Thursday, January 19, 2017

Connecticut Theater Review: [title of show] -- Playhouse on Park

Peej Mele, Miles Jacoby, Ashley Brooke, Amanda Forker, Austin Cook. Photo: Meredith Atkinson.

[title of show]
Music and Lyrics by Jeff Bowen
Book by Hunter Bell
Directed by David Edwards
Through Jan. 29
Playhouse on Park

By Lauren Yarger
What's It All About? 
It's about two guys writing a musical about writing a musical. It's a fun, quirky look into the creative minds of composer and lyricist Jeff Bowen (Miles Jacoby) and book writing partner Hunter Bell (Peej Mele) who scheme to come up with an original musical to submit in three weeks to the NY Musical Theater Festival. They solicit the help of friends Heidi (Amanda Forker), who keeps landing the unsatisfying role of understudy on Broadway and Susan (Ashley Brooke), who focuses on a good-paying day job when she fears her voice isn't good enough for the Great White Way. Together they collaborate on what becomes a test for all of their skills. All of their conversations about what the musical should be like, what kinds of songs should be included and even dream sequences and a number of voice mail messages all merge to become the musical itself. It's a fun show, even if you don't catch all of the inside jokes, about the angst of the creative process.

What Are the Highlights?
Jacoby, the lone Equity member of the cast, gives a strong performance and is a good counter to the over-the-top portrayal of Bell as a sort of neurotic gay guy. Austin Cook plays Larry, the group's pianist friend, who provides the only accompaniment on stage for the show's songs that chronicle the group's experience with titles like "Two Nobodies in New York," "I am Playing Me," "Filling Out the Form" and "Nine People's Favorite Thing."

What Are the Lowlights?
The dialogue doesn't snap and the show is missing the familiar repartee that made the show a hit on Broadway. As a result the pace drags and the show clocks in about 1:45 instead of the expected hour and  a half without intermission.

More Information: [title of show] runs through Jan. 29 at Playhouse on Park, 244 Park Road, West Hartford. Tickets are $40-$50: www.playhouseonpark.org; 860-523-5900 x10.

CT Theater Review: Beautiful -- The Bushnell


Curt Bouril, Liam Tobin, Julia Knitnel, Ben Fankhauser and Erika Olson,. Photo: Joan Marcus
Beautiful
Words and Music by Gerry Goffin and Carole King and Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil
Book by Douglas McGrath
Directed by Marc Bruni
The Bushnell
Through Jan. 22

By Lauren Yarger
What's It All About?
The story of music legend Carole King (Julia Knitel).  Book writer Douglas McGrath does a superb job of linking the highlights of King's life and the up-and-down relationship with husband  Gerry Goffin (Liam Tobin) with the music. Also featured is the couple's friendship with their songwriting competition team of Barry Mann (Ben Franhauser) and Cynthia Weil (Erika Olsen) and choreography by Josh Prince. This is not your ordinary jukebox musical.

What Are the highlights?
This is a top notch tour featuring a terrific Knitel, who understudied the role for a year on Broadway, where Jesse Meuller won a Tony for her portrayal and where the show still runs. Strong vocals across the board and a great sense of timing that makes all of the jokes hit just right. If you are a fan of the music of these artists, don't miss this show. You might be amazed, like I was, to discover how many rock and roll standards King composed.

What Are the Lowlights?
As usual, the mix in Mortensen Hall isn't quite right (either too loud or masking solos) and for small ensemble numbers, particularly. We don't get all the pleasure we should out of the Drifters or the Shirelles.

More information:
Beautiful runs through Jan. 22 at The Bushnell, 166 Capitol Ave., Hartford. Shows are Thursday at 7:30 pm; Friday at 8 pm, Saturday at 2 and 8 pm and Sunday at 1:30 and 6 pm. Tickets are $44.50 to $132.50 bushnell.org; 860-987-5900.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Kiefer Sutherland to Appear in concert at The Kate

Kiefer Sutherland, courtesy of The Kate
Actor Kiefer Sutherland takes the stage to showcase his debut album Down In A Hole Sunday, Feb. 19 with a 7:30 pm show at the Katharine Hepburn Cultural Center in New Haven.Sutherland has starred in movies like "Flatliners," "A Few Good Men"’, "A Time to Kill" and is known to many as counter terrorist agent Jack Bauer on the long-running TV series "24."

