Archived Theatre Reviews (page 9)
January 2010 - December 2010
FRANKIE AND JOHNNY IN THE CLAIR de LUNE
Now at The New Repertory Theatre in The Arsenal Center for the Arts in Watertown, Mass. is their new production of "Frankie and Johnny in The Clair de Lune" by Terrence McNally. A major Off-Broadway success in 1987, it proved to be equally popular when produced, although substantially altered and expanded, as a Hollywood movie in 1991. Set in her shabby, one-room apartment in New York, Frankie (Anne Gottlieb) works as a waitress, in the same greasy spoon restaurant where Johnny (Robert Pemberton) is employed as a short-order cook. He's decided, now after their first date (which she thinks of as only a "one night stand"), that he and she are really meant for each other! However, she wants to be alone because of an abusive past relationship, and has been hurt since, way too often. He is alone, divorced, and his two small kids now live with his former wife and her new husband. He obviously feels that this just might be his last real chance for a measure of happiness. Otherwise, it'll simply be more solitude and loneliness. But his intensity only serves to unnerve Frankie. At first, she's nettled, confused and even slightly alarmed. However, as the long night begins to wind down, her defenses, as well as his, start to gradually break down. Little by little, some of their deepest yearnings and secrets are exposed. At the evening's outset, after the climax of their initial sexual intimacy, while relaxing and eating some food, they both also enjoyed the strains of Debussy's sublime music, on the kitchen radio. Now as the dawn approaches, as more confidence in their future together grows, once again the lovely, sounds of "Claire de Lune," on the radio, seems to define them anew! Extremely well acted, by both accomplished actors, under the focused direction of Antonio Ocampo-Guzman, with kudos also for the splendidly average-looking one-room apartment setting by Erik D. Diaz. Now playing though December 19, 2010. (My Grade: 5)
Now in the Spingold Theater on the campus of Brandeis University of Waltham, Mass. is the Jose Mateo Ballet Theatre's 15th Anniversary presentation of "The Nutcracker." Designed and choreographed to Tchaikovsky's classic music by the company's founder: Jose Mateo, this lively, but somewhat modified interpretation, also stars the company's originator as the story's legendary magician Dr. Drosselmeyer. Here again, this fanciful wizard conjures up and enlivens his two mechanical dolls: Columbine (Jenna-Marie Nagel) and Harlequin (Jacob Hoover) to the delight of the many children and family members at young and pretty, pre-pubescent Clara's (Louisa Woodhouse) Christmas Eve party. Later, again as an added treat, Drosselmeyer also presents young Clara with an enchanted Nutcracker toy. Late that same evening, long after all the guests have left, Clara returns to play with her new gift and finds herself challenged by a large army of house mice (all garbed and animatedly portrayed by a dozen small children)! Luckily, Drosselmeyer returns and magically gives life not only to the toy Nutcracker, as a handsome prince (Kehlet Schou), but also animates a regiment of colorfully uniformed toy soldiers! As expected, the athletic Prince then confronts and slays the Mouse Brigade's tall and lanky "Rat King" (Reco Garrett). Now, Clara's Prince is able to meet the beautiful Snow Queen (Gloria Benedikt) and then enter the fascinating "Kingdom of the Sweets." They're both entertained then by a succession of dazzling, exotic, imported and foreign cavorting duets. First from Spain (Jenna-Marie Nagel and Reco Garrett), next from Arabia (Sybil Watkins and August Lincoln Rozgay), China (Jaclyn Sanford and Leelou Wisemyn) and last from Russia (Lotsie Cash and Ivaylo Alexiev)…all expert and captivating! Following all of this emerged Mother Ginger (Kevin Ring), usually seen at the earlier Christmas Eve party, now appearing here with a dozen small children exiting excitedly from under her super large skirt! Finally, Clara and her Prince are beguiled by the lovely "Waltz of the Flowers," gracefully performed by the Dew Drop Fairy (Elisabeth Scherer), and totally delighted by the splendidly elegant "Grand Pas deDeux," as danced by the Sugar Plum Fairy (Madeleine Bonn) and her cavalier (Jacob Hoover). This splendid, although greatly scaled down, family friendly treat, is now playing through December 19, 2010. (My Grade: 4)
TWO WIVES IN INDIA
Now at The Boston Playwrights Theatre is the world premiere of "Two Wives in India" by Leslie Harrell Dillen. Becca (Amelia Broome), a successful interior designer and Mary Jo (Karen MacDonald), who writes romance novels, have both traveled to India. By a curious twist they both, at separate times, had been married to the same man, who recently died. Becca had been Sam's ex-wife, and Mary Jo became his widow. As such, they both share the same love and interest in the forthcoming wedding of their unseen daughter and step-daughter Emily. She, having met and fallen in love with Jaskanvar (Ben Martin), an expatriate Sikh, and he are now both preparing to marry and live in India. Amidst a minimalist setting, with only a few large open cut-outs to suggest India's many exotic aspects and places of interest, Becca and Mary Jo, not only meet Jaskanvar's parents, but also encounter the heavy Delhi auto traffic. They become involved in a Henna coloring party, experience some of the country's dire poverty, and get to visit both a historic temple and the Taj Mahal. All of the Indian people, plus Jaskanvar's parents, and even the occasional ghost of Becca and Mary Jo's husband Sam, are portrayed by either Robert Saoud or Asa Bhuiyan. Unfortunately, playwright Dillen's sparse knowledge and/or understanding of India seems obvious throughout. This becomes readily apparent from the repeated between the two matrons about the reasons for Emily's wedding choices and their difficulties with Indian apparel (especially Saris), to Becca's annoyance at Mary Jo's sprinkling her dead husband's ashes about, in this strange and far-away place. The small cast do quite well, especially Saoud and Bhuiyan, with their varied roles under M. Bevin O'Gara's focused direction. It played through November 21, 2010. (My grade: 3)
THE FEVER CHART
Now playing at the Central Square Theater in Cambridge, Mass., Underground Railway Theater presents their production of "The Fever Chart" by Naomi Wallace. A moderate success in 2008 in New York and London, this presentation represents its regional premiere. Subtitled "Three Visions of the Middle East," as its name suggests, it is composed of a trio of very short plays focused on that troubled locale. Beginning with "Vision One: A Stage of Innocence," set in Barren Zoo in Rafah, Palestine, a young Israeli soldier from Tel Aviv (Dan Shaked) encounters a local anguished Palestinian mother (Maria Silverman). Their uneasy confrontation is soon interrupted by an odd Israeli architect (Ken Baltin). Their tormented interaction centers on the death of her child and the demolition of her home by the advancing Israeli Army, who were there searching for terrorists. As she sorrowfully laments that she is not a terrorist. The second play entitled "Vision Two: Between This Breath and You," is set in a medical clinic waiting room in West Jerusalem. Mourid Kamal, a Palestinian father (Ken Baltin, again) sits alone, although the facility is closed. Soon he's questioned by Tanya Langer (Najla Said), an Israeli nurse's aide, as Sami Elbaz (Harry Hobbs), a quizzical Moroccan-Israeli janitor stands watching nearby. After a lengthy and rambling introductory chat, Mourid finally states his actual intention. He informs Tanya, who had suffered from Cystic Fibrosis, that the major lung transplantation, which is now benefiting her, came from his deceased son. He sorrowfully tells her how his son was killed by Israeli militia who thought he was carrying a weapon. As a result, now as an organ donor, Mourid's son's tragic demise has restored Tanya! The last play, "Vision Three: The Retreating World," is an elongated monologue, set in Baghdad, at an International Pigeon Convention, where Ali (Ibrahim Miari), an Iraqi bird-enthusiast, ruminates about the freedom which his beloved airborne pigeons represent. He then sadly muses about the loss of his best friend, as combatants, surrendering to the Americans, in the recent war. Although all three plays were certainly well acted under Elena Araoz's strong direction, unfortunately most of the evening's focus was primarily centered only on one side of this very long, tragic and seemingly endless struggle. Now playing though December 19, 2010. (My Grade: 4)
VENGEANCE IS THE LORD'S
Now at The Boston University Theater, The Huntington Theatre Company presents the world premiere of "Vengeance Is The Lord's" by Bob Glaudini. The Horvath Family have gathered for their traditional Thanksgiving dinner, even though Mathew (Larry Pine), the father, and Margaret (Roberta Wallach), the mother, who have been long divorced, are with their unmarried adult children. Assertive Woodrow (Lee Tergesen), the eldest, Roanne (Katie Kreisler), is the primary cook and housekeeper and conciliatory Donald (Karl Baker Olson) in his early 20's, is the youngest. Apparently, their Catholic religion, adherence to tradition, and the family business are the cement that holds them together. Their many profitable enterprises are defined by a variety of basically illegal ventures mainly centered on their auto bodyshop with branch-out bars and strip-clubs, too! However, this time a somber cloud has tempered their festivities. Ten years before, their sweet and very young 20 year old daughter Cheryl had been murdered. Now, her convicted and imprisoned killer is on the verge of being paroled. Margaret's plan to attend his parole hearing and consider not opposing his release--if she sees redemption in his eyes-- is also of concern to the rest of the family, who still feel the need for retribution. Still later, at Christmas time, similar uncertainty develops when a neighbor, Parcel Sytes' (Johnny Lee Davenport) teenage son was shot dead by the police when caught stealing auto parts for the Horvaths. This troubled clan finally convenes again for dinner on Easter Sunday, with Roanne's friend Milo (Trevor Long), a part-time cop, as their guest. As Margaret's judgment of her daughter's slayer is explored, we also hear of her killer's ultimate fate. There are no easy answers in this provocative, well-acted and morally complicated drama. Kudos are certainly merited for Eugene Lee's impressively rotating, multi-room-defined set, as well as Japhy Weideman's fine dramatic lighting and David Vantieghem's striking original music. Bravos are also well deserved for Peter DuBois' well focused direction. Now playing though December12, 2010. (My Grade: 5)
THE LIFE AND ADVENTURES OF NICHOLAS NICKLEBY
The Lyric Stage Company of Boston presents its new production of the New England premiere of "The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby" by Charles Dickens as adapted for the stage by David Edgar. It was originally produced by The Royal Shakespeare Company, to much acclaim, in 1980 in London, followed by its similarly hailed Broadway debut, the next year. At those times, it was offered in two parts, totaling nearly nine hours, and featuring 42 actors portraying 250 roles! Years later, in 2006, due to its enormous production and length complexities, it was readapted, still in two parts, and shortened to six hours, this time for a cast of 24 actors now playing 150 different roles. It is this more recent version which is here on view. Set in mid 19th Century England, after their father's death, young adults Nicholas and Kate Nickleby (Jack Cutmore-Scott and Elizabeth A. Rimer), along with their mother (Maureen Keiller), turn for help from wealthy Uncle Ralph Nickleby (Will Lyman). Mean, tight- fisted and self-centered, Ralph arranges for Nicholas to teach at a harsh orphanage managed by cruel and pitiless Headmaster Wackford Squeers (Nigel Gore), while sister Kate gains employment at a millinery, as she and her mother try their best to live in very squalid quarters. Eventually, Nicholas becomes so outraged at Squeers' unrelenting and excessive cruelty, especially to his young, handicapped friend Smike (Jason Powers), that he and his afflicted companion decide to run away. Thus begins an extraordinary succession of adventures for both escapees. These tumultuous experiences start with a lengthy stint as actors in a traveling theatrical company managed by overblown impresario Vincent Crummles (Larry Coen). In the meantime, Kate's affections are offered by her scheming uncle, against her wishes, to his unsavory business associates. Learning of his sister's dire predicament, Nicholas rushes back to London to rescue her. This leads him to finally renounce his despicable uncle, and then to meet his ultimate sweetheart, Madeleine Bray (Sasha Castroverde). Later, Nicholas is also able to thwart his vindictive uncle's plots to cheat Madeleine out of her inheritance. He also learns that his good friend Smike is gravely ill and dying. In true Dickensian fashion, Uncle Ralph is finally undone and Nicholas and all those that he loves continue on happily ever after! Of course, while space constraints must necessarily limit our description, these other noteworthy performers were also most praiseworthy. Peter A. Carey as Uncle Ralph's officious assistant, Kerry A. Dowling as Mrs. Squeers, Neil A. Casey as a pompous Italian braggart and John Davin as an unscrupulous associate of Uncle Ralph. High praise is also most certainly due for Janie E. Howland's impressive elevated, multi-level set, flanked by a central brick wall between side-panels depicting cartoon representations of mid 19th century England, as well as Rafael Jaen's splendid period costumes and Scott Clyve's effectively dramatic lighting. Last, and certainly most laudable, much praise must also go to director Spiro Veloudos whose efforts fully explored and marshaled this extraordinary production! Now playing though December 19, 2010. (My Grade: 5)
ABSURD PERSON SINGULAR
Now at The Lederer Theater Center in Providence, Rhode Island, The Trinity Repertory Company presents its new production of "Absurd Person Singular" by Alan Ayckbourn. This highly popular farce has been a favorite here, as well as in the author's native England, ever since its debut in 1972. The play's three acts takes place at Christmas-time, on three successive evenings, 1973 through 1975, each one year apart. The first holiday evening is at the home of small-time entrepreneur Sidney (Stephen Berenson) and his highly energized wife Jane (Angela Brazil). Overly anxious to make sure their house is as spic-n-span as possible for the prominent company, Jane races about their apartment, in a wildly frantic and quite amusing series of sprints and cleanups done just before their four invited guests arrive! The second act takes place in the home of Geoffrey (Fred Sullivan Jr.), a philandering architect and his distraught wife Eva (Phyllis Kay), as they await their four guests, which include Sidney and Jane, it becomes evident that Eva has just learned that her husband is planning to leave her for another woman. Eva responds with a succession of frantically hilarious but unsuccessful suicidal attempts. From trying to die with her head in the kitchen stove's oven, or else to making an effort to jump out of a window or hang herself from a ceiling light fixture, nothing succeeds! Each intention is amusingly misconstrued by her guests as either some sort of funny housecleaning or repairing activity. The last act, as with each of the earlier ones, includes all six Holiday participants. The festivities are now at the home of Ronald (Timothy Crowe), an upper-class banker and his inebriated wife Marion (Anne Scurria). Although they all tried to fool the lower-class Sidney and Jane, into thinking no one was there, by turning off the lights, the holiday evening eventually went on, as intended, with everyone taking part. To insure the holiday spirit, Sidney insists on guiding everyone in a grandly amusing and ultimately ridiculous variation of "musical chairs." With the genuinely comical results, as expected! Vividly performed by the splendidly jovial cast under Brian McEleney's sure direction. Now playing through November 21, 2010. (My Grade: 5)
Now at The Boston University Theater is "The Boston Center for American Performance's" production of C.P. Taylor's "Good." Written by the late Scottish playwright, it enjoyed much success in England upon its 1981 debut, and has enjoyed similar approval since, also in New York and in many other regional performances. Set in 1933, Professor John Halder (Michael Kaye) has become of great interest to the new Nazi Government's top officials thanks to a book he's written which approves of euthanasia. His elderly mother's (Judith Chaffee) incontinence and dementia seem to have inspired, in her son, this line of thought. The Nazis would like him to promote a similar response to the disabled. While impressed by the Nazi's prospects for his professional advancement, he's conflicted by his long-standing relationship to Maurice Gluckstein (Tim Spears), a Jewish psychiatrist, and until now, his best friend. Although busily assuring Maurice and himself that the Nazi's hostility to the Jews is merely a temporary phase to pacify the populace, at the same time he does little to help his friend to emigrate to safety in Switzerland. He's also comforted by lovely Anne, his young mistress (Alicia Hunt), while actively disregarding Helen (Paula Langton) his neglected wife. Increasingly impressed by Hitler's (Mason Sand) oratorical fervor and courted by such high ranking officials as Adolph Eichmann (Jeff Hathcoat), the heretofore cautious professor Halder is becoming ready to wear an official Nazi uniform. Now open to accepting any "reasonable" explanation for the state's burgeoning lists of atrocities, the "good" professor is now also prepared to help burn the books that pose a threat to the regime! His transformation is continuously underscored by the Era's grandly recorded music, ranging from Wagner and "The Student Prince" to the forbidden "Jungle-Music" jazz that Halder's Nazi friend Freddie (Edmond Donovan) still secretly loves. Strikingly acted by the splendidly accomplished cast under Jim Petosa's string direction, high praise it also due for Mary Ellen Stebbin' effectively dramatic lighting, as well as Andrew Duncan Will's efficient sound design and Kamilla Kurmanbekova's stark setting, definied by several well places small pedestals. This highly compelling exploration of how an ordinary "good" citizen can be swayed into accepting Horrific Governmental evil is playing though November 21, 2010. (My Grade: 5)
SHIRLEY, VERMONT FESTIVAL
Currently at the Boston Center for the Arts' Calderwood Pavilion, an extraordinary theatrical event is now ongoing! Three prominent Boston Theatre Company's are engaged in a remarkable collaboration. A trio of award-winning plays, all having recently been staged Off-Broadway, are here now being performed simultaneously, in the same aforesaid playhouse, in three separate auditoriums. All three dramas are by young burgeoning Annie Baker, and are all set in the fictional town of Shirley, Vermont. As such, it's all being offered under the umbrella title of "Shirley, Vermont Festival." Company One's production of "The Aliens" is now at the B.C.A.'s "Hall A," until November 20. Two thirty-year-old losers are camped-out at a picnic table, next to the dumpster behind a small café. Jasper (Nael Nacer), a chain-smoking junkie, inspired by the writings of Charles Bukowski, has shown some potential as a writer, and has done some work on an unfinished novel. His buddy: K.J. (Alex Pollock) is likewise, also a stoner curbed by some sort of evolving mental illness. As Jasper explodes over a failed romance, and K.J. muses about their unsuccessful try at forming a rock band (at one time called "The Aliens") a bond gradually develops between these two drifters and Evan (Jacob Brandt), the coffee house's teenage impressionistic busboy. When Jasper unexpectedly dies from an overdose, K.J. begins to see Evan as representing much of the same sort of promise that he had once had and seems now to be so squandered. Although framed by several unnecessarily lengthy periods of silence, otherwise this compelling study is very well acted by the small expert cast, as directed by Shawn LaCount, the company's artistic leader.
Now until November 14, The Huntington Theatre's "Circle Mirror Transformation" is set in one of the town's rehearsal halls. Four dissimilar fledgling performers have enrolled in Marty's (Betsy Aidem) creative acting class. Theresa (Nadia Bowers), an ex-New Yorker, has just relocated to Shirley looking for a quieter life. Schultz (Jeremiah Kissel), a recently divorced loner, soon becomes romantically involved with her. Lauren (Marie Polizzano) is a teenage high schooler who wants to be an actress. James (Michael Hammond) is the group leader's husband. Over a six-week time span, with the play evolving via a succession of very brief episodes culminating in blackouts, a series of acting games, improvisations and role-playing exercises, the attitudes, hopes and disappointments of the different participants are gradually exposed. While vividly acted by the small effective cast under Melia Bensussen's focused direction, their trials and tribulations ultimately seemed to be somewhat tentative and in need of much more elaboration.
The most engaging of this festive trilogy is "Body Awareness." The play's title refers to the community's five-day self-appreciation and physical attentiveness program, which is being marshaled by Phyllis (Adrienne Krstansky). A middle aged professor at Shirley State College, she lives with her lesbian sweetheart Joyce (Paula Plum), a divorcée, and the latter's agitated and unsettled 21 year old son Jared (Gregory Pember), who apparently has Asperger's Syndrome. Complications develop when the weeks guest celebrity Bonitatibus (Richard Snee), a prominent professional photographer who specializes in candid photos of nude females (from those very young to those very old), is invited to live with them for the aforesaid week. Antagonism between Joyce and Phyllis erupts after Joyce decides to pose for Frank in spite of her awareness that Phyllis considers Frank's activities to be perverse! The controversy forces them both to take a hard look at the true nature of their feelings for each other. It is now also playing through November 20, 2010.
Now at Wheelock Family Theatre, on the campus of Wheelock College in Boston, is their new production of "Annie." Based on the long running comic strip that began in the late 1920's and set in depression-era 1930's New York, it features book by Thomas Meehan with music by Charles Strouse and lyrics by Martin Charnin. Feisty young Annie (8th grader Grace Brakeman) begins her adventures with a dozen other sonorous young females in a run-down New York orphanage supervised by nasty, and often tipsy Miss Hannigan (Cheryl McMahon). Having somehow been separated from her parents, a few years past, Annie hopes unsuccessfully that one day her mom and dad will be found. However, everything changes for the scrappy youngster when billionaire Oliver "Daddy" Warbucks decides to befriend her and with his secretary Grace (Aimee K. Doherty) bring Annie to his mansion to live with them. Of course, as always, she's accompanied by her big friendly dog "Sandy." Everything goes well, however, until Miss Hannigan's ne'er-do-well brother "Rooster" (John F. King) and his girlfriend Lily (Claire D. Kolheim) show up and decide to pose as Annie's long lost parents in order to claim the large reward Warbucks is offering for their return. Naturally, with the help of Warbuck's friends at the F.B.I., "Rooster" and Lily's deceit is exposed and all ends well even-- though it's learned that Annie's real parents are deceased. Annie, Sandy, "Daddy" Warbucks, his secretary Grace and even their good friend President Franklin D. Roosevelt (Dale Place) celebrate Christmas Eve at the Warbuck's estate as "Daddy" announces his intention to adopt Annie. The show's popular music/score is well sung by the fine resonant cast. Annie's fellow waifs score emphatically with "It's A Hard Knock Life," as does Annie, with her new benefactors, singing "Tomorrow," "I think I'm Gonna Like It Here," "You're Never Fully Dressed Without A Smile," and their joyful tribute to big city "NYC! " Rooster and Lily, on the other hand, hoped their schemes would lead them to "Easy Street." Kudos are due for Director James Staab, choreographer Laurel Conrad and the splendid musical accompaniment conducted by Steven Bergman. Anita Fuch's highly adaptable and movable set, composed of high, wooden scaffolding towers was also similarly noteworthy. Now playing through November 22, 2010. (My Grade: 5)
JOSE MATEO'S REALM OF SUSPENSE
Ah, the ballet season is upon us and there is much to choose from in our great town. I chose to kick it off (pun intended) with Jose Mateo's magnificent company. Being laid up with a bad ballerina back, I missed the highly praised "Elements of Passion" Mateo opened this, his 25th season, with. Luckily, I recovered enough to be at the opening of Realm of Suspense, a trilogy of dances: Covens, Streams and the world premiere of Sound Secrets, a tale of a woman, haunted by guilt because she screwed around on her boyfriend,who…meanwhile… has been out having his own private pas de deuxs all over town.
