Thursday, February 6, 2020

Learn the Inside Scoop on Playwriting from Some Insiders

Have you ever thought about writing a play? Have you written a play, but wonder how to get it produced? Have you done some other type of writing and wonder whether you can make the switch to playwright?

Come get the scoop on writing for the stage when the CT Chapter of the League of Professional Theatre Women and the Dramatists Guild’s Western New England Region host Inside Playwriting, a panel between sessions of Ivoryton Playhouse’s Women’s Playwright Initiative Saturday, Feb. 22.

Panelists include TV writer and playwright Susan Cinoman, Broadway Producer and playwright Tracey Knight Narang, Director Shellen Lubin, Emmy-Award-Winning Actress and Playwright Dorothy Lyman, Director and Artist/Playwright Kato McNickle. Playwright Emma Palzere Rae, the Dramatists Guild Regional Rep, will moderate.

The panel is open to ticketholders for the initiative, which will feature four play readings in two sessions at the playhouse, 103 Main St. Ivoryton.

At 2 pm:

Savior by Sharon Goldner
Directed by Kate Katcher
Two modern moms at a yoga class dealing with an absurd yet very familiar situation, – what do you do when your five year old tells you he is the messiah?

1200 miles from Jerome by Crystal V. Rhodes
Directed by Kathryn Markey
During World War II, a mother, her two daughters, a young school teacher and a fourteen year old Japanese American fugitive from a “Relocation Camp” are forced to flee the town of Jerome, Arkansas headed to New York City. The journey is over 1200 miles of roads where African Americans aren’t allowed to sleep in most hotels, eat in most restaurants, use restroom facilities or purchase gas at many stations. It is a trip filled with danger, one that could prove to mean the difference between life and death.

At  7 pm:

Court by Holly Arsenault
Directed by Jacqueline Hubbard
An intimate look at divorce and custody battles from a child’s unique, funny and raw perspective.

Deanna and Paul by Dagney Kerr
Directed by Missy Burmeister
Deanna’s a quirky waitress with a strict no tipping policy. Paul’s a surly customer with a tight lid on his heart. Their lonely worlds collide one day in a small-town diner, where one cup of coffee can change everything.

To purchase tickets for the Women Playwrights Festival call 860-767-7318 or go to www.ivorytonplayhouse.org. League members should contact CTChapter:PTW@gmail.com to find out about discounted tickets.

Regular single ticket prices: $20 adult; $15 senior; $10 student for one performance. Buy tickets for both performances for $30 adult; $25 senior; $10 student

About the Panelists:

Susan Cinoman

Susan Cinoman is a playwright and screenwriter whose work is published and produced internationally. For television, she is the creator of the recurring character, Miss Cinoman, on ABC’s, “The Goldbergs” and a frequent writer and contributor. Her one- act play, Fitting Rooms, (Applause Books) is included in Best Short Plays and is produced internationally. Other productions are Cinoman and Rebeck and Gin and Bitters, Off Broadway. Her play Sweet Sand, produced by Ensemble Studio Theatre has been recently published. Two plays were made into award-winning independent films: “Love and Class in Connecticut” and “All Me, All the Time” have screened at film festivals throughout New England. Cinoman is the recipient of the Maxwell Anderson Playwrights Prize, The Aristos Award, Theatre Ariel Award, Best Connecticut Filmmaker of 2007, Ivoryton Playhouse Writing Award and the Guilford Prize in Drama for her new play, Guenevere.

Tracey Knight Narang

Tracey Knight Narang is a producer of the groundbreaking Broadway revival of Rogers and Hammerstein’s OKLAHOMA! (Tony Award), and the highly anticipated new musical Sing Street opening on Broadway in April. In addition to producing and investing, Narang’s play To Each Their Own, received critical acclaim at FringeNYC 2015. See coined the term “Subway Etiquette“ after publishing her book “Subway Etiquette: The Straphanger’s Guide to Underground Conduct.” Narang is a member of the Board of Directors of New York City Center, and the Vice President of the Board of the Actors’ Equity Foundation.

Shellen Lubin

Shellen Lubin directed Gloria Bond Clunie's Buck Naked in the first Women Playwrights Initiative at Ivoryton. As a director/dramaturg assisting in the development of new plays, she has directed across the country, recently working on projects with Lanie Robertson, Stuart Warmflash, Stephanie Satie, Susan Merson, and Amy Oestreicher at multiple venues. Her own plays have been produced and workshopped at Manhattan Class Company, Public Theatre, Pacific Resident Theatre, Hubbard Hall, West Coast Ensemble, American Jewish Theatre, and more. Her songs have been featured on radio and cable TV, in Milos Forman’s first American film, “Taking Off,” in numerous cabaret acts including her own, and in a one-hour special on WBAI-FM, Shellen Lubin - Songwriter/Singer. She also teaches and coaches actors, singers, and writers both privately and as a guest artist. Proud member of DG, SDC, AEA, Co-President - League of Professional Theatre Women, Past President - Women in the Arts & Media Coalition, chair - Women Playwrights Initiative - National Theatre Conference. www.shellenlubin.com @SHLubin

Dorothy Lyman

Emmy award -winning actress Dorothy Lyman is known for her roles on “Another World,” “All My Children,” “Generations” and “Mama's Family,” but she also is a director (75 episodes of “The Nanny” for CBS), a filmmaker and a playwright. Her first film, shot in Delaware County An Enemy of the People, “The Northern Kingdom,” is available on Netflix, as is her second film, “Split Ends.” A documentary on aging, “Janet’s Class,” is seeking distribution. Lyman produced and directed “Enemy,” her adaptation of Ibsen’s (2016), and her full-length plays A Rage In Tenure (2017) and Soft Landing (2018) at Teatro Santa Ana in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. She can be seen on the HBO series “Divorce” and in guest star roles on other episodic TV shows.

