Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Midsummer Night's Dream Closes Curtian on CT Repertory Season

Kent Coleman (Peaseblossom), Michael Patrick Kane* (Nick Bottom) and Natalia Cuevas (Titania) in A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM by William Shakespeare, directed by Dale AJ Rose, onstage at Connecticut Repertory Theatre’s Harriet S. Jorgensen Theatre through May 3. Photo: Gerry Goodstein.
Connecticut Repertory Theatre (CRT) will end its 2014-2015 season with the Shakespeare classic A Midsummer Night’s Dream at the Harriet S. Jorgensen Theatre through May 3.
A comedy of mistaken identity and love, A Midsummer Night’s Dream provides a magical exploration of love, lust, and marriage. With fairies, magic spells, and people transforming into animals, Shakespeare takes us through the chaotic twists and turns only to illustrate just how otherworldly love can be. The production is directed by Dale AJ Rose, Associate Artistic Director at CRT and the Director of Performance Studies at UConn.
The show runs at the Harriet S. Jorgensen Theatre. Weeknight evening performances start at 7:30; weekend evening performances start at 8. Matinee performances start at 2 pm. Tickets are $7 $30: www.crt.uconn.edu; 860-486-2113. The box office is now housed in the Nafe Katter Theatre, 820 Bolton Road, open Monday-Friday, noon to 5 pm and one hour prior to show time at the theater where the performance is taking place.

Coming Up at Boston's Huntington Theatre

Adrianne Krstansky, Nael Nacer, and Marie Polizzano in the Huntington Theatre Company’s production of William Inge’s Come Back, Little Sheba, directed by David Cromer, extended through May 2, South End / Calderwood Pavilion at the BCA. Photo: T. Charles Erickson.
THE 2015-2016 SEASON LINEUP

·         A Little Night Music, a sumptuous Tony Award-winning musical by Stephen Sondheim; directed by Artistic Director Peter DuBois; at the Boston University Theatre September 11 – October 11, 2015
·         Choice, a thought-provoking new comedy by Winnie Holzman about the many layers that live inside a single choice; directed by Sheryl Kaller; at the Wimberly Theatre in the Calderwood Pavilion at the BCA October 16 – November 15, 2015
·         A Confederacy of Dunces, a wild comic ride by Jeffrey Hatcher; based on the iconic novel by John Kennedy Toole; directed by David Esbjornson (Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, All My Sons); featuring Nick Offerman (“Parks and Recreation”); at the Boston University Theatre November 11 – December 13, 2015
·         How I Learned What I Learned, August Wilson’s one-man show; directed by Todd Kreidler (Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner) and featuring Eugene Lee, both longtime Wilson collaborators; at the Boston University Theatre January 8 – February 7, 2016
·         Disgraced, a riveting Broadway hit and winner of the 2013 Pulitzer Prize by Ayad Ahktar; directed by Kimberly Senior who helmed the Broadway production; at the Boston University Theatre March 4 – April 3, 2016
·         Can You Forgive Her?, a biting new comedy by two-time Pulitzer Prize finalist Gina Gionfriddo (Rapture, Blister, Burn; Becky Shaw); directed by Artistic Director Peter DuBois; at the Wimberly Theatre in the Calderwood Pavilion at the BCA March 25 – April 24, 2016
·         I Was Most Alive With You, an ambitious and moving new play written and directed by Craig Lucas and performed in English and American Sign Language; at the Wimberly Theatre in the Calderwood Pavilion at the BCA June 1 – July 3, 2016
– PLUS –
·         Milk Like Sugar, a provocative drama written by Huntington Playwriting Fellow Kirsten Greenidge (Luck of the Irish); directed by M. Bevin O’Gara (Becoming Cuba) at the Roberts Studio Theatre in the Calderwood Pavilion at the BCA January 29 – February 28, 2016
Note: Milk Like Sugar is not part of the 2015-2016 subscription season – tickets sold separately.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Theater Review: Little Shop of Horrors -- Music Theatre of CT

The Cast of Little Shop. Photo courtesy of MTC.

