Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Finding Neverland, Something Rotten! Among Bushnell Broadway Offerings Next Season

Matthew Morrison (center) and Kelsey Grammer (Captain Hook, front right) with the Broadway production of Finding Neverland. Photo: Carol Rosegg
Hamilton's Coming in the 2018-2019 Season

The Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts has announced its 2017-2018 Broadway Series season including the hit musicals Finding Neverland, School of Rock, Something Rotten! The Color Purple and On Your Feet!.

Musicals that haven't hit the Great White Way also are coming, including The Bodyguard and Love Never Dies.  So what about Broadway's biggest hit? Hamilton is scheduled take its shot here in Hartford during the 2018-2019 season, it was announced.

Also on the slate are some returning favorites: Les Miserables, Stomp, The Illusionists and A Christmas Story.  The Wizard of Oz and Disenchanted also will be presented as well as the stage version of the holiday classic A Charlie Brown Christmas.

Current season ticket holders will receive their renewal packages in the coming weeks, and new subscription packages will be available in early summer; new patrons interested in season tickets may call the box office now to have their name placed on a waiting list. Single tickets will go on sale this summer. All dates, titles, and artists are subject to change.

The 2017-2018 Broadway Series


The winner of Broadway.com’s Audience Choice Award for Best Musical. Directed by Tony winner Diane Paulus and based on the critically-acclaimed Academy Award winning film, FINDING NEVERLAND tells the incredible story behind one of the world’s most beloved characters: Peter Pan. Playwright J.M. Barrie struggles to find inspiration until he meets four young brothers and their beautiful widowed mother. Spellbound by the boys’ enchanting make-believe adventures, he sets out to write a play that will astound London theatergoers. With a little bit of pixie dust and a lot of faith, Barrie takes this monumental leap, leaving his old world behind for Neverland, where nothing is impossible and the wonder of childhood lasts forever. The magic of Barrie’s classic tale springs spectacularly to life in this heartwarming theatrical event.

Note from Lauren -- this was one of my favorite musicals on Broadway in 2015. Read the review here.

SCHOOL OF ROCK The Musical, Oct. 24-29

Based on the hit film, this musical follows Dewey Finn, a wannabe rock star posing as a substitute teacher who turns a class of straight-A students into a guitar-shredding, bass-slapping, mind-blowing rock band. This high-octane smash features 14 new songs from Andrew Lloyd Webber, all the original songs from the movie and musical theater’s first-ever kids rock band playing their instruments live on stage.

Note from Lauren -- Another favorite, this one is still rocking them out at Broadway's Winter Garden. Read the review.


The 2016 Tony Award winner for Best Musical Revival -- it was really good and Cynthia Erivo blew my socks off. This re-conceived production, directed by Tony winner John Doyle, has a score that features jazz, gospel, ragtime and blues. Based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning story about a young woman’s journey through abuse and devastation to love and triumph in the American South. Read the review.

SOMETHING ROTTEN!, Jan. 30 – Feb. 4, 2018

Something's rotten in the '90s – the 1590s, that is. Nick and Nigel Bottom are two brothers who are desperate to write their own hit play while the "rock star" Shakespeare keeps getting all the hits. When a local soothsayer foretells that the future of theater involves singing, dancing and acting at the same time, Nick and Nigel set out to write the world’s very first musical.

Note from Lauren -- Laughed myself silly in the Broadway theater. It is a hoot for theater buffs. Read the review.

THE BODYGUARD The Musical, Feb. 20 – 25, 2018

Based on the smash hit film, the award-winning musical will star Grammy Award-nominee superstar Deborah Cox. Former Secret Service agent turned bodyguard Frank Farmer is hired to protect superstar Rachel Marron from an unknown stalker. Each expects to be in charge; what they don’t expect is to fall in love. Songs include "Queen of the Night," "So Emotional," "One Moment in Time," "Saving All My Love," "Run to You," "I Have Nothing," and "I Will Always Love You." Based on Lawrence Kasdan’s film and adapted by Academy Award winner Alexander Dinelaris, THE BODYGUARD had its world premiere in London’s West End where it was nominated for four Laurence Olivier Awards including Best New Musical and won Best New Musical at the Whatsonstage Awards.

Note from Lauren Haven't seen it. Looking forward to this first look.

