Monday, July 25, 2016

Theater Review: MIdsummer, A Play with Songs -- TheaterWorks

Rebecca Hart and M. Scott McLean. Photo: Lanny Nagler
A Song-filled, Magical Summer Night
By Lauren Yarger
Think Once set in Scotland instead of Ireland and you have a pretty quick take on Midsummer: (A Play with Songs) getting its delightful New England premiere at TheaterWorks.

The two hander, starring M. Scott McLean as Bob and Rebecca Hart at Helena, two folks who shouldn’t get together, but do.

David Greig and Gordon McIntyre’s script is part narrative, part first-person action and part song. Directed by Tracy Brigden, the engaging characters meet in an Edinburgh pub on Midsummer night. Helena is waiting for a man. She wants to get a bit drunk and have some no-strings-attached sex so she can forget about a secret that may change her whole life. She finds instant attraction with Bob, who earns a living on the wrong side of the law.

The action jumps through events from their past to the present, where they find themselves seeing each other again after what they thought would be a one-time encounter (their sexual encounter is shared for all of us to witness in a most amusing manner as directed by Bridgen and aided by basic stage props on the austere set backdropped by a hodgepodge of furniture and other cast off items (design by Narelle Sissons, who also designs the costumes). A pair of shoes transformed Helena into a bridesmaid; a chair becomes a car or a toilet.

Another scene has Bob having a conversation with his male reproductive equipment about what they really want from a relationship (many of the male members of the audience were very amused). The dialogue throughout is crisp and witty. So are the lyrics (both performers play the guitar and sing tunes composed by Greig (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory the musical) and McIntyre, lead singer and songwriteçr for ballboy, an Edinburgh based band . The album Midsummer is a solo album of songs written for the show.

“If my hangover were a country, it would be Belgium,” sings Helena. Now that’s funny stuff.

In a bizarre twist of plans, the two end up enjoying a wild midsummer money-spending spree and find themselves falling in love. McLean and Hart are in sync on stage, both musically and physically. The chemistry between the actors is apparent from the start and sparks reactions as heat turns up on the Bunsen burner of their relationship.

A couple of criticisms: the play at more than 100 minutes without intermission could use a trim – especially to fix a couple of false endings. In addition, it’s hard to warm up to the characters until later in the show because they are making such poor choices (one reason we stay with them is because the actors make them so engaging). Since we jump around in time a bit any way, maybe a teaser early on to let us know these folks have some hope might be in order.


Overall, TheaterWorks ends its 30th anniversary season with a bang. Midsummer plays through Aug. 21 at TheaterWorks, 233 Pearl St., Hartford. Performances are Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays: 7:30 pm; Fridays and Saturdays: 8 pm; Saturday and Sunday Matinees at 2:30 pm. Tickets $15-$65; (860) 527-7838; www.theaterworkshartford.org.

Credits:
By David Greig and Gordon McIntyre; Directed by Tracy Brigden; Assistant to the Director: Eric Ort; Scenic and Costume Design by Narelle SissonsAssociate Set Design by Lucy Pope, Lighting Design by Andrew Ostrowski, Sound Design by Liz Atkinson.

Friday, July 22, 2016

Tonight's Talcott Mountain Concert is Postponed

Photo: Ellis Hall
Tonight's Hartford Symphony Orchestra Talcott Mountain Music Festival performance of A TRIBUTE TO RAY CHARLES, MOTOWN AND BEYOND at the Simsbury Meadows Performing Arts Center has been postponed due to a forecast of rain for this evening. 

Friday concert tickets will be honored tomorrow at the Saturday, July 23 rain date performance at 7:30 pm. Check www.hartfordsymphony.org for further weather updates tomorrow.

Patrons who have already purchased tickets for tonight and are unable to attend the rain date concert can call 860-987-5900 between July 22 and July 29 for exchange options. Tickets are on sale for A TRIBUTE TO RAY CHARLES, MOTOWN AND BEYOND athartfordsymphony.org, and at the Simsbury Meadows Performing Arts Center on Friday and Saturday from 11 am to 7 pm.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Sharon Playhouse Presents Big River

Sharon Playhouse presents the Tony Award-winning musical Big River: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn July 21-31.