The evening opens with Covens, a thriller that tells of deception amidst the hysteria of a witch hunt, set to James MacMillan's Symphony #3. By far my favorite piece of deception came in the form of Streams, set to Terry Riley's The Cusp of Magic for String Quartet and Pipa (a 4 stringed Chinese instrument). As the piece begins, the couple dances a tense and tentative pas de deux, during which there is always a sliver of space between the magnificent bodies of Angie DeWolf and Kehlet Schou. Always some distance between the two. Guilt will do that to you. You continue to dance but the space between, though seemingly small, tells a giant tale.
The Mateo company dances in the beautiful Old Cambridge Baptist Church, 1151 Massachusetts Ave. Cambridge. The giant shims create an urban atmosphere, with lights that dance along with some of Mateos best dancers: Angie Dewolf, Kehlet Schou, Lotise Cash, Ivaylo Alexiev, Exlisabeth Scherer, August Lincoln Pozgay, Modeleine Bonn, Jacob Hoover and my personal favorite dancer, the elegantly talented Sybil Geddes.
For a beautiful evening in a magnificent old church, you can't beat a night of Mateo. Realm of suspense will be playing now through November 14th at The Sanctuary Theatre 400 Harvard St., Cambridge. Tickets are $38 for reserved cocktail table seating. For tickets call 617-354-7467 or click on www.BalletTheatre.org.
(My Grade: 3)
Now at The Boston Opera House, The Boston Ballet presents its production of "La Bayadere." A Hallmark of late 19th Century classical and romantic dance, it is as anticipated, set in fascinating old India. Nikiya (Lia Cirio), a young Bayadere (temple dancer) and soldier loves Solor (Lasha Khozashvili) who unfortunately has been set, by The Rajah (Arthur Leeth), to wed his son Gamzatti (Kathleen Breen Combes). Complications develop, however when Solor spurns the determined romantic intentions of the high Brahmin (Bo Busby). Seeking revenge, he incites the Rajah against the doomed sweethearts. Nikiya's death by a venomous snake is the Rajah's response. In a drug-laced mirage, Solor is eventually united with his beloved amidst the grandly ethereal "Kingdom of Shades." The vividly animated struggle between Nikiya and Gamzatti had been tempered by her sensitively danced reply to the impending union of Gamzatti and Solor, while Gamzatti's hopes for Solor were then impressively defined by a genuinely majestic pas de deux! Besides Khozashvili's extraordinarily towering vaults and dazzling spins the appearance of a vigorously energetic revolving and leaping golden idol (Joseph Gatti), at the aforesaid betrothal, were likewise truly remarkable. Also most noteworthy, at the outset of the ballets memorably concluding Third Act was the unforgettable, previously suggested "Kingdom of Shades." There, in a breathtaking display, 24 lovely white gowned dancers glide gracefully and repeatedly in unison. Here as all the rest of the company, to the sublime music of Ludwig Minkus. Bravos are also due for Florence Clerc's choreography, inspired by Petipa, verdant garden and dreamlike afterlife sets designed by Sergiy Spevyakin, who was also responsible for the beautiful costumes. Similar praise must also go to the fine, full orchestral accompaniment as conducted by Jonathan McPhee. This sumptuous treat is now on view through November 14, 2010. (My Grade: 5)
A MOON FOR THE MISBEGOTTEN
Now at The Central Square Theater in Cambridge, Mass., The Nora Theatre Company presents its new production of "A Moon for the Misbegotten" by Eugene O'Neill. It's set in the early 1920's at the ramshackled farmhouse of lowly tenant farmer Phil Hogan (Billy McLeady) and his unmarried daughter Josie (Ramona Lisa Alexander). This trenchant, three-hour long sequel to O'Neill's masterful "Long Day's Journey into Night," centers now on the playwright's own self-loathing, self-destructive and self-questioning older brother, known here (as before) as James Tyrone Jr. (Will McGarrahan). With the evening's feisty and revealing first act as a semi-comic introduction to this great drama's potently effective second half. It all begins as lonely and longing, big hearted farm girl Josie trades sharp-witted barbs with her raucously inebriated old dad as they both try to best the self-serving schemes of a wealthy and privileged neighbor (Wayne Fritsche). Finally, all dressed up in her fanciest attire, Josie awaits the 9 p.m. arrival of James. Then, after much disappointment, ultimately he does arrive after 11 p.m. Later, under the bright still moonlight, they gradually begin to cast off the many false delusions that have shielded them from the truth. In a long and sorrowful testimonial, James ruminates on his life and wasted potential. As he finally admits that he does indeed love Josie, she ,in turn confesses-- in spite of all of her bragging otherwise-- that she is still a virgin! Cradling James' head on her breast, he expresses his bitter remorse. He ruefully remembers his mother's despair. Even after her funeral, "She's Glad to be Where I Can't Hurt Her Anymore" becomes his bleak summation. Then, as the dark night evolves toward the dawn, the possibility of hope and redemption begins to become likely, even though these two will soon be forever parted. Intensely performed for McGarrahan, Alexander and McLeady under Richard McElvain's well focused direction, with high praise also for Anthony R. Phelp's splendidly effective disheveled setting and Margo Caddell's dramatic lighting. Now playing through November 7, 2010.
THE TURN OF THE SCREW
Now at The Stoneham Theatre in Stoneham, Mass. is their production of "The Turn of the Screw" adapted by Jeffrey Hatcher from the classic novella by Henry James. Set in 1872 and conforming closely to the original, this 90 minute dramatization is fully enacted by only two very talented performers. The eerie tale takes place, as expected, in a haunted mansion. A trusting young governess has been engaged to take care of two very young orphans in a remote and secluded estate. Eight year old Flora is accompanied by ten year old Miles, who's just back from boarding school, having been dismissed for disciplinary reasons. Although this stately residence is very isolated and relatively inaccessible, soon strange apparitions seem to be peering at either the governess or her wards from the semi-shrouded windows. It soon becomes apparent that these spectral visitors are actually the ghosts of two former servants, who are up to no good! Handsome Peter Quint had been the master's efficient valet. When his death suddenly ended his love affair with the previous governess Miss Jessel, overcome with grief and depression, she then drowned herself! Now these two past lovers have mysteriously returned seeking some sort of strange justification and solace. It is being performed on a bare stage, with just a solitary chair as the only prop. The ceiling, high above these two accomplished actors, is strung from side-to-side, and end-to-end, with an overwhelming spider's web-like tangle of thin white chords strikingly enhanced from start-to-finish by the dark evening's grandly dramatic lighting. Molly Schreiber vividly portrays the story's youthful, inexperienced and then very terrified governess quite well, although, the most tribute must then be reserved for Ryan Landry, who without any make-up or costume changes, portrays every other character, ranging from the children, and assorted other house attendants to the malevolent and mysterious visitors, with genuinely praiseworthy effectiveness! Similar commendations are also due for Caitlin Cowan's strong direction, as well as Rachel Padula-Shufelt's fine period costumes and Gianni Down's aforementioned scenic and lighting designs. Now playing through November 7, 2010.
A CHORUS LINE
Bill Hanney's North Shore Music Theatre has done it again! For a spectacular evening of fun, food, and fantastic theater take yourself and a friend or two to NSMT's production of "A Chorus Line". This Pulitzer Prize winning play, written by James Kirkwood and Nicholas Dante, with music we all know by Marvin Hamlisch, stands the test of time at the new North Shore Music Theatre.
A Chorus Line, originally choreographed and directed by Michael Bennett, has been brilliantly restaged in the round by the mega-talented Mark Martino. Martino's choreography is always impressive but this time he put a rectangular peg in a round hole and made it fit just right. We are so fortunate to have a talent of this caliber right here on the north shore. I would highly recommend the production just to see how Martino moves a couple dozen people in and out of complicated configurations to give us a line…A Chorus Line. I would see this show just for the choreography but there's so much more…
There are talented dancers, singers and actors. Kudos to Miguel Angel Falcon who plays Paul San Marco from Spanish Harlem for an outstanding job. Miguel deftly brings the audience into his heartfelt story and we really did feel the emotions, unlike Morales, who felt and sang Nothing. She may have felt nothing but Maggie Marino as Diana gave the audience EVERYTHING in her performance as Morales, a Puerto Rican kid from the Bronx. Great performances abound and I would be remiss if I didn't mention Katie Cameron as Shiela, Delius Doherty as Richie, Cary Michele Miller and her amazing pipes as Maggie, and Rebecca Riker whose strong performance as Cassie really brought home this timeless story of people putting it all on the line for their dreams and a Chance to Dance.
A Chorus Line is playing now through Nov. 21. Wouldn't it be a nice way to kick off your Thanksgiving week by taking your family to The North Shore Music Theatre 62 Dunham Rd., Beverly to share this uplifting, toe tapping show? For me, the bonus of having a fine dining establishment on the premises completes the wonderful evening.
Tickets are priced from $35.00 - $65.00 and can be purchased online at: www.nsmt.org or by calling 978-232-7200.
(My Grade: 4)
Now at The New Repertory Theatre at The Arsenal Center for the Arts in Watertown, Mass., The New Repertory Theatre presents the area premiere of "Cherry Docs" by Canadian playwright David Gow. A major success in Canada, England, Europe, Israel and also in many similarly-praised productions here in the United States. Set in a small, solitary prison cell in Toronto, Mike Downey (Tim Eliot), a surly, assertive and defiant skin-head is imprisoned in solitary confinement, accused for his brutal, unprovoked, sidewalk assault on a defenseless Pakistani immigrant. Danny Dunkelman (Benjamin Evett), a politically incorrect, humanistic Jewish lawyer, has been appointed as the defendant's legal aid. As expected, Mike's vicious beating had resulted in his poor victim's death. The play's title refers to the metal tipped, cherry colored, Doc Martens combat boot that so many skin heads love to use as weapons. Although initially disgusted and repelled by the prisoner's loud and offensive anti-Semitic outbursts, Danny realizes that in spite of his personal feelings, his duty as Mike's defender must firmly come to the fore! By forcing the accused to read and reconsider the horrible details concerning his crime, Danny eventually begins to develop a feasible legal response for Mike. He vigorously demand that this criminal racist help to construct his own defense. As their many months together pile on, Danny begins to uncover intimations of intelligence, long repressed and submerged, under Mike's outwardly venomous veneer. However, as the accused gradually begins to comprehend how contemptible his crime was, Danny begins to wonder about his own intolerances. He's troubled by his families' and professional colleagues' concerns about the heavy toll his all consuming defense of Mike is taking on him. He too, increasingly begins to turn to his own spiritual heritage for strength and support, as Mike in turn reflects "is this man who helped me, really the spawn of Satan?" This highly provocative, one act drama then concludes with an allegorical reference from "The Book of Daniel", concerning his trials in the lion's den. It's all vividly performed by Evett and Eliot on Jenna McFarland Lord's creatively cramped and narrowing prison cell setting, enhanced by Karen Perlow's very dramatic lighting, as marshaled by David R. Gammon's strong direction. Now playing through November 7, 2010. My Grade (0-5): 5
A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC
Now at The Cambridge Family YMCA Theatre in Cambridge, Mass. The Metro Stage Company presents its new production of "A Little Night Music," featuring music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim with book by Hugh Wheeler. Based on Ingmar Bergman's renowned 1955 Swedish movie "Smiles of a Summer Night," this acclaimed musicalized version made its multi Tony award-winning debut on Broadway in 1973 and was adapted as a major movie in 1977. It has also enjoyed grand revivals in London (1995) and more recently on Broadway (2010). Set in Sweden at the onset of the 20th Century, a highly respected middle-aged lawyer (James Fitzpatrick), unbeknownst to his young, teenage wife (Joelle Kross), becomes involved in a secret tryst with a very famous and glamorous stage actress (Tracy Nygard). His shrouded liaison is then unexpectedly discovered by the sudden arrival of her newest romance (Robert Case), a pompous, egocentric military officer. True to form, he arrives in full, resplendent uniform. In a conciliatory response, the actress' elderly wealthy mother (Mary O'Donnell), invites the lawyer, his young wife, his teen-aged son [by a previous marriage], (John Coons) and the dowager's adulterous actress-daughter, to spend the weekend at her rural estate. Difficulties breakout with the unforeseen arrival of the jealous militarist and his subservient wife (Shana Dirik). Effectively staged on a relatively bare stage with only a few rectangular and triangular box-like props (decorated with flowery patterns); later, in Act two, strikingly sharp-cornered trees are moved on stage to indicate the play's new setting. Kamilla Kurmanbekova deserves applause for capably suggesting much with very little! Similar kudos are also due for Neil Fortin's colorful period costumes, as well. Of course, the acting and resonant singing by the large fourteen member cast was first rate, throughout. Sondheim's sublime score (one of his very best) was well deserved by Nygard, Fitzpatrick, Coons, O'Donnell, and Dirik, as well as Zenni Kmiee, as the elderly matron's flirtatious housemaid. "Send In The Clowns," "A Weekend In The Country," and "I Shall Marry The Miller's Son," were all resonantly performed accompanied by the fine musical sextet conducted by pianist Maria Duaime. MaryAnn Zschau's assured direction was quite evident, throughout! Now playing through October 23, 2010. (My Grade: 5)
ALMOST AN EVENING
Now in the Charlestown neighborhood of Boston at the Charlestown Working Theater, the Theatre on Fire Company presents the New England premiere of "Almost an Evening," a program of three short plays by Ethan Coen, one of the two celebrated movie-making Coen Brothers, famed for such films as "No Country for Old Men," "Fargo," "The Big Lebowski," and "Raising Arizona," amongst others. This mixed trio comes here after its Off-Broadway debut in 2008. Performed on a backstage with only a few pieces of furniture, the first play is titled simply, "Waiting." Mr. Nelson (Marc Harpin), an average type of everyman, is seated awaiting some sort of undisclosed meeting. A middle-aged typist, sits with her back to him, typing away intensely, with only an occasional uninformative response. Eventually when Nelson discovers that the room he's in has no doors, he quickly realizes that he is actually deceased and is in some sort of afterlife! However, eager to move on, he soon learns that his transfer to Heaven will only take 822 years. Confident that he can easily pass the expected time, he becomes greatly distressed, after filling out all of the required papers, when he discovers that he was actually misinformed! The proper wait time was actually 8,022 years, with the later revelation that this disclosure would also prove to be inadequate. The faint echo of Sartre's "No Exit," was then followed by "Four Benches." A typical, moustached buttoned-up Englishman (Craig Houk), after sitting in total darkness for nearly 5 minutes, becomes increasingly anguished when he learns that his job is mired in some sort of international espionage. The last and best of the evening was "Debate." Two variants of God meet with opposing views. The gruff, white-haired, white robed, God of Judgment (Jeff Gill), is furiously railing (with an overabundance of 4-letter expletives) against every human foible from body piercings and parking ticket scams to many self-serving redefinitions of the Ten Commandments. The well-dressed, God of Love (Marc Harpin, again) responds by quietly affirming that he's "not here to lecture or scold" but simply to demonstrate the power of love. However, as the God of Judgment's reactions become increasingly more vitriolic, and physically abusive, his opponent, surprisingly answers by not only shooting his rival, but by also shooting himself! Then, other cast members, amongst them (Chris Wagner, Kate Donnelly, Lisa Caron Driscoll, and Bill Doscher) either leave their seats or meet at a nearby restaurant to complain about the play's various meanings. This very well acted, occasionally amusing, but sometimes wanting trio was most certainly and assuredly directed by Darren Evans, the company's artistic director. Now playing through October 23, 2010. (My Grade: 3.5)
FIVE DOWN, ONE ACROSS
Now in its premiere at the Boston Playwrights' Theatre is "Five Down, One Across" by Michael Towers. Set in Brookline, Mass., an upper middle-class Boston suburb, a weekly floating house party, known whimsically as "Taco Night," is underway at the home of middle-aged Betty (Chloe Leamon), an academic, teaching at Wellesley College. This night will not only become the familiar, friendly "get-together," but also an hour of long-hidden family secrets. Her addled, eighty-five year old widowed mother Madeleine (Alice Duffy) has been living with Betty and her best friend Sharon (Stephanie Clayman) until such time as the nearby "Brook Haven Nursing Home" is able to accept her. Hard-nosed, conservative, and Catholic Madeleine, spends much of her time fitfully confused over a crossword puzzle. Her longstanding traditions have made her reject both divorce and homosexuality. Tonight, Sharon insists that Betty finally inform her mother that they've been together in a lengthy gay relationship. Betty has also decided, that this time she will similarly reveal her long-standing divorce. Adding a bit of camaraderie to the evening's festivities are Betty and Sharon's gay friends. "Butch," and boisterous "Kitten" is assuredly self-satisfied with the motto emblazoned on her t-shirt. It reads: "I'm not a Lesbian, but my Girlfriend is!" Loudly demonstrative Kitten (Ellen Peterson's) partner is the much more demure Ramona (Jessica Webb). Adding more complications to this "coming out" evening, is the unexpected arrival of Betty's seventeen-year old son Christopher (Ross Neuenfeldt), announcing that he, too is gay, and is now likewise estranged from his dad! Of course, when these long hidden secrets are revealed by Betty to Madeleine, the old lady, as expected, has a long withheld family surprise of her own to also disclose! Although certainly well acted by the assured cast, under Sidney Friedman's focused direction, this play's overloaded plot would have been better served with less involvement of Betty's gay friends and without the unnecessary inclusion of her son's added complications. Now playing through October 24, 2010. (My Grade: 3)
Now at The Boston Center for the Arts' intimate Plaza Black Box Theatre, the Zeitgeist Stage Company presents the area premiere of "Enron" by Lucy Prebble. A recent success upon its London debut, it then went on to a surprisingly mixed reception on Broadway. Of course, the play's title pretty much defines it. Set throughout the 1990's, it chronicles the entire sorry account of what has since come to be known as "the corporate crime that determined the 20th Century." Jeff Skilling (Victor Shopov) an assertive and crafty young executive, at the aforementioned Texas energy titan, manipulates corporate boss Ken Lay (Bill Salem) to promote him as C.E.O., thereby passing his certain rival and sometimes bed-mate, fellow executive Claudia Roe (Erin Cole). Now scheming for bigger successes, he enlists Associate Executive Andrew Fastow (Greg Ferrisi) in his, supposedly foolproof, plan to jumpstart Enron's profits! By creating a fictional shadow company, to conceal their actual losses, they will be able to continually declare huge profits, even though these profits aren't really taking place. Later, with the elimination of the Federal Government's many regulations, especially those concerning electrical power, they saw this also as yet another highly fraudulent but profitable opportunity. This later also caused a massive power crisis in California. As each deceitful success followed its predecessor, these deceivers were finally undone by the tragedy of 9/11! This horrific disaster eventually sparked the congressional committees that began to unravel and expose Enron's massive history of corruption and duplicity! Beginning with a trio of these same corporate scoundrels masked as the fabled "Three Blind Mice" and then finally their despicable history culminating with them camouflaged again as voracious dinosaurs, this threesome were ultimately tried and convicted! Prison sentences were then meted out for each culprit. Although heart failure spared Ken Lay, fortunately the cooperating Andrew Fastow was sentenced for six years while the defiant Jeff Skilling earned twenty four! Bravos are most certainly due for David J. Miller's well focused direction and, of course, his splendidly sleek, and contemporary boardroom-like settings, enhanced with its many rear-screen projections of newsreel movie film clips, which vividly defined the scandal's time. Similar praise must also go to the large and spirited, business attired ensemble's song-and-dance routines framed with music by Adam Cork and choreography by Wendy Hall. Now playing through October 16, 2010.
Now at The Diminutive Plaza Theatre at The Boston Center for the Arts, Hart & Dagger Productions presents their new production of "Interview" by Jean-Claude van Tallie. Originally conceived as one third of a package of short plays entitled "America Hurrah," this brief 45 presentation, is now performed here as a solo piece. Featuring a cast of ten spirited young actors and actresses, it's vividly effected on the theatre's backstage. Set in some sort of employment agency, a quartet of bizarrely masked interviewers begin to question four job applicants. Both groups are equally divided between men and women. As the questioning proceeds they're gradually joined by the other cast members all speaking spiritedly and loudly together! The only stage props are several dark boxes and a few chairs. Animatedly questioning these many aspirants, the interviewers and interviewees even begin to vigorously vault over each other! "Do You Like Your Work?" "Are you Irreplaceable?" Then proceeding on to holding hands and parading in a large circle, someone asks "Can You Direct Me To 14th Street?" This is accompanied by the ensemble then assuming the positions of passengers on a train and commencing with rhythmic hand clapping! Speaking together or in recurring phrases, and then later each declaring alone as either a house painter (Nick Miller), a floor washer (Corina Bucur), a banker (Mikey DiLoreto), a lady's maid (Kiki Samko), a priest (Kevin Paquette), or a psychiatrist (Erin Rae Zalaski). The cast then begins to form a square dancing circle. Later, they even seek help from a politician campaigning for election. It all ends with everyone, including the interviewers (Audrey Lynn Sylvia, Jordan L. Greeley, Amy Meyer, and Tommy O'Malley) marching and chanting catchwords such as "Excuse Me," and "My Fault!" Vividly performed by the large cast under Joey C. Pelletier's assured direction with equal kudos for Elisa Weiner Wulfe's lively choreography and Michael Underhili's effectively dramatic lighting. This often compelling but occasionally flustering and/or overwhelming exercise in contemporary society's complexity, in coherence and isolation, is now playing through October 16, 2010.
