Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Chatting with Jenn Thompson, Director of Oklahoma! at Goodspeed

A New Look at an Old Favorite
By Lauren Yarger
Rodgers and Hammerstein's Oklahoma! is one of America's treasures of musical theater, so it's intriguing that it is just now getting its first treatment at Goodspeed, where it runs through Sept. 27. It is also the first time Director Jenn Thompson has worked with the musical.

Thompson returns to Goodspeed where she directed last year's acclaimed production of Bye Bye Birdie. Formerly with River Rep in Ivoryton (19 years), Thompson has been nominated for two Lucille Lortel Awards, the Off-Broadway Alliance Award and five Drama Desk Awards including Outstanding Director and Revival. She was a 2012 finalist for SDC’s Joe A. Callaway award for Excellence in Directing.

CT Arts Connection recently asked Thompson to reflect on the production. Information about the production follows.

CTAC:
Is Oklahoma! an old favorite or was this something new for you to tackle?

JT:
I've actually never seen a production of OK! before - which seems kind of crazy to me. I grew up on the music and the movie - but not the actual show. So in some ways, it was both an old favorite and completely new to me.

CTAC:
Speak about how Oklahoma is a contemporary story for today.

JT:
I always think the mark of really great work is how it evolves over time, how it changes with different generations viewing and performing it. When I got this job we were still in the election and by the time I was working on it in earnest, the world had turned upside down. My view of the show had changed before I'd even hired a single actor. For me, this show speaks about so many contemporary topics; tribalism, gender roles, gun violence...there's so much in there. And, of course, depending on when you're seeing it/working on it different aspects emerge. I've seen a lot of people become very emotional watching that flag come down at the end of the show. I think people are desperate to feel good about being American and feeling connected to each other as Americans. It's complicated now...but I think when you see that beautiful, diverse cast singing their guts out about coming together and wanting to be a part of something bigger and bolder it feels very visceral and real - and the audience is moved and thrilled by that. Me too.

CTAC:
You have had a nostalgic theme going with some of your last shows: Women Without Men, Bye Bye Birdie, Oklahoma! (you have a pretty even mix of old and new works among your credits). Do you prefer working with older classics or new works? Tell us about some of the differences in approaching the two different types from the creative point of view. What is the dynamic of working with younger casts who might not be familiar with older works and older audiences, who might be the opposite?


JT:
I really approach old and new work the same. Or, at least, I try to. I used to read reviews and critical responses to the older stuff I've worked on - as part of my research - and I've stopped doing that. It wasn't helpful. The view needs to be fresh and unobscured. With new material, there's this great opportunity to help shape it with the author(s). It's a wonderful challenge and quite a privilege to be invited into that process. With older shows, the discovery process is a little more solitary. It's just you and the words - until it's time to bring the design team in it can feel a bit hermitic. But there's also something wonderful about decoding the material for yourself and figuring out how it will speak to a contemporary audience. I feel very fortunate to be able to do both and also to be able to work in so many genres and styles. At the end of the day all of it - is about storytelling. What is the best, most effective way, to tell the story? Actors, of course, are a huge part of that. Casting, for me, is the most important aspect of the equation - and I always do a lot of research and dramaturgical work to provide a cast with context and info and, of course, invite and encourage them to share and engage. When the storytelling is clear and detailed it transcends peoples backgrounds and ages. Everyone responds to a story passionately well told.

CTAC:
Speak about your decisions to make updates in shows. Sometimes it is noticeable, sometimes, not so much:

JT:
I actually did do quite a bit of updating in OK! For starters, it's trimmed down considerably and there's a lot of reshuffling of text, especially in the first act. The action is moved off of the farm (we meet Will Parker at the train depot, Ado Annie in a corn field) that's not in the original text. The violence in the show is now by gun - also new. I used more text from Green Grows the Lilacs in some places. And, of course, the ballet is completely new, including the arrangement. But I'm glad if you didn't notice. Honestly, that's always the aim. That work should be invisible.