Kato McNickle

Kato McNickle is a Connecticut-based playwright, director, and artist. A graduate of Brown University and holds a degree in Ancient Studies specializing in Greco-Roman and Sanskrit performance and continue to study the connection between art, perception, neuroscience, and performance. They have taught playwriting at the University of Connecticut, and writing and comic making at Artreach, Inc. in Norwich, CT. They are chair of the New London Artistic Council; Vice-President of the Mystic Paper Beasts Mask & Puppetry Company; producer of the Mayfly 24-Hour Theater in New London, and a member Dramatist Guild and the Star Wars Fan Club.

Emma Palzere-Rae, Moderator

Emma Palzere-Rae (actress, playwright, director and producer), founder of Be Well Productions which produces her original touring one-woman shows include The Woodhull Project and Aunt Hattie’s House. She is co-founder of The Way of the Labyrinth Playwrights Retreat, the former artistic director of Plays for Living (NYC), and currently associate director at Artreach, Inc. (Norwich). She is a proud member of the Dramatists Guild, where she is the regional rep for New England West. Recent stage roles include Mother Miriam in Agnes of God (Madison Lyric Stage), Essie Miller in Ah, Wilderness! (East Lynne Theater Company), Sister Aloysius in Doubt (Emerson Theater Collaborative). At Mystic Seaport she co-directs and performed in Lantern Light Tours and Nautical Nightmares.

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

CT Theater Women Gather for Holiday Lunch, Play Excerpts

Brian Yarger, left, and John J. Cronin in a production of A Christmas Carol by Lauren Yarger and Dan Jessie.
Join the Little Match Girl, Scrooge, Holiday Networking Fun at CT Theater Women Lunch Friday in Westbrook


Friday, Dec. 6
noon-2 pm
Westbrook Inn 

The CT Chapter of the League of Professional Theatre Women will present three excerpts from plays with holiday themes by Connecticut authors at a networking lunch noon Friday at the charming Westbrook Inn.

Chapter Steering Committee member Susan Cinoman will curate the event and introduce her new play reading initiative at the Inn, Sips and Scripts. Reservations are required.
  • The Little Match Girl 
On the streets of London during the Industrial Revolution, a hungry yet loving street waif has a strange moment with a kind pub owner. By Susan Cinoman.
  • Joy Meets Girl
Addie, a journalist finds love despite her new found cynicism. By Kimberly Hill 
  • Scrooge Monologue
A new take on the classic character, it wouldn't be the holidays without a few words from our favorite misanthrope.  By Chapter Co-Founder Lauren Yarger

Make a reservation at this link by Wednesday, Dec. 4: 

https://www.eventbrite.com/e/holiday-lunchplay-presentations-tickets-77838325527. Men and women are welcome to attend.

Registrants will be sent instructions about payment to confirm your seat. The lunch/play presentation event will be $25 for chapter members and $30 for non members. Lunch with a vegetarian option will be provided.

THE ACTORS JOINING US FOR THIS EVENT:

Bill Arnold of Windsor, CT is a 45-year veteran of the stage as well as a playwright and set designer/builder for the Hole in the Wall Theater in New Britain. Bill always enjoys letting the voices in his head come out to play.

Barbara Hentschel  played Mrs. Eynsford Hill in Legacy Theatre’s production of Pygmalion. Favorite roles: Queen Gertrude in Hamlet (Legacy Theatre)Lady Montague in Romeo & Juliet, directed by Mark Lamos (Westport Country Playhouse), Katharine in Love’s Labour’s Lost (Woodstock Shakespeare Festival, NY), Ride the Tiger (Long Wharf Theatre), Apple Season (Ivoryton Playhouse, WPI), Laura in The Glass Menagerie (MLS, CT) and Lady Macbeth in Macbeth (MLS, CT). Barbara earned her BA in Theatre from Fordham University at Lincoln Center and has an MFA in acting from The Actors Studio Drama School, NYC. Barbara coaches privately and has worked on staff as a Resident Teaching Artist for Long Wharf Theatre. www.bhentschel.com

Emilie Roberts in NYC Emilie created leading roles in five original musicals and appeared in As You Like It, Scapin and others.  Regionally, she starred in Deathtrap, The Respectful Prostitute, She Loves Me, Oklahoma, The Robber Bridegroom, A Threepenny Opera, and played supporting roles in 8 shows at Summer Theatre of New Canaan.  A graduate of Juilliard, Emilie performed in operas and musical revues across the country, & is currently professor of voice & acting at the University of Bridgeport.

Kimberly Squires Off-Off Broadway – The Players Theatre: The Difference by Jack Rushton. Regional --  Greenwich Theatre Co: Bee Keeper/Seven Easy Pieces by Jack Rushton; The National Arts Club; Danse Macabre by Steven Otfinoski and The Girl in the Red Dress by Frederick Stoppel, music by Art Garfunkle; The Players Club The Lives of Shakespeare Trilogy by MJ Schaefe. Kim and her husband, Allan Zeller, produced/starred in their two-person show: Zeller and Squires – Delightful Differences in New Haven. Founding member, former Amarante’s Dinner Theatre. Member: AEA, SAG-AFTRA.