ROCK OF AGES
Now at Boston's Colonial Theatre is the area premiere of "Rock of Ages," featuring book by Chris D'Arienzo and the music of Journey, Pat Benatar, Twisted Sister, Foreigner, Styx, Bon Jovi and Poison, amongst many others. Obviously, this show's focus is "Arena Rock," and accordingly, for those "over-the-hill" viewers like myself, there's definitely no need whatsoever for our hearing aides! Following its acclaimed debut off-Broadway in 2008, it quickly moved to Broadway where it went on to garner five Tony nominations in 2009, including Best Musical. A major Hollywood motion picture version is scheduled for release in 2011. It's set in Hollywood's "Sunset Strip" in a small neighborhood club called "The Bourbon Room". Young sweet Kansas born and raised Sheree (Rebecca Faulkenberry) arrives hoping for a successful acting career, but settling for employment in a strip-joint instead. However, at The Bourbon Room she meets Drew (Constantine Maroulis) who's brimming with big expectations as a rock star. Featuring full voiced renditions of Foreigner's "Waiting for a Girl Like You" and Steve Perry's "Oh Sherrie!," their romance soon begins to blossom. Drew even has invented a new big-time name for himself. He now prefers to be known as "Wolfgang VonColt." Unfortunately, Hertz (Bret Tuomi) a prominent German real-estate magnate, and his compliant son Franz (Travis Walker), arrive with major plans to revitalize the area. By demolishing the club, they expect to re-energize tourist interest. Trying to stave this off, Dennis (Nick Cordero), the Bourbon Room's owner, convinces Stacee Jaxx (Mig Ayese), a major egocentric rock-star, to perform there. As expected, he sets his goal on seducing Sheree, succeeding as he sings "I Want to Know What Love Is." In spite of his victory, however, Sheree's love for Drew remains strong. Eventually when Hertz's docile son Franz later becomes a rock 'n roll convert and discards his stodgy business suit for a bright, new and highly colorful attire, his straight-laced Pappa also begins to change! From start to rousing finale, with the large cast singing Journey's "Don't Stop Believin'," Lonny (Patrick Lewallen) the club's lively M.C. acts as the show's narrator. Of course, similarly noteworthy is the overly resonant Rock of Ages band, conducted by keyboardist Brandon Ethridge, supporting the large, intensely roaring 17+ cast under Kristin Hanggi's strong direction. Comparable notice is also due for Kelly Devine's highly spirited choreography. While certainly not for every taste, the largely youthful, capacity audience's repeatedly and continually enthusiastic responses attest to the show's great appeal! Now playing through October 17, 2010. (My Grade: 4)
Now at the Boston University Theatre, the Huntington Theatre Company presents its new production of "Bus Stop" by William Inge. Originally staged on Broadway in 1956, it was soon thereafter also produced as a major Hollywood movie, and as such proved to be one of Marilyn Monroe's greatest successes. Set in a small roadside restaurant on the way to Kansas City, the play's action takes place there, at the height of a very heavy blizzard, late at night. Unable to continue due to the storm, a long distance bus has been forced to stop there for the evening. As with so many similar plays, its passengers present a familiar cross-section of Americana. Twenty one year old Bo Decker (Noah Bean), a young, rambunctious Montana rancher, bursts in accompanied by Virgil Blessing (Stephen Lee Anderson), his much older and wiser longtime guardian and confidante. Earlier that same evening, many miles back, Bo had become captivated by attractive, blonde, nineteen-year old Cherie (Nicole Rodonburg), an occasional vocalist at a small neighborhood dine-and-dance café. Instantly smitten by her, the overly assertive Bo had loudly let all know at the café, of his intention to marry the good-looking singer! Her rejection and hasty departure had then spurred him to pursue her on this same bus. Also stranded at the diner is Dr. Gerald Lyman (Henry Stram), a discredited university professor, undone by alcoholism and his ongoing attraction to young girls. Of course, Carl (Will LeBow), the bus driver, Grace Hoyland (Karen MacDonald), the restaurant's owner, Elma Duckworth (Ronete Levenson), her teenage waitress and Will Masters (Adam LeFevre), the local sheriff, are also biding their time there. As a romantic dalliance blossoms between Carl and Grace, bitter memories soon deflate the disgraced former educator's budding attraction to young Elma. Then, as the snow-bound hours drag on, gradually the lonely, drifting and uncertain Cherie begins to reconsider the possibilities of betterment in Montana with the robust, even if undisciplined, young Bo. Effectively acted by the fine cast, with special commendations for Nicole R. and Noah B. as Cherie and Bo, with similar praise for James Noone's splendidly atmospheric set, Miranda Hoffman's appropriate costumes and Nicholas Martin's assured direction. Now playing through October 17, 2010. (My Grade: 5)
IN THE NEXT ROOM (or The Vibrator Play)
Now at the Roberts Studio Theatre in the Calderwood Pavilion at the Boston Center for the Arts, the Speakeasy Stage Company presents its production of "In the Next Room (or The Vibrator Play)" by Sarah Ruhl. This presentation represents the Boston premiere of this acclaimed 2010 Pulitzer Prize finalist and 2010 Tony Award Nominee for Best Play. Based on historical fact, it's set in the 1880's in an affluent health resort near New York City, at the onset of the initiation of the varied uses of electricity. Young and attractive Sabrina Daldry (Marianna Bassham) has come with her frustrated husband (Dennis Trainor Jr.) seeking help from Dr. Givings (Derry Woodhouse). Overly tearful, sensitive and suffering from what is now known as "frigidity," she has come for medical help. The stolid and focused physician evaluates her ailment as "hysteria," and with the assistance of his young aide: Annie (Frances Idlebrook), he applies his new electric vibrating device. After experiencing a great paroxysm, her loud and pleasurable responses attract the attention of Dr. Givings' lovely, young wife Catherine (Anne Gottlieb). She's nearby, in their nicely appointed living room, comforting her new infant. Unable to supply sufficient breast milk for her baby, she's hired Elizabeth (Lindsay McWhorter) to be her child's wet nurse. As expected, Mrs. Daldry comes back for many more treatments, and in the course of her visits, she confides with Catherine about the reason for her success! In the meantime, Leonard Irving (Craig Wesley Divino), a well known artist, has also come to the doctor, suffering from a male variation of the same female complaint. His reaction to the doctor's efforts are similarly agreeable. Still later, Catherine and her new confidante, Mrs. Daldry, secretly enter Dr. Giving's operating room. Then with Annie's help, they learn how and begin to use his electrical device, upon themselves! Catherine's novel and rapturous feelings expose a new awareness about her stoic and passionless spouse. Then, following a brief, romantic but disappointing involvement with Leonard Irving, she eventually finds the strength and resolve to finally unleash her husband's long repressed sexuality! Extremely well acted by the splendidly accomplished cast with high marks for Anne G., Marianne B., and Derry W. with similar praise also for Susan Zeeman Rogers' and Gail Astrid Buckley's grandly periodic set and costumes and certainly for Scott Edmiston's strong direction! Now playing through October 16, 2010. (My Grade: 5)
ALICE vs. WONDERLAND
Now at the Loeb Drama Center in Cambridge, Mass. the American Repertory Theater's Institute for Advanced Theater Training presents its production of "Alice vs. Wonderland," re-conceived by Brendan Shea and based on Lewis Carroll's original stories. It's being performed here by a large 18 member cast of youthful players, primarily in contemporary street clothes, on a relatively bare stage. Assembled on a series of plain benches, positioned diagonally to the right and left of a central doorway to the rear, according to re-conceiver Shea, the huge cast brings to life his vision of "The collision of Carroll's characters and contemporary pop culture." Of course, with the popularity of ethnic and racial diversity, and its many benefits, this new heroine appears, as her adventures progress, as six different Alices. They are either Caucasian, African-American or Asian-American (Angela Gulner, Erikka Walsh, Faith Imafidon, Renee-Marie Brewster, Jennifer Soo and the alternating Sarah Jadin and Megan Brotherton). They advance by running mostly in place, flanked by their many fellow troupe members, in semi-darkness, with their faces illuminated, from below, by upturned flashlights. On their way, each in turn encounters the white rabbit (Vincent Selhorst-Jones), garbed in a grey jumpsuit and all of Lewis Carroll's other classic characters, as well. Prominent amongst them are the Cheshire Cat (Nick Crandall or Derek Lettman), the White Night (Ed Walsh), the Caterpillar (Christian Grunnah), and the Mad Hatter (Christopher Staley). Kudos also are due for the Queen of Hearts (Jordy Lievers) and the aforementioned M. Brotherton and S. Jadin as Tweedledee and Tweedledum. Overly loud and mostly forgettable incidental rock-styled songs (assuming that's what is meant by Clive Goodwin's "Sound Design") abounds throughout to underscore each new Alice. "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Bat, How I Wonder Where I'm At!" However, Cheryl Turski's highly unusual and creative "choreography" defined by a succession of interesting, undulating and interlocking body movements, proved to be ever fascinating. Similar commendations are also due for director Janos Szasz, who also served to guide this same production in its European premiere in Moscow last spring. Now playing through October 9, 2010. (My Grade: 4)
Now at the newly restored Emerson College's Paramount Center in Boston, is the area premiere of "Fräulein Maria." Conceived and choreographed by Doug Elkins and directed by Barbara Karger and Michael Preston, this delightful grandly engaging and gently amusing spin on Rodgers and Hammerstein's "Sound of Music" was launched in 2006 in association with NY's prestigious Public Theater, where it later went on to garner the coveted dance and performance "Bessie Award." It's centered by a large, ten member ensemble of highly spirited and accomplished male and female dancers. For seventy minutes, sans any dialogue, this thoroughly captivating group stands, twirls, glides, undulates and pirouettes, bends, swoops, or prances joyfully to the majestic recorded movie soundtrack of the aforementioned musical masterwork. As expected, most of their best movies are focused on the sweetly resonant tones of the legendary Julie Andrews. It all begins with a few members of the group unfolding lengthy, large, green, tan and grey sheets creatively shaped and positioned to miraculously simulate and serve several dancers as hills for their movements to Julie's rendition of the evening's title melody. Later, a host of darkly garbed "Nuns" vividly spinning to the strains of "Hallelujah," continue the evening's charm. Still later, a septet of variously sized cavorting "kids," with co-director Michael Preston, outfitted with a rag-doll styled puppet, as the youngest Von Trapp child, help to establish which "…are sixteen going on seventeen." Still more fluidly rhythmic turns energize a "few of my favorite things," soon to be followed by similarly entertaining twists on the every cheery "do-re-mi!" A potently striking male solo dancer, cloaked in black, except for his white shorts, serves to vigorously move the evening toward its grand finale with his intense body movements to the show's grandly memorable "Climb Every Mountain." This splendidly entertaining treat is now on view, on a very limited schedule, through October 3, 2010.
Now at the Charles Mosesian Theater in the Arsenal Center for the Arts, in Watertown, Mass. the New Repertory Theatre presents its new production of "Boston Marriage" by David Mamet. Originally staged in 1999 by The American Repertory Theatre in nearby Cambridge, it soon thereafter was also well received in Manhattan at the prestigious Public Theater. Unlike Mamet's many previous plays, which mainly present a hard-edged view of contemporary American life, here instead the author offers us a late 19th Century drawing room comedy superficially patterned after such masters as Wilde or Shaw. Presumably set in Boston, the play's title is a euphemism for a lesbian relationship. Anna (Debra Wise) is the secret paramour of a wealthy married man who has not only provided her with a splendid wardrobe, but also a stately well appointed home with her own personal maid. However, Anna's great and true love is not her rich male protector but rather beautiful, young Claire (Jennie Israel)! Things go awry, however, when Claire announces her love for another woman after returning from a trip. To add to Anna's displeasure, Claire even suggests that she, and her new sweetheart, rendezvous at Anna's home! Thereafter, both joust in a swirl of highly mannered and very lively verbal exchanges, laced with a bevy of anti-male observations. All of this is both provocative and quite amusing. Later, in true Victorian fashion, this is all neatly resolved by the disposition of some expensive jewelry. However, serving to counter balance these spirited exchanges is Anna's maid Catherine (Melissa Baroni), a sweet, young, Scottish immigrant. Although, easily bullied, and often brought to tears by her mistress, she nevertheless maintains a common-sense bearing throughout. It's being vividly performed by the splendid three member cast under David Zoffoli's well focused direction. High praise is also due for Janie E. Howland's elegant and very stately Victorian drawing room set; Rafael Jean's fine period costumes; Joel Abbott's choice sound design; as well as Deb Sullivan's effective lighting. Now playing through October 3, 2010.
Now at the Stoneham Theatre in Stoneham, Mass. is their production of "Perfect Harmony." Written by Andrew Grosso, together with the a cappella group known as "The Essentials." It premiered at the New York International Fringe Festival in 2006, which then paved the way to its staging in 2008 at N.Y.'s Theater Row. This presentation marks its local debut, and will then be followed by its staging Off-Broadway. Here, and as before, it's being directed by creator, Andrew Grosso. The simple story-line centers on the rivalry between two high school a cappella groups competing for a championship with its focus on an appearance on "MTV3." The male group is known as "The Acafellas," and as expected, is strong both vocally and harmonically, but with somewhat ungainly choreography. Much the same can be said about their female opponents titled as "The Ladies in Red." Lassiter A. Jayson III (Robbie Collier Sublett), is the leader of the men's ensemble. Jaded by the groups superficial "pop" musical choices, he yearns for the challenges that greater artistic "truth" would bring. Philip Fellowes V (Robi Libii), is troubled by a clash with his dad (who was one of the group's co-founders). Jasper, (Clayton Apgar) except when he's called upon to sing, is mute! J.B. Smooter (Jarid Faubel) is a "jock", but also with a great singing voice. Nerdy Simon Depardieu (David Barlow), although flustered by his timidity and uncertainty, is also strong vocally! Autocratic Melody McDaniels (Dana Acheson) insists on the female group's unanimity, unobstructed by discussion and disagreement! Dreadfully fearful and quiet, Valerie Smooter, (Faryl Amadeus), like her brother J.B., has a great singing voice. Meghan Beans (Kelly McCreary) similarly strong vocally, regularly turns to Jesus for guidance. Kerri Taylor (Marie-France Arcilla), like the others sings well, but seems to suffer from Tourette Syndrome-like symptoms. Michaela (Kate Morgan Chadwick), a recent immigrant from Eastern Europe, with her brother Goran (also played by David Barlow), has difficulty with both the lyrics and the process. Miss Chadwick also does a fine change as "Kiki Tune," a high-powered, well coiffured, fast-talking agent who turns J.B. away briefly from the group. Although very well acted and sung throughout, unfortunately, most of the show's lengthy first act was concerned with the too overly laden details about each of both groups' members. However, the livelier and more involving second act proved to be much more compelling. Highlighted by such stirring melodies as "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot," and "The Sound of Men Working on the Chain Gang," kudos must certainly go to Ray Bailey's arrangements and musical direction. Now playing through October 3, 2010. (My Grade: 3.5)
THE 25TH ANNNUAL PUTNAM COUNTY SPELLING BEE
The Lyric Stage Company of Boston is now presenting their production of "The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee" featuring music and lyrics by William Finn, and book by Rachel Sheinkin as conceived by Rebecca Feldman. This captivating show opened Off-Broadway to much approval in 2005, after its earlier 2004 presentations at the Barrington Stage Company in Western Massachusetts. Its great success quickly go it moved up to Broadway, where it then went on to garner the Tony Award. Equally successful nationwide engagements soon followed. It's set just like a public school gym outfitted with a raised, three leveled section of wooden planks, where the various juvenile contestants await their appearances. Several members of the audience will also soon be recruited to join them onstage as participants to add to the show's 90 minute, intermissionless frivolity. Officiating also are two adult school administrators: Rona Lisa Peretti (Kerri Jill Garbis), a former contest winner and Douglas Panch (Will McGarrahan), the school's vice principal, plus Mitch Mahoney (De'Lon Grant), who's also there, on parole, to perform his "community service" obligation. Awaiting their big moments are the six pre-pubescent contestants. Chip Tolentino (Sam Simahk), who was last year's big winner, now seems overly unsure of his spelling powers. Loggaine "Schwartzy" Schwartzandgrubenierre, the group's youngest girl (Lexie Fennell Frare), is politically savvy, and is being brought up by two gay daddys. Her unusually long name is actually a combination of her two fathers' names. Unpredictable Leaf Coneybear (Michael Borges) has many attention problems. William Barfee (Daniel Vito Siefring) a clever, plump nerd, is constantly beset with many allergies and a frequently runny nose. Marcy Park (Lisa Yuen) is both a perfectionist and very compulsive. Olive Ostrovsky (Krista Buccellato) is bashful, timid and considers herself a loser. As each contestant steps up to hear his "word", he or she may also ask for it to be defined and also hear it used in a sentence, Either the youngster's query or else the administrator's reply turn out to be very, very comical! Especially so are the show's nearly 20 genuinely amusing songs. Especially winning were "My Friend the Dictionary," "I'm Not That Smart," "Woe is Me," and certainly William Barfee's (which he insists is pronounced "Bar-Fay's") "Magic Foot." Before attempting to spell his "word," Barfee initially tries to trace it on the floor with his foot! This grandly entertaining show, deftly directed and choreographed by Stephen Terrell, with equally splendid orchestral accompaniment as directed by Jonathan Goldberg, is now playing through October 2, 2010.
DIRTY ROTTEN SCOUNDRELS
RUN, RUN, RUN to the North Shore Music Theatre to see this 5 star production of Jeffrey Lane and David Yazbek's Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, based on the 1988 movie. The script is quick and clever. The choreography exciting and unexpected. The actors…
This theater critic has spent thousands of hours sitting in theaters all over America and I've rarely seen a better acted, better danced, funnier performance than is yours for a ridiculously reasonable price now through Oct. 10th at the newly reopened North Shore Music Theatre in Beverly. Oh, yeah the actors…
Bill Hanney, the new owner/producer has done amazing things with and for our beloved Music Theater. He is an entrepreneur who is not afraid of hard work or change. He cut back from fifty to five past employees who handle everything from PR to hiring the outrageously talented Denis Jones to choreograph this theater in the round production. Mr. Jones' choreography could rival that of multi-talented, nationally acclaimed Susan Stroman. And if you think that's exciting wait till I tell you about the actors.
First a bit about a bite or two. Mr. Hanney is also responsible for the Backstage Bistro's new Chef Derek Clough who offers dishes to drool over, in a scenic setting right on the grounds of this beautiful location. Mr. Hanney, along with Producing Artistic Director Evans Haile are to be commended for their brilliant foresight in selecting director Mark Martino who makes this quick, witty comedy sparkle like the jewel it is. But did I mention the actors?
This cast is oozing with talent. From the brilliant Brent Barrett as the dashing Lawrence Jameson to Brynn O'Malley as Christine Colgate, the all American soap princess, to Lynne Wintersteller whose performance as Muriel Eubanks was spot-on perfection, there is not a dull moment in the entire production. Add to that, a Tony worthy, hysterical performance by D.B.Bonds as Freddy Benson, the small time hustler who draws big time laughs every time he steps foot on the stage, and you have an evening to remember. Other cast members, who gave great performances were; Jennifer Cody who was hysterical as Jolene Oaks from Oaklahoma and John Scherer as Andre Thibault, a gentleman who breaks out his handcuffs only when he beds Ms. Eubanks. This is theater the way it should be; thoroughly entertaining from opening curtain to the final bows.
My recommendation is run, run, run to your phone or computer to buy tickets to this and the two remaining productions; "A Chorus Line," Nov. 2-21 and "A Christmas Carol," Dec. 3-23. And don't go to any of the fine restaurants in Beverly because supper at the Back Stage Bistro with its new, scrump-de-lee-icious fare would be a personal destination even if when not attending the theater. I had BBQ pulled pork sliders with apple slaw and home made French fries drizzled with truffle oil and lightly sprinkled with cheese.
For an evening you will always remember click on this link, www.nsmt.org, or call 978-232-7200.
(My Grade: 5)
THE COMPLETE WORLD OF SPORTS
Kick off this theater season and Fall into Merrimack Repertory Theatre 50 East Merrimack St., Lowell to see three very funny guys act out the entire history of sports - sort of. The Reduced Shakespeare Company brings you a review written by Reed Martin and Austin Tichenor, who also star in the show along with Matt Rippy.
This talented threesome runs from opening curtain (the only time they are seated) through every sport ever played, or made up by them. We see glimpses of everything from "Neanderthal in the Middle" to Bowling, Competitive Eating, Cricket, Curling and yes…synchronized swimming. It's a splash!
This production is a light hearted comic review performed with pin perfect timing. It is running…and I do mean running…through Oct. 3. By the end of the first act, Martin, Tichenor and Rippy must head for the oxygen before returning for Act II and a final bow. It's amazing they don't just fall over by the end. Kudos to three great performers.
As far as the comedy writing goes, it was often fairly trite and very expectable. To me great comedy is when the audience is led in one direction and surprised when it goes jauntily in another. This script is fairly predictable albeit entertaining. The play moves quickly and with some great audience participation, delights the audience. If light hearted fare is your dish, make sure to catch it before it's gone.
The Complete World of Sports (abridged) is playing at Merrimack Repertory Theatre in Lowell for the next two weeks. To purchase tickets call the Box Office 978-654-4678 or online at www.MerrimackRep.org.
(My Grade: 3)
THE REAL INSPECTOR HOUND
Now at the Boston Center for the Arts' Plaza Theatre, the Publick Theatre presents its new production of Tom Stoppard's 1968 absurdist and amusing murder-mystery spoof. "The Real Inspector Hound." Having begun his career as a drama critic, it's readily obvious that this bright, smart satire should center on a pair of hack, second-string drama critics who are at a performance of a play, much like Agatha Christie's "Mouse Trap." As expected, it's set in a staid and stodgy old English manor on the Rainyand Windswept Moors. The play begins as these two reviewers take their seats, amidst the audience, albeit off to the side. They are the pompously shallow "Moon" (Barlow Adamson) and his partner, the salacious "Birdboot" (William Gardiner). Uneasy with their assignment, they wonder aloud "Where's Higgs?" their journal's primary reviewer. Of course, all of the anticipated characters are present. The frumpy, hair-netted, middle aged housekeeper Mrs. Drudge (Sheriden Thomas) is there as an occasionally narrator. Sweet, young and naïve Felicity (Anna Waldron), together with the manor's stately and attractive Lady Cynthia (Georgia Lyman) and Major Magnus (Gabriel Kuttner), her long-lost husband's wheelchair bound half-brother are also present. Simon (Danny Bryck), Felicity's boyfriend, after a few ambulatory moments at the play's inception, also lies shot and dead, in the show's musty, antique central living room, throughout the play's remaining 90 minutes. Soon thereafter, Inspector Hound (Wayne Fritsche), appears complete with trench-coat and outfitted with jumbo, flat and grandly inflated swamp boots. He's there thanks to the regularly heard, nearby radio announcements which have repeatedly informed everybody that "A Madman is on the Loose in the Moors!" However, in their characteristically fatuous fashion, "Moon" and "Birdboot" have nearly finalized their critiques. To "Moon," the play asks: "Where Is God?" while "Birdboot", as usual, has been fixated on the two females! Having had a past dalliance with Felicity, he now settles on the overriding appeal of the beautiful Lady Cynthia. Unfortunately, his specious evaluation is suddenly interrupted by the steadily unanswered ringing of the manor-house's telephone. When he leaves his seat, amidst the audience, later to be joined on stage by his pal, to answer the incessant phone, both become entangled in the parody's outcome! Stoppard's craft, and supremely witty and provocative intelligence then fully erupt to the audience's total amusement. Bravos are due for Dahlia Al-Habieli's gloomy, antique parlor setting; Jeff Adelberg's dramatic lighting; Molly Trainer's fine costumes; John Doerschuk's humorous soundbdesign; and Diego Arciniegas' assured direction. Now playing through September 25, 2010.
