Monday, April 29, 2013

Theater Review: Hairspray -- CT Repertory

Tina Fabrique (center) leads the cast. Photo by Gerry Goodstein.
 Hello, Baltimore! Great Casting, Great Choreography Push CT Rep’s Hairspray
By Lauren Yarger
Another production of Hairspray. It seems every theater from high school to professional has presented the Marc Shaiman/ Scott Wittman musical more than once over the years, so do we really need to see another production so soon?

If the show is the one closing out the 2013 season at CT Repertory up at UConn, the answer is a resounding yes!

Director Paul Mullins has teased together a terrific cast (the ensemble at 45+ is huge) starring comedian Kevin Meaney as Edna Turnblad, Tina Fabrique (Ella) as Motormouth Mabel and Lena Mary Amato as Tracy, reprising this role for the fifth time (she won the 2012 Syracuse Area Live Theatre Award for Best Actress for her portrayal of Tracy at The Merry-Go-Round Playhouse.) Broadway-quality choreography by Gerry McIntyre is executed with enthusiasm and precision by the cast to add to the fun (as do costumes by Maureen Freedman).

And fun it is. The bubbly Tracy is head over heels in love with dashing Link Larkin (Will Haden), the featured dancer on Baltimore’s American Bandstand-like TV show hosted by Corny Collins (a terrific James Jelkin). While teasing her hair to new heights (Bailey Rosenberg provides the laugh-inspiring hair and makeup design for the show), she hopes that one day she and Link might end up together (“I Can Hear the Bells”). Those hopes are dashed like a perm meeting water, however, when Amber Von Tussie (Andrianna Prast), Link’s dance partner and daughter of the show’s producer, Velma (Sarah Wintermeyer), starts flashing his ring. 

Undaunted, Tracy cuts school with best friend Penny Pingleton (Kate Zulauf) to audition for the show. Tracy’s cool dance moves, honed during some improv movement sessions with black students like Seaweed J. Stubbs (Colby Lewis) who are doing some different, very hip moves during their frequent detentions after school, earn her a place on the show despite her plump figure. She gets extra hold with sprays of loving support along the way from mother Edna (Meaney) and father Wilbur (Scott Ripley).

Racial relations aren’t all that they should be in 1960s Baltimore, however, and controversy arises when Tracy wants her black friends to be able to dance on the show with her. Currently, they are seen only on “Negro Day” hosted once a month by Stubbs’ mother, Motormouth Mable (Fabrique). Love (Penny and Seaweed discover the heart doesn’t care about race), taking a stand for what’s right and arrests all play out against a contest for the title of Miss Teenage Hairspray.

Meaney does a great job portraying the conflicted mother who is protective of her child while wanting to help her achieve her dreams. In fact, Meaney is the only actor playing the role I have seen who doesn’t appear just to be a guy in drag (why the role always is played by a man instead of a talented actress of size is a mystery). He simply becomes Edna. Kudos! And he’s funny. During a touching ballad with Wilbur ("Timeless to Me"), Meaney suddenly improvised some dialogue the night I attended. Watching talented Ripley trying to keep up without losing it was a treat.

Fabrique is lovely to hear and Amato simply is the quintessential big girl with the big hair and big dreams, bringing a terrific singing voice and contagious excitement to the stage. Also giving stellar performances are Zulauf, Lewis and Haden. Standing out in three minor roles is Hannah Kaplan as Penny’s mother, Prudy and as the school gym teacher and the prison matron. She is a hoot and develops three distinct characters.

You Can’t Stop the Beat. Get over to the Harriet S. Jorgenson Theater and see this funny and delightfully fresh “do.” It runs through May 5. Performances are Wednesday, Thursday at 7:30 pm; Friday and Saturday at 8 pm; Sunday at 2 pm. Tickets $6-$36 (860) 486-2113; www.crt.uconn.edu.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Playwrights Theresa Rebeck, David Lindsay-Abaire and Nikkole Salter Share Thoughts on Mark Twain House Panel

Theresa Rebeck, Nikkole Salter, Frank Rizzo and David Lindsay-Abaire
By Lauren Yarger
I enjoyed attending part of the annual Writers' Weekend and Bookfair at the Mark Twain House in Hartford yesterday. The big draw of Saturday's events was the Playwrights Panel, featuring Theresa Rebeck (Seminar, Dead Accounts, The Understudy), Nikkole Salter (In the Continuum, Carnaval) and David Lindsay-Abaire (Pulitzer Prize winner Rabbit Hole, Good People, Fuddy Meers).

Moderated by Hartford Courant arts columnist and theater reviewer Frank Rizzo, the panelists discussed everything from their process for writing to reacting to reviews of their work. The event was informative and lively with Rebeck even taking Rizzo to task for a review of her work.

Here are highlights of what they had to say:

What's the methodology for your writing process; do you focus on one idea or have a bunch going on at once?

Rebeck: She works in different media, so she'll have an idea for a novel working alongside a play and a film or TV show (Rebeck's most recent TV show is "Smash."
Salter: She is more in the beginning of her career, so she doesn't have to juggle projects yet, but kidded that "broke" playwrights can make themselves sound busier by saying "Oh, I am focusing on one thing."
Lindsay-Abaire: 20 ideas might be in his head for many years, then he'll "smoosh" some of them together and see whether they form a play.

What's the process for collaboration?

Salter: Much of the award-winning In the Continuum (co-authored with Danai Gurira) was birthed through improvisation. As a writer, she needs to bounce ideas off other people and to hear the play. She has had the creative team for her plays on board about half way through the process of writing them.
Rebeck: She wrote Bad Dates for Julie White. Sometimes collaboration involves writing for people you have worked with. You know they know how to do it. You won't have to explain. Novels are more lonely.
Lindsay-Abaire: When one of his earlier plays, Fuddy Meers, was being produced, the director and actors spent a lot of time studying and discussing the characters and their actions, but what he was seeing in rehearsal made him wonder why they wouldn't "just do it the way it is in my head." When an audience came in previews, everything clicked. There's a "fine line between giving people their process and knowing what you want," he said. And in the movies, you have less control over the process. It's like being an extra in a film, watching it for yourself and saying, "Oh, there I go."

Are dramaturgs helpful to the process?

Rebeck -- No, if they seem to have their own agenda; yes if you find over time that you trust them. It's "dicey" if they don't know your taste.
Lindsay-Abaire: for historical pieces, a dramaturg can keep you accurate and honest. Who does he trust to read his work? The student writers group that formed when he was a Julliard and which continues. Dan Sullivan "has given me the best dramaturg advice I ever have received" though he has the title director rather than dramaturg. (In case you're wondering, a dramaturg is someone who helps research and shape the story).

Do you care what the critics say?

Salter: Yes and no. She reads reviews, but with a grain of salt. It is, after all, just one opinion. That opinion can make or stop opportunities for the show, though.
Rebeck: Tries not to read them. Sometimes they seem to focus on calling her a man hater, a feminist, a sexist. She seems always to be told that she has some secret agenda when her only agenda was to write a good play. She can't always figure out what triggered anger from the reviewer and feels they sometimes hide behind the excuse that their opinions are justified because their readers want to know.
Lindsay-Abaire: His ideas about critics have changed over the years. Early on, he embraced good reviews and joking that he "slept with them under my pillow." He bristled, however, when critics panned his early, more absurdest works and said, "I could write one of those naturalistic plays if I wanted to. So I wrote Rabbit Hole."
"You're welcome," Rizzo quipped.
Inevitably, criticism continued despite the Pulitzer, with critics saying he sold out by writing a couch play. Ultimately the process caused him to grow.