Based on Mark Twain’s "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn," Big River features a book by William Hauptman and music and lyrics by Roger Miller. Playhouse Artistic Director John Simpkins directs. Jennifer Werner (Broadway's The Book of Mormon choreographs and James Cunningham is musical director.

The production features Joseph Allen (Huck), Nicholas Ward (Jim), Thomas Cannizzaro (Duke), Travis Mitchell (King/Pap), David Fanning (Judge), Alex Dorf (Tom), Carrie Lyn Brandon (Mary Jane), Ginny Rickard (Widow Douglas) Susan Hackel (Miss Watson), Galyana Castillo (Alice). The ensemble includes Tyler Altomari, Nick Case, Julia Hemp, Sarah Anne Fuller Hogewood, Jacqueline Minogue, Lily Autumn Page, Libby Rosenfield, Richard Spitaletta, Johnathan Teeling, and Aidan Wharton.

The design team: Josh Smith (scenery) Ken Wills (lighting), Michelle Humphrey (costumes), and Emma Wilk (sound). E. Sara Barnes is production stage manager. Geoff Josselson is casting director.

Big River played Broadway in 1985 and won six Tony Awards including Best Musical. It had a successful revival in 2003 by Roundabout Theatre Company and Deaf West.

Tickets are $15-$47:  www.sharonplayhouse.org ;860-364-7469; Sharon Playhouse, 49 Amenia Road, Sharon.

Theater Review: Bye Bye Birdie -- Goodspeed

The cast of Bye Bye Birdie. Photo: Diane Sobolewski
Audiences Put on a Happy Face Watching Refreshed Birdie
By Lauren Yarger
If you ever have walked out of a production of Bye Bye Birdie and wondered why you didn’t hear the song of that title, you won’t have that issue at Goodspeed’s production.

Director Jenn Thompson has given the stage production a few new twists, including adding the song from the 1963 film (which wasn’t in the stage production) as well as “A Mother Doesn’t Matter Anymore” from the 1995 television presentation as well as new dance arrangements by David Krane. The result is not your mother’s Birdie, which is a relief for those of us who have seen in multiple times from local high school and community theater productions to Broadway (which was pretty disappointing in its last revival in 2009.)

That’s because it is pretty hard to make a musical set in 1958 and conceived in response to Elvis Presley being drafted into the Army relevant 50-plus years later. The new dance arrangements, choreographed by Patti Wilcox are fun and the addition of the mother’s song gives Kristine Zbornik, who already is stealing the show as manipulative mother Mae Peterson, a chance to bring down the house. The changes give the show a needed lift.

Still in place are familiar tunes by Charles Strouse with Lyrics by Lee Adams like “Put On a Happy Face,” “One Boy,” “Kids” and “A Lot of Livin’ To Do.”

The story (book by Michael Stewart) follows a couple of romances. First there is Albert Peterson (George Merrick), who manages teen heartthrob and rock star Conrad Birdie (Rhett Guter) who has been drafted. His assistant, Rosie (Janet Dacal), comes up with a publicity stunt idea to have the idol travel to Sweet Apple, Ohio to kiss the president of his fan club goodbye. Once he’s on his way, Rosie wants Albert to quit the business, become an English teacher and settle down for a simple life. The aforementioned Mrs. Peterson isn’t making that easy, however, and she objects to Rosie, making numerous references to her Hispanic roots. Without those constant references and a dance number in which she becomes a new personality – Spanish Rose – I am not sure any of us would realize she was supposed to be Latina…..

