Monday, June 27, 2016

Theater Review: Peter & The Starcatcher -- CT Repertory

Gregory Webster (Alf) and Jason Bohon (Mrs. Bumbrake) and Raegan Roberts (Molly) in “Peter and the Starcatcher” by Rick Elice onstage June 23-July 2, 2016 at Connecticut Repertory Theatre.  Info at crt.uconn.edu.  Photo by Gerry Goodstein.
Starstuff Glimmers in Shining Peter Pan Prequel
By Lauren Yarger
I didn’t think anyone but Christian Borle, who won a Tony award for his performance, could make me laugh so hard at something so horrifying as losing a hand, but I was wrong.

Michael Doherty, turning in a hilarious portrayal of the pirate Black Stache, soon-to-be Captain Hook in the Peter Pan story, has the audience in stitches over at Jorgensen Theater where Peter and the Starcatcher is receiving a strong production as part of CT Repertory’s Nutmeg summer Series.

Doherty commands the stage pirate style and delights with the humor in Rick Elice’s script, Based on the Novel by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson (in turn based on the Peter Pan story by J.M. Barrie). The fanciful production, directed by Vincent J. Cardinal, tells the story of Peter before he became Pan. If you ever have wondered why he didn’t want to grow up, how he hooked up with the Lost Boys -- led here by Ted (Ryan Shea) and Prentiss (Scott Redmond) – or how Captain Hook lost his hand, be prepared to find out.

The abused orphan boys find themselves aboard the Neverland, a ship captained by the notorious Slank (Forrest McClendon) bound for an island where they will be slaves or worse. Also aboard is Molly Astor (Raegan Roberts) a junior Starcatcher, who is helping her father, Lord Astor (Mark Blashford ), aboard another ship, safeguard the queen’s stardstuff – parts of stars that have magical and dangerous power to turn people what they most want to be. 

Communicating in ancient languages and through some sort of telepathy made possible by stardust contained in amulets they wear around their necks, father and daughter work to keep the queen’s treasure out of the hands of Black Stache and his pirates, including Stache’s right-hand man Smee (an entertaining Jonathan Cobrda).

Meanwhile, Molly’s nanny, Mrs. Bumbrake (played for some reason by a male, Jason Bohon) finds unexpected romance aboard ship with flatulent sailor Alf (Greg Webster). Everyone ends up in conflict with angry natives, led by King Prawn (McClendon) on an island following a shipwreck. The storytelling is enhanced by choreography by Roberts, colorful and fanciful costumes by Christina Lorraine Bullard and Music by Wayne Barker (it is conducted by Jose C. Simbulan who leads a two-person band).

All of this plays out on a rag-tag set (designed by Tim Brown with Lighting Design by Michael Chybowski, Sound Design by Michael Vincent Skinner and Technical Direction by John W. Parmelee) where ropes suddenly become the sides of a ship, a ladder, some lights and cloth flags transform into a hungry crocodile and actors morph into squeaky doors. It’s enchanting and dare I say it, I think I enjoyed this production even more than the national tour that came through the Bushnell in 2014.

One criticism. Someone couldn’t resist throwing a in a dig about Donald Trump. It seemed out of place and unnecessary. What would have been fun, however, would have been to throw some commentary in about Britain having just voted to withdraw from the European Union the day I saw this production. Several lines in the vein of “it’s a bad day to be an Englishman” were just ripe for this and seemed almost flat without some kind of comment on current events. Priorities, I guess.
While the show is fun, there’s a darker side to it (Peter is beaten, for example) and it contains some gems of thought to ponder. Overall it’s entertaining whether or not you are a fan of Pan.

Peter catches starstuff through July 2 at the Harriett S. Jorgenseon Theater on the Storrs UConn campus. Performances are Tuesday, Wednesdays and Thursdays at 7:30; Fridays and Saturdays at 8 pm. Matinees at 2 pm Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday. Tickets $12 to $55: www.crt.uconn.edu; (860) 486-2113.

Theater Review: A Chorus Line -- Playhouse on Park

Rina Maejima as Connie, Ronnie Bowman as Richie, Kayla Starr Bryan as Bebe, Alex Polzun as Mike, Tracey Mellon as Sheila, Jared Starkey as Mark, Mallory Cunningham as Kristine, Peej Mele as Bobby, Sarah Kozlow as Maggie, Max Weinstein as Gregory, Bobbi Barricella as Diana, Jeremy Seiner as Al, Cara Rashkin as Judy, Ben Cooley as Don, Andee Buccheri as Val, Tino Ardiente as Paul, Michelle Pruiett as Cassie, Spencer Pond as Larry. Photo: Meredith Atkinson
One Sensation, Hardly Singular.... There’s Lots Going on in This Small Space
By Lauren Yarger
It’s the show that has become a tradition in theaters across America since it took Broadway by storm and won a Pulitzer Prize to boot in 1976, but the production of A Chorus Line at Playhouse on Park seems fresh and surprisingly contemporary.

Part of the reason is outstanding choreography by Darlene Zoller, who Co-Directs with Sean Harris. Zeller recreates the traditional look of the chorus with multiple lines that use the theater’s small thrust space on the floor and all three sides of the audience end up with fabulous seats. The precision is remarkable.