Little Shop of Horrors
Music Theatre of Connecticut
through May 3

What's It All About?
A florist shop employee named Seymour (Norwalk native Anthony DiCostanzo) discovers an odd seedling and tries to nurse it back to health. He names it Audrey II, after his sweetheart, Audrey (Elissa DeMaria), and discovers that this particular plant requires human blood to thrive. The amazing plant grows and becomes such an attraction that business booms at the florist shop owned by Mr. Mushnik (Lou Ursone). The plant (a puppet operated by Will Strong and voiced by Peter McClung) gets very hungry, however, and Seymour decides to feed it Audrey's sadistic dentist boyfriend Orin (Tony Lawson, who also plays a bunch of other parts and who brings humor to the bizarre characters). Will Seymour win the girl? Will Mr. Mushnik find out what's really going on?

What are the Highlights?
The score by Alan Menken has always been a favorite. "Somewhere That's Green" is still moving. Backup singers Inuka Ivaska, Kristian Espiritu and Gabrielle Lee add a nice vocal punch to the mix. DeMaria, directed by Kevin Connors,  gives a complex portrayal as Audrey. The three-man band (Music Direction by Thomas Martin Conroy) does justice to the score.

What Are the Lowlights?
Well, the plot is a bit much to take. Some notes that don't quite make their mark. The sound is WAY too loud for the small Melissa & Doug Theatre stage, where it is debatable whether the actors need to be wearing mics at all.

More info:
Little Shop runs  through May 3 at Music Theatre of Connecticut, 509 Westport Ave. (Route 1), n Norwalk. Performances are Friday at 8 pm; Saturday at 4 and 8pm; Sundays at 2 pm. Tickets: $30-$50 ($5 off for seniors/students based on availability)

LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS
Book and Lyrics by HOWARD ASHMAN
Music by ALAN MENKEN
Based on the film by Roger Corman Screenplay by Charles Griffith

Vocal Arrangements by ROBERT BILLIG 
Orchestrations by ROBERT MERKIN
Costume Design by DIANE VANDERKROE
Set Design by DAVID HEUVELMAN 
Lighting Design by TYLER H. FIRST 
Stage Managed by JIM SCHILLING
Choreography by STEVEN MIDURA 

NEW SEASON
MTC has announced its 2015-2016 Mainstage productions:
A re-imagined production of Evita
Oct. 16-Nov. 1

The Santaland Diaries
Dec. 11-20

Vanya, Sonia, Masha and Spike
Feb. 26-March 13

The Last Five Years
April 8-24



Theater Review: The Importance of Being Ernest -- Playhouse on Park

Jane Bradley (Gwendolen), Michael Raver (Jack), Laura Hankin (Cecily), Katrina Ferguson (Lady Bracknell), James Parenti (Algernon)  Photo: Rich Wagner
The Importance of Doing The Importance of Being Ernest Well
By Lauren Yarger
The announcement that any theater company is doing Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Ernest always causes me to shake y head in disbelief. It’s one of those plays that that begs the question, “why do people find this funny?”

The play’s subtitle, “A Trivial Play for Serious People,” is rather telling. Back in 1895 when the work premiered, I’m sure it was the toast of the town. In modern times, however, it’s a bit hard to swallow the importance of the absurd plot, but theaters keep presenting it. A Broadway revival a couple of seasons ago even added insult to injury by casting Brian Bedford as Lady Bracknell, one of a few interesting stage roles available to women of a certain age these days.

All that to say, imagine my surprise when I actually found myself chuckling at Playhouse on the Park’s production. Credit for that, among other things goes to Jerry Winters’ direction, which carefully arranges the ensemble actors around Christopher Hoyt’s set during the action and in between (when costumed stage hands and actors help switch out props to convert a morning room into a garden setting as if they are getting things I norder for expected guests). The blocking by Winters, who helped Lend Me A Tenor last season at the Playhouse, helps tell the story (and gives it a bit more credence).

In addition, most of the actors managed believable English accents (Dialect Coach Jennifer Scapetis-Tycer just needs to tweak the pronunciation of the word “Aunt” which, unfortunately, comes out sounding like “Uncle”) and solid performances. Katrina Ferguson is a formidable Lady Bracknell and Laura Hankin gives a standout performance as innocent Cecily.

For those of you who haven’t seen 100 productions of Ernest in your lifetime, here’s a quick plot synopsis:

In this tale of a country gentleman, Jack Worthing (Michael Raver) invents a troublesome brother named Ernest, whose troubles afford him the opportunity to leave his country life, dominated by his young ward, Cecily (Hankin) and her tutor, Miss Prism (Donna Schilke), and go to more exciting London, where he assumes Ernest’s identity.

