Thursday, July 25, 2013

Free Ice Cream, Music and More Today at Mark Twain House -- Rain or Shine

Ice Cream Social 2011 I scream! You scream! We all scream for The Mark Twain House and
Museum Ice Cream Scoail.
 
An olde-fashioned Ice Cream Social featuring locally-made confections from Tulmeadow Farms, UConn Dairy Bar (courtesy of UConn Dining Services), Main Street Creamery and Shady Glen is planned, rain or shine, today from 5 to 7 pm at the Mark Twain House Museum Center.

Rounding out the evening will be performances from Bandstand Barbershop Quartet and the original ballet, "A Love Chase," penned by Susy Clemens and performed by Ballet Theatre Company. Free discounted first-floor tours of The Mark Twain House also will be offered. Funded by First Niagara Bank Foundation.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Theater Review: Hello Dolly! -- Goodspeed

Will Burton, Klea Blackhurst, and Steve Geary. Photo: Diane Sobolewski  
Well, Hello, Klea! Blackhurst is a Charming, Feisty Dolly
By Lauren Yarger
When Goodspeed Musical first announced a production of Hello Dolly!, I must admit my first reaction was “ho hum.”

Jerry Herman’s tunes, like “Before the Parade Passes By,” “It Only Takes a Moment,” and the title song are the best part of the show which otherwise doesn’t have a lot to offer. Michael Stewart’s book, based on Thorton Wilder’s play The Matchmaker, is weak, at best. The thing that really made this show a hit when it won 10 Tony Awards in 1964 including (amazingly enough – it beat Funny Girl) Best Musical, was star Carol Channing (who reprised the role of matchmaker Dolly Levi for two Broadway revivals in 1978 and 1995).

Channing’s portrayal is the iconic one against which all other Dollys are measured (including Funny Girl star Barbra Streisand who played Dolly in the 1969 movie version). They are big shoes to fill, but my interest in Goodspeed’s production piqued when directed Daniel Goldstein (Broadway’s Godspell) announced casting of Klea Blackhurst in the lead with Ashley Brown in a supporting role to boot.

Blackhurst won the CT Critics Circle Award for her performance in Music Theatre of Connecticut’s production of All the Traffic Will Allow, a one-woman tour de force through the songs and life of Ethel Merman. If anyone could take on Channing, Blackhurst, could, I thought, and Brown, who created the title role in Broadway’s Mary Poppins and played Belle in Broadway’s Beauty and the Beast, is a bonus as Irene Molloy, a hat maker whom matchmaker Dolly has introduced to “half” millionaire Horace Vandergelder (Tony Sheldon), though she has her eye on him herself. I was right. Both bring wonderful singing voices and pluck to their characters. Sheldon rounds out some fine casting and gives depth to the otherwise unbelievable, shallow, sexist Horace.

Blackhurst is a combination of talent, humor, sheer force and seriousness (otherwise we’d never believe those dumb business cards she keeps pulling out of her oversized bag). She’s a cross between Ethel Merman and Bette Midler as she makes her entrance up the aisle through the house to the stage, but she puts her own stamp on Dolly.

We sympathize with her when she talks with her departed husband about the need to get on with her life, and smile as she exasperates Horace and sabotages his meetings with Irene and the unsuitable Ernestina (Melodie Wolford) so she can position herself to be the next Mrs.Vandergelder. Dolly’s scheme gets a leg-up when Irene falls in love, instead, with Cornelius (Spencer Moses), chief clerk at Vandergelder Hay and Feed.  Cornelius and his associate, Barnaby (Jeremy Morse), take a night off and pretend to be well-to-do gents on the town as they entertain Irene and her assistant, Minnie (Catherine Blades) and try to avoid their boss.

While they are out, they visit a fancy restaurant and are served by a chorus line of waiters ridiculously balancing glasses and bottles, throwing plates and rolling by on carts as choreographed by Kelli Barclay. OK, she is limited by Adrian W Jones’ set designs which decrease the size on the already too-small stage to accommodate scenic elements like the famous grand stairway down which Dolly descends to the strains of “Hello Dolly!,” but the moves throughout the show appear either hokey or stilted.

The late 19th-century costuming in muted colors that seem to blend with the set (Wade Laboissonniere, design) also proved somewhat problematic. In one larger dance number, Blackhurst suddenly was unable to perform the choreography when her underskirt tore and got tangled around her feet. A true pro, she hid the problem nicely and I am sure most of the audience was unaware of her difficulty, or of her subtle communication to the other dancers that she wasn’t able to execute the moves as choreographed.