They set the show in a rehearsal space, rather than on a Broadway stage) where a wall of mirrors (designed by Christopher Hoyt) turns in to backdrop. The result is that we feel we are right there with these kids, and that the action is taking place now, even if the show is set in 1975. The run time of the show is a brisk two hours without intermission (I have seen some versions that run almost three hours). This mostly non-Equity show stands up against some of the most satisfying productions of the Marvin Hamlisch musical I have seen.

With a book by James Kirkwood and Nicholas Dante and Lyrics by Edward Kleban, A Chorus Line tells the story of a bunch of Broadway hopefuls auditioning for a musical. Director Zach (Eric S. Robertson) and his assistant Larry (Spencer Pond, who assists Zoller with choreography) put the dancers through their paces, but Zach is looking for more than just dance talent for the eight slots he has available in the line. He wants to know something about the kids personally too and asks them to share some of how they got to this audition.

There’s Val (Andee Buccheri) who always has been concerned about her looks and body, Mike (Alex Polzun) who can tap anything, vulnerable Mark (Jared Starkey), diminutive Connie (Rina Maejima). Sheila, Bebe and Maggie (Tracey Mellon, Kayla Starr Bryan and Sarah Kozlow ) who escaped their unhappy home life by taking ballet lessons, married couple Kristine (Mallory Cunningham) and Al (Jeremy Seiner),  shy Paul (Tino Ardiente ) who began his career as a drag performer and a number of other hopefuls who fill out the ensemble.

Zach is most interested to know why his former lover, Cassie (Michelle Pruiett) want to be back in the chorus since she actually made it out as a featured performer. She hasn’t worked in a couple of years, however, and she just wants to dance.

The story is told in dialogue between the performers, and also in expressions of what they are thinking. Songs like “I Hope I Get It,” “At the Ballet,” “Dance: Ten; Looks: Three,” “The Music and the Mirror,” and “What I Did for Love,” have become classics. The famous closing chorus line to “One .... Singular Sensation” is the only time Zoller and Harris yield to tradition expectations in the production (along with the gold costumes and top hats, designed by Lisa Steier (though lighting designed by Christopher Bell fails to give adequate spotlight to the actors who have made the cut and landed in the production).

Music Directors Emmett Drake and Michael Morris appropriately keep the accompaniment toned down so we aren’t blown out of the small theater space. A very good production of the classic. If you haven’t ever seen the show, don’t miss this one.

A Chorus Line kicks up at Playhouse on Park through July 31. Performances are Wednesday and Thursday at 7:30 pm; Friday and Saturday at 8 pm; Sunday at 2 pm. Tickets $35-$45. Additional special ticket offers are available. 860-523-5900 x10 or visit www.playhouseonpark.org.

Note: the theater warns “Parental Discretion Advised due to language, recommended for ages 13 and up.”

Full cast:
Tino Ardiente .... Paul 
Bobbi Barricella .... Diana 
Ronnie Bowman, Jr. .... Richie
Kayla Starr Bryan .... Bebe
Andee Buccheri .... Val 
Ben Cooley .... Don 
Mallory Cunningham .... Kristine 
Sarah Kozlow .... Maggie
Rina Maejima .... Connie
Peej Mele .... Bobby 
Tracey Mellon .... Sheila 
Alex Polzun .... Mike
Spencer Pond .... Larry
Michelle Pruiett .... Cassie
Cara Rashkin .... Judy
Eric S. Robertson.... Zach
Jeremy Seiner .... Al 
Jared Starkey .... Mark
Max Jacob Weinstein .... Greg
Emily Dufour, Heather Fisch, Anna Marie Russell. Olivia Ryan, Dyllan Vallier and Sarah Warrick…. Ensemble

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Anastasia, Indecent Take Top Prizes at CT Critics Circle Awards

Anastasia. Photo: Joan Marcus
Two world premieres -- Hartford Stage's Broadway-bound Anastasia and Yale Repertory Theatre's Indecent, which is currently playing Off-Broadway -- received top honors as outstanding musical and play at the 26th annual Connecticut Critics Circle Awards June 13 at Hartford Stage, which co-hosted the event with TheaterWorks.

Tina Fabrique, who starred in the musical Ella in productions in theaters across the country, was master of ceremonies and performed at the show, which honors outstanding achievements in the state's 2015-16 professional theater season.

Awards:

Outstanding director of a play: Rebecca Taichman for Indecent

Outstanding director of a musical: Darko Tresnjak for Anastasia

Outstanding actor in a play: Rajesh Bose for Disgraced at Long Wharf Theatre

Outstanding actor in a musical: Bobby Steggert for My Paris at Long Wharf Theatre
Photo courtesy of Frank Rizzo

Outstanding actress in a play: Erika Rolfsrud for Good People at TheaterWorks

Outstanding actress in a musical: Christy Altomare for Anastasia

Outstanding choreography: Peggy Hickey for Anastasia

Outstanding ensemble: Indecent

Outstanding featured actor in a play: Charles Janasz for Romeo and Juliet at Hartford Stage

Outstanding featured actress in a play: Birgit Huppuch for The Moors  at Yale Repertory Theatre

Outstanding featured actor in a musical: Teren Carter for Memphis at Ivoryton Playhouse

Outstanding featured actress in a musical: Mara Davi for My Paris

Outstanding debut: Mohit Gautman for Disgraced at Long Wharf Theatre

Outsanding set design: Alexander Dodge for Rear Window at Hartford Stage

Oustanding costume design: (a tie) for Linda Cho for Anastasia and Paul Tazewell for My Paris at Long Wharf Theatre

Outstanding lighting design:  Donald Holder for Anastasia

Outstanding sound design: Darron L. West for Body of an American at Hartford Stage.