CTAC:
Talk about the differences in directing in New York and regionally. What are some of the advantages or disadvantages?
JT:
Very often it's the resources. Many regional theatres just have more space and more money to put into a show than most theatres in NYC - unless you're on Broadway. So that is fun. It's also nice to gather a group of people out of town for the sole purpose of putting on a show. It becomes an instant family. Being in NY - is home for me so it's always great to get to work and then sleep in my own bed. And there's nothing like the theatre community in NYC. That support is amazing.


CTAC:
You helped launch the state Chapter for the League of Professional Theatre Women last year. What are some significant changes you are seeing with regard to opportunities and equity when it comes to women and theater in say the last three years? What are some of the biggest hurdles we have to overcome?

JT:
I've often struggled with the label of "female director" preferring to just be seen as a director but the election woke me up to some very harsh realities. It's easy to feel like we're in a progressive bubble in the arts but truth be told there are still a lot of out-dated and pre-conceived notions in the theater. I think representation is really important onstage and off. We need more women and more people of color telling stories, period. If the theater cannot lead in inclusion how can we expect to see it in corporate America? Or in elected office? It's getting better but we still have a long way to go. It feels good to have agency and purpose.


CTAC:
Talk about your decision to pursue directing. How have you changed since heading in that direction? What are some of the biggest lessons you have learned? How do you balance family with the demands of work and travel? Your husband is an actor, so he gets it, but there must be a lot of juggling. Any interest in the theater yet from your daughter?

JT:
Directing just immediately felt like a better fit for me - kind of across the board. I felt more engaged and challenged and I prefer sitting in the dark in the back. LOL. It took me awhile to be able to move away from my identity as an actor (I'd been doing it professionally since I was 7) but I kind of knew from the first time out that directing was where I needed to be. It's very strange because it hasn't even been 10 years yet but I can't imagine being onstage now - that feels like a different person...a different life. The work/life balance is a struggle as it is for all working moms/families. Stephen and I try not to be working at the same time but sometimes it's unavoidable. There is also quite a bit of travel and that can be tough. But it's wonderful (and lucky) that I can bring Naomi with me to rehearsal and the theater and she can see and experience what I'm working on. I recognize how unusual that is. She's quite the savvy theater-goer now and her insight is always welcome and actually very helpful. Kids have a great nose for bull*#@!. It's also amazing to be raising her surrounded by generous, talented, dynamic people. I'm always humbled by the way a company embraces and includes her.\

CTAC:
What's the one show you haven't directed yet, but would love to?

JT:
Eeek! One show?! There are tons. Dying to do 1776 or All My Sons. Uncle Vanya, Orpheus Descending, Tobacco Road...West Side Story!

CTAC:
Do you have aspirations to be an artistic director in one spot again or do you enjoy going where the opportunities are?

JT:
This is the first time in my adult life that I'm not responsible for some aspect of running a theater and I'm really enjoying it. It feels so luxurious to just be focused on the art part. That said, I can see that happening somewhere down the line. For now, I am happy and grateful to be a gun-for-hire. And honored to get to return to some really wonderful theaters and be part of that family.

CTAC:
What's next?

JT:
Well, I am happily on vacation at the beach right now! Post-Labor Day I've got some workshops of a couple of new musicals in town and then I head back to St. Louis Rep to do a new play in November. Then out to Chicago Shakes to direct Mary Stuart. Should be a lot of fun!

Visit the director's website at jennthompsondirector.com.

Full disclosure: Thompson has worked with Lauren Yarger to promote the CT Chapter of the League of Professional Theatre Women and Yarger will appear in a reading directed by Thompson next month at Symphony Space in New York. 