Do they ever feel they are being categorized?

Rebeck: She gets called a chick playwright. She gets tired of the "woman playwright" category. Being a woman who writes comedy is even more rare and creates a "nervousness."
Salter: They expect black stories and black characters.
Lindsay-Abaire: People want you to re-create the type of thing you wrote before, only you change as a person over time and so does your writing. He can't go back to creating silly plays written by a young man who didn't know what he was doing because he isn't the same person any more.

Can people make a living these days as a playwright? How does one get produced?

Lindsay-Abaire: Hollywood work helps. There's pressure for playwrights to write works that can be produced commercially, rather than to create brilliant plays that might be more expensive to stage or which won't appeal to a larger audience. Submit everywhere you can (his first resource was "The Dramatist's Source Book"). "You never know what line is going to catch a fish."
Salter: "It's like dating." You check meet up with many different producing houses to find the right match.

What have you seen recently that really knocked your socks off?

Rebeck: Once
Salter: Enjoyed being in an appreciative audience for Motown.
Lindsay-Abaire: Was excited to see Clifford Odets' The Big Knife, which he had not seen before and was blown away by some of the performances.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Quick Hit Theater Review: Cole -- Music Theatre of Connecticut

Philip Chaffin, Blair Alexis Brown, Eric Scott Kincaid and Kathy Calahan. Photo: Marc Porier.
Cole
Based on the words and music of Cole Porter
Devised by Benny Green and Alan Strachan
Original Music and Arrangement by Kenneth Moule
Directed by Kevin Connors
Music Theatre of Connecticut, Westport

What's It All About?
Just what it says -- a lot of songs and information about composer Cole Porter presented in a one-hour-10-minute format by four singers: Blair Alexis Brown, Kathy Calahan, Philip Chaffin and Eric Scott Kincaid. They are accompanied on piano by able Musical Director David Wolfson.

What are the Highlights?
That great Cole Porter music for one! Kathy Calahan's "Love for Sale" is a special treat. A brisk, short show with no intermission.

What are the Lowlights?
There isn't any story, just some bits of information about Porter without real direction or purpose. The songs are "sung" rather than interpreted for the most part. The arrangement of "I Get a Kick Out of You" stood out as unusual. Choreography seems overdone -- maybe a result of Director Kevin Connors trying to compensate for the lack of anything to work with in Green and Strachan's material.

More info:
Cole runs through May 12 at Music Theatre of Connecticut, 246 Post Road East, Westport. Performances are Fridays and Saturdays at 8 pm, Saturdays at 4 pm and Sundays at 3 pm. Tickets $25-$45 with senior and student discounts available. 203-454-3883; www.musictheatreofct.com.

Theater Review: Other People's Money

Edward Kassar and Elizabeth Donnelly. Photo: Anne Hudson
How Small Business Gets Eaten in a Shark Attack
By Lauren Yarger
“Shark-eats-little fish” and “shark-eats-shark” set the stage for the underhanded word of corporate takeovers in Jerry Sterner’s play, Other People’s Money over at Ivoryton Playhouse.

New England Wire and Cable has weathered hard economic times through the decades and owner Andrew Jorgenson (Gary Allan Poe) believes carrying on his father’s business practices of not borrowing and making a few sacrifices (like taking a salary cut) will keep the business strong for its loyal shareholders and the local Rhode Island workers who are the backbone of the antiquated company. He also trusts President William Coles (Dennis Fox) who is busy increasing revenues of the corporation’s other, more profitable holdings, which are subsidizing New England Wire and Cable.

Coles’ profits and no debt make the corporation very desirable, however, to Wall Street financier Lawrence Garfinkle (Edward Kassar), who starts to buy up stock. Concerned, Coles warns his boss to take steps to protect the corporation from takeover by “Larry the Liquidator” or the stories “Jorgy” likes to take up his time telling about the grand old days soon will be memories of a company that no longer exists.

When Jorgy and his loyal assistant, Bea Sullivan (Denise Walker) refuse to believe there is any danger, Coles goes to Garfinkle to ask him to postpone his efforts to take over the company until he can secure his own future. After all, Jorgy had promised Coles that he would be his successor, and if Garfinkle’s takeover is successful, there won’t be a company to run. 

Garfinkle is only interested in where his next dollar or donut is coming from, however, and continues to buy up stock until he’s challenged by New England Wire & Cable’s secret weapon – Bea’s daughter, Kate (Elizabeth Donnell), a high-powered Wall Street attorney who agrees to take to take the case despite the hurt and resentment she still fees toward Jorgy and her mother, for their love affair which broke up her childhood home.

Smart, quick-witted Kate is not intimidated by Garfinkle and he finds that exciting – that and the fact that the repulsive sexist finds anything in a skirt exciting (Kari Crowther designs the 1990-era fashions). Inexplicably, Kate finds the heavyset, donut-eating, sex talking Garfinkle funny and attractive, and soon the two sharks are swimming in an ocean charged with sexual tension to see who will be the winner and take it all. Caught in the tide, however, is Jorgy, who has to decide whether to buy off Garfinkle or trust that his shareholders will remain loyal to the company and vote for him to continue as owner.

Sterner’s “insider” look into the word of corporate takeovers is interesting, but lacks structure for the stage. Not much happens outside of the negotiations because characters aren’t fully developed. There’s an attempt at backstory, but we simply don’t know these people well enough to understand their motivations or care about them. There is absolutely no reason for Kate to like Garfinkle, for example.

“The man has a certain undeniable charm,” she tells us. We don’t see it, however, and it isn’t believable when she takes him at his word during the negotiations or that she is OK with his sexual remarks. There also is very little evidence that Bea and Jorgy are in love or why she would be willing to give up her marriage, alienate her daughter and offer up her life savings for a guy who seems pretty oblivious to her.

Some direction is particularly noteworthy. When they aren’t speaking directly to each other, characters often are talking to the audience or commenting on other conversations taking place and Director Maggie McGlone Jennings pulls it all together neatly. A phone conversation between Kate and Garfinkle without use of a phone is particularly clever. William Russell Stark's set design and Marcus Abbott's set and lighting design help to separate the elements for us.

Kassar is miscast as the greedy shark, however and Garfinkle’s crudeness doesn’t seem natural. There also isn’t any chemistry between him and Donnelly. The pace of the play (at two hours and 15 minutes with an intermission) also feels very long and draggy. By the time Jorgy addresses the stockholders at New England Wire and Cable's 73rd annual meeting showdown, we’re a little too zoned to appreciate his passionate plea to keep the company intact. His dialogue contains the play’s most thought-provoking lines about the state of our nation’s economy and where it will end up if the only product it creates are lawyers.

