Monday, March 25, 2013

CT Arts Connections for the Week of March 25

Don't Miss These Happenings:

Edgerton Center
Westport Playhouse
The Shubert
The Kate

For the first time ever on stage of the Edgerton Center for the Performing Arts, three Broadway stars who have shared the same title role in Andrew Lloyd Webber's Phantom of the Opera join forces for an evening of incredible song and music while performing with members of the Bridgeport Symphony Orchestra.

Cris Groenendaal, Mark Jacoby and Craig Schulman have collectively worn the ‘Phantom’ mask a few thousand times over a 10-year period. Each tenor brings an average of 20 years of Broadway experience to the stage as well as major roles in numerous regional theatres, television and opera.

Described as an Evening of MASK-uline Broadway Entertainment, Three Phantoms In Concert will take the stage of the Edgerton Center on Saturday, April 6 at 8 pm as an integral part of 2013 Discovery Gala, with proceeds benefitting the Sacred heart University Scholarship Programs. Tickets and info: 203-371-7908;


Melissa Joan Hart, left, a Westport resident and star of television, film, and theater, will be featured in the romantic comedy “Any Wednesday,” a benefit playreading to support Westport Country Playhouse’s Script in Hand series, on one-night-only, Monday, July 29, 7 p.m. Director is Anne Keefe, Playhouse artistic advisor. Tickets to the benefit playreading are $100, $50, and $25. Tickets include the playreading and post-performance “Meet the Cast” reception: 203-227-4177; 1-888-927-7529;


The Shubert Theater kicks-off the second year of its Theater and Arts Summer Camp at Co-Op High School, July 8 through Aug. 2. The four-week summer camp runs Mondays through Fridays from 9 am to 3 pm with an optional After Care program from 3 to 5 pm. The camp is formatted for middle school children entering grades 6, 7 or 8 and offers two programs to choose from: Theater and Arts Camp or Musical Theater Camp. Applications are available at, or call 203-691-2439 for information. A special Early Bird tuition discount is available for registrations and full payment completed by March 31. Partial financial aid is also available based on need. The final deadline for registration and payment is June 1, 2013


With 10 critically acclaimed albums, Vance Gilbert continues to refine his unlikely union of humor, virtuosity, and the unexpected. Whether with classic, original songwriting or ageless interpretations of covers, his is a presentation steeped in deep humanism and bravery, stunning artistry and soul, and contagious, unbridled joy.Chelsea Berry opens.
Date: Friday, April 5
Time 8 pm
Price: $25
Katharine Hepburn Cultural Arts Center, 300 Main St., Old Saybrook: 877-503-1286;

Sunday, March 24, 2013

New Stephen Schwartz Musical Highlights Norma Terris Season

The 2013 Norma Terris Theatre Season features three musicals in development: The Fabulous Lipitones with a barbershop quartet, Snapshots: A Musical Scrapbook by Stephen Schwartz, an original tuner which features well-known tunes from Wicked, Godspell, Pippin and a third musical to be announced. 

The Fabulous Lipitones (May 9 – June 2), a comedy about what happens when white bread meets tandoori, is by Emmy-winning writer John Markus, head writer for "The Cosby Show" and writer/producer of "The Larry Sanders Show" and award-winning playwright Mark St. Germain, author of Freud's Last Session as well as Camping With Henry And Tom and the musical Stand By Your Man, The Tammy Wynette Story which was a Goodspeed audience favorite at The Norma Terris Theatre.
What happens when a barbershop quartet who’s been belting out close harmonies for twenty years loses a key member to a heart-stopping high “C”? The three surviving members must cease their bickering and race to find a replacement in time for Nationals. Excitement is high when they find someone, BUT he’s nowhere near what they expected.

Snapshots (Oct. 24 – Nov.17) takes place in the attic of Sue and Dan, a couple whose 20 year marriage has begun to drift apart. Together they discover a box of photographs which leads them to relive the memories of their past selves captured in the snapshots. Featuring fresh lyrics and orchestrations, Snapshots reveals the humorous twists of how love united the couple and why life has pushed them apart. Songs include: “Popular” (Wicked), “Corner of the Sky” (Pippin), “Endless Delight” (The Baker’s Wife), “All Good Gifts” (Godspell), “Fathers and Sons” (Working) and many more. 

Snapshots is romantic comedy that blends the best-loved music from composer Stephen Schwartz’s Broadway shows plus some of his lesser-known gems with book by David Stern who has written numerous movies including: "Geppetto" (four Emmy Award nominations), "Open Season 2" (Annie Award nomination for Best Animated Feature), "Open Season 3" and the upcoming "Turkeys" (starring Owen Wilson and Woody Harrelson). He also wrote the musical My Son Pinocchio with longtime collaborator Schwartz. 