The cast of Goodspeed Musicals’ Oklahoma!. Photo: Diane Sobolewski

OKLAHOMA!
Music by: Richard Rodgers
Book and Lyrics by: Oscar Hammerstein II,  based on the play Green Grow the Lilacs by Lynn Riggs

Curly is played by Rhett Guter who played Conrad Birdie in last summer’s hit Bye Bye Birdie at Goodspeed. Laurey is played by Samantha Bruce. Also in the principal cast: 

Aunt Eller: Terry Burrell
Will Parker: Jake Swain
Ado Annie Gizel Jimenez
Andrew Carnes: C. Mingo Long
Ali Hakim: Matthew Curiano
Jud Fry: Matt Faucher 

Scenic Designer: Wilson Chin
Costumer Designer: Tracy Christensen
Lighting Designer: Philip Rosenberg
Sound Designer: Jay Hilton
Wig and Hair Designer: Mark Adam Rampmeyer
Orchestrations: Dan DeLange
Music Director: Michael O’Flaherty

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.). Tickets start at $29: goodspeed.org; 860-873-8668.

CT Theater Review: Appropriate -- Westport Country Playhouse

  L-R: Shawn Fagan, Diane Davis, Nick Selting, Betsy Aidem, and David Aaron Baker. Photo: Carol Rosegg
Appropriate
By Branden Jacobs-Jenkins
Directed by David Kennedy
Westport Country Playhouse
Through Sept. 2

By Lauren Yarger
Plays about dysfunctional families win lots of prizes for their playwrights, and Appropriate, by McArthur Genius grant recipient Branden Jacobs-Jenkins is no exception. The play, getting a run at Westport Country Playhouse, won the 2014 Obie Award for Best New American Play and as you might suspect, as with most plays of this genre, there is a lot of yelling.

The Lafayettes have assembled at their crumbling family mansion in Arkansas following the death of their father. Single mom Toni (Betsy Aidem) and her son, Rhys (Nick Selting) are surprised when her two brothers join them for the auction of the home and its contents (full of hoarded items presenting an overwhelming sorting job thanks to Scenic Design by Andrew Boyce.) Bo (David Aaron Baker ) has been helping foot some bills over the years, but has been pretty much absent, preferring to enjoy life away from the plantation with his Jewish wife, Rachael (Diane Davis) and children, Cassie (Allison Winn) and Ainsley (Christian Michael Camporin).

Their other brother, Franz (Shawn Fagan) took off years ago following a problem with drugs and an incident involving inappropriate sexual relations with a minor. He turns up with "flower-child" girlfriend River (Anna Crivelli), to make amends, but his siblings suspect he might just be interested in his share of the profits from the sale. Crivelli, a recent graduate of the Yale School of Drama, makes Rachael silly and likable and provides a much needed comedic break in the dark play.

While trying to politely maneuver around each other and sort through the items in the house, the family makes a very disturbing discovery and questions are raised about their father's prejudices and whether he and the family have been influenced by White Supremacist legacy. River is sensitive to spirits and those buried in the white and slave graveyards on the property might not be resting peacefully with what has taken place there.

Jacobs-Jenkins (Everybody, War, Gloria, An Octoroon and Neighbors) is a rising star on New York stages. He writes about timely subjects and provokes thought, but this play is a bit problematic. The first and second acts of Appropriate are absorbing, but the third act tends to go off on a tangent, becomes confusing and extends the run time to a too-long two hours and 45 minutes. A natural, and dramatic ending is lost in a series of unexplained scenes. Some important points about the disturbing items found aren't made and an opportunity for dramatic discussion is lost.

The family secret here is a bit unique. I won't name it so as not to spoil. I wasn't aware of such practices, but then again, my family is nowhere near as dysfunctional as defined by most playwrights, and Jacobs-Jenkins goes for commonplace here. Everyone has done some pretty horrible things and no one likes anyone else. Two hours and 45 minutes of people yelling at each other is a bit hard to take and the only difference in tone level attempted by Director David Kennedy is for Bo, who uses softer tones and shows some layers as he wimps out and leaves the leadership of his own family to Rachael, who goes from the outsider, trying to be the helpful sister-in-law, to mama grizzly defending her children. 

The racial issues raised as the family struggles to come to terms with their past as very relevant given the polar political ideologies separating Americans today. The solution, however, seems to be the same: scream about your hatred and don't really solve anything.

