Monday, August 30, 2010

Theater Review: Carnival! -- Goodspeed

The cast of Carnival!. Photo: Diane Sobolewski
Circus and Love Perform Balancing Act
By Lauren Yarger
A young orphan runs away to join the circus. She meets a brooding, wounded veteran who can only express his emotions through the voice of his puppets. The orphan finds true friends in the puppets. They sing a lot of songs. The orphan and the vet get together.

That’s pretty much the gist of Carnival! which draws its inspiration from the 1950s film “Lili” starring Leslie Caron and the early television show ”Kukla Fran and Ollie.” The stage version playing at the Goodspeed Opera House offers a fairly unmemorable score (music and lyrics by Bob Merrill) but much more.

The “more” includes some circus acts, nicely staged by aerial choreographer Joshua Dean, and some moments of sheer delight whenever Adam Monley, playing Paul, the war-vet puppeteer sings.

Monley is a dream to listen to (would love to hear him as Jean Valjean) and conveys well the anger and sorrow felt by his character, unable to continue his career as a dancer after being wounded (though the constant clutching of his leg to remind us of the injury is a little over the top).

The talented Lauren Worsham is adequate, but miscast by director Darko Tresnjak as the naïve, frail Lili. Worsham’s high belt and robust stage presence hardly telegraph naïve or “little mouse,” the nickname given to her by smarmy magician Marco (played well by Mike McGowan) who tries to take advantage of the young girl.

There isn’t any chemistry between Worsham and Monley, but that might be more the fault of a weak book by Michael Stewart (based on material by Helen Deutsch with revisions by Francine Pascal) which doesn’t really offer much reason for why the two end up together. Paul is, after all, rather angry and rude most of the time.

Nathan Klau gives a nice turn as Jacquot, Paul‘s friend/puppet show assistant (who might have ended up with Lili if the book had been better….) and Michelle Blakely tries to milk all the humor she can from her role as Rosalie, Marco’s lovesick, but unappreciated magician’s assistant. Laurent Giroux is fine as the owner of the “Grand Imperial Cirque de Paris.”

Fabio Toblin’s lovely period costumes lend to the feel of the era and to the circus atmosphere and Peggy Hickey adds some simple choreography. Robert Smythe designs the puppets and stages their antics which cause kids in the audience to giggle.

The show runs through Sept. 18. Tickets and other information are available at

Theater Review: Finian’s Rainbow -- Ivoryton Playhouse

R. Bruce Connelly as Finian at Ivoryton Playhouse.

Character Actors Shine in Finian’s Rainbow
By Lauren Yarger
If you haven’t seen R. Bruce Connelly in one of his many roles at the Ivoryton Playhouse, hop over and catch him in his latest: Finian McLonergan in Finian’s Rainbow playing through Sept. 5.

You won’t regret it. A Connecticut treasure, Connelly reaches deep down and becomes whatever character he’s playing (at Ivoryton alone he‘s played Einstein in Arsenic & Old Lace, Felix Unger in The Odd Couple, Pseudolus in A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, Willie Clark in The Sunshine Boys, and Max Prince in Laughter on the 23rd Floor, but if you missed those, you can catch him on Sesame Street where he’s played Barkley the Muppet dog since 1993).

Whether he’s delivering his own lines, reacting to others or merely being the character while on stage, it’s always a treat to watch this master at his craft. His turn as Finian, an Irish father who steals a leprechaun’s pot of gold with the hope of turning it into a brilliant future for his daughter, Sharon (Kathleen Mulready), is another ray in his colorful career.

The musical by Burton Lane with lyrics by E.Y. Harburg (who co-wrote the book with Fred Saidy) isn’t quite as satisfying. Oh, there are a few nice tunes, the better known of which are “How are Things in Glocca Morra?,” “Look to the Rainbow” and “Old Devil Moon,” (musical direction here is by John S. DiNicola with two pianists playing the score) but the story leaves a lot to be desired, hence its short run on Broadway last season, despite the very nice take by director Warren Carlyle and the beautiful singing voice of Kate Baldwin (currently starring in I Do! I Do! over at the Westport Country Playhouse).

Julia Kiley helms the production at Ivoryton and wisely opts for a simplified version to fit the smaller stage housing Tony Andrea’s well-lighted set (Tale Burmeister, designer). Pam Puente costumes the ensemble, which sings and dances (choreography by Schuyler Beeman) the story of love, gold, racial prejudice and magic set in Rainbow Valley somewhere near Fort Knox.

Sharon helps Woody Mahoney (John Rochette) pay the back taxes on his land and the two inevitably fall in love. Meanwhile, Woody’s mute sister, Susan (Tessa Grunwald), who can express herself only through dancing, falls in love with leprechaun Og (Michael Nathanson) who has followed Finian to America to retrieve his pot of gold.