Outstanding projection design: Aaron Rhyne for Anastasia at Hartford Stage

Anne Keefe, stage manager of New Haven's Long Wharf Theatre and on Broadway for more than 25 years and part of the leadership team that saved and transformed Westport Country Playhouse, received the Connecticut Critics Circle's Tom Killen Award for lifetimes achievement in the theater. Longtime colleague Allison Harris presented the award and read congratulations from former Long Wharf Theatre artistic director Arvin Brown and actor John Lithgow.

Special awards were presented to Lisa Gutkin and Aaron Halva, co-composers and co-music directors, who created the Klezmer music for Yale Rep's world premiere of Indecent.

Among the award presenters were Gov. Dannel F. Malloy and Cathy Malloy, CEO of the Greater Hartford Arts Council, O'Neill Theater Center founder George White, animal trainer Bill Berloni and Tony Award nominee Tony Sheldon.

Also performing was David Pittsinger, who was nominated for his performance in South Pacific at Ivoryton Playhouse.

The Connecticut Critics Circle is comprised of theater critics and writers in the state's print, radio and on-line media. Information: www.ctcritics.org.

Theater Review: Our Ladies of Perpetual Succour -- Yale Rep (New Haven Festival)

Our Ladies of Perpetual Succour. Photo: Manuel Harlan

Looking for Succour in All the Wrong Places
By Lauren Yarger
Sacred meets profane, Mendelssohn meets The Electric Light Orchestra and six young girls lose their innocence while discovering themselves in Our Ladies of Perpetual Succour, a presentation at Yale Repertory Theatre as part of New Haven’s Festival of Arts and Ideas.

This marks the American premiere of the show, adapted by Billy Elliot author Lee Hall from “The Sopranos” by Alan Warner. It is a co-production by the National Theatre of Scotland and Live Theatre, Newcastle and is directed by Vicky Featherstone, who headed the National.

It follows the tale of six girls from Our Lady of Perpetual Succour as they travel to Edenborough to compete in a choral contest. We already have heard them perform a sublime a cappella version of Lift Thine Eyes by Mendelssohn while standing angelically in their school uniforms and rock out to the music of Electric Light Orchestra’s Jeff Lynne, so we know they have the musical chops to make Perpetual Succour a contender.  (The music is arranged and supervised by Martin Lowe. A three-piece band accompanies on stage.)


Unbeknownst to their Mother Superior, Sister Condron (whom they, of course, call Condom), however, the girls also see the trip as a chance to break away from the stifling Catholic school environment and “go mental.” Translation:  swear a lot, get rip-roaring drunk and enjoy lots of sexual experiences.  

The girls have different motivations for wanting to go “mental. “ Orla (Joanne McGuinness ) is looking for an escape from the cancer she has been fighting;  Kay (Karen Fishwick ) is looking for some fun before going off to university, Fionnula (Dawn Sievewright) already has some sexual experience, but is looking for love and Chell (Caroline Deyga), is escaping the abundance of death that has marked her young life. The motives for Manda (Kirsty MacLaren), Kylah (Frances Mayli McCann) and Chell (Caroline Deyga) are less obvious.

They do a lot of their intended activities on that bus trip while some make discoveries about their sexual orientation.  One of them already has some experience, at least when it comes to sex with a guy: she is pregnant.

“Excuse me but I think I’m passionately in love with you or your friend or both of yous, ah don’t really have ma emotions about yous sorted out yet. Is there a chance I could ask you out tonight in any combination? I’ll give you every drug on me for your phone number,” says one of the men they meet.

“All we need is fifty pence each for the busfare,” replies Fionnula.

Now if all of that sounds like a good time to you, you would be in the same category as Hall, who apparently read the original book and thought it was so funny that he couldn’t wait to adapt it for the stage. Waiting involved for me, however, looking at my watch in the hopes that we were near the end and discovering that we had another 50 minutes before the final curtain (the show runs one hour and 45 minutes without intermission).

I guess a bunch of young girls having sexual experiences with undesirable men (one invites them for some fun while doing a naked handstand to give full view of his erection) and each other just isn’t my cup of tea. The singing was the best part of the show as the voices are all very good (Dayga in particular has a wide range including a heavenly lower register) and blend beautifully in harmony.

Our Ladies of Perpetual Succour plays through June 25 at Yale Repertory Theatre, 1120 Chapel St., New Haven. For more information about what’s happening at the Festival of Arts and Ideas, visit www.artidea.org.

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Theater Review: The 39 Steps Ivoryton

Larissa Klinger, Dan Fenaughty, Jonathan Brody and David Edwards. Photo: Ivoryton Playhouse
Mystery Spoof Provides Lots of Laughs for Hitchcock Film Fans
By Lauren Yarger
There’s a man who knows too much. He can see spies from the rear window, planes are hunting him north by northwest and the lady who gave him some important information has vanished.