In town, he hangs out with friend Algernon (James Perenti) the love of his life, Archie’s cousin Gwendolyn (Jane Bradley) and her mother, the Lady Bracknell (Ferguson). Archie, finds spending time with all of them a bore, however, and invents an invalid friend, Bunbury, whom he pretends to visit in the country to avoid the social obligations of town.

There are some other characters -- Lane, the butler, and Merriman, another servant (both plyed by a drole Harrison Greene) and the vicar Chasuble (Davd Farrington) – thrown into the mix. Mayhem which ensues as Algernon impersonates Ernest, Algernon falls in love with Gwendolyn, both Cecily and Gwendolyn think they are engaged to Ernest, both women vow they could ever love a man not named Ernest – OK that’s where my brain explodes with the plot -- and secrets come to light about a baby left in a handbag at a train station.

If that description doesn’t leave you rolling in the aisles -- you’ll be scratching your head just like I do when audiences roar at the stuff – you might actually find yourself chuckling at it this time. Particularly well done is a scene between Cecily and Gwendolyn where the women form an immediate friendship, then discover they might be engaged to the same man, all while maintaining the requirements of social etiquette. Hankin brings a fresh, engaging edge to the role, which makes watching this farce a delight.

So whether you have seen Ernest 100 times or somehow have managed not to see the incessant productions of it offered at every theater company in America, check out this surprisingly watchable version.

Ernest runs through May 3 at Playhouse on Park, 244 Park Road, West Hartford. Wednesdays and Thursdays: 7:30 pm; Fridays, Saturdays at 8 pm; Sundays at 2 pm. Tickets $15-$35 (860) 523-5900 x10;  www.playhouseonpark.org; box office 244 Park Rd., West Hartford. A special senior matinee is planned for April 28 at 2 pm with all seats priced at $22.50.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Theater Review: Camelot -- The Bushnell

The Knights of the Round Table. Photo by Scott Suchman
This Camelot is Missing Its Shining Moments
By Lauren Yarger
The website for the national tour of Camelot advertises its non-Equity version produced by Phoenix Entertainment, now playing at The Bushnell, as “The story as you’ve never seen it before.” Well, they got that much right as far as I am concerned, but probably not in the way they hoped.

This “re-imagined” show will leave fans of the Alan Jay Lerner/Frederick Lowe musical disappointed.

Directed by Michael McFadden, this uninspired production features confusing blocking, vocals that fail to hit their notes and a pace that drags (the two-hour, 30 minute run time seemed longer). Now, before I go further, let me say that Adam Grabau, who plays King Arthur, was out opening night when I saw this, and understudy Troy Bruchwalski played the part. He seemed solid to me, but sometimes a last-minute “put in,” as we call them, especially in the lead, can throw things off. I am willing to give benefit of the doubt, but don’t think the replacement was cause for my disenchantment. (The rule for an Equity production -- where performers are members of the union representing actors -- is that you wouldn’t be able to tell the difference, either in the performance or in the production.)

Based on “The Once and Future King” by T.H. White, Camelot tells the story of King Arthur (Bruchwalski), who, mentored by magician Merlyn (Mark Poppleton), becomes King of England after pulling the sword Excalibur from a stone. In an arranged marriage designed to keep peace between warring lands, he marries the beautiful Guenevere (Mary McNulty) and to their surprise, the couple falls into friendship and love.

Arthur envisions an age of new chivalry and invites knights from far and wide to join him at his round table where justice and peace will rule (and where no one can sit at the head). Joining him are his old family friend, King Pellinore (also Poppleton), Sir Sagramore (Mark Edwards), Sir Dinadin (Jon McHatton) and the pompous Sir Lancelot (Tim Rogan), who becomes like a son to the king.
At first, Guenevere takes a strong dislike to Lancelot who has such a high opinion of himself, but when he miraculously restores to life a knight he has wounded in a jousting tournament, the queen can no longer deny her attraction. She and Lancelot feel guilty about betraying the king they love in thought, if not in deed.

