Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Is the Mark Twain House Haunted?

"Ghost Hunters," the Syfy channel’s top-rated show with 3 million viewers nationally, may provide the answer to the question when a special episode on the historic home of America’s great author airs on Wednesday, Dec. 2, at 9 pm on Syfy.

The famed Ghost Hunters team conducted a paranormal investigation of The Mark Twain House in Hartford back in September. The Dec. 2 episode will reveal the results of the investigation.

To celebrate the event, The Mark Twain House & Museum is partnering with the new Connecticut Science Center for a special event. On Wednesday, Dec. 2, at 7:30 pm there will be a lecture program in the Connecticut Science Center’s Theater entitled “The Science of the Supernatural” hosted by the Smoking Gun Research Agency.

Connecticut-based Smoking Gun also recently carried on an investigation of the Twain House. They will share the scientific equipment and spiritual techniques they have used at the Twain House and other sites across the state.

During a break after the lecture, guests can visit the bar/concession stand for a drink or snack before the 9 p.m. screening of the Ghost Hunters on the theater’s big screen. There is a suggested donation of $10 for the program that will benefit The Mark Twain House & Museum.

Seating is first-come, first-served. The Connecticut Science Center is located at 250 Columbus Boulevard. Regular parking rates will apply for the event.

In addition, TAPS recently returned to Hartford and conducted a paranormal investigation of The Harriet Beecher Stowe House for an episode that will be broadcast in early 2010.

Happy Thanksgiving

We'll be on break for the holiday until Tuesday, Dec. 1. Have a wonderful Thanksgiving.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Feature: Monette McKay of Mamma Mia at The Bushnell

Monette McKay, at left.
Fans Know it by Heart, but Mamma Mia Was All New for Cast Member
By Lauren Yarger
Fans flock back year after year when their favorite musical featuring the songs of Abba makes a stop at The Bushnell, but for one person at The Bushnell next week, Mamma Mia is a fairly new experience.

She’s cast member Monette McKay, a recent college graduate who has been a member of the touring cast for a little over a year. Playing Ali, a bridesmaid to Sophie, whose wedding and quest to find her real father form the basis for the show’s plot, gave McKay one of her first professional gigs and her Equity card, but prior to getting the part, she hadn’t even seen the show.

“I saw the show when I got the job,” she confessed, feeling that she ought to experience the phenomenon that fans can get enough of before she joined the tour. She also only knew a couple of Abba’s songs previously, but now tunes like “Dancing Queen,” “S.O.S.,” “Super Trouper,” “Take A Chance on Me” and “The Winner Takes It All” have become part of her every-day life.

Life on the road has been a new experience for the New Jersey native as well, who spoke to Connecticut Arts Connection from Alabama where the tour stopped before heading to Hartford. Living out of a suitcase and having a readymade “family” of 28 with whom you work, play and live around the clock is definitely a change for the Staten Island Wagner College graduate and dance major who was named the recipient of the Paper Mill Playhouse’s Rising Star Award two years in a row.

“I miss taking (dance) classes,” she said, but does enjoy some of the opportunities life on the road offers. “We get to see some pretty amazing places,” though she lamented that not all of them have a Starbucks.

McKay has tapped into her dance talents a little by teaching master classes in various locations and by helping with dance auditions for the show. She particularly enjoys parts of the choreography for Mamma Mia which call for improvisation by the performers.

Her character, Ali, is mischievous, but also serious, she said, and she’s fun to play, especially in the opening number, “Honey, Honey,” which gets the show off to an energized start.

“People just love this show,” she said, and some of the most die-hards who see it again and again have told her that the current cast is their favorite.

“It’s so fun,” she said. “This cast is so tight.”

Next week in Connecticut, the road will seem a little less lonely as a close friend of McKay’s who is studying at UConn will come see the performance.

