Using a highly creative intermingling of colorful costumes (worn by Barkhimer and Najarian) together with an eye-popping succession of highly imaginative masks, wigs and outrageous hats--plus an extraordinary parade of small, medium sized, large and super, super sized puppets--we're confronted by these legendary characters! Barkhimer really does become the White Rabbit, the Mad Hatter, and assorted others, plus believe it or not, Humpty Dumpty, too. Of course, Najarian is revealed as the Frog Valet, the March Hare and the Uppity Duchess. Let's not forget these two performers also as the fabled "Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum." Besides this gifted trio of actors, this presentation also includes a group of pre-teen kids who also assemble to help the aforementioned adult performers with their puppetry. They're especially evident in the appearance, on stage, of the gigantic, green, multi-armed caterpillar. All of this is performed for 90 non-stop minutes, before a quartet of jumbo, stage-wide, flexible arches upon which brilliantly colorful scenery, painted on silk banners, to quickly establish time and place changes, are speedily shifted back and forth. Supporting and quite inventive musical accompaniment is provided on keyboard synthesizer, accordion and kazoo along with chimes, whistles, sticks, pots, pans and drums by the extremely versatile Evan Harlan. Bravos to David Filcher and Will Cabell's scenic and puppetry creations and certainly to Heidi Hermiller, Andrew Poleszak and Jeff Burrow's inventive costumes! It is now also being performed through December 28, in repertory, with yet another briefly staged and now concluded pre-holiday production. "Einstein's Dream," based on Alan Lightman's same titled novel is here staged as a one act play by Wesley Savick, starring the same three aforementioned players. Robert Najarian as the young (pre-theory of relatively) physicist-genius, assisted again by Steven Barkhimer and Debra Wise as dream influencing figments of this legendary master intellect's imagination. Stating that "people can be doubted, but time can never be, and that time is the absolute ruler." Einstein goes on to speculate on the differences between mechanical time (such as clocks, of all types and/or mathematical deliberations), and the body's time (it's sensuality, emotions and physicality). He does this whimsically (including dance moves, leaps and somersaults), freed from standard limitations. Time moving backwards, or not moving at all, or going round and round, as if in circles or even never ending are just a few of the unusual notions considered. Here again, Evan Harlan provides a wide array of carnival-like musical accents. While this short exercise offers little in the way of plot or character development, the capricious word play remains consistently engaging throughout!
Now at the Loeb Drama Center in Cambridge, Mass. the American Repertory Theatre presents"Aurelia's Oratorio," a one act (90 minute) presentation of silent and whimsical physical vignettes involving an engaging mix of acrobatics, pantomime and playful contortion written and directed by Victoria Thierree Chaplin (the daughter of the legendary Charlie Chaplin) and starring her daughter Aurelia Thierree (the latest link in this extraordinary lineage). Victoria and her husband (French film star) Jean Baptiste Thierree, first appeared together, here at the A.R.T., in the late 80's and then again in the early 90's, in a pair of fascinating circus-styled presentations highlighting their many varied and prodigious acrobatic and clowning skills (sans, of course, any wild animal acts) to much acclaim. This time around, Aurelia with the assistance of Jaime Martinez (and the additional support of Aurelie Guin, Antonia Paradiso and Monika Schwarzl) carries on this majestic family tradition. Beginning on a bare stage, as lively recorded Gypsy music resounds, the drawers of an ordinary dresser open and close playfully to reveal a variety of body parts, a hand then a foot and later a leg, seemingly unrelated and then obviously connected in some sort of wonderfully remarkable way! In swift succession other such impressive moments follow. Later Aurelia purchases an ice cream cone from a sidewalk vendor which he hands her from a flaming basket, as expected it's hot, not cold! Martinez dances then with an empty coat, and soon finds himself wrestling with it as it attaches itself onto his back. Extricating himself, upon unrolling the coat he finds Aurelia inside! Still other similarly captivating segments follow. As the song:"This Freak Show is the Best in Town!" resonates, dressed in white she becomes involved first with a cuddly small bunny, then a linear-styled dragon and finally a rather large robot-like creature! Later two of their helpers appear, dressed in black from head-to-toe, supporting a chair, upside down on a stretcher between them, with Aurelia seated there (downside up)! Later we see a large cavorting pair of trousers with one leg filled by her and the other sporting Martinez! This is then followed by a very unusual punch-and-Judy show. Before a capacity audience of seated small puppets, as the curtains part, on the tiny proscenium stage in front of them, we see her enlarged face, bobbing up and down, as the show's theatrical focus! In this grandly diverting and amusing fashion, with many such similarly appealing feats to round out the evening, Aurelia Thierree proves herself to be a worthy new representative of genuinely exceptional and quite historic predecessors. Now playing through January 3, 2009. (My grade: 5)
THE MYSTERY OF IRMA VEP
The Lyric Stage Company in Boston is now offering "The Mystery of Irma Vep," by the late Charles Ludlam, as its holiday production. A major off-Broadway hit when originally staged in Manhattan back in 1984, it has since enjoyed many nation-wide and international presentations including a record-breaking run in Brazil. It is a wildly comical send-up of Alfred Hitchcock's movie version of "Rebecca," many of the great Hollywood horror flicks of the 30's and 40's, produced by Universal Pictures, such as the "Mummy" and "Wolfman" series, and other such gothic landmarks as "Jane Eyre" and "Wuthering Heights," too. The show's inspired focus revolves around its featuring only two very gifted farceurs playing all of the comically bizarre plot's eight quite varied roles. Of course, this requires both actors to be heavily involved in constant costume, wig and personality changes. As expected, Neil A. Casey and John Kuntz, two of this area's best and most creatively adaptable performers, are more than up to the challenge. Set in the library drawing room of Mandacrest, a gloomy English estate near Hampstead Heath, Lore Edgar Hillcrest, and Egyptologist, lives there with his recent bride Lady Enid. The plot's overloaded complications are defined by Nicodemus Underwood, the estate's lame and rough-hewn handyman and Hillcrest's testy housekeeper: Jane Twisden. It seems that Jane reveres the memory of Lord Edgar's first wife Irma and really resents Lady Enid. Added to this smoldering stew, Lord Edgar has also slain the heath's marauding wolf, that's been responsible for the death of his sheep. Act two shifts to Egypt (with the name of the country change projected, in jumbo letters high above the set). With the help of Alcazar, a shifty fez-wearing Egyptian guide (sounding very much like Peter Lorre), Lord Edgar has come to unearth a special mummy's sarcophagus with intentions of bringing it back with him to Mandacrest. Once back at his estate in England, the Mummy's case becomes the drawing room's centerpiece, and we discover that under the late night's moon glow, on the heath, Nicodemus shows signs of turning into a wolf! The really wild and goofy finale finds Nicodemus battling with his werewolf changes and everyone ultimately learning the truth about Lord Edgar's first wife Irma. As stated before, John Kuntz as Lord Edgar, Jane Twisden and even a mysterious hostile intruder and Neil A. Casey as Nicodemus, Lady Enid, Alcazar and a few other minor characters are both in top comic form under Spiro Veloudos' fast paced and spirited direction. High praise also for Brynna Bloomfield's splendidly gloomy set and Gail Astrid Buckley's fine period costumes. Now playing through December 21, 2008.
Now at the Boston Center for the Arts' Calderwood Pavilion is The Speakeasy Stage Company's Production of "The Seafarer," by Conor McPherson. A great success in London in 2006 and later on Broadway earlier this year, this presentation is its Boston-area premiere. On a shabby, rundown house in North Dublin, on a bleak Christmas Eve, "Sharky" Harkin lives with his older brother Richard, who's become recently blind. Although he's quite dependant on Sharky's assistance, Richard is ever demanding, feisty and obstreperous and never hesitates to make Sharky clean-up after him. As the evening progresses, several of their buddies convene for a friendly holiday-eve card game. They begin to arrive as Ivan, a slow-witted married friend, gradually awakens from a nearby sofa, where he's spent that evening sleeping-off that past evening's "bender." Nicky Giblin, who Sharky resents because of difference over a neighborhood girlfriend, also shows up at Richard's invitation. Nicky's also brought along a suave, well-dressed newcomer named Mr. Lockhart. As the liquor flows freely, and the bawdy conversation bubbles over, Lockhart is able to find a few moments to have some private words with Sharky. Unbeknownst to the others, Lockhart has played a major role in Sharky's past. Many years before this smooth-talking stranger was able to extricate the then dissolute Sharky from a nasty situation where a vagrant was killed. Was Sharky responsible for the beggar's death? Was Lockhart really there as Sharky's rescuer? As expected, Sharky is filled with doubts, but "not so" insists this ever urbane newcomer. With his stentorian references to the nether world as "a space smaller than a coffin, where you never sleep and you never die, is he really who Sharky's beginning to think this stranger is? Will this evening's card game involve an outcome that will define Sharky's future for all time? Extremely well performed by the splendid small cast. Kudos for Derry Woodhouse as the mysterious and malevolent Mr. Lockhart with similar praise for Billy Meleady as Sharky, Bob Colonna as Richard, Larry Coen as Ivan, and Ciaran Crawford as Nicky. As usual, Carmel O'Reilly provided her well focused direction. Now playing through December 13, 2008.
Now at the Boston University Theatre is the area premiere of "Rock-n-Roll" by Tom Stoppard, a co-production of the Huntington Theatre Company and San Francisco's American Conservatory Theater. Its debut here comes after highly successful productions in London in 2006 and then on Broadway the following year. Set in Cambridge, England and Prague, Czechoslovakia, the play's action spans the two decades between the Soviet 1968 Czech invasion and the ultimate fall of the Berlin Wall in 1990. It centers on the interactions between Max Morrow, a well respected Cambridge University professor, a dedicated but conflicted Marxist, and Jan, a self-centered graduated student who plans to travel to Prague, to explore its current difficulties, hoping thereby to bolster its socialist path. Max is also highly troubled by his cancer-stricken wife Eleanor, a teacher of Greek poetry, and Esme, their young teenage daughter. Max is likewise increasingly concerned by the burgeoning shortcomings now evident in Communism. Jan, a devotee of Pink Floyd, The Velvet Underground and The Rolling Stones, amongst others, has now come to Prague with his much prized classic rock-n-roll record collection. Soon attracted to the notorious Czech rock group "Plastic People of the Universe," he quickly finds himself in trouble with the police, who summarily destroy his beloved music collection! As the play continues to shift back and forth in time -- in a succession of brief and vivid vignettes-underscored by the vibrant rock-n-roll that Jan loves, we begin to see "rock" as Jan does, not just as music but as a free styled approach to life itself. As such, his involvement with "Plastic People of The Universe" becomes a harbinger of social change and resistance to totalitarianism. All the while, as Max in his Cambridge University setting, suffers the loss of his dear Eleanor, he sees his daughter grow into womanhood complete with her own daughter, Alice. Throughout, the ebb and flow of human differences changing attitudes continually challenge and counteract doctrinaire thought. Well played by Manoel Feliciano as Jan, Jack Willis as Max, Rene Augesen as both Eleanor and the adult Esme, and Summer Serafin first as the young Esme, and later as the young Alice, under Carey Perloff's strong direction. High praise also for Douglas Schmist's splendid grey concrete walled set, perspectively focused on a variety of illuminated projections on a central screen and most certainly Jake Rodgriguez' engaging musical choices. Now playing through December 13, 2008.
THE URBAN NUTCRACKER
This is America as it was meant to be, as it is now going to be. "The Urban Nutcracker" is a tribute to the melting pot we live in…to the fact that this truly is the land of opportunity for all. The performance by Ballet Rox brings to the stage, color and vibrancy, joy and great dance.
As I sat waiting for the show to begin, looking at big pink snowflakes lighting on the royal purple curtain, I knew this would not be my mother's Nutcracker. It is a Nutcracker for all Americans. Who could resist a dance show that combines funk with ballet, Irish step dancing with Krump and the colorless joy of dance with the revelation that anyone, despite heritage, can dance?
Ballet Rox is dedicated to breaking down racial barriers and engaging Boston's under-served youth in something more valuable than the dance itself. These children and grown-ups are engaged in the idea that anyone can do anything they put their effort towards.
Kudos to Tony Williams, founder and director of Ballet Rox, for his talent, foresight and universal message. Mr. Williams danced his way out of a tough Boston neighborhood and into the Boston Ballet. Ballet Rox aims to do the same for any student who is willing to try. They not only learn dance steps, but it teaches confidence, a sense of responsibility and vision to take one step in the right direction and have it end up with a show that should not be missed.
This is a "Must See" performance. Do not miss Yo-el Cassel and Mini-myer. Do not miss Autumn Hill in the Arabian dance. Do not miss the soldiers in their camouflage, with red boxing gloves. Do not miss the Marzipan, Raggedy Anne and Andy, the Snow Prince, the Snow Queen or the snow. In The Urban Nutcracker, the snow is turquoise. This is a Nutcracker of a different color…a rainbow of colors to match the beautiful rainbow of people we share our country with.
If you don't make every effort to bring your family to see this, you will be missing a once in a lifetime lesson! The lesson is that we live in a country where we are ALL free to dance with each other. Let's put down the guns and pick up some tap shoes.
This amazing event is here in Boston at The John Hancock Hall 180 Berkley St. (corner of Stuart St.) Boston from now until Dec. 21st. For tickets that start at $20, call 877-548-3237 or go to www.backbayevents.com
If you want your children's holiday to be filled with hope, laughter and the message that anyone can do anything in this wonderful country of ours, take them to see the Urban Nutcracker. If you can’t take them to the show, make a donation in their name to Ballet Rox 284 Amory St., Jamaica Plain, MA 02130.
Happy Holidays to us all!
Recently concluded at Boston's Wheelock Family Theatre was their production of George Bernard Shaw's classic drama "Saint Joan". The young maiden Joan rises from obscurity as an unknown virgin peasant to become leader of the victorious French military forces during the Hundred Years' War. Insisting that her inspiration was based on her divinely activated inner voices, she was steadfast in asserting that she was fulfilling the Lord's wishes. After a succession of major victories, she was able to elevate the Dauphin (the Royalty's weak and simple eldest son) by fulfilling her promise to crown him as Charles VII. Later denounced as a heretic by the Church and burned at the stake, she was eventually exonerated many years
after her death, but it was not until 1920 that she was declared a saint. In a brilliantly crafted epilogue Shaw sums up her rise, fall and ultimate justification. Shaw presents her throughout as an unpretentious precursor
of contemporary womanhood. Well directed by Susan Kosoff, with a splendid Cathedral-like setting designed by Anita Fuchs. High praise also for the very large cast, with special kudos for young Andrea Ross as Joan, James Bodge as the Archbishop and Shelley Bolman as the Dauphin, amongst many others.
Two briefly-staged productions just prior to the holiday season, both of which are now concluded, are now here considered. The first presentation was produced by Blue Spruce Theatre in the Mosesian Theatre at The Arsenal Center for the Arts in Watertown, MA under the umbrella title of "Portraits". Comprised of two short playlets initially "The Last Leaf" is based on a short story by O. Henry adapted by Peter Ekstron, also with his music and lyrics. Then, after a brief intermission, "Still Life" with music by Jenny Giering and book and lyrics by David Javerbau, concluded the evening. "The Last Leaf" is set in 1905 in New York's Greenwich Village, the simple plot centers on two young promising female artists living together; Johnsy, an aspiring painter and Sue a talented sculptor. Their trials begin when Sue is stricken with life threatening pneumonia. The play's hopeful conclusion is wistfully sung in a succession of tender but slight melodies by Sue and Johnsy with the earnest and unexpected help of their neighbor Mr. Behrman, a comically unsuccessful German artist. His response to Sue's grave illness is surprisingly selfless and quite
uplifting. "Still Life", set in the present, features these same three actresses again utilizing the same set as before: a simple bed, with a stool, heavy trunk and now added dining table and chairs nearby , before a
group of weighty brick columns as designed by Dahlia Al-Habieli. Helen, an elderly artist, is considering her future in an Assisted Care Facility while her daughter Sarah prepares to see her own daughter-in-law Honey, a very self-critical, Yale-aspiring photographer, try to decide with some difficulty what course her life should take. While not as neatly narrative as the earlier play, each performer now here exemplifies a much stronger
succession of tenderly engaging characterizations. This time the playlet's six songs, not as sweet as those in the previous piece, seemed more interesting and substantial. Dorothy Ahle as both Mr. Behrman and then as Helen, was most effective and resonant with fine support, acting and singing by Lisa Kodak as Sue and later Sarah, as well as Rachel Baum as both Johnsy and Honey, all under Jesse Strachman's assured direction. Praise is also due for the small on stage orchestra directed by Nathan Lofton.
