Saturday, August 27, 2011

Hurricane Updates

  • Westport County Playhouse has cancelled Saturday and Sunday performances of Suddenly Last Summer. Patrons with tickets to the Aug. 27 or 28 performance may contact the Playhouse Box Office at 203- 227-4177 to exchange into another performance of the show, free of charge.
  • Seven Angels in Waterbury has cancelled Saturday evening Cool Comedy Night. If you have tickets, they will be honored at the next comedy night in the fall. 
  • Sunday's (8/28) matinee and evening performances of Wicked at the Bushnell have been canceled due to inclement weather. Please contact The Bushnell Box Office 860-987-5900
    regarding information on ticket exchanges and refunds.
  • Goodspeed -- SATURDAY, AUG. 27 All performances at the Goodspeed Opera House and Norma Terris Theatre will play as scheduled.; SUNDAY, AUG. 28 The matinee performance of Show Boat at the Goodspeed Opera House is canceled. Ticketholders, please call the Box Office to exchange your tickets for another performance. Box Office: 860-873-8668.
  • Ivoryton Playhouse -- tonight and tomorrow’s performances of Ring of Fire have been cancelled. Ticket holders are asked to call the Box Office at 860-767-7318 for assistance with exchanges or refunds. An extra matinee performance has been added on Saturday, Sept. 3 at 2 pm. Today's Playhouse Tag Sale has been cancelled. NEW DATE: Saturday, Sep. 10 from 8 am  to 3 pm.
  • TheaterWorks Hartford -- Sunday 2:30 matinee of The Understudy has been cancelled. Box Office: 860-527-7838
  • Long Wharf Theatre has cancelled tonight's performance of Shake-It-Up Shakespeare's Threads of a Spider. Questions, or if you would like a refund, contact the Box Office at 203-787-4282.
  • The Shubert Theatre in New Haven has postponed tonight's events.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

On Vacation

We're on a break until the first week in September. Posts will resume then.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

City of Angels Delves into Film Noir at Goodspeed

Goodspeed Musicals delves into the sultry and shadowy world of 1940s film noir with City of Angels, a musical comedy running Sept. 23 – Nov. 27 at the Opera House in East Haddam.

Swinging, sexy, smart, and funny! An ingenious spoof of 1940s Hollywood and whodunit films with side-by-side stories about the “real” world of a detective fiction writer and the “reel” world of his fictional gumshoe hero. One balances romance and rewrites, while the other slinks through a film noir netherworld of thugs and femmes fatales. Winner of tons of Tony Awards, it’s a witty detective thriller with a jazzy score that really kills.

City of Angels features Music by Cy Coleman, Lyrics by David Zippel, and Book by Larry Gelbart.

The killer cast will be led by D.B. Bonds who will play Stine. Bonds appeared in Broadway’s The Phantom of the Opera and Les Misérables. Stone will be played by Burke Moses of Broadway’s The Frogs; Kiss Me, Kate; Beauty and the Beast and Guys and Dolls and Goodspeed’s Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. The roles of Bobbi and Gabby will be played by Laurie Wells who appeared in Broadway’s Mamma Mia! and Goodspeed’s 42nd Street. Liz Pearce will play Alaura Kingsley and Carla Haywood. Donna and Oolie will be played by Nancy Anderson. Buddy Fidler and Irwin Irving will be played by Jay Russell. Jeffrey David Sears will play Jimmy Powers. Gregor Paslawsky will play Luther Kingsley and Werner Krieger.

Dr. Mandril and Gilbert will be played by Michael Keyloun. Big Six will be played by Jerry Gallagher. Spencer Rowe will play Sonny. Josh Powell will play Officer Pasco, Del Dacosta, and Gene. Robert J. Townsend will play Mahoney.Christina Morrell will play Margaret and Anna.

Lt. Muñoz and Pancho Vargas will be played by Danny Bolero. Allen E. Read will play Peter Kinglsey and Gerald Pierce. Kathleen Rooney will play Mallory Kinglsey and Avril Reins.

The Angel City 4 will be played by Mick Bleyer, Vanessa Parvin, Sierra Rein, and Adam West Hemming. All four actors are members of the 2010 Manhattan Association of Cabarets and Clubs (MAC) award-winning a capella group, Marquee Five which has been described as “top-notch,” with a spunky intelligent flair and tight harmonies. The swings will be Becca Pesce and Adam Bastien.