Seconds later, she didn’t miss a beat as she ate the scenery – literally – in a scene which calls for her to consume a huge meal of dumplings and corn on the cob, totally oblivious to the entire ensemble and audience watching her. It was sheer comedic brilliance – and a testament to Blackhurst’s theater chops. A less experienced performer might have been tempted to use the knife to cut herself free from the offending underskirts, bringing attention to them in some way that would have shifted the focus of the scene.

Meanwhile, there is another matchmaking subplot involving Horace’s niece Ermangarde (Brooke Shapiro), who weeps and whines all the time (and has very little other dialogue) because her uncle doesn’t approve of her chosen, Ambrose Kemper (Charles MacEachern). After a while, we kind of wonder why the heck anyone would want to marry her, but matchmaker Dolly does her best to bring the two together.


It’s one of those old musicals with a few memorable tunes and a ridiculous plot that would find it difficult to stand on a modern stage otherwise, but solid performances anchored by Blackhurst make Goodspeed’s production an enjoyable romp through turn-of-the-century New York. Goodspeed announced a week’s extension to the run before it even had begun.

Hello Dolly! runs through Sept. 14 at Goodspeed Opera House, 6 Main St., East Haddam. Performances: Wednesday at 2 and 7:30 pm., Thursday at 7:30 pm (with select performances at 2 pm), Friday at 8 pm, Saturday at 3 and 8 pm, and Sunday at 2 pm (with select performances at 6:30 pm). There will also be performances on Tuesdays, Aug. 13 and 27 at 2 pm. Tickets $27-$81.50: (860.873.8668) or online at goodspeed.org.

Theater Review: Smokey Joe's Cafe -- Long Wharf Theatre



Smokey Joe’s Café Brings Cool Sounds to Hot Summer at Long Wharf
By Lauren Yarger
Looking for a way to beat the heat of squelching temperatures this summer? Try something else that’s hot: the cool songs of Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller rolled into the revue Smokey Joe’s Café entertaining in the air conditioned Mainstage at Long Wharf Theatre.

A cast of nine singers and five musicians rock the place out with tunes by the popular 1950s songwriting team including standards like “Young Blood,” “Kansas City,” “Fools Fall in Love,” “Poison Ivy,” “Jailhouse Rock,” “I’m a Woman,” “On Broadway” and many others (there are more than 30 numbers).

This version of the 1995 Tony-Award-nominated musical is a tour stop by Irving Street Rep (New Jersey) and stars Vida Allworthy, Derrick Baker, Jonathan Celestin, Dawn Marie Driver, Jose Figueroa, Jr., Ron Lucas, Jay Rivera, Famecia Ward and Stevanie Anita Williams directed by producer A. Curtis Farrow. Music Director John Bronston plays piano and directs the band on stage (Darius Frowner also musical directs).

The revue contains no dialogue. Each song is presented as a little vignette, with the performers acting out the song with a few supplemental costume items and props. Choreography is minimal and unimaginative, but Farrow gets cast members out into the house for some fun interaction with audience members who find themselves doing the shimmy up on stage or becoming a character in one of the songs. A guy named Dave seated in the front row was in the spotlight a few times. Members not directly involved in the action find themselves clapping, bopping and singing along with the tunes.

The show offers a nice changeup between rock and roll and ballads giving each of the performers a chance to shine. Driver, in particular, wows the crowd with her blow-you-out-of-your-seat volume.
Diehard fans of the original soundtrack will want to know that a few of the songs, most notably “Shopping for Clothes” and “You’re the Boss,” are omitted here. The original show had a run of 2,036 performances, making it the longest-running musical revue in Broadway history and the soundtrack recording won the Grammy Award.

Irving Street Rep was founded in 1991. Farrow, producer and director of McDonald’s Gospelfest, has won two Emmys and was named one of the top 20 influences in gospel music (he orchestrated the service for Whitney Houston’s funeral). He produced Ain’t Misbehavin’ which has been touring for about 10 years. He also has produced Five Guys Named Mo in the current rotation of shows in rep at which Irving Street.

The show runs about two hours with an intermission. A perfect way to beat the heat.

Smokey Joe's runs through July 28 at Long Wharf Theatre, 222 Sargent Drive, New Haven. : Tuesday, Thursday and Friday at 8 pm; Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday at 3 pm. Tickets $59 (203) 787-4282; www.longwharf.org.
The cast of Smokey Joe's Cafe. Photo courtesy of Long Wharf.