When Arthur’s illegitimate son, Mordred (Kasidy Devlin, who spices up the insipid action here), arrives on the scene, he sets out to ruin Arthur by rekindling a passion among the knights for war and revenge. He finds an opportunity by convincing Arthur to stay away from Camelot one night. When Lancelot and Guenevere are caught in a compromising position, Arthur has no choice but to allow them to be tried for treason.

The tone is dark, overall, on sets designed by Kevin Depinet. A modern-looking, curved, metal structure representing trees in a forest arches stage left paired with backdrops and medieval props  while some cheesy shadow effects (with lighting by Mike Baldassari) create jousting scenes. Designer Paul Tazewell gets the costumes right, however, with lighter colors and elegant gowns for Guenevere.

Of particular annoyance is a buzz echo of sorts house left, which was pronounced during most of the first act (sound design by Craig Cassidy). Often Pellinore cannot be understood.

Songs sung not quite on the note at times, odd musical arrangements (Music Direction by Marshall Keating; Musical Supervision and Additional Orchestrations by Steven M. Bishop)  and a small orchestra make listening to songs like “How to Handle a Woman,” “What Do the Simple Folk Do?” and “The Lusty Month of May” a less-then-satisfying experience.

“If Ever I Would Leave You,” also with some notes off the mark and accompanied awkwardly at first by a lone cello, is delivered by a stiff Lancelot who elicits a wooden response from Guenevere.
Fans of the original production will notice that the character of Morgan LeFay and Guenevere’s song “I Loved You Once In Silence" are not included here.

One performance I did enjoy was of Tom of Warwick, a young lad who restores Arthur’s hope in the message of Camelot. I am not sure which boy played the part the night I attended because the program note simply lists the two local boys who share the part: Ian Rothauser, a 5th grader at John Wallace Middle School in Newington, and Patrick Jensen, a 4th grader at Aiken Elementary School in West Hartford. Kudos, whoever you were. You restored my hope in the future of productions with your fresh, bold performance of just a few lines.

And  Kate Turner offers a pleasing soprano as Nimue, the Lady of the Lake, who calls Merlyn to his eternal rest.

If Grabau returns to the part this week and you see a vast difference in the production, please let me know. I’d like to think that Camelot might have a bright shining moment while in Hartford.

Camelot plays through April 26 at The Bushnell, 166 Capitol Ave., Hartford. Performances are Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday: 7:30 pm; Fridays and Saturdays: 8 pm; Saturday at 2 pm; Sunday 1 and 6:30 pm. Tickets $26-$80. (860) 987-5900; www.bushnell.org.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Theater Review: Brownsville Song -- Long Wharf

Curtiss Cook Jr. and Catrina Ganey. Photo: T. Charles Erickson

The Flip Side of Being a Statistic
By Lauren Yarger
Tray is a smart, athletic, talented young man who hopes to become a teacher. His dreams – and the world of the people who loved him – are shattered by a senseless shooting in Kimber Lee’s gripping drama brownsville song (b-side for tray) at Long Wharf Theatre.

That’s not the end of the story, his grandmother, Lena (a formidable Catrina Ganey), tells us up front. Tray (Curtiss Cook Jr) was not just another African-American young man to die from gun violence, she says. He had a life, dreams, ambitions and people who loved him. His death is not the end of the story – she is.

Lena has been trying to cope. She has been raising Tray’s sister, Devine (a sensitive Kaatje Welsh) on her own ever since the children’s mother, Merrell (Sung Yun Cho) abandoned them to her drug addictions following the death of their father – also by gunshot.

A shift back in time allows us to see all of the folks interact with Tray. Devine worships the ground he walks on. She has emotional issues since being left beside a dumpster by her mother and Tray does his best to assuage her fears by being a steady presence. The devotion he feels for the young girl in return is obvious as he helps her prepare for her big moment playing a tree in a ballet production. (Sweet Welsh makes this look wonderful).

Meanwhile, over the objections of Lena, who protectively forbids contact with Devine, Merrell re-enters Tray’s life. He hires her at the Starbucks where he works as the woman tries to rebuild her life off of drugs and deal with the guilt of abandoning the family.

Meanwhile, Lena finds out the details of Tray’s last moments from his friend, Junior (Anthony Martinez-Briggs). The senseless death haunts us, as well as those who loved him, because of Lee’s sensitive, honest-dialogue script and the deep, affecting performances. We feel we knew Tray and mourn his loss. Perhaps we’ll never hear about another senseless shooting without thinking about him.