City of Angels will be directed by Darko Tresnjak who was recently named the new Artistic Director for Hartford Stage. Tresnjak returns to Goodspeed where he previously directed Carnival!, Amour, and A Little Night Music. Choreographer for this production will be Jennifer Paulson Lee. Lee’s Goodspeed Opera House credits include A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Finian’s Rainbow and Houdini in addition to Dear World and Just So at The Norma Terris Theatre. Scenic design will be by David P. Gordon of Goodspeed’s Carnival!, Amour, and A Little Night Music. Costumes will be designed by Tracy Christensen. Lighting design will be by John Lasiter. Projection design will be by Shawn Boyle. Sound design will be by Jay Hilton who is in his 26th season at Goodspeed.

The Music Director for City of Angels will be Michael O’Flaherty who is in his 20th season as Goodspeed’s Resident Music Director. William J. Thomas will be assistant music director. Orchestrations will be provided by Dan DeLange.

On Nov. 21, Goodspeed will hold its Annual Food Drive to benefit the East Haddam Food Bank. Staff volunteers will be collecting donations pre-show in the hopes that they will have another record-breaking year for participation. Goodspeed Musicals is offering a special buy one ticket, get one free to patrons who bring a generous donation of non-perishable foods to the matinee or evening performance. The East Haddam Food Bank is in need of many non-perishable food items, especially “the basics” such as soups, pastas, canned fruits and vegetables, and cereals, as well as paper goods and personal toiletries.

Tickets are available through the Box Office at 860-873-8668 or on-line at www.goodspeed.org.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Theater Review: The Understudy -- TheaterWorks

Matthew Montelongo, Jayne Paterson and Andrew Benator. Photo by Larry Nagler.

Waiting in the Wings Takes Center Stage
By Lauren Yarger
What should be a simple “put in” for a new understudy turns into a rehearsal from hell complete with romantic liaisons, life-changing movie deals, malfunctioning intercoms and a pot-smoking crew member that collectively make the bizarre Kafka play the characters are working on seem like a psychological breeze in comparison in Theresa Rebeck’s delightlful comedy The Understudy playing at Hartford’s TheaterWorks.

Harry (Andrew Benator), recently turned down for a movie role, insists in his asides to the audience that he isn’t bitter, even if the guy who got the action-hero part was paid more than $2 million to shout “difficult” lines like, “Get Down!” and “Get in the truck!” That guy, Jake (Matthew Montelongo), as luck would have it, is featured in the Kafka play and Harry is grateful, so he tells us, to understudy him. Even Jake is second banana here, though, as he  has to understudy the play’s real star, a $22-million-dollar-a-picture actor who is the darling of the producers, thrilled by his box office drawing power.

When Harry arrives to do an understudy rehearsal with Jake he is shocked to find that the play’s stage manager is highly organized, but very uptight Roxanne (Jayne Patterson), the woman he walked out on two weeks before their wedding six years ago. Things get awkward fast, especially when Jake and Roxanne discover some sexual chemistry while enacting a scene that Harry overhears on the intercom. Things go from bad to worse with the help of an uncooperative, stoned technical crew member (not seen) whose messing up of the scenery, light and sound cues rivals only the chaos taking place in the lives of Jake, Harry and Roxanne. (Luke Hegel-Cantarella designs the sets-within-a-set set.)

While some of the humor will be lost on those not working in the industry, Rebeck takes the play-rehearsal plot deeper and effectively focuses on the characters and their relationships. Before a brisk 100 minutes are up, the characters reveal vulnerabilities and insecurities proving that each knows exactly what it feels like to be second best, forced to stay in the wings waiting for a chance to step into the spotlight (literally depicted by lighting designer Scott Bolman). It is their ability to find humor and humanity that helps them cope.

Directed by Rob Ruggiero, the cast gives solid performances. Benator infuses humor into the dryly sarcastic Harry who continually offers suggestions for improvements to Kafka’s stage directions or to Jake’s interpretation of his character. Montelongo’s hammy Jake has us laughing over the “complexities” of pulling a gun out of his pocket and pointing it and it really is hard not to chuckle when Patterson gives a high-strung nervous giggle in frustration as she tries to stroke both men’s egos, deal with her own emotions and get through the disastrous rehearsal.