Single tickets ar available beginning today : box office, 6 Main Street, East Haddam; 860-873-8668;  The additional production to be announced is scheduled to run from July 25 – Aug.18.

Hartford Symphony Orchestra Posts 70th Anniversary Season

A Hartford Symphony Orchestra performance in October 2012. Photo: Alan Grant
Hartford Symphony Orchestra Music Director Carolyn Kuan has announced programming for the  70th Anniversary Season, including the 2013-2014 Masterworks Series and the 2013-2014 Pops Series that will be presented at The Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts in Hartford, CT.

Kuan's contract with the Hartford Symphony Orchestra has been extended through to May 31, 2016, two years beyond her initial contract’s end date.

70th Season Highlights:

Opening Night 70th Anniversary Celebration October 11, 2013:
The HSO is rolling out the red carpet for Opening Night! Two of the most famous works in the organ repertoire, Saint-Saëns’ massive Symphony No. 3 and Bach’s glorious Toccata and Fugue, will be played on The Bushnell’s historic, Hartford-made Austin pipe organ. Matched with the delicacy of the pipa – a Chinese lute – played by virtuoso Wu Man, recently named Musical America’s 2013 Instrumentalist of the Year. The concert will also feature a side by side performance with the Connecticut Youth Symphony.

HSO and Hartford Stage to Collaborate on A Midsummer Night’s Dream:
The Hartford Symphony Orchestra and the Hartford Stage Company will join during their respective 70th and 50th anniversary seasons to present a new concert staging of Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream, combining a theatrical performance of Shakespeare's timeless story with Mendelssohn's incidental music. Hartford Stage Artistic Director Darko Tresnjak and HSO Music Director Carolyn Kuan will combine their artistic visions for this once-in-a-lifetime collaboration.

Pops Series to Open with Disney’s Fantasia; Holiday Cirque Spectacular Back by Popular Demand:
This season’s Pops concerts each have something to delight music lovers of all ages. From the movie masterpiece Disney’s Fantasia, to music inspired by delectable food to holiday favorites accompanied by high-flying Cirque acrobats, and music from some of the most popular composers of the last 40 years, from Stephen Sondheim to Billy Joel to Les Misérables.

Season to Feature Guest Appearances from former Music Directors Michael Lankester and Edward Cumming:
Former HSO music directors Michael Lankester and Edward Cumming return to the podium in celebration of the HSO’s legacy in this community. Each maestro imprinted his unique style and propelled the orchestra to artistic excellence, as the audience will experience this season.

2013-2014 Guest Artist Highlights to Include:
Michael Cavanaugh, vocals and piano; Cirque de la Symphonie; Connecticut Youth Symphony; David Finckel, cello (Emerson String Quartet); The Hartford Chorale; Sirena Huang, violin; Wu Man, pipa; Greig Shearer, HSO Principal flute; Leonid Sigal, HSO Concertmaster; Joel Smirnoff, guest conductor; Tim Stella, guest conductor; The University of Connecticut Drumline; Mariangela Vacatello, piano; Peter Winograd, violin (son of former HSO music director Arthur Winograd)

See the complete list of concert programs that follows:

2013 – 2014 Masterworks Series
Carolyn Kuan, Music Director
The Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts

October 11 & 12, 2013
Friday & Saturday, 8pm
Mortensen Hall
Carolyn Kuan conductor
Wu Man pipa
Edward Clark organ
Saint-Saëns Symphony No. 3, “Organ”
Bach Toccata and Fugue in D minor
with Connecticut Youth Symphony, Daniel D’Addio, music director
Harrison Concerto for Pipa and String Orchestra
We’re rolling out the red carpet for Opening Night! Two of the most famous works in the organ repertoire, Saint-Saëns’ massive Symphony No. 3 and Bach’s glorious Toccata and Fugue, will be played on The Bushnell’s historic, Hartford-made Austin pipe organ. Matched with the delicacy of the pipa – a Chinese lute – played by virtuoso Wu Man, recently named Musical America’s 2013 Instrumentalist of the Year. Concert Benefactor: Hartford Hospital

November 7 – 10, 2013
Thursday 7:30pm | Friday & Saturday 8pm | Sunday 3pm
Belding Theater
Carolyn Kuan conductor
Peter Winograd violin
Beethoven Symphony No. 7
Piazzolla Four Seasons of Buenos Aires
Bernstein Fancy Free
Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony is paired with Piazzolla’s tango-inspired Four Seasons of Buenos Aires, featuring violinist Peter Winograd, son of HSO’s esteemed former music director Arthur Winograd. Plus, hear the ballet score Fancy Free – the first work in the HSO’s season-long tribute to composer Leonard Bernstein.