If you are seeing a Hitchcockian trend there, you’re right and should probably get yourself right over to Ivoryton Playhouse where the hilarious spoof of the film, The 39 Steps, is getting a run.

This Tony-Award nominated play conceived by Simon Corble and Nobby Dimon has four actors taking on all of the parts (there are more than 150) in the 1935 Alfred Hitchcock thriller. The play’s book is written by Patrick Barlow as a farce, borrowing movie’s plot, based on the novel by John Buchan. While the Hitchcock film is strictly a serious life-and-death thriller, this version is a hoot.

In pre-World-War II England, Richard Hannay (Dan Fenaughty) finds himself in the middle of a race to get secret information about the nation’s air defense out of the country. Mysterious Annabella (Larissa Klinger) mentions “The 39 Steps” just before she is murdered. 

Hannay finds himself on the run when he is suspected of her murder, but he isn’t sure why all these spies are chasing him or what “The 39 Steps” mean. In a trek that takes him to Scotland and back to a music hall in London, Hannay ends up romantically attached -- physically by handcuffs when they make an escape from spies (Jonathan Brody and David Edwards) masquerading as police officers – to Pamela Edwards (also Klinger) who doesn’t believe his outrageous spy tale at first.

Full of slapstick, the play spoofs the movie and has some fun with references to others of Hitchkock’s classic films. The rotund director even makes a cameo appearance in the tradition of his silhouette appearing in the background of a scene.

The gags are funny and imaginative: a few travel trunks transform Daniel Nischan’s set into the top of a speeding train where an exciting chase ensues; a door opens to reveal, with the help of a few shadows and music (Lighting Design by Marcus Abbott; Sound Design by Tate R. Burmeister), a festive party taking place somewhere else in a house or winds blowing in from the Scottish moors.
Edwards and Brody, officially billed as Clowns #1 and 2,  play a plethora of characters, making lightning-fast transitions between them at times with just the change of a hat (Costume Design by Cully Long; Wig Design by Elizabeth Cipolina). The actors are funny and particularly amusing when playing some of the female characters.

Fenaughty is dashing as the handsome hero and he and his real-life wife Klinger bring natural chemistry to the parts (and seem to be having a lot of fun up there together).

I saw a preview of the show, so I am hoping that the one flaw -- a creeping pace -- will be corrected by Director Erik Bloomquist before opening. The split-second timing and quick pace are essential to the successful  execution of this farce.

Catch Hannay if you can in The 39 Steps at Ivoryton Playhouse, 103 Main St., Ivoryton, through June 19. Performances are Wednesday and Sunday matinees at 2 pm. Evening performances are Wednesday and Thursday at 7:30 pm, Friday and Saturday at 8 pm. Tickets are $44 for adults; $39 for seniors; $22 for students and $17 for children. (860) 767-7318; www.ivorytonplayhouse.org

Theater Review: How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying -- CT Repertory

Sarah Schenkkan, Riley Costello, Fred Grandy, and Tina Fabrique. Photo by Matt Pugliese
CT Rep Succeeds Nicely in the Business of Opening the Summer Nutmeg Series
By Lauren Yarger
An oft-produced musical gets a solid production here at CT Repertory to kick off the Nutmeg Summer Series.

How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying features a strong cast: “The Love Boat”’s Fred Grandy (a substitute for the originally announced Charles Shaughnessy), Riley Costello (whose Broadway stardust lit up the stage here last year as Peter Pan), the fabulous Tina Fabrique (who is hosting this year’s CT Critics Circle Awards) and the lovely-voiced Sarah Schenkkan, who appeared last year at CT Rep in Guys and Dolls.

All of them, and a large, able, supporting cast, are directed by CT Rep Artistic Director Vincent J. Cardinal (who just announced he will be leaving UConn at the conclusion of the summer series to accept the position of Chair of the Department of Musical Theatre and Professor of Music, School of Music Theatre and Dance at the University of Michigan.)

Costello is mischievous and engaging as J. Pierpont Finch, an ambitious window washer who wants to climb the corporate ladder. He follows advice given in a book titled “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying” (voiced by local radio personality Colin McEnroe) to make his way up to the top one rung at a time. Before long, the scheming Finch finds himself besting colleagues for promotions at the World Wide Widget company and getting tight with its head JB Biggley (Grandy).
Colleagues dealing with Finch along the way are played by Steve Hayes (Twimble/Womper), John Bixler (Bert Bratt), Adria Swan (Smitty), Chester Martin (Gatch). Jacob Burns (Jenkins), Ty Taylor (Tackaberry), Madison Coppola (Miss Krumholtz), Ross Thompson (Mr. Davis) and Dalton Bertolone (Ovington).

This farce wouldn’t be complete without some complications, of course. One of “Ponty”’s chief rivals is nerdy Bud Frump (Robert Fritz), who just happens to be Biggley’s nephew, and the boss’s mistress, Hedy LaRue (a laugh-getting, bosom jingling Ariana Shore) who is masquerading as a secretary at the company, takes a liking to young Finch. That doesn’t go over well with Rosemary (Schenkkan), a real secretary, who has decided that Finch is the man of her dreams even if he is distracted by his get-ahead schemes.