The Understudy runs through Sept. 18 at TheaterWorks, City Arts on Pearl, 233 Pearl St., Hartford Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays at 7:30 pm; Fridays and Saturdays at 8 and Saturdays and Sundays at 2:30. There will be a free performance for college students and faculty Saturday, Aug. 20.
Tickets are $40 on weekdays and for matinees; $50 Friday and Saturday evening. Center reserved seats are $12.50 extra. For tickets and information, call 860.527.7838 or visit http://theaterworkshartford.org.

Theater Review: Ring of Fire -- Ivoryton

Megan Loomis and Eric Scott Anthony. Photo by Anne Hudson.

Johnny Cash Music Well Done, but Show Lacks Spark
By Lauren Yarger
A musically gifted cast headed by co-director David M. Lutken playing multiple instruments gives a warm glow to the music of country music legend Johnny Cash, but it isn’t enough to spark a real flame in the plotless Ring of Fire: The Music of Johnny Cash playing at Ivoryton Playhouse.

Through the first few numbers of the musical conceived by William Meade and created by Richard Maltby, Jr. the audience spends some time confused about just who these twanging and “sanging” folks are supposed to be. A prologue by Scott Sowers hints that we’re about to witness an autobiographical account of the Man in Black, but suddenly Eric Scott Anthony (who music directs) appears to be Cash. Is Megan Loomis supposed to be his wife, June Carter Cash as they sing “There You Go?” or are they supposed to be Cash’s parents? Later is seems that Lutken might be Cash with Deb Lyons as June. Jon Brown, Michael Hicks, John Rochette and Helen Jean Russell round out the talented musician/singers taking the stage.

At some point it becomes clear that we’re trying to read too much into the vignettes dramatized as each song is sung. Though nicely staged on a minimal set (William Russell Stark, design) exceptionally lighted by designer Tate R. Burmeister, they are not parts of a plot. They just are theatrically depicted versions of the tunes loosely threaded together by a very few lines of dialogue, some two-step choreography (by Sherry Stregack, who co-directs) and voiced narrative that helps us understand that the songs are grouped by location/time frame/ theme: Beginnings, Memphis circa 1956, Back Home, the Grand Ol' Opry, the Johnny Cash TV Show, Prison and Redemption.

Highlights are “Five Feet High and Rising” featuring a moving platform on which the cast members assemble to outdistance the rising flood water and “Flushed” and “Egg Sucking Dog,” humorous numbers performed at Grand Ol’ Opry (the orchestrations by Steven Bishop and Jeff Lisenby here are quite good). Vivianna Lamb (costume designs) also has some fun with flowing 1950 and ‘60’s dresses and the sort of outfits country singers wear.

Lutken (whom Connecticut audiences will remember for his memorable role of the musician in Goodspeed's Big River) and Lyons’ rendition of the title song finally gets the audience singing along near the end of the first act, but there is something rote (a number of the cast have performed this musical multiple times on Broadway and elsewhere) and methodical about the overall feel of the show that keeps the fire from sparking into the conflagration of the foot-stomping, hand-clapping hootenanny it should be. And since there are a whopping 38 songs in the score, the Ring of Fire might feel more like a nine-level inferno for those who aren’t big fans of the music of Johnny Cash.

The show runs through Sept. 4 at the Playhouse, 103 Main St., Ivoryton. Performance times are: Wednesday and Sunday matinees at 2 pm; Wednesday and Thursday at 7:30 pm; Friday and Saturday at 8 pm. Tickets are $40 for adults, $35 for seniors, $20 for students and $15 for children and are available by calling 860-767-7318 or by visiting www.ivorytonplayhouse.org Group rates are available by calling the box office for information.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Ted Koppel Will Be in Conversation at the Mark Twain House

Ted Koppel comes to The Mark Twain House & Museum on Thursday, Aug. 18, to be the distinguished guest for the museum's prestigious Clemens Lecture, an annual event that features writers, journalists and others of creative importance and significance to the national scene.

Past lecturers have included writer Kurt Vonnegut, newscaster Bob Schieffer, commentator Christopher Buckley and novelist Wally Lamb. Koppel will appear in a moderated discussion with John Dankosky, host of WNPR-FM's "Where We Live."

"We are honored to be able to present one of our nation's foremost newscasters and journalists," says Jeffrey L. Nichols, Executive Director of The Mark Twain House & Museum. "Ted Koppel's wit and energy reflect that of Mark Twain in his commentary on the American and the international scene."