December 12 – 15, 2013
Thursday 7:30pm | Friday & Saturday 8pm | Sunday 3pm
Belding Theater
Joel Smirnoff guest conductor
Sirena Huang violin
Vaughan Williams Fantasia on Greensleeves
Sibelius Concerto for Violin in D minor
Tchaikovsky Symphony No. 3, “Polish”
Connecticut’s own violin sensation Sirena Huang returns with guest conductor Joel Smirnoff. This festive program includes Vaughan Williams’ gorgeous setting of Greensleeves and Sibelius’ virtuosic Violin Concerto. The Koski Memorial Concert.

January 9 – 12, 2014
Thursday 7:30pm | Friday & Saturday 8pm | Sunday 3pm
Belding Theater
Carolyn Kuan conductor
Darko Tresnjak stage director
Mendelssohn A Midsummer Night’s Dream
The Hartford Symphony Orchestra and the Hartford Stage Company will join during our respective 70th and 50th anniversary seasons to present a new concert staging of Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream, combining a theatrical performance of Shakespeare's timeless story with Mendelssohn's incidental music. Concert Sponsor: Legrand.

February 13 – 16, 2014
Thursday 7:30pm | Friday & Saturday 8pm | Sunday 3pm
Belding Theater
Carolyn Kuan conductor
Mariangela Vacatello piano
R. Strauss Der Rosenkavalier Suite
Rachmaninoff Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini
Bernstein Symphonic Dances from West Side Story
This romantic Valentine features several moving love stories told through music, including Richard Strauss’ comic opera, Rachmaninoff’s balletic interpretation, and Bernstein’s theatrical retelling of Romeo and Juliet. The Tina Mahar McNally and Alexander Campbell McNally Memorial Concert. Guest artist sponsored by Ron and Nancy Compton.

March 20 – 23, 2014
Thursday 7:30pm | Friday & Saturday 8pm | Sunday 3pm
Belding Theater
Michael Lankester guest conductor, HSO music director from 1985-2000
Elgar Enigma Variations
Bruckner Symphony No. 3
Michael Lankester makes a triumphant return to the Hartford Symphony Orchestra to lead two pieces of expressive personality. Lankester's fellow Englishman Edward Elgar dedicated his Enigma Variations to "my friends pictured within" – and made each variation an affectionate portrayal. This is followed by Bruckner's grand, dramatic, and brassy Third Symphony.

April 10 – 13, 2014
Thursday 7:30pm | Friday & Saturday 8pm | Sunday 3pm
Belding Theater
Carolyn Kuan conductor
Patricia Schuman soprano
Tamara Mumford mezzo-soprano
Andrew Stenson tenor
Tyler Simpson bass-baritone
The Hartford Chorale
Richard Coffey music director
Bernstein Symphony No. 1, “Jeremiah”
Mozart Requiem, K. 626
Hear music inspired by faith in its full glory! The HSO is joined by the Hartford Chorale and soloists to perform Bernstein’s setting of the moving biblical story of the prophet Jeremiah, along with Mozart’s final work, a Requiem Mass known for its melodic beauty and fiery evocations of the composer's own mortality.

May 8 – 11, 2014
Thursday 7:30pm | Friday & Saturday 8pm | Sunday 3pm
Belding Theater
Edward Cumming guest conductor, HSO music director from 2001-2011
Leonid Sigal violin
David Finckel cello
Dvořák Slavonic Dances, Op. 46, No. 2
Brahms Concerto for Violin and Violoncello, “Double Concerto”
Dvořák Symphony No. 6
Edward Cumming conducts music that defined his signature style. Slavonic Dances, commissioned for piano four hands, catapulted Dvořák to fame – while Symphony No. 6 showcased his experimental technique. Brahms combined violin and cello for the solo portions of his final orchestral work to create a “super” instrument of sonority and range.

June 5 – 8, 2014
Thursday 7:30pm | Friday & Saturday 8pm | Sunday 3pm
Belding Theater
Carolyn Kuan conductor
Greig Shearer HSO Principal flute
Tchaikovsky Capriccio Italien
Mozart Concerto for Flute No. 1 in G Major, K. 313
Bates Alternative Energy for Orchestra and Electronica
Ravel Bolero
with The University of Connecticut Drumline, David Mills, director
The 70th season finale is a not-to-be missed, blockbuster celebration! Join the HSO as we perform musical selections both new and timeless, grand and intimate to highlight the versatility and power of the HSO’s musicians to unite our community through live performance. Concert Sponsor: The Saunders Fund for Innovative Programming.
Ticket Information: Subscriptions to the Hartford Symphony Orchestra’s 2013-2014 Masterworks and Pops Series are available by calling HSO Ticket Services at (860)244-2999. More information about subscribing is available at Tickets for individual concerts will go on sale in August 2013.