Schenkkan’s lovely voice is the only thing that makes us want to sit through Frank Loesser’s irritating, stereotypical lyrics in songs like “Happy to Keep His Dinner Warm:”

I'll be so happy to keep his dinner warm
While he goes onward and upward
Happy to keep his dinner warm
'Til he comes wearily home from downtown

I'll be there waiting until his mind is clear
While he looks through me, right through me
Waiting to say, "Good evening, dear, I'm pregnant
What's new with you from downtown?"

I have to wonder why theaters keep thinking shows like this are worthy of revival (even Broadway gave How to Succeed a run in 2011 starring Daniel Radcliffe.) I doubt a person of color singing about how much they were looking forward to a future as a servant to a white person. or something in that vein, would go over today, even if that was the way things were in 1961, but apparently we are expected to brush aside prejudices when they focus on women.

The Loesser tunes are pleasant, but with titles like “Brotherhood of Man,” “Cinderella, Darling” and “A Secretary is Not a Toy,” do you get my drift? Note to artistic directors everywhere: There are lots of other good musicals deserving of a second life. Do a little homework and find one that doesn’t demean over half of your audience. But I digress…..

One woman who doesn’t take any grief in this production is Miss Jones (Fabrique), Mr. Biggley’s secretary. And getting to hear the singer let go with some scat in one of the tunes is a treat.
Talented Costello, who has received a CT Critics Circle nomination for Outstanding Actor in a Musical for his turn in Peter Pan, takes command of the CT Rep stage again and wins the audience. His performance here, by the way, is better than Radcliffe’s was on Broadway.

Also entertaining is choreography by Cassie Abate who puts through their paces the cast, colorfully clothed in period costume by Christina Lorraine Bullard. One number, where Costello shows his physical prowess, has him dancing all over a couch, and he and a bunch of the male chorus step into a rousing tap dance number as well.


On the technical side, Tim Brown designs the set (and projection designs) – those blue/green honeycomb patterns put me in mind of one of the other numerous productions of this musical I have seen recently. Lighting Design by Michael Chybowski is spot on, so to speak, but there is some static in the sound designed by Michael Vincent Skinner.

How to Succeed plays through June 12 at the Harriet S, Jorgenson Theatre on the UConn Storrs campus. Performances are Tuesday, Wednesdays and Thursdays at 7:30; Fridays and Saturdays at 8 pm. Matinees at 2 pm Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday. Tickets $12 to $55: www.crt.uconn.edu; (860) 486-2113.

Ensemble:
Brian Binion, Gerald Caesar, Elizabeth Brady, Rebekah Morgan Berger, Pearl Matteson, Janayla Montes, Ross Alessandro Gian  Viviano…. Ensemble

Additional credits:  
Technical Direction by John W. Parmelee, Musical Direction by John Pike, Assistant Musical Direction by Paul Feyer. 

Michael Urie Reprises Buyer & Cellar at Westport

Michael Urie in the Off-Broadway production. Photo: Michael Urie. Photo: Sandra Coudert
The original Off-Broadway production of the critically acclaimed comedy Buyer and Cellar will take the stage of Westport Country Playhouse, June 14 – July 3.  Michael Urie, who won the Drama Desk, Clarence Derwent, Lucille Lortel, and LA Drama Critics awards for originating the role of Alex More in the show, will reprise his tour de force performance (see a review here). 

The Westport staging will be helmed by Stephen Brackett, who also directed the Off-Broadway show, as well as the original artistic team.  The comedy is written by Jonathan Tolins, a resident of Fairfield.

New York’s public television station THIRTEEN will tape a performance of the show during its run at the Playhouse for later broadcast on “Theater Close-Up,” the series that showcases Off-Broadway and regional not-for-profit, professional productions for Tri-state viewers.

Urie is well known for the role of Marc St. James on the award-winning “Ugly Betty” television series. A two-time Drama Desk Award winner, he will host the 2016 Drama Desk Awards ceremony on Sunday, June 5.

Off-Broadway Urie played iconic fashion designer Rudi Gernreich in “The Temperamentals,” for which he received the Lucille Lortel, Drama Desk, and Theatre World awards.  On Broadway, he took on the role of Bud Frump in How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying.  Urie was also in the Classic Stage Company’s production of The Cherry Orchard, Signature Theatre’s revival of Angels in America and played opposite Patti LuPone in Lincoln Center Theater’s world premiere of Shows for Days.

In addition to “Ugly Betty,” Urie’s television credits include the role of Gavin Sinclair in “Modern Family,” as well as “Partners,” “The Good Wife,” “Hot in Cleveland,” “Younger,” and “Workaholics.”  He currently hosts the Logo series, “Cocktails & Classics,” and directs the web series, “What’s Your Emergency.”

Buyer and Cellar is about a star named Barbra who has a mall in the basement of her Mailbu mansion.  Alex More, played by Urie, is a struggling LA actor who finds himself with the odd job of the mall’s shopkeeper.  He takes the audience on a rollercoaster ride of fame and friendship at the outer reaches of American celebrity.  (See a review here of the show at TheaterWorks starring Tom Lenk.)