Allan Zeller has worked in theater, film, television and radio for more than 35 years. Theaters include the Sacramento Theatre Co, CitiArts Theatre, Theatre Artists of Marin, Roger Rocha’s Penguin Rep. Stray Kats Theatre and the Players Theatre in New York.  Recently Allan appeared at the new Greenwich Theatre Company in Greenwich, CT playing multiple roles in Seven Easy Pieces by Jack Rushton. In October, Allan was seen at the Actors’ Temple Theatre in New York as Dr. Benjamin Simon in the new play The Interrupted Journey by Elizabeth Fuller and Joe Vig and at the National Arts Club as Joseph Stalin in the new play Danse Macabre by Stephen Otfinoski. Allan has an MFA in acting from UC Davis.

THE PLAYWRIGHTS:
Susan Cinoman is a playwright and screenwriter whose work is published and produced internationally. She began as a comedy writer and performer in the all-woman comedy group, “The Soubrettes,” in Philadelphia which resulted in one of its hit songs playing on the local radio, “Bimbo Rap.” Her story “Mama Drama” was featured on the hit ABC comedy “The Goldbergs” in the 2014- 15 season. Her one act play Fitting Rooms has been called “a great American one act” and is featured in Applause Books' “Best Short Plays of 1996”. Her Off-Broadway plays include Gin and Bitters and Cinoman and Rebeck, which was hailed as “an evening of talent and promise” by The New York Times. Her plays have received numerous workshop productions at The Ensemble Studio Theatre and Naked Angels. The plays Beds and Truth and Sex were recently made into short films by Akvarious Productions in Mumbai, India. Work in development includes the screenplay My Girlfriend at the Time (directed by Susan Seidelman); the pilot, "Blackmail U." (co-written with ABC Family writer Andrea Abbate); the new play Love and Class in Connecticut (directed by Karen Carpenter of Love, Loss and What I Wore). Cinoman’s new play Guenevere is being developed as part of the Women’s Playwright Initiative at the Ivortyon Playhouse. She is the recipient of The Best Connecticut Filmmaker Award in 2009; The Best Narrative Film at New England Film and Video Festival; an Official Selection by The International Berkshire Film Festival; The Maxwell Anderson Playwrights Prize, and The Aristos Award with Theresa Rebeck. Susan lives with her husband in Connecticut. They have two daughters, a cat, a dog and a horse.
Kimberly Hill wrote for a number of TV series including “Cheers,” “Family Ties,” “One Day at a Time,” “Empty Nest,” “All is Forgiven,” “Facts of Life,” “EZ Streets,” “The Tortelli’s,” “Lateline” and “E.R.” – the comedy.  She created and wrote pilots under contract to Paramount and for NBC. Kim also produced or served as a consultant on some of these series and more, including “Due South,” before she went into rehab at Yale Divinity School – where she got a masters degree. She is currently writing plays.

Lauren Yarger As a theater critic, Lauren Yarger is a member of the Outer Critics Circle, the American Theatre Critics Association and previously served as Vice President and voting member of the Drama Desk. She is Co-Founder of the League of Professional Theater Women's Connecticut Chapter. As a producer/writer (member of the Dramatists Guild of America), Lauren has written, directed and produced numerous shows and special events.  She co-wrote a Christian musical version of “A Christmas Carol” which played to sold-out audiences of over 3,000 in Vermont and was awarded the Vermont Bessie (theater and film awards) for “People’s Choice for Theatre.” She also has written two other dinner theaters and produced a one-woman musical about Mary Magdalene that toured nationally and closed with an off-Broadway run. Her play concept, "From Reel to Real: The Jennifer O'Neill Story," was presented as part of the League of professional Theatre Women's Julia's Reading Room Series in New York in 2018. She is Owner/Producer at Gracewell Productions LLC and is a partner in Major Chord Productions, which is developing two musicals for touring. Yarger trained for three years in the Broadway League’s Producer Development Program, completed the Commercial Theater Institute's Producing Three-Day Intensive and other training and was a Fellow at the O'Neill Theater Center's National Critics Institute. She also reviews books for Publishers Weekly and is a member of the National Book Critics Circle. 
and is a member of the National Book Critics Circle. 

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Chita Rivera Will Honor Hal Prince at Annual Broadway Blessing

Chita Rivera. Photo: Barry Gordin
Chita Rivera is scheduled to give a special tribute to Hal Prince at the 22nd annual Broadway Blessing 7 pm Monday, Sept. 16 at St. Malachy's Church (The Actors' Chapel).

Performers from other Broadway and Off-Broadway shows, including Ain’t Too Proud, Fiddler on the Roof, Phantom of the Opera, Lion King, Desperate Measures, and Hair are scheduled to participate as well.  The Broadway Blessing Choir and instrumentalists are under the direction of Stephen Fraser.  George Drance, SJ (La MaMa, Magis Theatre), will emcee again this year. The evening will culminate with a moving candle-lighting ceremony led by clergy from various churches and the rabbi from the Actors’ Temple.

Doors open at 6:30 pm; seating is open, first come/first served at St. Malachy's, 239 W. 49th St. NYC. A reception will follow. The event is free to the public. Past participants have included Lynn Redgrave, Marian Seldes, Frances Sternhagen, Kathleen Chalfant, Billy Porter, Tituss Burgess and Chad Kimball, just to name a few.

St. Malachy's, the Actors' Chapel, was founded in 1920. It is a spiritual oasis in New York’s heart for Broadway artists and fans alike. Chiming “There’s No Business Like Show Business” every day, a half hour before curtain, the chapel has welcomed such theater greats as George M. Cohen, Douglas Fairbanks, Rudolph Valentino. Florence Henderson, Elaine Stritch, Danny Thomas, Bob and Dolores Hope, Antonio Banderas, Liam Neeson,and countless others. Under the leadership of Fr. John Fraser (pastor) and Stephen Fraser (director of music) it continues to offer programming to the Broadway community and develop the talent and work of the next generation of Broadway stars.