The pot‘s magic can grant three wishes before Og turns mortal. No visual effects are used to show us how Og is growing in size, however, though the dialogue tells us he is, so that’s a little confusing, especially given Nathanson’s rather bulky size to begin with. He tries to find humor in the role, particularly in the song “Something Sort of Grandish,” but Kiley doesn’t reign him in and some of his advances toward Sharon and later, toward Susan, make him seem more a “lechechaun” than a leprechaun.

One of the wishes granted involves the town’s bigoted Senator Billboard Rawkins (Larry Lewis) turning into a black man, shocking everyone, including the sheriff (Jamison Daniels, who adds some needed humor by giving his character a pubescent squeaky voice.) The senator’s black face and hand makeup doesn’t work well, though.

Standing out along with Connelly is Patryce Williams as Dottie, pictured above center, who lends some humor and a nice voice to a fun rendition of the song “Necessity” with the ensemble.

The show runs through Sept. 5. Ticket and other information is available at

Theater Review: I Do! I Do!-- Westport

Kate Baldwin and Lewis Cleale.
A look at One Old Ideal of Marriage
By Lauren Yarger
Like marriage, I Do! I Do! Has been around forever. Well, not really. The show, with music by Harvey Schmidt and book and lyrics by Tom Jones (the team that brought us The Fantasticks) actually premiered on Broadway in 1951, but its message hasn’t changed: marriage isn’t easy, but love can make it work.

Rounding out a season of marriage-themed shows at the Westport Country Playhouse, as pointed out in Artistic Director Mark Lamos’ program notes (She Loves Me, Dinner with Friends and Happy Days were the others), I Do! I Do! Stars Kate Baldwin and Lewis Cleale as Agnes and Michael from the time of their wedding to their journey to their retirement home.

That the marriage is happy could be debatable. What it is, is enduring. Told mostly through 19 tunes, the story of their marriage includes everything a typical couple might encounter after saying “I do,” including wedding night jitters, waiting for the birth of their first child, an affair, marrying off the kids, the possibility of divorce and the companionship of making it through all those things together.

Directed by Susan H. Schulman, Baldwin and Cheale make nice transitions into older versions of their characters while lending melodic vocals to songs that don’t have the standout quality of a “It Was You” or “Try to Remember” from The Fantasticks The tunes end up sounding like a montage of the same pleasing, but undistinguished tune. The Baldwin/Cleale duet for “My Cup Runneth Over” is satisfying, however.

The characters don't develop much either. Michael never really seems like the type who would have an affair and Agnes doesn’t seem to care when he does. Later, when Agnes seems to want to spread her wings beyond the marriage, we're surprised because we hadn't had any indication previously that she felt stifled. The couple just keeps singing and moving on to the next phase and song. The fault lies with the weak book and dated quality of the material (the time frame is 1898 to 1948) rather than with the skills of the actors or director.

Musical Director Joel Fram and Alexander Boronson on pianos provide the accompaniment and choreographer Michael Lichtefeld provides minimal dancing crammed on a small part of Wilson Chin’s sleek, clapboard-framed set depicting the couple’s home centered around the bed.

One of the highlights occurs in the audience as elderly couples exchange knowing glances or sputter with laughter during the action on stage.

The show has been extended through Sept. 4 at the Playhouse, 25 Powers Court, Westport. Tickets and other information are available at

Friday, August 20, 2010

Saturday Circus of Fun at Mark Twain House This Fall

Saturdays at The Mark Twain House & Museum will soon be a circus of family fun.

Four “Saturdays with Sam” programs, each with a BigTop theme, will bring puppets, animals, an eco-extravaganza, and the likeness of Barnum himself to the museum..

Part of a grant-funded collaboration with Bridgeport’s famed P.T. Barnum Museum, each program begins at 11:00 a.m. and runs for about an hour.

--On September 25, circus legend Joe Barney presents “Barnum’s Worlds of Wonder.” P.T . Barnum himself will amuse you with tales of his life, his museums, his Connecticut and The Greatest Show on Earth. This show is filled with magic and plenty of audience participation. Each show is capped off with a visit from General Tom Thumb and celebrates Barnum’s 200th birthday this year.

--On October 9, the Tanglewood Marionettes present ‘The Fairy Circus” featuring over twenty beautifully hand-crafted marionettes. The Fairy Circus is a showcase for turn-of-the-century-style trick puppetry. The puppets will dance, play instruments, juggle, contort, transform, and fly though the air with the greatest of ease, all to the music of favorite composers.
--On October 30, enter the wild kingdom and get up close and personal with some of our feathered, scaly and furry friends! The museum welcomes Beardsley Zoo’s “Wild Assembly.” The program introduces visitors to rare, beautiful and diverse species from across Connecticut and around the globe. There will be lots of chances to interact with the critters and enjoy education and fun, all mixed together.