At The Boston Center for The Arts, Company One presents its new production of "Voyeurs Devenues" by Lydia R. Diamond. This multi-faceted 2.5 hour drama centers on the tragic life and times of Saartjie Baartman, the 19th century South African woman who was taken from her native home and brought to Europe to be put on display as a freakish novelty throughout the continent. Due to her unusually oversized buttocks and curiously large genitalia she came to be known as the "Hottentot Venus." Her unfortunate story serves as the focus of a book being written about her by Sara Washington, a young, attractive, Africa-American University professor and anthropologist. As she learns more and more about Saartjie, Sara feels increasingly conflicted about her own life as an African-American. Married to a young, handsome, blonde white male, she gradually drifts into an extra-marital affair with James Booker, the black Editor-in-Chief of the publishing firm for whom Sara's book-to-come is intended. Soon their two stories begin to intertwine, and as the details of Saartjie's existence become increasingly more sordid, Sara's identity crises begins to be exhibited as a succession of highly fanciful dreams. These extraordinary reveries begin with such role reversals as black ladies garbed in elegant Victorian gowns daintily parading to gentle music as bare-breasted white females wearing grass skirts cavort exuberantly to African drum beats. Later, we even see rear slide photo projections of Al Jolson, in black-face, as we hear his recorded voice singing: "see dem shufflin' along…" and still later even more white tuxedoed males masked and prancing about with a bevy of sprightly Aunt Jemimas! When Saartjie finally becomes involved with Georges Cuvier, the notorious French anatomist, her unhappy history takes a genuinely dire turn. This final calamity forces Sara to reconsider not only the book she's been writing but also her life's future direction. Creatively presented on a large, stage-wide, revolving platform with a substantial stabilized central unit upon which various time, place and plot developments take place. Well acted under Summer L. Williams assured direction by the large 15 member cast. Much praise is due for both Kortney Adams as the troubled Sara Washington and most especially Marvelyn McFarlane as the highly abused Saartjie Baartman with additional kudos for Quentin James as editor James Booker, Nathaniel Hall Taylor as husband James Bradford and certainly Michael Steven Costello as the exploiting naturalist George Cuvier. Commendations must also go to set designer Jarrod Bray, as well as for Christopher Fournier's dramatic lighting, Arshan Gailus' interesting musical choices and Jennifer Varekamp's various costumes. While Saartjie's known story might have been a bit stronger without so many dream sequences, the reasoning behind Cuvier's actions also necessitated the audience having a bit more prior historical knowledge. Now playing through November 22, 2008. (My grade: 4.5)
THE OIL THIEF
Currently at the Boston Playwright's Theatre is their production of "The Oil Thief," a new play by Joyce Van Dyke. The compelling plot revolves around Amy, a middle-aged geologist who explores 3rd world regions (in this instance, the Niger Delta) for possible oil reserves. Although she's been long involved with Rex, an aging Shakespearean actor, and tired of being "a good girl," she has recently found herself romantically attracted to Aleksi, a 24-year old African-American translator and aspiring Geologist. Her explorations to benefit major oil companies, coupled with her growing concerns about the looming global energy crises, have left her greatly conflicted and feeling very guilty. Aware of the grievous plight of the poverty stricken residents of the Niger Delta, who can't even enjoy clean water; she feels both blame and shame, thanks to the obvious indifference of her employer. While Amy wants to be with Aleksi, she still hopes to continue her relationship with Rex. As expected, the older man objects: "I'm the one you're stabbing!" He protests, but finally reluctantly acquiesces. As this engaging and provocative one act, 80 minute amorous triangle wends its way to its final expected denouement, the playwright's highly informative and very detailed descriptions of Amy's geological explorations in the Niger Delta are accented not only by her own future aspirations but also by our world's ever mounting need for this ever diminishing resource. Intensely played by Melinda Lopez (one of the area's finest actresses and an accomplished playwright in her own right) as Amy, with solid support by Sheldon Best as Aleksi, and especially by Will Lyman as Rex. Special mention should also go to Jon Savage's simple, yet highly effective set design: two unadorned sloping wooden ramps, which quickly and easily adapted to and/or assumed a wide variety of different functions. In addition to these fixtures, at the center of the stage's back wall, was mounted a large picture frame housing an oversized, flat, mineral-like form which under lighting designer Curtis Reik's astute guidance, was illuminated in a striking variety of colors, ranging from subdued crimson to cool aquamarine. Lastly, much praise is also due for Judy Braha's strong direction. Now playing through November 23, 2008. (My score: 5)
Now at The Boston Center for The Arts, The Publick Theatre Presents "Faith Healer" by Brian Friel. It was initially staged in Dublin in 1979 and then on Broadway. It was acclaimed then, as it was once again at its recent revival at the Booth Theater on Manhattan's Great Whiteway. Here under the potent direction of Nora Hussey, the life and times of Frank Hardy, an eccentric wandering healer of the sick is related by Hardy, his wife Grace, (or, as he insists, his mistress), and his long-time manager Teddy. Their three conflicting monologues are then completed with a concluding reminiscence again by Hardy. A self-centered, alcoholic, charismatic Irishman he's consumed by doubts about himself, his "talent," the real or imagined trustworthiness of his partners, and "the maddening questions that rotted (his) life." After years of self-willed wanderings throughout the British Isles, news of his mother's demise brings these three back to Ireland. On returning home, Hardy bitterly observes that his old dad did not even recognize him. "My life has always been balanced between the absurd and the momentous, " defines his wry assessment. He sums up his life by noting that "those coming (to me) for a cure actually wanted confirmation that they were incurable." Grace's testimony is marked by her troubled life with Hardy. "Many times for him I did not exist…me who debauched myself for him!" Although he never admitted that she was his wife, she finally did leave him after they had been together for seven years, only to eventually return. Of course, this only made him more hostile to her. His manager Teddy, however, stood fast by him throughout. He remained resolutely devout in his belief in Hardy's "gift," and the feasibility of his curative power. The tread that binds these three together is Hardy's ability to both energize and then abuse them. Diego Arciniegas as Hardy, Susanne Nitter as Grace and Gabriel Kuttner as Teddy are totally compelling in their three demanding solos. Diego was especially impressive uttering Hardy's occasional, and extensive rambling Gaelic pronouncements. Commendations must likewise go to Ken Loewit's effectively dramatic lighting and to John Doerschuk's choice of engaging incidental Irish music. Now playing through November 22, 2008.
THE LIEUTENANT OF INISHMORE
Now at the Mosesian Theater in the Arsenal Center for the Arts in Watertown, Mass., The New Repertory Theatre presents "The Lieutenant of Inishmore" by Martin McDonagh. First produced with much success by The Royal Shakespeare Company at Stratford-upon-Avon, England in 2001, it was equally well received on Broadway in 2006 where it also garnered six Tony Award nominations including "best play." Set in a bleakly rural in Northern Ireland, its' bizarrely comic "grande guignol" plot virtually outdoes the most blood-curdling cinematic concoctions offered by the likes of Roger Corman and Vincent Price! While Padraic (Colin Hamell) appallingly outrageous terrorist is away, he has left his beloved pussycat "Wee Thomas" in the care of Donny (Rory Hames Kelly), his gruff old dad. Due to his uncontrollable vent for ultra sadistic violence, Padraic has been rejected by the I.R.A. and is now top dog of his own self-styled splinter group. His cherished black tabby is really the only living thing he seems to actually care about. When we first see him he's tormenting a suspected marijuana peddler, accused of pushing pot on local Catholic school kids, who he's hung upside down, after he's separated his prisoner from a couple of his toe nails. Of course, no such punishment would have been warranted had said pusher's customers been Protestants. Padraic then warns his quarry that an even more extreme penalty is still to come. While he's off "defending" his countrymen, his craggy patriarch, at home, has brought "Wee-Thomas'" headless carcass by Davey (Karl Baker Olson) a neighboring teenager. Davey is convinced that he's killed the poor Kitty while riding his bicycle. Dreading Padraic's violent reaction upon his return, Davey brings a neighbor's orange-colored cat hoping that he and Donny can make Padraic believe that his pet is still alive by staining it all over with black shoe polish! Into this extraordinary situation McDonagh adds Davey's younger teenage, sharpshooter sister Mairead (Lynn R. Guerra) as well as Christy (Andrew Dufresne), a patch-covered, one-eyed, rival terrorist, and his two henchmen Joey and Brendan (Curt Klump and Ross MacDonald). Add Donny and Davey's coloring scheme is exposed upon Padraic's unexpected return, equally grandly comic complications erupt when Padraic becomes attracted to Mairead's enticingly juvenile femininity and is then forced to confront Christy's gang's takeover plans. Their contested ambitions are finally resolved in a wildly bold-splattered and surprisingly amusing shoot-out, with unanticipated consequences vividly directed by David R. Gammons. It's heavily laden with several very gory, "over-the-top" episodes. As such, this grandly grotesque farce in certainly not for the squeamish but is definitely recommended for all others strengthened an adventurous funny bone! Donny finally sums it all up best with "it's incidents like this that put tourists off of Ireland." Now playing through November 16, 2008 (My grade: 5)
At the Lyric Stage Company of Boston is the New England premiere of "November" by David Mamet, fresh from its recent highly-popular Broadway engagement. Set in the oval office of the White House, the highly farcical plot centers on President Charles Smith, who (much like our current Chief Executive) has popular approval numbers which are "lower than Gandhi's cholesterol. " Now, without substantial public support, he finds his hopes for reelection financially bereft. Turning to his trusted aide Archer Brown for a glimmer of hope, Archer suggests that Smith "go and sell a bunch of pardons!" To make matters worse, President Smith learns that unbeknownst to him, Clarice Bernstein, his trusted lesbian speech writer has gone off to China to adopt a baby. Mindful that "all China sells are baby girls, "he also wonders aloud if her mission" might possibly be treasonous, too?" However, he's encouraged to find that she's returned and ready once again to write speeches for him. Then, amidst all of his monetary woes, Smith meets with a representative of "The National Association of Turkey By-Products Manufacturers," as the Thanksgiving holiday nears. As a promotional stunt, they promise to pay $50,000 if Smith will "pardon" their soon-to-be beheaded festive turkey. However, Smith seizes this new opportunity to try to raise his fee up to two hundred million, but to no avail. Threatening to change the Thanksgiving story from jumbo fowl to jumbo fish (!) he suggests Thanksgiving as the time, long ago, when the pilgrims joined the native Indians in celebration by feasting on tuna. When reminded that tuna is a Pacific fish, Smith cautions them that the local natives, in their blissful ignorance, always referred to jumbo cod as "too-nah." Bringing the Indian chief of the local Micmac nation to his office, Smith finds that the chief will gladly sign on in exchange for Smith giving his tribe exclusive rights to all of Nantucket, on which to erect a gambling casino. Then, when charges of corruption thwart his plans, he turns to his speech writer for help. However, his plans are once again overturned when Clarice Bernstein refuses to mess around with a popular holiday framed by a beloved national tradition. In spite of this unfortunate reversal, she proposes a genuinely novel way out for President Smith. It involves the President agreeing to officiate at her wedding, to her girlfriend, in the White House, on National TV! This, of course, leaves everyone wondering about Smith's political future. Deftly performed, under Daniel Gidron's spirited direction by the splendid cast, with bravos for Richard Snee as the President, Neil A. Casey as the front man for the turkeys, and Adrianne Kkrstanky as Clarice Bernstein. Just back from Asia, as previously stated, she's comically very effective sneezing and coughing from a really bad head cold. Praise also is due for Will McGarrahan as Archer and Dennis Trainor, Jr. as the Indian Chief, as well as for Jenna McFarland Lord's bright, oval office set. Lastly, allowing for playwright Mamet's penchant for his favorite 4-letter word, one does wonder if it would actually pop out quite so often, by everyone there in the White House? Now playing through November 15, 2008. (My grade: 4)
BOLEROS FOR THE DISENCHANTED
Now at the Wimberly Theatre in the Calderwood Pavilion at the Boston Center for The Huntington Theatre Company presents, "Boleros for the Disenchanted" by Jose Rivera. Acclaimed at its recent world premiere at Yale Repertory Theater in New Haven, Connecticut, this presentation represents its Boston debut. Act One takes place in Miraflores, Puerto Rico, in 1953. Young 22 year old Flora lives with her devoutly religious Catholic parents Dona Milla and Don Fermin, in this remote country town. Although she's affianced to handsome Manuelo, upon learning about his infidelity she breaks off their engagement. Expecting lifelong fidelity, Manuelo insists to no avail, that his behavior is "innate and natural." To soothe her broken dreams, Flora visits her free-spirited cousin Petra in the big city of Santurce. There, she unexpectedly meets and falls in love with Eusebio, a young attractive member of the National Guard. After their wedding, they both decide to move to the U.S.A. mainland, over the strong but futile objections of Flora's highly traditional parents. Act Two takes place in Daleville, Alabama nearly 40 years later, in 1992. Long gone is the lush island vegetation and it uncomplicated life, now replaced by a contemporary American home and its stresses. With their grown children gone, the elderly Flora must continue to show her love to the bedridden, invalided Eusebio, as his constant attentive nurse. When Oskar and Monica, two young sweethearts, come to seek advice from Flora they're confronted by her testy, disabled husband. Later, a helpful health counselor and a forthright priest (summoned by Eusebio for his premature anticipation of the last rites) come to assist Flora as well. The curtain falls as these two continue to express their ongoing love beginning with hope and persevering through the decades intertwined with optimism, sadness and determination. Well played by the splendid cast. Flora Diaz is quite effective as the young forward-looking Flora, with strong support from Elliot Villar and the young Eusebio and later as Oskar and also Juan Javier Cerdenas initially as Manuelo and then as the officious priest. Similar commendations are also due for Maria-Christina Oliveras first as Petra, then as Monica. Socorro Santiago and Jaime as both the young Flora's parents and later as the elder Flora and Eusebio were especially compelling. Fabian Obispo's excellent choice of Latin music and song, with his definite focus on Boleros was certainly memorable. High marks must also go to Alexander Dudge's first act verdant rural setting as well as the second act's modernity, and of course to Chay Yew's well defined direction. Now playing through November 15, 2008. (My grade: 5)
HOW MANY MILES TO BASRA?