But unknown to many during the course of his career, he has taken on other vocations with the same kind of dedication and commitment. The first one, beginning around 1992, was that of a cattle rancher and competitive cowboy (roper) in the USTRC team roping circuit. He ran a successful ranch with partner John English for almost a decade. During that time, Sutherland won numerous roping events around the country including Phoenix, Indio and the Los Angeles Open.

In 2002, Sutherland, with his music partner and best friend Jude Cole, began a small record label called Ironworks. The goal of this label was to record local musicians and distribute their music at a time when the music industry was going through a monumental shift. Some of their artists included Rocco DeLuca and the Burden, HoneyHoney and Billy Boy On Poison. In 2009, Sutherland left the label to recharge and figure out what he was going to do next.

In early 2015 Sutherland played Cole two songs he had written and wanted to record as demos for other artists to record. Cole responded positively to the songs and the album grew organically from those recordings. Two songs became four and four grew into six, until Cole suggested that they make a record. Their collaboration resulted in Kiefer Sutherland’s upcoming debut album: ‘Down In A Hole’.

Sutherland says of the 11 tracks that make up the album, “It’s the closest thing I’ve ever had to a journal or diary. All of these songs are pulled from my own personal experiences. There is something very satisfying about being able to look back on my own life, good times and bad, and express those sentiments in music. As much as I have enjoyed the writing and recording process, I am experiencing great joy now being able to play these songs to a live audience, which was something I hadn’t counted on”.

This show is being filmed live for the CPTV series ‘The Kate.’ Patrons are requested to arrive early. By purchasing any ticket, you agree to arrive prior to the time printed on ticket and will forfeit your seat if you don't.  You also might appear on screen. Click here for tickets which are $75.

MLK Celebrations at Westport Country Playhouse

Keynote speaker Dr. Tricia Rose of Brown University on  “WWMD – “What Would Martin Do in the Era of Post-Race Racism?” All photos by Photos by David Vita.

Students from Trumbull’s Regional Center for the Arts present a spoken-word piece, “A World That Listens,” based on Dr. King’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail.”  From left, Sarah Williams, Christina Boyle, Jahmelia Jarrett, Kaitlyn Oliva
Rev. Ed Horne of United Methodist Church of Westport and Weston and chair of the Celebration’s organizing committee welcomes audience.
 Audience in Westport Country Playhouse for Martin Luther King Day Celebration Jan. 15.
Harold Bailey, chair of TEAM (Together Effectively Achieving Multiculturalism) Westport and trustee of Westport Country Playhouse, addresses crowd of 350

 The Men's Community Gospel Choir of Norwalk, led by Greg Detroy, sang gospel and civil rights selections. Pictured is Greg Thornewell, with members of the choir.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

CT Theater Review: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time -- The Bushnell

Adam Langdon. Photo: Joan Marcus

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
By Simon Stephens based on the novel by Mark Haddon
Directed by Marianne Elliott
The Bushnell
Through Jan. 1

By Lauren Yarger
What's It All About?
The 2015 Tony Award winner for Best Play is the National Theatre's visually stunning adaptation of Mark Haddon's best-selling novel about Christopher Boone (Adam Langdon, with Benjamin Wheelwright, who played the role on Broadway, performing at certain shows), an autistic teenager trying to solve the mystery of a the killing of a neighborhood dog. The dog's owner, Mrs. Shears (Charlotte Maier), isn't helpful when Christopher begins his detective work to find out how a pitchfork came to end Wellington's life.

There's also a question of where Mr. Shears (a multi-talented John Hemphill) has gone and he becomes Christopher's prime suspect. A lonely neighbor, Mrs. Alexander (Amelia White), has some information, as well as some cookies to share, but what she has to say about his parents might not be what Christopher wants to hear. His father, Ed (Gene Gillette, but played the night I saw it by a capable Tim Wright), forbids him to continue with his investigation. Christopher decides to try to find his way to London, where he discovers that his mother, Judy (Felicity Jones Latta), has relocated.