Now at the Ogunquit Playhouse in Ogunquit, Maine is their production of "Spamalot," featuring book and lyrics by Eric Idle with music by Idle and John Du Prez. Based on the highly-popular 1975 motion picture "Monty Python and the Holy Grail," this new musicalized adaptation made its Broadway debut in 2005, when it was nominated for 14 Tony Awards, and went on to garner three, including "Best Musical." As its whimsical title suggests, like its highly celebrated cinematic predecessor, now with nearly twenty exuberantly humorous songs added, it is a grandly winning spoof of the Camelot legend. Here again are King Arthur (Charles Shaughnessy) with his squire Patsy (Jeffrey Scott Stevens) striving to enlist the members of his fabled "Knights of the Round Table." As expected, with the extraordinary assistance of the beautiful and resonantly sonorous Lady of the Lake (Rachel York) they certainly do succeed, with her lifting the capacity audience with the typically familiar "Song That Goes Like This." Of course, the King is joined by Sir Lancelot (Matthew Greer), Sir Galahad (Ayal Miodovnik) and Sir Bedevere (Richard Costa), as they bind by singing "All For One" and the lusty ode (complete with the lovely and lively Camelot Dancers and Grail Girls) "Find Your Grail." A hilarious confrontation at a castle ensues with a comically belligerent French guard (Matthew Greer) followed by their attempted retaliation with a large, but quite empty, wooden "trojan-horse-styled" rabbit. Further comical complications engulf them when they wander into "A Dark and Very Expensive Forest" where they get to sing the already well-remembered "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life." Still more amusing jumbles erupt when the King tries to impress the ever so effeminate Sir Robin (Jeffrey Denman) into his service. Somehow, this later leads Arthur to wonder about how his many frivolous misadventures might someday become the inspiration for a big successful show on Broadway! How this extraordinary development might come to pass, so many centuries and miles ahead, in the long long distant future, becomes the stimulus for one of the show's funniest segments. Naturally, all of the King's problems are amusingly and finally resolved when the long sought after Grail is uproariously found in a most unlikely place, with a most unlikely participant. Many lusty Bravos are also due for the many brilliant and colorful period sets and costumes designed by Tim Hatley, as well as Richard Latta's splendid lighting and the very spirited, full orchestral accompaniment provided by musical director Rick Bertone. Lastly, high praise must go to the direction and choreography, based on the show's original conceptions, by Scott Taylor. Now playing through September 11, 2010. (My Grade: 5)
AN IDEAL HUSBAND
Now at the Gloucester Stage in Gloucester, Mass., is their new production of "An Ideal Husband" by Oscar Wilde. This witty exploration of the dilemmas arising from the quest for status and success made its debut in 1895 and still speaks to many of these same concerns today. Sir Robert Chiltern (Brendan Powers) initially appears to be the perfect example of Wilde's model spouse; a wealthy and ascending legislator who's also respected as a devoted husband. Unfortunately, Mrs. Cheveley (Angie Jepson), a former fiancée of Sir Robert's best friend Lord Goring (Lewis D. Wheeler) suddenly threatens the rising politico's career with a surprising extortion scheme. As a poor young man, Sir Robert founded his own political standing and good fortune by illicitly informing a prominent nobleman of a highly guarded government secret. To further complicate matters, the predatory Mrs. Cheveley also plans to inform Sir Robert's wife Lady Chiltern (Carrie Ann Quinn) of her husband's corruption. When the wife then turns to Lord Goring for aid, he's discovered that the avaricious scoundrel is in possession of a long lost valuable diamond brooch, now seen as stolen. Of course, he uses this awareness to thwart Mrs. Cheveley's efforts to destroy Sir Robert's career. Still not to be undone, the vixen finally tries and fails to scuttle the Chiltern's marriage utilizing some easily misconstrued correspondence between Lady Chilteen and Lord Goring. Now, although his career seems to be ensured, to assuage his wife's sense of dishonor, Sir Robert offers to resign from Parliament. However, after some thoughtful reconsideration, she ultimately decides that no good purpose would be achieved by her husband's resignation. Unfortunately, while the basic thrust of Wilde's prominent characters are reasonably well served by the small cast and the A.R.T.'s former leading lady Karen MacDonald's direction, the company has also decided that the same foursome should also be called upon to portray all of the playwright's other subsidiary roles as well, As a consequence, both males also appear disconcertingly and ineffectively in drag as dowdy dowagers, while the ladies are similarly called upon to distractingly impersonate bearded male elders and/or officious and stodgy servants. Regrettably, this only serves to sidetrack rather than to enhance the play's impetus. Similarly unusual, considering Oscar Wilde's noteworthy penchant for wit and cleverness, was Designer Julia Noulin-Merat's curious and overly dark, gloomy and multi-framed drawing-room setting. Now playing through August 29, 2010. (My Grade: 3)
Now at the Reagle Music Theater in Waltham, Mass. is their new production of "Hairspray" featuring music by Marc Shaiman, lyrics by Scott Wittman and Marc Shaiman and book by Mark O'Donnell and Thomas Meehan. It is based on the original 1988, similarly-titled John Waters' motion picture and the musically redefined hit Broadway Musical which made its debut in 2002, as well as the equally successful Hollywood movie which premiered nationwide in 2007. The plot, in all these editions, set in "Schlock-King" Waters' hometown of Baltimore, Maryland in the early 1960's centers on 16 year old pleasingly plump, high school teenager Tracy Turnblad's (Marissa Perry) concerted efforts to become a guest on the highly popular "Corny Collins TV Show." Collins' (Mark Linehan) program, like Dick Clark's famed "American Bandstand," was the area's most favorite youth oriented dance-party on television. As expected, Tracy not only manages to become a major attraction on the program but also, in the process, romantically captivates Link Larkin (Nick Peciaro), the show's noteworthy Elvis-type-wanna-be. Way back then, intermingling between Whites and "Negroes" was decidedly frowned upon. With her sweet, young, and very naïve best friend Penny Pingleton (Merissa Czyz), Tracy visits the African American neighborhood's favorite record shop. Hoping to learn the best new dances, there she meets Motormouth Mabel (Angela Birchett), the shop's big-voiced proprietress and her rockin' son Seaweed J. Stubbs (Davron S. Monroe), as well as his young sister, Little Inez (Rebecca Policade). With their help, after a little mistaken time in the local jail, Tracy's able to finally fully integrate Corny Collins' TV show. All of these rapid changes also served to improve the lot of Tracy's drab, corpulent, mom Edna (Dan Dowling Jr.) and her slim loving husband Wilbur (John Macero). As noted, because, in the original film, the late transvestite "Devine" portrayed Edna Turblad, thereafter the role of Tracy's mom has always been performed by a jumbo male, in drag. Also noteworthy are the TV show's bigoted and ultimately bested Producer Velma Von Tussle (Susan Scannell) and her equally nasty daughter Amber (Stephanie Moskal). Of course, uplifting throughout is the show's lively score (nearly 20 melodies) featuring such notable songs as "Good Morning, Baltimore," "Mama, I'm a Big Girl Now," "The Madison," "You're Timeless To Me" (Edna and Wilbur's grandly tender duet) and the show-stopping finale: "You Can't Stop the Beat!" Bravos are also due for musical director Daniel Rodriguez, J. Branson's bright, colorful sets and co-directors: Todd Michel Smith and Judine Somerville's recreation of the show's original choreography. Now playing through August 22, 2010. (My Grade: 5)
Now at the Company Theatre in Norwell, Mass. is their new production of "The Producers" featuring book by Mel Brooks and Thomas Meehan with music and lyrics also by Mel Brooks. Adapted from Brooks' same-titled 1968 motion picture, this multi-talented showman was later encouraged to develop his popular comedy into a full fledged musical. It opened on Broadway, to grandly enthusiastic response in 2001, where it went on to garner an astounding 12 Tony Awards. Of course, it then also went on to become a similarly popular Hollywood motion picture in 2005. Failed Broadway Producer Max Bialystock's (David Michael Daly) latest show "Funny Boy" (his musical version of "Hamlet") like all of his recent others is a big flop. When frail and timid accountant Leo Bloom (Steve Shannon) comes to investigate Max's finances, he casually announces a surefire but improbable scheme - a disreputable producer might be able to become very, very rich by producing a show that was sure to be a failure and then by selling many thousands of over-investments and later taking off with the overpayments to then go on to a lavish lifestyle in another country! Notwithstanding, the grandly enthusiastic Max ultimately convinces the initially hesitant Leo to join him in his foolproof caper! These two finally turn to Franz Liebkind (Evan James), a former Nazi, now living with his flock of militaristic Nazi-saluting doves, on a nearby rooftop. They see Franz's play "Springtime for Hitler" and think it could be the absolute fiasco they seek. Then, as in the past, Max reassures the many, many retired and unmarried little old ladies, that he's swindled before, to finance the prospective show. He then hires flamboyantly "gay" Roger DeBris (John F. King), best known as the world's worst director, and his assistant Carmen Ghia (Matthew Maggio) to marshal the show. Lastly, in need of an office secretary, Max and Leo engage super blonde, statuesque Swedish newcomer Ulla (Adrienne Paquin), who has no stenographic skills. Things then go hilariously wrong when the assured theatrical dud becomes a big success, complicated by Leo and Ulla's love affair! As expected, everything turns out happily in the show's splendidly comic and surprising finish. Of course, kudos are certainly due for Brooks' amusing score featuring such humorous standouts as "I Wanna Be a Producer," "We Can Do It," " Keep It Gay," When You've Got It, Flaunt It," "Springtime for Hitler" and "Where Did We Go Right?" Bravos are also a must for Michael V. Joseph's musical direction, Sally Ashton Forest's lively choreography, Shirley Carney's colorful costumes, and James A. Valentin and Zoe Bradford's very effectively changing set pieces. The evening's vivid direction was also guided by Zoe Bradford with Jodie Saucerman. This grandly winning entertainment is now playing through August 22, 2010. (My Grade: 5)
JOSEPH & THE AMAZING TECHNICOLOR DREAMCOAT
Now at the recently restored North Shore Music Theatre in Beverly, Mass. is their new production in-the-round, of "Joseph and The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat," featuring music by Andrew Lloyd Webber and lyrics by Tim Rice. Based on the Old Testament's tale of betrayal and redemption, in which Joseph (Anthony Fedorov), the favorite son of the patriarch: Jacob (Bob Amaral), is sold into slavery by his brothers, whose jealously was ignited because of Joseph's widespread acceptance, and because of his dazzling robe of many, many colors. Enslaved in Egypt, amazingly Joseph is eventually able to overcome his adversity to miraculously become an omnipotent minister to the all powerful Egyptian Pharaoh (Gary Lynch). As expected, eventually he also does forgive his brethren for the great wrong they inflicted upon him. The large cast is uniformly excellent with special praise for lovely, resonant Jennifer Paz as the show's highly spirited narrator, supported by the delightful NSMT 20 member (pre-adolescent) choir of local children, whose combined voices and presence solidly advance the story. Especially noteworthy also is the aforementioned Pharaoh's big moment, lifting the full audience on to their feet, as a fully costumed rockin' and rollin' Elvis Presley look-a-like. Much praise is also due for Jose Rivera's highly resplendent costumes, Christopher S. Chambers' vivid lighting, Campbell Baird's varied settings and the highly diverse musical score, including such different and memorable melodies as "Any Dream Will Do," "One More Angel in Heaven," "Close Every Door," "Go, Go, Go, Joseph," and the lively "Benjamin Calypso." Of course, the splendid full orchestra conducted by Eric Alsford and Jayme McDaniel's fluid choreography and strong direction were noteworthy. Now playing through August 22, 2010. (My Grade: 5)
OTHELLO, THE MOOR OF VENICE
Now on the open-air greenery of the Boston Common, the Commonwealth Shakespeare Company is presenting its 15th annual summertime free production of one of the Bard's most celebrated plays. This time it's "Othello, The Moor of Venice." Once again, Othello, the black Venetian military General (Seth Gilliam), is hoodwinked into believing that his beautiful, loving wife Desdemona (Marianna Bassham) has been unfaithful to him. His hateful and duplicitous ensign Iago (James Waterston) has been spurred on by his resentment at Othello for promoting his fellow officer Cassio (Dan Roach), instead of him. By tricking his wife Emilia (Adrianne Krstansky), into giving him a prized, lost handkerchief (presented to Desdemona by Othello), Iago begins to set his malevolent trap. He uses the misbegotten hankie to convince Othello that his wife has been cheating romantically with Cassio. In similar fashion, to further widen his treacherous web, Iago also persuades Roderigo (Grayson Powell), a former suitor of Desdemona, to slay Cassio. However, when he fails to kill him, Iago is compelled to do away with Roderigo. Meanwhile, the seething Othello, totally satisfied as to the truth of his wife's infidelity, smothers her to death, as she lies sleeping in their bed. Nevertheless, when told of this horrific outcome, Emilia comes forward to expose her husband's criminal scheme! Vividly, but a bit too shrilly performed in the contemporary garb, with kudos for Gilliam in the central role, with similar praise for the handsomely dressed Marianna as his much beleaguered wife. Unfortunately, Waterston's portrayal of the perfidious Iago might have been even stronger with more subtlety. Commendations are also certainly due for Patrick Lynch's simple, stark, grayish, set, complete with tall rotating panels acting as entrances and exits, as well as Justin Townsend's dramatic lighting and David Remedios' striking sound effects. Lastly, tribute is also a must for Steven Maler's well focused direction. Now playing through August, 15, 2010. (My Grade: 4)
The Hound of The Baskervilles
Now at The Central Square Theatre in Cambridge, Mass. as part of its leadership program is "Hound of The Baskervilles" by Steven Canny and John Nicholson. A major success in London, England in 2007, it also enjoyed similar approval as a late summertime hit in Lenox, Mass. This rapid-fire spoof of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's classic Sherlock Holmes adventure now comes to Greater Boston in this all new production. Much like such similar free-wheeling theatrical spoofs such as "The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged)," as well as Alfred Hitchcock's famed film "The 39 Steps," and Charles Ludlam's "The Mystery of Irma Vep," here again is a totally non-stop put-on of this legendary detective's best known case. As with the aforementioned others, there's only a very small cast to portray a multiplicity of various roles by swiftly adopting a wide variety of guises utilizing many, many different costumes, wigs, beards and assorted other theatrical paraphernalia. This trio are supposedly the principal members of a minor traveling troupe, complete with their flat, wavering, hung settings finished off by upright, painted pasteboard simulations of the English Moor's big rocks and crags. Canadian expatriate Sir Henry Baskerville turns to his family's grand estate on the windswept British Moors, haunted by learning that he is the last of the Baskervilles, since a monstrous hellbound has killed all the other male heirs to the family's stately Baskerville Hall. Of course, the great Great Sherlock Holmes and his trusted assistant Dr. Watson have been recruited to help Sir Henry. At the show's outset with tall, Lincoln-esque Bill Mootos as Dr. Watson, setting the evening's farcical mood with some initial tom foolery, A.R.T. stalwart Remo Airaldi as Sherlock rapidly then alternates from master sleuth to haughty butler, and soon also buxom Frau and enigmatic Latin Senorita, amongst others, as well. Trent Mills similarly quickly transforms himself from Sir Henry into a comparable array of very varied personalities. Surprising, before the Great Detective finally exposes the mystery of the huge malevolent canine, the show's concluding second act explodes, to the full audience's complete delight, with a breakneck recapitulation of Act One, spurred on by Holmes' confusion with an audience member seated in row "J," with someone he believes to really be "Mr. Robert." Kudos must certainly also go the A.R.T.'s eminent Thomas Derrah, as the production's well focused director. Now playing through August 22, 2010.
Now at the Durrells Theatre in the Cambridge YMCA in Cambridge, Mass., Bad Habit Productions presents "Quills" by Doug Wright. After its highly successful New York debut in 1995, it was produced as an equally successful motion picture in 2000. As defined by Webster's Dictionary, "Sadism" is a sexual perversion in which gratification is obtained by inflicting physical or mental pain on others. It is a term based on the life and writings of the notorious Marquis de Sade, the main character in this play. Set in Napoleonic France in 1807, the aforementioned infamous libertine in now imprisoned in the Charenton Asylum for the insane. Unperturbed there, he (Timothy Otte) continues writing his disreputable stories. However, his offensive narratives have so damaged the social life of de Sade's wife Rene Pelagie (Sally Nutt), that she's come to Charenton demanding that Dr. Royer-Collard (James Bocock), the institutions primary medical official put a complete halt to her husband's output. To make it worth his while, she agrees to financially support his efforts to build a chateau to placate his wife (Kirin McCrory), who's having an extramarital affair with M. Prouix (Erin Gilligan). The doctor then turns to Charenton's kindly Abbe de Coulmier (Eric Hamel), who feels that a compassionate appeal to de Sade might succeed. Failing to dissuade the infamous prisoner, his superior orders the heretofore sympathetic Abbe, to utilize the utmost severity to restrain the captive. When his paper and ink are confiscated, de Sade writes on his own clothing, and when his garments are taken away, completely nude de Sade writes with his own blood and a spare bone! Still later, completely stripped of everything, the relentless de Sade convinces Madeline (Jenny Reagan), a helpful young seamstress, to verbally pass his stories along to other inmates. The escalating violence by each thus takes its merciless toll not only on the shameful de Sade but now also, most assuredly, on the defiled Abbe! Well played by the small accomplished cast, under the strong direction of Daniel Morris, with additional kudos for Joanna Stenning's splendid simple settings and Wendy Misinuis' fine period costumes. This provocatively compelling drama (concerning society's efforts to control or suppress controversial ideas) is now on view through August 8, 2010.
Now at the Boston Center for the Arts Claderwood Pavilion in the Roberts Studio Theatre, Company One presents the world premiere of "Grimm," an evening of seven short plays based on the classic fairy tales written by the brothers Grimm. Each of these brief new plays (only 15-20 minutes long) is the opus of a well known playwright and is redefined with a contemporary focus.
"The Seven Stage a Comeback" by Gregory Maguire was developed from his earlier prose poem and is based on "Little Snow White." This time around, the well known septets are revealed just as rustic villagers. Saddened by the departure of Snow White, marked by her having also left behind the notorious poison apple and the equally infamous glass coffin, together they all decide: "let's find out where she went!" Maguire completes their quest with two additional brief episodes (part 2 at the onset of the second act, and part 3 at the evening's close). The dismay of these bereft seven is tenderly resolved when they discover their lost princess with her new infant. (My Grade: 5)
"Thanksgiving" by Kirsten Green was inspired by "Clever Else" and centers on a trio of local, Boston housewives preparing for the aforementioned holiday. As they move about their pre-marital times, beauty pageants and various other disappointments, which all proved to be too overlong. (My grade: 3.5)
"Stories about Snakes" by Melinda Lopez was based on the Grimm's same titled allegorical tale. Well written and expressively performed, a snake offers a lovely girl a gold crown and asks "will it make you sing again?" (My grade: 5)
"Half Handsome and Regrettable" by Marcus Gardley was based "Hansel and Gretel" and laced with everyday argot, completely redefines it in modern terms. Featuring the Gingerbread house as a tourist attraction, the witch as a fine baker and possibly as a molester with the famed duo whimsically involved. (My Grade: 4)
"The White Bride and Black the Black Bride" was also based on the similarly titled source by Lydia R. Diamond. Here three young girls (white, black and eurasion) read the original tale aloud, with farcical emphasis and contemporary interpretation, centered on the story’s beautiful fair maiden and her ugly and black stepmother and stepsister. (My Grade: 5)
"Red" by John Kuntz was based on "Little Red Cap" and effectively updates the familiar exploits of Red Riding Hood, giving it a very macabre spin! With the cops finding her grandma dead, and blaming the crime on a suspicious intruder, questions about Red, the predator and the prey are raised provocatively! (My Grade: 5)
"Cry Baby Jones" by John Adekoje was the evening's final play and was based on the "The Frog King." With the lyrics by Adekoje and Allyssa Jones, who also composed the interesting music, there's little apparent resemblance here to the original source. Featuring a tall, grown 35 year old as a "baby" in diapers, he spends much of his time peddling illegal baby powder to the nearby urban citizens! Can the local king and his princess somehow turn this overgrown malcontent into a real man who takes responsibility for his actions?
High praise must certainly go the large and quite accomplished cast, comprised of Yurie Collins, Tasia A. Jones, Molly Kimmerilng, Becca A. Lewis, Victoria Marsh, Keith Mascoll, Lonnie McAdoo, Micole Prefontaine, Raymond J. Ramirez, Mason Sand, Kris Sidbery and Mark Vanderzee. Commendations are also due for Summer L. Williams and Shawn LaCount who alternated in directing the plays. This wide ranging, highly diverse and compelling program is now playing through August 14th, 2010.
There's a big bowl of mind candy waiting for you at The Barrington Stage Company in Pittsfield, MA and it's all over a piece of…you guessed it…ART. What is it they say? Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. If your best friend spends $150,000 on a painting, how would you react? The comments from Serge's two best friends, Mark and Yvan, will bring you to tears and laughter and a whole bunch of head scratching. When you leave a performance with enough to talk about for two days, I know I've seen fine ART.
This brilliant play, written 15 years ago by double Tony winning playwright, Yasmina Reza, is every bit as fresh and poignant today as it must have been when it first opened in Paris. I guess some things haven't changed…like basic personalities. You want to find out what someone is all about? Just ask the question, "What do you think of my new _______?"
Are you blatantly honest and pigheaded, like Marc, played by Michael Countryman, or are you the type who tries to find something positive to say, even though there's nothing there, like Yvan? Brian Avers (Yvan) is brilliant in the role of peace keeper, who makes such innocuous observations as: "It's amazing how the artist created this piece without the use of form or color." David Garrison, as dermatologist Serge, commands the stage as he brings to light, the real work of art, his crazy friends.
Kudos to Director Henry Wishcamper for lightening up the show. The Broadway production was as serious as only New Yorkers can be about their ART. And speaking of light, the piece that nearly ruins these friendships is white. "Okay, maybe it's not just white, is that a piece of adhesive tape over here," Marc says waxing sarcastic. Is it worth a friendship to be honest about something s/he likes? How does your honest opinion make it the right opinion? And just where do you draw the line?
If you'd like to see where they draw line, get yourself over to BSC Mainstage, 30 Union St. now through August 7. Performances are Tuesday and Wednesday at 7pm, Thursday through Saturday at 8pm and Sunday at 5pm. Additonal matinee on Wednesday, July 28 at 2pm. Tickets are very reasonably priced from $15-$56. There is also Pay What You Can Night for people under 35 on Friday, July 30 . For tickets and information call 413-236-8888 or visit www.barringtonstageco.org.