Now at the Stoneham Theatre in Stoneham, MA is their production of "How Many Miles To Basra?" by Colin Teevan. A new British play, which made it's debut in New England in 2006, this presentation represents it's U.S. premiere. Set in the Iraqi desert in 2003, the play's action centers on a small squad of British soldiers on route to see a Tribal Chief because several Iraqi's have been mistakenly shot and killed by them. Sergeant Stewart, their leader, guilt stricken because of a similar mishap sometime before while on military maneuvers in Northern Ireland, has embarked on the unauthorized mission with three subordinates, also accompanied by Ursula, a young pretty Irish news reporter. Quick tempered Freddie, whose rashness resulted in the aforesaid tragic incident, is accompanied by the equally unbridled "dangermouse", and Geordie, an inexperienced rookie who are then joined by Malek, an Iraqi translator and driver. The latter, formerly involved in archeological research at the local museum, has lost everything to the war - his family, his country and his profession. "This is what you've brought us; is this the freedom you export? You reduce a country to rags and then call us ragheads!" Although Stewart is due to return to England he feel duty bound to make amends for his men's tragic error. As their difficulties mount, including the breakdown of their military vehicle and vigorous hostile breakouts among themselves, including Freddie's attempted and thwarted rape of Ursula, the group suffers a series of unexpected and dire setbacks. Very well acted by Derek Stone Nelson as Stewart, with solid support by Jerrell Lee as Freddie, Joe Lanza as Dangermouse, Alenjandro Simoes as Geordie, Eve Kagan as Ursula and Mason Sand as Malek. Commendations for Cristina Tedesco's fine desert-like set design centered by a mid-point video projection screen which lists times, places and a variety of descriptive information against an imposing metallic power column. Bravo as well for Welwyn Symes strong direction. While there's little here that has not been offered before in countless other war dramas, the play's grim message this time around still serves to remind us of war's merciless toll. Now playing through November 9, 2008. (MY GRADE: 3.5)
THE COMMUNIST DRACULA PAGEANT
Now at the Zero Arrow Theatre in Cambridge, MA The American Repertory Theatre presents the world premiere of "The Communist Dracula Pageant" by Annie Washburn. Actually the play's full title also adds this description: "By Americans, for Americans, A play about the Romanian Revolution of 1989 with hallucinations, phosphorescence and bears," which rather succinctly sums up this elaborate on hour forty minute one act succession of politically framed tableaux. Owing much more to Bertolt Brecht than to either Bram Stoker or Bela Lugosi, this time around the title refers to Vlad Tepes (known as "The Impaler"), a 15th century tyrant who is considered a national hero because of his defense of Romania against the Turks. His bloody impaling of enemies served later as the grisly basis for the legends about Prince Dracula (although in the classic movie he refers to himself as "Count"). Centering on what is known about the rise and fall of Communist Romanian dictator Nicole Caeusescu, who fashioned himself as the greatest Romanian leader to come along since Vlad. As such, he promoted many national theatrical pageants celebrating the 500th anniversary of Vlad's passing as an obvious reflection of his own greatness. At his side throughout his stormy reign stood his wife Elena (who despite the fact her formal education was limited to fourth grade, nevertheless defined herself as the nation's preeminent scientific authority on matter and space!) Their story careens back and forth from the politically framed kangaroo court that accused men as they both enjoyed the nation's unlimited benefits. All of this ultimately ending with their executions. These events unfold as Vlad The Impaler comes forward either as an iconic master of ceremonies or as a spectral reproduction of the Caeusescu's image of themselves. From beginning to end, their wearing hammer and sickle headgear, their country men either in work clothes, folk costumes as soldiers or as television and/or media personnel. The Caeusescu's story unfolds against a series of high, moveable wall-like crimson flats, often displayed simultaneously on TV screens hanging up above. Amidst their fatal arraignment and prosecution and the past pomp and ceremony in honor of Romania's legendary despotic hero, a lumbering bear waddles on stage, gorges itself with a large pot of honey and is then shot and killed. Even without Tchaikovsky's majestic music, Russia's intrusion into Romania's affairs seemed obvious with Caeusescu even insisting that the conspiracy against him was fomented by the Soviets in collusion with the West. Later after he and his wife are executed, Elena appears wearing her bullet-riddled, blood stained dress declaring "You resented me as you would a stern mother...You killed the hand that would have nourished you." It's being vividly played by Thomas Derrah as Nicolae, with strong support by Karen MacDonald as Elena. Will LeBow effectively appears as either a bewigged Vlad Tepes, with flaring moustache and pointed goatee, bedecked by a red-jeweled hat and a velvet flowing outfit, framed by a small black shoulder cape or as "The Functionary", a Communist party hack in a standard business man's suit. Remo Airaldi as either an assertive trial interrogator or covered from head to toe as the trespassing bear, is certainly noteworthy as is the large supporting ensemble. Amongst the latter, John Kuntz was equally strong as a court inspector. The entirety was also enlivened by occasional moments of Romanian styled music and song (in English). One does wonder exactly what special relevance the playwright sees for contemporary Americans in this episodic past and present documentary on the ascent of a long, forgotten despot? NOW PLAYING THROUGH NOVEMBER 9, 2008. (MY GRADE: 3.5)
42ND Street is one of those plays that is truly timeless. Welcome back to the glamour that was the 1930's. North Shore Music Theater presents a lively adaptation of this 1933 Busby Berkeley movie musical. The audience, including 5 year old Amber who said she would like all her friends to see it, was treated to some wonderful dance and songs that leave you humming.
I must start with Jeff Modereger, Scenic Designer and Jack Mehler, Lighting Desiger for setting an Erte-esque portrait of the elegant, sophisticated era when women wore gowns and men wore top hats. The direction by Charlie Repole and choreography by Michael Lichtefeld, was upbeat and fast moving fun.
42nd Street stars Melissa Lone as the shy, multi-talented Peggy Sawyer from Allentown and Patrick Ryan Sullivan as Julian Marsh, the great theater director trying to come up with the hit show of his lifetime despite the stars diva status, broken ankle and show-backing boyfriend. It all comes out SWELL in the end. It leaves the audience singing, which is always a sign of a good time.
For a good time call NSMT 978-232-7200 or e-mail www.nsmt.org for tickets from $79 to 42$. Senior, youth and rush tickets are available. On Tues, Wed and Thur 7:30 pm performances are just $42. Performances are October 28 to November 23.
Come and meet those dancing feet at a special Tap Dance Class performance. NSMT is offering three pre-show tap classes taught by a member of the cast. Classes will take place Friday, Nov. 7, from 6-7 pm, and Thursday, November 13 and 20, from 5:30-6:30 pm in the Theatre Arts and Education Building behind the theatre. Classes are free with tickets but reservations are required as class size is limited. Email reservations for your free tap class to email@example.com.
My Grade: 3 Stars
MARTHA MITCHELL CALLING
Now at the Central Square Theater in Cambridge, Mass. the Nora Theatre Company Presents, "Martha Mitchell Calling" by Jodi Rothe. Originally presented by Shakespeare & Company in Lenox, Mass. in 2006 (in the shadow of Nearby Tanglewood Summer Music Festival), it has also been equally well received in productions in New York and Florida. Set in 1974, in the bedroom of the fabled, titled, southern belle's Fifth Avenue, New York City apartment, this two-person character study centers on the events surrounding the notorious Watergate scandal. Martha Mitchell was the bubbly, overly loquacious wife of John Mitchell, Nixon's Attorney General, who was then on trial. Fiercely loyal to his disgraced boss, his ardent faithfulness eventually landed him in jail. Barred from the court proceeding where her husband and others stood accused, she used the small, pink telephone beside her bed to come to what she thought was her husband's defense. The Watergate affair was a full blown national scandal, which initially evolved from incidents arising from a politically inspired late-night break-in at the opposing Democratic Party's headquarters. An ensuing "cover-up" involving domestic spying, harassment of political "enemies," multiple resignations, firings, money laundering and the discovery of clandestine executive taped recordings (with significant portions mysteriously deleted), all finally culminated in nationally televised hearings, prison time for many of the president's associates and even Nixon's resignation of the Presidency. With her ruddy piquant telephone at the ready, Martha used it to talk nightly to any and all of Washington D.C.'s reporters, columnists and anyone else who she thought might be able to "take the heat off John." However, it was all to no avail, the more she talked, the deeper grew the hole her husband was in. With memories of their long past early happily married life together now gone, she made one last attempt on John's behalf. After Nixon's departure, Gerald Ford, his newly chosen Vice President, became the President. His first major decision was then to give the disgraced ex-President a full and unconditional pardon. Asking herself, "Why should my husband go to jail when the man who gave the orders goes free?" One evening, she anxiously tried phoning the sleeping President, but without receiving his aides' compliance. Later, the bitterly resentful John Mitchell comes forward, on stage, as he does from time-to-time, during the plays 90 minutes, to offer the audience his thoughts. "It could have been worse. I could've been sentenced to continue living with Martha Mitchell!" Well written, this alternately amusing often fascinating and ultimately grim exploration of power politics and the sad toll it takes of those in its sway, is extremely well performed by its two players. Annette Miller, nicely coiffed in a big Mitchell-like, braided blonde wig, is supremely effective in the title role, with solid support by Timothy Sawyer as the mostly dour John Mitchell. High praise is also due for Daniela Varon's strong direction and also for Larry Horowitz's vivid projections of actual and compelling period newsreel file clips (screened onto the large pink curtain hanging behind Mitchell's bed). In this fashion, we finally see the grandly tarnished Nixon who sums up, ruefully and rather overstatedly: "If it hadn't been for Martha, there'd have been no Watergate." Now playing through November 9, 2008. (My Grade: 5)
Now at Boston Center for the Arts' is the Zeitgeist Stage Company's production of "Seascape" by Edward Albee. Originally staged in Holland in the early 70's in a lengthy 3 act, 3 hour version, it was later reworked by the author and presented on Broadway in 1974 in a shortened 2 act, 1 hour, 40 minutes version, when it was then awarded the Pulitzer Prize. This current production represent the first American presentation of the play's earlier, three act version. Set on a secluded sandy beach, Nancy and Charlie, a middle-aged married couple, are relaxing as they consider their different notions about how they should spend their oncoming retirement. Nancy longs for world travel, with the possibility of their experiencing many of the world's various beaches. On the other hand, Charlie looks forward to years of predictable and well earned rest among familiar surroundings. Their musings are suddenly disrupted when they are frightened and amazed by the appearance of two, human-sized green lizard-like creatures, emerging from the ocean, ready to join them on the beach. Act two, in this much more extended account, takes place at the bottom of the adjoining sea! These two visiting sea creatures have somehow invested Nancy and Charlie with full adaptability to their newly acquired watery atmosphere. Initially, these two retirees think that they died, possibly due to something poisonous in the sandwiches they had eaten. However, their aquamarine hosts, with whom Nancy and Charlie can now communicate, convince them that they are fully alive. Their new reptile acquaintances even have regular names. Leslie, a suspicious male, is very assertive of his oceanic boundaries, while his more agreeable mate Sarah welcomes Nancy's descriptions of the "upper world." Their discussions raise a number of surprising questions. Sarah wonders why humans wear clothes and expects to learn more about humans' sex organs, while Nancy puzzles about how fish sleep and whether Sarah has ever given birth. She learns that Sarah has laid 7000 eggs "some float away, some are eaten." Nancy then forges ahead with basic explanation of evolution and human emotions such as "love," "loss," "fear," and "despair." Irked by Nancy's descriptions, Leslie asks Charlie "where's your tail?" (both Leslie and Sarah jumbo examples). "We didn't need it and it went away," explains Charlie. Of course, this leads to a brief and simple explanation about the fate of earth's early dinosaurs, and prompts Nancy to convince her new nautical friends to accompany them onto the upper world. Act three now finds them all, once again, up on the beach. This unusual quartet now confronts many other notions especially those about birds and flight, to which Charlie explains "flying is like swimming through the air." Eventually Charlie even decides to ask, "How did you two meet?" Their new knowledge of human monogamy then provokes troubling fears of separation and even finality for Leslie and Sarah with disquieting consequences for all. While lighting designer Jeff Adelberg was able to effectively define the murkiness of the lizard's underwater home, Albee's final shorter two act play covered much of the same issues more compactly and as such much stronger, although this earlier play's different conclusion proven to be more provocative. David J. Miller's well focused direction and capability defined sandy seashore, and then under-the-sea setting, were all equally noteworthy. Now playing through October 25, 2008. (My grade: 4)
GUTENBERG! THE MUSICAL
Now at the Arsenal for the Arts Intimate Black Box Theater in Watertown, MA, the New Repertory Theatre presents its downstage production of "Gutenberg! The Musical," a two-man satire written by Scott Brown and Anthony King. It was initially staged at The New York Musical Theatre Festival in 2005, which was followed by the show's well-received debut off-Broadway in 2006. Successful productions in Chicago, and London soon followed. This current presentation is its Boston premiere. The show's zany premise centers on two young, aspiring writers auditioning their new musical show for a host of potential producers. These two eager wanna-bees perform all the roles, and sing all the songs, on a bare stage, with their pal Charles accompanying them on the piano. Since so little is really known about Johann Gutenberg (the inventor of the printing press) and his life in 15th century Germany, that author-performers Brown and King (known in their show as Bud and Doug) had to make up most of the show's "facts." Thus Gutenberg's efforts to invent something to encourage the literacy of his fellow countrymen, is here vigorously thwarted by a malevolent and maniacal monk! Of course, as we all know, any really good musical must also include at least one lovely sweetheart singing one or two happy or tragic love songs. Accordingly, Gutenberg's beloved Helvetica is abducted and imprisoned by the aforementioned mad monk. Since the entire show is presented, as previously stated, on a bare stage, sans props and costumes, Bud and Doug resort to a large assortment of roughly labeled baseball-type caps, identifying the show's many, many different characters. These tags range from defining Bud, Doug, their beloved and their antagonist, to even classifying the butcher and the town's beef fat trimmer. Surprising, the plot later concludes rather abruptly, without the expected happy ending, leaving "yours truly" wondering ,"why?" Only a few of the show's more than two dozen songs are really engaging or amusing, except when the malicious monk meets the devil in "The Haunted German Wood" (Have a Book! Have it Burned!) or when Bud and Doug burst into "Biscuits!," a tune that seems to be out-of-place and unrelated to the plot. Afterwards, they explain that relevant or not they still needed a song that had some "charm." Still later, when the evil monk tries to convince Gutenberg to become a monk, they both score singing "Monk With Me." Of the show's occasional choreography (by director Stephen Nachamie), the evening's best hoot arrives with both aspirants cavorting while balancing a clothesline loaded with labeled baseball caps a-la high kicking Chorus Line! Brendan McNab as Bud and Austin Ku as Doug, (both fine, resonant vocalists) do very well with their hectic and very energetic all encompassing assignments. Commendations are also due for Todd C. Gordon as the evening's vibrant accompanying pianist, Charles. This small-scale but quite lively presentation is now playing through October 26, 2008. (My grade: 3.5)
Now at Boston University Theater, the Huntington Theatre Company presents, "Wishful Drinking," a one woman, alternately comic and bittersweet reflection on the life and times of motion picture actress turned novelist and screen writer, Carrie Fisher--created and performed by her. For near two hours on stage, including a brief intermission, amidst a pleasantly warm-appearing living room setting, in front of a large, brightly framed projection screen (where tabloid headlines of prominent events in her life are displayed) she vividly recounts the ups-and-downs of her tumultuous 50+ years of life. Careening in and out of mental hospitals, thanks to her battles with bipolar disorder, fueled by her self-destructive addictions to alcohol and drugs, one would not suspect that such revelations could be both as uplifting and engaging as they are. The child of movie star Debbie Reynolds and TV star and hit record crooner Eddie Fisher, she found her early childhood compromised by the scandal that erupted when her dad abandoned her mom for the embraces of movie legend Elizabeth Taylor. Still more torturous complications developed sometime thereafter, with mom Debbie's marriage to shoe tycoon Harry Karl (who squandered away both his and wife Debbie's fortune) and even Eddie Fisher losing both his bobby sox appeal, as well as Liz Taylor, due to the amorous intrusions of Richard Burton! With such a stormy introduction, it was a certainty that Carrie's life would be similarly turbulent, notwithstanding her short lived 1977 stardom as Princess Leia in the first "Star Wars" motion picture. The sudden death, in her bed, of R. Gregory Stevens, a political operative (the result of a combination of cocaine and prescription medications) and her being castoff by Hollywood agent Bryan Lourd, the father of their (now teenager) daughter Billie, for another man, served as the unusual outset of Carrie's captivatingly ironic monologue. It's also noteworthy that she winsomely suggests that R.G. Stevens' later, strange and untimely demise was really due to the fact that he was a Republican! Later, her short-lived marriage to singer-songwriter Paul Simon, who she wed at age 26 and divorced at 28, finally landed her into yet another rehab. She then was able to restart her tinsel-town status as an author with her successful semi-autobiographical novel "Postcards from the Edge" which later became a 1990 motion picture starring Shirley McClain as the fictional mom and Meryl Streep as her troubled daughter, with Carrie as the notable screen writer. Now seemingly reinvigorated with her career blossoming away as a novelist, screenwriter and occasional movie actress, and with her beginning and ending the evening with her piquant singing of the depression era's anthem "Happy Days Are Here Again," the capacity audience roared their loud standing approval of this plucky, sharp-tongued, sharp-minded and very resilient survivor! Under the assured direction of Tony Taccone, this provocatively winning solo presentation is now on view through October 26, 2008. (My Grade: 5)
What's love got to do with it? EVERYTHING. It seems that love motivates us all to do what we do. In this timeless play by Tom Jones and Harvey Schmidt, we watch as two single fathers, who love their children, go to extremes to make sure they end up together. They build a wall between their properties and feign a feud just so Matt, played completely convincingly by Nick Mannis and Luisa, played brilliantly by Piper Goodeve, will fall in love. It works.
Forbidden love, being the irresistible fruit it is, is the sweetest of all…until it turns sour. Yes, The Fantasticks is a play about love in all its forms, including the part where it sours. But in the end, The Fantastiks leaves us believing that love will happen exactly as it's supposed to. It also leaves us singing my favorite song of all time Try To Remember.
And remember you will. You'll remember these wonderful, timeless tunes. You will remember Charles H. Hyman and Dane Knell for their well-timed shenanigans. You will remember Dale Radunz and Ira Denmark for their rendition of Plant a Radish and their perfect timing. You will remember Matt's beautiful voice singing Soon It's Gonna Rain. You will remember David Villella as El Gallo who sings a very moving rendition of Try To Remember and moves the play along with panache. But the one thing you will never forget is Piper Goodeve who, last night, WAS Luisa at her best. She was the perfect giddy teenager who, through the trials and tribulations that love presents, turns into a woman before our eyes. Bravo Piper!