As Christopher unravels the mysteries around the dog's murder and his mother's disappearance, he also discovers answers about himself and truths about family tree relationships whose branches are stronger than the pain that threatens to uproot them.

The story is told from Christopher's perspective. He doesn't relate to most of what is going on around him and his Autistic nature causes him to retreat from a world which is loud and chaotic and painful to the touch. He records his experiences in a book with the help of his special education aide, Siobhan (Maria Elena Ramirez), who reads parts of it aloud, allowing playwright Simon Stephens to continue the first-person narrative of Mark Haddon's novel.

All of Christopher's sensations, thoughts, dreams and emotions are depicted on Scenic Designer Bunny Christie's ingenious grey, three-sided grid backdrop which provides a sort of "connect the dots" for what is happening in his mind (Christie also designs the costumes). A toy train set depicts the boy's journey on the grid while he makes the actual journey to Paddington train station despite sensory overload. Projections (Finn Ross) and lighting effects (Paule Constable) combine with crashes of music (Adrian Sutton) and sound (Ian Dickinson) to create the world.

Actors not involved in the action take seats around the stage. Minimal props, primarily some white crates, are used to create settings. Panels in the grid open to reveal other props. Director Marianne Elliott, who brought us the stage wonder of War Horse, brings together elements of sensory delight and storytelling (though they seem less cohesive in this tour than they did on Broadway).

What Are the Highlights?
It's a unique theatrical performance. Christie manages to communicate Christopher’s thought process through the projections.


What Are the Lowlights?
The special effects of Christopher being able to fly or walk on walls are not as subtle as the Broadway version -- we are aware of the ensemble actors helping make this happen -- and one of the most awe-inspiring effects, where Christopher appears to walk in space -- doesn't make it into the touring version. Movement is by Scott Graham and Steven Hoggett for Frantic Assembly.

The tale is a bit long-winded at two and a half hours with an intermission. The sound for special effects is VERY loud while at other times, it is very hard to catch all of an actor's dialogue. Langdon adopts a very precise, yelling tone for Christopher, which puts him too much in our world. He doesn't seem to have any difficulty understanding he is relating to people outside of his world and this detracts from the character and from the overall effect of the show. we should slowly realize we are part of Christopher's world, not that he is part of ours.   Ramirez as the narrator is a bit too charismatic. In this version. we never see this character's growth or the extent of her relationship with Christopher. Lost is what a real credit it is to her when Christopher passes his A level exams, sees his novel turned into a play or reaches out to her as though she were part of his family.

More Information:
Curious? Check out this stunning visual presentation at the tour stop through Jan. 1 at The Bushnell. 166 Capitol Ave., Hartford. Performances are Wednesday and Thursday at 7:30 pm; Friday at 8 pm; Saturday and Sunday at 1 and 6:30 pm. Tickets are $27.50-$94.50: bushnell.org;     860-987-5900.

Stick around after the curtain call, because it's not over until it's over.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time transferred to London's West End following a sold-out run at the National's Cottesloe Theatre in 2012. The production received seven 2013 Olivier Awards, including Best New Play. It received five Tony Awards including Best Play, six Drama Desk Awards including Outstanding Play and five Outer Critics Circle Awards including Outstanding New Broadway Play. We critics really liked it.

The ensemble also includes Brian Robert Burns, Francesca Choy-Kee, Josephine Hall, Robyn Kerr, Kathy McCafferty. Tim McKiernan. J. Paul Nicholas, Geoffrey Wade. 

Monday, December 12, 2016

CT Theater Review: It's a Wonderful Life Radio Play -- Music Theatre of CT

Courtesy of MTC
It's a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play
By Joe Landry
Directed by Kevin Connors
Music Theatre of Connecticut
Through Dec. 18

By Lauren Yarger
What's It All About?