Other People's Money runs through May 5 at the Ivoryton Playhouse, 100 Main St. 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. Tickets $40 for adults, $35 for seniors, $20 for students and $15 for children 860-767-7318; www.ivorytonplayhouse.org.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Direct from Brazil to Hartford: Dinho Nascimento and His Berimbau Orchestra

Dinho Nascimento and his Berimbau Orchestra. Photo: Courtesy of Trinity
Dinho Nascimento, an innovator in Brazilian music for 40 years, is bringing his Berimbau Orchestra direct from São Paulo for its US debut at Samba Fest. The Brazilian Ministry of Culture is sponsoring their appearance.

Samba Fest is a daylong celebration of music and dance from Brazil, Trinidad, and Puerto Rico. Now in its seventh year, it will take place on Saturday, May 4, from 11 am to 6 pm at Mortensen Riverfront Plaza, 300 Columbus Blvd. Admission is free to this family-friendly event.

The berimbau is now a global symbol of Brazilian national identity. This musical instrument of African origin consists of a long wooden bow, a metal string, and gourd resonator, and its pitch is produced with a small wooden stick and modified with a stone or coin. These sounds are accompanied by a palm-sized basket rattle.

Although the history of the berimbau has strong connections with capoeira, the Afro-Brazilian martial art/dance/game, Dinho Nascimento has expanded the range of sounds produced on this instrument and illuminates shared roots between the berimbau and music of North America.

For general information about Samba Fest: sambafest.com; 860-297-2199. For directions and parking information, visit riverfront.org/parks/mortensen/.

Connecticut Arts Connections You Don't Want to Miss!

The Edgerton Center for the Performing Arts at Sacred Heart University continues its American Legend Series with A Conversation with Florence Hendersonat at the Edgerton Center for the Performing Arts on the Campus of Sacred Heart University, 5151 Park Ave. in Fairfield Saturday, May 4 at 8 pm. Tickets: $25 - General Public; $15 - Senior Citizens/Faculty/Staff; $10 - Students 203-371-7908 (Mondays through Fridays from noon-4 pm); EdgertonCenter.org.

Wesleyan University’s Theater Department presents Tang Xianzu's "Peony Pavilion," directed by Jeffrey Sichel, from Thursday, April 25 through Saturday, April 27, 2013 at 8 pm in the CFA Theater, located at 271 Washington Terrace on the Wesleyan campus in Middletown. There will also be a 2 pm matinee performance on Saturday, April 27. Tickets: $8 for the general public; $5 for senior citizens, Wesleyan faculty/staff, and non-Wesleyan students; and $4 for Wesleyan students, http://www.wesleyan.edu/boxoffice; 860-685-3355; Box Office Usdan University Center, 45 Wyllys Ave., Middletown.
 
In addition, Wesleyan University’s Dance Department will honor Artist in Residence Urip Sri Maeny, and celebrate her retirement following four decades of teaching Javanese dance with free events Thursday, May 2 and Friday, May 3 in World Music Hall, located at 40 Wyllys Ave. http://www.wesleyan.edu/dance

HSO MASTERWORKS SERIES: RHAPSORY IN BLUE
Featuring Carolyn Kuan, conductor; Anderson & Roe Piano Duo – Greg Anderson and Elizabeth Joy Roe
Thursday, May 9, 2013 │ 7:30 pm
Friday, May 10 │ 8:00 pm 
Saturday, May 11 │ 8:00 pm
Sunday, May 12 │ 3:00 pm 
Belding Theater │ The Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts
Program: George Gershwin: Rhapsody in Blue and “I Got Rhythm” Variations for Piano and Orchestra; Ralph Vaughan Williams: Symphony No. 6 in E minor; plus four hand piano encores including “Ragtime alla Turca,” Rachmaninoff’s “Vocalise,” the “Sacrificial Dance” from Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring, and Piazzolla’s Libertango.

Ticket Information: $35.50-$70.50. Student tickets are $10. On Saturday, May 11, $25 tickets are available for patrons age 40 and under. 860-244-2999; www.hartfordsymphony.org.
Susanna Salk, right,  author of “A Privileged Life: Celebrating WASP Style,” will speak at “Books Worth Talking About,” on Tuesday, May 7, 6:30 to 7:30 pm in the Lucille Lortel White Barn Center at Westport Country Playhouse. David Smith, of Cablevision, will moderate. The literary salon will be followed by an 8 pm performance of the A. R. Gurney’s The Dining Room, a witty and heartfelt observation of life among White Anglo-Saxon Protestants, directed by Mark Lamos, Westport Country Playhouse artistic director. RSVP at marketing@westportplayhouse.org or the Playhouse box office at 203-227-4177.

Pulitzer Prize winner Marsha Norman has selected playwright Jen Silverman as the winner of the 2013 Yale Drama Series for her play Still, chosen from almost 1,100 entries from 30 countries. As winner of the competition, Still will be published by Yale University Press, receive a staged reading at Lincoln Center Theater’s Claire Tow Theater, and Silverman will be presented with the David Charles Horn Prize, a cash award of $10,000.

Monday, April 22, 2013

CT Connections Among Outer Critics Circle Nominations

From the Long Wharf production: Ari Brand, Melissa Miller and Mark Nelson. Photo: T. Charles Erickson
Michael Wilson, former artistic director of Hartford Stage, is an Outer Critics Circle Nominee for Best Direction of a Play for his work on The Trip to Bountiful this season on Broadway.

In addition, My Name is Asher Lev by Aaron Posner, running Off-Broadway following it's Long Wharf presentation in May, 2012, has been nominated as Outstanding New Off-Broadway Play. It also is a nominee for the John Gassner Award given to an American play, preferably by an new playwright.

For a full listing of the nominees, visit http://reflectionsinthelight.blogspot.com/2013/04/pippin-leads-outer-critics-circle.html#.UXW1e6Jwedc.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Comedian Brian Regan Plays the Palace

Brian Regan plays the Palace Theater in Waterbury on Thursday, May 9 at 7:30 pm.

Regan balances sophisticated writing and physicality. His non-stop theater tour has visited more than 80 cities each year since 2005, and will continue through 2013. He broke the record for the most consecutive shows by a comedian at Abravanel Hall in Salt Lake City with 10 sold-out shows.

With his first appearance on The Late Show with David Letterman in 1995, Brian solidified a spot on the show, and this year, he made his 25th appearance, the most of any comedian to appear on Letterman. A dorm room favorite, 1997’s Brian Regan Live has sold over 150,000 copies and consistently charts in iTunes Top Ten Comedy Albums. His 2000 Comedy Central Presents special continues to be a top viewer choice and Brian’s independently released 2004 DVD, I Walked on the Moon, is available on his website. On November 25, 2011, his highly anticipated second album, All By Myself, was released on CD available only through his website. 
 
Tickets are $46: 203-346-2000; www.palacetheaterct.org; To learn more about Brian Regan or to purchase any of his comedy releases, visit www.brianregan.com.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Theater Review: Sister Act -- The Bushnell

The cast. Photo: Joan Marcus
Sisterhood Overcomes Evil in Heavenly Comedy
By Lauren Yarger
Sister Act, one of the more successful efforts to convert a blockbuster film to the stage is rocking the rafters over at the Bushnell with a tour stop this week.