(My Grade: 3)
Now at Gloucester Stage in Gloucester, Mass. is the world premiere of "Tender" by Kelly Younger. It is set in present day Southern California in the dining room of the home of a young married couple. Amanda (Denise Cormier), a hard-working real estate broker, is now their family's sole breadwinner, since her husband Brian (Brendan Powers) has been laid off for quite a while. Their eleven year old daughter Lexie, recently transferred from private to public school, is away at a "sleepover," at a friend's home. Also residing with this young, professional, married couple, is Amanda's elderly father, Frank (Richard McElvain). Having brought up Amanda as a single parent, long after his wife abandoned them, he labored for nearly forty years as a truck driver assigned to the ignominious task of shuttling large trailer trucks to and from in a warehouse parking lot. Now retired, he insists that his daughter "owes" him. Scornful of his unemployed son-in-law, he derisively refers to him as "Martha" (in the fashion of the famed housekeeper) and to reinforce his daughter's indebtedness to him, has taped a multitude of small written "I-O-U's," all over one of their walls, to act as reminders. As this harried young couple faces the possibility of their home's foreclosure, they are also concerned by intimations that Frank may be suffering the beginnings of "Alzheimer's Disease." Their attentions are further heightened when Frank enthusiastically announces that he has rented a mobile trailer-home, with his intention of taking all of them to visit W.R. Hearst's castle in San Simeon. As this elderly blue collar worker's fantasy begins to unfold, with disastrous consequences, Amanda and Brian's genuine fears about their home's foreclosure also begin to take real shape. Extremely well acted by this accomplished threesome, high marks must certainly also go to Richard McElvain as the cantankerous Frank. Kudos are also due for Julia Noulin-Merat's bright, spacious and contemporary set and most certainly for Eric C. Engel's well focused direction. This timely and compelling drama is now playing through July 25, 2010. (My Grade: 5)
THE MUSIC MAN
Now at the Reagle Music Theater in Waltham, Mass. is their new production of "The Music Man" featuring book, music and lyrics by Meredith Willson (based on a story by Willson and Frank Lacey). This multi-Tony award winning musical opened on Broadway in 1957 and was later transformed into a similarly award-winning movie in 1962. Set in the small town of River City, Iowa in the years just before the onset of World War I, super-salesman, con-man "Professor" Harold Hill (a music illiterate) arrives intent on selling musical instruments, instruction books and uniforms to the town's parents so that their children can form the community's brass marching band, with Hill (lively local TV's Scott Wahle) as their leader. However, after overcoming the obstruction of resonant soprano Marian (Sarah Pfisterer), the town's librarian, as expected they fall in love and he is ultimately cleared of all of his chicanery when he decides to stay put and remain in town as a solid citizen. Featuring a very large and grandly enthusiastic cast with special mention for Harold "Jerry" Walker, as the town's dubious mayor; Mary Callanan as his musically inclined wife; Ellen Peterson, as Marian's good natured Irish Mom, and sonorous twelve year-old Andrew Purdy as her young brother. High marks must also go to the show's tuneful barbershop-type singing quartet comprised of Jacey Squires, Ewart Dunlop, Oliver Hix and Olin Britt. Of course, the show's grandly melodious score is a winner all the way, featuring such splendid tunes as "Good Night, My Someone," "The Sadder-But-Wiser Girl," "Marian, the Librarian," "Lida Rose," and "Til There Was You." The evening's many show-stoppers such as "(You Got) Trouble (Here in River City)," "Pick-A-Little," "Shipoopi," "Gary, Indiana," (young Purdy's big song), and the triumphant "Seventy-Six Trombones," lifted the full audience up from their seats. Confidently directed by Bob Freschi, with bright choreography (based on Broadway's original conceptions) by Susan M. Chebookjian, colorful sets by Robert Moody and James Fouchard and splendid full orchestral accompaniment conducted by Jeffrey P. Leonard. Now playing through July 25, 2010. (My Grade: 5)
Now at the North Shore Music Theatre in Beverly, Mass, is their production of "Gypsy", featuring music by Julie Styne, lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and book by Arthur Laurents. Based on the similarly-titled autobiography of strip-teaser, turned authoress and occasional movie star, Gypsy Rose Lee, its triumphant debut on Broadway in 1959 was then followed by an equally successful Hollywood film version in 1962, as well as a similarly successful made-for-TV presentation in 1993. Since its premiere, it's also had three highly successful revivals on Broadway over the decades since its initial production. Set throughout the 1920's and early 30's, most of the show's action takes place in the seedy hotels and backstage quarters located along this country's legendary vaudeville circuits. The plot's focus is on Mama Rose (TV's Vicki Lewis), the show's all consuming "stage mother"; her two young daughters: June and Louise; as well as her fiancé and their booking agent, Herbie (Kirby Ward). Baby's June and Louise (the grandly talented, pre-pubescent Sarah Safer and Hannah Piispanen) would later evolve into their adult counterparts (Amanda Lea Lavergne and Catherine Walker). Their story's main concern centers on Mama Rose's all consuming resolve to achieve stardom for her two daughters. While progressing from young childhood to young adulthood, Mama Rose's headliners' goal for her kids is almost derailed when June elopes to marry Tulsa (Pearce Wegener), the talented singing and dancing members of their affiliated vaudeville troupe. Louise's ultimate success as Gypsy Rose Lee sets the stage for the evening's grandly compelling and upbeat finale. Of course, the show's great score featuring "Small Wonder," "Everything's Coming Up Roses," and "All I Need is the Girl" amongst others, really defines this highly entertaining presentation. Although reasonably well directed and choreographed by Richard Sabellico, unfortunately some major scenic glitches were quite obvious, especially those functioning with set designer Campbell Baird's centrally located and mechanically operated (ascending and descending) set pieces which still needed to be more fully operational. Now playing through July 25, 2010. (My Grade: 4)
Sophie Tucker: The Last of The Red Hot Mamas
Now at the Arsenal Center for The Arts in Watertown, Mass., The New Repertory Theatre presents "Sophie Tucker: The Last of The Red Hot Mamas" by Richard Hopkins, Jack Fournier, and Kathy Halenda. Developed and originally staged in Sarasota, Florida, this presentation represents this one-woman show's Boston area debut. Starring full-voiced Mary Callanan as this legendary star of Burlesque, Vaudeville, The Ziegfeld Follies, Network Radio, Hollywood Motion Pictures and even the early years of national television. Accompanied by Todd C. Gordon, at the piano, as Teddy Shapiro, the great Sophie's longtime musical director, Ms. Callanan recounts in anecdotes and songs this legendary diva's rise to the pinnacle of show business from her early years entertaining the customers of her family's neighborhood restaurant in Hartford, Connecticut, and her skirmishes with Florenz Ziegfeld to her many tumultuous and unsuccessful marriages, together with her triumphs in every venue of popular entertainment. Ms. Callanan, costumed in full regalia, as the aspiring and youthful superstar, wowed the entire audience with nearly two dozen of this great lady's repertoire! Beginning, of course, with "I'm The Last of The Red Hot Mamas" ("Come and Get Your Hot Stuff From This Volcano"), "A Good Man Is Hard To Find," ("you look for him and he's with some other gal") and "After You've Gone" (and left me cryin') to such favorites as "The Lady Is A Tramp," "My Yiddishe Momme," "The Man I Love," and her signature song, "Some Of These Days" (you're gonna miss me, honey!) This grand evening of legendary songs and memories by one of the great icons of popular American entertainment certainly deserved the rousing reception it got at the show's finale! Now playing through July 17, 2010.
Freud's Last Session
Returning to the Barrington Stage Company's intimate "Stage 2" Theater in Pittsfield, MA, after a highly enthusiastic world premiere there last fall, is Mark St. Germain's production of "Freud's Last Session". Also, this acclaimed presentation will soon make it's off-Broadway debut.
The production is set in September 1939, in Freud's London study, just weeks before the death of this legendary founder of psychoanalysis. It is known that a young, unidentified Oxford professor did visit Freud at this time. Though, in this production, it is purely the playwright's fancy that establishes this young guest as the burgeoning writer, C.S. Lewis. In Lewis's book, "Pilgrim's Progress", it is quite possible that the noted author's depiction of the renowned and thinly disguised atheist analyst as " a vain and ignorant old man", may have prompted such a meeting. Although Lewis as a student had also once considered himself to be an atheist, now at 41, he had long thought of himself as a Christian. As such, the lines for a vigorous battle of ideas are quickly established between these two great intellects.
With Freud viewing his visitor as a possible "victim of either conversion or hallucinatory psychosis", his guest responds that a "man doesn't have to be an imbecile to believe". As expected, Freud's long standing and highly controversial description of Moses' heritage, and the "Chosen people's guilt" camouflaged religiosity/institutions are aired as the domain of autocrats. Standing fast, his visitor responds that "choosing to disbelieve, may be stronger evidence of God's existence, since you (Freud) have to be aware of what you are denying."
Although only a very few of the incendiary differences between these staunch opposites are explored in this brief one act play, the audience's enthusiastic response is evidence of the effectiveness of both the playwright, Mark St Germain and the two vivid actors (Martin Rayner as Freud and Mark H. Dold as C.S. Lewis.) Aptly directed by Tyler Marchant, this production will be playing through July 3, 2010.
(My Grade: 5)
INTO THE WOODS
Now at the Reagle Music Theatre of Greater Boston in Waltham, Mass. is their new production of "Into the Woods", with music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and book by James Lapine. Winner of the Tony, as well as the N.Y. Drama Circle and Drama Desk Awards after its Broadway premier in 1987, it also was given the prestigious Olivier Award after its presentation in London in 1990. The first act's focus is on the popular and generally familiar fairytale personalities which are known and beloved by all of the Western World's children. They are primarily Jack (Gregory Isaac Stone) and the Beanstalk, Little Red Riding Hood (Allison Russell), Cinderella (McCaela Donovan), the Baker and his Wife (Doug Jabara and Shannon Lee Jones), Rapunzel (Krista Buccellato) and the Wicked Witch (Rachel York). Of course, Jack triumphs over his beanstalk's unseen giant (only represented here by the load echoing voice of Katie Ford), while Cinderella's Prince Charming (Ayal Miodovnik) finally does find his beloved's lost slipper. Later, the Big Bad Wolf (also portrayed by Ayal Miodovnik) is outwitted by Little Red Riding Hood. Rapunzel's golden locks are finally and fully revealed, after the baker and his wife are rewarded with the birth of a baby for helping all the other aforementioned characters. Also, as expected, the disguised and very ugly witch is also transformed into the very real and beautiful Rachel York! The second act is much darker and more provocative. Cinderella's and Rapunzel's "Happy-Ever-Afters" are not quite as "happy" as they had hoped, while the annoyed, and still unseen giant plans still more mayhem, only to be finally really bested again. Stephen Sondheim's vivid score is well served by the grand, large and very sonorous cast, with fine renditions of such strong melodies as: "Children Will Listen", "It Takes Two", "Agony", "Any Moment" and the title tune! Bravos must also go to the fine, full orchestra under Charles Peltz's direction, Janie Howland's set with its large background of fairytale book pages and large ascending and descending tree-like cutouts, and most definitely Stacey Stephens' splendid fairytale costumes, as well as his strong direction! Now playing through June 27, 2010. (My Grade: 5)
THE TRIP TO BOUNTIFUL
Now at the Schneider Centre Theatre on the campus of Wellesley College in Wellesley, Mass, the Wellesley Summer Theatre Company presents its new production of "The Trip to Bountiful" by Horton Foote. It was originally presented as a drama on television in 1953 and then later on Broadway, and ultimately in 1985 as an award-winning motion picture. Set in a cramped three room apartment in Houston, Texas, elderly Carrie Watts (Lisa Foley) lives with her son Ludie (Derek Stone Nelson) and his wife Jessie Mae (Heather Boas). Because Ludie has lost his old job two years ago, due to illness, and only recently has begun a new job, they all --especially Jessie Mae--depend on Carrie's regular pension checks. Jessie Mae is also vexed by Carrie's fixation on somehow finding a way for her to return to the long lost, old country home where she lived and raised her family, in the not so far off town of Bountiful. Since just she, and son Ludie, are the only remaining members of that former family, and now that her life is defined by their small confined apartment in the big city of Houston, the memories of that comforting rural life grow increasingly most important to her. Then an opportunity develops. As the squabbling with her daughter-in-law becomes more often and intense, centered as usual on Carrie's frequent hymn singing coupled with her repeated yearnings to find a way to return to Bountiful. With the little money she has, and fortunately with Jessie Mae off for a while to the local hairdresser, Carrie takes a train to the station nearest to the now long deserted town of Bountiful. En route she's bolstered by Thelma (Lilly Saffer), a young army bride who becomes her traveling companion. However, upon arriving, Carrie is confronted by the local sheriff (John Davin) who's been alerted by Ludie and Jessie Mae. A compassionate man, upon hearing Carrie's plight, he agrees to drive Carrie to her nearby ramshackled homestead for only a momentary return to the happiness that was once hers. Very sensitively acted by Liz Foley and by the other grandly effective cast members under Nora Hussey's potent direction. Must praise must also go to Ken Loewit's spare but judiciously utilized set, comprised of only a few pieces of furniture which were deftly able to suggest the drama's many varied locations and time changes, as well as George Cooke's original and engaging music. Now playing through June 27, 2010. (My Grade: 5)
Now at the Loeb Drama Center in Cambridge, Mass. the American Repertory Theater presents the world premiere of "Johnny Baseball", featuring music by Robert Reale, lyrics by Willie Reale and book by Richard Dresser. This time, unlike earlier locally-staged musicals centered on the region's fabled "Curse of the Bambino," to which it had been attributed the inability of the Boston Red Sox to win a World Series for more than eight decades, to then owner Harry Frazee's trading of Babe Ruth to the New York Yankees. It's now set in a miniature version of Fenway Park's "Bleachers," replete with a large crowd of animated fans, seated before a jumbo scoreboard along with the customary hot dogs, soda and/or beer being hawked by a young man in the aisles. It starts with an old-time African-American fan (Charles Turner) deciding to tell a younger fan (Erik March) that racism was the "real" cause of the aforementioned curse! It all goes back to 1920 when the great Babe Ruth (Burke Moses) takes young, white ace-pitching recruit, Johnny O'Brien (Colin Donnell), otherwise known as "Johnny Baseball," to a brothel. There he meets and falls deeply in love with the house's lovely young African-American vocalist Daisy Wyatt (Stephanie Umoh). However, due to the period's strong and widespread disapproval of interracial marriage, their love is not condoned and Daisy's career promptly shifts to the more acceptable nightclubs of Harlem. As expected, they drift apart. Act Two, set in the late 40's and early 50's, finds the dispirited Johnny, long removed from major league baseball, and a coach for the minor league "Worchester, (Mass.) Boosters." There, a young, vibrant African-American athlete named "Tim" (Charl Brown), with enormous potential as a pitcher, is recruited. A letter from his long-lost love Daisy reveals that Tim is their son! Of course, not withstanding, his great talent, it was to be expected that the Red Sox would reject him, when he was introduced to them by his dad. Having also ignored Jackie Robinson and Willie Mayes, the Bosox had the extraordinary reputation of waiting until 1959 to become the last major league baseball team to hire an African-American. A few of the best moments of this old-fashioned musical's score, resonating with its more than two dozen (plus) songs, are the ensemble's robust "God Bless the Boston Red Sox!," Babe Ruth's lusty bordello/chorus "Brotherhood of Bastard's," the minor team's lively cheerleaders chanting "The Worchester Booster's Fight Song," Colin Donnell's strong rendition of "The Ballad of Johnny O'Brien"; majestic Stephanie Umoh's soulful "Color Me Blue," and of course the evening's grand finale: "The Game of Base ball" (Everybody's Game!). Although the show's storyline needed too many time changes, beginning in 2004, with the Red Sox World Series win, and then shifting back to 1919 and then fast forwarding to 1948 and finally settling again to 2004, otherwise it was fully approved by the capacity audience's standing ovation at the final curtain! Now playing through June 27, 2010.
THE LADY WITH ALL THE ANSWERS
Now at the Central Square Theater in Cambridge, Mass., the Nora Theatre Company presents its production of "The Lady with all the Answers" by David Rambo. The 'Lady' in the play's title is of course, Eppie Friedman Lederer, better known, for nearly 50 years, to the thousands of avid readers in her syndicated newspaper column, as Ann Landers. The nation's beloved advice columnist, who died in 2002 at the age of 82, is strikingly brought back to life by the gifted Stephanie Clayman in this engagingly entertaining solo performance. Set on an evening in 1975, sitting at her desk, tapping at her typewriter, she tries her best to compose "Her Most Difficult Column." It's about her soon-to-be divorce. Married for 36 years to handsome Jules Lederer, he's now leaving Eppie for "A Woman Younger Than His Daughter." During the course of this very trying evening, she muses about her long career as a journalist, focusing on many of the varied questions she's been asked and her highly spirited and diverse responses. To the 15 year old boy whose "Thinking About Suicide Because He's Gay", she offers comforting support and many suggestions as to where he might seek help and reassurance. Similar recommendations and caution go to the thousands of teenage girls with their questions about pre-marital sex, promiscuity, pregnancy, disease and even abortion. Likewise, she counsels her many long-married readers with her sage views on lack of sexual interest after many wedded years, a husband's sexual fantasies, along with questions about pornography. "Would You Marry The Same Person, If You Had To Do It Over Again?" is typical of the type of challenge she'd often had to answer. Never willing to avoid controversy, although she staunchly opposed the U.S. involvement in Vietnam, she went there to visit and comfort wounded American soldiers in field hospitals. While standing strongly against McCarthyism, she also campaigned strenuously for greater Cancer research and began to accept the changes necessary to advance women's right. Adapted from the words and times of this legendary writer with the cooperation of her own journalist daughter Margo Howard, for an hour and 40 minutes, with only a brief intermission, Ms. Clayman, accurately represented Ann Landers. Her crisp mid-western accent, her familiar coiffure, and her boundless sense of optimism and assurance were in evidence throughout. Bravos must also go to director: Daniel Gidron. This vivid one-woman performance is now playing through June 26, 2010. (My Grade: 5)
THE WHIPPING MAN
Now at the Barrington Stage Company's "Stage 2" in Pittsfield, Mass., is their production (a New England premiere) of "The Whipping Man" by Matthew Lopez. First staged in 2006, it's since been enthusiastically presented in many theaters nationwide ranging from the midwest and Florida to California. Set in Richmond, Virginia in April 1865, the play begins with the return of young, Caleb DeLeon (Nick Westrate) a seriously wounded captain in the Confederate Army, who's somehow been able to return to his former home after the South's bitter surrender at Appomattox. Caleb is Jewish, and by an unusual twist of fate, it is just before the first day of Passover. Like so many other homes in the aftermath in this bloodiest of wars, Caleb finds his old home bare and in ruins. There he also meets his family's two former and now newly-freed slaves. The DeLeon's elderly and primary ex-slave, Simon (Clarke Peters) and the much younger roustabout John (LeRoy McClain), who had been Caleb's playmate when both were still young children. Having helped at a hospital during the war, Simon cautions his former master about his heavily gangrenous leg wound. After much contention, using a carpenter's saw and John's whiskey as an anesthetic, he amputated Caleb's leg. As was the case in most Southern homes during the years of slavery, the family's slaves were expected to adhere to their owner's religious beliefs. Accordingly, both Simon and John both warmly accepted themselves as Observant Jews. As such, meager as what little foodstuffs as were available, they readily prepared to observe the Passover Seder (the prayerful ceremonial feast that begins the holiday). Dining on a bit of "hardtack" (the military's salt less biscuit, composed of only flour and water) as a substitute for the holiday's unleavened Matzoh, and then a trace of collard greens and limp celery for the best, together with their rousing chanting of "Go Down Moses-Tell Old Pharaoh to Let my People Go!" (the legendary Negro spiritual), the Seder's true meaning began to really resonate! Although only a very few prominent families ever did so, it seems we must ask whether any Jew, given the Biblical history of their own slavery, should have ever been a slave master? By the drama's final curtain, other troubling revelations about all three diners are also exposed. The play's unusual title derives from the period's urban families' use of paid for-hire whip masters to save the original slave owners from having to publicly punish unruly slaves themselves. Vividly performed by the splendid small cast under Christopher Innvar's well focused direction, this provocatively compelling drama is now playing through June 17, 2010. (My Grade: 5)
PRELUDE TO A KISS
Now at Boston University Theatre, The Huntington Theatre Company presents their new production of "Prelude to a Kiss" by Craig Lucas. First performed in 1988 Off-Broadway, and then on Broadway, it was later produced as a major Hollywood movie in 1992. The play's title is based on the great same- titled jazz tune, composed and performed by the legendary Duke Ellington. A romantic fantasy in which Peter (Brian Sgambati) meets and falls in love with Rita (Cassie Beck) and after a brief and whirlwind-like courtship are soon formally wed. At the conclusion of their marriage ceremony, as this happy couple greets their assembled guests, an elderly stranger (MacIntyre Dixon) whom neither Peter or Rita know, comes forward and kisses the exhilarated bride. Later, as the newlyweds settle into their wedded life together, Peter feels peculiarly perplexed about the uncertain feelings he now has about his wife. Somehow, she no longer seems to be the same person that he loved and married. Now often forgetful, frequently fixated on petty issues, her disposition and temperament now appear to have changed. At first he thinks perhaps it's simply that his mind is playing tricks with him, but he gradually does accept the notion that somehow an unusual, obviously mystical, transference has taken place. He comes to accept the idea that the aforementioned elderly stranger's wedding kiss has caused he and Rita to exchange their essences, their souls! Back in the late 80's and early 90's when this play was first staged, its unusual story was seen as an allegorical illusion which related to the then current "AIDS" crisis, wherein the young, healthy, and highly energetic bride would unexpectedly then exchange her physical fitness with the old intruder's worn and withered being. Since much has changed in these past two decades since the play's debut, as expected much of its relevance and impact has been altered. To much lesser effect it's now presented as a modern-day fairy tale in which young husband Peter's love and understanding eventually brings his true Rita back. Well acted by the fine cast including Nancy E. Carroll and Michael Hammond as the bride's concerned parents, as well as Cheryl McMahon and Ken Cheeseman as similarly involved relatives. Now playing through June 13, 2010.
