Tuesday, February 26, 2019

National Book Critics Circle Awards Coming

The National Book Critics Circle (I am a proud member) will announce winners of its 2019 awards at a ceremony March 14 at The New School in New York City. The ceremony at 6:30 pm is free. Tickets to the reception following are available at http://www.bookcritics.org/awards.

Look for more reviews of  arts and theater-related books coming to this site soon!

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

CT Theater Review: Working -- ACT of CT

By Lauren Yarger
ACT of CT, (A Contemporary Theatre of Connecticut) bursts onto the scene as one of the state's finest professional theaters with its first offering of the 2019 season: an updated version of Stephen Schwartz's Working.

The show, conceived, adapted and directed by Artistic Director Daniel C. Levine, presents a montage of interviews and slices of life from various types of people working to make a living.  The original musical, based on Studs Terkel's book of the same name with music by Schwartz and Nina Faso, has gotten an update including video projections (with excellent media design by Caite Hevner) and new music by Craig Carnelia, Micki Grant, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Mary Rodgers, Susan Birkenhead, James Taylor and Schwartz. 

A talented cast of six, all with strong vocals, portrays some 26 workers including a waitress, a financial manager, a project manager, a health care provider. a telephone customer service representative and a house wife, among others. The ensemble of Brad Greer, Andre Jordan, Cooper Grodin, Monica Ramirez, Zuri Washington, Laura Woyasz easily switch roles with the help of costume designer Brenda Phelps and Wig and Hair Supervisor Liz Printz) and entertain with choreography by Chip Abbott., who makes good use of the small stage. 

Levine's expert direction stunningly creates storytelling as scenes appear  seemingly out of nowhere (assisted by Jack Mehler's rotating and moving set). He creates the illusion one moment of being in a bustling city,  then switches to a quiet moment highlighting one worker's intimate story. It's some of the best direction I have seen on a Connecticut stage.

The updates, including interviews with local Ridgefield workers, help make the work (the book was published in 1974) a bit more relevant.  One criticism: the sound (design by John Salutz0 is too loud for the small theater, especially for this show, where you need to relate to the workers, not feel that they are yelling at you.

Working runs through March 10 at ACT, 36 Old Quarry Road, Ridgefield. Performances are Thursday at 7 pm, Friday at 8 pm, Saturday at 2 and 8 pm and Sunday at 2 pm. Tickets: www.actofct.org; 475-215-5433.

Additional credits:
Music Direction Dan Pardo; Musica Supervision Bryan Perri; Orchestrations: Alex Lacamoire; Lighting Mehler.

Some additional information about the theater since this is the first review included on this site:

ACT of Connecticut (A Contemporary Theatre) is a nonprofit 501(c)(3) Equity theater located in Ridgefield, CT. Founded and led by three accomplished theater professionals (Executive Producer Katie Diamond, Peri and Levine), ACT of CT presents limited engagement runs of well-known Broadway plays and musicals, as well as world-premiere plays and musicals by the next generation of writers and composers. The theater company produces three shows per season, including one show in the “Presenting Stephen Schwartz” series, honoring ACT of CT’s Artistic Advisor, Stephen Schwartz. 

Each show features both Broadway stars and local Fairfield and Westchester County talent. In addition to fully produced main stage productions, ACT of CT hosts new productions, Broadway Unplugged, youth education classes, master classes, camps, workshops, and a conservatory program for high school students. ACT of CT is located at 36 Old Quarry Road, in the beautiful village of Ridgefield, CT. Visit actofct.org for further information.

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Be in the Room Where it Happens!

Joseph Morales and Company - HAMILTON National Tour - (c) Joan Marcus 2018
Single tickets for the Connecticut tour stop of Hamilton will go on-sale to the public on Saturday, Sept. 8 at 9 am at www.bushnell.org and at The Bushnell Box Office, 166 Capitol Ave., Hartford. Tickets will be available for performances Dec.11 –  30, 2018.       

There is a maximum purchase limit of four (4) tickets per account for the engagement.  When tickets go on sale, prices will range from $68.50 to $198.50 with a select number of $498.50 premium seats available for all performances (plus applicable service fees).  There will be a lottery for forty (40) $10 seats for all performances. Details will be announced closer to the engagement.

Tickets will NOT be available for purchase by phone.  Additional seats will be made available for sale closer to the engagement. 