The lecture will take place in the museum's Lincoln Financial Auditorium at 7 pm Tickets are $45 ($40 for members) and can be obtained by calling 860-280-3130. 

In June 1963, Koppel became the youngest correspondent ever hired by ABC Radio News, and during the Vietnam War he worked for ABC Television as a war correspondent. He returned to the U.S. in 1968 to cover the campaign of Richard Nixon before becoming Hong Kong bureau chief. From 1971-1980 he served as ABC News' chief diplomatic correspondent, covering the State Department.
In 1980, Koppel became anchor of Nightline, television's first late-night network news show. After 42 years at ABC, Koppel retired in 2005.

Since Nightline, Koppel has been an editorial contributor to the New York Times, as well as providing commentary to Morning Edition and "All Things Considered" on National Public Radio. He is  a senior news analyst for NPR and contributing analyst to BBC World News America.
information about his life and times.

For more information, call 860-247-0998 or visit www.marktwainhouse.org.

Individual Tickets for Kuan's Debut Season Go on Sale Aug. 15

Carolyn Kuan. Photot: Steven Laschever

Individual tickets to the Hartford Symphony Orchestra’s 68th Season Masterworks and POPS! Series will be available for purchase beginning Monday, Aug. 15.

The HSO’s 2011-2012 Masterworks Series concerts will be conducted by Music Director Carolyn Kuan (unless otherwise noted) and performed in The Belding Theater at the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts.

The 2011-2012 programs are: MAHLER’S “TITAN” on October 20-23 with Behzod Abduraimov, piano; MAGNA OPERA on November 10-13 with singers from Yale Opera; HOLIDAY MASTERWORKS on December 1-4 with the Hartford Chorale, Connecticut Children’s Chorus, soprano Stephanie Gilbert, tenor Eric Barry, and bass-baritone Andrew Craig Brown; BRAHMS AND BEATBOXING on January 5-8 with Shodekeh, beatboxer; BEETHOVEN’S FIFTH on February 9-12 with guest conductor Alexander Mickelthwate and violist Gilad Karni; RUSSIAN MASTERS on March 8-11 featuring HSO Artist-in-Residence Sirena Huang; MUSICAL LEGACY on April 12-15 with guest conductor Gerard Schwarz and his son, cellist Julian Schwarz; PATHÉTIQUE on May 10-13 with pianist Teo Gheorghiu; and CARMINA BURANA! on May 31-June 3 featuring violinist Leonid Sigal, soprano Amanda Hall, tenor Joshua Kohl, baritone David Pershall, The Hartford Chorale, and Connecticut Children’s Chorus.

The HSO’s 2011-2012 POPS! Series concerts will all be performed in Mortensen Hall at the Bushnell and will include: STEPPIN’ OUT LIVE WITH BEN VEREEN on Saturday, October 15 at 8:00 p.m.; HOLIDAY POPS! SPECTACULAR on Saturday, December 10 at 3:00 and 8:00 p.m.; CIRQUE DE LA SYMPHONIE on Saturday, February 18 at 8:00 p.m.; SAINT PATRICK’S DAY CELEBRATION with ROBERT WHITE on Saturday, March 17 at 8:00 p.m.; THE MUSIC OF JOHN WILLIAMS on Saturday, April 28 at 8:00 p.m.; and LIVE AND LET DIE – A SYMPHONIC TRIBUTE TO THE MUSIC OF PAUL MCCARTNEY on Saturday, June 9 at 8:00 p.m.

Led by Music Director Carolyn Kuan, the HSO’s 2011-2012 season will open Sunday, September 25, 2011 at 2:00 p.m. at Hartford Symphony’s Picnic in the Park, in a free concert in Bushnell Park featuring classical music’s greatest hits; an operatic selection featuring soprano and Yale Opera alumna Amanda Hall; HSO Jazz and Strings; solo beatboxing by Shodekeh; selections from the UCONN “Pride of Connecticut” marching band; a violin concerto performance by HSO Artist-in-Residence Sirena Huang; members of the choirs of the Greater Hartford Arts Academy and Simsbury High School, and more.