TIMON OF ATHENS
Now at Boston's Midway Studios, The Actors' Shakespeare Project presents "Timon of Athens" by William Shakespeare. It is listed in the evening's program notes as the Boston Premiere of this obscure and rarely performed drama. This is obviously due to the play's limited and dire plot, which is framed by the central character's untimely disheartening view of humanity. This is grounded in his friendship, being defined by his affluence, which then quickly expires in response to his insolvency. In its wake only his feelings of universal despair remain! Surrounded by parasites and charlatans, these "friends" swiftly abandon Timon (Artistic Director Allyn Burrows), a formerly wealthy Athenian Nobleman (celebrated for his grandly bountiful behavior). They've all cast him aside upon learning that he's now become bankrupt. Heretofore, unmindful of his misanthropic friend Apemantus' (Will Lyman) dismal view of mankind, Timon soon also accepts this bleak attitude and withdraws from the world. By so doing, he chooses to live only wearing grimy underclothes as a recluse in a grotto, with just his devoted Steward, Flavius (Bobbie Steinbach), to assist him. Later, while digging for the earthbound roots on which he subsists, Timon unexpectedly discovers some hidden gold pieces and decides to give some of them to his acquaintance Alcibiades (Daniel Berger-Jones), an Athenian Military Captain, who's been unjustly banished, and now plans to launch an attack against Athens. It's being vividly performed by the previously mentioned actors with the splendid support of a fine ensemble (Steven Barkhimer, Joel Colodner, Michelle Dowd, and John Kuntz) who assume a wide variety of much smaller roles with zest and occasional sparks of humor. Designer Anna-Alisa Belous' unusual costume choices for them are certainly noteworthy. They appear primarily dressed from head-to-toe in white house-painters' garb with a diversity of hats, vests and capes to indicate change. Similarly notable is Act One's full-sized backdrop (designed by Director Bill Barclay) depicting a colorful, stylized, and linear carnival scene, which also includes two tall removable panels which act as doorways. The definitive Second Act, however, is revealed only as a bare stage with just two spare, tall tree and an open sand-box acting as Timon's living space. This striking presentation of one of the Bard's lesser works is now playing through June 13, 2010. (My Grade: 4)
Now at the Boston Center for the Arts' Calderwood Pavilion, Another Country Productions and the Factory Theatre present "Betrayal" by Harold Pinter. Initially staged in London and then in New York in 1978, and later produced as a major motion picture in 1983, its well-deserved reputation has consistently been energized by its strikingly unusual format. Its focus is on a clandestine romantic affair between Jerry (Robert Kropf), a literary agent, and art gallery manager: Emma (Lyralen Kaye), the wife of Robert (Wayne Fritsche), a book publisher and Jerry's long time best friend. The play begins after these illicit lovers have agreed to end their relationship and then steadily shifts backwards in time, in a succession of nine scenes, starting in 1977 and finally concluding at the inception of their backstairs affair in 1968. Each well devised and methodically understated regression ends with a potently abrupt and effective blackout. With each backward movement, we also discover more about the scope of their other betrayals. For example, we soon learn that Jerry is also married, and although his wife Judith is never seen, obviously she too has been continually deceived. Throughout there are also many hints about the genuine uncertainties that are fundamental not only to Emma and Jerry, but also to Robert, too. Maybe he's not so upright, either! Central to this company "Another Country Productions," is their adherence to the famed "Meisner Acting Technique." This is a performance method which encourages each actor to connect spontaneously with his fellow actors thus eliciting truly genuine responses. In this fashion, it's being vividly acted by the small, splendid cast under Gail Phaneuf's confident direction. High praise is also due for Dahlia L'Habieli's impressive art gallery styled set composed of simple white panels and a variety of suspended and very striking abstract paintings together with a few small, mounted sculptures. Now playing through June 5, 2010.
Now at Boston's Lyric Stage is their new production of "Blithe Spirit" by Noel Coward. Written in 1941, it was in England throughout its darkest years during World War II, and was produced as an equally triumphant comic success later as a motion picture starring Rex Harrison in 1945. The plot concerns Charles Condomine (Richard Snee), a well-known writer who is planning a novel about the occult. As part of his research, he invites Madam Arcati (Kathy St. George), a popular spiritualist, to his home to stage a séance. Neither Charles, nor his second wife Ruth (Anne Gottlieb) are prepared for the medium's unexpected ability to summon back the ghost of Elvira (Paula Plum), Charles' long deceased first wife! Unfortunately, however, once she has returned from the "hereafter", only Charles is able to see and hear her. No one else can directly communicate with her. The resulting confusion sparks a grandly fun-filled battle-royal between Charles and his two lovely wives, delightfully complicated by Elvira's mischievous intentions. The performances by the splendid seven member cast, include Sarah Delima and Arthur Waldstein as additional guests at the aforementioned séance, as well as Anna Waldron as the Condomine's agitated housemaid, were all brimming with the proper levels of bright and witty sophistication. Bravos to all three principals, with a special nod to Kathy St. Groege as the Medium. Although the role of Madam Arcati is usually played by an older character actress such as Margaret Rutherford, in the previously mentioned movie, or Beatrice Lillie in a long forgotten Broadway musicalized version, the much younger Kathy's performance was genuinely captivating and believable! High praise must also go to Brynna Bloomfield's fine country-estate styled living room setting, as well as Charles Schoonmaker's airy costumes, and Scott Clyve's effective lighting, and to Spiro Veloudos' strong direction. Now playing through June 6, 2010. (My Grade: 5)
Now at Boston's Factory Theater, "Whistler in the Dark Theatre Company" presents its new production of "Family Stories" by Serbian Playwright Biljana Srbljanovic (translated by Rebecca Rugg). Written in the late 90's, it offers the playgoer a savage exploration of Serbia, as it was, at that time, brutalized under the boot of its tyrannical leader, Slobodan Milosevic! Here, we now see four adult actors called upon to play at being children, who in turn are pretending to be adults. Nate Gundy is Vojin the counterfeit father, with Melissa Barker and Danny Bryck assuming the behavior of mother, Milena and son, Andrija. Yet another performer Jen O'Connor (Nadezda) has been mistreated so relentlessly that she now behaves throughout as a wild dog. In a succession of ten violence-laced vignettes, these adults as juveniles enact their fantasies. More often like nightmares rather than akin to flights of childish fancy, their focus is unyieldingly harsh (although occasionally tinged with hints of "gallows-humor".) A few examples of these short, severe episodes include son Andrija setting their house on fire, as his parents are asleep. Mother Milena fully accepts Nadezda as a wild beast and chaining her from top to bottom. Still later, father Vojin struggling with canine Nadezda for the bone she's chewed, and even later suggesting that she might, if necessary, become food for his family. Recollections of street-to-street warfare, mass arrests, as well as police control involving riots and tear gas. Suggestions regarding medications to relieve their anxieties are later cautioned by jokes about the authorities banning all sedatives. Nearing the finale, son Andrija tells his mother "there's no hope here," as he packs his luggage and prepares to migrate elsewhere. Although vividly performed by the small cast under Meg Taintor's taut direction, a bit more attention should have been given to the setting composed of randomly upset furniture strewn about the bare stage, which just mostly suggests a haphazardous American-styled yard sale instead of a suffering European community! Now playing through May 30, 2010. (My Grade: 4.5)
The Great American Trailer Park Musical
Now at the Boston Center for the Arts, in the Roberts Studio Theatre, the Speakeasy Stage Company presents the Boston premiere of "The Great American Trailer Park Musical," featuring music and lyrics by David Nehls and book by Betsy Kelso. Initially staged in 2004 at the New York Music Theater Festival, its enthusiastic response quickly paved the way for its successful Off-Broadway run in 2005. Set in a Northern Florida trailer park called "Armadillo Acres," the show's storyline is introduced by the park's widowed manager: Betty (Kerry A. Dowling) whose tune-laced musical narrative is joined (in Greek Chorus fashion) by her fellow residents Lin (Mary Callahan) and teen-aged Pickles (Santina Umbach). Betty's late husband passed away after he got conked on the head with a frying pan. She buried him in the backyard with the help of her best friend "Lin" (so nicknamed after the "Linoleum" kitchen floor that she was born on.) For the last eight years her husband's been on death row awaiting execution. The town's electric chair only works when most of the town folk aren't using their appliances. Lastly, even though her husband is never ever home, seventeen year-old "Pickles" is also always experiencing many false pregnancies. However, the evening's main focus is on agoraphobic Jeannie (Leigh Barrett) and her husband Norbert (David Benoit). Although they've been park residents for the past two decades, seventeen years ago when their five year old son was kidnapped, and has never been seen since, Jeannie has not ever ventured out of their trailer! However, major changes occur when Pippi (Caitlin Crosbie Doonan), a stripper on the run from her overly demanding boyfriend, shows up and takes a fancy to Norbert. Further complications erupt for these two grandly voiced new sweethearts, when Pippi's ex-boyfriend Duke (Grant MacDermott) arrives in the trailer park with the expected surprises and consequences. Of course, the plot's vibrantly propelled by the show's dozen, or more, songs, as rendered by the highly resonant and animated cast. "This Side of the Tracks" deftly defines "Armadillo Acres", just as "It Doesn't Take a Genius" points to everyone's awareness about the problems Pippi's arrival poses. Naturally forsaken Jeannie's plaint "Owner of my Heart" and still later Duke's arrival is vividly trumpeted by the resounding "Road Kill." High marks are certainly due for the accompanying sprightly musical quartet conducted by Nicholas Connell and for Paul Daigneault's assured direction, as well as Jenna McFarland Lord's effective trailer park setting. Now playing through June 5, 2010.
The Emancipation of Mandy and Miz Ellie
Now at the Boston Center for the Arts Special Plaza Theater, "Company One" presents the premiere of "The Emancipation of Mandy and Miz Ellie," by Lois Roach. It is set in Virginia in the years just before, during, and soon after the Civil War. As the play's title suggests, it explores the intertwined relationship between young, provincial Miz Ellie (Elizabeth Rimar) and Mandy (Jessica Chance), the young slave-child, she takes under her supportive and protective wing. Recently pre-arrangedly wed to the middle-aged, but never seen Mr. Wilson, the childless Miz Ellie takes special pleasure in teaching her fettered youngster how to read. Mandy is also fortunate in turning to the wisdom of her mother (Fedna Jaquet), known as "Cook Mary." Curiously, much of the old slave's sagacity also wafts its way to Miz Ellie, too! As expected, the outbreak of the war, and its aftermath, changes everything. Their unusual interrelationship is resonantly framed by the familiar declarations and songs of the period and is vividly accented by percussionist – Alvin Terry and defined by a quintet of fluid dancers performing Shaumba Yandje Dibinga's expressive choreography. All of this is sonorously abetted by strong renditions of such well-known strains as "Glory, Glory, Hallelujah!," "John Brown's Body," "Nearer My God to Thee," and "A New Day Has Begun." The war's end finds the young adult Mandy giving birth, with the suspected and assaulting father's identity finally revealed at the play's conclusion. She looks forward to a new life elsewhere, mated to the also newly-freed field hand Papa John (James Milord). As implied throughout, Miz Ellie's highly constrained life is also defined and changed by the war and its outcome. Unfortunately, while the ingredients for a potent examination of slavery and slavemasters are presented here, only the aforementioned slim story line is offered. While applauding the fine cast members, especially Ms. Chance as Mandy, and the equally robust dancing, singing, and percussion, regrettably much more of the characters and their motivations should have been plumbed. Now playing through May 22, 2010.
Now at the Boston Center for the Arts' intimate Plaza Black Box Theatre, the Zeitgeist Stage Company presents its production (and area premiere) of "Farragut North," by Beau Willimon. A recent success off-Broadway, its focus is on the bare knuckled, no-holds-barred tactics, involved in the behind-closed-doors machinations leading to winning a presidential primary contest. It's set in a recent campaign year in Iowa, a week before that state's nominating caucuses. Stephen Bellamy (Victor Shopov), although just 25 years old, is a highly seasoned and potently competitive political operative. He is next in command to Paul Zara (Peter Brown), the manager of a popular (un-named) Governor's campaign for the Democratic Party's nomination, later that same year, for the Presidency. Bolstered by highly favorable polling results, Stephen's confidence is shaken when he secretly meets with Tom Duffy (Bill Salem), the top representative of the rival candidate. There he discovers that his candidate's polling results are, thanks to the opposition, maliciously misleading! Shaken by this troubling news, but unwilling to accept Duffy's entreaties for him to switch sides, that evening Stephen seeks comfort by accepting the provocative friendliness of attractive 19 year-old intern, Molly (Caitlyn Conley). Their intimacy culminates in some startling and unsuspected revelations about Paul Zara. Sometime thereafter, when Stephen finally meets his boss, coupled with disclosure of his clandestine conference with Duffy, and his new awareness about his superior, Stephen's dismissal is the immediate consequence. Paul promptly elevates Ben Fowles (Zach Winston) as his replacement. The play's title refers to the location of a popular "Dead-End" for former all powerful political strategists. Vividly portrayed by the splendidly effective cast under producing artistic director David J. Miller's taut direction. Extra kudos must also go for Victor Shopov's assuredly strong performance. Now playing through May 22, 2010.
Now in the Mosesian Theater at the Watertown Arsenal Center for the Arts in Watertown, Mass. the new Repertory Theatre presents its production of "Hot Mikado." Although based on Gilbert and Sullivan's classic, it was truly inspired by a similarly updated "swing" version, featuring an all African American cast, headed by the legendary Bill "Bojangles" Robinson, that premiered in New York in 1939. Dissatisfied with the remnants of this earlier version, in 1984 it was re-adapted by David H. Bell with his revised book and renewed lyrics and "modernized" with the G&S music adapted and arranged by Rob Bowman. Featuring designer Janie Howland's quaint, picturesque, pastel-toned, Asian-styled village setting, and Frances Nelson McSherry's colorful period costumes, Nanki-Poo (Cheo Bourne), son of the small town's all-powerful Mikado (Kennedy Reilly-Pugh), has left his father's court, masquerading as an itinerant musician, singing the lively "A Wandering Minstrel, I." He intends to marry the sweet and lovely Yum-Yum (McCaela Donovan). Unfortunately, she is the ward of Ko-Ko (Calvin Braxton) the Hamlet's Lord High Executioner, who's been ordered to put to death someone in the next 30 days, in order to save both his position and his life! "I've got a little list" sums up his response nicely. If Ko-Ko will agree to permit Nanki-Poo to marry Yum-Yum, for just the next 30 days, Nanki-Poo will accept being done in by Ko-Ko! Unhappily, the law also decrees, that Nanki-Poo's fate will also imperil Yum-Yum. Further complications also develop when Katisha (Lisa Yuen), the spurned and ill-tempered "other" woman, from the Mikado's court, also shows up! Still others merrily involved in this grand frolic are Yum-Yum's perky girlfriends: Peep-Bo (Michele A. DeLuca) and Pitti-Sing (Aimee Doherty). They join Yum-Yum joyfully introducing themselves as "three little maids." As expected, with the help of Pooh-Bah (Edward M. Barker), the village's multiple-office-holder and his buddy: Pish-Tush (Jordan Ahnquist), all of these dilemmas are handily resolved with Nanki-Poo and Yum-Yum blissfully wed, and Ko-Ko and Katisha now together, also! As aforementioned, Gilbert and Sullivan's grand score is here redefined after the fashion of the Big Band "swing" era, of the late 30's, 40's and early 50's. The "three little maids," for example echo the period's famed Andrews Sisters, while the small elevated orchestra, conducted by pianist Todd C. Gordon, do their best (with occasional raggedness) to mirror Benny Goodman, Glen Miller or Cab Calloway! Although Calvin Braxton might do well to bring a bit more farcical snap to his characterization of Ko-Ko, otherwise under Kate Warner's brisk direction, Cheo Bourne, McCaela Donovan and especially Lisa Yuen were all quite praiseworthy, as was the rest of the show's energetic singers and dancers! Now playing through May 22, 2010.
AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY
Now at Boston's Colonial Theatre is "August: Osage County" by Tracy Letts. It was originally commissioned and staged by Chicago's famed "Steppenwolf Theatre Company," and more recently presented with much acclaim on Broadway, where it went on to win a host of Tony Awards, including Best Play, as well as the 2008 Pulitzer Prize for Drama. Set in a country home near Pawhuska, Oklahoma (a remote suburb of Tulsa), the play's action centers on the mysterious disappearance of the elderly patriarch of the Weston family. Beverly Weston (Jon Devries), a retired college professor and writer, married for many years, has unexpectedly vanished. His wife Violet (Estelle Parsons), a steady chain-smoker, afflicted with mouth-cancer, is heavily involved with an ongoing myriad of self-medicating pills. This unrelenting pattern has resulted in frequent bouts of hysterics and/or confusion. The sudden disappearance of her husband, as expected, has brought all of her heretofore dispersed family members back to their original home. Her oldest, and most assertive daughter Barbara (Shannon Cochran), has returned with her young, disdainful, 15 year old, pot-smoking daughter Jean (Emily Kinney). Separated and soon to be divorced from Bill (Jeff Still), her philandering husband, she's surprised when he too returns in the wake of the elder's vanishing. The Weston's unmarried 44 year old daughter Ivy (Angelica Torn), while living nearby, has always resented being the bystander to her parents' increasingly hostile declining years. Unbeknownst to the rest of the family, Ivy is romantically involved with her neglected and withdrawn first cousin, who's disparagingly referred to as "Little Charles" (Steve Key). The clan's youngest daughter Karen (Amy Warren), not surprisingly, has arrived late from Florida with her obviously "slick" fiancé Steve (Laurence Lau). Also there to help is Violet's testy sister Mattie Fae (Libby George) and her browbeaten husband Charlie (Paul Vincent O'Connor). Still others, also connected incidentally, are Joanna (Delanna Studi), a college-educated native Cheyenne Indian, hired as housekeeper, and Barbara's former high school prom date, and the town's sheriff (Marcus Nelson). As the days progress into weeks, in this disparate assembly, news of the old man's drowning, without any other real answers to the patriarch's reasoning, is discovered the play's intense focus (comprised of three acts, two brief intermissions, and three hours and twenty minutes-performance time) centers intensely and enthrallingly throughout on Violet's ferocious behavior and attitude! In a succession of bristlingly caustic (yet often maliciously humorous) observations on everyone there, while causing much family turmoil, Violet unmistakably finds supreme pleasure in exposing the "truth" about all those who've come to help. Revealing their inadequacies and disappointments, coupled with their pain and frustrations acts as a balm for the wrongs and injustices that have been the measure of her existence! Extremely well acted by the large accomplished cast under Anna D. Shapiro's assured direction, kudos must also go to Todd Rosenthal's impressive triple-level house-like set, together with Ann G. Wrightson's effectively dramatic lighting and David Singer's stirring original musical embellishments! It played for only a week, ending May 9, 2010. (My Grade 5)
Only a genius can tell a whole story with just the movement of one eyeball. This genius is Jose Mateo and the eyes I speak of belong to Sybil Geddes, who stunned the audience last night with her portrayal of a woman imprisoned in her own life. How many of us have experienced that in one form or another?
Ms. Geddes, arguably the best dancer I've seen in decades, moves the audience to terror with just her eyes when she hears her abusive husband arrive home. This new ballet, aptly titled Circles, tells everyman's story. Are you stuck in a prison created by your own bad life choices, repeating the same patterns in never ending circles? Are you desperate for change but afraid because you don't know the new choreography? Does she get out or does she stay with the dance she already knows – even if it is with someone she loathes? Ms. Geddes husband was danced boldly by a Medford boy, August Lincoln Pozgay, who in real life has a naïve, schoolboy look. There, in the First Baptist Church of Cambridge last night, was no boy. Mr. Pozgay WAS an angry, hard, foreboding hulk of a man you would not want to meet in a back alley.
The opening ballet, Fearless Symmetries, was a more tuneful interpretation of John Adams classical piece. Jenna-Marie Nagel interprets the innocent girl breaking out of her small hometown. Ms. Nagel adeptly changes her emotions from excitement to fear to smug as she leaves her predictable life behind. The speed and accuracy with which the Company dances swirl the audience right smack in the middle of downtown Manhattan at rush hour. Mr. Mateo uses simple steps to create the feel of people walking everywhere and combines it with complicated configurations reminding me how lost I feel in the middle of all that movement. Add to that a dizzying combination of foyte turns and tour jetes and you are there. The talent of Kehlet Schou and Elisabeth Scherer (another local star with four star legs) is showcased in this face paced depiction. Ms. Nagle aptly depicts the young, enthusiastic girl who heads to the lights and life of the big city only to be swallowed up by masses of people moving around multitudes of buildings so high they block out the sun. I won't tell you the ending because you really must see this yourself.
I would be remiss if I did not mention the surprisingly delightful, cabaret setting replete with white linens, wine, flowers and beautiful piano music. Wait! Where is that music coming from? The elegant atmosphere is brought to the audience by the ten, talented fingers of Mrs. Rosalie Hoffman-Goumas, who single handedly - well actually double handedly – transformed the First Baptist Church into a French bistro. Bravo Ms. Hoffman-Goumas! Bravo Mateo Dance company! But most of all, bravo to the brilliance of Boston's own dance genius, Mr. Jose Mateo.
Uncontainable is playing at The Sanctuary Theatre 400 Harvard St, Cambridge through Sunday May 16. Why not surprise your mother with this gift she'll always remember by going online to www.BalletTheatre.org or calling 617-354-7467 for tickets that are only $35.00. In NY an evening like this would cost three times that amount.
(My Grade: 4)
The Blonde, the Brunette, and the Vengeful Redhead
The Merrimack Repertory Theatre closes out their impressive season with this one woman show about the intricacies and inter-relationships of five people in a small suburban town. Each character is affected in some way by one drunken man, Graham Russell. Written by a man, Robert Hewett, this piece takes the lives of friends, neighbors and your average, neighborhood GP and ties them together in this tale of devastating coincidences…all set off by the only male in the story. I found the story a tad hard to believe, since Graham is not anything to look at and is dumber than dirt. I also found the length of it, for what the story is, disconcerting. It didn't help that prior to the curtain, the general manager came out and dribbled on and on with a sales pitch. For a professional theater, that's not very professional.
Our star, Karen MacDonald, delivers each character with such perfection to detail, I really did forget it was just one very talented actress. Kudos to Karen in a performance I feel honored to have witnessed. Ms. MacDonald does an amazing job of convincing the audience that one minute she is Graham and the next his wife Ronda. Poor Ronda, a real doormat of a woman, is incited by her closest friend and neighbor to beat up Tonya, a Russian who vorks in zee local mall. Lynette, who recounts often her dedication to boundaries, crosses them all. Tonya, who sees Graham for the fool he is, never gives him the time of day. However there is a fight and a murder and it's all over a classless, conscious-less, loser of a guy. I guess it's every man's fantasy, but it's one this single woman found a bit far-fetched and about a half hour too long.
Ms. MacDonald showed the depth of her abilities as she quickly changed, before our eyes, from Ronda to Lynette to Tonya to Graham, etc. The technical work on this production was every bit as amazing as MacDonald's performance. The set design, which appeared so basic at first glance, was an intricate set of moving shims balanced perfectly by the incredible talent of Judy Gailen. What really made this production move from character to character and scene to scene was the over-the-top lighting design by Dan Kotlowitz, who worked his design into part of the story. It was worth the price of admission just to see the work of art produced by Kotlowitz and Gailen.
The Blonde, the Brunette and the Vengeful Redhead, is playing at the Merrimack Theatre in downtown Lowell at Liberty Hall, 50 E. Merrimack St (adjacent to Lowell Memorial Auditorium) through May 16. For your reasonably priced tickets go to www.MerrimackRep.org or call the box office at 978-654-4MRT. You may also want to check out next years productions as there is quite a savings if you purchase season tickets. Even if you don't think you will see all the shows, a night of theater makes a great gift for loved ones. Try it! You'll like it!