Ta’rea Campbell stars as nightclub singer Deloris Van Cartier, the role made famous in the film by Whoopi Goldberg (who is a producer on the show). When Deloris sees her lover, gangster Curtis Jackson (Kingsley Leggs, who originated the role on Broadway), murder a snitch she’s marked for execution and seeks help from the Philadelphia Police. She’s taken into protection by shy, former high school classmate and cop “Sweaty” Eddie Souther, who still harbors a crush for the flamboyant Deloris.

He hides her at the Queen of Angels Church, disguised as a nun, to await Curtis’ murder trial at which she’ll be the star witness. Mother Superior (Hollis Resnik) isn’t happy with hosting the foul-mouthed singer with her sheltered sisters, but agrees when Monsignor O’Hara (Richard Pruitt) reminds her that a donation given by the police will help the financially struggling church which is in danger of being sold off by the diocese. 

Deloris trades cigarettes, cheese-steak sandwiches and her glittery blouse over thigh-length boots and blue fur coat for abstinence, mutton and a “penguin suit.” (Lez Brotherston designs the costumes). Even still, the nuns find their new sister from a “more progressive order” glamorous and exciting and want to be more like her. Mother Superior sticks Deloris where she thinks she won’t be able to get into any trouble: the Queen of Angels Choir, which sounds more like a group of singers from hell (the nuns singing poorly, directed by Jerry Zaks, is really funny).

Soon Deloris is charming the blunt-speaking choir director, Mary Lazarus (Diane J. Findlay), and transforms the foul-sounding group into decent singers. Deloris helps postulant Mary Robert (Lael Van Keuren ) find her voice and suddenly, overly bubbly Mary Patrick (a funny Florrie Bagel) isn’t the only one excited about being a nun. 

The group is a hit, to the utter disbelief and irritation of Mother Superior, and starts drawing crowds to the church to hear their foot-stomping, hand-clapping brand of inspirational music. The singing nuns also draw the attention of the press, especially when the Pope decides to visit. The publicity leads Curtis and his henchmen, TJ, Joey and Pablo (Charles Barksdale, Todd A. Horman and Ernie Pruneda) right to Deloris and her sisters. (The number where TJ, Joey and Pablo sing about how they will be able to gain access to the convent because of their prowess with women is a hoot).

A fast-paced, humorous book by Cheri and Bill Steinkellner with additional material by Douglas Carter Beane combines with catchy music by Alan Menken and lyrics by Glenn Slater to create an entertaining tale. All of the main elements from the movie are there and play out in front of gothic-inspired sets with a huge statue of Mary designed by Klara Zieglerova. Anthony Van Laast’s choreography adds to the laughs.

All of the vocals are good, especially Cornelious, whose voice is dreamy, and Van Keuren, who sang the role on Broadway, and who belts right up to heaven. They are backed by an orchestra directed and conducted by Brent-Alan Huffman. This one would be a sin to miss.

Sister Act runs through April 21 at the Bushnell, 166 Capitol Ave., Hartford. Performances are Wednesday, Thursday at 7:30 pm; Friday at 8 pm; Saturday at 2 and 8 pm; Sunday 1 and 6 pm. Tickets $20-$92. (860) 987-6000; www.bushnell.org. (Check the Bushnell site for updates about construction on Capitol Avenue).

Monday, April 15, 2013

Hang on to your Quidditch Sticks! Condensed, Tongue-in-Cheek Version of Harry Potter Series Flies in to the Bushnell

The hit off-Broadway show Potted Potter: The Unauthorized Harry Experience – A Parody by Dan and Jeff is coming to the Belding Theater at The Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts for two weekends May 17-19 and May 24-26.

The show received a 2012 Olivier Award nomination for Best Entertainment & Family Show. Written and performed by former BBC Television hosts Daniel Clarkson and Jefferson Turner, the play takes on the ultimate challenge of condensing, or “potting”, all seven Harry Potter books into 70 madcap minutes, aided only by multiple costume changes, brilliant songs, ridiculous props and a generous helping of Hogwarts magic. The show also invites audiences to engage with a real life game of Quidditch, but according to Clarkson and Turner’s unique set of rules.

Whether you camped outside a bookstore for three days awaiting the release of the Deathly Hallows or you don’t know the difference between a horcrux and a Hufflepuff, the comedy, magic and mayhem of Potted Potter makes for an entertaining and hilarious visit to the theatre. Read a review of the Off-Broadway presentation here.

Perfromances: Friday at 7 pm; Saturday and Sunday 2 and 7 pm. Tickets: www.bushnell.org; 860-987-5900. starting at $49.75.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Theater Review: Abundance -- Hartford Stage

Brenda Withers and Monique Vukovic. Photo:
T. Charles Erickson
A Tale as Tall as the Sky is Wide Sweeps Across the Stage
By Lauren Yarger
Abundance, Beth Henley’s tale of two mail order brides out west in the last part of the 19th century, packs in everything you’d expect from a tall tale of life on the American frontier – and much more. Maybe too much.

Hardships of trying to homestead amidst drought and blizzards, an abduction by Native Americans, enduring friendship and a love triangle all come to life under the expansive skies of Wyoming over at Hartford Stage (thanks to some sweeping, brooding rough-edged set backgrounds designed by William Chin in front of a revolving stage.)

Bess (Monique Vokovic) and Macon (Brenda Withers) first meet in the 1860s when they are waiting to meet the men to whom they have traveled to be mail-order brides. Macon is vivacious, excited about the possibilities of a new start and consumed by a burning desire to see what’s out west. 

“I’d rip the wings off an angel if I thought they’d help me fly,” she says.

(Henley’s dialogue and Withers’ portrayal both are brilliant). 

She befriends the shy, compliant, almost simple-minded Bess who has been waiting for days – without any food – for her intended, who wrote about the size of the western sky and with whom she hopes to have a fairytale romance.

His brother, rude and crude Jack (James Knight), arrives instead, however, to inform her that his brother has died in an accident and that he’ll be marrying her instead. She goes off with him planning to be a good wife. His cruelty – he forbids her to sing or cry among other things -- soon makes it clear that a happy ending isn’t coming for their story.

“You out west now,” he tells her. “Things are different here.”

Macon’s fiancé, boring William (Kevin Kelly), isn’t exactly what she was hoping for either. He forgot to mention a few things in his correspondence, like the fact that he was married before to a wife he loved very much and the fact that he’s missing an eye, lost in a mining accident. Macon marries a man she feels “allergic to” and tries to make the best of things while helping to manage their growing ranch.

“Even if he had another eye,” Macon tells Bess, “I might find him repulsive.”

While enduring their loveless marriages, the women take strength from their friendship and Macon proves a lifeline for Bess after she loses a baby. Never-do-well Jack is scammed when he buys a worthless gold mine. He steals firewood from their friends and Bess searches for straw in her bed mattress to keep from starving. When Jack burns down their home, he and Bess move in with William and Macon.

“Temporary living arrangements” turn permanent, however, and tensions mount as Jack shows no intention of working or showing any gratitude for his good fortune. William is tired of Jack eating all of their food; Bess wants Macon to leave her prospering ranch and the men behind to go further out west like they had talked about when they first met. Jack, however, wants something more: Macon herself.