Quick Hit Theater Review: Loot -- Westport Country Playhouse

Liv Rooth, Zach Wegner, and Devin Norik. Photo: Carol Rosegg
Loot
By Joe Orton
Directed by David Kennedy
Westport Country Playhouse

What's It All About?
A 1960s-era British farce written by Joe Orton (What the Butler Saw), it tells the tale of two thieves trying to secret the cash they took in a bank heist amidst a death in the family and a visit from a detective. Hal (Delvin Norik) isn't really all that sad that his mother has passed on or that her nurse, Fay (Liv Rooth), herself a widow with a string of seven dead husbands, is trying to convince his father, McLeavy (John Horton) that she should be the next mistress of the house.

She catches on to Hal's relationship with the undertaker's assistant, Dennis (Zach Wegner). Besides apparently being lovers, the two think it is fun to impregnate as many girls as possible and Hal plans to use his share of the loot to open a brothel. When they realize they can't avoid Fay, they cut her in on the deal and attempt to hide the stolen cash in mum's casket. Trusty detective Truscott (David Manis) arrives on the scene and smells murder, however, even if he can't see the corpse right under his nose. William Peden rounds out the cast as Truscott's assistant, Meadows.

In the midst of the dialogue are a lot of double entendre and digs at the Catholic church and government. Some jazzy new music is composed by Sound Designer Fitz Patton to introduce the piece and wrap it up.

What are the Highlights?
Liv Rooth. She lights up the stage whenever she is on it. The actors all try their best with some pretty inane material. Some of the commentary about government interference in personal lives and the Catholic Church is surprisingly contemporary in the light of recent headlines.

What are the Lowlights?
Too numerous to list here. This work simply doesn't come together. It's not believable, which might be OK in comedy, but unfortunately it's also not very funny. Director David Kennedy's pace seems slow -- certainly not the madcap speed we expect from a comedy. Hal apparently is inflicted with an inability to lie, so when Fay asks him whether he robbed the bank he says yes, then clamps a hand over his mouth. Another character says, "Policemen, like red squirrels, must be protected." If you're rolling on the floor right now after reading that, I apologize, because I must have missed the funny part. I usually enjoy a good British farce, but this one just wasn't my cup of tea.

More information:
Loot runs through Aug. 3 at Westport Country Playhouse, 25 Powers Court, Westport.. Performances: Tickets start at $30: 203- 227-4177. www.westportplayhouse.org. Tuesday at 8 pm, Wednesday at 2 and 8pm., Thursday and Friday at 8pm., Saturday at 3 and 8pm. and Sunday at 3 pm. Special series feature Taste of Tuesday, Previews, LGBT Night OUT, Opening Night, Sunday Symposium, Open Captions, Literary Salon, Thursday TalkBack, Together at the Table Family Dinner, Playhouse Young Professionals, and Backstage Pass.

Note: On opening night, when I attended, a glitch in the lighting system caused a hold in the show while  the crew attempted to reboot the system which apparently was suck in one fairly dark lighting cue. When the glitch was fixed, the actors went back and started the show again from the top.
-- Lauren Yarger

Friday, July 19, 2013

A Conversation with Stephen King

Stephen King and Colin McEnroe at the Bushnell. Photo: John Groo
By Lauren Yarger
Fans packed the house at The Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts last night to hear author Stephen King in a conversation to benefit the Mark Twain House and Museum.

Local radio personality Colin McEnroe moderated the discussion which ranged from King's favorite movie adaptations of his books to God and religion.

Greeted by a rousing standing ovation by the sell-out crowd, King joked that they must not have been able to get tickets for the Justin Bieber concert down the street at the XL Center (traffic in Hartford was snarled through rush hour as people flocked to these two events and to fireworks programs scheduled on the waterfront).

Applause greeted the mention of each of King's book titles, prompting him to quip that he would just name them all because the adulation was making him feel like a rock star. He agreed to appear for the Mark Twain House, he said, because Twain was "a big deal" to him. His mother had read him "The Adventures of Tom Sawyer" when he was a boy of about 6 and he was fascinated by the story about white washing the fence. Here a kid is given the job as a punishment, but gets other people to pay him to do it for him, King thought. "Would that work?" he wondered, and decided he'd like to be a writer because "that's what kind of job it is."