The Broadway Blessing is produced by Tony-Award-winning Producer Pat Addiss and Kathryn Fisher. Designed as a program of song, dance and story to celebrate the spirit of the new theater season, the annual Broadway Blessing was founded by theater writer Retta Blaney in 1997.

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Palace's Second Act Gets Its Own Second Act


Presenters have been selected for the second season of 2ND ACT, the Palace Theater’s acclaimed speaker’s series that features stories by people post age 50, who are doing some extraordinary things after mid-life. 

Among them are Pat Addiss, a Tony-Award-winning Broadway producer based in New York, who will kick the series off on Sept. 17 with her presentation, "Necessity is the Mother of Reinvention," and Lisa Lampanelli, a life coach formerly known for her acerbic comedic style, who will present her new show Losin’ It on the main stage of the theater on Nov.16.

The series may be purchased in its entirety, as a five-presentation option, individually or by adding on Lampanelli’s show. All presentations with the exception of Lampanelli’s include light fare pre-show and are held in the intimate space of the Poli Club on the venue’s second floor. A cash bar will be available. Tickets: www.palacetheaterct.org; 203-346-2000; Box Office, 100 East Main St., Waterbury.

Part inspirational, aspirational, experiential and comical, these after-50 life stories will ignite the audience member’s own imaginations and a desire to become part of a growing community of 2ND ACTers! As one regular attendee has commented, ‘you always leave with a nugget to ponder’. Series Creator Sheree Marcucci, marketing and public relations officer for the theater, states “we are living much longer than past generations and are expecting our later years to be as rich and vivid as possible. This series, and many like it popping up all over the country and world, attest to this- we are as a group, just not going quietly into that good night!”

The presenters, chosen by a selection committee who viewed short videos of presenter candidates, are engaging and have a personal story that will inspire others as they share how they pursued a passion, dream or championed a cause after the age of 50. 

2ND ACT SERIES PRESENTERS AND DATES:

Tuesday Sept. 17 – 6 pm
PAT ADDISS

Necessity is the Mother of Reinvention

How does a woman break into the tough world of showbiz as a Broadway Producer at an when most are looking to retire? After 30 years running her own promotions company hear Broadway producer Pat Addiss tell her gutsy story. They say that necessity is the mother of re-invention… 40 years ago putting food on the table for her children after her husband left was just the beginning of her many fascinating incarnations.


Tuesday Oct 29 – 6 pm

JILLIAN CLENTANO

The Stranger in the Mirror

Jillian is a 58-year-old transgender woman who transitioned from male to female three years ago. Growing up, the person staring back in the mirror was not her…it was a stranger. She will share her personal journey of starting life over again as her authentic self by discussing her challenges, hardships and victories. Since transitioning, she has become an advocate for the transgender community and speaks at various venues, including: conferences, universities and medical centers. She has returned to college to obtain her master's degree in psychology to become a counselor for the LGBTQ+ community, and recently finished an internship at the Yale Gender Program.


Saturday Nov 16 –8 pm

LISA LAMPANELLI’S Losin’ It!

Lisa Lampanelli’s LOSIN’ IT! is an intimate collection of humorous observations and real-life stories curated and performed by Lisa and a few of her friends. Inspired by her work with The Moth Radio Hour, Lisa has created a heartfelt theatrical evening focusing on the issues of weight, body image, and “losin’ it!” Performed in the spirit of The Vagina Monologues and Love, Loss and What I Wore, Lisa and friends enchant theatergoers with hilarious, touching anecdotes about their own weight struggles, and lively audience interaction.

“I decided stand-up comedy really wasn’t for me anymore. It wasn’t making my heart happy. So, I created LOSIN’ IT! a show using comedy to talk about weight and body issues, which are things I’ve struggled with for years," she said. "This is so much more fulfilling!”


Tuesday Dec 10 – 6pm

TANYA DETRIK

Change in the Blink of an Eye

Life can change in the blink of an eye. The secret to living life more joyously and peacefully lies in our ability to choose how we respond to situations that challenge us. Learning to shift how you view any situation is the key.

Tanya Detrik’s backstory is one of post-traumatic growth. At a moment of extreme stress she was gifted the realization that making a simple shift in her perspective catalyzed instantaneous mental and emotional relief.

That discovery more than ten years ago has transformed her life, never more so than in 2019 with the death of her husband.

Her message is that it is not necessary to experience trauma in order to be inspired to see life through different lenses, and that the ability is liberating and life enhancing. See what you may have been missing.


Saturday Jan 11 - Noon

KARENNA ALEXANDER

Listen to Your Heart

2ND ACTs typically come from the heart. Karenna Alexander should know. She's a dating and relationship expert, and former matchmaker, who helps women find love. Her 2ND ACT came about after conquering dating dilemmas of her own. If you’re looking for love in all the wrong places, come hear her share the secrets of finding love in the 21st century.


Saturday Feb 1 – Noon

KATE KATCHER

Things To Do When (They Say) You Can’t

ACTOR-WRITER-DIRECTOR-TEACHER

Shortly after her 57th birthday, Kate Katcher read an NY Times article that revealed that women over 55 who fall out of the workplace will most likely not get back in. She had just fallen. With retirement not an option and no prospects, Kate turned to the one person she could rely on: herself. Over the next eleven years, she created a blog, a theatre company, pursued and acquired two University teaching jobs, served elite clients in the luxury suites of Madison Square Garden, and returned to school for a Master’s Degree. Follow her journey over hurdles and through closed doors. Performance (script in hands) of a short playlet is part of this presentation.