I first saw this play in New York back in the 60's, when I was a teenage girl in love. Fifty years later, I am seeing it as a parent. And you know what? It's even funnier from this angle. But whatever angle you see it from at this wonderful theater (there's not a bad seat in the house) you will be in for a treat.
The Fantasticks is playing at The Merrimack Repertory Theatre in Lowell until November 9. And to make it the perfect evening this reviewer dined just up the street, on the river, at Blue Taleh, a Thai & Japanese merger par excellance. I would go to Lowell just to enjoy their beautifully presented, yummy dishes. I highly recommend both. If you don't make it to Blue Taleh this month, it's okay because it will still be there. Miss The Fantasticks at Merrimack Rep and you'll miss an evening you will always Remember.
Tickets are available through the box office — 978-654-4MRT or through their website, www.merrimackrep.org. This reviewer is still smiling and humming.
(My Grade: 5)
IN THE CONTINUUM
Now at the Boston Center for the Arts' Plaza Black Box Theatre, the "Up You Mighty Race Company" presents its production of "In The Continuum" by Danai Gurira and Nikkole Salter. Initially conceived as two separate graduate projects at New York University by these two authors, it was eventually interwoven as a play about two young women, living thousands of miles apart, who are both diagnosed with AIDS, and the ways they confront their comparable situations. Hailed by the New York Times as one of the ten best plays of the year, when it made its off-Broadway debut in 2005, it has been presented and enthusiastically greeted in Chicago, Washington, Los Angeles, Johannesburg and Zimbabwe. Now here in its Boston premiere, it also marks the auspicious beginning of "Up You Mighty Race's "first term as a resident company at the B.C.A. Nia is a 19 year old young African American female from South Los Angeles, with a flair for composing poetry who, after learning that she's pregnant, is also diagnosed with AIDS. Being estranged from her family, she hopes for a future together with her boyfriend Darnell. She is encouraged by his success in high school as a basketball player, with college scholarships looming as a potential possibility, but vexed by his seeming insensitivity. Abigail is a promising Zimbabwean newscaster with a very young son who's troubled by her philandering husband, Stanford. She fervently expects her pregnancy will ultimately rehabilitate their marriage, even though dimmed by her being diagnosed with HIV. Ramona Lisa Alexander as Nia, and Lindsey McWhorter as Abigail both give vividly passionate and highly intense performances. Although initially Ramona's heightened and sometimes inarticulate fervor occasionally compromised a full comprehension of her remarks, she soon began to effectively moderate her approach. On the other hand, Lindsey (born in Georgia and raised in Alabama) sounded persuasively African and resonated well, throughout. Besides capably performing as both of the play's highly anguished figures, each actress also deftly portrayed many other minor characters ranging from an indifferent African physician and a frustrated and rejecting mother to an assertive "witch-doctor" and a sympathetic social worker. Performed in-the-round on a bare central stage, with just two chairs as props, the play was strikingly directed by Akiba Abaka (the company founder and producing artistic director). While she often had both actresses venture into the surrounding audience to vigorously assert the play's message. This too, at one time, was carried to an extreme. Having Ramona, as the overwrought Nia, feign puking into a sitting onlooker's lap seemed to be a bit too much! The original graduate school projects, which became the basis for this play, were born out of concern for black women who now represent the highest rate of new HIV-AIDS infections here, in our country, as well as in Africa. It is a relatively unheard story, that desperately needs a major response. Now playing through October 18, 2008. (My grade: 4)
THE LIGHT IN THE PIAZZA
Now at the Boston Center for the Arts' Calderwood Pavilion, the Speakeasy Stage Company presents its new production of "The Light in the Piazza," with book by Craig Lucas and Tony Award-winning lyrics by Adam Guettel. It's based on the novel of the same title by Elizabeth Spencer, which was also produced as a major Hollywood motion picture in 1962. After its premiere as a musical in Seattle, Washington in 2003, it later opened on Broadway in 2005 to a grandly enthusiastic response. Set in 1953 in Florence, Italy its compelling plot centers on Margaret Johnson, a wealthy southern matron, who's traveling through Italy with her lovely young, coming-of-age daughter Clara. When a chance meeting with young, handsome Italian Fabrizio quickly ignites into an intense love affair with Clara, mother Margaret is torn by her secret knowledge of Clara's limitations. Thrown from atop a horse while riding as a child, Clara was then kicked by this same steed and suffered some mental setbacks as a result. Unaware of Clara's arrested development, due to language and cultural difficulties, Margaret and Clara eventually meet with Fabrizio's family propelled by his burgeoning plans to marry Clara. Although initially joyfully coming together with Fabrizio's parents as well as his older brother and wife, gradually Fabrizio's imposing father begins to realize Clara's deficiencies. In spite then of the young sweethearts' soaring expectations, not only Fabrizio's papa's grave doubts, but also Clara's mother's private issues about her own loveless marriage and her long-standing over-protective care of her troubled daughter begin to grow as major complications for Clara and Fabrizio. Amelia Broome brings fully-voiced strength and authority to her performance as Margaret. Erica Spyres, a fine soprano, is quite touching as Clara with splendid support (mainly in sonorous Italian) by John Bambery as Fabrizio. Much praise is also due for Christian Figueroa and Alison Eckert as the older brother and his wife with high commendations especially for Joel Colodner (also in mellifluous Italian) as the very concerned Papa. The highly creative set designed by Susan Zeeman Rogers, a series of highly flexible tall box-like archways which quickly adapted into a wide variety of different places and environments proved to be impressive throughout. As said the score by Adam Guettel (grandson of the legendary Richard Rogers), is totally engaging, from start to finale, occasionally nearly reaching operatic quality as sung by the splendid cast, with fine orchestral accompaniment conducted by Jose Delgado. Of course Scott Edmiston's strong direction is most certainly evident. Now playing through October 18, 2008. (My grade: 5)
Currently at the Turtle Lane Playhouse in the Auburndale neighborhood of Newton, Mass. is their new production of "Falsettos," featuring music and lyrics by William Finn and book by Finn and James Lapine. It was developed from three short plays, Off -Broadway, in the 1980's: "In Trousers," "Falsettoland" and "March of the Falsettos." After much initial success when staged in 1981 off-Broadway, it finally made its Broadway debut, now simply titled "Falsettos" a decade later in 1982-- where it garnered Tony Awards for book and score. It has been staged by many regional companies nationwide ever since. Webster's dictionary defines "Falsettos" as: "an artificially high voiced, especially one that overlaps and extends above the range of the usual voice" which points to the play's underlining irony. The fine seven member cast (all accomplished and resonant singers) performs their roles "recitative" fashion: sung throughout with virtually no spoken dialogue. Set in 1979, Marvin, a Jewish father, has divorced his wife Trina, and left his young son Jason, to live with his gay male lover "Whizzer." In a surprising and amusing twist, Marvin's ex-wife Trina falls in love and marries Dr. Mendel, the neurotic family's psychiatrist. Further complications unfold when young Jason decides not to participate in his soon approaching Bar-Mitzvah (a young Jewish boy's religious, ceremonial "rite of passage.") An even greater dilemma arises when Marvin's partner Whizzer is stricken with AIDS. As these unfortunate events multiply, Trina's concerned neighbors, Charlotte, a physician, and her mate Cordelia (a friendly lesbian couple) also offer their comfort and help. The play's poignant and heartfelt conclusion is reached when young Jason finally makes an extraordinary decision about his forthcoming Bar-Mitzvah. Of the show's many grandly amusing and engaging songs here are just a few examples: "Love is Blind" (it can tell a million stories), "The Thrill of First Love (we like fighting most), "My Father's a Homo (My mother's not thrilled at all!), "The Games I Play (every move is wrong), "It's about Time" (to grow up and face the music), "Everyone hates his Parents" (up you'll grow and then they'll hate you ,too!), "Canceling the Bar-Mitzvah?" (We'll wait until you make your decision), "Unlikely Lovers" (Whizzer, here I am by your side), and "You Gotta Die Sometime" (It's the Last Mountain I'll Climb). The splendid seven member cast sang resoundingly and portrayed their various roles effectively. Hats off to James A. Fitzpatrick III as Marvin, Kate deLima as Trina, young Jimmy Larkin as Jason and Ronald Pompeo Jr. as Whizzer with plaudits also for Robert Mattson as Dr. Mendel and Jaime Steinbach and Jessica Shulman McGettrick as Dr. Charlotte and Cordelia. High praise also for assured director Russell Green, scenic designer John MacKenzie--who did much with very little on the relatively bare stage-- as well as Wayne Ward's spirited musical accompaniment. This engaging production is now on view through October 12, 2008. (My Grade: 5)
LET ME DOWN EASY
Now at the Loeb Drama Center in Cambridge, MA ,the American Repertory Theatre presents "Let Me Down Easy", a solo performance in two acts, conceived, written and acted by Anna Deveare Smith. A consummate artist, in her in previous play's such as her exploration of the aftermath of the racial violence in New York's Crown Heights area entitled, "Fire In The Mirror," and her similar treatment following Rodney King's beating in her "Twilight: Los Angeles Live, 1992", here again she offers comparable reflections and insights on many major human issues. With the aid of some very minimal costume changes and her ease in quickly adapting to a wide range of different speaking accents, she is able to speedily and deftly assume a host of greatly diverse characterizations. Using the notion of "Grace" as that special condition "That people need to sustain them in times of distress " , Smith traveled to a wide variety of countries and places interviewing countless contrasting types. The genocidal ravages in Rwanda (intoning Smith's vivid recreations of a physician-to-be's memories as a six-year old survivor) are enhanced by descriptive titles illuminated high above the stage with corresponding photographic projections on opening and closing screens revealing the sights and horrors of the Iraq War as taken by a sensitive photo journalist. The voice of a proud jockey admiring the power of his winning horse followed by his sadness when he was compelled to destroy this same steed after it suffered two fatal ankle injuries. A professor of aesthetics discussing plants and the care of flowers, followed by the thoughts of an ordained Evangelist and then later by the outpourings of a Buddhist Monk "We just believe in goodness! We rejoice in loving kindness by extending humanity's compassion." A music professor fervently discussing Schubert's music and then Smith's concerns upon visiting a New Orleans' charity hospital after the devastation by Hurricane Katrina. "Complete abandonment being something new for her," it served as the core of her realization that "our health care system is turning into that of a developing country." Always compelling, unlike Anna Deveare Smith's previous multi-faceted and well-centered examinations of our country's racial unrest, she now offers an even grander, albeit more diffuse succession of attitudes related to man's search for "Grace" ( a glimpse of what G-d must want us to be ). Now playing through October 11, 2008. (My Grade: 4)
HOW SHAKESPEARE WON THE WEST
Currently at the Boston University Theatre, the Huntington Theatre Company presents the world premiere of "How Shakespeare Won The West" by Richard Nelson. Beginning in New York City and then going across America and the west during 1848 and 1849, Thomas Jefferson Calhoun (Will LeBow), owner of Manhattan's foundering Bard Tavern, his wife Alice (Mary Beth Fisher), a former actress, and their daughter Susan (Sarah Nealis), an enthusiastic neophyte, become intrigued by stories of the great theatrical zeal, especially for Shakespeare's plays, to be found amongst the prospective out on the great western American frontier. Based on historical fact, Calhoun's family are joined by aspiring Ohio actor Buck Buchanan (Eric Lochtefeld), Hank Daley, (Chris Henry Coffey) an unemployed actor and black-listed adulterer, Kate (Susannah Schulman) his actress wife, Edward Oldfield and his sister Ruth (Jeremiah Kissel and Kelly Hutchinson), (also jobless performers posturing as English thespians) and John Gough and George Demerest (Joe Tapper and Jon DeVries) older actors similarly "cooling their heels". Thus, this ragtag assortment of inactive ventures forth with comic overtones, across the open plains, toward the great "Wild West". Their trek into the unknown finds them sometimes quarreling amongst themselves (vexed by various ailments and amorous rivalries) and the unexpectedly faced with vivid encounters with hostile "Indians". No longer comic, they are challenged by moral considerations framed by racial and religious bigotry. Then, as various group members disperse, Buck finds himself embraced by "God-Fearing" believers with excessive and calamitous consequences! In the meantime, the others encounter P.T. Barnum (Ron Campbell as each) and soon thereafter Buffalo Bill, and then an amiable country lawyer named Abe, who loves to chat with them about "the theatre". Still later, they also meet and perform part of "King Lear" to a fascinated "Indian Chieftain", despite his obvious lack of comprehension. Throughout, the players describe their different stories in folksy fashion culminating in the expected futile conclusion of their exploits, when the playwright then rebounds into a surprising happy ending. With such a succession of plot twists and turns the full measure of the play's message becomes somewhat fragmented. Nevertheless, the accomplished cast, well marshaled by director Jonathan Moscone, consistently succeeds in holding the audience's attention and interest. Similar kudos for Antje Ellermann's rustic wood-beamed set, Laurie Churba Kohn's appropriate period costumes and Japhy Weidman's effective lighting. Now playing through October 5, 2008. (MY GRADE: 3.5)
Now at the Arsenal Center For The Arts Charles Mosesian Theater in Watertown, MA, The New Repertory Theatre presents its production of "Eurydice" by Sarah Ruhl. Originally produced by Madison (Wisconsin) Repertory Theatre in 2003 and then by Berkeley and Yale Repertory Theatre's in 2004, it was later staged Off Broadway at New York's Second Stage Theatre in 2007. This presentation marks the play's Boston area debut. Based on the Ancient Greek myth about the renowned musician Orpheus and his beloved mate Eurydice, who upon wandering off after her wedding to Orpheus dies after being bitten by a snake. Searching in the Underworld for his lost love, he convinces the Furies to allow her return with him to earth, but only on the condition that Orpheus not look back as she follows behind him. However when he does gaze to be sure of her presence, she was then lost to him again to the Underworld forever. Then, Orpheus trying to rescue her by crossing to the Underworld via the River Styx, all proves to be futile. A favorite motif for many popular stage, film and musical presentations, ranging from Monteverdi's 17th century opera "L'Orfeo", to such play's and films as Tennessee William's "Orpheus Descending" (also known as "The Fugitive Kind"), Jean Cocteu's "Orpheus" and Marcel Camus' "Black Orpheus" and the much more recent "Orpheus and Euridice" by Ricky Ian Gordon at N.Y.C.'s Lincoln Center. Like these past versions, Ms. Ruhl gives this ancient tale a decidedly contemporary spin. Set on a flat, angular azure platform before a similarly cerulean backdrop, with a host suspended globular spheres above them, Orpheus creates a melody for his swim-suited sweetheart Eurydice and ties a wedding ring on her finger. Although her dad is present and composes a nuptial letter in her honor, being "dead", Eurydice can neither see nor hear him. After she's wed to Orpheus, wearing a bright crimson gown, a mysterious male visitor dressed in white formalwear, appears and hands her the message that her father had written to her. Upon reading it she's propelled into the stratosphere and then descends, luggage in hand by elevator, drenched in river water, to the accepting Underworld. There, she's welcomed by the "Furies", now appearing as three very shrill, pre-adolescent little "stone girls" costumed like peppermint candy striped rag dolls, complete with orange, green and pink wigs. Now at last, Eurydice can see, hear and reunite with her dead father; but what of the forlorn Orpheus? Will his composing a symphony for 12 instruments, in praise of his lost lover, succeed in bringing her back to him? At nearly 2 hours of performance time with no intermission, this overly lengthy One Act Play, with it's many more unusual twists and turns continues on and on. After Eurydice's dead dad uses a ball of twine to suggest a room-like enclosure in this vast blue expanse, for his newly arrived daughter, Orpheus calls on his cell phone wanting to know "what city" he in. Once again, the former mysterious male visitor re-appears now whizzing about on stage riding on a large tricycle. Now, garbed in a red baseball cap with sneakers to match, he is the Lord of the Underworld! "Rooms are not allowed here" he announces "And neither are fathers." While Orpheus trudges on searching for Eurydice while chanting her sublime qualities he plods on ("singing your name at the gates of hell over and over) to which the discordant, childish "stones" reply "dead people should be seen and not heard." As Eurydices father then dismantles her string "room", everyone's fully aware that more complications yet to come, including the pre-known conclusion. Well played under Rick Lombardo's confident direction with commendations for Zillah Glory in the title role, Brian Bielawski as Orpheus, Ken Baltin as the father and Brian Quint as both the mysterious visitor and Underworld lord. Special and extra praise is also due for the trio of raucous and brat-like "stone" children, Whitney Sandford, Abby Spare and Rebecca Stevens, as well as for Janie E. Howland's highly imaginative native atmospheric setting, Deb Sullivan's creative lighting and Frances Nelson McSherry's fine costumes. Now playing through October 5, 2008. (MY GRADE: 3)
Now at the North Shore Music Theatre in Beverly, MA is their new production of "Show Boat", featuring music by Jerome Kern and book and lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II. This great American classic first opened on Broadway in 1927 to a tumultuous and ecstatic response. Based on Edna Ferber's same titled novel, it's classic format joining songs and choreography together to advance the show's compelling story, revolutionized the Broadway Musical. It was not by chance then that this same Oscar Hammerstein was to later, in 1943 connect with Richard Rodgers and create "Oklahoma" and all of their subsequent musical masterpieces. Show Boat's provocative plot centers on the lives and romantic involvements aboard "The Cotton Blossom", a Mississippi Showboat, beginning in the late 19th century and continuing on culminating in the mid 1920's. When Magnolia, the sweet, young daughter of "Cap'n Andy", the ship's impresario and his wife Parthy, falls in love with Gaylord Ravenal, a dashing and handsome but totally irresponsible gambler, the plot is set for their stormy marriage. After leaving the Showboat to live in Chicago and the birth of their lovely daughter Kim, Gaylord abandons his family because of his uncontrollable gambling. Forced to fend for themselves, Magnolia's dormant talent is revealed as she begins to evolve into prominence as a great vocalist. As the year's pass and young Kim matures, her show business acumen also propels her to similar stardom! The play's final moments focus on the down-and-out Ravenal's ultimate reunion with Magnolia and Kim. Along with this major story line a significant sub-plot concerning the travails of Julie LaVerne, the Showboat's former leading lady (a mix of black and white ancestry) is also established. The racist laws in the late 19th century making her marriage to her white husband actor Steve Baker illegal, add still another heart-rending aspect to this legendary musical. As said, Kern and Hammerstein's magnificent score enhances the story throughout. Magnolia and Gaylord's majestic duets "Only Make Believe", "You Are Love", and "Why Do I Love You?" amongst others, are genuinely sublime and sonorous. Teri Dale Hansen as Magnolia and Ron Bohmer as Gaylord really do sing them very well. Beautiful and grandly resonant Terry Burrell as the tragic Julie LaVerne, brings verve and poignancy to her spirited renditions of "Can't Help Lovin' Dat Man" and "(He's Just My) Bill". Of course, the evening's high point occurs early on with Phillip Boykin's superb portrayal of "Joe", the world-weary African American dock worker. His singing "Old Man River" is genuinely stirring! Much praise is also due for Sharon Wilkins as "Queenie", the Showboat's lively black "house maid" singing "Queenie's Bally Hoo" as well as Melinda Cowan and Jim Walton as two Showboat hoofers, with her initially singing "Life Upon The Wicked Stage" and then later both giving their all to "Goodbye My Lady Love". Kudos also for Glen Casale's assured direction (in-the-round), Ron Gibbs vivid choreography (especially the lively Charleston-like segments, near the show's finale) the splendid period costumes by Forence Klotz, and the vibrant orchestral accompaniment conducted by Brian Cimmet. This first rate presentation is now playing through October 12, 2008. (MY GRADE: 5)
WE WON'T PAY, WE WON'T PAY!