The original design and production team will reunite for the Westport production.  They include Andrew Boyce, scenic design; Jessica Pabst, costume design; Eric Southern, lighting design; Stowe Nelson, sound design; Alex Basco Koch, projection design; Sam Pinkleton, musical staging; and Hannah Woodward, production stage manager.

Performances are 7 pm, Wednesday at 2 and 8 pm, Thursday and Friday at 8 pm, Saturday at 3 and 8 pm and Sunday at 3 pm at Westport Country Playhouse, 25 Powers Court, Westport.  Tickets start at $30: www.westportplayhouse.org; 203-227-4177.

CT Critics Circle Announces Awards Nominations

Nicole Scimeca and Mary Beth Peil in 
Hartford Stage's Anastasia Photo: Joan Marcus
Hartford Stage's Anastasia, Playhouse on Park's Hair, Goodspeed Musicals' La Cage Aux Folles, Long Wharf Theatre's My Paris and Ivoryton Playhouse's South Pacific are the nominees for outstanding production of a musical at the 26th annual Connecticut Critics Circle Awards, which will be presented 7:30 pm Monday, June 13 at Hartford Stage.

For outstanding production of a play, the nominees are Ayad Akhtar's  Disgraced (Long Wharf Theatre), David Lindsay-Abaire's Good People (TheaterWorks)  Paula Vogel/RebeccaTaichman's Indecent (Yale Repertory Theatre), John Logan's Red (Westport Country Playhouse) and Samuel Beckett's  Happy Days (Yale Repertory Theatre).

The awards recognize outstanding achievements from the state's 2015-2016 professional theater season. The group includes theater critics and writers from the state's print, radio and on-line media.

The awards event, co=sponsored by TheaterWorks and Hartford Stage, is free and open to the public. Winners will be announced at the show which will be hosted by Tina Fabrique, who starred in the musical Ella at  theaters across the country (including TheaterWorks and Hartford Stage) and who currently is appearing in How to Succeed in Business without Really Trying at CT Repertory Theatre

Anne Keefe, stage manager of New Haven's Long Wharf Theatre and on Broadway for more than 25 years and part of the leadership team that saved and transformed the Westport Country Playhouse, is this year's recipient of the Connecticut Critics Circle's Tom Killen Award.

Nominees for outstanding actor in a play: 
R. Ward Duffy for Good People (TheaterWorks)
Conor Hamill for Third (TheaterWorks),
Rajesh Bose for Disgraced (Long Wharf)
Steven Skybell for  Broken Glass (Westport Country Playhouse)
Stephen Rowe for Red (Westport Country Playhouse)

Nominees for outstanding actor in a musical: 
Riley Costello for Peter Pan (Connecticut Repertory Theatre)
Jamison Stern for La Cage Aux Folles (Goodspeed)
Carson Higgins for Memphis (Ivoryton Playhouse)
David Pittsinger for South Pacific (Ivoryton Playhouse)
Bobby Steggert for My Paris (Long Wharf)

Nominees for outstanding actress in a play: 
Erika Rolfsrud for Good People (TheatreWorks)
Brenda Meaney for And a Nightingale Sang (Westport Country Playhouse)
Felicity Jones for Broken Glass (Westport Country Playhouse)
Elizabeth Lande for Wit (Playhouse on Park)
Dianne Wiest for Happy Days (Yale Repertory Theatre)

Nominees for outstanding actress in a musical: 
Adrianne Hick for South Pacific (Ivoryton Playhouse)
Renee Jackson for Memphis (Ivoryton)
 Katerina Papacostas for Evita (Music Theatre of Connecticut)
Rashidra Scott for Anything Goes (Goodspeed Musicals)
Christy Altomare for Anastasia

Rajesh Bose and Nicole Lowrance. Photo: T, Charles Erickson
Nominees for outstanding director of a play: 
Rob Ruggiero for Good People
Rebecca Taichman for Indecent
Gordon Edelstein for Disgraced
Jackson Gay for The Moors (Yale Repertory Theatre) 
Mark Lamos for Red

Nominees for outstanding director of a musical: 
David Edwards for South Pacific
Rob Ruggiero for La Cage Aux Folles,
Sean Harris for Hair
Kathleen Marshall for My Paris 
Darko Tresnjak for Anastasia

Nominees for outstanding ensemble: 
The casts of Hair, Indecent, Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike (Music Theatre of Connecticut), Measure for Measure (Long Wharf Theatre) and Art (Westport Country Playhouse.)

Nominees for outstanding featured actor in a play: 
Richard Kline for And a Nightingale Sang
Benim Foster for Disgraced
Charles Janasz for Romeo and Juliet (Hartford Stage)
Richard Topol for Indecent
Michael Rogers for The Call (TheaterWorks).

