Thursday, October 23, 2014

Hartford Symphony Orchestra

The Hartford Symphony Orchestra will present Beethoven’s Emperor Concerto as the second concert of its 2014-2015 Masterworks Series on Nov.  13-16 in Belding Theater at The Bushnell in Hartford.  

The piano concerto will feature guest artist Martina Filjak. The program, conducted by HSO Music Director Carolyn Kuan,  also will include Brahms’ Tragic Overture and R. Strauss’ Death and Transfiguration

“In this concert, we will invite our audience to discover powerful themes of human existence,” says Kuan.  “The bravura notes of Beethoven’s fifth piano concerto express why it is known as the “Emperor.”  Brahms’ heart-wrenching Tragic Overture has a turbulent, tormented character to it, while Strauss’ transcendent Death and Transfiguration explores earthly struggle resulting in heavenly bliss,” she explained.

Johannes Brahms’ Tragic Overture is somber and darkly heroic. Though Brahms wrote the two orchestral overtures Academic Festival andTragic in tandem during the year 1880, the works have more of a complementary balance than a continuity. “Having composed this jolly Academic Festival Overture, I could not refuse my melancholy nature the satisfaction of composing an overture for a tragedy,” Brahms wrote to his biographer Max Kalbeck, “One overture laughs, the other weeps.”

Ludwig van Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 5, “Emperor” is the largest in scale of all the composer’s concertos.  The year 1809 had been a difficult one for Vienna and for Beethoven. Napoleon invaded the city with enough firepower to send the residents scurrying and Beethoven into the basement of his brother’s house. He wrote to his publisher Breitkopf und Härtel, “The whole course of events has affected me body and soul.  What a disturbing, wild life around me; nothing but drums, cannons, men, misery of all sorts.” He additionally bellowed his frustration at a French officer he chanced to meet: “If I were a general and knew as much about strategy as I do about counterpoint, I’d give you fellows something to think about.”  The “Emperor” Concerto was written with fully textured chords and wide dynamic range.  The piano technique is remarkable, considering that the modern, steel-frame concert grand was not perfected until 1825.  In this work, written sixteen years earlier, Beethoven envisioned the possibilities that this later, improved instrument would offer.

Guest pianist Martina Filjak is praised for her poetic passion and technical mastery at the keyboard, as well as for her charismatic personality and magnetic stage presence.  She came to international attention by winning the Gold Medal, the First Prize and the Beethoven Prize at the Cleveland International Piano Competition in 2009, which brought her numerous engagements in United States and internationally. Prior to that, she won First Prize awards at the Maria Canals Piano Competition (Barcelona, Spain) and the Viotti Piano Competition (Vercelli, Italy).

Hartford Symphony Orchestra Masterworks Series
Thursday – Sunday, November 13-16, 2014
Belding Theater at The Bushnell
Thursday 7:30pm│Friday & Saturday 8pm│Sunday 3pm
A pre-concert talk will take place one hour prior to each performance.
Carolyn Kuan conductor
Martina Filjak piano
Brahms Tragic Overture, Op. 81
R. Strauss Death and Transfiguration, TrV 158, Op. 24
Beethoven Piano Concerto No.5 in E flat Major, Op. 73, “Emperor”

Ticket Information: Tickets $35.50-$67.50. Student tickets are $10. On Saturday, October 18, $25 tickets are available for patrons age 40 and under. 860-987-5900;

Broadway Divas To Benefit TheaterWorks

December 1 @ 8pm

Fabulous, Flirty and Funny!
An evening of song, dance, laughter and memories
that will have you seeing the stars!


Ticket includes a post-performance MEET & GREET
with Andrea, Maureen, Donna, and Faith,
Matthew Lombardo, John McDaniel and Rob Ruggiero

CALL 860.527.7838
$50 of each ticket sold will benefit TheaterWorks' Annual fund

Hal Holbrook Celebrates 90th with Mark Twain Performance

Having first donned Samuel Clemens' infamous white suit in 1954, Hal Holbrook's humorous and affecting portrayal of Mark Twain has charmed audiences for six decades. The Tony and Emmy Award winner and Academy Award nominee returns to the city that Twain called home for 20 years to mark an unforgettable occasion -- Holbrook's 90th birthday with a special event to benefit the Mark Twain House and Museum.

The performance will be held 7:30 pm, Tuesday Feb. 17 at The Bushnell. Tickets will go on sale to the general public on Friday, Oct. 31, with sale days for Mark Twain House members starting Tuesday, Oct. 28. 