LOVE NEVER DIES – The Phantom Returns May 29 – June 3, 2018

The ultimate love story continues in LOVE NEVER DIES, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s spell-binding sequel to The Phantom of the Opera. LOVE NEVER DIES is a dazzling new production, which takes audiences on a thrilling rollercoaster ride of intrigue, obsession and romance. Be seduced by the beautiful, sometimes magical and poetic, sometimes joyful, and occasionally melancholic score in this magnificent continuation of one of the world’s greatest love stories.

Note from Lauren -- have been waiting to see this for years!

Ana Villafañe in the Broadway production of On Your Feet! Photo: Matthew Murphy
ON YOUR FEET! – The Story of Emilio and Gloria Estefan, June 19-24, 2018

From their humble beginnings in Cuba, Emilio and Gloria Estefan came to America and broke through all barriers to become a crossover sensation at the very top of the pop music world. But just when they thought they had it all, they almost lost everything. From international superstardom to life-threatening tragedy, ON YOUR FEET takes you behind the music and inside the real story of this record-making and groundbreaking couple who, in the face of adversity, found a way to end up on their feet.

The audience can't help but join the conga line through the house.... Read the review.

Ticket Information

Current season ticket holders will receive their renewal packages in the mail by the end of March. New subscriptions: 860-987-5900. In early May, new season ticket orders will be processed on a first-come, first-served basis after all renewing patrons have been accommodated.· On-sale dates for individual tickets will be announced soon.

New Parking:
Effective immediately, the UPPER PARKING LOT, adjacent to the State Office Building (165 Capitol Avenue, Hartford) is closed and NO LONGER available to patrons when parking for Bushnell events. Lower State lots with entrances off Capitol Avenue and Buckingham Street will continue to be available. Bushnell.org.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Bill Berloni to Receive Special Recognition from Drama League

The Drama League will honor Connecticut's Bill Berloni as one of two outstanding stage luminaries at this year’s 83rd annual Drama League Awards Friday May 19 at the Marriott Marquis Times Square.

Berloni will receive the Unique Contribution to the Theater Award and Michael Greif, represented this season on Broadway by Dear Evan Hansen and War Paint, will receive The Founders Award for Excellence in Directing. A third honoree for Distinguished Achievement in Musical Theater will be announced shortly.

These Special Recognition Honors are in addition to the five competitive categories. The 2017 Drama League Nominees for Outstanding Play, Outstanding Revival of a Play, Outstanding Musical, Outstanding Revival of a Musical, and the much-coveted Distinguished Performance Award will be announced on Wednesday, April 19 at 11 am (watch the live stream via BroadwayWorld.com). 

Berloni, trainer to many of theater's pet stars, received a 2011 Tony® for Excellence in Theatre and 2014 Outer Critics Circle award for Special Achievement. For more information, visit www.theatricalanimals.com. For a feature on Bill on the CT Arts Connection, click here.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

CT Theater Review: Napoli, Brooklyn -- Long Wharf

Christina Pumariega, Carolyn Braver and Jordyn DiNatale. Photo: T. Charles Erickson
Napoli, Brooklyn
By Meghan Kennedy
Directed by Gordon Edelstein
Long Wharf Theatre
Through March 12
Then at Roundabout Theatre Company in New York June 9-Sept. 3

By Lauren Yarger
What's It All About?
The world premiere of Meghan Kennedy's drama about family relations in 1960 Brooklyn (the house and neighborhood are one in Eugene Lee's set design, which also includes props to create a church on either side of it. It's a little crammed up there, but Director Gordon Edelstein makes it work).

Three sisters grow up in the dysfunctional Muscolino family where displeasing patriarch Nic (Jason Kolotouros) means physical consequences. Rebellious Vita (Carolyn Braver) has been sent away to a convent where the nuns are charged with correcting a disposition that would allow her to attack her father. Boyish Francesa (Jordyn DiNatale) is wise enough to hide her romantic feelings for bubbly Irish friend Connie Duffy (Ryann Shane), but the two make plans to run away to France where they believe their lifestyle won't raise eyebrows. Francesca enlists the help of her awkward and "stupid" -- because she dropped out of school to work -- sister, Tina (Christina Pumariega), to make her get-away. Trying to hold the family together while making her delicious Italian menus and expressing her frustrations to an onion instead of God is their mother, Luda (Alyssa Bresnahan)

Everything changes, however, when a plane crashes in the neighborhood.  Feeling that God has given him a second chance, Nic apparently turns over a new leaf. Vita returns home and he even allows Tina's African-American friend Celia Jones (Shirine Babb) to move in after her home is destroyed in the crash which also claimed her husband. When Connie's father, Albert (Graham Winton), is invited to dinner, his obvious caring for Luda is a contrast to the type of relationship she has had with Nic and emotions crash, maybe with more casualty than the plane.

