Monday, May 25, 2015

Theater Review: Kiss Me Kate -- Hartford Stage

The cast of Kiss Me Kate. Photo: T. Charles Erickson
Fresh Staging Fails to Rejuvenate Kiss Me Kate’s Tired Book
By Lauren Yarger
Some of the creatives who teamed to bring us the Tony-Award-winning musical A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder reunite to bring a well staged production of Kiss me Kate to Hartford Stage. The show itself, with music and lyrics by Cole Porter, isn’t a favorite, however, despite the fact that the original production ran for more than 1,000 performances on Broadway and won the first Tony Award for Best Musical.

This co-production with The Old Globe is lovingly directed by Darko Tresnjak with fresh choreography by Peggy Hickey, who along with Set Designer Alexander Dodge (Tony Award nominee); and Lighting Designer Philip Rosenberg filled out the Gentleman’s Guide team. There’s a neat roll into the opening number “Another Op’nin’, Another Show,” but the freshness goes stale with the original book (with its less than positive approach to women) from Bella and Samuel Spewack.

Kiss Me Kate is a show within a show. A touring company is getting ready to present a musical production of Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew in Baltimore (hence all of the multiple roles you see listed below). The show’s leading man, producer, director Fred Graham (delightful baritone Mike McGowan) has reunited with his ex-wife and leading lady Lilli Vanessi (Anastasia Barzee) for the run. The couple hates each other (was it her temper or his ego that broke up the marriage?) and trades insults, but just beneath the surface, embers of their passion wait to reignite.
When Fred’s flowers and love note for show-girl mistress Lois Lane (Megan Sikora) erroneously find their way to Lilli’s dressing room, she is agreeable to rekindling their romance, but when the truth comes out, the actress wants out. Some gangsters (well cast and funny Brendan Averett and Joel Blum) enter the picture, having mistaken Fred for Lois’ former dance partner, Bill (Tyler Hanes), who owes their boss a gambling marker of $10,000 and ensure Lilli stays in the production so the box office receipts can be contributed toward the debt. Complicating matters is Lilli’s rebound engagement to politician General Harrison Howell (Tony Lawson).
Action abounds as Hickey dances the cast around Alexander Dodge’s cartoonish, but meticulously detailed set (complete with an unnecessary rotating floor). There’s even some tap. 
But the story….  Sorry, I just can’t get excited about a plot that involves physical abuse (both Lilli and Fred hit each other to such a degree that the services of Fight Director J. Allen Suddeth are needed). Whips are involved at one point.  Even Shakespeare’s plot involves women being sold into marriage against their will. These plots don’t engage me, and I certainly don’t find them entertaining.
Porter’s score, on the other hand, with a 15-member pit orchestra directed by  Kris Kukul, is worth hearing and gives us a chance to sit back and enjoy classic tunes like “Too Darn Hot,” (which is a nice song, but doesn’t have much to do with the plot. . .) “Wunderbar,” “So in Love,” and “Brush Up Your Shakespeare” where Averett and Blum have a chance to really shine.
Solo voices all are good, with Charity Angel Dawson standing out in the supporting role of as Hattie, Lilli’s maid and confidant (and a featured singer on a couple of the tunes). Blending of voices on chorus numbers sounds just off the note occasionally, however.


Tresnjak said, “I started thinking about directing Kiss Me, Kate in 1990, when the influential album "Red, Hot, and Blue: A Tribute to Cole Porter" introduced his smart and sexy music to a whole new generation. After 25 years, I'm thrilled to finally get a chance to direct this supreme entertainment—a piece in which my two great theatrical passions, the plays of William Shakespeare and the American musical theater, come together.”

Kiss Me Kate runs through June 14 at Hartford Stage, 50 Church St., Hartford. Performances Saturdays and Sundays at 2 pm (special matinee Wednesday, June 2 at 2 pm); Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Sunday at 7:30 pm; Friday and Saturday at 8 pm. Tickets: $25-$80; (860) 527-5151; www.hartfordstage.org.

AfterWords Discussion
May 26, June 2 and June 3
Join members of the cast and artistic staff for a free discussion, immediately following select 7:30 performances on Tuesday or the Wednesday matinee free.

Open Captioned Performances, May 31, 2 and 7:30 pm performances for patrons who are deaf or have hearing loss. Free.