To make this benefit event as affordable as possible to all Holbrook fans, there is an array of ticket price options. The VIP Package at $125 includes premium orchestra seating, and a private dessert reception after the show with Holbrook. Orchestra and box seats are $75, mezzanine seats are $40-$55, and balcony seats are $25-$40. Tickets:; 860-987-5900.

Harold Rowe "Hal" Holbrook, Jr. (born Feb. 17, 1925) is an American film and stage actor. Holbrook initially gained notoriety for a one-man stage show he developed while in college in 1954, performing as Mark Twain, and made his film debut in Sidney Lumet's The Group. He later gained international notoriety for his performance as Deep Throat in the 1976 film "All the President's Men" followed by roles in "Julia," "The Fog" and "Creepshow." 

Holbrook's later career has included roles in "Into the Wild," for which he was nominated for a Screen Actors Guild Award and an Academy Award, as well as a recurring role on the television series "Designing Women" and "Sons of Anarchy", and as Francis Preston Blair in Steven Spielberg's film "Lincoln."

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Theater Review: Holiday Inn -- Goodspeed

The cast of Holiday Inn. Photo: Diane Sobolewski

It’s Old and New and Features Sensational Choreography
By Lauren Yarger
It’s got great tunes by Irving Berlin, old-fashioned dance numbers and a lot of heart. Another revival of a classic musical at Goodspeed you might think -- but you would be wrong. It’s the word premiere of a new musical. Well, a new, old musical, if you will.

Based on the classic film starring Fred Astaire and Bing Crosby, Irving Berlin’s Holiday Inn features tunes like “What’ll I Do?,” "Happy Holiday," "Easter Parade," "Be Careful, It's My Heart" and “You’re Easy to Dance With” with a new book by Gordon Greenberg (who directs) and Chad Hodge.

The plot is the same: Entertainers Ted Hanover (Noah Racey), Jim Hardy (Tally Sessions) and Lila Dixon (Hayley Podschun) have been performing their song and dance number waiting for their big break, but Jim has had a change of heart. He wants to get out of show business and settle down on a farm in Connecticut.

He buys the old Mason Farm in Midville, CT at foreclosure and pops the question to Lila. She opts to join Ted on the road for a while, however, and Jim finds himself trying to figure out how to raise chickens and fix his repair-needy old farm house. Offering some help are fix-it expert Louise (Susan Mosher) and the farm’s former owner, Linda Mason (Patti Murin), a school teacher who once dreamsed of a career in show biz.

The three stumble upon a way to make money to keep the farm: invite Jim’s show biz friends, who don’t have anywhere to go on the holidays, up to Connecticut to put on some shows. The inn turns into a holiday showplace and a romance between Linda and Jim blossoms, until Ted pays a visit and decides Linda is the perfect dance partner. Will Jim lose another girl to his best friend?

Don’t stress too hard. The light plot serves mostly as a vehicle for the delightful songs (Music Direction by Michael O’Flaherty; Orchestrations by Dan DeLange), splashy, glittery mid 1940s costumes designed by Alejo Vietti (with excellent Wig and Hair Design by Mark Adam Rampmeyer) and the clever and exciting choreography by Denis Jones (watch for his work in the soon-to-hit-Broadway musical Honeymoon in Vegas). Anna Louizos designs simple sets that don’t detract from the other elements and leave plenty of room for dancing.

And that choreography is the star of the show, with tap dancing, foot-stomping, jump roping, prop throwing and lots of other spectacular movement. Mosher also steals the show whenever she is on as the goofy, kind-hearted Louise (think Carol Burnett).

Songs aren’t exactly the same as the movie (the controversial, black-faced number “Abraham” has been eliminated), but the firecracker dance remains.

The show has been extended twice, through Dec. 21. Its charm and old-fashioned trip to a much simpler time can’t help but bring a smile to the face of a more modern audience looking for escape.

Holiday Inn plays at the Goodspeed Opera House, 6 Main St., East Haddam. Performances: Wednesday at 2 and 7:30 pm; Thursday at 7:30 pm and select matinees at 2 pm; Friday at 8 pm; Saturdays at 3 and 8 pm; Sunday at 2 pm with select performances at 6:30 pm. Tickets $15-$77.50  860 873-8668;

Our Town -- Long Wharf

Rey Lucas and Jenny Leona. Photo: T.Charles Erickson
Wilder’s Classic Becomes Our Town with Local, Alumni Cast Members
By Lauren Yarger
Long Wharf Theatre kicks off its 50th anniversary season appropriately with a look at community and the past via a production of Thornton Wilder’s Pulitzer-Prize winning play, Our Town.

Every cast member in the production has previously appeared in a Long Wharf Theatre production and the townspeople of Grovers Corner, NH are members of the greater New Haven community.