Tuesday Mar 3 – 6 pm

JACK LEVINE

Laughing Out Loud

Author, actor. standup comedian and improv performer Jack Levine feared being bored in retirement. So, when he finally retired as chief financial officer of a school district at 72, he decided to try the performing arts and found the journey to be awesome. Jack will use stand-up comedy, improv, comedy sketches, personal storytelling and acting to entertain as he offers insights and inspiration to his audience to try something new, creative and fun.



Tuesday Apr 21 – 6 pm

SHARON RUCHMAN

The Gift of Rudy: A Second Chance

While Sharon Ruchman has always loved music, studying voice and piano since childhood, she felt pressure to become something that she was not ready to become. Stress and anxiety took the joy out of learning until about four years ago when her great uncle’s viola from 100 years ago found its way to her. Sharon felt compelled to learn and play it, and as a result, her creative floodgates opened. Today, she’s composing everything from chamber music to tango, believing that it is never too late to do something fabulous.



Tuesday May 19 – 6 pm

DONNA PALOMBA

BE the Change

Inspired by the famous quote by Ghandi and deeply affected by her own experience, Donna wants to empower people to fight back against injustice and become the change they want to see in the world. Donna shares her personal insights into what allowed her to make the choices she did, and how she sought guidance along the way. Using her story as a case study, she explores not only the fight against sexual assault, but draws on her experience as a business woman and the challenges she faces in that role as well, to move her audience to action on behalf of themselves and the greater good.


Tuesday June 23 – 6pm

RICH CYR

Don’t Just Dream it, Live it!

RICH Cyr was born with cerebral palsy, given the last rites three times, was told that he would never walk or talk, and encountered many obstacles during his life.

In his early 50s he became a financial advisor, actor, podcaster, author, voice actor, stand-up comedian, and motivational speaker.

He is now living the life that he always dreamed of.

Saturday, July 20, 2019

Theater Review: Because of Winn Dixie -- Goodspeed

Bowdie and Josie Todd with the cast of Goodspeed Musicals Because of Winn Dixie, extended through Sept. 5 at The Goodspeed. Photo by Diane Sobolewski.
NOTE: Due to previously scheduled projects, David Poe and Kacie Sheik will exit Goodspeed Musicals’ Because of Winn Dixie. Starting August 14, Jacqueline Petroccia (Lincoln Center, Barrington Stage) will join the cast as Jeanne, single mom to two rollicking Dewberry boys. She will be joined by Jesse Lenat(The Public Theater, Signature Theatre) who will take on the role of Otis, the misunderstood pet store man in Goodspeed’s summer hit that has been extended due to popular demand. Because of Winn Dixie is now playing through Sept 5 at The Goodspeed in East Haddam, CT
Because of Winn Dixie
Book and Lyrics by: Nell Benjamin, based on the Novel by: Kate DiCamillo
Music by: Duncan Sheik
Choreographer: Chris Bailey
Animal Direction: William Berloni
Director: John Rando

By Lauren Yarger
Because of Winn Dixie at Connecticut's Goodspeed Opera House restores our faith in a wholesome, fun, moving story as a viable theater offering. Can I get an "awooo!"?

This charmer, with music by Duncan Sheik (Spring Awakening) a book by Nell Benjamin (Legally Blonde, Mean Girls), based on the popular young people's novel by Kate DiCamillo is full of kids, a dog, faith, laughter, friendship and second chances. What's not to love? Especially when you see the tons of kids in the audience. In a climate where most new theater offerings (and updated revivals) feel the need to push every political and social agenda to be "woke" and justified in the "me-too" environment, it is doggone refreshing (sorry, couldn't resist) to enjoy one that focuses on everyday people with everyday issues in a positive, uplifting way. After all, when times are trying, theater should be a happy release some of the time.

And that is just what Because of Winn Dixie is.  It follows the story of 13-year-old Opal (Josie Todd), who moves to a trailer park with her preacher father (J. Robert Spencer) when her mother leaves them. The preacher has no trouble speaking in front of his new congregation, but communicating with his daughter is tougher as he won't discuss their recent loss. Opal overcomes her loneliness by saving a stray she names after the local grocery store. "Winn Dixie" (Bowdie, trained by Connecticut's Tony-Award-winning animal trainer William Berloni) becomes her constant companion and the dog wins the hearts of the congregation and community members.

They are

  • The Dewberry boys, Dunlap and Stevie (Jamie Mann and Jay Hendrix) and their single mom, Jeanne (Kacie Sheik -- yes, she is Duncan's half sister), who starts spending time with the preacher, much to Opal's disapproval
  • Slow-witted Callie and Jiggs Thomas  (Crystal Kellogg and Brian Michael Hoffman) and their little peanut of a daughter, Sweetie Pie (Sophia Massa), for whom they want a better life.
  • Millie and Carl Wilkinson (Nicole Powell  and John Edwards), who are grieving over the death of their son and who don't know how to communicate with their bookworm daughter, Amanda (Chloë Cheers), whom Opal doesn't like at all.
  • Otis (David Poe) , a guitar-playing pet store owner who is treated as an outsider in town because of his prison record.
  • Librarian Fanny Block (Isabel Keating (Franny Block)) who entertains the kids with her story times.
  • Gloria Dump (Roz Ryan ) the witch who lives in the woods and encourages the kids to add their deepest thoughts and wishes to pages storesd in the bottles hanging from her trees and representing her drinking days of past.
All of the characters are dealing with loss of some kind and the feeling that they don't fit in. Winn Dixie changes all of that, breathes some new life into them and unites them all when he disappears during a terrible storm (Lighting and Sound Design by Jeff Croiter and Jay Hilton, respectively.) Choreographer Chris Bailey wisely keeps movement on the subtle side and coordinates nicely so the storytelling isn't overshadowed.