What Are the Highlights?
Pumariega's performance stands out as she works wonders with a simple line or an expressed emotion. The quiet sister in the background suddenly becomes the one from whom we want to hear. Babb creates Celia as a nice complement to Tina and the friendship between the two women is the highlight of the play.

The plane crash is effectively portrayed with effects from lighting and sound designers Ben Stanton and Fitz Patton

What Are the Lowlights?
The script isn't always clear. We spend a great deal of time wondering why Vita has been sent away and why she is injured before that becomes apparent. We can't quite understand why Luda allows abuse of her children and herself (depicted in rather brutal fashion) and then suddenly has a change of heart. For some reason Albert thinks it is a good idea to leave his daughter alone for the holidays to visit the Muscolinos even though she just lost a brother in the plane crash? There are too many head scratchers and most of the characters are so flawed that we find it hard to warm up to them.

Most of the characters adopt one tone: yelling.

More information:
Napoli, Brooklyn runs through March 12 at Long Wharf, 222 Sargent Drive, New Haven. Tickets start at $29: longwharf.org; 203-787-4282. For information about the run at Roundabout in New York, click here.

Monday, February 20, 2017

CT Theater Review: A Moon for the Misbegotten -- Playhouse on Park

Elise Hudson and Anthony Marble. Photo: Meredith Atkinson
This Production is Anything but Misbegotten
By Lauren Yarger
The plays of Eugene O' Neill bring the frailties of human relations and raw emotion to the surface and it's hard not to be moved. Playhouse on Park's production of A Moon for the Misbegotten is no exception.

The play is a follow-up to what is happening with Jamie Tyrone, Jr. (Anthony Marble), whom we met in O'Neill's Pulitzer-Prize winning drama Long Day's Journey into Night. He copes with his mother's death the way he deals with everything -- by drowning his sorrows in alcohol -- and pays a visit to drinking buddy Mike Hogan (Conan McCarthy), who is a tenant on the Tyrone-owned farm (the front porch of the property provides the set, designed by Emily Nichols). Harsh taskmaster Hogan already has run off three sons, including his youngest, Mike (Michael Hinton), who got away like the others did with the help of their hulking and unattractive sister, Josie (Elise Hudson).

Hogan isn't sure Jamie will honor a long-ago agreement to sell him the land he farms and fears the young man might do business instead with rich friend T. Stedman Harder (Thomas Royce Daniels), so Hogan convinces Josie that she should trap Jamie in a compromising position. The father will conveniently return at daybreak with witnesses and demand that Jamie marry his daughter.

Jamie and Josie bond, however, and the evening doesn't go as planned.  Jamie, though drawn to Josie, deludes himself about pursuing an acting career in New York and tells her about trying to find his way through grief and sadness with a prostitute. Josie also may not have been telling the truth about herself. She has never really admitted that she loves Jamie. She has allowed the town to believe she has been loose with her virtue -- a difficult lie in 1923 -- but one that allows her to avoid the truth: no man wants her.

It's a touching evening of self loathing and loving and groping for a hand in the dark. It could be a bummer, but from the pen of Nobel Laureate O'Neill, we have one of the finest plays about the human capacity for love and generosity ever written.

While this is really Jamie's story, this production, directed by Joseph Discher, shines the moonlight on Josie. At first glance, Hudson appears miscast. She's too pretty and lithe to be the over-sized, unattractive Josie we expect, but her feisty, complex portrayal soon wins us over and has us rooting for her.

All of the performances are very good and keep us watching despite an almost three-hour run time with an intermission (the first act seemed very long). Hudson and McCarthy have an excellent rapport on stage and it's easy to see that through the insult-riddled banter between father and daughter, there's real affection beneath the dirty and dusty surface (costumes designed by Collette Benoit). She grows softer when interacting with Jamie (played with aching sadness by Marble).