Subscriptions to the 2011-2012 Masterworks Series range in price from $181-$551.50; single tickets range in price from $35.50-$70.50. Subscriptions to the 2011-2012 POPS! Series range in price from $105-$331; single tickets range in price from $20-$67.50. Student tickets are $10. Handling fees may apply.  To purchase tickets or for more information, please contact HSO ticket services at (860) 244-2999 or visit www.hartfordsymphony.org.

PHOTO attached of HSO Music Director Carolyn Kuan (photo credit: Steven Laschever). To request guest artist photos, please contact kbonner@hartfordsymphony.org.

Yale Adds Third World Premiere to Season

Yale Repertory Theatre has announced the third world premiere production of its 2011-2012 season: Good Goods by Christina Anderson, selected by American Theatre magazine as an up-and-coming artist “whose work will be transforming America’s stages for decades to come.”

Acclaimed director Tina Landau, an award-winning ensemble member of Steppenwolf Theatre Company who recently staged Superior Donuts on Broadway, makes her Yale Rep debut with the production, which will run Feb. 3-25, 2012 at Yale Repertory Theatre (1120 Chapel Street). Opening Night is Thursday, Feb. 9.

Amidst the cluttered shelves of a family-owned general store in a small Black town that doesn’t appear on any map, four lost souls reunite. Partnerships dissolve, alliances shift, and romances ignite as a tragic accident unleashes the town’s mysterious history. Blurring the line between body and spirit, Good Goods is an otherworldly love story of the (dis)possessed.

For the rest of the 2011-2012 lineup, see the "What's Playing" listings at left.

Yale Rep offers a variety of subscription packages for audiences to enjoy the entire season, starting at $30 per ticket for the general public, and $10 for students.  Subscriptions are available online at www.yalerep.org, by phone 203-432-1234, and in person at the Yale Rep Box Office (1120 Chapel St.) during regular business hours (Monday through Friday 10 amd to 5 pm, Saturday noon to 5 pm and until 8 on performance evenings). Group Sales are available by calling 203-432-1572.
Individual tickets for the entire season will go on sale on Aug. 29.

Molly Sweeney Will Play Long Wharf

Long Wharf Theatre, under the direction of Artistic Director Gordon Edelstein and Interim Managing Director Joshua Borenstein, present The Irish Repertory Theatre production of Molly Sweeney, by Brian Friel, directed by Charlotte Moore.
The show will run from Sept. 14 through Oct. 16 on Stage II. The cast is comprised of Jonathan Hogan (Mr. Rice), Simone Kirby (Molly Sweeney) and Ciaran O’Reilly (Frank Sweeney). Simone Kirby is appearing with the permission of Actors’ Equity Association. The producers gratefully acknowledge Actors’ Equity Association for its assistance of this production.
The artistic team is comprised of James Morgan (sets), Linda Fisher (costumes), Richard Pilbrow and Michael Gottlieb (lights), and Zachary Richardson (sound).
Blind since infancy, Molly Sweeney only knows of the world through touch, sound, taste, and smell.  But when she is goaded into an operation to restore her sight by her husband and doctor, she sees for the first time all the glory and harsh realities of the life she is living.  Molly’s tale moves toward an unexpected and poignant conclusion about the way we perceive our existence. The New York Times described the Irish Repertory Theatre production as “A deeply moving meditation on hope, change and despair, it’s a compelling piece of theatre, one in which the ending applause is only the beginning of the play’s effects.”
"This late masterpiece from the great Brian Friel is, among other things, an investigation into the power and limitations of modern science," said Gordon Edelstein, artistic director. "The question the play asks is what makes us happy? What do we need to live a satisfied life?"
Brian Friel, born in Ireland in 1929 and best known for Dancing at Lughnasa and Translations, was inspired to write Molly Sweeney after reading a New Yorker article by Dr. Oliver Sacks called “To See and Not See.” Friel directed the world premiere of the play at Dublin’s The Gate Theatre in 1994.
“A neurologist’s life is not systematic, like a scientist’s, but it provides him with novel and unexpected situations, which can become windows, peepholes, into the intricacy of nature – an intricacy that one might not anticipate from the ordinary course of life,” Sacks wrote in the May 10, 1993 article. 
 
For more information about Long Wharf Theatre’s 2011-12 season, visit www.longwharf.org or call 203-787-4282.