Meanwhile, fan club President Kim MacAfee (Tristen Buettel) can hardly believe that Conrad Birdie himself is coming to kiss her! Neither can her parents (Donna English and a funny Warren Kelley) and little brother Randolph (Ben Stone-Zelman, who is over-the-top-adorable in his 1960s haircut and clothes). Costumes are by David Toser; Hair and Wig Design by Mark Adam Rampmeyer. The whole clan ends up on Ed Sullivan!

One person not happy about the excitement is Kim’s boyfriend, Hugo (Alex Walton). After all, he and Kim just got pinned. Why is she kissing another guy?

You get the drift of the plot. Thompson uses lots of action up and down the house aisles to make the audience feel a part of the action. The orchestra, with Goodspeed vets Michael O’Flaherty music directing and Dan DeLange providing orchestrations, can be a bit overwhelming at times, especially the horns, and drown out the singers.

Overall it’s a fun, breezy trip down memory lane that puts a happy face on a lot of audience members.

Birdie has been given ectended wings to fly at Goodspeed, 6 Main St., East Haddam, through Sept. 8. Performances are Wednesday at 2 and 7:30 pm; Thursday at 7:30 pm. (with select performances at 2 pm), Friday at 8 pm; Saturday at 3 and 8 pm; Sunday at 2 pm (with select performances at 6:30 pm. Tickets $39-$84 (860) 873-8668; www.goodspeed.org.

Additional cast:
Dorcas Leung…. Ursula
Paul Aguirre…. Mayor
Lauren Fijol…. Gloria
Branch Woodman…. Maude
Hannah Bradley…. Margie
Emily Applebaum…. Nancy
Kristen Hoagland…. Helen
Jake Swain…. Harvey Johnson
Logan Scott Mitchell…. Kari
Eddie Olmo II…. Freddie
Michael James…. Roger
Hannah Bradley, Jeremiah Ginn, Brittany Nicholas, Marci Reid, Austen Danielle Bohmer, Michal Kolaczkowski…. Ensemble

Additional credits:
Set Design by Tobin Ost, Lighting Design by Philip RosenbergSound Design by Jay Hilton,

Monday, July 11, 2016

Theater Review West Side Story -- CT Repertory

Julia Estrada and Luke Hamilton PPhoto by Gerry Goodstein
Themes of West Side Story Are Timeless -- Unfortunately
By Lauren Yarger
“Hatred fueled by racism leads to violence and the death.”

Last week, that was news headline from which we were all reeling as protests erupted following police killings of black suspects in New Orleans and Minnesota and as five police officers were slain during a protest in Dallas. 

That also was the plot unfolding before our eyes as the timeless musical West Side Story opened the final production of CT Repertory’s Nutmeg Summer Series at UConn (where, near the Jorgensen Theatre, a memorial remembering the victims of the Orlando nightclub shootings stands as a reminder that this latest rash of violence spurred by hatred is not unique, but only the most recent.) 

Never have modern-day events blended so closely with theater, proving that the Leonard Bernstein/Stephen Sondheim musical, with a book by Arthur Laurents based on a concept of Jerome Robbins who did the original choreography, is still relevant more than 50 years after making its Broadway debut.

It also proves that race problems in this country haven’t made a lot of progress. Then again, feuds based on hatred go back even farther than US history. West Side Story takes its inspiration from another tale: William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet.

In the modernized, New-York set version, the star-crossed lovers are Tony (a miscast Luke Hamilton) and Maria (Julia Estrada). The two fall instantly in love, despite knowing that the relationship is forbidden.  Maria is the sister of Bernardo (Yurel Echezarreta), leader of the Sharks, a gang comprised of his fellow Puerto Ricans and some blacks. Tony is a former leader of the Jets, the white gang (Tony is short for Polish Anton in this version), headed now by Tony’s best friend, Riff (Bentley Black).