More information:
The design team includes Emily Rebholz, costume design; Matthew Richards, lighting design; and Fitz Patton, sound design.

Performances are Tuesday at 7 pm, Wednesday at 2 and 8 pm, Thursday and Friday at 8 pm, Saturday at 3 and 8 pm. and Sunday at 3 pm. Tickets start at $30: westportplayhouse.org; 203-227-4177.


Wednesday, August 23, 2017

CT Theater Review: Our Great Tchaikovsky -- Hartford Stage

Hershey Felder. Photo courtesy of Hershey Felder Presents.

Our Great Tchaikovsky
Written and Performed by Hershey Felder
Directed by Trevor Hay

By Lauren Yarger
What's It All About?
It's all about Piotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, the Russian composer who brought us "Swan Lake," "The 1812 Overture" and "The Nutcracker Ballet" among many works. He is portrayed by Hershey Felder, who writes the book, plays all of the music (some containing many musical parts) on a grand Steinway that sits stage left among some other props and furniture to transport us back in time to the mid 19th century (Felder also designs the set, but leaves Direction to Trevor Hay). Biographical information is harmonized with music by Tchaikovsky and some of the other great composers who influenced him. Felder steps into characters of Tchaikovsky's mentor and other to round out the storytelling, which also is enhanced by enchanting backdrops that come to life with Lighting and Projection design by Christopher Ash.

What Are the Highlights?
A wonderful evening at the theater, experiencing some wonderful classics and dramatic counterpart. Those projections are breath taking. Felder has carved a niche for himself as the premiere teller of music biography. His previous works include George Gershwin Alone, Monsieur Chopin and The Pianist of Willesden Lane, which he adapted and directed. Our Great Tchaikovsky proved to be just what I needed after a very stressful day.

What Are the Lowlights?
The biographical information includes details about the composer's closeted gay lifestyle -- only he really seems to be more of a pedophile -- with some of his most recognizable tunes apparently written for his "loves." Some disturbing images will come to mind when I hear those tunes now, unfortunately.

The night I attended a post-show discussion was forced on the audience along with an encore. Though the time was entertaining, people who might not wish to extend the run time to two hours and 15 minutes might prefer to be given an opportunity to exit before the post-show discussion begins, as is the usual format.

More Information:
Our Great Tchaikovsky runs through Aug. 27 at Hartford Stage, 50 Church St., Hartford. Abigail Haywood designs the costumes

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Dishing Up the Life of a Playwright with Jacques Lamarre of Raging Skillet at Connecticut's TheaterWorks

Dana Smith-Croll, George Salazar and Marilyn Sokol. {hoto" Lanny Nagler
By Lauren Yarger
Jacques Lamarre's newest play, Raging Skillet, is getting its world premiere, complete with some tasty treats for the audience, at TheaterWorks through Aug. 27.

Skillet is set as the book launch for the actual autobiography of Chef Rossi (Dana Smith-Croll), the popular "Jewish, lesbian punk-rock caterer" and has her preparing recipes in her kitchen, then feeding members of the audience (designed by Michael Schweikardt). She gets an assist from sous chef DJ Skillit (George Salazar) and her just-returned-from-the-dead, guilt-sprinkling mother (veteran comedian Marilyn Sokol.) Signed books are available at the theater.

The format savors the success of I Loved, I Lost, I Made Spaghetti, the playwright's hit gastronomic adaptation of Giulia Melucci's dating memoir, which has gone on to serve up helpings of freshly made pasta at numerous regional theaters following its premiere at TheaterWorks in 2012.

Because I know Jacques and have a professional relationship with him that might be seen as a conflict, I won't review the show. Instead, I sent him some questions. Below are his sizzling responses.

Raging Skillet (directed by John Simpkins) plays through Aug. 27 at TheaterWorks, 233 Pearl St., Hartford. Performances are Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday at 7:30 pm; Friday and Saturday at 8 pm; Weekend Matinees at 2:30 pm. Tickets are $15-$65: theaterworkshartford.org.