Richard Thomas Stars in One-Night Performance at Westport

In celebration of Tennessee Williams’ centennial year, Westport Country Playhouse will stage a special performance by acclaimed actor Richard Thomas in A Distant Country Called Youth, based on a collection of lively and evocative letters written by a young Tennessee Williams, on Monday, Aug. 29 at 7 pm.Tickets to the one-night-only performance are $15.
The theatrical event will be a part of the enhanced programming surrounding the Playhouse’s production of Tennessee Williams’ Suddenly Last Summer Aug. 23 – Sept. 10.
A Distant Country Called Youth begins as the boy Thomas Lanier Williams moves through family travails and professional rejection to his first success, and concludes with the triumphal Broadway opening of The Glass Menagerie. The letters are a remarkable blend -earnest, hilarious, anguished, touching - as the chameleon Williams writes to family and friends, lovers and celebrities during an  obscure 25 years in Williams’life.
The production is adapted by Steve Lawson from "The Selected Letters of Tennessee Williams, Vol. I, 1920-1945," edited by Albert J. Devlin and Nancy M. Tischler. When Lawson (who also directs the production) read these letters, he immediately sensed they contained the seeds of a theatrical event. He was granted permission to proceed by the Williams estate, and the adaptation premiered at Manhattan Theatre Club in 2001. It has since played at Hartford Stage (where Richard Thomas first performed it), and subsequently at theaters across America including the Kennedy Center as well as in England and Ireland.
Thomas appeared in Westport Country Playhouse’s Critic’s Choice and Whose Life Is It Anyway?  Most recently, he was in a reading of A. R. Gurney’s The Golden Age on the Playhouse stage. Thomas captured the public’s heart starring in the Emmy Award-winning TV series,“The Waltons” and also has numorous Broadway and stage credits.

For more information or tickets, call the box office at 203-227-4177, or toll-free at 1-888-927-7529, or visit Westport Country Playhouse, 25 Powers Court, off Route 1, Westport. Tickets are available at www.westportplayhouse.org.

Westport Playhouse Announces 2011-2012 Season

Into the Woods Opens the Season

“The five extraordinary plays that we have chosen for 2012 constitute as thrilling and ambitious a season as Westport Country Playhouse has tackled in some time,” said Mark Lamos, Westport Country Playhouse artistic director, as he announced the 2012 season of five productions---a musical, a comedy, a world premiere and two dramas---playing from May through November. “We’re creating a season of theater worth talking about,” Lamos noted. 2012 will mark the historic Connecticut theater’s 82nd season.
“2012 will be one of our biggest seasons yet,”stated Lamos, “with a wide range of offerings, from truly classic entertainment to the gorgeous music of Stephen Sondheim, to moving drama and a brand new world-premiere comedy---concluding with one of a handful of the greatest American dramatic masterpieces of the 20th Century. We're both proud and excited to share these works with our growing audience.”
As previously announced, Lamos will direct the season opener, a 25th anniversary revival of the musical Into the Woods, with music and lyrics by Sondheim, book by James Lapine, running May 1 – 19. In a dark and seductive world of fairy tales, the essential stories of youth are freshly revealed in all their sinewy complexity. This seamless tapestry of beautiful words and haunting melodies offers a mature vision of these timeless tales that lays bare the truth of what really happens after ‘happily ever after.’ A co-production with Baltimore’s CENTERSTAGE.
The Year of Magical Thinking, based on the National Book Award-winning memoir by acclaimed author Joan Didion, will play June 12 – 30. The intimate drama chronicles the author’s grief and ultimate renewal after the sudden and unexpected death of her husband and the illness of her only child. The play will feature acclaimed actress Maureen Anderman.