Well, Hello! Klea Blackhurst Will Be Goodspeed's Dolly

She'll be glowin', crowin', goin' strong - cabaret diva Klea Blackhurst, a CT Critics Circle winner for her Best Actress for her performance as Ethel Merman in CT Music Theare of Connecticut's production of Everything the Traffic Will Allow, will play Dolly Levi at the Goodspeed Opera House this summer. 

She has performed in venues across the U.S. and in London and with symphony orchestras nationwide and abroad including the London Palladium presentation of Jerry Herman’s Broadway with Angela Lansbury and the recent Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra tribute to Marvin Hamlisch.

Hartford Stage Announces 50th Anniversary Season

Hartford Stage's 2013-2014 season will kick off with a major initiative: Classical Repertory for a New Generation, a nod to Hartford Stage's start as a repertory theatre in 1963. The same cast will play in repertory in performances of Marivaux's provocative comedy La Dispute andShakespeare's bloody and searing tragedy Macbeth. La Dispute is adapted by Tresnjak and Elizabeth Williamson, senior dramaturg/director of new play development, from a translation by Williamson. Tresnjak will direct both shows - La Dispute, Sept.12-Nov.10, and Macbeth, Sept.14-Nov.10, 2013. Kate Forbes (The Crucible and The Cover of Life at Hartford Stage) will play Lady Macbeth.

Anniversary festivities continue with The Underpants, a laugh-out-loud comedy by Steve Martin, adapted from the play by Carl Sternheim. Gordon Edelstein will direct, in a co-production with Long Wharf Theatre, Jan 9-Feb. 2, 2014, where Edelstein is artistic director.

This will be followed by the rarely produced A Song at Twilight, Noël Coward's elegant and bittersweet comedy, and will mark the return of former Artistic Director Mark Lamos for the first time since 2002 (Much Ado About Nothing). A Song at Twilight, Feb.20-March 16, 2014, will be a co-production with Westport Country Playhouse, where Lamos currently serves as artistic director.

Matthew Lopez (The Whipping Man), current Aetna New Voices Fellow at Hartford Stage, will bring his new work Somewhere to Hartford Stage for its East Coast Premiere April 3-27, 2014. This dance-filled family saga will be directed by Giovanna Sardelli and feature Lopez's aunt, Priscilla Lopez, an original cast member of Broadway's A Chorus Line and a Tony Award-winner for A Day in Hollywood/A Night in the Ukraine.

The season will close with another world premiere musical-comedy, Love and Other Fables, book by Jay Jeffries and John McMahon, lyrics by Jeffries. John Rando (Broadway's A Christmas Story, Tony Award-winner for Urinetown), will direct this reimagining of Aesop's life, from May 22-June 15, 2014.

Also on tap is the regular holiday [resentation of A Christmas Carol-A Ghost Story of Christmas by Charles Dickens, adapted and originally directed by former Artistic Director Michael Wilson. Wilson will return this season to collaborate with Director Maxwell Williams on the updated version, which runs Nov. 29-Dec. 28, 2013.

Meanwhile, in this season, full casting has been announced for Beth Henley's Abundance (April 4-28). will include Monique Vukovic (Buddy Cop 2, Atlantic Theater Company and Housebreaking, Cherry Lane Theatre) as Bess, Brenda Withers (Cyrano, Folger Theatre and The Tempest, The Pearl Theatre Company) as Macon, Kevin Kelly (Henry V, Two River Theater Company and Richard III, The Public Theater) as William, James Knight (Measure for Measure, The Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey and Alive and Well, The Old Globe) as Jack and John Leonard Thompson (The Pitmen Painters in Palm Beach and Crime and Punishment, Center Stage) as Elmore.

Theater Review: Hamlet -- Yale Rep

Paul Giamatti in Hamlet. Photo © Joan Marcus.
Giamatti Creates a Hamlet for All Generations: To Be or Not to Be Entertained is Not the Question
By Lauren Yarger
For anyone who thinks boring or “to sleep, perchance to dream” when walking into three-and-a-half-hour-long production of Hamlet, think again. With Oscar nominee and Yale Rep alum Paul Giamatti in the title role, this play’s the thing.

Tickets have been flying out of Yale Rep’s Box Office in New Haven to see the production directed by James Bundy (the Rep’s artistic director). It also stars Marc Kudisch, Gerry Bamman and some other names from Broadway and Yale Rep productions in one of the most entertaining trips you’ll ever take to Elsinore...

Giamatti, a little older and less handsome-of-face than most Hamlets these days, brings out the tortured Dane prince’s humorous side and in doing so, engages a younger generation that might not normally think several hours in a theater listening to Shakespeare could be a fun way to spend an evening. It sure is, however, thanks to Bundy’s skill in allowing his actors to find fresh new interpretations while keeping them true to the classic.