CT ARTS CONNECTION: Setting the premise as a book launch for Chef Rossi is different (but I know you are only trying to outdo my stellar launch for author Tessa Afshar at the Mark Twain House....)Tell us about how the conversation went when you pitched this idea. 

JL: Thanks to my time at The Mark Twain House and Museum, I have put on a number of book launches and have had the pleasure of hosting some exceptionally well-executed book celebrations by outside event planners. :-) We were looking for a mechanism where Chef Rossi could plausibly talk to the audience about her life while preparing and serving food. The book launch concept came out of conversation with the artistic team as a great way to solve the challenge of why she has to tell us her stories and why she would demo her kitchen creations.

CTAC: How did adapting an unpublished book for the stage differ from I Loved, I Lost, I Made Spaghetti, which already had been published? 

JL: The actual adapting of an unpublished book vs. a published book was not in-and-of-itself different. Negotiating for the stage rights was quite different because Rossi does not have an agent and is with a small publisher. This made the process quicker and easier. As with I Loved, I Lost, I Made Spaghetti, I vetted everything I wrote with the author directly and acted as a go-between with the director to balance story veracity with theatricality. Both Rossi and Giulia (the subject of Spaghetti) made very few changes were generous in their trust.

CTAC: You have a food prep theme going on here. Coincidence or did the success of the first inspire the second? Were you already a fan of Chef Rossi?

JL: I certainly think what set apart I Loved, I Lost, I Made Spaghetti was the gimmick of the food preparation. Suddenly, theater went from being just seeing and hearing to include tasting and smelling. That story was very intimate and set in a kitchen, the warm smells brought you closer to Giulia. With three actors and lots of sound, lights, and projections, Raging Skillet feels even more immersive for the audience. We all have a relationship with food which I think makes the stories more universal and personal at the same time. I am hoping that this is my last food play for a while. It creates a lot of challenges for the theater.

No, I was not a fan of Chef Rossi before I encountered her book. Now I'm the president of her fan club.

CTAC: What is the hardest aspect of working with authors who have shared some of their most intimate and difficult moments? It's one thing to write it on paper. It's another to see it come to life on stage.

JL: I love writing about women and I love that the women I am writing about in Spaghetti, Skillet and Born Fat are all alive! They have all been so forthcoming with stories that have not been featured in their respective books. I can't say that working with the subjects of the plays has been difficult in any way. They've all been delighted with the results. The bigger challenge is how to take someone's personal experiences and make them stage-worthy -- our lives don't normally have a dramatic arc. That's my job as the playwright to structure their lives into a story that has a beginning, a middle, and an end.

CTAC: Chef Rossi isn't all that sympathetic a character, especially when it comes to her treatment of her mother (and she gets called out for this by Skillit). Tell us about the writing process of that aspect, especially since you have a very good relationship with your own mother. Is this addressed in the book (sorry, I haven't read it) or was that something you added?

JL: In the book, there are a lot of laughs at the mother's expense. Although she is oftentimes inadvertently funny, the play really needed a moment where Rossi gets called out on being "every parent's nightmare." In the book, Chef Rossi does come to a realization that her mother was an exceptional woman, but dramatically I wanted her to acknowledge the depth of sacrifice this seemingly crazy mother made for her daughter. Their difference in religious outlook (Orthodox vs. non-religious), language (Mom uses Yiddish, Rossi uses profanity), and philosophy.

CTAC: Talk about the life of a playwright. You are working on one project, like this world premiere, but also dealing with other productions of Spaghetti and others of your works. How do you balance it all? How do you turn on the creativity for one project and turn off thoughts that might be coming for another?

JL: When I am working on multiple projects at once, it is not so difficult for me to hop creatively from the world of one play to the world of another. The challenge comes when the business of being a playwright conflicts with my day job as a marketing-events person or the competing time requirements for various productions occur. It can be overwhelming being the creative person and the business person, but fortunately I have been able to wear both hats.