The show plays its fourth run at The Bushnell Dec. 1-6, 2009 with performances Tuesday through Thursday at 7:30 pm, Friday and Saturday at 8pm, Saturday and Sunday at 2 pm and Sunday at 7:30pm. For tickets or other information, visit

Friday, November 13, 2009

Feature: Jeff Still of 'August:Osage County' at The Bushnell

Shannon Cochran, Jeff Still and Estelle Parsons. Photo: Robert J. Saferstein.
Finding Function in a Play About Dysfunction
By Lauren Yarger
Any other member of a clan so dysfunctional that death and incest play second fiddle to the abuse heaped on everyone by its drug-addicted matriarch might find ways to avoid attending family gatherings, but Jeff Still loves it so much, he keeps coming back for more.

He comes back eight times a week, in fact, playing Bill Fordham, the matriarch’s son-in-law in Tracy Letts’ Pulitzer and Tony Award winning play August: Osage County stopping here next week at The Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts in Hartford.

“What’s not to like?” quipped Still in an interview last week from Toronto where the tour is playing prior to coming to Connecticut. “It’s about family. Everybody’s got one and can relate,” he said.

Well, let’s hope we can’t relate on all of the dysfunctional levels of hell this family faces. The Westons gather when their father, Beverly, an alcoholic poet, disappears and is found dead. Revising the role she played on Broadway from June 2008-May 2009 is Estelle Parsons as his shrew of a wife, Violet, who is addicted to prescription drugs and, apparently, to hurling the worst kind of verbal abuse on her family, particularly eldest daughter Barbara (Shannon Cochran). Still plays the part of Bill, Barbara’s husband, who is having an affair with one of his students and planning to leave his wife, but who joins the family in their time of need, realizing this isn’t the time to announce the breakup of his marriage.

“He’s basically a good guy,” Still says of his alter ego. The character’s biggest flaw is the lax part he’s had in the bringing up of their teenage daughter, Jean, who is terribly neglected and quite a dysfunctional mess herself. Interestingly, the neglect on Bill’s part is so bad that during rehearsals, Still instinctively reached out to comfort Jean, but director Anna D. Shapiro (who directed the Broadway show too) stopped him. Bill would be unaware of Jean’s need, he realized.

The character analysis comes from an expert. Still, after all, has played Bill more than 100 times, having brought him to life in Chicago workshops where the play got its start at Steppenwolf, and having understudied the role on Broadway (as well as most of the male parts) before stepping into Bill’s persona for the national tour. A close friendship with Letts, whom Still met when the playwright was a teenage student at the college where Still’s father taught, gives him a personal appreciation for the work a well.

He has appeared in several others of Letts’ works including the world premiere of Bug in London and has nothing but admiration for his friend’s ability to write about the complexities of life and relationships, often with humor.

There is a surprising amount of humor in August: Osage County, despite its dark and difficult plot. “Some of it is laughing because they are uncomfortable,” he said, “and some comes from commentary on the world that we live in.” The humor and drama come together to form one of the most compelling family sagas to hit the stage since Eugene O’Neill’s A Long Day’s Journey into Night, to which it often is compared. Plays of this caliber just don’t come around that often, Still said.

“It’s a very enriching and enriched play full of great characters who are fully developed.”

It is taxing to deal with such intense emotions eight shows a week, Still confessed, but he takes one performance at a time, putting himself into the moment. This allows him to view the play as exciting and real each time, rather than as depressing.

“Everybody knows what it’s like to have a family and what it’s like when they come together. You begin with the gloves on, then they come off and you can talk to your family and be nakedly honest with no sugar coating because your family always has to take you in.” he said. And the definition of “dysfunctional” might need to be adjusted since almost every family can be classified this way, he added. In fact, dysfunctional may be the norm, Still said, based on the number of audience members from whom he has heard, “that’s my mother,” or “I’ve been at that dinner table.”

The healthy part of this dysfunction, Still said, is that by the end of the play, the characters all are moving forward. Some may not return to the house again, "but the air has been cleared.”

People continue to be amazed at how quickly the three-and-a-half-hour saga unfolds, Still said (it is presented with two intermissions).

“It’s a full night of theater.”