When Native Americans abduct Bess and her scalp turns up for sale, Macon can’t contain her passion for Jack any longer. Year later, Bess turns up and the story of her years in captivity makes her a celebrity, thanks to Elmore (John Leonard Thompson), a professor who puts her story into a bestselling book and manages her speaking engagements. Suddenly a more confident – and rich-- Bess starts looking and sounding more like the old Macon, who feels left out – and suddenly Jack thinks his wife might not be so bad after all.

Jenn Thompson gets good performances from her ensemble and uses subtle technique to enhance the humor in Henley’s tale, which is well crafted to bring plot points full circle as roles and the couples’ fortunes change (the playwright won the Pulitzer Prize for Crimes of the Heart.) The plot can seem broad and almost unbelievable in places, however, like a yarn being told around a campfire. Dramaturg Elizabeth William’s program information reminds us, however, that details about Bess’ abduction parallel those of a real-life victim named Olive Oatman and that most of the situations encountered by the women during the settling of the western frontier through 1890 were indeed real and not the stuff of fiction.

Some parts of the play are just hard to swallow, though. Why anyone wouldn’t just put sleazy Jack out for the wolves’ dinner is hard to fathom, yet the other three put up with – and in the case of the two women – have feelings for him. The audience even gasps at his harshness at times.

Why didn’t Macon help her friend before she was in such desperate circumstances? Were there no other people in the expanding territory who could have helped and taken the couple in during the two years they stay with William and Macon (Jack stays another seven after Bess is kidnapped)?

A number of these “but why?” questions come up throughout the play. Combined with the far-reaching plot points, the play has an uneven feel, like an "abundance" of too many pieces crammed into the two-hour-10-minute play with none being explored as thoroughly as we’d like. The sweeping tale still is engrossing, however, and enjoyable – especially the humorous parts.

Abundance stakes its claim at Hartford Stage, 50 Church St., Hartford, through April 28. Performances are Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Sunday at 7:30 pm; Friday and Saturday at 8 pm; Matinee schedule varies on select Wednesdays, Saturdays, Sundays at 2 pm. Tickets $26.50-$93.50:  860-527-5151; www.hartfordstage.org.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Quick Hit Theater Review: The Immigrant -- Seven Angels

Paula Blankenship, Max Bisanz, Rita Markova and Sarah Knapp. Photo: Paul Roth
The Immigrant
Book By Mark Harelik
Lyrics by Sarah Knapp
Music by Steven M. Alper
Directed by Semina De Laurentis
Seven Angels Theatre

What's it All About?
Subtitled "An American Musical," it is in the truest sense the story of striving for the American Dream. Haskell (Max Bisantz) arrives in the small town of Hamilton, in Central Texas, shortly after the turn of the century, pushing a banana cart and unable to speak English. Wary at first of the stranger, who also turns out to be a Jew, Milton and Ima (Paul Blankenship and Sarah Knapp) take him in. Milton, the town's banker, partners with Haskell to help build his business, which eventually turns into a dry goods store. When Haskell finally saves enough to bring his wife, Leah (Rita Markova), over from Russia, the friendship is tested, however. Haskell no longer is the observant Jew she married. The new country has changed him. He doesn't wear his hat, keep a Kosher home or observe the Sabbath any more.

Leah tries to adjust, but doesn't "want a life where I can't be me" and ultimately finds an unlikely friend in Ima. The women find they have a lot in common despite their many differences. Ima, a staunch Baptist, laments the fact that Milton doesn't go to church and has never been baptised. The friendship between the couples and Haskell and Leah's children grows over the years until some harsh words threaten the relationships. Eventually roles switch and the the bonds of love and friendship prove strong enough to hold.

What are the highlights?
Director Semina De Laurentis brings together a wonderful ensemble, including Lyricist Knapp as Sarah and her real-life husband, Composer Steven M. Alper, who serves as Musical Director. Vocals are good across the boards with Basantz' cantor-like voice doing justice to Alper's ethnic-laced. pleasant sounding score played by a four-member band. Mark Harelik's play, based on the story of his grandparents, young Russian Jews fleeing persecution in Czarist Russia in 1909,  is sad and sweet and is storytelling at its best. Knapp remarkably portrays the aging of her character from 1909 to 1942. The set designed by Erik D. Diaz, easily switches out to create several locations.

What are the low lights?
Nothing worth mentioning. An absorbing, touching two and a half hours at the theater.
 
More information:
The Immigrant runs through April 21 at Seven Angels Theatre, 1 Plank Road, Waterbury. Tickets and information: (203) 757-4676; http://sevenangelstheatre.org/.
Special Nights-
Friday, April 12 Sweet Maria’s Night
Saturday, April 13 Fascia’s Chocolate Night
Friday, April 19Wine & Martini Night
Sundaes on Sunday April 21

Monday, April 8, 2013

Harry Connick, Jr., Emmylou Harris, Rodney Crowell Sign on for New Bushnell Series at Simsbury

Harry Connick, Jr., Emmylou Harris, and Rodney Crowell are the first artists to be announced as part of the Summer Concerts at Simsbury Meadows season, presented by The Bushnell in conjunction with Premier Concerts and Kirschner Concerts.

Harry Connick, Jr. will play the outdoor venue in Simsbury Saturday, June 22 at 8 pm; Emmylou Harris and Rodney Crowell will perform together Tuesday, July 16 at 7:30 pm. More artists and dates will be announced for the series as they are booked. Tickets for theses first two concerts will go on sale Friday, April 12 online at ticketmaster.com or by phone at 800-745-3000.

Harry Connick, Jr. is among today’s most successful and multi-talented artists, having garnered acclaim in both the music and acting arenas. While he first reached a mass audience as a pianist, singer, and bandleader, his subsequent success in theater, film, and television have secured his place as a renaissance man and a versatile entertainer, earning him both Grammy and Emmy awards as well as Tony nominations.

This performance with his big band will be in support of his new album release EVERY MAN SHOULD KNOW (in stores June 11th), a collection of original songs that touches on some of Harry’s deepest feelings about life and love. 

In celebration of their new collaborative album OLD YELLOW MOON, Emmylou Harris and Rodney Crowell reunite for a summer concert under the stars.

Emmylou Harris' contributions as a singer and songwriter span 40 years and include 12 Grammy Awards and a Billboard Century Award. She has recorded more than 25 albums and has lent her talents to countless fellow artists’ recordings. In recognition of her remarkable career, Harris was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2008.

Rodney Crowell is a multi-Grammy-award winner whose songs have been recorded by Johnny Cash, Norah Jones, Etta James and Grateful Dead among others. His 1988 breakthrough Diamonds and Dirt, generated five #1 singles and a Grammy Award for the song “After All This Time.” In 2012, Crowell released KIN: Songs by Mary Karr and Rodney Crowell, which made its debut at #1 on the Americana and Country Rock album chart. His honors also include an ASCAP Lifetime Achievement Award and membership in the Songwriters Hall of Fame.

Summer Concerts at Simsbury Meadows is an outdoor venue featuring entertainment under the stars. Food and beverage vendors will be on site for patrons’ al fresco dining enjoyment. These events will take place rain or shine.