It's the best Christmas gift you can give yourself this year. A delightful adaptation by MTC's own Marketing Director Joe Landry of the famous film Frances Goodrich, Albert Hackett, Frank Capra and Jo Swerling starring Donna Reed and Jimmy Stewart. This year marks the 20th anniversary of this play which features radio actor characters portraying the characters of Beford Falls as part of a "live" radio broadcast on Christmas Eve 1946 on WBFR Manhattan.

George Bailey (Jon-Michael Miller, the only cast member who plays just one character)) always wanted to explore the world and get out of Bedford Falls, but every time he almost made it, something brought him back to run the building and loan business begun by his father and Uncle Billy. The towns people have come to depend on the generosity of the kindhearted Baileys to stay out of the grips of evil Henry Potter (Allan Zeller) who wants to own everything and everyone in town. So George settles down and has a bunch of kids with sweetheart Mary Hatch (Elizabeth Donnelly) and helps friends like Violet Bick (an amusing Elisa DeMaria) stay out of trouble. One day, however, it's George who is in trouble when a deposit is lost and bank creditors threaten to take over the building and loan. George considers taking his own life when he realizes he is worth more to his family dead than alive, but his desperate prayers are heard and bumbling angel Clarence (Jim Schilling) arrives on the scene to help George and by doing so, to earn his long-awaited wings.

What Are the Highlights?
This story is a holiday favorite and all the sweetness, good feelings and goosebumps are here with the slightly different twist of presenting the radio broadcast. There's something very satisfying about the play not trying to reproduce the movie -- how can you duplicate Donna Reed and Jimmy Stewart any way -- but capturing the spirit in its own charming way.

Kevin Connors deftly directs the action which includes the creation of sound effects. Cast members creating the sounds of a murmuring crowd are quite entertaining. Zeller plays both Uncle Billy and Mr. Potter at the same time, maintaining the distinct characters with just the addition of a pair of eye glasses. 

DeMaria is a hoot as the cheesy Violet, then becomes wide-eyed, innocent ZuZu.

What are the Lowlights?
None. The movie is an annual tradition in our house every holiday, but this was a special treat. Sit back and enjoy.

More Information:
It's a Wonderful Life runs at Music Theatre of Connecticut, 509 Westport Avenue (behind Nine West) in Norwalk through Dec. 18. Performances are Fridays at 8 pm, Saturdays at 4 and 8 pm, Sundays at 2 pm. Tickets are $30-$55: musictheatreofct.com; 203-454-3883.

Additional credits: Music by Kevin Connors; Costume Design by Diane Vanderkroef; Set Design by Jordan Janota; Lighting Design by Michael Blagys.

CT Theater Review: Other People's Money -- Long Wharf

Karen Ziemba, Edward James Hyland, and Jordan. Photo: T. Charles Erickson
Other People's Money
By Jerry Sterner
Directed by Marc Bruni
Long Wharf Theatre
Through Dec. 18

By Lauren Yarger
What's It All About?
Wall Street takeover king Larry Garfinkle (Jordan Lage) targets Rhode Island's small  New England Wire and Cable, owned by Jorgy Jorgenson (Edward James Hyland) who doesn't want to sell the out-of-date business started by his father (Lee Savage's office set telegraphs just how much the place is behind the times with a manual pencil sharpener and old furniture.

He and Bea (Karen Ziemba), his longtime assistant and long-suffering mistress, enlist Bea's power lawyer daughter, Kate (Liv Rooth), to fend off "Larry the Liquidator," but things don't go quite according to plan, especially when Larry and Kate find themselves oddly attracted to each other. Wire and Cable President Coles (Steve Routman) gets lost in the confusion and might decide to look out for himself, rather than the company.

Playwright Jerry Sterner offers a number of twists and turns before the surprising conclusion. The play, which won the 1989 Outer Critics Circle Award for Best Play seems eerily contemporary given today's political climate and mistrust of Wall Street.

What Are the Highlights?
Marc Bruni directs the talented ensemble. all giving strong performances. David Lander's expert lighting design changes scenes all by itself  --loud musical notes (Sound Design by Brian Ronan) are not needed.

Ziemba breathes some life into Bea. Rooth and Lage have some nice chemistry.