Even if the story weren't engaging, the show would be a hit just because of Winn Dixie, or Bowdie, rather. The pooch, described as a mix between a poodle and something larger,  receives applause on entrance (the audience  is shocked by his large size) and delights as he hits all of his marks and cues perfectly.  There were a lot of "awwwww"s from the audience and even more smiles throughout the production. Here's hoping this musical ends up on Broadway and tours for a long time around a country in need of some "aaaaw" and smiles.

A few things need to happen before that can happen. While there are some nice ballads and an opportunity for Ryan to show her vocal talents -- her "Bottle Tree Blues" is one of the more entertaining numbers -- Sheik's score needs a boost. The openings of both acts are pretty weak and a number of songs seems to offers tunes that sit on the same few notes (and even still, some of them proved a stretch for some of the younger vocalists). It's a new type of musical for the composer of Spring Awakening and American Psycho, but he's up to the challenge.

Donyale Werle's sets are simple, with easy changes between the church, the library, the trailer and other locales. Lighting needs some tweaking, however as there are some awful glares and color and scene changes are telegraphed.

But if anyone can bring it together, it's Director John Rando, who has helmed another family-friendly musical on Broadway, A Christmas Story: The Musical. (He won the Tony for Urinetown). This one is worth tweaking. Kids love DiCamillo's book and the movie on which it was based. The stage musical seems the next natural incarnation of the story and can entertain audiences for years, just like that other wholesome musical starring a dog -- also trained by Berloni -- Annie.


More information:

The run has been extended through Se[t. 5 at Goodspeed, 6 Main St., East Haddam, CT. Performances are Wednesday at 2 and 7:30 pm; Thursday at 7:30 pm (with select performances at 2); Friday at 8 pm; Saturday at 3  and 8 pm and Sunday at 2 pm (with select performances at 6:30). Tickets: 860-873-8668; goodspeed.org

Additional credits:
Costumer Designer: Emily Rebholz; Wig and Hair Designer, Mark Adam Rampmeyer; Music Supervisor / Orchestrator,  Jason Hart;  Music Director, Adam Souza


Additional casting: Ryan Halsaver (Townsperson); Mackenzie Warren (Townsperson)

Open Caption Performance: Friday, July 26, 8 pm. Open-captioning is a service that displays the text of a show simultaneously with the performance without the use of any special equipment by the patron. The words are displayed on a 4-foot by 1-foot LCD screen located near the edge of the stage and are thus “open” to anyone within view.

 

Monday, July 1, 2019

The Scottsboro Boys -- Playhouse on Park

Troy Valjean Rucker as Haywood Patterson, left center, and Trishawn Paul as Eugene Williams, right center. Photo: Meredith Long
The Scottsboro Boys
Music and Lyrics by John Kander and Fred Ebb
Directed by Sean Harris
Choreographed by Darlene Zoller
Playhouse on Park
Through Aug. 4

By Lauren Yarger
What's It All About?
The story of nine African-American men falsely accused of rape in 1930s Alabama (book by David Thompson). The case became a sensation as the Scottsboro Boys spent years in jail through multiple trials and court appeals while outrage across the north mounted at their treatment in the Jim-Crow-era South.  With original direction and choreography by Susan Stroman, the musical received 12 Tony Award nominations. The music and lyrics by John Kander and Fred Ebb (Chicago; Cabaret) are framed as a minstrel show, featuring an Interlocutor  (Dennis Holland) -- an emcee of sorts -- and Mr. Bones (Ivory McKay) and Mr. Tambor (Torrey Linderas). It was, and still is, one of the most brilliant musicals I have seen.

Troy Valjean Rucker stars as Haywood Patterson, one of the accused who becomes a sort of leader and attempts multiple escapes. While incarcerated, he learns to read and write and it's his story, written in a journal, that is told through the guise of the entertaining minstrel show. Also starring in this production are Renee J Sutherland as "The Lady," who shadows the events and whose connection becomes clear later,  and Cedric Greeneas Olen Montgomery, one of the nine.

Rounding out the cast  are current students in musical theater training programs:
Grant Reynolds (Charles Weems/ Victoria Price) is a rising senior at Carnegie Mellon University, Justin Sturgis (Roy Wright) is currently a student at NYU Tisch, Jerry Hamilton (Andy Wright) will be a sophomore at the Hartt School, Jaylan Evans (Ozie Powell/Ruby Bates) is a rising senior at ELON, Cedrick Ekra (Clarence) is a rising sophomore at Emerson College, Alex Robertson (Willie Roberson) is a rising senior at The Hartt School, and Trishawn Paul, who plays 13 year old Eugene Williams, is currently a sophomore at the Greater Hartford Academy of the Arts.

What Are the Highlights:
It's just a pleasure to see this musical get a run. The show isn't produced often (right just became available) since the show failed to win any Tonys and was embroiled in controversy as protesters objected to the use of a minstrel show because the actual entertainment form used black face. These protests were misguided in my opinion, as the show, and the minstrel show format, are a brilliant commentary on the unjust and ignorant laws and thinking that allowed nine innocent men to be arrested and sentenced to death for a crime they didn't commit. The story is one that needs to be told, and the book by David Thompson partnered with lyrics and music by Kander and Ebb, do it very well with good performances by the ensemble. The show gets a solid production helmed by Playhouse's dynamic duo of Director Sean Harris and Choreographer Darlene Zoller. Melanie Guernin (In the Heights) returns as musical director.