Full Cast
Brendan Averett…. Second Man
Anastasia Barzee…. Lilli/Kate
Joel Blum…. First Man
Giovanni Bonaventura…. Hortensio
Robert Hannon Davis…. Ralph
Charity Angel Dawson…. Hattie
Tyler Hanes…. Bill/Lucentio
James T. Lane…. Paul
Tony Lawson…. General Harrison Howell/Stagehand
Barrett Martin…. Gremio
Mike McGowan…. Fred/Petruchio
Wayne W. Pretlow…. Pops/Priest
Megan Sikora…. Lois/Bianca
Michael Starr…. Phillip
Jeff Steitzer…. Harry Trevor/Baptista Minola
Johnny Stellard…. Nathaniel
Robin Masella, Shina Ann Morris, Jane Papageorge…. Dancers

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

High School Musical Theater Award Finalists Announced

B2 Productions LLC in Norwich, CT has announced finalists for the seventh annual Connecticut High School Musical Theater Awards. (CHSMTA).

The Black Tie Awards Gala will be held 6:30 pm Monday, June 1 at The Palace Theater in Waterbury.  The awards are founded and produced by Brett A. Bernardini.

As the nationally designated, high school musical theater awards program for the state of Connecticut, The Connecticut High School Musical Theater Awards are connected with The National High School Musical Theater Award Program based in New York City. 16 awards will be presented along with performances of nominated schools, soloists and accompanied by a full orchestra. 

The recipients of the CHSMTA awards for Outstanding Actor and Actress with travel to New York City at the end of June 2015 where they will join with others young people selected from other similar State program runs by professional theaters, from all across the country for the annual presentation of The Jimmy Awards. The National High School Musical Theater Awards, produced by The Broadway League, is a national celebration of outstanding student achievement that recognizes individual artistry in vocal, dance and acting performances by high school students. “The Jimmy Award” is named in honor of James M. Nederlander, legendary Broadway theater owner and producer.
Over the past years, The CHSMTAs have had six finalists: Stephen Mark, Grace Hardin, John Jorge, Katie Oxman, Taylor Varga, Jillian Cailoutte) and 2 National winners!! (Stephen Mark, Ridgefield HS and Taylor Varga, Newtown HS).
 


Tickets for the gala event are on sale through The Palace Theater Box Office, 203-346-2000. 

The finalists are:

OUTSTANDING HAIR & MAKE UP ACHIEVEMENT
Amity Regional High School – TARZAN
Andrea Kennedy & David Linet

New Canaan High School – GREASE
Shannon Courtney

Trumbull High School – HELLO DOLLY
Gina Gallo, Mary Joan Wright, Merial Cornell, Jeannette Davidson

West Warwick High School – BIG FISH

Westhill High School – HAIRSPRAY
Troye Evers


OUTSTANDING COSTUMING ACHIEVEMENT
Amity Regional High School – TARZAN
Julie Chevan

Cheshire High School – NICE WORK IF YOU CAN GET IT
Irene Ludemann

Housatonic Valley Regional High School – THE BOYFRIEND
Judi Moore

New Canaan High School – GREASE
Dierdre Alexander

Newtown High School – CITY OF ANGELS
Bonnie Johnson

St. Paul’s Catholic – THE SOUND OF MUSIC
Joanne Nyerick

Trumbull High School – HELLO DOLLY
Mary Joan Wright, Merial Cornell, Jeanette Davidson

OUTSTANDING LIGHTING DESIGN ACHIEVEMENT
Amity Regional High School – TARZAN
Dan Hassenmyer

Greater Hartford Academy – SWEET CHARITY
Robyn Joyce

New Canaan High School – GREASE
Kevin Gleason 

Newtown High School – CITY OF ANGELS
Stef Carr

St. Paul’s Catholic – THE SOUND OF MUSIC
Rich Parsons

Suffield Academy – IN THE HEIGHTS
Paul Caginalp

Westhill High School – HAIRSPRAY
Jeff Whitsett


OUTSTANDING SET DESIGN ACHIEVEMENT
Amity Regional High School – TARZAN
Robert Kennedy

Greater Hartford Academy – SWEET CHARITY
Karen Sparks Mellon

New Canaan High School – GREASE
Kevin Gleason 

Newtown High School – CITY OF ANGELS
Abby Callery, Jane Matson, Bill Mangold

St. Paul’s Catholic – THE SOUND OF MUSIC
Mark Mazzarella

Suffield Academy – IN THE HEIGHTS
Casey Lampert

Trumbull High School – HELLO DOLLY
Cathy Bolton, Sam Maloney, Stephanie Bont 

OUTSTANDING SOUND DESIGN
Amity Regional High School – TARZAN
Tom Ivanovich & Dave Trovarelli - Horizon Sound