The biting social satire, Tartuffe, written by Molière, translated by Richard Wilbur and directed by David Kennedy, Playhouse associate artistic director, will play July 17 – Aug. 4. Orgon has fallen under Tartuffe’s spell, the most saintly man he’s ever known. But Orgon’s family believes Tartuffe a fraud, out to steal his wealth, bed his wife and wed his daughter. Will Orgon come to his senses before it’s too late? The stage is set for a battle of wills in a wickedly funny and farcical take on the outer limits of hypocrisy that has entertained audiences for centuries—and is still fresh today.
A world-premiere comedy,Harbor, written by Tony Award-nominated Chad Beguelin and directed by Lamos, will run Aug.28 – Sep.15. When 15-year-old Lottie and her ne’er-do-well mother Donna drop in unannounced on the beautiful Sag Harbor home of Donna’s brother Kevin and his new husband Ted, all the usual tensions quickly bubble to the surface. Then Donna reveals she’s pregnant, does not know the father, and would like her brother to raise the child—and all hell breaks loose. The bonds between kith and kin are tested in this alternately biting, touching and hilarious new comedy about the constantly shifting nature of the meaning of family.
The powerful classic, A Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry, will play Oct. 9 –Nov. 3. It tells the story of the Youngers, a black family in 1950s Southside Chicago, and their quest for a piece of the American Dream.
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For current subscribers, subscription renewals are now available, including online renewal capability 24/7. Current subscribers who renew by the Early Bird Deadline, Friday, Sept. 2, will be entitled to a special gift. For new subscribers, five-play subscriptions, starting at $150, will be available beginning Oct. 11; four-play subscriptions, Pick-three Plans, FlexTix and group sales will be available starting Jan. 3. Single tickets will go on sale March 6.

For more information or tickets, call the box office at 203-227-4177, or toll-free at 1-888-927-7529, or visit Westport Country Playhouse, 25 Powers Court, off Route 1, Westport. Tickets are available online at www.westportplayhouse.org.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Writing the Sitcom with a Little Help from a TV Legend Good at Doing It

Participants toss out ideas.
Alan Zweibel Conducts a Workshop at Quinnipiac
By Lauren Yarger
A group of people sit around a table pitching ideas to a producer for what they hope will make the next hit television sitcom. The setting isn’t a Hollywood studio exec’s office, however. It’s the Hamden, CT campus of Quinnipiac University where legendary television sitcom writer Alan Zweibel is conducting a weeklong workshop on the art of writing a sitcom.

This might not be the real thing, but the ambitious pace the program sets can rival any shooting schedule in LA. In just one week, the students are scheduled to come up with an idea for a sitcom, write the script, cast it, shoot it in the studios of the Ed McMahon Communications Center and edit it into a 22-minute show -- a process that takes about five months, not five days, in the real world of sitcoms.

The idea is the brain child of Michael D. Calia, director of the McMahon Center, who met Zweibel at a production of the Emmy-award winning author’s play in New York. The two started sharing ideas for teaching a course that would take students through the process of writing a television sitcom. Zweibel certainly know the process. He got his start as one of the original writers for "Saturday Night Live" creating the memorable Samurai Delicatessen, Rosanne Rosannadanna and Emily Litella sketches, among others.  He has received multiple Emmys and Writers Guild and TV Critics awards for his work in television for shows including “It’s Garry Shandling’s Show,” ”Great Performances”, “Monk,” and “Curb Your Enthusiasm.”

Calia was thrilled when Zweibel offered to teach the workshop though the comedy writer doesn’t see himself as a teacher. It was the mentoring part – helping people who always had wanted to write for TV or who thought they might like to try it – to get some hands on experience that interested him.

“I wish we had a program like this when I was in school,” he said. A lot of people took the time to mentor him when he was first starting out, so Zweibel sees the workshop as one way to pay back that investment.

Ranging in age from 17 to 74 from all different backgrounds, the participants themselves would make an interesting sitcom cast of characters.
      ·         Doug, a retired parole officer who has some local TV experience, is a drummer in a band.
·         Lana, a multi-experienced entrepreneur, stockbroker, nurse, has made some documentaries and thinks she might be good behind the camera.
·         Tim, a recent graduate of Quinnipiac, likes the production end and would like to beef up his resume.
·         Audrey, a junior at Quinnipiac, works for the campus news station and is trying to figure out what she would like to do for a career.
·         Lizzy is a senior at Granby High School. She likes the sophisticated comedies currently on TV.
·         Brad is a senior film major at Quinnipiac. When he’s not doing his stand-up comedy, he spends his time writing sitcom pilots. His goal five years from now: to be in the second season of a show he is writing.
·         Frank, a junior at Quinnipiac, also does stand-up. He’s interested in performing in a sitcom.
·         Sam, a senior at Quinnipiac, is interested in editing, rather than writing, but thinks learning about the writing process will make her more well rounded.
·         Joshua, who was an investment analyst in New York took a fiction writing workshop and discovered his passion. He has written two novels and now would like to try something more collaborative. He’s written a TV pilot.
·         Neil, a former orthodontist and investment adviser from Brooklyn, is hoping to get a job on the staff of the “Jerry Kimmel Live!” show where his son is a writer.
·         Brian, a Wallingford High School student, enjoys theater and science.
·         Marty, an assistant professor at Quinnipiac, has written for the New York Times and has an independent film coming out next year. 