(My Grade: 3)
LADY DAY AT EMERSON'S BAR AND GRILL
Now at the Lyric Stage Company of Boston is their production of Lanie Robertson's "Lady Day-At Emerson's Bar and Grill." Set near midnight, in a small bar in Philadelphia, this one-woman play focuses on the life and times of legendary Jazz great, Billie Holiday (early in 1959 just a few months prior to her untimely death at age 44). As portrayed by Jacqui Parker, one of the area's most accomplished actresses, the heights and depths in the career of this monumental artist (who was also known as "Lady Day") are dramatically and sensitively enacted. As the evening unfolds, Ms. Parker sings many of Billie's best known songs, in her own fine, non-imitative and full-voiced manner. Intertwined amidst these vibrant selections the great star muses on her many triumphs and tribulations. Raped in early childhood, and unwittingly enrolled in a bordello while still a teenager, she made her debut as a vocalist in New York's Harlem, in the early 1930's and was quickly recognized as a major talent. During the next decade she reached the summit of the Jazz-World and was acclaimed as one of its greatest interpreters. But her triumphs were continually tempered by her unending bouts with racism, drug addiction and alcoholism. Fortunately, as previously acknowledged, Jacqui Parker does not try to imitate Billie Holiday's distinctive singing or speaking voice, in any way. Her own renditions of the classic "God Bless the Child" (which the great "Lady Day" wrote as a tribute to her own hardworking and selfless mother), as well as "Strange Fruit", the song which helped raise our nations consciousness about the brutal lynchings in the American South during the 1940's, were especially and resoundingly compelling! Extra praise should also go to Danny Holgate's splendid musical arrangements and to Chauncey Moore as Jimmy Powers, the Great Lady's Pianist. Commendations are similarly due for Spiro Veloudos's assured direction. It ended its engagement on April 24, 2010. (My Grade: 5)
Mel Brooks's musical "Young Frankenstein"
A delightful, if not frightful, Monster comes to life at the Opera House this week. Roger Bart, who I was privy to see on Broadway as young Dr. Frankenstein, is here in Boston with a talented cast of seasoned veterans. His timing is impeccable, with the song lyrics tripping out of his mouth with a perfect, practiced perfection that is amazing to behold. From his opening number, "The Brain", the audience is quickly awed by Mr. Bart's ability of emptying his cerebellum with split second accuracy.
Cory English, as his trusty assistant Igor, was hysterical. Mr. English gave a giant of a performance last night for a little man, as did Rye Mullis as Dr. Frankenstein's beloved creation. Mr. Mullis tapped and sang his way through "Puttin' on the Ritz" with his big clunky shoes and troupe of foot stomping, toe tapping dancers choreographed and directed by Broadways' beloved Susan Stroman.
Rounding out this cast are straight-faced Joanna Flushak as Frau Blucher, who is so funny that the audience applauded every word she said…okay, she made us do it. We also get to enjoy Anne Horak as Inga and Beth Curry as Elizabeth, who stole the show with her renditions of "Please Don't Touch Me" and "Surprise."
By far, the most outstanding aspect of this upbeat, enjoyable production is the lighting design by Peter Kaczorowski. This talented lighting designer as worked in Opera Houses from Seattle to New York and back. The lighting alone would be good reason to rush to see this production playing at the Opera House, Washington St. Boston. Tickets are available at Ticketmaster 1-800-982-2787, at all Ticketmaster outlets, online at BroadwayAcrossAmerica.com/Boston. Season Series Patrons interested in tickets should call Broadway Across America at 866-633-0194 or email BostonGroups@broadwayacrossamerica.com
(My Grade: 4)
Stop Kiss? I'd stop all together before I'd see this out-moded play again. It would be more interesting to get my nose hairs waxed, and probably less painful. I am surprised Bad Habit Productions, known for innovative theater, chose such an outdated piece to close out their 2009-2010 season. Stop Kiss, by award winning playwright Diana Son, may have been poignant and relevant twenty years ago, but we've come a long way babies. We no longer think it a sin against God to divorce nor do we consider it immoral to marry someone of a different faith or the same sex. The only thing more dated than the subject matter was the chaotic direction of Anna Waldron
The last time I saw a director use a hair Scrunchy to connote scene changes was back in the late 1950's, when I directed my brothers and sisters in a "Playroom Production" of the Hanukkah Harriet. It's also the last time I remember a director taking a one-act play and making it into a 4 hour saga. Ms. Waldron does all that and more. She has the characters show emotion by playing with their hair or crossing their arms over their chest. The leading lady never even feigned tears after she and her lover were physically attacked, leaving her beloved Sarah comatose. Perhaps this is some new school of minimalist acting that this critic, educated forty years ago, may not know about.
For two hours, the audience watched Lisa M. Smith as Sarah hop in and out of beds, while Scarlett Redmond, as Callie, put her hair up and down with each scene change. When her hair was down, she brushed it back off her face with one hand obsessively. I don't believe that was any less annoying than Rory Kulz who, as George, whispered his lines.
I would be remiss if I didn't tell you that BHP has presented many outstanding productions during the course of their four years. Not only have they tackled some lofty pieces, they also produce Comedy on Tap, a monthly comedy showcase at The Burren in Davis Square featuring stand-up, improv and more, the third Sunday of each month. This amazing young company is also sponsoring The Clothesline Project, in partnership with the Boston Area Rape Crisis Center. The Clothesline Project was created to bring awareness to violence against women and children. Donations can be made to this worthy cause at the theater or online at clotheslineproject.org.
Stop Kiss is playing thru Sunday, April 18th at The Factory Theatre, 791 Tremont St. Boston. Tickets are beyond reasonable at $10.00 and can be purchased at the door or by going online to www.badhabitproductions.org
I give this production one star to shine bright on their future path of Bad Habit Productions.
Now at Boston's Colonial Theatre is the return engagement of "Cats," the classic musical based on T.S. Eliot's "Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats," now with the grandly familiar music by Andrew Lloyd Webber. Winner of seven 1983 Tony including Best Musical, Book, Costumes and Lighting, it returns here with direction and choreography by Gillian Lynne. Once again the curtain rises on a stage-crammed at midnight with the glaring litter of an urban junkyard. Once again the great poet's Jellicle cats gather to celebrate their wise and grand elder, "Old Deuteronomy" (Philip Peterson). They'll all dance together that evening at the Jellicle Ball and then await the sagacious Old Leader's choice of the tabby who'll later rise heavenward to be reborn. They're all eager to sing and dance as they await the evening's glorious finale. Some of the most noteworthy have joined together to awaken a few others. "Jellyorum" (Lucy Horton), "Bombalurina" (Cara Cooley), "Demeter" (Lisa Kuhnen) and "Munkustrap" (Tug Watson) boisterously chant their ode to "The Old Gumbie Cat," otherwise known as the ever drowsy: "Jennyanydots" (Jennifer Cohen), and still later take melodic notice of the often troublesome tomcat called "Macavity. Still more momentous strains resonate. "Asparagus" (Nathan Morgan), better known as "Gus," melodically salutes his times as "The Theatre Cat," while the once glamorous, but now grey, tattered and bedraggled "Grizabella" (Anastasia Lange) lifts the capacity audience to their feet with her resoundingly poignant "Memory" of former glory. Then, later "Mr. Mistoffelees," a most magical feline (Chris Mackenthun), dazzles everyone with his extraordinary fluid dancing! These exceptional pieces, augmented by nearly twenty other similarly imposing melodies, combine to make this the impressive success that it is. Bravos, are most certainly also due for John Napier's grandly colorful, imaginative, very varied and quite cat-captivating costumes, as well as Raymond Huessy's splendidly atmospheric set. Kudos must also go to the splendid orchestral accompaniment under J. Michael Duff's strong direction, and also to David Hershey's vivid lighting design. This extraordinary presentation is now playing through April 18, 2010.
Now in the Mosesian Theater in the Watertown Arsenal Center for the Arts in Watertown, Mass., The New Repertory Theatre presents the New England Premiere of "Opus," written by Michael Hollinger. The play is a compelling back stage exploration of the hopes, perplexities and aspirations of a renowned quartet of gifted classical musicians. As the preeminent Lazara String Quartet prepares to perform on national television for the President of the United States, long simmering personal problems begin to assert themselves. Elliot (Michael Kaye), the group's domineering leader, finds it necessary, as their major video approaches, to replace Dorian (Benjamin Evett), the ensemble's brilliant, temperamental and Prozac, Zanac and Valium-addicted second violinist. Notwithstanding that they have been longstanding lovers, Elliott has successfully convinced Grace (Becky Webber), a talented young musician, to decline joining a prominent orchestra, so that she might supplant the volatile Dorian instead. The action of the play's 90 minutes then centers on the group's animated and quite contentious rehearsals as they prepare for their interpretation of "The Beethoven Quartet (Op. 131)" before 15 million viewers. Amidst majestic recorded excerpts of Bach, Beethoven and Bartok, deftly imitated by this foursome, there are lively, replays of the events culminating in Dorian's departure. The major complications began with his displeasure with his secondary role and was later heightened with Dorian's acquisitions of both a highly valuable 18th century Pietrolazara Violin and an equally precious Lazara Viola. Each gift is garnered from a prominent patroness. Into this mix, supporting violinist Alan (Shelley Bolman), who's shown some romantic interest in Grace, has tried to calm some of the group's tensions while we've also learned some disquieting news about cellist and cancer survivor Carl (Bates Wilder.) Vividly performed by the splendid five member cast under Jim Petosa's assured direction, with praise for Scott Pinkney's lighting and Benjamin Emerson's distinctive sound design. Although the play's somewhat pat conclusion seemed to be a bit too obvious, otherwise this well defined view of the group's artistic trials and collaborations proved to be quite compelling. Now playing through April 17, 2010. (My Grade: 4)
MY FAIR LADY
My Fair Lady sparkles at the Stoneham Theatre and this critic was fortunate enough to have felt the joy in person…cuz it's my job. Other than going out and having fun and getting free tickets to theater, the most important part of my work is telling my readers whether to spend their money on something or not bother. Chah Ching – open your wallets for this uplifting, spirited story by two of theaters greatest collaborators, Lerner and Lowe and an extremely gifted director, Caitlin Lowans.
Timothy John Smith was simply brilliant as Professor Henry Higgins. Watching him transform himself from the self important, Professor of Linguistics, confirmed bachelor into a love sick, disheveled, bucket of quivering nerves was absolutely hysterical. If just for his performance, I guarantee you get your money's worth. Then add a dash of lovable, pixilated, pilfering, philandering Paul Farwell as Eliza's pixilated Pa and you'd leave the theater appeplectic (say that 3 times fast). But, place a cherry of a performance by Robyn Elizabeth Lee as Eliza Dolittle on and it's …Oh so loverly sitting abso-blutely-looming still… Oh yeah, you DO NOT want to miss the sweet, smooth harmonies of Angelo McDonough, Eric Hamel, Jeff Mahoney and Scot Sweat. (It would cost you at least the price of a ticket, to hear these guys perform at House of Blues.)
Okay, you get the picture. Don't miss a chance to have some toe tapping fun over at the Stoneham Theatre. It's not your parent's theater. You don't need to dress to impress at this family-friendly venue. All you need to do to enjoy and support your local, neighborhood theater is go to www.stonehamtheatre.org or Call the Box Office @ 781-279-2200. Tickets start as low as $20.00 for students. My Fair Lady will be at the Stoneham Theatre through the Sunday before Mother's Day. How 'bout surprising your favorite mother with a really special day instead of the standard, boring brunch?
(My Grade: 3)
Now at The Boston Center for the Arts, in the Roberts Studio Theatre, the Speakeasy Stage Company presents the New England Premiere of "Adding Machine: A Musical." Based on Elmer Rice's 1923 expressionistic masterpiece, this new version is now heightened with original music by Joshua Schmidt, who is also responsible with Jason Loewith for the production's faithful libretto. It is staged here now after major and highly successful presentations in both Chicage and New York. As in the classical original, the plot centers on the play's definitively named Mr. Zero (Brendan McNab), who has spent all 25 years of his adult life counting numerical sums for his business employer. Constantly harangued by his shrewish wife (Amelia Broome), he's certain that his many long, drab years of service will now, finally be rewarded with an impressive promotion. However, when his coldly callous employer (Sean McGuirk) informs the stunned Zero that his job is terminated and his calculations will now be performed by an adding machine, in a fit of unbridled rage, Zero slays his unsympathetic boss! Schmidt and Loewith's passionate songs such as "I Was A Fool" and "Zero's Confession" define the hapless drudge's trial and execution for the murder he's committed. In an unusual twist, Zero then finds himself, not in the expected awful hell, but instead in a peaceful and placid afterlife. There he meets his sweet, long-time co-worker Daisy Dorothea Devore (Liz Hayes), a newly arrive suicide. Too timid, in life, to respond to her, just for a few brief moments now, they're musically united by "Daisy's Confession." However, his focus changes, when Zero meets Mr. Shrdlu (John Bambery), who's there because he killed his mother. The lyrical "Gospel According to Shrdlu," begins to trace the remarkable and highly provocative goal that awaits Zero and all the others there. Strikingly performed by the splendid cast with solid choral support by Leigh Barrett, Cheryl McMahon, Bob DeVivo and David Krinitt, with high praise for the compelling musical accompaniment by pianist/conductor Steven Bergman, assisted by David Rose on the synthesizer and Matthew Raskopf on percussion. Similar kudos must also go to Susan Zeeman Rogers' grandly adaptable set, with its trench-like center reflecting Mr. Zero and his fellow drones' stultifying existence, along with Gail Astrid Buckley's fine costumes, Jeff Adelberg's dramatic lighting and Aaron Mack's effective sound design…all under Paul Melone's very assured direction. Now playing through April 10, 2010. (My Grade: 5)
THE LAST DAYS OF MICKEY AND JEAN
Just when you were wondering what happened to Whitey Bulger (NOT), comes a new play from prolific playwright, Richard Dresser about how it might be years after living in small hotel rooms with your "soul mate" forever. Mickey and Jean is not so much about where they are so much as it is about what any retired couple (who happens to be on the lam) must face in their day to day lives together…decades of it.
First and foremost it's a life in which you only hear the same voice day in/day out. Thanks to the outstanding talent of Rae C. Wright, the audience gets to experience this form of torture first hand. Ms. Wright amazingly changes her sweet, soft spoken voice into that of a high pitched, R-dropping, Southie, whose voice could drive a deaf man to jump off the Zakim Bridge. Add to that, the tedium of the same old fights, "You ready? How much longer? Are you ready…and…Mr. Dresser takes it from there.
Mickey, played to a T by Jack Wetherall, lives in his old, cherished Red Sox cap. What else would a Boston mobster, trying to hide from authorities, wear when the entire world is actively looking for him? This talented cast is rounded out with a hysterical performance by Christopher McHale in three different roles. And why is Christopher's character Bobby, so smitten with Jean from the moment he sets eyes on her? For the answer to these and other questions you may not have even thought to ask about spending your entire life with that special someone, in a hotel room, you must see this premiere production of The Last Days of Mickey and Jean at the Merrimack Repertory Theatre.
This theater, built on the backside of the Lowell Memorial Auditorium, is one of the most charming venues available to theater goers these days…and it's cheap. Thanks to the generosity of many, this theater is still giving theater goers top notch entertainment at prices as low as $17.00 a show, if you take advantage of all the deals Merrimack Rep has to offer on season subscriptions. Having been a theater critic for almost a decade, I can tell you that the productions at Merrimack Rep have astounded me, left me laughing or crying and forced me to think of life outside my box. I highly recommend you get out of yours and call 978-654-4678 or go online to www.Merrimackrep.org and buy yourself an unforgettable evening of theater.
(My Grade: 3)
Joe Orton's Entertaining Mr. Sloane
What price freedom? For young Mr. Sloane it gets steeper and steeper as the plot of this black comedy thickens. This is a must see play written prophetically by Joe Orton and directed brilliantly by Eric C. Engel. Mr. Engel's attention to detail is as keen as that of Bob Fosse. Actually, there's one shoulder shimmy delivered by Sandra Shipley that was spot on perfect. Shipley plays Kath, the unlikely seductress in this story of family insanity. How many seductresses don pink, old "Aunt Gertrude" house slippers with their black, sheer, feathered negligee? Our heroine, as well as the rest of the cast, was dressed by costume designer, Molly Trainer's keen eye.
Ms. Shipley's brilliant performance was so convincing she could have sold a life insurance policy to a dead man. Making an impressive first American debut was Jack Cutmore-Scott as Sloane. How Mr. Cutmore-Scott miraculously metamorph-o-sized his personality, right in front of our eyes, from the opening act to the final curtain…well that's for me to know and you to find out! I was so impressed with this production I'm putting the ticket purchasing information right here for you to click on immediately: www.bostontheatrescene.com. You can also purchase the very reasonably priced tickets by calling 617-993-8600.
The bio of this brilliant playwright, Joe Orton, is as strange as the body of work he created. Mr. Orton wrote this play, about the oddest love triangle I've ever seen, prior to his own death at the hand of his spurned lover, Kenneth Halliwell. Mr. Halliwell then took his own life. Unfortunately for Mr. Sloane, he must live with the consequences of his actions. And the consequences do not make a pretty picture, but they do make for a fabulously intriguing, amusing tale.
I would be remiss if I didn't mention Nigel Gore, who played Ed, Kath's older, wiser, gayer brother…the brother who made a real success of himself, and is happy to be his own PR person. This is a brother-sister act you won't soon forget. Congratulations go to Dafydd Rees who played the puritanical, old curmudgeon of a father with aplomb.
Entertaining Mr. Sloane is playing at Boston Center for the Arts, 539 Tremont St. thru April 3. Performances are Wednesdays and Thursdays at 7:30pm, Fridays at 8:00pm, Saturdays at 3:00pm and 8:00pm and Sundays at 3:00pm. Tickets are $33.00-$37.50.