-- On November 13, ArtFarm will perform its eco-friendly “Circus for a Fragile Planet.” A nutty professor is trying to teach kids how to take care of our planet but keeps getting interrupted by the Fossil Fools. It’s an hour-long show of juggling, clowning, acrobatics, stilt-dancing, unicycling and a healthy dose of up-to-date and empowering environmental education. A side-splitting, mind-opening blend of circus and science!

Admission to each performance is $5 for children, and $10 for adults – but if you buy tickets for three shows, you get the fourth free! Call 860-280-3130 for tickets.

Saturdays with Sam is made possible by a joint grant with the Barnum Museum, sponsored by the Connecticut Commission on Culture and Tourism and Hartford Steam Boiler.

The event is one in the museum’s continuing series of Mark Twain 2010 Centennial Celebration events . The Hartford Financial Group, Inc., is the Mark Twain House & Museum’s Centennial Sponsor.

The Mark Twain House & Museum has restored the author’s Hartford, Connecticut, home, where the author and his family lived from 1874 to 1891. Twain wrote his most important works during the years he lived there, including Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, and A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court.

In addition to providing tours of Twain’s restored home, a National Historic Landmark, the institution offers activities and educational programs that illuminate Twain’s literary legacy and provide information about his life and times. The house and museum at 351 Farmington Ave. are open Monday through Saturday, 9:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m., and Sunday, noon-5:30 p.m.

For more information, call 860-247-0998 or visit

Vincent Cardinal will Head UConn's Rep Theater

Big changes are in Storrs for the 2010 – 2011 season as Vincent J. Cardinal begins his first year as Artistic Director and a new season is announced.

Vincent J. Cardinal, formerly the Artistic Director of Miami’s Jerry Herman Ring Theatre and Associate Artist with Circle Repertory Company, will begin as both artistic director of Connecticut Repertory Theatre and head of the Department of Dramatic Arts beginning August 23, 2010.

The 2010 – 2011 season was selected and planned by Dale AJ Rose, associate artistic director and director of performance studies, who served as interim during the search for Cardinal who succeeds Gary English, who stepped down in June 2009 after 15 years.

The Main Stage season will begin with Shakespeare’s tragedy Othello, an irresistible story of love and revenge, in the Nafe Katter Theatre in October. One of the funniest plays of all time, Georges Feydeau’s bedroom farce A Flea In Her Ear, will play in the Harriet S. Jorgensen in the late fall. In February CRT will present the East Coast premiere of a new stage adaptation of Jane Austen’s classic Pride and Prejudice in the Nafe Katter Theatre. The Main Stage season will conclude next spring with the innovative and funny Broadway musical Urinetown in the Harriet S. Jorgensen Theatre.

All CRT Main Stage Series productions feature professional actors performing side-by-side with some of the Department of Dramatic Arts’ most advanced student artists.

The Studio Works Series fall show will be the Off-Broadway hit The Last Days of Judas Iscariot. In the spring, CRT’s extraordinary puppet artists will present a new Puppet Arts adaptation of Strindberg’s classic A Dream Play.

Substantial discounts are available by purchasing season subscriptions. Four and six play packages are available. CRT subscribers receive the best discounts and privileges including free, unlimited ticket exchanges and priority seating. For more information on subscribing call the box office at 860-486-4226.


Othello Oct. 7 – 17, 2010
by William Shakespeare Nafe Katter Theatre
Directed by Dale AJ Rose

Iago has a plan. Passed over for promotion by his commander, Othello, this sinister soldier weaves an increasingly tense web of revenge meticulously, maliciously, brilliantly. At once a love story and a psychological thriller, Othello exposes how one man’s envy can wreak havoc in an entire community. A magnificent meditation on trust, jealousy, love and passion, Othello remains strikingly resonate 400 years after it was written, which is why it is one of Shakespeare’s most produced plays today.

A Flea In Her Ear Dec. 2 – 11, 2010
by Georges Feydeau, Adaptation by David Ives Harriet S. Jorgensen Theatre
Directed by Art Manke

Mistaken identity, revolving beds and an improbable, hysterical plot provide the riotous foundation for Georges Feydeau’s masterpiece bedroom farce set in the Frisky Puss Hotel. The amorous antics are unleashed with mathematical precision to create a fast and furious, sexy comedy featuring a suspicious spouse, a lusty lothario and a hot-blooded Spaniard – all chasing each other through this hormone-powered, rollicking romp.