Greater Hartford Academy – SWEET CHARITY
Greg Boucher

New Canaan High School – GREASE
Jason Kurtzman 

Newtown High School – CITY OF ANGELS
Tim Mammen

St. Paul’s Catholic – THE SOUND OF MUSIC
Dave Glanovsky

Trumbull High School – HELLO DOLLY
Tom Ivanovich

Valley Regional High School – BAND GEEKS 


OUTSTANDING DIRECTION
Amity Regional High School – TARZAN
Robert & Andrea Kennedy

Housatonic Valley Regional High School – THE BOYFRIEND
Michael Berkeley

New Canaan High School – GREASE
Deirdre Alexander 

Newtown High School – CITY OF ANGELS
Jane Matson

St. Paul’s Catholic – THE SOUND OF MUSIC
Mark Mazzarella

Suffield Academy – IN THE HEIGHTS
Thomas Dugan

Trumbull High School – HELLO DOLLY
Jessica Spillane

OUTSTANDING CHOREOGRAPHY
Amity Regional High School – TARZAN
Andrea Kennedy

Cheshire High School – NICE WORK IF YOU CAN GET IT
John Carter

Greater Hartford Academy – SWEET CHARITY
Christine Bard-Simoes

Housatonic Valley Regional High School – THE BOYFRIEND
Amber Cameron

New Canaan High School – GREASE
Deirdre Alexander 

Trumbull High School – HELLO DOLLY
Frank Root & Abigail Root


OUTSTANDING MUSIC DIRECTION
Amity Regional High School – TARZAN
Peter Randazzo

Cheshire High School – NICE WORK IF YOU CAN GET IT
Dan Balint

Newtown High School – CITY OF ANGELS
Brett Boles 

St. Paul’s Catholic – THE SOUND OF MUSIC
Chelsea Kane, Kim Wiggin

Suffield Academy – IN THE HEIGHTS
Chelsea Kane, Kim Wiggin

Trumbull High School – HELLO DOLLY
Jerold Goldstein

Westhill High School – HAIRSPRAY
Michael Wyatt and Jonathan Curri



OUTSTANDING ORCHESTRA
Amity Regional High School – TARZAN
Cheshire High School – NICE WORK IF YOU CAN GET IT
Co-operative Arts & Humanities High School – CURTAINS
East Lyme High School – GREASE
New Canaan High School – GREASE
Newtown High School – CITY OF ANGELS


OUTSTANDING LEADING ACTRESS
Cheshire High School – NICE WORK IF YOU CAN GET IT
Molly Silverman - BILLIE BENDIX

Immaculate High School – WEST SIDE STORY
Emma Giorgio  - MARIA

New Canaan High School – GREASE
Elizabeth Koennecke  – SANDY

St. Paul’s Catholic – THE SOUND OF MUSIC
Chiara Giampietro  - MARIA

Valley Regional High School – BAND GEEKS
Maggie Walsh - LAURA

Westhill High School – HAIRSPRAY
Alexandra Cahr  - TRACY

OUTSTANDING LEADING ACTOR
Cheshire High School – NICE WORK IF YOU CAN GET IT
Hudson Lee – JIMMY WINTER

Newtown High School – CITY OF ANGELS
 Kyle Watkins – STEIN

St. Paul’s Catholic – THE SOUND OF MUSIC
Joe Schigas  - CAPTAIN VON TRAPP

Suffield Academy – IN THE HEIGHTS
Alex Mainoff  - USNAVI

Trumbull High School – HELLO DOLLY
Zac Gottschall  - HORACE VANDERGELDER

OUTSTANDING SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Amity Regional High School – TARZAN
Morgan Guadagnoli  - KALA

New Canaan High School – GREASE
Nancy Leville – RIZZO

Newtown High School – CITY OF ANGELS
Emily Crebbin  - GABBY

St. Paul’s Catholic – THE SOUND OF MUSIC
KodyLynn Perkins - MOTHER ABBAS

Suffield Academy – IN THE HEIGHTS
Katherine Kalill  - DANIELLA

Trumbull High School – HELLO DOLLY
Katherine Griffin - MINNIE FAY

Westhill High School – HAIRSPRAY
Madeline Bria   - VELMA 

OUTSTANDING SUPPORTING ACTOR

Amity Regional High School – TARZAN
Kahari Blue – KURCHIK

Cheshire High School – NICE WORK IF YOU CAN GET IT
Thomas Mueller  - COOKIE

Trumbull High School – HELLO DOLLY
 Jack Leonard – BARNABY
Michael Lapore  - CORNELIUS