August: Osage County plays The Bushnell Nov. 17-22. Performances are 7:30 pm Tuesday-Thursday, 8 pm Friday, 2 pm and 8 pm Saturday and 2 pm and 7:30 pm Sunday. Tickets are $15-$65 and may be purchased by calling (860) 987-5900, in person at the box office at 166 Capitol Ave., or online at

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Jazz Prodigy Opens for Dave Koz at Palace

Connecticut’s own up-and-coming Jazz prodigy Vincent Ingala will have the opportunity to wow local audiences, as well as one of the industries all-time greats, when he opens for multi-Grammy® nominee and saxophonist Dave Koz during the "Dave Koz & Friends: A Smooth Jazz Christmas" tour stop at the Palace Theater in Waterbury on Tuesday, Dec. 8.

The 16-year-old virtuoso and Holy Cross High School honor student will kick off an evening of jazz and holiday favorites, with a 6:50 pm opening act that showcases his high energy and crowd pleasing entertainment. Koz and friends will then take the stage at 7:30 pm.

A Prospect native, Ingala excels in playing saxophone, guitar, drums and keyboard. He began developing his musical abilities at the age of 4, and now possesses the unique ability to write and produce original songs, as well as the power to deliver a hard driving rock beat all the way to a sensual saxophone solo. In addition to his solo show, he performs with two other Connecticut bands, “Just for Kicks” and “Twist of Lime.” This past summer, he was invited to perform his solo show at the Las Vegas Hilton in Nevada.

"Dave Koz & Friends A Smooth Jazz Christmas" will feature a reunion of the original cast, including Koz, Rick Braun, David Benoit, Peter White and Brenda Russell. The quintet will perform hits from their respective catalogues and join together on a variety of holiday favorites, including many from their album, "A Smooth Jazz Christmas."

Tickets can be purchased by phone at 203-346-2000, online at, or in person at the Palace Theater Box Office, 100 East Main St., Waterbury. Groups of 20 or more qualify for special discounts and should call the Group Sales Hotline at 203-346-2002.

HSO Musicians Present Informal MusicLincs

The Hartford Symphony Orchestra’s 2009-2010 MusicLincs Series brings classical music to unexpected places.

Musicians will travel to different locations around the state to present four diverse and interactive programs combining music with other artistic disciplines, often for little to no admission charge.

Cello Quartet Open Rehearsal at Real Art Ways
HSO Cellists Jeffrey Krieger, Eric Dahlin, Peter Zay, and Jennifer Combs will open one of their rehearsals to the public at Real Art Ways on Thursday, Nov. 19 at 7 pm. The audience will witness the speed bumps and errors that are all part of a real rehearsal and will be able to ask questions, offer suggestions, and make comments as the rehearsal progresses. The program will feature an original piece of music by Michael Gatonska.

A Piacere String Quartet “Tells A Story” at the CT Science CenterOn Saturday, Nov.21 at 11 am “A Piacere” String Quartet comprised of HSO violinists Jaroslaw Lis and Karin Fagerburg, violist Michael Wheeler and cellist Eric Dahlin – will travel to the Connecticut Science Center for an entertaining look at how music can tell a story. This program will invite the audience to interact with the musicians as well as use its imagination to create scenes and characters as the ensemble performs music from Vivaldi to Shostakovich.

Music and Poetry with the HSO Piano Quartet at NBMAA
Poetry has long been an inspiration for composers. On Saturday, Nov. 28 at 3pm at the New Britain Museum of American Art, HSO musicians Anhared Stowe, Michael Wheeler, Peter Zay and Ruriko Wheeler will explore music that has a direct connection to the spoken word. This program will feature “Letters to the World,” a piece based on five poems by Emily Dickenson as musically interpreted by Connecticut born, Vermont-based composer Gwyneth Walker.

Home for the Holidays with the Chimera String Quartet
The Hartford Symphony Orchestra Chimera String Quartet featuring violinists Martha Kayser and Deborah Tyler, violist Sharon Dennison and cellist Jeffrey Krieger will “deck the halls” of the New Britain Museum of American Art on Sunday, Dec. 13 at 1 pm as they perform holiday carols and seasonal favorites.

The 2009-2010 MusicLincs Series is presented by Lincoln Financial. For information, call (860) 246-8742 or visit www.HartfordSymphony.Org.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

HSO Offers Sunday Serenades at Wadsworth

The Hartford Symphony Orchestra will open the third season of its chamber music series, “Sunday Serenades,” on Sunday, Nov.22 at 2 pm in the Morgan Great Hall at the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art.