One pet peeve: herbal cigarettes and a pipe are used. We really don't need them lighted in small theater spaces. The props themselves suffice unless actual smoke is called for in the plot.

A Moon for the Misbegotten plays though March 5 at Playhouse on Park, 244 Park Road, West Hartford. Tickets are $30-$40: 860-523-5900 x10; www.playhouseonpark.org.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

CT Theater Review: The Comedy of Errors -- Hartford Stage

The cast of The Comedy of Errors. Photo: T. Charles Erickson
The Comedy of Errors
By William Shakespeare
Directed by Darko Tresnjak
Hartford Stage
Through Feb. 12

By Lauren Yarger
What's It All About?
Shakespeare's comedy (well. one of them) about twins and mistaken identity, this one set on an island off the coast of Greece in 1965.  Darko Tresnjak offers a playful take including songs from the modern era ("Never on a Sunday") and exotic dance numbers.

Tyler Lansing Weaks and Ryan-James Hatanaka play twins who are separated and grow up as Antipholus of Syracuse and Antipholus of Ephesus. Their twin servants, Dromio of Syracuse (Alan Schmuckler) and Dromio of Ephesus (Matthew Macca) also are separated. When the Syracuse guys arrive in Ephesus, there is room for lots of mistaken identity, especially for Adriana (Jolly Abraham), the wife of Antipholus of Ephesus and Luciana (Mahira Kakkar). Adriana's sister and the object of Antipholus of Syracuse's affections.

What Are the Highlights?
It's different. Musicians Louis Tucci and Alexander Sovronsky (Composer/Music Director/Arranger) play Mediterranean tunes boat side on  a dock-like set designed by Director Darko Tresnjak in front of a hilly Greek backdrop. Getting some spotlight in the talented ensemble are Joanna Morrison as abbess Aemilia and Noble Shropshire as the twins' father, Aegeon, and Tara Heal as Nell, an amusingly overweight kitchen maid.

90 minutes, no intermission. Perfect for this type of romp.

What Are the Lowlights?
The comedy and exaggerated sound effects are forced and the slapstick doesn't work. The transition from the opening of "Never on a Sunday" is too stark to the strains of the Bard's language.

More Information: 
The Comedy of Errors runs through Feb. 12 at Hartford Stage, 50 Church St., Hartford.  Perfromance times vary. Tickets are $25-$90: hartfordstage.org.

Additional credits: 
Choreography Peggy Hickey; Costume Design Fabio Toblini; Lighting Design
Matthew Richards; Sound Design Jane Shaw; Associate Scenic Designer Colin McGurk; Hair and Wig Design Tom Watson; Makeup Design Tommy Kurzman; Fight Choreographer Greg Webster; Voice and Text Coach Claudia Hill-Sparks; Assistant Director Allison Gold; Assistant Scenic Designer Stephen Carmody; Assistant Lighting Designer Michael Blagys; Assistant Sound Designer Natalie Houle; Assistant Wig Designer Tommy Kurzman.

Additional cast:
Angelo Brendan Averett, Louis Butelli, Paula Leggett Chase. Michael Elich, Kalob Martinez, Lauren Bricca, Jamaal Fields-Green, Daisy Infantas, Evan McReddie, Monica Owen, Tyler Pisani

Monday, January 30, 2017

Connelly, De Laurentis Reunite for George and Gracie at Seven Angels

Seven Angels Theatre offers a nostalgic and hilarious look back at favorite show business couple with George and Gracie: the Early Years Feb. 9 to March 5. 
Semina DeLaurentis
The show stars R. Bruce Connelly (Say Goodnight Gracie) and Seven Angels's Artistic Director 
Semina De Laurentis (the original Sr. Mary Amnesia – Nunsense) as George Burns and Gracie Allen.

Meet George and Gracie, their neighbors Blanche and Harry, and other memorable guests as the cast pays homage to the comedic idols who influenced and inspired them with their impeccable comic timing and zaniness. The production will benefit Seven Angels Theatre educational and the High School HALO Awards programs.

Julia Kiley directs. Rounding out the cast are Sarah Knapp, John Swanson, Tom Chute, Mandy 
Thompson, John Fabbiani and Tom Libonate.