Bernardo’s girlfriend, Anita (a sparkling Cassidy Stoner) warns newly-arrived-in-America Maria to stay away from “A Boy Like That” and to stick to one of her own kind (cue headlines about immigration issues. . .). When the gangs meet at the drug store owned by Tony’s boss, Doc (Dale AJ Rose), to plan a rumble, police Officer Krupke (Nick Lawson) questions gang members to try to find out where it will be. Maria begs Tony to stop the fight, but with tragic consequences
.
Cassie Abate returns to CT Repertory to direct and to provide the very good choreography staged on Tim Brown’s minimal set where scenes are created with a few props and set pieces. Also enhancing the visual are Christina Lorraine Bullard’s colorful costumes.

NDavid Williams directs the beautiful Bernstein tunes, which comprise what could arguably called the best Broadway score ever and which includes classics like “Tonight, Tonight,” “I Feel Pretty,” “Somewhere,” “Tonight,” and “Something’s Coming.” Tom McDonough conducts a 12-person band.
Estrada is a lovely Maria, lending a fine soprano, but Abate does little to keep actors from singing full out most of the time “One Hand, One Heart” feels like a belting match instead of a love song. The score is beyond the capability of Hamilton, however, who seems overwhelmed in the role. It’s a case of miscasting, because the actor turned a fine performance right there at CT Rep when he played Sonny in Xanadu.

Black and Echezarreta bring fire to the rival gang leaders (as well as some good singing and dancing skills). The fight choreography is exciting and well executed. Standing out in this production is Stoner, who brings layers and spirit to Anita in her CT Repertory debut.

Here’s hoping that soon when we see a production of West Side Story we’ll think, “Gee, all that racial hatred was really a big problem in the past…”

West Side Story plays through July 17 at the Harriet S. Jorgensen Theatre on the Storrs campus of UConn. 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.

Full credits and casting:
Production:  Music by Leonard Bernstein and Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim; book by Arthur Laurents based on a concept of Jerome Robbins; Direction and Choreography by Cassie Abate, Scenic and Projection Design by Tim Brown,  Lighting Design by Michael Chybowski, Costume Design by Christina Lorraine Bullard, Sound Design by Michael Vincent Skinner, Technical Direction by John W. Parmelee, Musical Direction by NDavid Williams, Conducting and Piano by Tom McDonough 


Yurel Echezarreta…. Bernardo
Luke Hamilton…. Tony
Julia Estrada…. Maria
Bentley Black…. Riff
Cassidy Stoner…. Anita
Chino…. TJ Newton
Jose Luaces…. Indio
Gabriel Bernal …. Anxious
John Bixler…. Lt. Schrank/Gladhand
Nick Lawson…. Officer Krupke
Dale AJ Rose…. Doc
Olivia Benson, Rebekah Morgan Berger, Dalton Bertolone, Brian Binion, Jacob Burns, Gerald Caesar, Susie Carroll, Tori Gresham, Caroline Iliff, Liam Johnson, Aaron Bennett Miller, Janayla Montes, TJ Newton, Alyssa Sarnoff, Cassidy Stoner, Adria Swan, Ty Taylor and Ross Thompson….. Ensemble

Monday, July 4, 2016

Theater Review: Chicago -- Ivoryton Playhouse

Stacey Harris. Photo: Anne Hudson

Murder, Tabloid Headlines and All That Jazz Provide Cool Entertainment on a Hot Summer Night
By Lauren Yarger
Gruesome murders, tabloid headlines and scandal. You could be watching the news, but this tale is set in the Windy City in the 1920s and has a terrific score to boot.

Chicago, the Kander and Ebb classic musical with original choreography by Bob Fosse that took Broadway by storm back in 1975 and is still running there in the longest running revival in history (it won the Best Revival Tony in 1996).

One reason this musical has enjoyed such popularity for so long has to do with that comment about the fact that you could be watching it on TV news today. The book (by Ebb and Fosse) is based on an earlier play by Maurine Dallas Watkins, a Chicago Tribune reporter, who had covered some sensational murder trials where the women accused became celebrities in the press. She based her play on those experiences, so a plot that otherwise might have seemed ludicrous is supported by realism.