This first program, entitled “Music in the Age of Rembrandt,” is inspired by the Wadsworth’s new exhibition, Rembrandt’s People, and will feature performances of popular music from the painter’s lifetime, including works by Handel, Telemann, and Bach. Sunday Serenades Artistic Director and HSO Concertmaster Leonid Sigal (pictures at left) will lead HSO musicians Jaroslaw Lis, Michael Wheeler, Eric Dahlin, Robert Groff, Greig Shearer, and Margreet Francis in this intimate chamber program.

Rembrandt’s People includes seven of Rembrandt’s most powerful figure paintings, which are hailed as his greatest artistic achievement. Borrowed from leading museums in both America and Canada and two private collections, Rembrandt’s People brings the first authentic Rembrandt paintings to Hartford in almost 70 years. The exhibition showcases works from throughout the artist’s career, including his iconic Self Portrait from 1659. Rembrandt’s People is on view through Jan. 24, 2010.

This first Sunday Serenades program will feature some of the most well-known composers from Rembrandt’s day: Handel, Purcell, Telemann, Couperin, and, of course, Bach. These composers influenced not only each other, but other visual and performing artists of the day. The beautiful structure of this music is reflected in the composition and tone of Rembrandt’s paintings. Likewise, the humanistic elements of Rembrandt’s paintings can be heard in the music.

The 2009-2010 Sunday Serenades Series will continue this season with two more performances at the Wadsworth:
· Reunited Masterpieces: From Adam and Eve to George and Martha Feb. 21, 2010 at 2pm in the Morgan Great Hall
· Music Inspired by the museum’s collection of 20th Century Art May 2, 2010 at 2 pm in Avery Court

Sigal has enjoyed a multi-faceted career as recitalist, chamber musician, and orchestra leader. Born in Moscow, Russia, he began violin studies at age five. He moved to the US in 1995 when he was invited by to a prestigious fellowship at the New World Symphony. A devoted chamber musician, "Lenny" frequently appears with the Miami Friends of Chamber Music and the Avery Ensemble, and has served as Artistic Director of the Miami Chamber Symphony.

Ticket Prices: A three-concert subscription to the 2009-2010 Sunday Serenades Series is $60. Single tickets to this performance are $30; $25 for Atheneum Members or HSO Subscribers. Ticket price includes general admission to the Wadsworth Atheneum on the days of the concerts. Brunch at The Russell at the Wadsworth is also available.
Tickets are available in person Monday through Friday between the hours of 10 am and 5 pm at Hartford Symphony Orchestra Ticket Services, 99 Pratt St., Suite 50 in Hartford, by calling (860) 244-2999, or online at

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Bells Will Be Ringing, Choirs Will Be Singing

HSO’s Holiday POPS! Spectacular and Edward Cumming
with Santa Claus. (Photo Steve Laschever)
The Hartford Symphony Orchestra will celebrate “the most wonderful time of the year” at the 2009 Holiday POPS! Spectacular at The Bushnell on Friday, Dec. 11 at 8 pm and on Saturday, Dec. 12 at 3 pm and 8 pm at the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts.

Joining in the wintry celebration will be singers from the Hartford Chorale and Connecticut Children’s Chorus, as well as ballet dancers from the Hartt Community Division. The 2009-2010 POPS! Series is presented by United Technologies Corporation.

Festive carols and seasonal favorites will be performed by the HSO and the Hartford Chorale and ballerinas from the Hartt Community Division will twirl onto the stage for selections from The Nutcracker. The Connecticut Children’s Chorus will join in the festivities for a holiday sing-along, as arranged by Hartt School Musical Theater Director Michael Morris. There will even be a special guest appearance from one of the world’s biggest celebrities – Santa Claus – in his musical debut with the HSO.

“We are excited to bring our annual Holiday POPS! Spectacular to the Belding Theater this year,” said HSO Executive Director Kristen Phillips. “The intimate setting of this theater will surround our audience with the sights and sounds of this holiday winter wonderland.”