Lee was inspired to write the play after hearing of an actual murder of a young boxer from Brownsville named Tray Franklin.

“On the deepest level, the play is not political, it is not about making a political statement … for me the play was in the true sense a lament and a desire to create and put onstage the experience of grief. I just, at bottom, wanted people to feel something that this boy had done. That was the driving concern I had when I was writing this play,” she said.

The various locations are staged by Director Eric Ting with the movement of some props around the set designed by Scott Bradley. It doesn’t always work effectively, but the storytelling wins out in the end.


Brownsville song is a co-production with the Philadelphia Stage Company. Here at Long wharf, ticket prices have been drastically reduced for this run in an effort to remove barriers to seeing the play. The theater also partnered with The Community Foundation for Greater New Haven to host a convening on gun violence and the New Haven Free Public Library, which hosted conversations about the play at its branches, where tickets to the play were distributed. 

Brownsville plays at Long wharf Theatre, 222 Sargent Drive, New Haven, through April 19. Tickets $5-$40 (203) 787-4282; www.longwharf.org.

You can view a video clip here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T9wI45sFdqk

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Theater Review: The Pianist of Willesden Lane

Mona Golabek. Photo courtesy of mellopix.com
A Magical Melodic Mix of Music and Memory
By Lauren Yarger
Memory, music and imagery blend to create a symphony of artistry and emotion in The Pianist of Willesden Lane at Hartford Stage.

Mona Golabek stars as her mother, pianist Lisa Jura, who escaped pre-war Vienna on the Kindertransport. Hershey Felder, who directs, adapts the play from Golabek's book "The Children of Willesden Lane," cowritten by Lee Cohen.

Surrounded by large golden picture frames used to show family photos, locations and video footage to compliment the story (set design by Trevor Hay and Hershey Felder; Projection Design by Andrew Wilder and Greg Sowizdrzal), Lisa shares her story, beginning as a young girl in 1938, eager for her next piano lesson. Her dream is to one day play a Grieg concerto at Carnegie Hall.

Things are different, that day, however, as she arrives at her beloved piano teacher's home. The street has been changed from a Jewish to a German name, soldiers are everywhere and a law has been passed making it illegal for him to teach Jews. Her father, struggling to support the family, plays poker and wins a ticket for the Kindertransport, a rescue effort to help Jewish children escape to Great Britain by train.

Her parents must choose from among their three daughters and select Lisa, who is quickly separated from her family and sent to various places in London, where she works in factories and longs for news from her family. At one of the hostels on Willesden Lane, where she is one of many children working by day and hiding in the basement during bombing raids at night, the woman in charge recognizes her extraordinary gift at the piano. Her friends urge her to audition for a scholarship at the Royal Academy of Music, where she is able to continue studying the piano. Later she makes her way to America.

As Lisa tells her story, which continues through 1942, the music she plays at the piano (and yes, that's really Golabek mesmerizing at the grand Steinway center stage) mimics the activities and emotions she experiences. We recognize the buzz of sewing machines in the factory, or the bombs dropping on London in beautifully played music that give new meaning and depth to classical pieces we have hear thousands of times before.

Extraordinary sound effects (designed by Erik Cartensen) allow us to hear street noise, the chaos and horror of Kristallnacht,  the bombing raids on London and a full symphony orchestra playing behind Lisa as she executes her beloved Grieg Piano Concerto in A Minor (as well as Beethoven, Chopin and other pieces).

The gripping 90-minute, no-intermission drama transports us to another time and place and into the heart of a daughter lovingly recreating the memories of her mother. All elements are in harmony and Golabek's incarnations as the various characters in the tale are made more charming by a stiffness -- a delightful lack of stage polish -- which remind us this is the sharing of a real,  very personal story which we have been privileged to hear and not just a performance.

Golabek offers some personal comments to the audience after the performance and the night I attended, she signed books in the lobby, so we really could get up close and personal.

Hartford Stage recommends the show for ages 12 and up. Every junior and senior high school student should experience this glimpse into history. Student tickets are just $20. Tickets are $25 to $85: 860-527-5171; hartfordstage.org.

The Pianist of Willesden Lane plays through April 26 at Hartford Sage, 50 Church St., Hartford.
C O N N E C T I C U T
--- A R T S ---
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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