What Are the Lowlights?
Some parts of the story, like Larry's obsession with donuts or a character suddenly singing seem forced.  A very long speech given at the company's annual meeting feels like . . . well, . . . a very long, boring speech at an annual meeting. 

More Information: 
Other People's Money plays through Dec. 18 at Long Wharf Theatre, 222 Sargent Drive, New Haven. Performances are Tuesday and Wednesday at 7 pm; Thursday, Friday, Saturday at 8 pm; Matinees Wednesday and Sunday at 2 pm, Saturdays at 3 pm. Tickets start at $29: 203-787-4282; www.longwharf.org.

Additional credit:
Anita Yavich (costume design)

CT Theater Review: Seven Guitars -- Yale Rep

Stephanie Berry, Wayne T. Carr, Rachel Leslie, Danny Johnson, Billy Eugene Jones, and Antoinette Crowe-Legacy in August Wilson's Seven Guitars, directed by Timothy Douglas.
Photo by Joan Marcus 2016.
Seven Guitars
By August Wilson
Directed by Timothy Douglas
Yale Repertory
Through Dec. 18

By Lauren Yarger
What's It All About?
The fifth installment in August Wilson's Pulitzer-Prize winning cycle exploring the African-American experience in the 20th century. Set in 1948 Pittsburgh, this story follows the life and legacy of a blues guitarist, Floyd Barton (Billy Eugene Jones).

Barton, just home from being jailed, finds himself a sudden pop sensation when a song he wrote tops the charts. He hopes old love, Vera (Rachel Leslie) will join him and go to Chicago so he can sign a record contract and be a star, but things can't just go back to the way they were....

Told in flashback, this slice-of-life play explores the hopes and dreams of the cast of characters: Louise (Stephanie Berry) and Hedley (Andre de Shields), Vera's older neighbors, Red Carter (Danny Johnson), Floyd's band mate and a player when it comes to the ladies as well, Canewell (Wayne T. Carr), also Floyd's bandmate and best friend, and beautiful Ruby (Antoinette Crowe-Legacy), Louise's niece who comes to stay and causes some rivalry for her attention, but the men don't know she has come to town to get away from her past, which resulted in a baby on the way.

What Are the Highlights?
A gentle, moving story performed by a talented cast directed by Timothy Douglas (who directed the world premiere of Wilson's Radio Golf at Yale Rep). 

Fufan Zhang's backyard set is deceptive in its simplicity. The two levels offer traces of the lives playing out on them and the stairs linking them give characters an added means of expression. No one takes them in quite the same way. A sandy hill gives life to on burst of color, only to have that bring pain as well. Zhang also provides sound design and music composition (directed by Dwight Andrews) to add to the atmosphere.

What Are the Lowlights?
At almost three hours, the play is about 30 minutes too long.

More Information:
Seven Guitars plays through Dec. 18 at Yale Repertory Theatre, 1120 Chapel St., New Haven. Performance times vary. Tickets $12-$99: www.yalerep.org; 203-432-1234, Box Office (1120 Chapel St.). Student, senior, and group rates are available.

Additional credits:
The production team includes music director Dwight Andrews, scenic designer Fufan Zhang, costume designer An-lin Dauber, lighting designer Carolina Ortiz Herrera, sound designer and composer Fan Zhang, technical director Ian Hannan, dramaturg Catherine María Rodríguez, dialect coach Ron Carlos, fight director Rick Sordelet, casting director Tara Rubin Casting, and stage manager Helen Irene Muller.






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Friday, November 18, 2016

CT Theater Review: An American in Paris -- The Bushnell

Sara Esty and Garen Scribner. Photo: Matthew Murphy
An American in Paris
Music By music and lyrics of George Gershwin and Ira Gershwin
Directed and choreographed by Christopher Wheeldon
Book by Craig Lucas.at The Bushnell through Nov. 20

By Lauren Yarger
What's It All About?
The stunning stage adaptation inspired by the 1951 Oscar winning film of the same name starring Gene Kelly and Leslie Caron about World War II veteran in Paris. This tour of the recently-closed Broadway musical which won four 2015 Tony Awards features Sara Esty and Garen Scribner who performed these leading roles on Broadway dancing the exquisite choreography by Christopher Wheeldon, artistic associate at England's Royal Ballet, who also directs.