Now at the new Central Square Theater in Cambridge, MA the Nora Theatre Company presents it's production of "We Won't Pay! We Won't Pay!" by Dario Fo (1997 Nobel Prize winner for literature). This free-wheeling political farce was first staged in Fo's native Italy in 1974 as a protest against the country's raging inflation and was later produced here by the American Repertory Theatre in 1999, then as now with English translation by Ron Jenkins. As Italian's suffer intolerable price increases, especially of life's basic needs, housewives gather at a local supermarket to protest the ever exploding cost of food. When their complaints turn into a riot, their chants of "We won't pay! We won't pay!" became a reality as they en masse empty the store of all of it's groceries! As the city's police then begin a house to house search for the stolen foodstuffs, the plot centers on the over-the-top schemes of two housewives. Antonia, hoping to hide her thievery from her "law and order" husband Giovanni, conceals her stolen goods under her overcoat while convincing her friend Margherita to do the same. With both claiming to be pregnant, problems bubble over when we learn that Margherita is unable to become pregnant. Later, notions of a "hysterical pregnancy" are offered as a possibility. Absurdly comic confusions then start to pile up, while Antonia and her friend are off concocting new ploys Giovanni and Luigi (Margherita's perplexed husband) discover that the only victuals Antonia has put into the pantry are pet food, specifically bird seed and some frozen rabbits' heads. Their combined hunger forces them to experiment, as they both find that bird seed soup (especially if prepared "al-dente") can be "quite tasty", with similar approval for cooked rabbit head. Still later, the spill from a hidden pouch of pickle juice under Margherita's coat is thought to indicate that she has "broken her water." Comic disorder about her hospitalization erupts. As she stalls and then protests that "we have no reservation", her spouse counter with "we make the babies, are we then supposed to make reservations, too?". Besides this, a friendly, sympathetic cop who willingly forgoes a thorough house search, thereafter is supplanted by a strict law enforcement trooper; both in their own ways contribute to even more nonsensical disorder. Add to this wild mix this same trooper then becoming convinced that he's gone "blind" when an unpaid electric bill turns the lights off in the house that he's searching through and is combined with the two harried husbands attempting to hide two jumbo sacks of coffee they've found that were lost from a passing express truck. They plan to hide their newly acquired coffee beans in the empty casket provided to them by an accommodating undertaker. As one can see, the grandly improbable plot is overly overstuffed with details and contrivances. The small, hardworking cast do their best to accommodate the show's frenetic and demanding assignments. Stephanie Clayman and Elise Audrey Manning are both brightly hectic as Antonia and Margherita, with fine frenzied support by Scott H. Severance as the overwhelmed Giovanni. However, Robert Najarian as Luigi seemed occasionally less suited to his zany requirements, as did Antonio Ocampo-Guzman bobbing back and forth as either the sympathetic cop or the strict law enforcement trooper (somewhat enhanced by a fake moustache and a big three cornered black hat) or as the undertaker, amongst others. Brynna Bloomfield's appropriately drab and humble kitchen setting and Gail Astrid Buckley's varied workmen's, law enforcement and/or funeral costumes all proved to be satisfactory with like approval for director Daniel Gidron. It's also quite noteworthy that the evening ends with the entire cast, singing together in Italian, the World War Two Anthem of Italy's anti-fascists.Now playing through September 28, 2008. (My Grade: 3.5)
A CHORUS LINE
At Boston's Opera House currently is the new National Touring Company of "A Chorus Line", in the wake of the show's highly successful recent revival on Broadway. After its triumphant Manhattan debut in 1975, it went on to win nine Tony Awards and the Pulitzer Prize, plus a host of similar tributes. When the original production finally closed in 1990--after nearly 7,000 performances-- it was hailed at that time as Broadway's longest running success. It was also produced as a major Hollywood motion picture in 1985. Originally conceived, choreographed and directed by Michael Bennet, this new edition now has choreography re-staged by Baayork Lee and is directed by Bob Avian, the show's original co-choreographer with book by James Kirkwood and Nicholas Dante, music by Marvin Hamlisch and lyrics by Edward Kleban. Its elementary premise of young male and female dancers hoping to be chosen as members of the chorus line of a forthcoming Broadway show still evokes strong audience interest and enthusiasm, as those auditioning expose their life stories and innermost fears and expectation in dance and song. Their compelling reminiscences are alternately sad or amusing and continually engaging. Especially memorable are the ensemble, at the outset, chanting their expectant anthem "I Hope I Get It." Soon thereafter, Sheila, Bebe and Maggie, Emily Fletcher, Pilar Millhollen and Hollie Howard, a trio of winsome wanna-be's also express their early yearnings to become ballerinas by singing "At The Ballet" ("Everyone is beautiful at the ballet.") Then, the very young male dancer, who became increasingly troubled after finally realizing that he was gay, and later the similarly youthful Latino whose father finally referred to him as a "son" after discovering him performing in "drag" at "The Jewel Box Review." Certainly petite (flat-chested) Val (Natalie Elise Hall) is right on target with the extremely amusing ode subtitled "Dance:Ten; Looks: Three," ("T--s and A-s Can Change Your Life!") While she might have begun more gradually, finally reaching full resonance closer to the songs finale, nevertheless the tune's amusing observations are still quite a delight. Surely the evening's most poignant moments come when the show's no nonsense director is confronted by Cassie (Nikki Snelson), his former love. After their break-up and her heartbreak and disappointment in L.A., he's surprised to see her back in New York trying out for a position in the chorus. "You're Better Than That" he chides her. While her singing and dancing the touching "Music And The Mirror" number which describes her discouragement was clearly affecting, her general stage presence should have been much more commanding. The ensemble chanting "What I Did For Love" is the show's moving salute to all the eager rookies who try and don't succeed, and then try and try again, without regret. It's then followed of course, by the entire company grandly costumed, with the men in glittering golden top hats and formal evening attire and their lively female partners similarly and just as brilliantly outfitted. High kicking, strutting and exuberantly dancing and singing their joyful show-biz greeting to that night's "One" ("Singular Sensation"). Before a tall and stage-wide wall of mirrors, they bring the evening to it's memorably triumphant conclusion! Now playing through October 5, 2008. (My Grade: 4)
THE BOYS OF WINTER
Now at the Boston Playwrights' Theatre is their premiere presentation of "The Boys Of Winter" by Barry Brodsky, Dean B. Kaner and Eric Small. Set in a small town in Minnesota in 1966, the play's focus is on the recollections of "Big Al", a returning veteran and Vietnam War survivor. As Al and his friends Doug and "Bean" approach the end of their senior high school year, their thoughts are centered on two major issues: winning their schools' Hockey Championship and then their possible military service. As the school's star hockey player, Doug is very concerned about his school work. His poor grades may sideline him from the "big game!" While Cathy, his girlfriend, does her best to help him study for his big test, and the school's coach also tries his best to intercede on Doug's behalf with his teacher. Although Doug does initially fail his school test, overriding concern about the "game" prompts a successful retest for him. As expected, he goes on to help win the hockey game. Meanwhile, his best friend Bean joins the Marines after he's caught stealing a car and is promised leniency by agreeing to serve in the military. In spite of his mother's concerns, and enticed by an Army recruiter's promises, and his father's patriotic fervor, Doug also enlists with his buddy Al. Doug and Bean are both killed while serving in Vietnam. Years later, Al, having outlasted his two buddies, rebounds from rehab to rehab; confused, unmarried, he battles an ongoing struggle with "survivors guilt." Sometime later, he has a chance meeting with Doug's former girlfriend Cathy. Now long married and the mother of her own children, she ruefully regrets that "I should've done more to dissuade Doug." Before Doug enlisted, she had even tried at that time to entice him into going to Canada. Now, Al remains wondering "why did their names end up on a wall…and not mine?" As the evening's program notes, this tragically recurrent saga is now repeating itself just forty years later. The fine six member cast does well with their many roles. John Grenier-Ferris is especially compelling as the evening's over-all narrator, as well as effectively rebounding as Doug's coach, his zealous dad and as the returning, war disillusioned "Big Al", amongst others. Similar praise is also due for Michael Jorgensen as Doug, Zachary J. Winston as Bean, John Oxenford as Young Al, Elizabeth Rimar as young Cathy and Sarah Carlin as both Doug's mom as well as the mature Cathy. Commendation also for Bridget Kathleen O'Leary's well centered direction. While much more might have been done with the virtually bare, minimalist set (a black curtain as a backdrop and a few random pieces of furniture), nevertheless, the play's trenchant Waste-Of-War message resounds loudly and potently. Now playing through September 21, 2008! (My Grade: 4.5)
THE DEVIL'S MUSIC: THE LIFE AND BLUES OF BESSIE SMITH
Now at the Cape Playhouse in Dennis, MA is "The Devil's Music: The Life and Blues of Bessie Smith" by Angelo Parra. A grand 2000 Off-Broadway hit, it's the scintillating one woman review of the career and life experiences of the legendary "Empress Of The Blues", who continues to be revered to this day as the undisputably greatest African American diva of the 20's and 30's. Her much celebrated recordings, chronicling the harsh realities of black life, love, deception, abandonment, betrayal and ultimate defiance, resilience, perseverance and success, still resonate with her countless, ongoing devotees. Born into grinding poverty in the late 19th century, "in a sh-tty", one room shack in Chatanooga, Tennessee, she was one of seven very hungry children. "Papa died 'afore I knowed him." Dancing for pennies on street corners, she recalls "I was a fat, chubby colored child singin' bout love". With the great Ma Rainey, "The Mother Of The Blues" as her inspiration, Bessie advanced to barnstorming across the south triumphantly singing the great songs of hope and despair, the songs of her people. Married at a very young age to a man named "Love" she soon chanted "Death took him away...early." Suffering from recurrent headaches, she turned to hard drink, and a boisterously, lusty lifestyle. She soon met, fell in love with and married Jack Gee, a night watchman. At it's best, their relationship was a very stormy one. "Have you ever loved a man who was no good?" Then, variable approaches to recording companies finally brought her to a major contract with Columbia Records and a succession of potent successes. Her initial triumph with the African American community soon began to elicit enthusiasm with many whites as well. "There'll be a hot time in the old town tonight", "I wanna be somebody's baby doll", "I need a little sugar in my bowl" (I need a little hot dog for my roll!)" and other such tunes like "Downhearted Blues", began to justify her title as the Blues "Empress." Although her challenging schedule (5-6 shows a day, 7 days a week) would seem to have been a deterrent, she adopted a lively little baby. She loved "Jack Jr." so much that she felt able to really care for him, with the assistance of her sister while she was away "on the road". However, even though she was "making more money than any other colored entertainer", strife between her on again and off again husband finally found him taking legal action against her. Newspaper gossip reports described her as "stayin' up all night, smokin' reefers, cheating with other men" and most especially her scandalous "carnal knowledge of other women", led to the court's removing her child from her to an orphanage. Now she was truly able to give her vibrant voice to "The Devil's Music" ("Devil said "Bessie, can I have this dance?" "I said shaw 'nuff, daddy!"). Similar chants followed, such as "I Ain't Got Nobody" and "T'aint Nobody's Bizness If I Do!" ("If I Should Take A Notion, To Jump Into The Ocean"). However, as the 20's evolved into the 30's and the public's interest in "the Blues" began to wane, Bessie turned to the new "Swing Music". Having performed in the past with masters like Louis "Satchmo" Armstrong, she now was featured on records even with Benny Goodman, singing tunes such as "After You've Gone". She had even been featured as the star of a short movie based on the W. C. Handy classic "St. Louis Blues." The star's joyous shouting and stomping rendition of it on stage, accompanied by roaring tenor saxophonist Anthony Nelson, together with Jim Hankins on bass, and swinging Scott Trent on piano, brought the sitting audience to their feet with loud approval during the evenings highest moment! Unfortunately, Bessie's short, vigorous life ended in a bitterly tragic auto accident in Mississippi in 1937. Stately, statuesque Miche Braden is first rate, looking like, emoting and vividly singing and acting as Bessie. Bravos also for Yoshi Tanokura's splendid crimson-draped set and Joe Brancato's well centered direction. Now playing through September 13, 2008. (My Grade: 5)
At the Charles River in Boston's Brighton district in Christian Herter Park, the open air Publick Theatre presents their new production of Noel Coward's lively 1925 comedy "Hay Fever." Set in England, at the country estate of the Bliss family--the home of David Bliss, a successful novelist, and his wife Judith, a former actress. They live there with their two children, nineteen year old daughter Sorrel, and their similarly young son Simon, a budding artist. In selecting the family's name, the playwright immediately establishes his comic sense of irony as they are anything but a blissful family! Without consulting one another, each has invited a weekend guest. David has invited Jackie Coryton, a young, impressionable chorine, and Sorrel's invited Richard Greatham, a very stuffy but seasoned diplomat. Once again, the latter's name suggests Coward's wry sense of humor. Athletic Sandy Tyrell has come as Judith's enthusiastic devotee, and middle-aged socialite Myra Arundel seems to have designs on youthful Simon. Later, after dinner, the Bliss family and their guests become enmeshed in a bevy of lively and witty entanglements and amorous mix-ups. Is Judith really considering eloping with Richard? Is David beginning to eye Myra? Are Sorrel and Sandy and Simon and Jackie truly "coupling" or are they just toying with their weekend company? The next morning, after an awkward breakfast, the guests quickly and discreetly make their escape as they are "blissfully" ignored by the Bliss family. Well acted by the splendid cast, although Hannah Wilson as Jackie might have been a bit too animated for comic effect. Dafydd Rees as David, Lynn Guerra as Sorrel, Ross MacDonald as Simon, Robert Serrell as Sandy and Joel Colodner as Richard all were fine in their droll assignments. However, while both Debra Lund and Cheryl Turski as Judith and Myra did well with their comic roles, each seemed to be much younger than the middle aged types they were supposed to be. Dahlia Al-Habieli's striking multi -doorway, wooden paneled set, Rafael Jaen's pleasant period costumes, Caleb Magoon's vivid lighting, John Doerschuk's lively 20's era recorded musical choices, and especially Diego Arcinega's knowing direction all served Noel Coward's bright conceptions nicely. Now playing in alternately repertory with Anton Chekhov's "The Seagull" through September 14, 2008. (My Grade: 4)
MY FAIR LADY