Westhill High School – HAIRSPRAY
Ethan Riordan – CORNEY
Jason Nekritz - WILBER
Anthony Laszlo   - EDNA

OUTSTANDING CHORUS
Amity Regional High School – TARZAN
Greater Hartford Academy – SWEET CHARITY
New Canaan High School – GREASE
Newtown High School – CITY OF ANGELS
Trumbull High School – HELLO DOLLY
Valley Regional High School – BAND GEEKS
Westhill High School - HAIRSPRAY

OUTSTANDING FEATURED PERFORMER
Cheshire High School – NICE WORK IF YOU CAN GET IT
Isabella Riccio – JEANNIE MULDOON

New Canaan High School – GREASE
Audrey Kirkpatrick - MARTY

Newtown High School – CITY OF ANGELS
Aimee Talbot  - MALLORY

St. Paul’s Catholic – THE SOUND OF MUSIC
Caleigh Lozito  -  ELSA



OUTSTANDING ENSEMBLE GROUP
West Warwick High School – BIG FISH
- ALABAMA LAMBS
Sacred Heart Academy – SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN
- DIVA DANCERS
Greater Hartford Arts Academy – SWEET CHARITY
FANDAGO GIRLS
Newtown High School – CITY OF ANGELS
- ANGEL CITY 4

OUTSTANDING PRODUCTION OF THE YEAR
Amity Regional High School – TARZAN
Housatonic Valley Regional High School – THE BOYFRIEND
New Canaan High School – GREASE
Newtown High School – CITY OF ANGELS
St. Paul’s Catholic – THE SOUND OF MUSIC
Trumbull High School – HELLO DOLLY

OUTSTANDING LOBBY DISPLAY
                                                                    Amity Regional High School – TARZAN                                                                   
Co-operative Arts and Humanities High School - CURTAINS
Immaculate High School – WEST SIDE STORY
New Canaan High School – GREASE
Newtown High School – CITY OF ANGELS

Monday, May 18, 2015

Darko Tresnjak Wins Obie Award

Michael Shannon in The Killer. Photo: Gerry Goldstein.
Hartford Stage Artistic Director Darko Tresnjak has received an Obie Award for his direction of The Killer Off Broadway at Theatre for a New Audience.

Read a review here.

The full list of Obie Award winners is here:
http://reflectionsinthelight.blogspot.com/2015/05/hamilton-wins-obie.html?m=1

Theater Review: The Second Mrs. Wilson -- Long Wharf

Margaret Colin and John Glover. Photo: T. Charles Erickson
A Look Into the History of America’s 'First Woman President'
By Lauren Yarger
For those of you thinking Hillary Clinton is making a bid to be the first female president of the United States, you might not realize that America already has had a woman calling the shots in the Oval Office. Well, technically speaking, that is.

The Second Mrs. Wilson, Joe DiPietro’s look at the first woman believed to run the country, is getting its world premiere as Long Wharf Theatre closes out its 50th anniversary season. It is a study of Edith Wilson (played by the always excellent Margaret Colin), who effectively ran the government while her husband, President Woodrow Wilson (an also excellent John Glover), was incapacitated by a stroke.

Act One of the drama plays out like a love story. Wilson, surrounded by his political cronies, Secretary Joe Tumulty (Fred Applegate) and Col. Edward House (Harry Groener), fights adversaries like Sen Henry Cabot Lodge (Nick Wyman) who opposes Wilson’s League of Nations dream for world peace attached to the Treaty of Versailles and tries to overcome his crushing grief at the loss of his wife, Ellen.

When he meets widow Edith Galt, he is smitten and decides he has found a supporter, not only in the role of wife, but in political matters as well. Edith, not very interested in world matters – she only is aware of the war as it affected her plans to travel to Paris to do some shopping – is not quickly persuaded to accept his proposal. House and Tumulty are opposed, especially once they see their influence with the president begin to diminish. Edith doesn’t trust House, and through a serious of circumstances around negotiations to get the peace treaty signed in Paris, Wilson also begins to doubt him.

Edith finally does consent to be the second Mrs. Wilson and in 1919, headaches that have been plaguing her husband, under the questionable care of Dr. Cary Grayson (Stephen Barker Turner), result in a debilitating stroke. Before the 25th amendment to the constitution  providing for succession when the president is unable to fulfill his duties and faced with an unpopular, ineffective Vice President Thomas Marshall (Steve Routman), Edith decides to hide her husband’s condition from the press and the nation and to be his sole contact with the outside world.