Yes Hamlet is brooding, depressed by the hasty marriage of his Uncle, now King Claudius (Kudisch) and mother, Queen Gertrude (Lisa Emery) so soon after his father’s death. Yes, he’s consumed with madness and revenge after the ghost of his father (also Kudisch) tells Hamlet that he was murdered by his brother. But this Hamlet also is funny. Giamatti gets laughs with everything from exaggerated body language to subtle glances and manages to do it without compromising the dramatic and tragic nature of the play despite the fact that he’s wearing red sneakers with a contemporary looking business suit (Jayoung Yoon, costume design).

He’s not alone. Bamman gives a standout performance as Lord Polonius, father of Hamlet’s love, Ophelia (Brooke Parks), and friend Laertes (Tommy Schrider). He also finds humor while portraying a very much contemporary-sounding father exasperated by the doings of the younger generation.

Even Rosencrantz and Guildenstern (Erik Lochtefeld and Michael Manuel) are more interesting than usual. Bundy lets every character develop to new levels and alows them to shine without eclipsing other characters or the flow of the scene. In fact, this production offers some of the clearest delivery of Shakespeare’s dialogue that I have heard in a while. Those who normally get lost in the “perchances,” “softs” and “forsooths” in the iambic pentameter of the Bard’s language won’t have to rely so much on the helpful play synopsis provided in the program, methinks. (The production’s four WILL POWER! morning performances for high school students groups already are sold out. Teachers can contact Ruth M. Feldman at or 203-432-8425 about attending a regular performance.)

The production’s appeal across the generations is due to the entertaining approach to a much loved classic enhanced by creative elements that help tell the story. Sarah Picket composes music played by five musicians housed on the second level of Meredith B. Ries’ towering wooden set that evokes images of a castle and contemporary construction. Panels drop in to create smaller locations for scenes. 

Yoon’s costumes are mostly contemporary, but blend elements that give them the look of the past. Sound and lighting design (Keri Klick, Stephen Strawbridge) bring them to life and provide special effects for the ghost. The production lives up to its role as part of Shakespeare for a New Generation, a national program of the National Endowment for the Arts in partnership with Arts Midwest.

If you want “to be” entertained, this Hamlet will take a dagger to all other productions you’ve seen. It’s “not to be” missed. It plays at the Unversity Theatre, 222 York St, New Haven through April 13. Tickets ($20-$96) are hard to come by, but you can try at; (203) 432-1234; Box Office (1120 Chapel St., New Haven).

Monday, March 18, 2013

Be Afraid! Stephen King Appearance Will Benefit the Mark Twain

Stephen King
The Mark Twain House & Museum will bring the master of horror, Stephen King,  to Hartford this summer.

King will be in conversation with WNPR radio personality Colin McEnroe 8 pm Thursday, July 18  at the Bushnell. Proceeds from the event benefit the continuing educational and preservation activities of The Mark Twain House & Museum.

Tickets are open to members of the museum beginning today. They go on sale to the general public Thursday, March 21. At that time reservations may be made at or 860-987-5900. (Membership is available by calling 860-280-3112, or by going to Members will be given a special on-sale code for ticket purchasing.) 

Ticket prices range from $25 to $75 (additional service fees apply) with a special VIP ticket for $250, which includes a reception with Stephen King and an autographed book.

Palace Motorcycle Run Benefits Ticket & Travel Fund

Mike D’Occhio of Doc’s Motorcycle poses with Palace Theater Development Officer Natalie Lawlor following the installation of his custom-built,‘60s style old school Bobber in the theater’s East Main Street, Waterbury window. The motorcycle is part of a display promoting the Palace’s Second Annual Motorcycle Ride on April 27, which will benefit the theater’s Ticket and Travel Fund.  The Ride is a 47-mile, police escorted drive through the Litchfield Hills that ends with a street fair on East Main Street featuring a variety of vendors, food and entertainment, including a guest appearance by Chaz from WPLR's “Chaz and AJ in the Morning,” and a performance by local Eagles tribute band, E-2. 

Registration for the motorcycle ride is $25 per rider and $15 per passenger, and a portion of the proceeds will benefit the theater’s Ticket and Travel Fund, a program that provides underprivileged children with access to live theater. For more information, visit or call the Box Office at 203-346-2000.

Anita Diamant Will Keynote Writers' Weekend at Mark Twain

Anita Diamant
Writers in many genres and all levels of experience can immerse themselves in the craft at The Mark Twain House and Museum Friday evening, April 26, through Sunday afternoon, April 28, as the museum holds its Second Annual Writers' Weekend.