Now at the Ogunquit Playhouse in Ogunquit, Maine is their new production of "My Fair Lady". Adapted from George Bernard Shaws "Pygmalion" it features book and lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner and lyrics by Frederick Loewe. Its triumphant debut on Broadway in 1956 grabbed a host of Tony Awards, including Best Musical, Actor and Director. Produced as a major Hollywood motion picture in 1964, it was once again greeted by enormous popular and critical acclaim and similar approval with a multitude of Oscars as Best Film, Actor and Director, amongst many others. Having never lost its appeal, it has enjoyed many national and international productions and ongoing revivals ever since. This current presentation could most certainly measure up to this show's legendary past levels of achievement. Very faithful in song and story to Shaw's original, with linguistic authority Professor Henry Higgins betting a friend that by coaching Eliza Doolittle, a lowly, cockney flower-seller from speaking in the rough and tumble, slang-defined ways of her past, he can transform her into being generally accepted as a cultivated "lady." The key to this conversion of course, lies in teaching her how to speak a refined English. This, he achieves, after months and months of arduous effort, with great success; But also by so doing, he makes Eliza feel like a misfit. Now no longer comfortable with her former humble surroundings, she feels similarly ill-suited to her new status. Higgins' seeming indifference to her malaise, and Eliza's winning response, effectively culminate happily to everyone's complete delight! The splendid cast perform their roles with verve and gusto. Jefferson Mays, (best remembered for his extraordinary award winning turn in 2004 in "I Am My Own Wife") is properly, all-knowing, gruff and disdainful as Henry Higgins. Gail Bennett, an exquisite soprano--as lovely to look at as to listen to-- is nearly flawless as Eliza Doolittle. Similar praise must also go to Conrad John Schuck as Higgin's accommodating partner Colonel Pickering; Nancy Dussault as Higgins' concerned mother; Will Ray, a first-rate baritone, as Freddy Eynsford-Hill (Eliza's presumptively awkward suitor) and Tim Jerome as Alfred P. Doolittle, Eliza's raucously boisterous, alcoholic father. "I Could Have Dance All Night", "On The Street Where You Live", "I've Grown Accustomed To Her Face", "The Rain In Spain", "With A Little Bit Of Luck", "Wouldn't It Be Loverly", And "Get Me To The Church On Time!" highlight the magnificent score which resonates so true in its Shayian spirit. Scenic designer Kenneth Foy's many fine backdrops, most especially the one serving as Higgins' study, with its vast and highly detailed bookcase and elaborate, full-scale winding staircase, certainly merits commendation as does Gregory Poplyk's resplendent and eye-popping costumes, especially noteworthy in the show's highly colorful "ascot raceway" sequence. Likewise, approval for the excellent orchestral accompaniment conducted by Catherine Stornetta, the lively choreography by Jennifer Werner and most definitely Shaun Kerrison's well defined direction, all of which contribute mightily into making this the grand entertainment that it is! Now playing through September 6, 2008. (My Grade: 5)
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 "The Seagull" by Anton Chekhov. Denounced when first staged in 1895, it was quickly re-evaluated and raised to its ongoing eminent status. Young Constatine Treplieff, a novice playwright is staying with his mother, Irina Arkadina, (a famous, haughty, and quite self-centered actress), at her brother Peter Sorin's country estate. While she is involved in a romantic affair with Boris Trigorin, a well-known writer, Constantine (who resents his mother's lover) yearns for Nina, a lovely young neighbor, who aspires to be an actress. To impress her, Constantine writes a "symbolist" play for her to star in. As expected, when his mother Irina debunks his work as meaningless, he downheartedly disposes of it. Still trying to impress Nina, the following day Constantine brings her a seagull that he's shot as a present. To his dismay, Trigorin comes forward to announce that he will write a story for her about a young girl who, like her dead seagull, also faces an early demise. Totally discouraged, Constantine tries to shoot himself, but only grazes his head. Sometime later, after all of Peter Sorin's guests have left, Irina returns with Constantine. She has come to tend to her ailing brother. When Nina unexpectedly returns with news of a failed pregnancy and rejection by Trigorin, Constantine offers her his love. When she dismisses his appeal and leaves, Constantine finally makes his tragic decision. Well acted by Tyler Reilly as Constantine with compelling support by Hannah Wilson as Nina and Robert Serrell as Trigorin. Although Susanne Nitter might have been more histrionic and imperious as the vain-glorious Irina Arkadina towards her troubled son, she was much more effective in her trysts with Trigorin. Assuredly directed by Diego Arciniegas, it is especially noteworthy that production also features the premiere of his new English translation from the original Russian. While certainly more fluid than the usually more reserved British interpretations, it should be also noted that Diego's occasional use of some overly strong, current expletives seemed somewhat jarring in the context of late 19th century Russia. High marks should also go to Dahlia Al-Habieli's simple but effective multi-entrance and use of the stage's lushly green ambience as well as for Rafael Jaen's fine basic period costumes. Now playing in alternating repertory with Noel Coward's "Hay Fever" through September 7, 2008. (My grade: 4)
DOUBT: A PARABLE
Currently at Gloucester Stage in Gloucester, MA is their production of "Doubt: A Parable", John Patrick Shanley's acclaimed 2005 Pulitzer Prize, Tony and Drama Desk Award-Winning morality play. Set in 1964 at a Catholic Parochial school in the Bronx, the plays' focus is on the suspicions of the school's stern principal, the highly authoritarian, middle aged Sister Aloysius. She questions the special interest that Father Brendan Flynn, (the school's young, amiable and compassionate Parish Priest) has taken in one of his pupils. That said student is just 12 years old, possibly gay, and the schools' sole African American. This has raised the strict headmistress' concerns. Sister James, the Institution's eight grade teacher has informed her that "Father Flynn took the boy to the rectory and the boy looked frightened and had alcohol on his breath when he returned to class." Shaken by Sister Aloysius' assumptions, Father Flynn, who also mentors the school children on physical education, counters her distrust by explaining about the young "black boys'" unapproved "sipping of sacramental wine". "What happened in the Rectory?" she demands. "Warmth, friendliness and understanding are the expressions of my involvement" he responds. This exchange sets the stage for the dramas' main conflict. Later, when Sister Aloysius summons the young African American boy's mother for a conference, she's told by the boy's parent that "the boy's dad beats him regularly, because of the way he is." Hoping that the strict taskmaster will ultimately relent, she suggests "sometimes things aren't black and white", with "sometimes they are" offered as the unbending Nun's answer. As the naive and troubled Sister James becomes increasingly torn by her alternating notions about Father Flynn, so too is the audiences uncertainty about Sister Aloysius' conclusions. As the plays title says, the contentious issues remain unresolved, mired finally in doubt! Extremely well acted by the accomplished four member cast, with high praise for Nancy E. Carroll's strong, riveting performance as Sister Aloysius and Lewis D. Wheeler's engaging and confrontational portrayal of the accused Father Flynn. Similar commendations for Melissa Baroni as the perplexed Sister James, and Kortney Adams as the young student's mother. Extra applause for Eric C. Engel's well defined direction, Jenna McFarland Lord's dark, multi-level, sharp edged set and Molly Trainer's effectively religious costumes. Now playing through August 24, 2008. (My Grade: 5)
WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU DOING IN THE WAITING ROOM FOR HEAVEN?
At the New Central Square Theatre in Cambridge, MA, Deborah Henson-Conant, the well known and justifiably celebrated "hip-harpist" is now appearing in her one woman show "What The Hell Are You Doing In The Waiting Room For Heaven?" Mounted ostensibly not simply as a solo performance by this first rate musician, but rather as a 90 minute theatrical piece with book, music and lyrics by her, it comes off surprisingly as somewhat of a "mixed bag". Outfitted in a gold accented white mini-dress, swathed in see-through, net like gauze abetted by bright, high cowboy styled boots topped off by a coiffure of lengthy hair braids laced with equally long, shiny gold ribbons, she presents herself as casting coach "Aubrey Giles" preparing the capacity audience (assembled at the heavenly gates) to succeed auditioning as the new celestial choir. This then acts as the frame for Deborah to sing and play, harnessed much like a guitarist, her custom designed mini-harp for the dozen tunes she has composed. She, accordingly, then also enlists the audience in a succession of lively sing along numbers. As stated, Deborah is not only a superb musician, but also an equally gifted vocalist. Notwithstanding the uneven quality of the many songs she's written, the large assembly really seemed to enjoy joining along! The melodies range from Jazz, Rock, Folk, Gospel and Blues to traditional theatrical and show biz styling. Amongst the evenings best moments were "Hallelujah Blues" ("When Elvis Got To The Throne Of Heaven"), "It's Illogical"( "Why is a dimple good and a pimple bad…Why do you seek enlightenment and run from fear?") and with Deborah dropping to one knee like Al Jolson, "Nothing Can Be Something" (Add a little beat and something for your feet!) Especially noteworthy was Deborah, surprisingly and vividly swinging at an electric keyboard and vibrantly scat-singing to "You're Waiting In The Wings" (If I'm Not The Best, Do I Matter At All?) And certainly finishing with the big production number (If We Make It Big…Big…Big! They've Gotta Let Us In!), buttressed on stage by a bemused quintet of recruited members of the audience. While as I've said the evening's repertoire is just really of varying quality, Deborah's very accomplished musicianship (both playing and singing) together with her strong stage presence combined to captivate the audience from start to finish. Now playing through August 12, 2008. (My Grade: 3.5)
NO, NO, NANETTE
On the campus of the Waltham High School in Waltham, MA The Reagle Players, celebrating their 40th Season, present their new production of "No, No, Nanette." It is known as the quintessential song and dance show of the "roaring twenties" (it's reportedly the most popular Broadway musical of that era). It made its debut on "The Great White Way" in 1925 after successful tryouts in Detroit, Chicago and London. While its antique book by Otto Harbach and Frank Mandel seems woefully dated by today's standards, it's zestful music by Vincent Youmans-- with its snappy lyrics by Irving Caesar and Otto Harbach-- plus, Eileen Grace's lively choreography continue to generate its ongoing appeal. The show's highly successful revival in 1971, featured a lavish new production directed by Hollywood's famed Busby Berkely, who was later superceded by the equally notable Burt Shevelove. Movie versions of this show were made in 1930 and also in 1940. Hollywood beckoned again a decade later, this time with a new title, a highly revised book, the same music and a very popular star. "Tea for Two" starring Doris Day became a popular hit in 1950. During a summer weekend in 1925, millionaire Bible publisher Jimmy Smith and his wife Sue are guardians of the young, soon to be adult Nanette. Buoyed by a strong sense of philanthropy, Jimmy has extended financial support to a few of the lovely young ladies he has met on his business trips. Of course, since Jimmy's business is making and selling Bibles, no "hanky panky" is involved. With his generosity to beautiful Flora from Boston, sweet Betty from Philadelphia and pretty Winnie from Washington, D.C., these innocent gifts to this trio of lovelies lead to a series of comic complications. Tom, the boyfriend of Jimmy and Sue's ward Nanette, thinks that Jimmy is not as innocent as he claims to be. Lucille, the wife of Jimmy's best friend Billy (a notorious philanderer) is sure that Jimmy is really busy providing new girlfriends for her husband! Sue, of course, thinks that Lucille's suspicions are correct. When all of the aforementioned friends and acquaintances, including Jimmy and Sue's ward Nanette and their saucy housemaid Pauline meet at the Smiths' "Chickadee Cottage" in Atlantic City, all of their confusions are revealed and are swiftly and happily explained and comically resolved! In spite of the elaborate, cumbersome and overly wordy, old fashioned plot, this show's strength and durability rests on its lively song and dance sequences. While much of act one bogs down because of all of the book's weighty and highly contrived exposition, several of the shows best numbers - "Call of the Sea", "I want to be happy" and the show's title tune vividly performed by a stage full of spiritedly animated singing and dancing chorus girls and boys bring the first act to a lively conclusion. Act two, replete with the rest of the show's best numbers such as "Tea for Two", "You can dance with any girl", "Take a little one step" and "Peach on the Beach" emblazoned by all those aforementioned bubbly chorines, armed with many highly colorful jumbo beach balls, really brighten the second act, and bring the show to it's happily energetic conclusion! The Reagle Player's ever reliable Harold "Jerry" Walker as Jimmy; Mary Jane Houdina as his tap-dancing and pirouetting wife Sue; lovely Jessica Greeley as Nanette; Jason Michael Butler as her fiance Tom; and Russel Rhodes as Jimmy's dancing and womanizing friend Billy, all do very well with their various resonant musical assignments. Especially noteworthy is Broadway's foremost Donna McKechnie as Sue's lively, attractive and highly sonorous friend Lucille, with similar praise for the company's grandly praiseworthy choice of Jeanette A. McCarthy (the actual present time Mayor of Waltham) to play the role of Pauline, the show's capricious housemaid. High marks also for director Robert J. Eagle, the company's founder and artistic director, as well as for the splendid full orchestra conducted by Jeffrey P. Leonard, Dan Rodriguez and Rick Scalise. Now playing through August 16, 2008. ( My Grade: 4)
JIMMY TINGLE FOR PRESIDENT
Now at The Mosesian Theater in the Arsenal Center For The Arts in Watertown, MA is "Jimmy Tingle For President", a one man comedy show by the famed New England born and nationally known comedian. For nearly two hours (including a brief intermission) Jimmy delivers a mock campaign speech for the U.S. Presidency, during which he expounds on his plans and goals for the nation. Most of the evening he hits his comic targets, with only a few misfires. His observations on current events, attitudes and possibilities, make up the bulk of his amusing comments. Unlike most of the present time crop of the nation's best known comedians, Jimmy's routines are not centered on scatological involvements, language or body parts. Running on his record as a professional entertainer, ("I've been a comedian for 25 years") his campaign is based upon "Humor for Humanity". As expected, his remarks are focused on many of the same issues as those of the two nationally recognized Presidential candidates. Among his answers to the energy and global warming crisis he suggests wind power generated by cars, initially powered by foreign oil, but programmed eventually to be pushed free of such dependence. As to the positive side of the Arctic's melting ice caps, he sees the good that might come from seeing polar bears cavorting in Walden Pond! He also recognizes the advantages to be gained from joggers pulling passengers in Rickshaws. Under the Tingle Administration's Educational Proposals, Jimmy would see to it that tutors would read lofty books to potential parents during procreation so that their offspring will be very knowledgeable even before they are born! He also sees no reason why Congress, which has it's own free health program yet insists that the public must pay their own way, can't, as a public service, switch programs with that same general public. As for taxes, why not tax sex, violence and telling lies on TV, also? As to problems associated with immigrants, he notes that "people sneaking into this country to work is just like someone breaking into your house so they can clean it!" Other pithy topics for this wide ranging humorist to tackle include amusing possible ways for opposing groups to come together, some unusual methods of birth control for Catholics and other such minded religionists, paths to forgiveness for enhancement-performing drug using sports figures, as well as for commercial sponsors promoting prescription drugs including their super long listings of negative side effects, as well as the many obvious shortcomings to be found regularly, day to day, in airport security. These topics, amongst a host of others, kept the near capacity audience roundly amused from start to finish. Jimmy will continue campaigning until August 9, 2008. (My Grade: 4)
AS YOU LIKE IT
At the Parkman Bandstand on the Boston Common, the Commonwealth Shakespeare Company presents "As You Like It" by William Shakespeare. This is the company's twelfth annual presentation of the works of the Bard done every summertime, and at no admission cost to the general public. Staged against the Hub's open air and sublime greenery, this timeless comedy's vernal setting is composed of a stage-wide circle of tall trees which, when necessary, occasionally part at their center to accommodate time and place changes. The lively plot revolves around complications caused when the elder and lawful ruler Duke Senior has been driven from his dominion by his younger brother Frederick. Similarly, Duke Senior's lovely young daughter Rosalind, who's in love with handsome and youthful Orlando (son of one of her father's most loyal supporters) feels that she too (now disguised as a boy) with her cousin Celia and her Jester Touchstone, must all also flee to the nearby forest Arden. Likewise, Orlando, because of animosity with his brother Oliver, feels that he too must escape to this same forest with his faithful servant Adam. There, he joins the banished Duke and his entourage. Then, still disguised as a boy and acting as a shepherd with other shepherds, Rosalind encounters the unsuspecting Orlando. Later, in a chance meeting, Orlando is able, unexpectedly, to save his sleeping brother Oliver's life from marauding animals. Wounded by this incident, Orlando sends the now thankful Oliver to inform Rosalind and Celia. The change in Oliver arouses feelings of love for him in Celia! Meanwhile, Duke Frederick, searching the forest for his estranged brother Duke Senior, comes upon a wise, elderly hermit who convinces him to end his enmity towards his exiled brother. Now at last, with everyone reconciled, Rosalind (finally revealed as a beautiful young female) marries Orlando as does Celia to Oliver, Touchstone to his country "wench" girlfriend at the same time, and also a very helpful shepherd and shepherdess, too. The large, nearly 20 member cast handle their roles well, with praise for Frederick Weller as Orlando, Johnny Lee Davenport as Duke Senior, Noah Tuleja as Duke Frederick and Larry Coen as Touchstone. As the Jester, he was particularly effective reciting the poetic qualities of his mistress: "If a hart do lack a hind, let him seek out Rosalind, if the cat will after kind, so, be sure, will Rosalind." Of course, one of the Bard's best loved observations on humankind is also found in this same play, when Fred Sullivan Jr. as Jaques, one of the banished Duke's attending Lords, delivers the celebrated ode beginning with "All the world's a stage… and one man in his time plays many parts, his acts being seven ages." Although at the play's outset, Marin Ireland and Ali Marsh as Rosalind and Celia were a bit too overly shrill and giddy, trying for much too easy laughter, as the evening progressed they were both able to adjust their performances to better effect. Much praise also for Steven Maler's confident direction and Scott Bradley's aforementioned set design. Lastly commendations for J. Hagenbuckle and Peter McMurray's lively original music played by Samson Kohanski (guitar), Greg Ferris (percussion), Becca Zaretzsky (accordian), as well as Faith Imafidon and Marie Polizzano as well. Now playing in Boston through August 3, 2008 and then at Forest Park in Springfield MA from August 8-10 2008. (My Grade: 4)