What Are the Lowlights?
More depth is needed for the Interlocutor to make clear his two-faced personality (representing those who would be in favor of the prejudiced laws). He is always smiling, pretending to be the Scottsboro Boys' friend, but underneath, there is a man who needs to be in control and who feels an entitled superiority. When his authority is challenged, he should become downright nasty and there should be more fear and understanding among the Scottsboro Boys as his true self is revealed. 

More information:
The Scottsboro Boys runs at Playhouse on Park, 244 Park Road, West Hartford, through Aug. 4. Tickets are $40-$50: 860-523-5900 x10 or visitwww.playhouseonpark.org

Additional credits:
Melanie Guernin, musical director; David Lewis, scenic design; Vilinda McGregor, lighting design; Rider Q. Stanton, Sound design;

The Playhouse will partner with the Connecticut Historical Society, in conjunction with its current exhibit, Black Citizenship In The Age Of Jim Crow, for a panel discussion from 5:30 to 7 pm July 30  This event is free and open to the public. Panelists discussing the themes of racism and resistance explored in the exhibition and in the production include the Honorable Richard A. Robinson, chief justice of the CT Supreme Court, Professor Diana R. Paulin of Trinity College and Frank Mitchell, executive director of the Amistad Center for Arts and Culture. The panel will be moderated by Attorney Valerie Caldwell-Gaines. Light refreshments will be served at the event at the Historical Society, 1 Elizabeth St., Hartford. Museum galleries will be open before the programRSVP: rsvp@chs.org; 860-236-5621 ext. 238.  Questions? Contact Natalie Belanger, adult programs manager, natalie_belanger@chs.org

Talkbacks with the cast are scheduled after every performance during this run.
An interview with Director Sean Harris is available at https://playhouseonparkct.wordpress.com.

Thursday, April 25, 2019

Drama Desk Nominations Announced

2019 DRAMA DESK NOMINATIONS:

Outstanding Play
Fairview, by Jackie Sibblies Drury, Soho Rep
The Ferryman, by Jez Butterworth
Lewiston/Clarkston, by Samuel D. Hunter, Rattlestick Playwrights Theater
Usual Girls, by Ming Peiffer, Roundabout Theatre Company
What the Constitution Means to Me, by Heidi Schreck, New York Theatre Workshop andBroadway
 
Outstanding Musical
Be More Chill
The Hello Girls, Prospect Theater Company
The Prom
Rags Parkland Sings the Songs of the Future, Ars Nova
Tootsie
 
Outstanding Revival of a Play
Fabulation, or the Re-Education of Undine, Signature Theatre
Henry VI: Shakespeare's Trilogy in Two Parts, National Asian American Theatre Company
Our Lady of 121st Street, Signature Theatre
Summer and Smoke, Classic Stage Company/Transport Group
The Waverly Gallery
Uncle Vanya, Hunter Theater Project

Outstanding Revival of a Musical
Carmen Jones, Classic Stage Company
Fiddler on the Roof, National Yiddish Theatre Folksbiene and Off-Broadway
Kiss Me, Kate, Roundabout Theatre Company
Merrily We Roll Along, Fiasco Theater/Roundabout Theatre Company
Oklahoma!, Bard Summerscape/St. Ann's Warehouse and Broadway
 
Outstanding Actor in a Play
Jeff Biehl, Life Sucks
Edmund Donovan, Lewiston/Clarkston
Raúl Esparza, The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui
Russell Harvard, I Was Most Alive With You
Jay O. Sanders, Uncle Vanya
 
Outstanding Actress in a Play
Midori Francis, Usual Girls
Zainab Jah, Boesman and Lena
Elaine May, The Waverly Gallery
Laurie Metcalf, Hillary and Clinton
Heidi Schreck, What the Constitution Means to Me
 
Outstanding Actor in a Musical
Brooks Ashmanskas, The Prom
Andrew R. Butler, Rags Parkland Sings the Songs of the Future
Damon Daunno, Oklahoma!
Santino Fontana, Tootsie
Steven Skybell, Fiddler on the Roof
 
Outstanding Actress in a Musical
Stephanie J. Block, The Cher Show
Beth Leavel, The Prom
Rebecca Naomi Jones, Oklahoma!
Anika Noni Rose, Carmen Jones
Stacey Sargeant, Rags Parkland Sings the Songs of the Future
 
Outstanding Featured Actor in a Play
Charles Browning, Fairview
Arnie Burton, Lewiston/Clarkston
Hampton Fluker, All My Sons
Tom Glynn-Carney, The Ferryman
Brandon Uranowitz, Burn This
 
Outstanding Featured Actress in a Play
Harriett D. Foy, The House That Will Not Stand
Megan Hill, Eddie and Dave
Celia Keenan-Bolger, To Kill A Mockingbird
Ruth Wilson, King Lear
Alison Wright, Othello
 
Outstanding Featured Actor in a Musical
Corbin Bleu, Kiss Me, Kate
André De Shields, Hadestown
Sydney James Harcourt, Girl from the North Country
George Salazar, Be More Chill
Patrick Vaill, Oklahoma!
 
Outstanding Featured Actress in a Musical
Stephanie Hsu, Be More Chill
Leslie Kritzer, Beetlejuice
Soara-Joye Ross, Carmen Jones
Sarah Stiles, Tootsie
Ali Stroker, Oklahoma!
Mary Testa, Oklahoma!
 