Here are some highlights from the two-hour conversation with the popular author whose books have sold more than 350 million copies worldwide. His next book, "Doctor Sleep," a sequel to "The Shining," will be out this October (visit http://www.stephenking.com).

On reading, writing and criticism:
He reads across a wide spectrum. He loves William Faulkner, Margaret Atwood, Jonathon Franzen. He just re-read "The Scarlet Letter," by Nathaniel Hawthorne, "though I still can't get through "Moby Dick." He likes "Game of Thrones" -- "brilliant acts of storytelling."

He doesn't like it when people make "artificial" distinctions between popular fiction and literature, That's like a kid who complains that he can't eat his dinner because the peas and potatoes are touching each other on the plate. "Well, that's bullshit."

He writes about regular people who live regular lives -- something that got him bad reviews from critics early on. "We live is a culture where there is an actual texture to life," and specifics help tell that story. When he wrote "Carrie," his first novel, he was the new kid on the block and critics of his parents' generation would think of his kind of writing as "trash." As it happens, he's outlived most of those critics and the people he "scared the shit out of when they were kids now are critics and they think I'm great."

On being a romantic:
It might be from watching too many Kim Novak movies when he was younger, he joked. But he doesn't want to cross the line of having too much sentiment and emotion in a story. Honest emotion and response to the book is good, though. He has been married to the same woman (novelist Tabitha King) for 43 years. "Lisey's Story" was written after King almost died from pneumonia and a hospital infection and had a vision of an author's widow cleaning out her husband's office. He wanted to write a book not just about marriage, but of the "secret sphere" of a marriage only the people in that relationship know.

On God and religion:
"I choose to believe in God, because, what's the down side?" he quipped to the audience who laughed. If you die and there's nothing, you haven't lost anything, but if there is a god and you stay on his good side...

 "I have no love for organized religion," he continued. Most religionists and churchgoers -- the "foot soldiers" -- are nice people, he said, coming to the aid of people in need and doing other good works. But sooner or later a philosophy emerges that says "God wants to put a gun in your hand or a suicide belt around your waist. "That kind of stuff can take a hike."

Does stuff happen because of God's will? No, what's done is done, he said. The past is history; the future is a mystery.

Do things happen for a reason? "Why ask that question?" he said. "You're never going to know. Shit happens. If you want to say God ordained it, fine, but you don't really know. That's why we have faith."

On being an alcoholic and drug addict:
It has been 25 years since he has had a drink. "If it would make me high, I wanted it," he said. The hardest thing he quit was cocaine. The easiest was Oxycodone, which he had to take to combat severe pain after he was struck by a van and thrown 14 feet into a ditch on a road in his native Maine. He suffered a compound fracture of the leg, a broken hip, a collapsed lung and other injuries.He took the drug for three or four years  until it became clear that he would have to stop or die.

On "11/22/63" and the Kennedy assassination:
He grew up in a Republican home where his mother couldn't even say the name of FDR. He worked on the campaigns of Republican candidates in Maine and Barry Goldwater and voted for Richard Nixon (a decision for which his wife "is still giving me shit."). When John F. Kennedy was elected, his mother was devastated, but when he was assassinated, he came home from school to find her on the couch crying. "Something was changed; a light had gone out," he recalled. When she was dying of cancer, she confided in her son that in 1972 she had voted for McGovern....

He's pretty sure Oswald acted alone and if he did, there is a chain of events that led to that fateful moment (hence the book). "Life turns on a dime,: he said. "That one moment that changed everything."

On children and his childhood:
What people really want to ask about his childhood, he said, is "What fu**ed you up so bad.?" He grew up like most kids, afraid of monsters, of the monster under the bed, in the closet or in the cellar, but at the same time was attracted to it. One of the main characters in "Doctor Sleep" is a girl of 12. Another is a now-adult Dan from "The Shining," still haunted by his childhood experience at the Overlook Hotel. Kids interest King, he says, because they "haven't started to narrow their focus." He told of seeing a kid sitting in his underwear on a street in his hometown, striking the dirt with a stick and saying, "I'll  get you." If an adult did that, he'd be taken to a mental institution, King said.

He writes about kids for adults. More often authors write about kids for kids. He likes being a voice for the loser.

"Anybody who looks back on high school as the best part of life has severe mental problems," he joked. High school is like being asked to run the gauntlet. At the time, it seemed horrible. He was a fat kid, the youngest in his family and always saying, "Hey guys, wait up."