Tickets range from $39-$57 depending on performance. Those 25 and younger, tickets are only
$25: SevenAngelsTheatre.org; 203-757-4676, box office, 1 Plank Road, Waterbury.

CT Theater Review: Sunset Baby -- TheaterWorks

Photo: Lanny Nagler
Sunset Baby
By Dominique Morrisseau
Directed by Reginald L. Douglas
Through Feb. 19

By Lauren Yarger
What's It All About?
The estranged relationship between Nina (Brittany Bellizeare) and her political activist father, Kenyatta (Tony Todd.) Nina's mother has left her a series of love letters written to her by Kenyatta and publishers are offering big bucks to put them into book form. Kenyatta wants them too, but for more sentimental reasons. She avoids having to deal with her father, but her lover Damon (Carlton Byrd) may have his own motives for trying to bring the two together. Reality is blurred as the perspectives of the characters overlap.

What Are the Highlights?
Excellent performances and tight direction by Reginald L. Douglas keep our attention. Morriseau mixes raw and strong language with poetic thought and varies technique by having Kenyatta step out of the action to deliver soliloquies, but more to himself than to the audience.

What Are the Lowlights?
We never quite warm up to any of the characters. They are flawed in relationships with each other, but we never are convinced they really want to make them work and aren't looking out for their own best interests. The play bypasses at least two natural ending spots and seems to not know how to wrap itself up.

Additional Information:
Todd is from Hartford and is a graduated of UConn. 

Additional credits:
Alexander Woodward (Set Design), Karen Perry (Costume Design), Rob Denton (Lighting Design), and Julian Evans (Sound Design).

Sunset Baby runs through Feb. 19 at TheaterWorks, 233 Pearl St., Hartford. Performances are Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday at 7:30 pm; Friday and Saturday at 8 pm; Saturday and Sunday at 2:30 pm. Tickets are $15-$65: theaterworkshartford.org; 860-527-7838.

Friday, January 20, 2017

CT Theater Review: Endgame -- Long Wharf

Brian Dennehy and Reg E. Cathey. Photo: T. Charles Erickson
By Samuel Beckett
Directed by Gordon Edelstein
Long Wharf Theatre
Through Feb. 5

By Lauren Yarger

What's It All About?
Samuel Beckett's exploration of the meaning of life.
Hamm (Brian Dennehy) is blind and confined to a wheeling chair since he can't stand. He is attended by by a servant, Clove (Reg E. Cathey) who can't sit down. The characters have a sort of adversarial relationship even while being dependent on each other. There is no life outside of the gray, bleak room littered with debris (set design by Eugene Lee). The only other characters are Hamm's legless parents, Nagg (Joe Grifasi) and Nell (Lynn Cohen) who dwell in large hampers -- think trash bins -- and only pop up occasionally to take some abuse form Hamm., directed by Edelstein.

What Are the Highlights?

Brian Dennehy on stage in anything is a highlight. The actor, who has starred in Love Letters (with Mia Farrow), Krapp’s Last Tape, and Hughie gives an excellent performance as usual. Cathey (“The Wire,” “Oz,” and “House of Cards.” ) is a worthy foil. The direction is tight and if I heard Hamm blow that whistle or Cloy slam that door one more time, I was going to scream (the mood was accentuated by blaring music tones at breaks in the action). All of the performances are solid with a special shout out to Cohen for making us remember Nell even though she only appears for a short stint in the already thankfully short 90 minute production.

The fake dog is pretty amusing.

What Are the Lowlights?
It's dark, confusing and a bummer. Typical Beckett, but not my cup of tea.

"Why do you stay with me?" Hamm asks.
"Why do you keep me?" Cloy replies.
"There's no one else."
"There is no where else."
"You're leaving me all the same," Hamm says.
"I'm trying," Clov replies.

Shoot me now. -- That is my despair, not the characters'.

More Information:
End Game runs through Feb. 6 at Long Wharf's Stage II, 222 Sargent Drive, New Haven. Tickets are very limited at $99.50. Check with the box office about stand-by options. longwharf.org; (203) 787-4282.

Additional credits: Kaye Voyce (costumes), Jennifer Tipton (lighting).

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.

--- A R T S ---

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

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