(My Grade: 4)
Now at Boston's Wheelock Family Theatre is their production of the Olivier Award-winning British musical "Honk!", based as on Hans Christian Anderson's "The Ugly Duckling," with music by George Stiles and book and lyrics by Anthony Drewe. H.C. Anderson's short fable about tolerance has been deftly expanded into a full two-act evening with substantial uplifting and emotional content. After breaking out of his egg shell "ugly," (full voiced Cheo Bourne) sings the happy ditty, "Different," 'cuz that's what he is! Since he's taller than all the other little ducks, he also imprudently wanders away from the original nest. By so doing he's confronted by myriad of perils, mostly initiated by a hungry and wickedly mischievous cat (Brian Richard Robinson) who begins enticing "Ugly" with the song: "Play With Your Food!" (It's Just a Crazy Little Game Called 'Lunch'). In the meantime, the mother-duck (lovely Aimee Doherty) desperately searching for her unusual lost child, sings about "Every Tear a Mother Cries," certainly the show's best song. By eluding the tricky cat, "Ugly" meets up with a flock of frisky geese and "Greylad" (Scott Severance), their kooky, misleading leader. His song about "The Wild Goose Chase," brings "Ugly" to the second Act. There, he encounters the grandly discordant "Queenie" (Jaime Montesano) and "Lowbutt" (Sarah deLima), who strongly intone about being "Together," followed by a cavorting bullfrog (Peter A. Carey) who rhythmically tells us about his ,"Warts and All." Naturally, all turns out well by the finale, when the gangly "Duckling" turns out to be a handsome Swan! Kudos are most definitely due for Matthew T. Lazure's bright, colorful two-level set, defined by engagingly striped spirals; Dustin Todd Rennell's simple, but effective costumes; and Laurel Conrad Stachowicz' lively choreography featuring a large bevy of gamboling youngsters dressed as shaded geese and green frogs. Additional bravos must also go to the fine, small, accompanying quintet conducted by Jon Goldberg and Jane Staab's well focused direction. Now playing through February 28, 2010. (My Grade: 5)
(Title of Show)
Now at The Boston Center for The Arts, in the Roberts Studio Theatre, the Speakeasy Stage Company presents its production of "(Title of Show)" featuring music and lyrics by Jeff Bowen and book by Hunter Bell. This is the show's Boston premiere. It is today's version of such early and legendary "let's put on a show" stalwarts like Rodgers and Hart's "Babes In Arms," which also spawned a spate of similarly inspired early MGM movie musicals. These all served to launch the careers of the very young Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland, as is the case similarly now with this show's creators, Bowen and Bell. After hearing about the 2004 New York "New Musical Theater Festival," these two gay friends, with only 3 weeks time, quickly decided to write and submit an original show of their own! Even the play's highly unusual designation, suggests the haste and spirit in which it was born! Built around their own actual discussions about the "how, what and why" of their project, they recruited Susan and Heidi (two real-life under-employed, yet hopeful, actresses) to assist them in their creativity. In the resulting show's brief, 90 minutes, including 16 charming and witty original tunes, we relive this lively quartet's cooperation and contention, their spurts of inspiration and their many moments of doubt and despair, including even a few fleeting moments of thoughts about quitting. Nevertheless, the show's unusual book and clever score paved the way to its ultimate success. Such songs as: "Two Nobodies in New York," "I am Playing Me," "Filling Out The Form" let's call our show "(Title of Show)," "Change It, Don't Change It," and the evenings show stopping, "Die Vampire, Die!" (The term 'Vampire' represents the self-doubt that threatens artistic innovation and creativity). The show originally starred the real foursome, but in Boston Jordan Ahnquist was Jeff, Joe Lanza became Hunter, Val Sullivan portrayed Susan and Amy Barker served as Heidi-- all with full voiced verve and zest, accompanied by Will McGarrahan as the show's musical director and keyboardist. Following its 2004 NY musical theatre debut, this show went on to a highly successful off-Broadway run in 2006, as well as similar good fortune on Broadway in 2008! It also won a 2009 Tony nomination for Best Book, as well as an Obie Award and a Drama League nomination, too. Now playing through February 13, 2010. (My Grade: 5)
Now at The Sandra Feinstein-Gam Theater in Pawtucket, Rhode Island, is the area premiere of "4:48 Psychosis" by Sarah Kane. It is a brief, 72 minute autobiographical exploration of the playwright's own harrowing battle with depression. Set on a bare stage with a simple hospital bed in the center, before a large rear screen upon which will be projection of meaningful photos such as that of a small child or an important snow fall. In between such moments is the ongoing display, minute-by-minute, of the passage of time. Also elevated, behind the patient's bed, is her doctor's small sector. As stated, this is a short, stark look back at the playwright's own pain and suffering. After only a brief and momentous career, beginning at age 23, in her native England, as the authoress of five significant plays, she ended her own life at age 28 in 1999. She never saw this play staged. At the play's center is the patient, listed as simply, "woman." She is portrayed brilliantly by Casey Seymour Kim in a performance of raging mental agony interrupted with some fleeting moments of calm. From time-to-time she is also impassively counseled by her attending doctor, played well by Tom Gleadow. She asks him "where do I start? Where do I stop?" He answers: "It's alright, you will get better." She answers: "The only permanent thing is destruction." The play's title refers to the time when the patient awakes in the morning and she feels a few brief moments of relief from her ongoing despair. As expected, there's no story-line here, only the playwright's own incentive to explore her own existence. As such, knowing as we do its' tragic aftermath, it is certainly not an easy play to watch. However, Ms. Kim's performance is so passionate, so intense, so convincing, that the audience remained transfixed from start to finish. High commendations are certainly due for Tony Estrella's potently focused direction and Matthew Terry's highly dramatic lighting. By openly revealing herself to us, Sarah Kane is compelling us to consider those many souls among us who, hidden behind a separating curtain, suffer the daily turmoil of mental illness. Now playing through February 7, 2010. (My Grade: 5)
Now at The Loeb Drama Center in Cambridge, Mass. The American Repertory Theater presents Elevator Repair Service's production of "Gatz," a full 6½ hours, word-for-word, staged presentation of F. Scott Fitzgerald's novel "The Great Gatsby." Directed by John Collins (founder of E.R.S.) this production features a cast of 13 accomplished actors and actresses, and is set in a ramshackle and crammed business office, marked by desks and computers, filing cabinets, and a wall of shelves full of boxes stuffed with a multitude of business papers. It all begins when an employee enters the semi-darkened office, sits at his desk, finds an old worn paperback copy of Fitzgerald's classic novel and begins reading it aloud. His extended recitation is divided into two lengthy parts, each including two brief intermissions, and is also divided by a one hour dinner break. Parts one and two can also be seen on two separate days, if so desired. Soon after the reader has begun, we quickly start to accept him as Nick Carraway (Scott Shepherd), the novel's narrator and moral compass. Following Fitzgerald's overly full, 1½ hour exposition, whereby we've been introduced to Nick's new Long Island, N.Y. based rich friends and acquaintances, Jay Gatsby (Jim Fletcher) makes his initial appearance. Of definite concern to Nick are young and pretty Jordan Baker (Sybil Kempson), an occasional girlfriend, golfer and sometimes "cheat," and wealthy Tom Buchanan (Gary Wilmes) and his lovely wife Daisy (Victoria Vazquez). Years before, soon after the poor and lowly James Gatz had changed his name to Jay Gatsby, he met and fell in love with Daisy. Although she loved him equally, her family's interference ultimately stirred her to marry the very rich Tom Buchanan instead. Now her former lover has returned, wealthier than her husband and intent on restarting their love. Through perseverance, Nick had unraveled all the mystery surrounding Gatsby's great fortune. It all came about after Jay linked up with Meyer Wolfsheim (also voiced by Scott Shepherd), the notorious Jewish gambler and racketeer. Obviously based on Arnold Rothstein, the era's actual scandalous Jewish mobster, he's portrayed in the period's typically anti-Semitic fashion. Similarly bigoted white-supremacist notions are also expressed when several of Nick's new associates are confronted by the concept of blacks and whites intermarrying. Also part of Nick's liquor-drenched and free-wheeling circle are Myrtle Wilson (Laurena Allan), Tom Buchanan's mistress and her husband George (Frank Boyd), who manages a nearby auto repair garage. Then, after several meetings with Daisy, Gatsby finds he is still unable to rekindle her past ardor for him. Still later, after numerous parties, many at Gatsby's estate, George's suspicions about his wife's infidelities are aroused mistakenly. When Myrtle is suddenly killed in a hit-and-run auto accident, George becomes actively deluded into believing Gatsby to be at fault. This leads both to a violent and deadly confrontation. Summing up, the evening's first part, heavily over laden as it was with exposition, proved to be formidably wearying. However, throughout part two, the deftly creative adaptability of the large and gifted cast, to their many varied roles and assignments, both as the fictional characters as well as performing their initial business office activities were all very effectively done. Accordingly, the totality served author Fitzgerald's classic study of American post World War II empty values, excesses, misguided goals and inevitable alienations exceedingly well! Now playing through February 7, 2010. (My Grade: 4)
THE GOOD NEGRO
Now at the Boston Center for the Arts in its intimate Plaza Theater is the area premiere of "The Good Negro" by Tracey Scott Wilson. Set in Birmingham, Alabama during the very early days of the Civil Rights Movement, Ms. Wilson's well crafted play takes a surprisingly unblinking and quite fresh look back at this most historic and recent turning point in our country's history. Even the play's title suggests a multiplicity of interpretations. The Reverend James Lawrence (Jonathan L. Dent), obviously based on Martin Luther King, Jr. is at the center of the developing struggle. Assisted by rough hewn and flamboyant Reverend Henry Evans (Cliff Odle) and the demure and systematic Bill Rutherford (Cedric Lilly), they think they've found the right emotionally charged spark that will ignite all their fellow African-Americans to join them in their campaign to end racial segregation. They seize their opportunity when Claudette Sullivan (Marvelyn McFarlane), a young, attractive, black wife and mother is roughed up and arrested for letting her 4 year old daughter use a "whites only" toilet, in a local department store. However, since the Reverend Lawrence is also clandestinely romancing Claudette, when his faithful wife Corinne (Kris Sidberry) discovers her husband's infidelity, his plans to over throw the area's egregious laws appear to be threatened! To further complicate matters, as Claudette's wise and cautious husband Pelzie (James Milord) becomes increasingly suspicious of Lawrence's motives and his chances for success, some procedural contention also begins to ferment between the Reverend Evans and Bill Rutherford. During this same time, two F.B.I. agents Steve Lane (Jeff Mahoney) and Paul Moore (Jonathon Overby) have been sent to the area to wire-tap Lawrence's conversations and monitor his activities. Their superior, back in Washington, D.C., obviously J. Edgar Hoover, seems intent on proving that Lawrence is in league with the "commies." They've also enlisted a local, red neck and braggart (Greg Maraid) to join the KKK and become their informant, with mixed and muddled results. Ms. Wilson's play skillfully explores the strengths and weaknesses of Reverend Lawrence, as well as the misgivings missteps and controversies surrounding the initial days of the struggle to end the South's "Jim Crow" laws. She proves that, as with any other time of great social change, its grand and monumental heroes may also have been flawed and troubled humans as well. She also seems to intend for us to decide for ourselves as to who we judge to be "the good Negro." Vividly performed by the fine cast under Summer L. Williams' strong direction. This provocative and compelling drama is now playing through February 6, 2010. (My Grade: 5)
ALL MY SONS
Now at the Boston University Theater, The Huntington Theater Company presents its production of "All My Sons" by Arthur Miller. After winning the Tony Award in 1947, it was also produced as an acclaimed Hollywood motion picture. Set in the outskirts of a typical Midwestern town in August, 1947, the plot centers on the Keller family and takes place in the backyard of their comfortable home. Joe Keller, (Will Lyman) the owner of a small factory, is haunted by the scandal surrounding the manufacture and distribution of faulty aircraft engine cylinders by his plant during the height of World War II, which caused many plane crashes and scores of pilots to die. Even though he was completely exonerated, it becomes clear as the drama unfolds, that Joe, although guilty, was able to successfully manipulate the conditions surrounding the production of the defective aircraft parts to convince the authorities that his partner was solely responsible for the crime. Now several years later, (with his partners still serving time in prison), the partner's estranged daughter Ann Deever (Diane Davis) has returned after three disappointing years in New York. Originally engaged to Joe Keller's older son Larry, also a wartime pilot and officially long listed as "missing in action," she's now romantically attached to Larry's brother (Lee Aaron Rosen), who hopes to marry her. His mother is neurotically obsessed with the belief that Larry is still alive. Later, Ann's brother George, (Michael Tisdale) weak willed and confused by the calamitous situation, informs Ann and the Kellers that he's been to visit his father in prison. As expected, his dad insists on his innocence and denounces Joe Keller as the real criminal. Joe, increasingly conscience stricken, and faced with the mounting convictions of everyone about his true role, ultimately acknowledges his shameful culpability while still insisting that whatever he did "was really for the good of his family." Brilliantly acted by the sterling cast with very strong commendations for Will Lyman and especially for Karen MacDonald as the grieving and obsessed mom. Bravos also for Scott Bradley's bright and expansive backyard setting and most certainly for David Esbjornson's strong direction abetted by Maya Ciarrocchi's projected filmed images onto the sky, above and behind the Keller's backyard, of wartime aircraft and battles, as well as John Gromada's splendid choices of World War II music. This grandly compelling and provocative drama is now playing through February 7, 2010. (My Grade: 5)
Now at the Mosesian Theater in Watertown Arsenal Center for the Arts in Watertown, Mass., The New Repertory Theater presents the Boston Premier of "Indulgence" by Chris Craddock. Set in a space-age styled cocktail lounge equipped with see-through Plexiglas chairs and tables, two well-dressed businessmen are joined by an animatedly flamboyant salesman (Benjamin Evett). But we soon discover that they're not businessmen, and the salesman is also not what is expected. It seems that the first gent (Joel Colodner) is actually a King, disguised in modern dress, and his companion a commoner (Neil A Casey) is there just because he could pass as the King's double. The salesman's job is selling indulgences. (According to Roman Catholic doctrine, indulgences represent forgiveness of punishment, in purgatory or hell, for sins that are dismissed thanks to penance). Adding a touch of spice to this bizarre stew, the King insists on changing lifestyles with his look-alike. Meanwhile, two gay lovers appear in full Elizabethan outfits. Named after minor Shakespearean characters, Malcolm (Ed Hoopman) plans to marry Fleance (Tony Larkin), in spite of his father's determined disapproval. Playwright Craddock again stirs his odd and comic goulash by adding two of the King's advisors (Leigh Barrett and Steven Barkhimer) as conspirators. They plan to thwart Malcolm from ever becoming the next King. Throughout, while the real King and his business-suited double speak in contemporary terms, the gay Prince and his lover, as well as their royal adversaries all enunciate their wishes and schemes in mock Shakespearean-sounding dialogue. Although this banter represents some of the evening's best moments, and while the king and Malcolm finally reconcile, otherwise the comic goals of all of this ultimately remain uncertain. Nevertheless, commendations are most certainly due for the fine cast. Now playing through February 6, 2010. (My Grade: 3)
Boyce & Melinda's Investment Strategies for the Post-Money World!
Now at the Wimberly Theatre in the Boston Center for the Arts' Calderwood Pavilion in the area premier of "Boyce & Melinda's Investment Strategies for the Post-Money World," an extended satirical spoof first staged last summer at Cape Cod's Payomet Performing Arts Center. Written by Gip Hoppe, who did quite well some years back with his comedic take on the Kennedy clan entitled "Jackie: American Life," this time his focus is squarely on the current dismal state of our country's economy, with a seminar on financial tactics as his comic framework. Boyce and Melinda, are two floundering and bankrupt former "Song & Dance" types, now living in their 2003 Chevrolet, and subsisting on whatever freebies they can scrounge up at the next fast-food stop that they're able to afford. Naturally, they now come to us with their plan for prosperity. The year is 2020 and President Sarah Palin's "Faith Based Economic Initiative," defined by non-Christian's bailing out the plethora of Born-agains, so burdened, is now in full sway. Cautioning their audience against anything on National Public Radio, as well as the Government, the banks and the country club lizards, they also warn against FEMA's plans on building a concentration camp in Nevada (without revealing who's to spend their confinement there.) They also reveal Dick Cheney's demise back in 2011 and his reincarnation as Rahm Emanuel. All of this is finally followed by their explanation of "How We Got Here," complete with a very confusing topsy-turvey economic wall-chart and with the crisis now in its tenth year, the initiation of a new federal agency: The Automatic Security Service (known hereafter, as with other such boards, by only their first letters) who's purpose will be to finally correct all problems! While much of the evening's comedy, is mostly heavy handed and often belabored, the show's two vibrant performers Will LeBow and Julie Perkins do their best with their summaries and really shine with the show's better musical episodes. The songs composed by the playwright with Chandler Travis (leader of the evening's small, spirited accompanying band) include "Rockin' The Money/Rollin' The Green," "Toxic Assets" (somebody Give Me A Bailout!) "Stimulus" (We All Need One), "All The Best Things In Life" (Cost Lots O' Money) and finally (starting over in) "A New America." Now playing through January 31, 2010. (My Grade: 3)
Now at the Central Square Theatre in Cambridge, Mass., The Underground Railway Theater presents its production of "Harriet Jacobs," a play inspired by Jacobs' autobiography "Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl," which she penned in 1861. This two hour play (including a brief intermission) spans the years 1829-1842, and is focused on our country's horrific slavery years. Featuring an all black cast portraying black slaves as well as their white masters, the play begins with Harriet (Kami Rushell Smith) at age 12. It is then that slave master Dr. James Norcom (Raidge) begins to assertively badger her sexually. Although she's able to successfully fend off his aggressive behavior, Norcom again reasserts himself despicably, sometime later, when love blossoms between Harriet and her sweetheart, free slave Tom (Sheldon Best). When her earnest young lover presents her contemptible master with $700 cash to buy his young beloved's freedom, the vile Norcom responds by burning Tom's money and demanding $850, "on the day hell freezes over," instead. Still plagued by the relentless Norcom, finally at age 16 Harriet turns to Samuel Treadway Sawyer (De'Lon Grant), a compassionate and concerned white neighbor, for help. Act two finds Harriet now with two babies and threatened again by the dastardly Norcom, who intends to sell her children! The ever resilient Harriet is able to escape to the home of her free grandma (Ramona Lisa Alexander). It's there that Harriet is able to remain out of sight, hidden in the cramped rafters of her granny's house, for the next seven years. During these greatly confined years, while still tormented by memories of Norcom, Harriet's grandmother is able to provide her with quill, ink and parchment. It is later that she learns that her former beloved Tom has married another and that friend Samuel has not only purchased her two kids, but has also decided not to expose her. Unfortunately, only passing notice is made of Harriet's eventual escape to the North and how she was ultimately able to find her "voice" there. Otherwise, this is a vividly performed and provocatively compelling drama about a genuinely shameful part of our past. Kudos must also go to Susan Zeeman Rogers' creative and highly adaptable set, musical director and composer Dr. Clarice LaVerne Thompson's grandly atmospheric choral chants and Megan Sandberg-Zakina's strong direction. Now playing through January 31, 2010. (My Grade: 4.5)
BOYCE & MELINDA'S INVESTMENT STRATEGIES FOR THE POST-MONEY WORLD!
…AND IT'S A MUSICAL--and a really funny one. I thought it was going to be like my kids making up a funny show about Peggy Jean White's funeral, but it wasn't. It was this brilliantly written, totally un-understandable, illogical musical explanation of just how the United States went from being one of the wealthiest nations in the world to becoming a 2020 America with 100% unemployment rate. This piece was replete with charts that are as hysterical as their explanations and love songs-- yes, love songs.
Julie Perkins as Melinda Peterson and Will LeBow as Boyce sing a tear-prompting duet to their lost portfolio…how they had watched it grow, and cherished every moment. Will LeBow was perfect in the part of a down and out musician trying to sell a New America (or anything else he can throw in there). Julie Perkins is beyond hysterical and perfect as Melinda, an ex-wholesome cheerleader type who, along with her adoring husband, lived the high life staying at hotels with Tahitian themed pools and never having to eat domestic cheese, to living in their Chevy Tahoe--but they still have hope---hope that you'll invest in their New America.
If you don't see Boyce and Melinda you will probably never understand the "New Normal" because it's very complicated. Even Melinda, who is a financial expert (sort of), broke a nail trying to recalibrate to the new normal. Julie Perkins was absolutely made to play this part. She is hysterical. This is a must see, that not too many people are seeing plays these days. I guess if we don't have enough money for rent, we certainly can't pay for theater tickets. But have no fear! Boyce and Melinda are here to save the day! As we all know, laughter is the best medicine and this is a very reasonably priced dose of fun and laughter…especially when you consider I pay my shrink $150 for 45 minutes and I don't leave there feeling any better than I did last night.
Boyce and Melinda will be presenting their financial strategies at the Boston Center for the Arts, 527 Tremont St. through January 31. Tickets can be purchased, for $25 and up, online at www.bcaonline.org.
(My Grade: 4)
Now at the Lyric Stage Company of Boston they're presenting their new production of "Groundswell" by South African playwright Ian Bruce. First premiered in Bruce's native South Africa in 2005 it has since made its mark successfully in both New York and California, as well. Set in a beach front guest house in a small port town on South Africa's west coast. Thami (Jason Bowen), a black caretaker and gardener is preparing a letter with money which he plans to mail back to his family, living in a far off township. Soon he's joined by Johan (Timothy John Smith), a gruff, ex-policeman who's spent jail time for the killing (manslaughter) of a black man. Johan enthusiastically proposes a sure-fire "get rich quick" proposal to the skeptical Thami, concerning an abandoned diamond mine in the area's nearby river. All that is needed is enough money for them to begin. Soon, the Inn's still dubious custodian is then joined by Smith (Richard McElvain), a seemingly prosperous older gentleman, who's seeking lodging. Johan's emboldened by the older man's obvious affluence after learning that Smith was a former investment-banker who has just recently retired. However, after his scheme is rejected by Smith, Johan turns to much stronger ways to change the older gent's mind. Brandishing a knife, and seizing some of Smith's important personal possessions, such as his automobile keys and wallet, he makes it clear that he won't accept "no" as Smith's answer! He also begins to sway Thami, by holding the nation's formerly oppressive racial system as an example of Smith's (and his fellow white upper class) culpability for so much black poverty! Notwithstanding Smith's protestations concerning his long standing support for Desmond Tutu and the need for racial justice and amity, the brutish Johan holds fast to his demands. This leads to a contentious exchange between these three about South Africa's troubled past and even some unsettling notions about its future, culminating in a compellingly provocative denouement. Forcefully directed by Daniel Gidron with strong performances by all concerned, especially a finely nuanced portrayal by McElvain as the Lodge's hard pressed visitor. Now playing through January 30, 2010. (My grade: 5)
IN THE HEIGHTS
Now at the Boston Opera House is "In The Heights," the highly rhythmic and energetic 2008 Tony-Award winning musical featuring music and lyrics by Lin-Manuel Miranda (who also conceived the show) with book by Quiara Alegria Hudes. A picturesque "slice-of-life" view of several hot summer days in the life New York's primarily Latino Washington Heights community framed by set designer Anna Louizos' grandly atmospheric neighborhood housing complexes centered by the imposing George Washington in the distance. Like Elmer Rice's classic depression era "street scene" and obviously inspired by the much more recent urban-focused musical "Rent," here again we have the highs and lows, the hopes and disappointments to be found in the daily ebb-and-flow in the life of a typical New York working-class neighborhood. Enhanced by nearly two dozen vivid musical numbers, it begins with young shop owner Usnavi (Kyle Beltran) as the show's animated hip-hop styled main narrator chanting (Everybody's Got a Job…Got A Dream…Comes from Miles Away) to introduce several of the evening's main characters. Sweet young Nina (Ariella Jacobs), is the daughter of Kevin and Camila (Daniel Bolero and Natalie Toro), the immigrant owners of "Rosario's Taxi and Limousine Center." They are dismayed by her decision to drop-out of her studies at Stanford University. Complicating matters is Benny (Rogelio Douglas Jr.) the taxi service's young African-American dispatcher who's in love with Nina. Meanwhile the aspirations of other to move downtown or just away are sung by hair-stylist Vanessa (Yvette Gonzalez-Nacer) rhythmically expressed by "It Won't Be Long Now" (one day I'll hop on an Elevated Train…A Limousine…and Ride Away!) She's joined by the rest of the neighborhood, robustly singing about winning the lottery's "$96,000" (You'll Never See Me Again!) Amongst the evening's most memorable moments Abuela Claudia (Elise Santora), the community's elderly matron chants the inspirational paean "Paciencia Y Fe" (Patience and Faith), followed still later by her recollections of "Hundreds of Stories." Even more striking later on is the neighborhood's exuberant show-stopping "Carneval delBarrio." Other noteworthy cast members must also include Sonny (Shaun Taylor-Corbett) Usnavi's snappy teenage relative; as well as Daniela (Isabel Santiago) owner of the neighborhood beauty salon. Laced with Andy Blankenbuehler's lively salsa and meringue inspired choreography accompanied by the show's vibrant orchestra conducted by Justin Mendoza, with kudos also for Thomas Kail's well focused direction, this highly recommended show is playing through January 24, 2019.
BEST OF BOTH WORLDS
Now at the Loeb Drama Center in Cambridge, MA, The American Repertory Theater presents "The Best of Both Worlds," featuring book and lyrics by Randy Weiner and music by Diedre Murray. Co-Written and vividly directed by Diane Paulus, the Company's new Artistic Director, this production is yet another part of their new "Shakespeare Exploded Festival." As with the previous production of "The Donkey Show" at their "Club Oberon" (the Zero Arrow Theater renamed), this is also a modern reinvention of the Bard, with contemporary settings and music as the prime framework for his "Winter's Tale". Here now is Shakespeare's grand language again replaced with the imposing resonance and compelling strains of African American Gospel and Rhythm and Blues. With a flamboyantly lavender-hued, fin-adorned, vintage Cadillac as his base, Ezekiel (Greg Baker), the kind of a major musical enterprise, meets with Maurice (Darius de Haas), his main business rival, as well as his best friend. Unfortunately, Ezekiel has become increasingly convinced that his wife, Queen Serena (Jeannette Bayardelle) has become romantically involved with Maurice. She strongly declares her innocence by singing "The Way I Love You" -("There's nothing you can do that will stop me from loving you"), however when she gives birth to a lovely baby girl, he orders her to be exiled and the infant to be disowned and abandoned. Ezekial's singing "That's Not My Baby" is answered by his mother Violetta (Mary Bond Davis) singing her "prophecy" ( "you'll never know no happiness, 'till that baby comes home") This leads to the death of the distraught Serena while the kindly, street-person "Sweet Daddy" (Cleavant Derricks), upon finding the lost baby, decides to raise it as his own child. Act Two opens sixteen years later and "Sweet Daddy" is now the manager of the local rockin' "Bunny Hutch" nightclub. He leads everyone there in singing "The Bunny Song" ("Lets all do the Bunny"). His young ward has now grown up as the lovely "Rain" (Brianna Horne) and has since met and fallen in love with Tariq (Lawrence Stallings), son of King Maurice. Of course, he objects to his sons' romance by chanting "I don't have a son (I have a traitor.") Nevertheless, Camillo (Nikkel DeMone), Ezekiel's right hand man ,cautions Tariq "Don't Let Go!("Take her hand! Hold her tight!"). As expected the plot's anticipated twists and turns soon reveal Rain's true identity and the handsome young couple are lovingly united. The play concludes with the thirty member "Tufts University Third Day Gospel Choir" majestically singing "Glorious (is the power of love… is the Lord above!") Certainly, the splendidly full voiced aforementioned cast members, the strong musical score and resoundingly persuasive musical accompaniment directed by Michael Mitchell, all combined to not only effectively reflect the evening's classic source, but also served to lift the capacity audience to its' collective feet into a standing ovation at the final curtain! Now playing through January 3, 2010.
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