"'Wait up' is the cry of a loser," he said.

He loves it when the monsters get the bad kids....

On the highlight of his celebrity existence:
While dining with Bruce Springsteen, a beautiful, awestruck young girl kept looking over at their table, then finally approached. Springsteen made a move to get his pen for the anticipated autograph request when she asked, "Aren't you Stephen King?"

"She never fu**ing looked at him," King laughed. "For one golden moment, books trumped rock."

On which movie adaptations of his works he likes:
Stand By Me, The Shawshank Redemption, The Green Mile, Misery and the Dee Wallace version of Cujo.

Which one didn't he like?
"The Shining," directed by Stanley Kubrick. It's a beautiful movie, it just isn't the book, he said. In the first scene, when Jack applies for the job at the hotel, you know he's crazy. "There's no arc for that character. There's never a moment he wasn't crazy." And Shelley Duvall, though a wonderful actress, isn't given anything to do as Jack's wife except to be a scream machine, King said.

"A lot of men came out of that movie and said, 'I would have killed her too.'"

On favorite foods:
"My idea of a really great meal when you're hungry is The Waffle House." They leave you alone, the menu is waterproof, it has pictures of the food....

On favorite places to visit:
New York, Sarasota and Hartford, though "what I don't like is coming in on I-84."

On who he would like to be if he could inhabit someone else's life for 24 hours:
"Not Barack Obama," he said. Maybe an African-American bus driver in Cleveland -- not someone famous -- as a way of seeing an experience that he doesn't have, like being someone of another race or a woman.  But celebrity wouldn't be too bad if he could throw the ball like Patriots' quarterback Tom Brady or be Red Sox stars Ted Williams or David Ortiz.



Coming up at the Mark Twain House and Museum:
  • Terry Brooks, Creator of the World of Shannara. Friday, July 26 at 7:30 pm
In 1977, author Terry Brooks first opened the gates to the fantasy realm of Shannara. More than 30 years later, Brooks continues to build the epic history and legacy of his world in an unparalleled run of over-two dozen Shannara novels. Brooks celebrates the release of his latest novel, "Witch Wraith: The Dark Legacy of Shannara" where elves, trolls, gnomes and other dark things dare to dwell. Tickets $25 / $20 members; VIP Reception Ticket: $65 includes lecture and 5:30 reception with Terry Brooks. (860) 280-3130.
  • Mark My Words, an evening with Sue Grafton, Alice Hoffman, Scott Turow, moderated by David Baldacci, 8 pm Wednesday, Oct. 9 at the Shubert Theatre, New Haven. http://www.twainmarkmywords.com/

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

World Premiere, Classics Round Out Seven Angels' 23rd Season


Award winning Seven Angels Theatre has announced its 23rd Mainstage season for 2013-14 with choices from a musical featuring the songs of Johnny Cash to an emotional play by Arthur Miller. The season also includes a world premiere play, a Chicago favorite and a play making its return Seven Angels.

Ring of Fire-The Music of Johnny Cash
Sept. 26-Oct. 20
Created by Richard Maltby Jr., Conceived by William Meade
From the iconic songbook of Johnny Cash comes this unique musical about love and faith, struggle and success, rowdiness and redemption, and home and family. More than two dozen classic hits—including “I Walk The Line,” “A Boy Named Sue,” “Folsom Prison Blues,” and the title tune—performed by a multi-talented cast, paint a musical portrait of The Man in Black that promises to be a foot-stompin’, crowd-pleasin’ salute to a uniquely American legend! Richard Maltby, re-conceived his Johnny Cash tribute specifically for a five-member ensemble.

The Price
Nov. 7-Dec. 1
From Arthur Miller, author of American classics such as All My Sons, Death of Salesman, and The Crucible,  The Price is set 40 years after the stock market crash of 1929 and explores how economic challenges can impact families and the choices we make.  In an overstuffed attic apartment, two long-estranged brothers, one a cop, the other a doctor, agree to meet to sell off what remains of their deceased father’s furniture and find themselves in an emotional renegotiation of the past.

The Crimson Thread
Feb. 20-March 16
By Mary Hanes

A World Premiere by Mary Hanes returns to Seven Angels where it had its world premiere in 1994. A story of love, loss and survival told through three generations of Irish sisters, the play spans the years from 1869 to 1911, from a poor farm in Ireland to the fishing port of New Bedford, MA and New York City.