Anita Diamant, bestselling author of the novels "The Red Tent," "Good Harbor" and "The Last Days of Dogtown," as well as the collection of essays "Pitching My Tent" will be the keymote speaker Friday evening, in coversation with program Director Julia Pistell. 

The next day those taking part can participate in a range of sessions -- from honing a novel they're working on to hearing about the joys and pitfalls of blogging to attending a Playwrights' Panel with David Grimm (The Learned Ladies of Park Avenue) , David Lindsay-Adaire (Rabbit Hole, Good People) and Theresa Rebeck (Seminar).

The Writers' Weekend will conclude on Sunday with more sessions and a talk by Davy Rothbart, author, filmmaker, contributor to NPR's "This American Life," and editor/publisher of Found magazine.

Among authors slated to lead hourlong sessions are Novelist Jon Clinch ("Finn," "The Thief of Auschwitz"); no fewer than two mystery authors (David Handler and Christopher Knopf); Writing at the Mark Twain House faculty including memoirist and biographer Susan Campbell ("Dating Jesus"), novelist Susan Schoenberger (A Watershed Year) and novelist and memoirist Mary-Ann Tirone Smith ("Girls of Tender Age"); and a dozen more. There will be sessions on fiction, non-fiction , memoir, romance writing, poetry, travel writing, blogging, the business of getting published, and new forms of storytelling unleashed by the Internet. 

The event will run 7 to 9 pm Friday, April 26; 8 am to 5 pm Saturday, April 27; and8 am to 1 pm Sunday, April 28. 

The cost of the Second Annual Writers' Weekend is $150. This includes the Friday night reception and lecture, all Saturday and Sunday sessions, coffee and refreshments, and a Saturday box lunch. Participants will also receive a voucher good for a tour of the Mark Twain House at any time. Space is limited to 150 participants, so advance registration and payment is a must: Call 860-280-3130 to register.

Theater Review: Life Could Be a Dream -- Ivoryton

Aaron Catano, Matt Densky, Rob Rodems, Sheila Coyle and Evan Siegel. Photo courtesy of Ivoryton Playhouse.
Dreams of Rock ‘n’ Roll Fame Spin on the Flipside of Love
By Lauren Yarger
In a basement rec room in the 1950s, four guys dream of being the next big thing in rock ‘n’ roll and of winning the girl who has stolen their hearts in Life Could Be A Dream, a jukebox musical that has them clapping and singing along at the Ivoryton Playhouse.

Denny (Aaron Catano) is living at home with his mom, who constantly reminds him over the house intercom system (Sheila Coye provides her voice) to “Get a Job” (the basement is created in wonderful detail by designer Daniel Nischan). He and nerdy friend Eugene (Matt Densky) put together a singing duo in hopes of winning a recording contract from the label owned by Bulls Eye Miller (the voice of Bob Muscatel). Church choir-singer and preacher’s son Wally (Rob Rodems) gets into the act and Denny and the Dreamers are born (costumes by Kari Crowther).

Potential sponsor Big Eddy sends Skip (Evan Siegel), head mechanic in his shop, over to check out the group. He brings along Big Eddy’s daughter, Lois (Coyle), to give a woman’s opinion. She thinks Skip should sing with the guys and soon he’s the group’s soloist.

It’s clear that Denny and his crooners are an out-of-step nightmare with the men competing for attention, but all that becomes secondary when they see Lois. She is the girl of their dreams. Eugene still hasn’t recovered from her rejection of his invitation to join him at the school carnival in 5th grade (“Devil or Angel”); Wally thinks she’s a vision from heaven (“Earth Angel”) and Denny thinks she’ll go for him (“Only You”). Even Skip is in love with Lois, but keeps his feelings hidden since Big Eddy would never approve of his daughter dating a lowly mechanic from the wrong side of the tracks with possible criminal ties. What none of the men know, however, is that Lois is in love with Skip (“I Only Have Eyes for You.”)

This scenario is nicely played with each character singing the love songs to express their feelings. The musical, written and created by Roger Bean (The Marvelous Wonderettes) is a step above most jukebox musicals in that the lyrics in each of the more than 20 musical numbers help propel the story (the typical jukebox story is crafted as a vehicle just to get to the next song). This helps Bean’s rather unimaginative book (Wally’s character is one of the most stereotypical, cliché-riddled, nerdy Christians ever to be written for the stage – and that’s saying something). The hour and 30 minutes with an intermission feels a bit long. This easily could have been penned as a 90-minute no intermission show.

The music is directed by Jason Wetzel, who conducts a five-member band. The ensemble, directed by Jacqueline Hubbard, doesn’t quite solidify. Coyle and Siegel sound fine, but don’t have power behind their solos (flipping Catano, who lights up the stage even though he’s not supposed to as Denny, with the less boisterous Siegel might have proved a more interesting dynamic). Densky does “silly” well, but overreaches at times for Eugene’s nerdy side.