Stage Manager Myra Lucretia Taylor guides us back to 1901 Grovers Corners. Set Designer Eugene Lee’s chalk drawings on a blackboard backdrop depict the buildings of the small town. Life here is so simple that it can be depicted with just the help of some tables and chairs. The day-to-day activities, like preparing meals, are pantomimed.

The Webbs and the Gibbs go about their business interacting with other townspeople. Mrs. Gibbs (Linda Powell) and Mrs. Webb (Christina Rouner) prepare endless meals for their families. Mr. Webb (Leon Addison Brown) edits the town’s newspaper. Mr. Gibbs (Don Sparks) is the doctor. Over the years (time passes to 1913, aided by musical composition by Sound Designer John Gromada), teenagers Emily Webb (Jenny Leona) and George Gibbs (Rey Lucas) find love, marriage and their own place as a family in the community.

When Emily’s time on earth comes to an end, she has a chance to revisit one day in her life and discovers that she – and all of us – never really took time to appreciate life or each other while she was here.

Wilder’s play is a reflection on what really is important in life amidst the common concerns it presents:
  • How do others see us?
  • What is our purpose?
  • How can we be happy?
  • Will we find love?
  • What happens to us after we die?

“It goes so fast and we don’t have time to look at one another,” Emily reflects.

Our Town has received countless productions since the three-act play premiered in 1938. No doubt you have seen it, have been in it or have gone to see a family member or friend in it. So why see it again? Because the truths explored in the questions above still are relevant today.

Gordon Edelstein brings community to the center with the use of local residents (the church choir, under the musical direction of Jonathan Berryman) and riotously directed by drunk choir master and church organist Simon Stimson (Robert Dorfman) is really good. Gossipy choir member Mrs. Soames also gets a nice comedic turn by Ann McDonaugh.

Giving the stage manager a more prominent treatment detracts from the feel of the production, however, as she often appears to interrupt and lecture, rather than walk with us through the town. The best productions of Our Town are those where I don’t even remember that there is a “narrator.” Some of the pantomiming technique could use some polish too, as thoughts stray to “what is she doing?’ or “I thought that would be heavier” creep in.

Also triggering question are Emily Rebholz’s costumes, some of which seem modern, perhaps to make the point about the themes being contemporary. But the stage manager keeps filling us in on what year we’re in in the early 20th century…

Providing a special treat opening night was the Long Wharf premiere of its own Director of Marketing Steven Scarpa as the Man in the Graveyard. And added sense of community occurs at the second intermission after George and Emily’s wedding where members of the audience visit on stage as if attending the reception.

Our Town runs through Nov. 2 at Long Wharf Theatre, 222 Sargent Drive, New Haven. Performance times vary. Tickets: $25-$75. 203-787-4282;
--- A R T S ---

Lauren Yarger with playwright Alfred Uhry at the Mark Twain House. Photo: Jacques Lamarre)

My Bio

Lauren Yarger has written, directed and produced
numerous shows and special events for both secular and Christian audiences. She co-wrote a Christian musical version of “A Christmas Carol” which played to sold-out audiences of over 3,000 in Vermont and was awarded the 2000 Vermont
Bessie (theater and film awards) for “People’s Choice for Theatre.”

Yarger trained for three years in the Broadway
League’s Producer Development Program, completed the Commercial Theater Institute's Producing Three-Day Training and produced a one-woman musical about Mary Magdalene that toured nationally and closed with an off-Broadway

She was a Fellow at the National Critics Institute at the O'Neill
Theater Center in Waterford, CT. She writes reviews of Broadway and off-Broadway theater (the only ones you can find in the US with an added Christian perspective) at She
is editor of The award-winning Connecticut Arts Connection (,

She is a theater reviewer for the Manchester Journal-Inquirer. She previously served as Contributing Editor for, Connecticut theater editor
for and as Connecticut and New York reviewer for American Theater Web. Yarger is a book reviewer and writer for Publishers Weekly and freelances for other sites. She is a member of the National Book Critics Circle.

She is a freelance writer and playwright and member of The Drama Desk, The Outer Critics Circle, The American Theater Critics Association and The League of Professional Theatre Women. She served as a judge for the SDX Awards presented
by the Society of Professional Journalists. She also is a member of the Connecticut Critics Circle (awards committee).

A former newspaper editor and graduate of the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism, Yarger also worked in arts management for the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts,
the Hartford Symphony Orchestra and served for nine years as the Executive Director of Masterwork Productions, Inc. She lives with her husband in West Granby, CT. They have two adult children.

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