Hamilton, inspred by Ron Chernow's bestselling biographyis the story of America's Founding Father Alexander Hamilton, an immigrant from the West Indies, who became George Washington's right-hand man during the Revolutionary War and was the new nation’s first Treasury Secretary. Featuring Lin-Manuel Miranda's score that blends hip-hop, jazz, blues, rap, R&B, and Broadway, the musical is the story of America then, as told by America now. It won the Tony Award for Best Musical n 2016 and continues to be one of Broadway's hardest-to-get tickets -- with people willling to pay hundreds and even thousands of dollars to be in the room where it happens.

Miranda wrote the book, music and lyrcis. Direction is by Thomas Kail, choreography is by Andy Blankenbuehler and musical supervision and orchestrations is by Alex Lacamoire, This ceative team previously collaborated on the 2008 Tony Award Winning Best Musical In the Heights.

Other credits: scenic design by David Korins, costume design by Paul Tazewell, lighting design by Howell Binkley, sound design by Nevin Steinberg, hair and wig design by Charles G. LaPointe.

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

On Vacation

Taking a much-needed break. Will be back online with reviews of Connecticut theater  shortly.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Age of Innocence, Rags Top CT Critics Circle Awards

Photo: Marie Reynolds
The world premiere of Hartford Stage’s The Age of Innocence and a revised version of the musical Rags from Goodspeed Musicals took top honors at the Connecticut Critics Circle Awards Monday.

The event, which celebrated the ’17-’18 theater season, was held at Westport Country Playhouse.

Awards for outstanding actors in a musical went to Samantha Massell in Goodspeed’s Rags and Jamie LaVerdiere in  Connecticut Repertory Theatre’s production of 1776.

Awards for outstanding actors in a play went to Reg Rogers in Yale Repertory Theatre’s production of An Enemy of the People and Isabelle Barbier in Playhouse on Park’s production of The Diary of Anne Frank.

Top directing awards went to Terrence Mann for CT Repertory’s 1776 and Ezra Barnes for Playhouse on Park’s The Diary of Anne Frank.

Outstanding ensemble award went to TheaterWorks’ production of The Wolves;  The debut award went to Megan O’Callaghan  for The Bridges of Madison County and Fun Home, both at Music Theatre of Connecticut. The outstanding solo honor was awarded to Elizabeth Stahlmann for Westport Country Playhouse's Grounded. Kelli Barclay won for her choreography for Goodspeed Musicals’ The Will Rogers Follies.

Michael O’Flaherty, longtime music director for Goodspeed Musicals, received the Tom Killen Award for lifetime service to the theater from Donna Lynn Cooper Hilton, a producer at Goodspeed.

Receiving special awards were New London’s Flock Theatre for its production of Long Day’s Journey Into Night at the Monte Cristo Cottage; the Broadway Method Academy of Fairfield; and Billy Bivona, who composed and performed original music for TheaterWork’s production of Constellations.

The outstanding featured actress award in a musical award went to Jodi Stevens for Summer Theatre of New Canaan’s Singin’ in the Rain. There was a tie for outstanding featured actor in a musical, with honors going to Matt Faucher for Goodspeed Musicals’ Oklahoma! and to Cory Candelet for Ivoryton Playhouse’s The Fantasticks.

The award for outstanding featured actors in a play went to Peter Francis James for Westport Country Playhouse’s production of Romeo and Juliet, and to Judith Ivey for Long Wharf Theatre’s world premiere of Fireflies.

Design awards went to Fitz Patton for sound and Matthew Richards for lighting for Westport Country Playhouse’s Appropriate; Linda Cho for costumes for Hartford Stage’s The Age of Innocence; Yana Birykova for projections for Westport Country Playhouse’s Grounded and David Lewis, for set design for Playhouse on Park’s The Diary of Anne Frank.

Jenn Harris and Matthew Wilkas, stars of TheaterWorks’ Christmas on the Rocks, presided over the event.

Friday, June 8, 2018

CT Theater Review: Flyin' West -- Westport Country Playhouse

L-R:  Brittany Bradford, Michael Chenevert, Keona Welch, Edward O’Blenis, Brenda Pressley, and Nikiya Mathis. Photo: Carol Rosegg
Flyin' West
By Pearl Cleage
Directed by Seret Scott
Westport Country Playhouse
Through June 16

By Lauren Yarger
What's It All About?
A wonderfully written play by Pearl Cleage, which debuted more than a quarter of a century ago and is set in set in 1898, but contains a message of the human spirit that is right at home in 2018.