CTAC: Are you acting as producer for the shows or does someone else handle that aspect of the business for you? Are you contacted by word of mouth or do you do a lot of submitting of the plays to theaters?

JL: I produce my own plays very infrequently. It is A LOT of work to wrangle directors, actors, venues, sets, props, etc. It ends up requiring me to take money out of my pocket or beg friends for the money. Despite my successes, I have not been able to land an agent, so I do have to hustle my own work. Fortunately, good reviews and word of mouth has landed my work at a variety of theaters. I'm really blessed in that regard.

CTAC: You are a local celebrity. Does that help or hurt when trying to find homes for your plays?

JL: It's so hard to answer this without sounding fat-headed! My relationship with TheaterWorks has been instrumental in my establishment as a professional playwright. I've got a great relationship with Seven Angels in Waterbury, as well. I am not sure if it is in the future to have my work on other Connecticut stages. I certainly hope so, but that isn't my choice.

CTAC: What advice do you have for a playwright just starting out?

JL: See a lot of plays and read a lot of plays. After years of doing both, I started to see how important structure and character are on stage. After you've seen and read enough, you can tell when a play goes off the rails, where it sinks, and where it soars.

CTAC: What are some of the most important lessons you have learned along the path to being a playwright?

JL: Like it or not, EVERYONE is going to have an opinion on your work. The girlfriend of the subject of Raging Skillet was giving me tips on how I could make the play better. An actor friend was telling me how I could improve it. Directors, actors, staff and critics, of course, will share how you can fix it (if, indeed, it is fixable). It may not need fixing. You have to develop the openness to see this feedback as a gift instead of an attack. It generally comes from a generous place and you have to receive it generously, even if you disagree and have no intention of taking the advice. This has been difficult for me and is something I am working on accepting graciously!
CTAC: What's next?

JL: I have two biographical plays in the works that are based on noteworthy female singers at pivotal junctures in their lives. One is a play with two songs; the other is a non-traditional approach to a musical. I'm excited about both. A theater up in Boston and I are in discussions on a new commission that may be surrounding my personal struggles with anxiety. I've got some plays that I have already written that I am working to get produced. As always, I have more than I can handle!

More About Jacques:

JACQUES LAMARRE is an award-winning playwright living in Manchester, CT. His play I Loved, I Lost, I Made Spaghetti premiered at TheaterWorks in 2012. The comedy went on to have subsequent productions at George Street Playhouse, Asolo Repertory, Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park, Seven Angels, Florida Repertory, Half Moon, Hangar Theatre. Stoneham Theatre and Penobscott Playhouse. 

He is one of eight playwrights who wrote Christmas on the Rocks for TheaterWorks, with subsequent productions at Richmond Triangle Players (VA) and Warehouse Theatre (SC). Born Fat, another comedy, was workshopped at the Philadelphia Fringe Festival and premiered at Seven Angels Theatre in Waterbury, CT. It was subsequently remounted for the Midtown International Theatre Festival in New York, garnering an award for Outstanding Solo Show. 

Other MITF productions include writing the book for Save the Robots - A Sci-Fi Musical Comedy and Emerson Theatre Collaborative’s production of Gray Matters (nominated for Outstanding Playwriting). His newest comedy My Vhite House Christmas Spashial vith Melania (Live from Trump Tower) received a readings at HartBeat Ensemble and a workshop at Seattle’s Jewel Box Theatre. 

He was commissioned in 2014 by the Edward C. and Ann T. Roberts Foundation to celebrate their 50th anniversary with Ned and Sunny, which starred Jill Eikenberry and Michael Tucker. Other productions and readings include: Jacques Lamarre Has Gone Too Far (Hole in the Wall Theatre), Stool (New York 15 Minute Play Festival, Top Ten Finalist), The Rub (Floating Theatre), Pierce (Herstory Theatre Company), Colonel Sellers: Reanimator (Mark Twain House and Museum, Little Theatre of Manchester), among others. 