O'Neill Announces Three Musicals to be Developed at Summer Conference

The Eugene O’Neill Theater Center announced today three musicals to be developed at the 2013 National Music Theater Conference:

Broadcast
Book and Lyrics by Nathan Christensen
Music by Scott Murphy
Performances: June 22, 8pm; June 23, 3pm; June 26, 8pm; June 28, 7pm

Synopsis: Does our constantly evolving technology really help us to connect with each other, or is it keeping us at a distance? That is the question of the original wireless era a hundred years ago—at the dawn of radio. Broadcast weaves together the lives of inventors, housewives, soldiers, salesmen,and the people next door, all trying to be heard over the invisible waves of that brand new world.

The Noteworthy Life of Howard Barnes
Book and lyrics by Christopher Dimond
Music by Michael Kooman
Performances: June 29, 8pm; June 30, 3pm; July 3, 8pm; July 5, 7pm
Synopsis: Howard Barnes is a perfectly average man in his early thirties, until the day that he wakes up to discover that his life has become a musical. Desperate to escape from the show, Howard embarks on a fantastical quest through the realm of musical theater. Equal parts satire, romantic comedy, and love letter to the American musical, The Noteworthy Life of Howard Barnes is intended for people who love musical theater, and their spouses who hate it.

Goddess
Book, Lyrics, and Music by Mkhululi Mabija and Michael Thurber
Performances: July 6, 8pm; July 7, 3pm; July 10, 8pm, July 12, 7pm.

Synopsis: Goddess is set in a fictional city in present day Africa where Nadira, a beautiful, sultry singer, performs nightly in a jazz club. The story revolves around Nadira and the fate of the men who love her. An original musical with pulsing, modern African rhythms, Goddess is a story of love, destiny and the place of the supernatural in the modern world.

Under the leadership of Artistic Director Paulette Haupt, each work will undergo the O’Neill’s signature development process, employing acclaimed professional actors, directors, and music directors in an intensive series of rehearsals, discussions, and several public readings.

“It was an unusually difficult challenge this year to decide on our final selections for the 2013 National Music Theater Conference,” says Haupt. “Among the 176 submissions we received, there was an abundance of extremely gifted writers and composers and promising works. The three projects we selected were outstanding among them, and all are at the point where the development process will be very useful to the creators.”

Since its founding in 1978, the National Music Theater Conference has developed nearly 115 new musicals, including early works of award-winning writers and composers such as Kirsten Childs, Tan Dun, Andrew Lippa, Duncan Sheik, Steven Sater, Paul Oakley Stovall, and Jeannine Tesori. Many have received productions and acclaim worldwide.

The National Music Theater Conference runs from June 18 through July 12 on the O’Neill’s campus in Waterford, Connecticut. Box Office (860-443-1238) and online ticket sales begin Wednesday, June 5; advance ticket sales are available to O’Neill Members beginning Monday, May 13. Schedules are subject to change.

For further information, call the O’Neill at 860-443-5378, email theaterlives@theoneill.org, or visit www.theoneill.org.

L M N O P Completes Line Up at Norma Terris

What would you do if one day you could no longer use the letter Z? Then Q? Then E?

Goodspeed Musicals has announced that L M N O P –a tale about a town thrown into chaos after that very scenario becomes a reality –will round out their three-show season at The Norma Terris Theatre July 25 - Aug. 18. Based on Mark Dunn’s award-winning novel Ella Minnow Pea, this musical is about a quiet town changed by power, greed and fear and the heroine who restores her community is destined to be a summertime smash.

When letters begin to fall from a monument in town, government officials ban them one by one. Chaos ensues until a determined teenage girl rallies the community to fight for freedom of speech. This unique musical is part romance, part clever word game and part adult fable that reminds us of how precious our liberties are, how quickly unbridled extremism can take them from us, and how important it is to have the courage to stand up for what we believe. A captivating story you’ll n_v_r forg_t!

L M N O P is written by Paul Loesel (Music) and Scott Burkell (Book and Lyrics). Their musical The Extraordinary Ordinary received a Jonathan Larson Performing Arts Foundation Grant, workshops at ASCAP and CAP21 and productions at the Philly Fringe Festival, Farmers Alley Theatre, and Off-Broadway’s Clurman Theatre. They have received the Jonathan Larson and Burton Lane Awards.

Joe Calarco will direct.

The Norma Terris Theatre is located at 33 North Main Street in Chester. Subscriptions and single tickets are on sale: 860-873-8668; www.goodspeed.org.

CT Arts Connections for the Week of April 8

Courtesy of the Palace
Back by popular demand, Tower of Power returns for a night of soul and funk music 8 pm at the Palace Theater in Waterbury. Tickets are $40: www.palacetheaterct.org; 203-346-2000; box office, 100 East Main St., Waterbury. A special VIP ticket package is also available for $75, which includes orchestra seating and admission to a pre-show reception featuring appetizers, stuffed breads, mini pizzas, stuffed mushrooms and tortellini by D’Amelios Italian Eatery. For the past 44 years, Tower of Power has delivered their unique brand of music to sold-out crowds across the world. The self-proclaimed “Urban Soul” band's approach to the way they play music is totally their own. Their groove laid rhythm section, unique horn-driven sound, and outstanding lead vocals combine to make one of the most dynamic groups of musicians to ever perform on stage. Original members Emilio Castillo, Rocco Prestia, Stephen Kupka, and David Garibaldi remain at the helm of the ten piece ensemble, and their creative vision and dedication still guide the band today. With such hits as “What is Hip?” and “You’re Still a Young Man,” Tower of Power is one of those rare bands who can claim to be the real deal, 100 proof, aged-to-perfection Soul.


Earlier that day, prior to the show, the Palace Theater will host its Second Annual Motorcycle Ride benefiting the Children’s Ticket and Travel Fund. Following the ride, there will be a free street fair, featuring vendors, food and live entertainment. The day will end with Tower of Power’s performance on the Palace Theater stage. Special combo packages are available, which include the Motorcycle Ride registration fee and Tower of Power concert ticket for $55. Info: 203-346-2000.

Tonya Phillips Staples, Liana Young, Nik Rocklin, Teddey Brown. Photo: Courtesy of Downtown Cabaret
8-Track: The Sounds of the 70s In Concert returns to Bridgeport’s Downtown Cabaret Theatre for an extended stay opening Friday, April 19 and continuing on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays through May 12. Presented completely in song, four rock-solid singers deliver the heart and soul of the forgotten decade with a fascinating interweaving of music that is joyously rousing, moving, and often downright hilarious.Downtown Cabaret Theatre is located at 263 Golden Hill Street in Bridgeport. Reserved tickets are $39.50- $47: 203-576-1636; box office, 263 Golden Hill St., Bridgeport; downtowncabaret.org.

Yale University professor and American Historian John Mack Faragher for a post-show discussion immediately following the 2 p.m. performance of Abundance on Sunday, April 14. (The discussion is free to those attending the performance.) For tickets call Hartford Stage at 860-527-5151 or visit hartfordstage.org.

Theater Review: The Mountaintop -- TheaterWorks

Jamil A.C. Mangan and Courtney Thomas. Photo: Lanny Nagler
Creating a Visitation with Martin Luther King, Jr. on the Eve of His Last Day on Earth
By Lauren Yarger
It’s April 3, 1968 and the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., arrives at a Memphis motel after delivering his “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” speech. There, a mysterious maid bringing him a cup of room service coffee causes him to reflect on his life and destiny in Katori Hall’s Olivier-winning play The Mountaintop, running at TheaterWorks in Hartford.