A group of close-knit women has embraced a new life in the all-black community of Nicodemus, Kansas. Fanny Dove (Brittany Bradford), Sophie Washington (Nikiya Mathis) and Minnie Dove Charles (Keona Welch) are all sisters, bound by their trip to freedom in Kansas after suffering hardship and prejudice in Memphis. For their matriarch, Miss Leah (Brenda Pressley) the concept of freedom is one she has acquired. The memories and cruelty of being a slave, where she was used for breeding and saw 10 children sold into bondage, are still fresh. The group is reunited when Minnie and her husband, Frank (Michael Chenevert) arrive from London for a visit. They also welcome Will Parish (Edward O'Blenis), their neighbor and Fannie's suitor,  to their fold. Happiness turns to alarm, however, when the harsh realities of Minnie and Frank's relationship emerge and when he threatens to sell the couple's portion of the homestead to white land speculators.

What Are the Highlights?
It's an excellent play with excellent performances, lovingly directed by Seret Scott. The women are developed and distinct: Sophie's follow-the-rules attitude is a contrast to Fannie's sweet optimism. Their fierce love for Minnie is evident and Miss Leah applies a wisdom acquired through the years to affect a solution. Frank and Will are contrasts as well: the former a selfish, abusive man and the latter who makes the object of his affection feel loved and honored.

What Are the Lowlights?
None for the production itself, which is one of the best I have seen at Westport. The violence and prejudice these women have experienced is hard to take, however, especially when they refer to them as matter-of-factly as one might in recounting a trip to the grocery store. Something that is part if life and expected. It's chilling, but written is such a moving way that the audience feels a part of the women's story. Let's just say that there is mirth and support when Frank gets what is coming to him.

More information:
Flyin’ West" plants itself in our hearts at Westport Country Playhouse, 20 Powers Court, Westport, through June 16. 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. Single tickets start at $30: westportplayhouse.org, 203-227-4177.

Cleage is an Atlanta-based writer whose work has won commercial acceptance and critical praise in several genres. She is an award-winning playwright of a dozen works including Blues for an Alabama Sky. She is also a bestselling author whose first novel, “What Looks Like Crazy on an Ordinary Day,” was an Oprah Book Club pick and spent nine weeks on The New York Times bestseller list.

The design team includes Marjorie Bradley Kellogg, scenic design; Heidi Leigh Hanson, costume design; Stephen Strawbridge, lighting design; and Frederick Kennedy, sound design.

Open Captions (June 10), Backstage Pass (June 13), Playhouse Happy Hour (June 14), and Thursday TalkBack (June 14). 

CT Repertory Offers Sign Language Performances for Nutmeg Series Productions

Seth Rudetsky in DISASTER! Photo by Gerry Goodstein.
Connecticut Repertory Theatre (CRT) announces that each show of its 2018 Nutmeg Summer Series -- Disaster!, Sweeney Todd: A Musical Thriller in Concert, and Jesus Christ Superstar, will have performances interpreted in American Sign Language (ASL) through a partnership with UConn’s Center for Students (CSD) with Disabilities. 

ASL interpreted performances will take place during the Saturday matinee performances on June 16 for Disaster!, June 30 for Sweeney Todd: A Musical Thriller in Concert, and July 21 Jesus Christ Superstar.

The first show of the series, Disaster! (through June 16), is created by Seth Rudetsky and Jack Plotnick, with musical arrangements and scoring by Joseph Joubert and song arrangements by Seth Rudetsky. 

It’s 1979 and what begins as a night of boogie fever at the floating casino and discotheque quickly changes to a panic as the ship succumbs to multiple disasters, including earthquakes, tidal waves and infernos. This comedic homage to the disaster movies of the 70s features creator Rudetsky alongside Connecticut native Maggie McDowell, who appeared in Disaster in both of its New York runs, Ange Schworer and Anne L. Nathan.