Aided by Dr. Grayson, she reports the president’s continued progress while deciding which correspondence and information reaches him. Tumulty and Marshall protest being kept away and Lodge raises questions about why the American people haven’t seen the president. Edith finally arranges a brief meeting and Wilson rallies to appear that he is still in control. Meanwhile, questions are raised about how much Edith is discussing policy with him or making it on her own until the couple left the White House in 1921.

Director Gordon Edelstein coaches excellent performances across the board – Routman is particularly fine as the hapless vice president who wants to stand for what is right, offers compromises on the League of Nations’ authority to gain Lodge’s support, but who has no desire to assume the presidency. The action takes place on Alexander Dodge’s set designed to look like an old boys club, with dark wood trim, period lighting fixtures and even a pool table for a few friendly games while politics are discussed. Edith is a striking contrast to the environment in romantic dresses, easily updated for scene changes, designed by Linda Cho.

DiPietro takes a bit of license with the historical accuracy of the characters and the actions, but this is usually a plus in the theater, where a blow-by-blow historical account of everything a character said or did gets boring very quickly. Instead, DiPietro (Memphis, The Toxic Avenger, Nice Work if You Can Get it) gives us a lot of his trademark humor – and a fairly accurate picture of a little-known period of American history that is fascinating and guaranteed to have you Googling the facts immediately after seeing the play.

“I just love working on history plays," DiPietro said. " I love bringing a dramatist’s sharpness and wit to it. I like making history lively and relevant, and show the humanity of the participants."

He immersed himself in the time period, reading biographies of  Edith and woodrow, according to press materials, as well as histories and documentaries of the tumultuous period following World War I.

“My belief is research, research, research, then put it away and start writing the play,” DiPietro said. “It is not a documentary. It is my dramatic interpretation, but it sticks very closely to the facts. I wanted to show what it was like to be a strong, shrewd woman at a time when women couldn’t yet vote in every state,” he said.

Colin, who brings likability to any character she portrays, is excellently cast as she keeps Edith from seeming too manipulative. There is warmth in her, even as devout Christian Wilson faces a scandal over correspondence with a woman from his past and who, in his infirmity, calls out for his first wife.  Glover embodies Wilson – he looks like him and appears to be just as I have imagined the 28th president of the United States when learning about him from school lessons and history books. Too bad more isn’t taught about the wife who effectively served as president. Maybe we will hear more about her if Hillary tries to make 16 Pennsylvania Avenue her address again.

The Second Mrs. Wilson runs through May 31 on Stage II at Long Wharf Theatre, 222 Sargent Drive, New Haven. Showtimes vary. Tickets are $25-$75: www.longwharf.org; 203-787-4282.

View a trailer here:

Monday, May 11, 2015

The Liar Opens 85th Season at Westport Country Playhouse

Philippe Bowgen, Jay Russell, and Aaron Krohn in David Ives’ “The Liar,” adapted from the comedy by Pierre Corneille, directed by Penny Metropulos, at Westport Country Playhouse, now playing through May 23.  (203) 227-4177.  www.westportplayhouse.org      Photo by Carol Rosegg
Westport Country Playhouse opens ts 2015 Season with the comedy, The Liar, an adaptation in rhyme by David Ives of Pierre Corneille’s classic comedy that weaves an increasingly intricate web of lies leading to romantic misadventures.  Celebrating the Playhouse’s 85th season, the comedy will run through May 23, directed by Penny Metropulos.

Aaron Krohn portrays Dorante, “The Liar.”  Charming and quick-witted, he has a gift for stretching the truth. When he falls in love, his fabrications lead to a high wire act as he tries to stay one step ahead of everyone. 

The cast also includes: Monique Barbee as Lucrece, who recognizes Dorante for the liar and flatterer he is.  Philippe Bowgen as Alcippe, Dorante’s outrageously jealous friend, Rebekah Brockman in the dual role of Isabelle/Sabine, twin servants, one prurient, the other puritanical and Kate MacCluggage as Claricewho plots to expose Dorante’s lies.  

Brian Reddy is Geronte, Dorante’s easily duped father. Rusty Ross is Cliton, Dorante’s virtuous-to-a-fault servant and Jay Russell as Philiste, Alcippe’s honorable and reasonable friend.

Ives’s play Lives of the Saints was Off-Broadway this spring. His best known plays are All in the Timing and Venus in Fur

The Liar runs through May 23. Performances are Tuesday at 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.  Single tickets start at $30: 203-227-4177;  888-927-7529;  Box Office, 25 Powers Court; www.westportplayhouse.org, 
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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