Audiences are transported to the eve of the civil rights leader’s assassination not only by the script, but through a meticulous recreation of room #306 at the Lorraine Motel by Set Designer Evan Adamson. Adamson, who collaborated as an associate designer on the Broadway production, which starred Samuel L. Jackson and Angela Bassett, visited the motel, now part of the National Civil Rights Museum, with designer David Gallo. They used photos and documentation catalogued about the room to create the set, according to program notes.

Exhausted and uninspired, King works on his next speech tentatively titled “Why America is Going to Hell” while a thunderstorm rages outside (lighting and sound design by John Lasiter and Michael Miceli). Camae (Courtney Thomas), a maid in a bright yellow uniform to match her sunshiny personality (costume design by Amy Clark), brings the coffee and inexplicably stays at King's repeated invitations for a prolonged conversation. King bums some cigarettes from the foul-mouthed woman and banters around with her as a sexual tension between them mounts.

King chastises the maid for some of her blasphemous remarks, but likes Camae’s style and sense of humor. At one point, she dons his jacket and shoes, stands on the bed and lets loose with her own rousing civil rights speech that could be titled, “F*** the White Man.”

When Camae suddenly knows things about King that a stranger wouldn’t, he suspects she isn’t a motel maid, but is a spy for his political enemies. Who she really works for is something of a shocker. I won’t give spoilers, but Camae’s real identity takes us to a surreal realm and Hall’s play never really recovers from the twist.

Director Rob Ruggiero wisely makes the reality shift in a subtle, controlled fashion to avoid losing the audience’s trust completely (not so with the Broadway production, where Camae’s “occupation” seemed like a gimmick and threw the more serious idea of a visit with King on the eve of his last day on earth off course). Ruggiero also gets excellent performances from both actors (again, achieving better results than the New York production even with those star names on the marquee). Mangan essentially becomes King for us, both as the man tired of being the subject of hate and as the gifted, inspired speaker (Mangan really sounds like King – and what a treat to hear him “in person” the week the nation was remembering the 45th anniversary of his death.) Thomas goes deep and somehow makes the expletive-using, unfit-for-her-job Camae likable.

Especially worth seeing is a collage of images projected in conjunction with Camae’s inspiring words – almost in the form of a poem -- about the progress of the civil rights movement and how it will have success beyond King’s imagination.

An exhibition titled “306” also is on display in the upstairs lobby and includes plans and a video detailing the set design. It opens 90 minutes prior to curtain.

The Mountaintop runs through May 5. Perfromances are Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday at 7:30 pm; Friday and Saturday at 8 pm; Weekend matinees at 2:30 pm. Tickets: General Admission $50; Center Reserved Upgrade $13; student Rush w/ID $17 (subject to availability); Senior Saturday Matinees $3 (860) 527-7838.; www.theaterworkshartford.org.

A free matinee for college students and faculty is offered Saturday, April 13 at 2:30 pm.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Theater Review: Ride the Tiger -- Long Wharf

Douglas Sills, Jordan Lage, Christina Bennett Lind. Photo: T. Charles Erickson
These Folks Give New Meaning to ‘What Would You Do for Your Country?’
By Lauren Yarger
President Jack Kennedy’s challenge to ask what you can do for your country usually evokes thoughts of public service, protecting our borders or dying to protect freedom. In William Mastrosimone’s play Ride the Tiger at Long Wharf Theatre, the answers are a bit more complicated.

For Kennedy (Douglas Sills), the answer is allowing his father, Joe (John Cunningham) to run his life, including choosing his friends, wife and career. For Jack’s friend, Frank Sinatra (Paul Anthony Stewart), the answer is acting as an intermediary with mob boss Sam (Jordan Lage) to secure the union vote to make a Catholic Kennedy’s run for the White House possible. Sam also sends ex-girlfriend Judy (Christina Bennett Lind) over to help sex-addicted Jack with his needs. Judy’s service to her country includes getting into bed with all three men.

Before you think this is just another lone-woman character written to provide some sexual relief for the more developed male characters in a testosterone-laden play, you should know that Mastrosimone bases Judy on a real-life Judith Campbell Exner who had relationships with the president, Old Blue Eyes and Sam Giancana. The playwright wrote an award-winning TV miniseries on Sinatra’s Life and based this story on one told to him by Sinatra himself, Director Gordon Edelstein says in his program notes. (Edelstein doesn’t explain why he chooses to have Judy unnecessarily nude in a couple of scenes, but that is a topic for another “women’s issues” conversation.)

The title comes from a quote from Harry S. Truman: “I discovered that being a President is like riding a tiger. A man has to keep on riding or be swallowed.”

That proves true for young Jack, too. Joe manipulates him into the primaries after the eldest Kennedy son, Joe Jr. -- and the patriarch’s first hope to establish a dynasty – dies. Joe arranges Jack’s marriage and seals a business deal with Jacqueline to keep her at her husband’s side through their time in the White House. He counsels his son about his extramarital affairs (instructing him to pay off Judy) and asks Frank to go to Sam about the unions so no one can link Jack directly to the mob. Then he tells Jack to drop Frank from his friend’s list.

Cunningham gives an intriguing performance as the overbearing head of the Kennedy clan, both as an energetic legend builder and later, as the wheel-chair-bound victim of a stroke. 

Adding some humor to the mostly political and darker side to these characters is Lage. Sam “owns” Chicago and is somewhere between psychotic and genius, but the one thing he can’t control is his obsession with Judy. He is interested, but she’s not because of her involvement with Jack, so he offers her friendship and lots of expensive jewelry gifts, but remains a perfect gentleman throughout much of their relationship. Eventually Judy gives in, but has to wonder whether Sam, who turns out not to be such a “gentle” man, has ulterior motives for wanting to be involved with the president’s mistress.

Sills uses a bit of a Harvard accent, but except for donning a back brace, doesn’t project the image of Kennedy we’ve come to feel we know: charismatic, charming and confident – the kind of guy who would turn the head of someone like Marilyn Monroe. Lind does a nice job of toggling between a woman driven by her emotions, a woman attracted to power and a woman trying to survive. Stewart is convincing as a young Frank.

Various settings from the Kennedys’ Hyannis beach home to the White House depict the action from 1959 to 1963 through clever use of projections (Sven Ortel, design) on a backdrop and simple props and furniture (Eugene Lee, set design) place by “valets” listed in the program as Barbara Hentschel and Kenneth Murray, who also get costumes from Designer Jess Goldstein. The scene transitions are enhanced by original music and sound design by Ryan Rumery, though some could be cut. The script, which runs two and a half hours could stand a rather large trim.

The Tiger rides through April 21 on Long Wharf Theatre's mainstage. Performance times vary. Tickets are $40-$70: 203-787-4282; www.longwharf.org.