Nominees for outstanding featured actor in a musical: 
John Bolton for Anastasia
Teren Carter for Memphis
Christopher DeRosa for Evita
Tom Hewitt for My Paris 
William Selby for South Pacific

Nominees for outstanding featured actress in a play: 
Megan Byrne for Good People
Shirine Babb for Disgraced
Kandis Chappell for Romeo and Juliet
Jodi Stevens for Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike 
Birgit Huppuch for The Moors 

Nominees for outstanding featured actress in a musical: 
Patricia Schumann for South Pacific
Mara Davi for My Paris
Caroline O'Connor for Anastasia
Mary Beth Peil for Anastasia 
Jodi Stevens for Legally Blonde (Summer Theatre of New Canaan)

Nominees for outstanding choreography: 
Darlene Zoller for Hair
Todd Underwood for Memphis
Kathleen Marshall for My Paris
Peggy Hickey for Anastasia 
David Dorfman for Indecent

Nominees for outstanding set design: 
Alexander Dodge for Rear Window (Hartford Stage)
Alexander Dodge for Anastasia
Alexander Woodward for The Moors
Derek McLane for My Paris 
Allen Moyer for Red

Nominees for outstanding lighting design: 
Christopher Akerlind for Indecent
York Kennedy for Rear Window
Donald Holder for My Paris
Donald Holder for Anastasia
Andrew F. Griffin for The Moors.

Nominees for outstanding costume design: 
Michael McDonald for La Cage Aux Folles
Fabian Fidel Aguilar for The Moors
Linda Cho for Anastasia
Paul Tazewell for My Paris

Nominees for oustanding sound design:
Jane Shaw for Rear Window
Darron L. West for Body of an American (Hartford Stage)
David Budries for Red
Brian Ronan for My Paris 
Peter Hylenski for Anastasia

Nominees for outstanding projection design: 
Olivia Sebesky for My Paris
Aaron Rhyne for Anastasia
Alex Basco Koch for The Body of an American 
Rasean Davonte Johnson for Cymbeline (Yale Repertory Theatre)
Sean Nieuwenhuis for Rear Window

Receiving an award for outstanding debut is Mohit Gautam for Disgraced.

Receiving a special award are Lisa Gutkin and Aaron Halva, co-composers and co-music drectors who created the Klezmer music for Yale Rep's world premiere of Indecent.

The general public can RSVP for the awards ceremony at  www.hartfordstage.org. For information on the Connecticut Critics Circle Awards, visit www.ctcritics.org.

Monday, May 30, 2016

Theater Review: Anastasia -- Hartford Stage

Christy Altomare and company of Anastasia. Photo: Joan Marcus
Breathtaking Sets Bring Fantasy to Life in Broadway-Bound Anastasia
By Lauren Yarger
Revolutionary Russia and Gay Paris are among the locales brought to life in sumptuous, mind-blowing detail in a musical adaptation of the animated film Anastasia getting its world premiere at Hartford Stage before heading to Broadway next season.

Darko Tresnjak reunites with Choreographer Peggy Hickey from the Tony-Award-winning A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder to bring the Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens (Ragtime) musical (with a book by Terrance McNally) to the stage. Much of the basic plot from the 1997 animated movie featuring the voices of Meg Ryan, John Cusack, Angela Lansbury and others remains intact, but some characters, like villain Rasputin and his magic spell, have been eliminated while others have been added or expanded for the stage adaptation. The score contains the film’s Oscar-nominated tunes including the stirring “Journey to the Past,” and the beautifully haunting “Once Upon a December” as well as a slew of new songs to fill out the two-and-a-half hour production.

The story follows orphan Anya (Christy Altomare), who has no memory of her past, as she joins with conmen Dimitry (Derek Klena) and Vlad (John Bolton) to try to convince Dowager Empress Maria Feodorovna (Mary Beth Peil of TV’s “Dawson’s Creek" and “The Good Wife”) that she is none other than her granddaughter, Anastasia. The old woman, living in Paris after the Russian Revolution, has posted a reward for her granddaughter’s safe return in the hope that rumors about her escaping death when the rest of the royal family was executed are indeed true.

Military leader Gleb (Manoel Felciano) wonders whether Anya could be the real Anastasia too and follows the trio to Paris to finish the job of his father who executed Tsar Nicholas II (Constantine Germanacos), Tsarina Alexandra (Lauren Backman) Alexandra and their children, Olga (Samantha Sturm), Tatiana (Shina Ann Morris), Maria (Alida Michal) and Alexei (Nicole Scimeca) – and maybe Anastasia who would have been 17 at the time (Molly Rushing ) -- to usher in an era of Communism in Russia.

Along the way, Anya and Dimitry find unexpected romance as she struggles to remember who she is and while memories of a long-ago family and life haunt her dreams (in amazing Video and Projection Design by Aaron Rhyne).

Vlad and his old flame, Countess Lily Malevsky-Malevitch (Caroline O'Connor), who serves as a lady-in--waiting of sorts to the Dowager Empress, reignite a romantic spark and give the production most of its comedy, including one especially amusing number, “The Countess and the Common Man,” where love eternal needs a bit of oil to continue springing as aging bodies creak. Bravo for developing older characters and letting them have some romance on stage. Tresnjak lets them have fun and the solid stage actors (Bolton was in Spamalot and Curtains on Broadway and O’Connor was in A Christmas Story and Chicago) make the most of it.

Helping to bring the action to life is Hickey’s choreography (which includes a snippet from Swan Lake) and Linda Cho’s period costumes which include some breathtakingly beautiful gowns.