Rodems pulls off a miracle, however, by making Wally likable. His creates some very funny bits with uptight body language in “Buzz, Buzz, Buzz” (Schuyler Beeman, choreography) and while reverently serving cartons of wholesome milk from the rec room’s bar. Siegel also had a genuinely humorous interaction with a woman in the audience and these touches keep the piece from feeling too hokey.

Life Could Be a Dream plays through March 30 at Ivoryton Playhouse, 103 Main St., Ivoryton. Performances are Wednesday and Sunday matinees at 2 pm; evenings Wednesday and Thursday at 7:30 and Friday and Saturday at 8. Tickets: $40 for adults, $35 for seniors, $20 for students and $15 for children. 860-767-7318;

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Quick Hit Theater Review: RAIN -- The Palace

RAIN. Photo by Cyllavon Tiedemann
Experience the Beatles with RAIN
The Palace Theatre, Waterbury

What's It All About?
The Fab Four, or at least four look and sound-alikes, recreate The Beatles experience through the decades. Starting with their appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show and hits like "I Want to Hold Your Hand" and "Hard Day's Night," the shows vocalist/instrumentalists* Mark Lewis (keyboards, percussion), Joey Curatolo (vocals, bass, guitar, piano), Joe Bithorn (vocals, lead guitar, guitar synthesizer), Ralph Castelli (vocals, drums, percussion) and Steve Landes (vocals, guitar, piano, harmonica) take us on a journey through heavier rock numbers and Viet Nam war numbers like "Let it Be" and "All You Need is Love." Video clips of the Beatles, their fans, TV commercials and other images are shown on two large monitors either side of the stage. They, costumes and a center backdrop indicate changes through the decades.

What are the highlights?
If you're a Beatles fan, you'll enjoy the music-jammed two and a half hours (with an intermission). The music and vocals are good. It's the next best thing to seeing Paul, George, John and Ringo in person. Four generations were represented in the audience who sang and clapped along with the music.

What are the lowlights?
Rude audience members who talk loudly throughout or videotape the action (ushers turned a blind eye to people holding phones or cameras up to record the event).

More Information:
RAIN's musicians have mastered a repertoire of more than 200 Beatles songs. * Individual performers may vary by performance.

Tickets $65, $55, and $45: 203-346-2000,, box office, 100 East Main St., Waterbury.

RAIN plays the Palace, 100 East Main St., Waterbury for two more performances: today (March 16) at 2 and 8 pm.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

A Night to Remember with Nicholas Sparks

Nicholas Sparks’ Message in a Lecture Creates a Night to Remember
By Lauren Yarger
A sold-out crowd filled the Edgerton Center for the Performing Arts in Fairfield Monday night to hear insight and anecdotes from best-selling author Nicholas Sparks.

“Some of you will laugh,” he told the crowd. “Most of you most likely will cry. It’s me, after all.”

Sparks, the author of 17 tearjerkers including “The Notebook,” “A Walk to Remember” and “Message in a Bottle” shared his experiences along the road to becoming one of the world’s most beloved authors as well as some of the rather surprising origins for the stories that have charmed millions and boosted tissue sales worldwide (some 80 million copies of his books are in print worldwide).

Olympic Gold, rather than New York Times Bestsellers Lists had been the goal of young Sparks, however, a track and field star who received a full scholarship to Notre Dame University (where he still holds a record). When he suffered an injury his freshman year that sidelined him for the summer, he wrote to release his pent-up energy.

He clicked out a 320 –page novel on an old typewriter. The writing was “the most putrid stuff I’ve ever put on a page,” he said, but the experience taught him two things: he could finish a novel and he had enjoyed doing it.

Writing was put on hold, however, while he completed a degree in business finance, with a goal of going to law school. He wasn’t accepted, however, and found himself writing a murder mystery while he tried to figure out what to do with his life. He worked at a variety of jobs, got married and finally became a salesman for a pharmaceutical company. At age 28, he had an epiphany.

Sparks realized that it had been 12 years since his Olympic dream. How many 12-year periods do we get in this life, he thought? He resolved not to let another 12-year period in his life pass without trying to make a dream come true. Writing, he decided, would get his full effort.

Failure was an option, he said. “I just had to know that I had tried.”

He wasn’t sure exactly what to write until he started thinking about an experience from his own life. His wife had been very close to her grandparents and was upset to learn that they wouldn’t be able to attend her wedding to Nick. The day following the ceremony, the couple donned their wedding outfits, gathered wedding flowers and cake and took the wedding to her grandparents.

“Aaaaaaaaw,” said the audience.