Peter Flynn directs Sweeney Todd: A Musical Thriller in Concert (June 21 – July 1), the Tony-Award winning tale of love, murder, and revenge set against the backdrop of 19th century London. CRT Artistic Director Terrence Mann performs as the title character alongside Broadway Veterans Liz Larsen (Nellie Lovett) of Broadway’s Beautiful: The Carole King Musical, The Most Happy Fella, and Hairspray, and Andrea Burns (Beggar Woman) of Broadway’s On Your Feet and In The Heights.

The Summer Series will close with Jesus Christ Superstar (July 12 – 22). A timeless work with an incredible score, set against the backdrop of an extraordinary and universally-known series of events but seen, unusually, through the eyes of Judas Iscariot, gets a fresh new vision from Artistic Director Terrence Mann and choreography Tony Award-nominee Christopher d’Amboise (CRT’s Newsies). This electric musical stars CRT debut Alex Prakken (Jesus), Broadway star Ryan Vona (Judas), and CRT Nutmeg Summer Series returner Jonathan Cobrda (Pontius Pilate), previously from Les Miserables: A Musical Celebration and Peter and the Starcatcher.

Evening performances start at 7:30 on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, and at 9 on Fridays and Saturdays. Matinee performances start at 2  on Saturdays and Sundays. Subscription package options range from $84 to $117. Single tickets prices start at $48. Discounts are available for seniors and students. crt.uconn.edu

The Harriet S. Jorgensen Theatre is located on the campus of the University of Connecticut, in Storrs, CT.

Summer Sounds with the HSO Start Tonight

Lisa Wiliamson.
Photo: Courtesy of HSO
Hartford Symphony Orchestra Masterworks Series 
Carmina Burana: Festival of Fate
Friday – Sunday, June 8-10, 2018
Belding Theater at The Bushnell
Friday & Saturday 8pm│Sunday 3pm

Ticket Information: Tickets begin at $38. Student tickets are $10 and $25 tickets are available on Saturday evening for patrons age 40 and under. To purchase tickets or for more information, please call 860-987-5900 or visit www.hartfordsymphony.org

FeaturingCarolyn Kuan conductor
Hartford Chorale Richard Coffey, music director
Connecticut Children’s Chorus 
Meredith Neumann, director
Lisa Williamson 
David Guzman 
Tyler Duncan 

Clyne Masquerade
Knoxville: Summer of 1915
Carmina Burana

Ticket holders are invited to attend a free Festival of Fate two hours prior to each performance and during intermission. This event will include performers from Sea Tea Improv, a prize wheel, a fortune teller, a Tarot card reader, a photo booth, and specialty drinks. Grand Prize Sponsor is Foxwoods Resort Casino. 

Carmina Burana: Festival of Fate is sponsored by the United Bank Foundation. 

Celebrate Juneteenth!

Juneteenth Gala

"The Evolution of Emancipation"

Friday, June 15, 2018  
Premier Reception - 7 pm | Gala - 8 pm to Midnight

Guest Emcee
Lorenzo Hall
Fox 61
Music Spun By
DJ Ronn P & DJ Dane

2018 Spirit of Juneteenth Honoring

Connecticut State Treasurer
Denise L. Nappier

Arts Advocate & Administrator
Jonathan Bruce

Musician & Producer
Alvin B. Carter, Jr.

For a full listing of events visit

New Paradigm Theatre's Hunchback will Benefit Burn Foundation

Riding on the heels of New Paradigm Theatre’s (NPT) sold-out, multi-ethnic production of Oliver-Reinvented, in 2016 and Peter Pan in 2017 at Fairfield Theatre’s Warehouse space, NPT will continue its “collective impact” productions, bridging the gap between the arts and the local community, with the musical The Hunchback of Notre Dame Aug. 18-19.

Young people of all abilities will participate side-by-side with Broadway pros to create this production. Emmy and Oscar winner Paul Bogaev will again be the musical producer as well as playing a leading role. TV and Stage veterans Scott Bryce and Jodi Stevens will co-direct.

New Paradigm, a company well-known for its inventive productions that are presented with multi-cultural, multi- generational and multi-gendered casting, has chosen Connecticut Burns Care Foundation as its unity “partner non profit.” For 40 years, CBCF has worked to support burn survivors as well as to present programs for education and advocacy to prevent burn injuries.

For more info and ticket information, visit www.nptheatre.org.
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Lauren Yarger with playwright Alfred Uhry at the Mark Twain House. Photo: Jacques Lamarre)

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