Romance Language
March 27-April 27
A new play by Joe Godfrey: Penny Morgan, single and 32, feels her Mom, Kay, widowed and living alone, is letting life pass her by. Things change quickly, though, when Kay agrees to take private Italian lessons with a very charming and attractive teacher, Fiore Benedetto. When the lessons blossom into "something more," Penny, a lawyer who was devoted to her late father, becomes distressed. As in Italian opera, passion, jealousy and perhaps even "vendetta" drive these three people toward a final big decision. Godfrey, a Roxbury resident, is a playwright member of Emerging Artists Theatre and TOSOS in New York City

Do Black Patent Leather Shoes Really Reflect Up?
May 8-June 8
by John Powers, James Quinn & Alaric Jans
Audiences flocked to see this musical in Chicago (where it became that city's longest running show), and in Philadelphia (where it broke attendance records). Focusing on eight young people during their Catholic elementary and high school education in the 1950s, it captures the funniest aspects of youthful growing pains and the trying moments of adolescence.

Special events:

  • Tony n’ Tina’s Wedding-Sept. 20-22
It’s a wedding. It’s a feast. It’s a show! Actors exchange vows. And you, the audience, play the parts of Tony and Tina’s family and friends, joining them for the reception, feast and hilarious family dramas. One of the longest running shows in Off-Broadway history. Eat, drink, dance, converse, and get caught up in the festivities of this all-inclusive, interactive matrimonial experience. Ticket includes: The ceremony, reception, Italian Baked Ziti Dinner, champagne toast, wedding cake, music, dancing, and much more! This is the original.

  • The Dancing With the Angels Gala will be held on Oct. 26. Plenty of dancing with local “stars”. WTNH’s Teresa LaBarbera will be the show’s host.

  • The smash hit holiday musical Miracle on 34th Street returns for a limited engagement December 13-22.   From Meridith Willson, the composer of The Music Man, this musical adaptation of the classic holiday movie is filled with humor and such beloved songs as “It’s Beginning To Look A Lot Like Christmas.”
  • The musical 13, Jan. 10-12
  • Miss Abigail's Guide to Dating, Mating and Marriage Jan 31-Feb. 9, starring Earlene Babcock (a.k.a.Michelle Gotay) as Miss Abigail.
Seven Angels Theatre is located on Plank Road in Waterbury CT. Tickets and info: 203-757-4676; www.SevenAngelsTheatre.org.

Hey, Triple Threat Teens! Hartford Stage is Calling

Broadway Dreams Triple Threat Extreme Workshop at Hartford Stage

Hartford Stage will host the Broadway Dreams Triple Threat Extreme Workshop for local teen performers, Friday, Aug. 16, through Sunday, Aug. 18, when the Final Showcase will take place at 6 pm.

Broadway professionals Craig D'Amico (Annie Get Your Gun, Fiddler on the Roof); Tony Vincent (NBC's "The Voice," American Idiot); and Deidre Goodwin (Chicago, A Chorus Line) will lead the three-day workshop. Students also will have the opportunity to meet and work with a top NYC casting director. 

The Broadway Dreams Triple Threat Extreme is an immersive experience that focuses on each of the major disciplines in Musical Theatre: acting, voice and dance. Working with a faculty of Broadway professionals, students will take part in an "extreme" artistic process that will push their abilities and talents, giving them the skills required to be a professional in the industry.

Students must be 13 years old or older and there is no audition required to take part in this program. For more information, please visit www.hartfordstage.org/education/youth.

World's Strongest Librarian Shares Struggles with Tourette's



What is life like for a young Mormon boy in Utah with one of the most severe types of Tourette's Syndrome? In his new book, "The World's Strongest Librarian: A Memoir of Tourette's, Faith, Strength, and the Power of Family," 

Josh Hanagarne takes us on a tour of the challenges he has faced.And he will tell all about it at Hartford Public Library tomorrow, Wednesday, July 17, in an event being held in partnership with The Mark Twain House and Museum. A reception at 5:30 pm.will be followed by a conversation between Hanagarne and Jacques Lamarre, playwright, booklover and Communications Manager at the Mark Twain House, at 6 pm.

Plagued by tics, yelps and a propensity to hit himself, Josh sets out to conquer his disability by strong-man training (bending spikes, lifting boulders, etc.) and working in the least likely place for someone with Tourette's: the library.