For a video from the show, visit http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vOpnRavwkY8.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Writers Weekend Shapes Up at Mark Twain House



Connecticut Arts Connections to Make for the Week of April 1

Fred and Cinderella hold hands in a photo of two of the original puppets used by pupetteer Dick Meyers who's 1960's puppet shows will be lovingly recreated and presented by Connecticut Repertory Theatre April 11 - 14 in the Studio Theatre, Storrs. For ticket and information: 860-486-2113; www.crt.uconn.edu; http://www.crt.uconn.edu. Photo: Seth Shaffer.
Don't Miss These Happenings
at UConn, Hartford Stage, HSO and more . . .

Hartford Stage invites college students to a night of theatre and a pre-show event including free pizza, games, prizes, and a performance of Beth Henley's Abundance, for College Night 6:30 pm April 5 in the upper lobby. The night will feature free pizza and soda, a photo booth, a raffle, a game, and the show for only $10. During College Night, Hartford Stage will bring back Stage Pass for a pre-sale for the 2013/2014 season. Stage Pass is an unlimited season pass for theatre-goers under 30 years old for $38, and purchasers will receive unlimited admissions to all productions at Hartford Stage for the 2013/2014 season. Information and tickets: groups@hartfordstage.org; 860-527-5151. College IDs must be presented for every ticket purchased. Offer not valid on previous purchases.

Hartford Symphony Orchestra

POPS SERIES: TAKE ME OUT TO THE BALL GAME with Robert Thompson, guest conductor; J.W. Stewart, narrator; Misty Castleberry and Forrest Mankowski, soloists
Saturday, April 6, 2013 │ 7:30 pm
Mortensen Hall │ The Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts
Tickets range from $20-$67.50. Student tickets are $10 and $25 tickets are available for patrons age 40 and under.: 860-244-2999; www.hartfordsymphony.org.

HSO SUNDAY SERENADES SERIES: BAROQUE AND BEYOND
with Leonid Sigal, artistic director and violin; Lisa Rautenberg, HSO associate concertmaster; Michael Wheeler, viola; Eric Dahlin, HSO principal cello; Margreet Francis, HSO principal keyboard
Sunday, April 7, 2013 │ 2 pm│ Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art

Program: Giuseppe Valentini (Arr. Respighi): Sette Idee per Camera, Sonata No.2 in G Major; Igor Stravinsky: Suite Italienne; Giacomo Puccini: Crisantemi; Luigi Dallapiccola: Tartiniana Seconda; Ottorino Respighi: Piano Quintet

Tickets are $30 ($25 for HSO Subscribers and Atheneum Members). Ticket price includes general admission to the Wadsworth Atheneum on the days of the concerts. To purchase tickets or for more information, please contact HSO ticket services at (860) 244-2999 or visit www.hartfordsymphony.org.

Middletown Theater Company Brings Shakespeare to Campus

Audrey Touchstone. Photo: Bill Dekine

The Middletown-based theater company ARTFARM recently received a $20,000 grant from the Department of Economic and Community Development, Connecticut Office of the Arts to partner with Middlesex Community College on a six-month initiative which will bring Shakespeare to the campus and central Connecticut community throughout the spring and summer semesters.

“Shakespeare on Campus, 2013” will culminate in ARTFARM’s Shakespeare in the Grove production of Much Ado About Nothing  July 18-28. This will be the eighth summer that ARTFARM has presented professional outdoor Shakespeare in the beautiful Grove overlooking the Connecticut River Valley, but the first time that ARTFARM and the College have collaborated to bring Shakespeare related activities into classes, events and exhibits from February through July. Highlights of this year’s collaboration include:

*Shakespeare in the Afternoon, a campus celebration of Shakespeare’s birthday April 15 featurng performances, costumed characters, music and food. Shakespeare in the Afternoon is a co-production of ARTFARM and MxCC’s English Department.

*Unlocking Shakespeare, a series of Master Classes in Text Analysis, offered by Trowbridge in three English Literature Classes during the Spring semester.

*Shakespeare in Our World, an exhibit created by the MxCC Library, will be up in the library throughout the month of April.

*Shakespeare in Acting One – The College’s Introductory Acting Class, taught by ARTFARM Executive Director Dic Wheeler, will have a special focus on “Shakespeare in Performance” this semester.

*Shakespeare Slam and Masked Ball, a popular performance event and party featuring interesting and unusual performances of short bits of Shakespeare, will be held at Kidcity Children’s Museum on Saturday, May 11 at 7 pm.

*Much Ado About Something is a three part class series, each focusing on a different aspect of Much Ado About Nothing. The classes will take place June 8, 15 and 22 as part of the MxCC Continuing Education program and are open to the public.

*Summer Acting Class will be offered for credit for the first time as part of the College’s summer session. Taught by Wheeler, with a special focus on Shakespeare, May 20 to June 14.

In addition, ARTFARM will offer “Community Tech Days”, in which the public may work with the production’s designers and technical director to help build props and set, and several “Open Rehearsals” during the course of the six week rehearsal period on campus for Much Ado.

ARTFARM’s Shakespeare in the Grove 2013 production of Much Ado About Nothing will be held July 18 – 28 in the Grove at Middlesex Community College. Performances are Thursday through Sunday at 7 pm, with live music preceding each performance starting at 6 pm.

Two Original Musicals Selected for Development at Yale

The Yale Institute for Music Theatre has selected two original book musicals, The Last Queen of Canaan, with music by Jacob Yandura and book and lyrics by Rebekah Greer Melocik, and Mrs. Hughes, with music and lyrics by Sharon Kenny and book by Janine Nabers, to be developed in an intensive lab setting in New Haven, June 4-16.

The residency culminates with open rehearsal readings of each project, presented as part of the International Festival of Arts & Ideas, on June 15 and 16. More info: www.drama.yale.edu/YIMT.

THE LAST QUEEN OF CANAAN 

Kay McKenna, an eager young writer hired by the WPA, travels to Virginia on a mission to collect narratives from former slaves. In Canaan, she meets Cora Skye, a sharecropper who still farms the land she worked as a slave. Each woman wants nothing more than to forget her past. But, in this deeply haunted and slowly healing South, secrets are unearthed, and past and present collide. The Last Queen of Canaan is a powerful tale of legacy and forgiveness with a rich, gospel-infused score.

MRS. HUGHES

Writer Sylvia Plath yearns for an identity separate from her famous poet husband Ted Hughes. Assia, his mistress, wants nothing more than to be his wife. As their lives become tangled, each must face the high cost of blindly pursuing love, career, and fame. With an intricate, contemporary score, Mrs. Hughes explores one of the most sensational—and tragic—literary love triangles in history.

Gay Men's Chorus Pays Tribute to Gay Artists

The Hartford Gay Men's Chorus will follow-up its sold-out debut concert with "Life Is Gay, and So Are They!," a tribute to gay poets, composers, icons, idols and anthems,  8 pm Friday, May 17 and Saturday, May 18, at the Unitarian Society of Hartford, 50 Bloomfield Ave. 

The concert will feature pieces created by gay composers, lyricists and poets. The first half of the performance will include music by such legends as Aaron Copland, Samuel Barber and Benjamin Britten. The second half will feature pop culture anthems and icons, including Queen and the Village People.

For tickets, visit www.hartfordstage.org or call the Hartford Stage Box Office at 860-527-5151. All seats are $23, including handling fees.
C O N N E C T I C U T
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C O N N E C T I O N

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

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