Now at the Boston Center for the Arts, Company One presents it's production of "Assassins," featuring music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim with book by John Weidman. Initially staged Off-Broadway in 1991 for only a very limited engagement, it was greeted by a grandly mixed response then due to it's highly unusual (veering towards grim) focus. Set against a simulated fairgrounds background, composed of a series of upright carnival-styled booths, the accounts of more than a dozen assailants who have tried and failed or succeeded to kill a series of U.S. Presidents are related either as vivid dramatic recollections or sung as a variety of musical numbers. Their lively songs range stylistically from folk music, waltzes and spirituals, to marches and anthems. A strolling balladeer provides connecting strains to the stories and songs of this strange assortment of misguided and/or deranged rogues. Especially memorable, of course, is John Wilkes Booth, our first major assassin, son of a distinguished acting family whose claim to fame rests solely upon his successful murder of President Abraham Lincoln; ("Why'd you do it, Johnny?…Some say you killed the country because of bad reviews!") Amongst other notable murderous fanatics Charles Guiteau stands out. A religious zealot, "the diety" ordered him to kill President Garfield in 1881. He was tried, found guilty, and hung soon after ("I am going to the Lordy, glory hallelujah!"). Lynette "Squeaky" Fromme, an eccentric and foolish member of Charles Mansons' devilish "Family", and later Sara Jane Moore, who both at different times tried unsuccessfully to murder President Gerald Ford, join the rest of the shows' collection of misguided cranks in chanting Sondheim's "There's Another National Anthem" ("For those who never win."). The large 18 member cast is uniformly excellent with a number of resonantly well voiced leading players. Nik Walker as the shows' ambulatory Balladeer, David DaCosta as John Wilkes Booth, Jeff Mahoney as Charles Guiteau and McCaela Donovan and Elizabeth Rimar as "Squeeky" Fromme and Sara Jane Moore were all resoundingly effective both acting and singing their varied roles. Others most worthy of mention include Ed Hoopman as Leon Czolgosz who murdered President McKinley in 1901, and Mason Sand (wearing a Santa Claus suit) as Samuel Byck who failed to eliminate President Nixon in 1974. Commendations are certainly due as well for Shawn LaCount's strong, well centered direction, Anthony R. Phelps' simple but effective set and the deftly played musical score performed by the fine accompanying quintet conducted by pianist Jose Delgado. This highly recommended presentation is now playing through August 9, 2008. (My Grade: 5)
At Beatrice Herford's Vokes Theatre in Wayland, MA, The Vokes Players present their new production of "Born Yesterday" by Garson Kanin. A major comedic success on Broadway when it made it's debut in 1946, it catapulted its three leading performers: Judy Holliday, Paul Douglas and Gary Merrill to immediate Hollywood stardom. Ms. Holliday, who was the only one of this trio to recreate her Broadway role on film, went on to win an Oscar after the movies' release in 1950. It was remade by Hollywood again in 1993 with much less fanfare. Set in post World War II Washington, D.C., it's comic Pygmalion-like plot centers on boorish Harry Brock, a billionaire junkyard tycoon whose come to the nation's capital with his pretty, young, ditsy mistress Billie Dawn. Harry is there to use his wealth to curry political favor for himself. He has also decided that to be sure that unsophisticated Billie won't become a social liability to him, she should get some educational enlightenment, and hires reporter Paul Verrall to "smarten her up." As expected, after several months of tutoring Billie is now conversant about "The Bill of Rights", Tom Paine and many of the pillars of western civilization that have served as the foundation for our democracy. Much romantic attraction between student and teacher has also become quite evident! Naturally, now savvy about democratic values vs. political corruption, Billie turns the tables on Harry with great comic bravado at the plays' finale. Originally portrayed as the quintessential dumb blonde on Broadway and then in motion pictures by Judy Holliday in the late 40's, and again by Melanie Griffith in the early 90's, it was assured that lovely, curvaceous and brunette Aimee Doherty as Billie, would have to put her own vividly amusing and personal stamp on the role. This she has most certainly done. Tom Large (both physically and verbally) is appropriately loud and loutish as the brutish, wealthy junkyard magnate, with fine support from David Wood as the illuminating reporter. Robert Zawistowski as a subservient "on the take" senator and David Berti as Harry Brock's morally conflicted and ultimately uplifted lawyer were equally effective. While a somewhat overly and unnecessarily lengthy "gin rummy" card game, played on stage near the conclusion of act one in silence between Billie and Brock should have served to illustrate Billie's potential and Brock's inadequacy, instead it seems to have mainly acted only to slow the first act's momentum. Not withstanding this, the capacity audience otherwise really showed its enthusiastic approval throughout! Now playing through August 2, 2008. (My Grade: 4)
KEROUC'S LAST CALL
At the Boston Playwright's Theatre the Image Theatre presents the Boston premier of "Kerouac's Last Call" by Patrick Fenton. This play's world premiere was originally staged by this same company in Lowell, MA (Jack Kerouac's hometown) in February, 2008. Set in 1964 in Northport, NY, it's based on taped recordings of Kerouac's reminiscences at a going away party for him at a friend's home, the night before he moved to Florida with his mother. His wide ranging musings unfold with his beginnings as a writer in spite of his father's cautionary warnings to "get a real job," followed by his chiding to "name one famous writer who ever came out of Lowell, MA". However, inspired by such luminaries as Sherwood Anderson, Tom Wolf and John Steinbeck and bolstered by his mother's support, he was able to commence. Then, after his family moved from New England to Queens, New York, Kerouac's legendary cross country travels with is similarly motivated writer-friend Neal Cassady began. High amongst the many unexpected moments during his travels was his surprisingly mixed reactions to an L.S.D. focused house party at the home of author Ken Kesey ("One Flew Over The Cukoo's Nest") replete with his negative responses to the many fervent recitations there from the writings of Mao! Still later, a succession of spirited telephone conversations follow with young, pretty Jan, who Jack initially refuses to accept as his estranged daughter. Nevertheless, he finally agrees when she informs him that she, too, is writing a novel. He's wistfully troubled on finding out that his friend Neal Cassady never had enough confidence to try to publish anything that he wrote, complicated by the many great memories they enjoyed on the road together. Then, after his companion's death, Jack's life, too, was conflicted by night-long drunken binges compounded by many bar fights, unfortunately followed by Jack's early death. Well played by the splendid five member cast, with an especially engaging portrayal by Jerry Bisantz in the title role. High praise also should go to Jenney Dale as Jack's daughter Jan, Steve O'Connor as Jack's travel-buddy Neal Cassady, as well as Jack Dacey and Lida McGirr as Jack's dad and mother. Kudos, likewise, for Ann Garvin's well paced direction. Fortunately, Wellington Breve's interesting rear-slide projections enlivened the show's otherwise simple but drab set. This engaging character profile is now playing through July 26, 2008. (My Grade: 4)
BYE BYE BIRDIE
Do not pass go. Do not go to jail. Go directly to the North Shore Music Theater to see this five star production of Bye Bye Birdie, a musical by Michael steward, Charles Strouse and Lee Adams. Birdie is a musical satire on American life in Sweet Apple, OH in 1960. It's a play about love, parents, teenagers and an Elvis-esque Conrad Birdie who has been drafted, much to the despair of millions of teenagers all over the world. It's when Rose Alvarez, the secretary/love interest of Birdie's manager, Albert Peterson, comes up with a brilliant PR ploy of having Birdie kiss the women of America goodbye with one symbolic kiss given to superfan Kim Macafee of Sweet Apple, Ohio that the zaniest begins.
The play, with it's sing-able score, has never lost it's magic for me, from the first time I saw it on Broadway with Chita to the movie with Rita, but I have never seen a better portrayal of Rosie than the one performed last night by multi-talented Bianca Marroquin. Her dance performance alone could bring her a Tony and brought down the house last night at The Music Theater. Kudos to James Patterson as Albert and Mary-Pat Green as Albert's over-possessive mother, Mae. And I would be remiss if I didn't mention the mega-talent behind the clever choreography and direction by Michael Lichtefeld. What a talent! What a cast! What a night out!
And it can all be had for the cost of $40.00 to $77.00 by calling 978-232-7200 or going online www.nsmt.org or in person at 62 Dunham Rd. in Beverly (just a couple blocks off rte. 128).
If you hunger for a night out that's uplifting, joyful and irresistibly scrumptious, this production of Birdie is by far the best I've seen since Chita and Rita. I give this production something I've never given another…5 Stars.
(My Grade: 5)
As part of their ongoing 40th anniversary season at the Robinson Theater on the campus of the Waltham High School in Waltham, the Reagle Players present their new production of "Annie". Based on the longstanding newspaper comic strip created in the 1930's by Harold Gray, this multi-awardwinning musical features music by Charles Strouse, lyrics by Martin Charnin and Book by Thomas Meehan. Unlike its' suspense and adventure centered source, the plot of this multi-award winning show owes more to the story lines by Charles Dickens than it does to the daily action filled exploits drawn by cartoonist Harold Gray. Since this show's triumphant Broadway opening in 1977, it has been staged by touring professional and/or community companies (here and abroad) practically ever since, and was even produced as a major Hollywood movie in 1982. It was later also presented as a prime made-for-television motion picture in 1999. It is set in Depression era 1933, in a run down orphanage for young girls managed by nasty, alcoholic, tyrannical Miss Hannigan. At the plot's center is 11 year old Annie, who has been re-captured after a failed escape attempt. Her all prevailing hope is to someday be reunited with her long-lost parents. Billionaire Oliver "Daddy" Warbucks plans to have an orphan spend the Christmas Holiday with him and with this in mind sends his lovely secretary to the local orphanage, where she selects Annie. All goes well until Miss Hannigan, prompted by her nefarious brother "Rooster" and his dimwitted floozy girlfriend "Lily" try to pose as Annie's missing parents. They hope to swindle Warbucks out of some big reward money with, as obviously expected, drastic consequences! Solid praise for young, full voiced Isabelle Miller in the title role; grandly comic support from TV's Sally Struthers as the raucously tipsy, resonant and uproariously disagreeable Miss Hannigan. Similar commendations for Terry Runnels as Oliver Warbucks and most certainly for sweetly voiced Sarah Pfisterer as his helpful secretary. Bob Fitch (who's also this show's assured director) and Beverly Ward as the scheming and sleazy "Rooster" and "Lily", and especially the nearly dozen highly spirited pre-adolescent singing and dancing orphanage girls are all most definitely praiseworthy! Very young Lauren Weintraub, as little "Molly", was quite outstanding not only singing resoundingly but also was genuinely memorable both tap dancing and also even somersaulting! Lastly, local TV newscaster Scott Wahle does nicely in his brief appearance as President Franklin Roosevelt, who comes to help "Daddy Warbucks" at Christmas time. The melodious score including "It's a Hard Knock Life", "Maybe", "NYC", "Easy Street", "You're Never Fully Dressed Without A Smile" and of course "Tomorrow" (the confidently, hopeful, depression-era anthem) were all enthusiastically appreciated by the full audience. Kudos also for Mary Jane Houdina's vivid choreography (based on Peter Gennaro's original conceptions), Matt Rudman's multi-diverse scenic designs and especially the full orchestra under the co-musical direction of Dan Rodriguez and Jeffrey P. Leonard. Now playing through July 19, 2008. (My Grade: 5)
ACCORDING TO TIP
At the Mosesian Theater in the Arsenal Center for the Arts in Watertown, MA, the New Repertory Theater presents the world premier of "According to Tip" by Dick Flavin. Alone on stage for nearly two hours (including a brief intermission) is Tony and Emmy- award winner Ken Howard (who is best known for his roles in TV's "The White Shadow", "The Thorn Birds" and "The West Wing" amongst his many other stage and film credits) Topped off by the large snow white crown of hair that had become Tip O'Neil's identifying standard, complete with rumpled business suit, buttoned white shirt and necktie, Howard's re-creation of the legendary politico won a round of enthusiastic applause from the capacity crowd. The evening is comprised of a folksy procession of earthy and generally warm and witty reminiscences by Tip about his life and times, laced with a host of lively Irish songs. Seated at his home/office, or standing at either his lectern or responding to reporters on a radio microphone. Behind him is mounted a stage-wide top to bottom panorama of jumbo, linear caricatures flanked on the left side by the Massachusetts State House, and to the far right by the U.S. Capital. Sandwiched between these two legislative centers are the large cartoon faces of JFK, LBJ, Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan…obviously vividly defining the range of Tip's career. Beginning in his pre-World War I days on the streets of his suburban hometown neighborhood, he tells us of his early youthful gambits in North Cambridge. "When I was fourteen years old I got into Harvard University as part of the caretaking grounds crew. Later on, I returned when they gave me an honorary degree." As expected, he continues on at length about his initial forays into local politics. His early failure in 1935 to win a seat on the Cambridge City Council, and much later (after some success in his hometown) his rise in 1948 to Speaker of the Massachusetts State House. Then still later, when the young John F. Kennedy relinquished his congressional seat to try for the U.S. Senate, Tip ran for and won Kennedy's vacant post. While being a fervent supporter of JFK for President, Tip found himself to be often at odds with the younger Bobby Kennedy. Nevertheless, after JFK's tragic demise, Tip fully supported Bobby's try for the U.S. Presidency, which once again was thwarted by its deadly conclusion. Years later, when the Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives was lost in an airplane crash, Tip found himself to be next in line to become his successor. As he steadily rose up the ladder of political power and prestige his encounters with the many U.S. President's caricatured on the big panorama behind him are robustly and warmly explored. While the center of Tip's observations remain steadily throughout centered on his political career, unfortunately, only occasional mention is given to his much-neglected home life. His marriage in 1941 to his beloved wife Millie, and the trials and tribulations of their five children-- culminating in the early death from drugs and alcoholism of their son, Michael. All too brief attention is also given to Tip's ultimate retirement to Cape Cod, compounded by his beloved wife's unexplained medical condition. As directed by Rick Lombardo (the company’s producing artistic director), Ken Howard gives a lively, well-rounded solo performance as this grand, old icon of local and national political prominence. Extra notice should also go to Janie E. Howland's engaging, cartoon-enhanced set and also to Todd C. Gordon's many lively, Irish song choices. Now playing through July 13, 2008.