"The World's Strongest Librarian" will be held at Hartford Public Library Downtown, 500 Main St., Hartford. The event is free, and a book sale and signing will follow.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Theater Review: The Music Man -- CT Repertory


Richard Ruiz and Barrett Foa. Photo: Gerry Goodstein.
The Music Man Always Was Robert Preston, Till There Was You, Barrett Foa
By Lauren Yarger
In a break from playing Eric Beale on the CBS television series “NCIS: Los Angeles,” Barrett Foa is spending part of his summer charming audiences and a certain librarian as The Music Man, which wraps up CT Repertory Theatre’s Nutmeg Series on the UConn campus.

He charms his way into the hearts of the gullible “Iowa Stubborn” residents of River City while singing songs you probably have heard even if you haven’t seen the show like “76 Trombones,” “Till There Was You,” “Trouble,” “Goodnight My Someone” and “Shipoopi,” all courtesy of Meredith Wilson, who wrote the music, lyrics and book. Franklin Lacey collaborated on the story. Musical Director NDavid Williams assembles a full-sounding, 10-person band and supplements with eight additional musicians for “76 Trombones” to do justice to the musical which won five 1958 Tony Awards, including Best Musical (it beat West Side Story). 

Foa is con-man Harold Hill, whose reputation precedes him as he rides into town on the train with other traveling salesmen (in a nicely executed opening number performed to the chug of the train’s engine.) They all know his scheme: convince a town that they need a boys’ band, charge for uniforms and instruments, then skip town, because despite all of Hill’s claims about leading bands, he can’t read a note of music.

He quickly cons Mayor Shinn (Steven Hayes, returning to CT Rep following his turn as Pseudolus in A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum) and his untalented wife, Eulalie Mackecknie Shinn (a very funny Lynn McNutt), whom he recruits to head the ladies’ dance society. He also manipulates the School Board and soon has the otherwise cantankerous quartet singing smooth, four-part harmony instead of asking for his academic credentials. Joey Barreiro, Adam Maggio, Temar Underwood and Alex Gibson are the really good barbershop-style quartet. You can see a video clip interview and a sample of their harmony at http://youtu.be/7tL7fcou2vA.

Seeing through Hill, however, is the town’s librarian, Marian Paroo (Courtney Balan). A spinster who gives piano lessons at home where she lives with her mother (Mary Cadorette) and little brother, Winthrop (Elijah Saddlemier), she doesn’t really trust anyone. She is the subject gossip among the town’s women because of her relationship with the man who left her all the books in his library. Marian is about to expose Hill as a fraud, but delays when Winthrop, who stutters and doesn’t talk much, takes a liking to the Music Man and his “Think” method for playing instruments and finally comes out of his shell. He also seems to be having a positive influence on the town’s hoodlum, Tommy (Kevin Jones), who attracts the attention of the mayor’s daughter, Zaneeta (Kate Zulauf).

Suddenly Hill is working his charm on Marian too and she finds herself falling for him despite her doubts and the fact that Marcellus Washburn (a delightful Richard Ruiz, who played Sancho in CRT’s Man of LaMancha), a former con-man himself before settling down in quiet River City, keeps calling him Greg….

Hill continues with the con, but struggles as he finds himself falling for the uptight librarian. The chemistry between Foa and Balan is strong – she is his former University of Michigan classmate and they appeared in Anything Goes and Candide there together – but so is her operatic soprano. When she sings “Till There Was You” it seems as though her powerful voice might blow Harold right off the bridge.

Director Cassie Abate choreographs across a wide selection of Scenic Designer Michael Anania’s sets, meticulously created with building facades, backdrops and even dust that flies when the books in the library are slammed shut (Lighting Design is by Michael Cybowski; Sound Design by Nathan Leigh). Costume Designer Lisa Loen has skirts swirling and feathers flopping (in a humorous hat design for the talented McNutt), though the women’s wigs look like wigs….

The “Marian the Librarian” number is magical with Abate leading a large ensemble in delightful, dreamy choreography on multiple, unexpected levels. Foa is so beguiling in this scene he makes us forget about Robert Preston who originated the role (and who won a Tony and went on to star in the 1962 movie version of the musical).

The children’s ensemble is cast with local children (Jason Mack, Rebecca Mack (Amaryllis), Elijah Saddlemier (Winthrop Paroo), Andreas Tolis, Annie Tolis and Madison Young (Gracie Shinn) who do their best to look adorable. It is difficult to understand their dialogue (as well as Zulauf’s) at times, however.