Derek Klena and Christy Altomare. Photo: Joan Marcus
The most tantalizing stars in this production, though, are the resplendent sets designed by Alexander Dodge (who designed the stunning sets for Rear Window, Private Lives and A Gentleman’s Guide at Hartford Stage). The royal palace, St. Petersburg, a train ride and 1920 Paris among other locations all come to life in vivid detail. Imposing interiors combine with the video projections to give added depth to the stage.  (The complexity of the technical elements of the production prompted a delay in the run’s previews and  a performance was cancelled. The show officially opened May 27 and because of demand for tickets, has extended through June 19). Check out the costume and set design here.

While it’s exciting to see another Broadway-bound musical launch here at Hartford Stage it could use some tweaks before is hits Broadway (the production is expected to go into a Shubert theater during the 2016-2017 season) – and us New York critics. Most problematic is the opening and way into the story inspired by true incidents in turn of the 20th Century Russia. We first see Anastasia at 6 (played by Scimeca) when her grandmother presents her with a music box before heading to Paris. Time passes and then a more mature Anastasia is living a royal life at the palace, entertaining suitors, attending balls and enjoying the devotion of her father and enduring her mother’s critical tones. It’s all rather tedious and leaves practically no suspense about Anastasia’s fate. An added disappointment is that the music box loses some of its magic (there is a special key needed in the movie).

There’s very little suspense or tension in the plot at all, despite the addition of Gleb as a villain of sorts. A glimpse of the Romanovs’ execution is a bit much to include in a show that otherwise would be excellent for families with children and its inclusion doesn’t add anything to the plot. There are several scenes that easily could be cut as well as they do little to propel the story, so the whole thing seems very promising, but in need of some focus by book writer McNally and polishing by Tresnjak.

I wouldn’t cut the Gleb character totally. He gives historic perspective, interesting for adults in the audience, and Feliciano (who was nominated for a Featured Actor Tony for the Broadway revival of Sweeney Todd) lends a lovely singing voice to the mix. Increasing the love-triangle angle with him, Dmitri and Anya, however, might help heighten some tension and be more interesting than playing up Gleb’s communist manifesto and unbelievable showdown with Anya at gunpoint.

Altomare and Klena have good chemistry on stage, particularly as sparring partners whose frustration with each other masks a growing affection, finally realized in a pleasing ballad called “In a Crowd of Thousands.” I found myself wishing Anya were a little more confident and effervescent, however, to stand out– after all, role models on stage for young girls are hard to come by.

Peil lights up the stage and gives excellent emotional depth to the relatively minor role. We sense her dignity as an empress, her frustrations as a mother, her love for her family and her depression when she wearies of being presented with women making false claims to be Anastasia.

With some tweaking, this beautiful-to-look-at story will provide another hot ticket for young girls who are looking for new characters in which to see themselves besides Wicked’s  Elphaba and Glinda and will have people on Broadway saying a “tsar” is born.

Anastasia animates at Hartford Stage, 50 Church St., Hartford, through June 19. Performances are Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Sunday at 7:30 pm; Friday and Saturday, 8 pm; Saturday and Sunday at 2 om; Wednesday matinee 2 pm June 1. Weekly schedules vary. Tickets are limited with some shows sold out. Prices: $20-$115: www.hartfordstage.org860- 527-5151.

Tickets also are available through TodayTix. Beginning 12 am every Monday morning, a mobile lottery will be available on the free mobile app for entries throughout the week until Saturday at noon. Winners will be notified at that time if they have won two $25 tickets to the Sunday matinee performance of Anastasia the following day. This exclusive TodayTix lottery price is discounted more than 75 percent. 

Additional Credits:
Hair and Wig Design by Charles G. LaPointe, Lighting Design by Donald Holder; Sound Design by Peter Hylenski, Music Direction by Thomas Murray, Associate Music Direction by Steven Malone, Orchestrations by Doug Besterman, Vocal and Text Coaching by Claudia Hill-Sparks; Fight Choreography by Jeff Barry, Vocal Arrangements by Stephen Flaherty; Dance Music Arrangements by David Chase.

Additional casting:

Lauren Blackman…. Isadora Duncan

James Brown III…. Hotel Manager

Max Clayton…. Prince Siegfried in Swan Lake

Janet Dickinson…. Coco Chanel

Constantine Germanacos…. Count Ipolitov

Rayanne Gonzales…. Gertrude Stein

Ken Krugman…. Pablo Picasso, Gorlinksy

Kevin Ligon…. Ernest Hemingway, Count Leopold

Alida Michal…. Marfa, Odette in Swan Lake

Shina Ann Morris…. Tatyana

Kevin Munhall…. Russian Doorman

Molly Rushing…. Anna

Johnny Stellard…. Django Reinhardt, Von Rothbart in Swan Lake
C O N N E C T I C U T
--- A R T S ---
C O N N E C T I O N

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
run.

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 http://reflectionsinthelight.blogspot.com/. She
is editor of The award-winning Connecticut Arts Connection (http://ctarts.blogspot.com),

She is a theater reviewer for the Manchester Journal-Inquirer. She previously served as Contributing Editor for BroadwayWorld.com, Connecticut theater editor
for CurtainUp.com 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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