Pride and Prejudice Feb. 24 – Mar. 6, 2011
Adaptation by Joseph Hanreddy and J.R. Sullivan Nafe Katter Theatre
Based on the novel by Jane Austen
Directed by Helene Kvale

Mrs. Bennet has five eligible daughters and a lot at stake. This early Nineteenth Century British middle class family has no sons, so their future depends on finding wealthy matches. When a pair of upper class bachelors appears on the scene, passions quickly escalate and romantic sparks fly! CRT is presenting the East Coast premiere of this exciting new stage adaptation of one of the most delightful and popular romances of all time.

Urinetown Apr. 14 – 17 & 27 – 30, 2011
Book & Lyrics by Greg Kotis Harriet S. Jorgensen Theatre
Music & Lyrics by Mark Hollmann
Directed by Paul Mullins

In this mythical town, scarce water is worth its weight in gold after a 20 year drought. Private toilets are illegal, and the monopoly on public bathrooms held by a malevolent corporation is driving up the costs. From the midst of these downtrodden people a hero emerges to lead a revolution to freedom! This satirical musical was a hit on Broadway, winning three Tony Awards and reinventing the very notion of what a Broadway musical can be. Urinetown takes a witty, irreverent, and uniquely “Musical” look at corporate greed, corruption and human survival. You’ll leave the theatre humming these tunes about people who have to pay to pee!


The Last Days of Judas Iscariot Oct. 28 – Nov. 7, 2010
by Stephen Adly Guirgis Studio Theatre
Directed by Kristin Wold

What was Judas Iscariot thinking? This compelling, popular Off-Broadway drama imagines a mythical trial to determine Judas’ motives, beyond the 30 pieces of silver, for betraying Jesus and if he should spend eternity in hell or not. Despite the profound line of questions for
witnesses including Mother Teresa, Satan, Mary Magdalene, Sigmund Freud, a hand-full of Saints, and Pontius Pilate, the play is filled with humor and unfolds with a decidedly contemporary feel that melds street slang, ecstatic poetry, rude comedy, and sublime allusions. Playwright Stephen Adly Guirgis’ sprawling courtroom dramedy provides fresh insights into the “Greatest Story Ever Told” and will test your limits for forgiveness and laughter.

A Dream Play Mar. 24 – Apr. 3, 2011
A Puppet Arts Production Studio Theatre
Adapted and Directed by Joseph Jonah Therrien
Based on the Play by August Strindberg

CRT audiences have come to love puppet arts productions that feature all original puppet creations. August Strindberg’s ground breaking experiment in surrealism A Dream Play, written in 1901, offers puppet artist Joseph Jonah Therrien fertile creative territory to stage this haunting story where Agnes, daughter of the gods, is sent down to earth to see if life is really as difficult as people make it out to be. Therrien will design and direct with all original puppets created specifically for this surreal world of gods and humans, where, as Strindberg writes in the preface, “Everything can happen, everything is possible and probable. Time and space do not exist.”


Current CRT subscribers have been sent a subscription renewal form. New subscriptions are on sale now. Please call 860-486-4226 for information on subscribing and general ticket information.

Performances are usually Wednesdays through Sundays. Wednesday and Thursday evening performances start at 7:30. Friday and Saturday evening performances start at 8. Saturday and Sunday matinee performances start at 2. There are occasional Tuesday evening performances at 7:30.

Ticket prices range from $9.50 to $35, and subscribers receive a discount of up to 21 percent off regular ticket prices.

Student Passes are available for current UConn students with a valid UConn ID. Call the box office for more information on Student Passes.

For detailed information and tickets call the box office at 860-486-4226 or visit

Kathleen Madigan Performs at Palace

Cool down with a hot show this month at the Palace Theater:

Friday, Aug. 27 at 8 pm
Although Kathleen Madigan is small in stature, she is huge in laughter. This former NBC’s “Last Comic Standing” contestant has proven to be one of today’s top female comedians, making audiences across the country laugh out loud with her hilarious equal-opportunity antagonism. Sponsored by Naugatuck Savings Bank.
Tickets: $38/ $28

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

Finian's Rainbow Staged at Ivoryton

Patryce Williams* and Company
Infectious songs, exuberant dancing, jokes both lovably corny and unexpectedly fresh, and of course the satisfying pairing of boy meets girl (as well as leprechaun meets human!) highlight the Ivoryton Playhouse production of Finian's Rainbow, playing through Sept. 5.
Performance times are Wednesday and Sunday matinees at 2 pm; evening performances Wednesday and Thursday at 7:30, Friday and Saturday at 8pm. Tickets are $38 for adults, $33 for seniors, $20 for students and $15 for children and are available by calling the Playhouse box office at 860-767-7318 or by visiting (Group rates are available by calling the box office for information.) The Playhouse is located at 103 Main St. in Ivoryton.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

On Vacation

I'll be away from my desk through August 25. Will update as wireless internet is available before then.
Happy summer!

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