The audience enjoys this wrap-up to the summer program at CT Rep, however, and some are bopping along (and unfortunately singing or humming along) throughout.

CRT is the professional producing arm of the Department of Dramatic Arts at the University of Connecticut, Storrs. CRT productions are directed, designed by, and cast with visiting professional artists, including Equity actors, faculty members, and the department’s most advanced student artists.

The Music Man plays through July 21 at the Harriet S. Jorgenson Theatre, UConn Storrs campus. Performances: Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday at 7:30 pm; Friday and Saturday at 8 pm; Saturday and Sunday at 2 pm. Tickets $10 to $45: (860) 486-2113; www.crt.uconn.edu.

Monday, July 8, 2013

ON VACATION

Hello avid readers,
The Connecticut Arts Connection will take a summer vacation through July 15. This season was very active and we saw readership more than double -- again! Thousands of readers are turning to this site to keep up with what is happening with theater and the arts in Connecticut. Thank you so much for your support.

Regular coverage will resume July 16. 

-- Lauren Yarger

Theater Review: Footloose -- Ivoryton Playhouse

Zoe Kassay and Cody Ryan. Photo: Anne Hudson
 Strong Vocals Let Loose in Musical About Letting Go
By Lauren Yarger
A predictable plot and disjointed musical elements might have brought Footloose down, but deeper messages, good character development and -- at least in the production running over at Ivoryton Playhouse --   a strong vocal ensemble, turn the show around into an enjoyable romp through rebellious youth and overprotective parents.

The show is adapted for the stage by Dean Pitchford, with music by Tom Snow, based on Pitchford’s screenplay for the popular movie starring Kevin Bacon and John Lithgow. Additional music is provided by Eric Carmen, Sammy Hagar, Kenny Loggins and Jim Steinman with lyrics by Pitchford. With so many cooks stirring the musical pot, there is a lot of confusion about what style of music we’re listening to here: from “Almost Paradise” to “Holding Out for a Hero" to Kenny Loggins’ pop tune “Footloose” and everything in between.

Loosely wrapped around the songs is a plot about teens trying to find themselves and the adults trying to protect them through that process, but deeper themes, emotions and strong characters emerge to season the brew.

Cody Ryan plays Ren McCormack, forced to move from exciting Chicago to boring small-town Bomont where his aunt and uncle offer them a place to live when his Ren’s father abandons him and his mother, Ethel (Elise Arsenault). Trying to fit in, Ren repeatedly gets into trouble and irritates the man who controls most of what happens in town: the Rev. Shaw Moore (a splendidly voiced Edward Juvier).

Ren has just too much free spirit for this this place, which officially banned dancing within the town limits five and a half years ago when some teens were killed when their car plunged off a bridge on their way home from a dance.

Also finding herself with a little too much free spirit is Moore’s daughter, Ariel (Zoe Kassay, also lending a strong singing voice to the production), who hides her relationship with bad-boy Chuck Cranston (Michael Wright) and her red cowboy boots (Kari Crowther, costume design) from her father. The boys in town know she’s the “devil in disguise,” but her mom, Vi (Traci Bair) knows that her daughter is just trying to get the reverend’s attention. She feels abandoned since her brother died in that tragic accident on the bridge.

Ren tries to help Ariel, and even quotes bible verses to the town council in his quest to allow the high school senior class to hold a dance, but Moore is too fixated on the tragic consequences he feels dance will have on the teenagers. There are some subplots thrown in there too, the most notable of which is Ren’s friendship with cowboy Willard Hewitt (a very good Patrich H. Dunn), who confesses that he doesn’t even know how to dance.

It’s a talented ensemble, but a very large cast and Director/Choreographer Richard Amelius has difficulty moving them all around the small stage. When the kids do get chances to dance, the movement seems curbed rather than a free-spirited celebration. The pace seemed slow on opening night, but I suspect it will gel when the cast gets some performances under its belt.

Some of the creative choices seem to bog the production down as well. Labor-intensive set changes (Cully Long, design) and movement of landmarks depicted in silhouette behind a backdrop scrim, disrupt the flow. Some of the women’s costumes are particularly unflattering.

Those criticisms aside, the show, ably music directed by Michael Morris, is very entertaining and moving. Vocals are especially good in this mostly non-Equity ensemble. 

Footloose plays through July 28 at Ivoryton Playhouse,  103 Main St., Ivoryton Performances Wednesday and Sunday matinees at 2 pm; Evening performances 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.
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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