WHEN IT'S HOT, IT'S COLE! A COLE PORTER CABARET
At the Zero Arrow Theatre in Cambridge, MA, The American Repertory Theatre Presents, "When It's Hot It's Cole! A Cole Porter Cabaret." Thanks to the splendid reception to last summers' presentation of the A.R.T.'s similarly-mounted tribute to the songs and wit of the great Noel Coward, they've attempted to do the same this summer for the legendary Cole Porter. Once again, the same quartet comprised of some of the company's most accomplished and prestigious actors- - Remo Airaldi, Thomas Derrah, Will Lebow and Karen MacDonald-- have returned to similarly and musically celebrate this iconic American composer/lyricist. This time, an impressive recent A.R.T. Institute graduate Angela Nahigian has also been added to the group, conceived and directed by Scott Zigler with Peter Bayne, who was likewise responsible for the show's musical arrangements. The evening consists of thirty of Porter's songs, performed by the above mentioned quintet, with on-stage piano accompaniment by Miranda Loud. While it obviously seemed that what worked so well last year saluting Noel Coward would prove to be similarly effective this year honoring Cole Porter, unfortunately such has not been the case. Much of the zest and sparkle so evident by this ensemble in 2007 seems to be generally lacking now. As soloists, their vocal limitations were repeatedly and prominently in evidence. Occasionally, some of the necessary verve and passion that the evening's songs required could be heard, as in Derrah's engaging rendition of "Begin The Beguine" ("Let the love, that was once an fire, remain an ember"), still later in MacDonald's trenchant renditions of both "Down In The Depths (On The Nineteenth Floor)" and Porter's ironically grave observation about mob violence "Miss Otis Regrets (She's Unable To Lunch Today, Madame)" and then in Airaldi's humor-laden "Tale Of The Oyster" ("He found his home awfully wet, and wanted to travel with the upper set.") Will Lebow, besides his great skill as an actor, briefly replaced Miranda Loud at the piano and deftly played and sang "All Of Me" ("I'd love to take complete control of you, even the heart and soul of you") from Cole's great Broadway and Hollywood success "Silk Stockings". Regrettably however, Miss Nahigian did not fare as well in either her lack luster rendition of "Easy to Love" or her strained and disappointing version of "Love for Sale" ("Love that's fresh and unspoiled, Love that's only slightly soiled"). As a whole, the company did much better with their ensemble renditions of Cole's witty and clever repetitive songs such as "Let's Do It, Let's Fall In Love" ("Birds do it, Even educated fleas do it"), and the title tune from Cole's ever-popular hit show, "Anything Goes" (authors who knew better words, use only four letter words now.) "Brush up your Shakespeare" from "Kiss Me Kate" ("If she says your behavior is heinous, kick her in the coriolanus"), and most especially in "Let's Not Talk About Love", a most scintillating multi-rhyming tune penned by Cole for one of rubber-tongued Danny Kaye's earliest, pre-Hollywood Broadway successes ("Let's have a big discussion on...Timidity, Stupidity, Solidity, Rigidity, Manhattan and Vincinity" etc.) It's also noteworthy that as last year's salute to Noel Coward included the great British wit's lyrical transformation of Cole's lively aforementioned "Let's Do It," this time around this show likewise features a here-to-fore unknown clever reworking of Cole's "You're The Top" by the surprising Irving Berlin, with his new and revised allusions to "Venus" and "King Kong's Penis." As previously stated, while performing the few above noted tunes the cast displayed the requisite style, dash and liveliness that should be integral to Cole Porter's words and music; Otherwise unhappily, most of the many other tunes (more than two-thirds of the evening) proved to fall quite short of expectations! Now playing through July 20, 2008. ( My grade: 2.5)
ESSENTIAL SELF DEFENSE
Currently at the Boston Center for the Arts intimate "Plaza Black Box Theatre", the Gurnet Theatre Project presents the Boston premiere of "Essential Self-Defense" by Adam Rapp. A grandly bizarre and deliciously comic take on post 9/11 angst driven America, it's set in "Bloggs", a typical Midwestern American town where the standard boy meets girl story is turned upside down with stimulating and diverting consequences. Yul Carroll,a burly anarchist loner, lives in a cramped, rat-infested basement apartment just a stones' throw away from a sewage treatment plant. Focused on the Nations all pervasive corporate marketing, which controls the media and utilizes ever present violent content to create and maintain an anesthetized population, he spends most of his free time studying a jumbo book entitled "375,413 Ways To Make A Bomb", while also hoarding many cases of eggs for undisclosed strange and mysterious reasons. Having taken a job at a self-defense class-- outfitted in a head-to-toe balloon-like suit--he serves there as a human punching bag. As such, he meets young attractive children's book editor Sadie Day, who while vigorously pummeling him, knocks one of his teeth out. Attracted to him as a protector, their romance begins to blossom at a local karaoke bar, which encourages their patrons to sing only their own original songs. With full throttle, loudly rocking guitar and drum duo on stage, Sorrel Haze, the towns' curvaceous librarian-- chanting a cascade of four-letter adjectives-- acts as the club's part-time emcee. There, Yul and Sadie also encounter Isaak Glinka, Sorrel's musically and poetically singing Russian-emigre husband, as well as Klieg, the community's violent, raw-meat chopping butcher. As news reports on local radio continuously broadcast details about a multitude of Blogg's junior high school pupils who have been mysteriously disappearing, it becomes evident that the townsfolk have come to think of Yul as their prime suspect! Add to this curious mix a fist to fist, shoulder to shoulder bout between Klieg and Yul. Later, a serene fantasy of Yul and Sadie, gliding about on stage on roller skates, some humorous lyrics intoned by either Sorrel, Isaak, Yul or Sadie, and finally a not quite unexpected denouement that suggests why Yul was stashing away all of those eggs, and the result is winningly provocative and quite amusing. It's being well acted by Adam Garcia as Yul and Chelsea Cipolla as Sadie with lusty support especially by Rachael Hunt as Sorrel, Foster Johns as her husband Isaak and Brett Marks as Kleig. Although their musical efforts loudly overwhelmed most of the evening's karaoke lyrics, otherwise Colin Summers on guitar and Timothy Hoover on drums provided a fine rocking ambience for the play's karaoke sequences. High praise must also go to Brian C. Fahey's assured direction and also for his fine, economic, minimalist set design. Now playing through June 28, 2008, call (617) 933-8600 for tickets and any other related information. ****½ Stars
JOSEPH & THE TECHNICOLOR DREAMCOAT
Currently at the Robinson Theatre on the campus of the Waltham High School in Waltham, MA, The Reagle Players begin their 40th Anniversary season with their new production of "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dream Coat". Featuring music by Andrew Lloyd Webber and lyrics by Tim Rice, its' story line is based on the Old Testament tale of betrayal and redemption. Joseph, the favorite son the patriarch Jacob, is sold into slavery by his jealous brothers and eventually overcomes his misfortune to become a powerful minister in the Egyptian Court. Later, he then forgives those same brothers who inflicted such a grievous wrong on him. As now staged here, it is a highly engaging and lavishly mounted presentation in which music, story and performance are welded together to combine as a triumphantly joyous entertainment! The grandly eye-popping set design by Peter Colao is imposing not only for its' impressive opulence but also for the creativity and humor with which it is able to accommodate its' many different locales. The many varied costumes by Gayle Sullivan and Mark Thompson are in all respects sumptuously diverse, splendid and very colorful. David Wilson's vivid lighting, the fine full-orchestral accompaniment guided by conductor Dan Rodriguez and the fluid choreography (based on the shows' original moves) by the productions effective director Susan M. Chebookjian keep everything rolling along nicely! Above all else, the large cast is uniformly excellent. Handsome, charismatic and full-voiced Eric Kunze-- in the title role-exudes charm, verve and grand stage presence. Special praise must also go to Jeffrey Max, who brings down the house with his explosively comic portrayal as the Elvis Presley-like Egyptian Pharaoh, and of course to beautiful, nineteen year old statuesque B.C. basketball star, "American Idol" alum, and resonantly sonorous recording artist, Ayla Brown, as the show's ever-present singing narrator. Also very noteworthy are the vibrant singing and rhythmic movements, on-stage, of the fifty member (pre-adolescent) children's choir whose voices and activity are used throughout to solidly advance the show. This elaborately staged, winningly amusing and musically uplifting family entertainment, a highly recommended treat for both young and old, is now playing a limited engagement through June 21, 2008. ****½ (Excellent)
Is Mel Brooks a genius, or what? Who else could write a funny musical about Nazis and their foolish leader? This 12 time Tony winning play (the most in the history of the Tony awards) is now playing at North Shore Music Theater in Beverly.
This production stars Scott Davidson as the down-and-out producer Max Bialystock and Jim Stanek, as Max's neurotic accountant Leo Bloom. But by far the star of this production is Amy Bodnar as Ulla, the Swedish bombshell who figures (pun intended) beautifully into the plot. Bodnar is not only beautiful but wow, what talent.
Kudos also to Patrick Wetzel as Franz Liebkind, the pigeon-collecting, helmet- wearing psycho who pens what Bialystock and Bloom decide is the one, worst script they have ever read. This play is sure to bomb...but does it? To find out you will have to goose step over to NSMT in Beverly.
This critic was duly impressed with the choreography, brilliantly staged by Bill Burns, who is also this play's director. Mr. Burns combines the perfect touch of Hora and Hip Hop to keep every number original, exciting and smile provoking.
This production is not for the children though. NSMT suggests a 16 and up audience for this sometimes risqué production. It's not Caligula, but there are lots of off- color jokes, sex and oodles of legs and breasts.
The Producers kicks off what is a most exciting season for NSMT including; Contact, The 24th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, Show Boat, Bye Bye Birdie and 42nd Street.
"The Producers" is running through June 1. For tickets call 978-232-7200 or e-mail www.nsmt.org.
A DELICATE BALANCE
Merrimack Repritory Theater presents a thought provoking rendition of Edward Albee's Pulitzer Prize winning play, A Delicate Balance. Albee, brings us to the living room of an upper class WASPY family in Richsuburb, USA. The thing about WASPy families is they don't talk about anything...directly. Oh yeah, they talk about their losses, their fears, their alcoholism during cocktail hour.
What I found most interesting was that Albee was able to write a Pulitzer Prize winning play about nothing much at all. Yes, it's about how to keep a balance in this chaotic life, but I didn't feel it taught me much. It showed that the mother is the keeper of the balance, even when her daughter is going through a fourth divorce and her alcoholic sister has come to live and their best friends come to stay for an inane reason. But we all knew that. Life in a family is conducted by the mother, except in rare cases.
This production at the Merrimack was performed by a stellar cast. Jennifer Harmon, as the sane, yet ditzy Agnes, set the bar high. Her co-star Jack Davidson held his own against the strength of Harmon's strong performance. The alcoholic sister was played very believably by Penny Fuller. The three lesser characters; Julia, Harry and Edna were passable. All in all it was a thought-provoking piece that this critic had to mull over for several days. Great art causes deep thought and this piece did that.
A Delicate Baslance is playing at the Merrimack Repertory Theater in Lowell MA through the first week in April. For tickets and directions go to www.merrimackrep.org or call 978-654-4MRT.
*** (Three Stars)
Do you have money to burn? Well, watch it burn. It might be more fun than sitting through this play. The play was advertised as, "What not to talk about on a first date, politics and religion,"which I thought was a genius PR ploy considering it had absolutely nothing about dating in it.
The Missionary Position is a play about a political campaign with all the stereotypical characters: The finance man, played very well by Jeffrey Carpenter; the candidate's wife by Tami Dixon, who was brilliant and stole the show; a multi-talented Rebecca Harris as every house keeping lady in every Holiday Inn in the country; and Tony Bingham as a typical, bible toting, campaign worker. The characters were so shallow the audience knew what they were going to say before they opened their mouths.
In this day and age to hear a campaign worker tell a pregnant house keeper that she needed to be saved and then have her react by getting upset is completely redundant. If a born again told me this I’d probably just laugh at him and give him my patented, “If God had wanted us all the same She would have made us all the same.”
Keith Reddin wrote a script that reads as though it was written to entertain people whose education consists of what they’ve learned from studying the tabloids. I was surprised to see such bad theater at the Merrimack Repertory. I have never seen anything but sheer genius at this wonderful venue so I was quite taken aback to see a play about people who are so intellectually stunted they still think it’s a sin to swear but not a sin to besmirch a co-workers character. This play has nothing to do with the missionary position unless you happen to be a missionary. The acting was great, but the rest left a lot to be desired!
You can get tickets by calling the box office: 978-654-4MRT or online at firstname.lastname@example.org.
"I fear thou doth protest too much," I chided my date when he saw the theater and saw only a basement with chairs around the outer edges. "This is Cambridge," I explained. "It will probably be a most ingenious treatment."
We had just taken our seats for The Actors' Shakespeare Project (ASP) in the basement of The Garage in Cambridge. Yes, I realize how clever they were naming their company after the spider that killed Cleopatra, but that’s where the genius begins and ends.
When the players took the stage, one in her camel hair, knit, dress with leather belt and matching boots another in a rumpled, military green, sweater over a pair of rumpled, gray corduroys, I thought, "This is either going to be an extremely eclectic version of Henry V or it's going to be pathetic.
Henry the V is Shakespeare's recounting of the tale of the formerly wayward Prince Hal who grows up to become a well respected monarch. In this production, the 32 parts, are all played by five actors; Ken Cheeseman, Paula Langton, Doug Lockwood, Seth Powers and Molly Schreiber.
My first clue that this production really was going smell rotten was when the first line was delivered from behind the insulated, taped lolly column at center stage. Couldn’t they have at least tried to make it look like a tree? That's what my kids would have done in our basement. They'd also buckle a belt around their heads as a crown just like the one worn by Ken Cheeseman as King Charles VI.
So then I thought perhaps this was to be a farcical representation but, it was word for word (which the actors delivered fairly well while they were switching ski caps. That turned out not to be true either. The final convincer came when during the battle scene, the actors wielded yard sticks, drill bits, rubber piping and anything else they could find in this old, dirty basement to attack the lolly column in rhythmic cadence.
William Shakespeare's Henry V, directed by Normi Noel with costume design by Seth Bodie, set design by Skip Curtiss, lighting by Steven Rosen and blind prop master Elizabeth Locke should not be seen Downstairs at the Garage, 38 JFK St. Cambridge through February 3. The tickets for this fiasco can be purchased online at www.actorshakespeareproject.org or by calling 866-811-4111. Tickets are between $30.00-$42.00 with rush tickets $15.00 one hour before the show with valid ID.
2 Pianos, 4 Hands
I have a pillow my grandma Lucy embroidered for me that says, "Life is like a piano. What you get out of it depends on how you play it." The proof of this statement is in the stellar performances of Richard Carsey and Tom Frey in the Merrimack Repertory Theater's production of 2 Pianos 4 Hands running through the end of January.
2 Pianos was written by two Canadian piano protégés who met during competitions and continued a friendship through years of practice and playing sometimes against each other but often together at two pianos. Along with tickling the ivories, Carsey and Frey tickled the audience with tacit realities of life's journey.
2 Pianos takes us through the younger years with parents standing over them as they practiced, practiced, practiced. Like most kids, they just wanted to go out and play. What made Red Dykstra and Richard Greenblatt (the play writes) study, rather than go out to play hockey with their friends? Their parents! And who is it yells at them when, as teenagers, they spend every free moment at the piano rather than having friends? Their parents!
As the piece progresses Carsey and Frey take the audience on a journey through life's etudes (lessons). Starting where most students begin, with the queen of basic theory Lelia Fletcher, and ending with a presentation of Concerto in D minor by Bach that brought the audience to their feet, this piece is a must see…and hear.
2 Pianos 4 Hands is a lesson in life's scales. We have to work at them every day if we want to climb to the top. Carsey and Frey carry this piece as though it were their baby. They love it and live it and take the audience with them on a musical journey.
2 Pianos 4 Hands is at The Merrimack Repertory Theater till January 27. Take a trip from Mozart to Elton John with these two talented performers at the Merrimack Repertory Theater, 50 E. Merrimack St., Lowell. For tickets call 978-654-4678 or go to merrimackrep.org
(My Grade: 4 Stars)