In late 1920s Chicago, accused murderesses await their trials. Among them are:
·         Celebrity of the day, Velma Kelly (Stacey Harris), a former Vaudeville star who killed her husband and sister after finding them in bed
·         Annie (Lauren Watkins), who, upon discovering her husband was a polygamist, poisoned him
·         June (Carolina Santos Read) who served up her cheating husband with a carving knife
·         Mona (Daniela Delahuerta), who has “artistic differences” with her husband’s way of “finding himself” with other women
·         Liz (Sarah Mae Banning), who killed her husband for popping his bubble gum
·         Hunyak (Caroline Lellouche), who only speaks in her native Hungarian, and whose only English words are “not guilty!”

They soon are joined by Roxie Hart (Lynn Philistine), who shot lover Fred Casley (Jason Daniel Rath) before he could dump her. Her milquetoast husband, Amos (Ian Shain), tries to take the blame for the shooting when his wife claims she was attacked by a burglar, but changes his story when he realizes she knew the victim.

The story is covered in a media frenzy led by reporter Mary Sunshine (operatic soprano Z. Spiegel) and Velma soon finds herself out of the spotlight now focused on Roxie (unfortunately the real spotlights on stage, designed by Marcus Abbott often leave the actors in the dark). The newcomer steals her sensational trial ideas, and even Billy Flynn (Christopher Sutton), the hotshot lawyer she secured with the help of a bribe paid to the prison’s matron, Mama Morton (Sheniqua Trotman, who returns to the Playhouse where she wowed as Effie in Dream Girls).
As Billy crafts Roxie’s defense painting her as a poor victim of circumstances and Amos as an unsympathetic husband, another sensational triple murder committed by Go-to-Hell Kitty (Sarah Mozelle Waxman) threatens to take attention away from Roxie and her hopes for a Vaudeville career post trial – until she comes up with an even more sensational twist to tantalize the press and get her picture back on the front page.

Another reason this musical endures through the decades is the fabulous score by Kander. Tunes like “All that Jazz,” Razzle Dazzle,” Nowadays,” “My Own Best Friend” have been a part of the Broadway song book ever since Gwen Verdon (Roxie) and Chita Rivera (Velma) introduced them in 1975. We were thrilled to hear Ann Reinking (who had been married to Fosse and won the Tony for her choreography) and Bebe Neuwirth (who also won a Tony) sing them in the revival.

Equally, we are happy to hear Philistine and Harris give them a whirl along with Fosse-like choreography (rolled shoulders, jazz hands, etc.,) by Todd Underwood, who also directs the very good performances (although Sound design by Tate R. Burmeister doesn’t allow solos against chorus to be heard well consistently). +

A couple other complaints:
·         Young Shain is miscast as Amos. Though he executes the song “Cellophane” well vocally, he is too nice looking. Amos should be sort of heavy and dumpy so we understand why the man is ignored by anyone. Shain is rather too attractive to have that problem.
·         Somehow Billy Flynn is missing that old razzle dazzle – along with some of the dialogue in this show, which sounds like it is being delivered by rote. Underwood needs to sharpen it. A scene between Mama and Velma, for example, as they reflect on the lack of “Class” people have, should elicit lots of laughs, but instead, it just gets a few chuckles. In another scene, a secret is revealed, but it goes almost unnoticed.

Some additional positives (because there are lots more of those):
A small band directed by Paul Feyer sits on a platform over the action on stage behind jail cell bars – kudos to Set Designer Martin Marchitto. Costume Designer creates sparkly, risqué costumes as well as period clothing and wigs to remind us we are in the art deco era and not in present day. “Cell Block Tango” is nicely staged and sung.

Do yourself a favor. Turn off the election coverage and head on over to Ivoryton for some really sensational headlines set to fabulous music.

Chicago runs at Ivoryton Playhouse, 103 Main St., Ivoryton through July 24. 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. $50 for adults; $45 for seniors; $22 for students and $17 for children: (860) 767-7318;  www.ivorytonplayhouse.org

Sheniqua Trotman. Photo: Anne Hudson

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

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