Jacques has co-written 13comedy-cabaret shows for drag performer Varla Jean Merman (including 2017’s Bad Heroine), as well as the screenplay for Varla Jean and The Mushroomheads. Jacques works for BuzzEngine Marketing & Events with prior stints at The Mark Twain House and Museum, Hartford Stage, American Stage Festival, Yale Repertory Theatre, and TheaterWorks Hartford. www.jacqueslamarreplaywright.com

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

CT Theater Review: Finding Neverland -- The Bushnell

Christine Dwyer . Photo: Jeremy Daniel

Finding Neverland
Music and Lyrics by Gary Barlow and Eliot Kennedy
Book by James Graham, based on the movie "Finding Neverland" by David Magee, and the play The Man Who Was Peter Pan by Allan Knee
Directed by Diane Paulus
Choreography by Mia Michaels
The Bushnell
Through Aug. 6

By Lauren Yarger

What's It All about?
James Graham's version of the story behind Peter Pan, based on the movie "Finding Neverland" by David Magee, and the play The Man Who Was Peter Pan by Allan Knee, with Music and Lyrics by Gary Barlow and Eliot Kennedy. It's a moving tale of J.M. Barrie (Billy Harrigan Tighe), a playwright who resists the idea of being a grown up in a world with his socialite wife, Mary (Kristine Reese) and demanding producer Charles Frohman (an affable John Davidson who provides mouch of the evening's comic relief) until he meets widow Sylvia Llewelyn Davies (Christine Dwyer) and her sons (played in shared roles): George (Connor Jameson Casey; Bergman Freedman; Colin Wheeler). Jack (Birthisel,Casey; Cirbus;Freedman;Tyler Patrick Hennessy), Michael (Birthisel; Cirbus; Hennessey) and Peter (Turner Birthisel; Casey; Wyatt Cirbus; Freedman; Colin Wheeler), who hasn't been coping well with his father's death and has lost the urge to play like little boys should.

Barrie lets his inner child have fun with the boys and they imagine all sorts of adventures. The stories become the basis for a play where a boy who refuses to grow up searches for his shadow. meets Wendy and some other boys on adventures to Neverland.  Frohman is skeptical, but even the inspiration for Captain Hook can't deny the appeal of the fantasy when it charms audiences world wide.. 

What are the Highlights?
It's an heart-warming story based in facts that most of us don't know. The Music and Lyrics by Gary Barlow and Eliot Kennedy are memorable with several songs providing hummable tunes that stay with you long after seeing the show. Ryan Cantwell music directs with dance and vocal arrangements by David Chase and Vocal Design by AnneMarie Millazo.

Diane Paulus (Hair, Pippin) works her usual directorial magic to combine the story with parts of Barrie's imagination coming to life around him on stage. The creative team contributes imaginative ways to incorporate special effects and the best fairy dust you'll ever see. Kudos to Lighting Designer Kenneth Posner, Projection Designer Jon Driscoll, Illusions by Paul Klieve, Flying Effects by Production Resource Group, ') and Air Sculpting by Daniel Wurtzel. Choreographer Mia Michaels uses subtle moves to bring the ensemble into the spotlight as well.

Tighe brings a solid tenor to the role. Connecticut's own animal trainer Bill Berloni provides the dog who steals its scenes. The kids are cute and have a moment to shine in a homey musical number that has them playing some musical instruments including a washboard.

Overall, an impressive touring rendition of the moving, satisfying Broadway show.

What Are the Lowlights?
Sound sound problems (Design by Jonathan Deans), particularly in hearing some of the kids and Dwyer, who appears to struggle a bit with some of the range of her songs. On the other hand, Karen Murphy, who plays to boy's overbearing grandmother, Mrs. DuMarier, needs to tone down an over-the-top yell that dominates most of her line delivery.

More Information:
Finding Neverland flies at the Bushnell, 166 Capitol Ave., Hartford, through Aug. 6. Performances are Wednesday and Thursday at 7:30 pm; Friday at 8 pm.; Saturday at 2 and 8 pm; Sunday at 1 and 6:30 pm. bushnell.org; 860-987-5900.
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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