Ticket Prices range from $12.50 to $72.50 and are available in person Monday through Friday between the hours of 10 am and 5 pm at Hartford Symphony Orchestra Ticket Services, 99 Pratt St., Suite 500 in Hartford, or by calling (860) 244-2999, or online at

Will You Be the Palace's Singular Sensation?

This holiday season, the Palace Theater wants to know: Could you be the one singular sensation they are looking for?

As part of the theater’s year-long Fifth Anniversary celebration, and as a nod to the Webster Broadway Series’ upcoming presentation of A Chorus Line in February, the Palace is hosting a contest to acknowledge its 500,000th ticket buyer. From now until the lucky customer is announced, the Box Office will track Internet, phone, and in-person ticket sales in search of the grand prize winner. Along the way to reaching number 500,000, the Box Office will also award three additional prizes to the 490,000th; 495,000th; and 499,500th customers to sustain momentum until the milestone sale is made.

The Grand Prize winner will walk away with an overnight stay for four at the Holiday Inn/Coco Key Water Resort in Waterbury, inclusive of free passes to the indoor water park; two subscriptions to the Palace’s 2010-2011 Broadway Series; a gourmet dinner for two in the theater’s exclusive Poli Club; a $100 gift certificate to one of the G.R.E.A.T. (Gimme a Reason to Eat Around Town) restaurants; ten Palace Theater drink chits; and a Palace Theater goodie bag. Additionally, the three runner ups at the previously mentioned sales increments will also receive a Palace Theater gift certificate valid for a pair of tickets to a select upcoming performance; a $50 G.R.E.A.T. Restaurant gift certificate, two Palace drink chits, and a Palace Theater goodie bag.

Since the Palace’s reopening in 2004, more than 480,000 tickets have been purchased to date. Based on Box Office sales, the theater expects to make its 500,000th ticket sale sometime between mid-November and the first week of February. Customers should note that the contest only applies to paid ticket purchases. Palace gift certificates are excluded from this promotion.

Tickets to all Palace Theater presentation can be purchased by phone at 203-346-2000, online at, or in person at the Palace Theater Box Office, 100 East Main Street in Waterbury.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Bob Newhart Kicks Off November Events at the Palace

The Palace Theater in Waterbury offers number of one-night events this month starting with a performance by comedian Bob Newhart this sunday at 7:30pm.

Newhart’s career has spanned two successful television shows, 14 feature films, and millions of albums sold worldwide. Fans flock to his live performances to hear such Newhart standards as The Driving Instructor, Sir Walter Raleigh, and The Submarine Commander. Sponsored by Naugatuck Savings Bank and WTNH/MyTV9.
TICKETS: $67.75/ $57.75/ $47.75/ $37.75 presents THE QUEEN PROJECT
Friday, Nov. 20 at 8 pm

Grammy Award-winners Tamia, Kelly Price and Deborah Cox unite their three dynamic voices to celebrate women empowerment. These trend setting women are some of the industry's most talented vocalists in the genres of R&B, Soul and Pop, and are currently promoting their new single "QUEEN.” The concert will feature a compilation of R&B and soul sounds, featuring original compositions, as well as standards. Tickets: $82/ $72/ $46

Jammins Entertainment presents Soul Legends Concert
Friday, Nov. 27 at 8 pm

A memorable night of soul music starring Russell Thompkins, Jr. and The New Stylistics (“Stone in Love with You,” and “Stop, Look & Listen”) the Original Manhattans ("Kiss and Say Goodbye" and "I Wanna Be Your Everything”) featuring Gerald Alston & Blue Lovett; and Rose Royce (“Car Wash” and “Love Don’t Live Here Anymore”).
TICKETS: $88/ $78/ $68/ $58

Sunday, Nov. 29 at 4pm

The Spirit of Christmas takes you on a magical journey to a winter wonderland of fun and festive cheer. Enjoy all your favorite Christmas songs and meet Santa Claus and his merry helpers, tap-dancing penguins, singing mice, elephants in pink tutus, naughty elves, and the highest kicking chorus girls this side of the North Pole!
Tickets: $55/ $45/ $35

For all events, visit or call 203-346-2000.

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