Storytelling is done through the dance. Whole scenes, wordless, are communicated through movement which can include something as complicated as ballet or as simple as someone dancing a prop onto the stage. Wheeldon's direction is genius as well as he takes unconnected scenes happening simultaneously on stage and somehow connects the participants. It's exciting and riveting stage craft.

Craig Lucas (The Light in the Piazza) translates the light movie plot into a solid story that is propelled by the elements around it. Three men, artist Jerry Mulligan (Scribner) singer Henri Baurel (Broadway vet Nick Spangler) and a composer, Adam Hochberg (Etai Benson), become fast friends then, without realizing it, they all fall in love with the same girl, ballerina Lise Dassin (Esty).

Henri already is engaged to Lise, the choice of his parents, Madame and Monsieur Baurel (Gayton Scott and Don Noble), who have protected the girl during the war and made it possible for her to follow in her famous ballerina mother's toe shoes. The heir to the family's textile business, Henri begs his friends to keep his passion to be a musical entertainer from his parents.

Jerry forms an alliance with wealthy American, Milo Davenport (Emily Ferranti), who becomes a supporter of his artwork and who wants a little more than paintings in exchange for her patronage. Adam, meanwhile, is unable to express his love for the beautiful Lise except through his music.

What Are The Highlights?
Music and lyrics by George and Ira Gershwin. Need I say more? Adapted, arranged and supervised by Rob Fisher. “I Got Rhythm,” “'S Wonderful,” a very moving “But Not For Me,” “I'll Build a Stairway to Paradise,” “They Can’t Take That Away from Me” and orchestral music including “Concerto in F,” “2nd Prelude,” “2nd Rhapsody” and “An American In Paris" all sound as though they were written just for this story (with an excellent team taking care of the music: Christopher Austin and Bill Elliott (orchestrations); Todd Ellison (musical supervisor); David Andrews Rogers (musical director/conductor); Sam Davis (dance arrangements). It's always fun to watch the conductor smile throughout the show. And so do we thanks to an excellent sound mix (Jon Weston, design).

The choreography and direction, as mentioned above, are brilliant.

The fabulous sets by Bob Crowley (who also does the meticulously created costumes) that appear -- with the help of projections (designed by 59 Projections) and lighting (designed by the always excellent Natasha Katz). Locations and sketches leaping off Jerry's artistic pad appear before our eyes.

Esty and Scribner are delightful to watch and Esty lends a lovely soprano to her role. Spangler has a dreamy baritone and should be considered for leading-man roles.

What Are the Lowlights?
The ending ballet is set to a backdrop of colorful shapes, but doesn't convey a sense of what is happening and the storytelling seems to stop so an extended ballet can be performed.

Scott misses the mark as Henri's emotionless mother and some humor is lost.

While the tunes are favorites, audience members are humming along (the guy near me was very off-tune throughout the show) and the intermission seemed very long.

More Information:
The show runs through Sunday. Pirouette over to the Bushnell, 166 Capitol Avenue, to experience this terrific musical. Performances are Friday and Saturday at 8 pm, Saturday at 2 pm and Sunday at 1 and 6:30 pm. Tickets are $43.50-$119.50: bushnell.org; 860-987-5900

The musical received its world premiere at the Théâtre du Châtelet in Paris.

Leigh-Ann Esty and Ryan Steele perform the roles of Lise and Jerry at certain performances. Additional cast: Karolina Blonski, Brittany Bohn, Stephen Brower, Randy Castillo, Jessica Cohen, Jace Coronado, Barton Cowperthwaite, Alexa De Barr, Ashlee Dupré, Erika Hebron, Christopher M. Howard, Colby Q. Lindeman, Nathalie Marrable, Tom Mattingly, Caitlin Meighan, Alida Michal, Don Noble, Sayiga Eugene Peabody, Alexandra Pernice, David Prottas, Danielle Santos, Lucas Segovia, Kyle Vaughn, Laurie Wells, Dana Winkle, Erica Wong and Blake Zelesnikar.
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)

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