Outstanding Director of a Play
Sarah Benson, Fairview
Stephen Daldry and Justin Martin, The Jungle
Sam Mendes, The Ferryman
Tyne Rafaeli, Usual Girls
Taylor Reynolds, Plano
Jeff Wise, Life Sucks
 
Outstanding Director of a Musical
Noah Brody, Merrily We Roll Along
Rachel Chavkin, Hadestown
Scott Ellis, Tootsie
Daniel Fish, Oklahoma!
Joel Grey, Fiddler on the Roof
 
Outstanding Choreography
presented by LaDuca Dance Shoes
Camille A. Brown, Choir Boy
Warren Carlyle, Kiss Me Kate
Denis Jones, Tootsie
Lorin Latarro, Twelfth Night
Rick and Jeff Kuperman, Alice by Heart
David Neumann, Hadestown
 
Outstanding Music
presented by Music Theatre International
Andrew R. Butler, Rags Parkland Sings the Songs of the Future
Joe Iconis, Be More Chill
Peter Mills, The Hello Girls
Mark Sonnenblick, Midnight at the Never Get
Shaina Taub, Twelfth Night
David Yazbek, Tootsie
 
Outstanding Lyrics
presented by Music Theatre International
Chad Beguelin, The Prom
Andrew R. Butler, Rags Parkland Sings the Songs of the Future
Joe Iconis, Be More Chill
Peter Mills, The Hello Girls
David Yazbek, Tootsie
 
Outstanding Book of a Musical
presented by Music Theatre International
Scott Brown and Anthony King, Beetlejuice
Andrew R. Butler, Rags Parkland Sings the Songs of the Future
Robert Horn, Tootsie
Bob Martin and Chad Beguelin, The Prom
Dominique Morisseau, Ain't Too Proud
 
Outstanding Orchestrations
Larry Blank, Fiddler on the Roof
Simon Hale, Girl from the North Country
Daniel Kluger, Oklahoma!
Charlie Rosen, Be More Chill
Daryl Waters, The Cher Show
 
Outstanding Music in a Play
Paul Castles and Jongbin Jung, Wild Goose Dreams
Justin Ellington, Mrs. Murray's Menagerie
Justin Ellington, The House That Will Not Stand
Nick Powell, The Lehman Trilogy
Jason Michael Webb and Fitz Patton, Choir Boy
 
Outstanding Set Design of a Play
Miriam Buether, The Jungle
Es Devlin, Girls & Boys
Maruti Evans, The Peculiar Patriot
Mimi Lien, Fairview
Matt Saunders, "Daddy"
 
Outstanding Set Design for a Musical
presented by Hudson Scenic
Rachel Hauck, Hadestown
Laura Jellinek, Oklahoma!
Laura Jellinek, Rags Parkland Sings the Songs of the Future
David Korins, Beetlejuice
Rae Smith, Girl from the North Country
 
Outstanding Costume Design for a Play
Dede M. Ayite, By the Way, Meet Vera Stark
Dede M. Ayite, If Pretty Hurts Ugly Must Be a Muhfucka
Ásta Bennie Hostetter, Mrs. Murray's Menagerie
Toni-Leslie James, Bernhardt/Hamlet
Nicole Slaven, Henry VI: Shakespeare's Trilogy in Two Parts
 
Outstanding Costume Design for a Musical
William Ivey Long, Beetlejuice
William Ivey Long, Tootsie
Bobby Frederick Tilly II, Be More Chill
Michael Krass, Hadestown
Bob Mackie, The Cher Show
Paloma Young, Alice by Heart
 
Outstanding Lighting Design for a Play
Amith Chandrashaker, Boesman and Lena
Amith Chandrashaker, Fairview
Jiyoun Chang, Slave Play
Jon Clark, The Jungle
Simon Cleveland, Spaceman
Yi Zhao, The House That Will Not Stand
 
Outstanding Lighting Design for a Musical
presented by Production Resource Group
Adam Honoré, Carmen Jones
Bradley King, Hadestown
Jamie Roderick, Midnight at the Never Get
Barbara Samuels, Rags Parkland Sings the Songs of the Future
Scott Zielinski, Oklahoma!
 
Outstanding Projection Design
Peter England, King Kong
Katherine Freer, By the Way, Meet Vera Stark
Luke Halls, The Lehman Trilogy
Alex Basco Koch, Be More Chill
Peter Nigrini, Beetlejuice
Joshua Thorson, Oklahoma!
 
Outstanding Sound Design in a Play
Tyler Kieffer, Plano
Fitz Patton, Choir Boy
Nick Powell, The Ferryman
Jane Shaw, I Was Most Alive with You
Mikaal Sulaiman, Fairview
 
Outstanding Sound Design in a Musical
Simon Baker, Girl from the North Country
Drew Levy, Oklahoma!
Brian Ronan, Tootsie
Nevin Steinberg and Jessica Paz, Hadestown
Mikaal Sulaiman, Rags Parkland Sings the Songs of the Future
 
Outstanding Wig and Hair Design
Campbell Young Associates, Gary: A Sequel to Titus Andronicus  
Cookie Jordan, Eddie and Dave
Paul Huntley, Tootsie
Charles G. LaPointe, Beetlejuice
Charles G. LaPointe, The Cher Show
 
Outstanding Solo Performance
Mike Birbiglia, The New One
Carey Mulligan, Girls & Boys
Liza Jessie Peterson, The Peculiar Patriot, National Black Theatre/Hi-Arts
Erin Treadway, Spaceman, Loading Dock Theatre
Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Fleabag
 
Unique Theatrical Experience
All is Calm: The Christmas Truce of 1914

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