“It’s Monday. We have nothing,” Zweibel tells the group. “By Friday, we’ll have something,” then adds, “If the queen had balls, she’d be king.”

He is skeptical that they will be able to come up with a full 22-minute pilot in the timeframe they have, but length isn’t important. As long as they produce something that is cohesive and as good as it can be, he’ll be happy, he says, and they begin the process of coming up with the concept.

Many ideas get tossed around, some funny, some not, but no real winner seems to emerge. In between the ideas, Zweibel skillfully offers general information about the process in Hollywood – what the week’s schedule looks like, what producers are looking for in potential scripts, what script treatments and outlines contain. He also shows an incredible amount of patience, allowing the participants to run with ideas that seem impossible and letting them come to that conclusion on their own. He might be more of a teacher than he thinks. 
Zweibel, right, offers some insights in the studio.
Eventually a few main concepts become the frontrunners: a show featuring a multi-generational family business, one about a parole officer, a show about a ballroom dancing studio and another about campus tour guides. None of them is developed enough to make it by “producer” Zweibel yet though, and the funniest part of the “pitching” becomes how the participants try to shape their favorite parts to fit the others. What about parole officer who takes a tour? What if the ballroom were owned by several generations of a family?

Somewhere the idea of a character searching for a lost bong given to him by Jimi Hendrix gets tossed out there and won’t go away. What if he interacts with the parole officer? What if he is the parole officer? What if he and several generations of his family own a head shop which could be the sitcom’s setting? What if the bong were discovered on a campus tour?

All of those ideas bring a lot of laughter, but won’t stand up as a sitcom idea which needs a solid location, interesting characters and a reason for them to be there over a 26-episode season. It becomes apparent that the first step of deciding on a premise is more difficult than anyone thought it would be.

Zweibel takes the group for a quick tour of the studio where they will be filming. The reality of creating sets in the small studio helps them focus. Finally, at 3 pm, the group satisfies producer Zweibel. It will be ballroom studio featuring characters who run the place as well as those who come for lessons. None of them will be looking for a bong.

The group starts an outline. Who are the characters? What does each scene look like?

Tuesday the participants write the script. They break into small groups to focus on characters or scenes, then come back to work collaboratively. The first draft will be awful, Zweibel warns them, and he’s right. It is. More rewrites, more collaboration and a working script finally emerges. Wednesday involves casting the show, blocking the scenes and rehearsing. Some additional actors will be needed to pull off some of the characters.

Meanwhile, Calia has hired Rachel Reynolds, resident scenic designer at Ivoryton Playhouse, to handle production design for the sitcom. Additional folks are brought in to provide wardrobe, lights and props and Quinnipiac students and staff are tapped to do the filming and editing.

During this phase of the project, Zweibel finds a particularly satisfying pattern emerging. All of the participants seem to have gained in confidence and are finding their niches in the process. In particular, Brad and Sam stand out with their ideas and abilities and Zweibel “deputizes” them as sort of assistant directors for the shooting process.
Tim Behrans waits for the shoot of his scene.
Shooting begins on Thursday. Tim, cast as a writer who lives beneath the dance studio, sits at his desk while last-minute decisions are made before shooting can start. What color is the paper in his typewriter? What should be typed on the paper? What type of material should be used to depict the ceiling falling on his head? What wattage bulb is needed in the light above him? What color should the pillow be on the cot?
Finally shooting begins and after several takes, the first scene is a wrap. And it’s funny. The group heads “on location” to a dance studio conveniently located above the university’s gym for the next scene. As shooting progresses, the group sees their ideas and words come to life. Editing still is being completed, and when it's done, each member will receive a DVD or Blu-Ray copy of the show which gives them all producing, writing, directing and starring credits.

Zweibel already was thinking about ideas for the next workshop and Calia is pleased that Quinnipiac has found another successful program in which its students can interact with seasoned professionals.

For more information about Quinnipiac and its programs, visit http://www.quinnipiac.edu. For more information about Zweibel, visit http://www.alanzweibel.com/.
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Lauren Yarger with playwright Alfred Uhry at the Mark Twain House. Photo: Jacques Lamarre)

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