They spent a wonderful afternoon during which the grandfather shared the details of how he had met his wife, now suffering from Alzheimer’s. It seems they met when young and were separated during the war. There were lots of letters, and even though his wife was engaged to marry someone else, she chose him in the end. Now, he read the letters to her to help her remember. Sound familiar? (If it doesn’t, you haven’t read “The Notebook,” Sparks’ first novel that was rejected by 24 agents before the 25th found a fairytale $1million publishing deal with Warner Books that landed it on the NY Times Bestseller’s list for 56 weeks and propelled the author into notoriety.)

His second book, “Message in a Bottle,” also was inspired by a family member: his father, who was devastated by the sudden loss of Spark’s mother at the age of 46. After seven years of mourning, Sparks Senior found love again and called to tell his son he was engaged. Two days later, he died in an accident. Again, art created life and another bestseller was born.

His favorite book (though not the best, he concedes) followed suit, only in an even more tear-inducing way.

“My baby sister was Jamie Sullivan.”

An audible gasp shook the audience. The bubbly heroine who has a dream of one day getting married, but who finds she is dying of cancer was real? The story of “A Walk to Remember” is true, in amazing detail, including the guy who falls in love with Jamie and offers to make her his bride even though she doesn’t have long to live. The walk is down the aisle was real – and so were some sniffles in the audience.

Sparks also shared some insights into the process of turning his novels into movies (the latest will be “The Longest Ride,” with the novel hitting bookstore shelves in September, followed by a Valentine’s Day 2015 release of the movie (Sparks’ love stories are timed to hit the big screen on the most romantic day of the year like this year’s “Safe Haven.”.)

“It’s soooo good,” Sparks kidded about the upcoming book. “You’ll need two copies because one will be so tear-stained, you’ll need a clean copy.”

The audience created a rumble not unlike an earthquake to get in line for a book signing following the lecture (in fact, audience members were choosing their seats carefully at the beginning of the evening to ensure they could quickly make it to the front of that line.)

He isn’t always treated as a celebrity, Sparks said. Recently, while on a plane, the woman next to him was reading one of his novels. As she got toward the end, she choked up, closed the book, paused, looked at Sparks, then returned to the pages. Finally, when she finished, she tearfully told him how much she had enjoyed the book and being a nice guy, he offered to sign it for her.

“Why would you sign my book?” she asked, really having no idea who he was.

Here are some insights from a Q&A session that closed the program, which was presented as part of Sacred Heart University's Student Affairs Lecture Series:

· What’s the secret to a long and happy marriage? Choose well. Find someone who makes you laugh, whom you get along with and with whom you are in sync about “the big things of life.” Differences can add up over time.

· How do you balance career and family? Travel. They can’t miss you if you never go away…. Balancing is challenging regardless of career.

· Does it bother him that the movies sometimes are different from his books? No. Novels are stories in words. Films are stories in pictures. What works in one doesn’t always work in the other.

· Yes, the actors who play the leads in his movies really are that good looking in person.

Fun facts:

In the fall of 2011, The Nicholas Sparks Foundation was founded to support the causes and charities that are personally important to the author. While Nicholas and his wife have donated nearly $10,000,000 to local, regional and national causes - including education, veteran support, Alzheimer’s care and research, childhood disease research and care, and animal rescue organizations - education remains a top priority.

He and his wife also created The Epiphany School for Global Studies in New Bern, NC. It is an independent, coeducational, college preparatory school that is rooted in the Christian faith, and challenges students to uncover and expand their unique God-given gifts. It “sends forth men and women who will wisely devote themselves to lifelong learning, faithful discipleship, courageous leadership and compassionate service throughout their life journeys.”

For more information, visit Sparks’ website at

Monday, March 11, 2013

Shubert Theater Goes Blue

Photo (c) Blue ManGroup

Blue Man Group makes its first stop at the Shubert Theater, New Haven, March 14–17 for six performances, Thursday 7:30 pm, Friday 8 pm, Saturday 2 and 8 pm and Sunday 1 and 6:30 pm. 

The critically acclaimed Blue Man Group is best known for their wildly popular multi-media performances that combine comedy, music, and technology to produce a totally unique form of entertainment. Blue Man Group features three bald and blue characters who take the audience on a journey that is funny, intelligent and visually stunning. A live band, whose haunting tribal rhythms help drive the show to its climax, accompanies the Blue Men. 

Runs March 14–17 at the Shubert Theater, 247 College St., New Haven. Tickets $15 - $85:; 800-228-6622; Box Office Mondays thru Fridays 9:30 am to 5:30 pm, Saturdays 10 am to 3 pm. For Group Sales: 203-562-5666 or 888-736-2663.

Come Together for the Next Best Thing to the Beatles at the Palace

Sgt. Pepper. Photo by Cyllavon Tiedemann
Direct from the successful Broadway engagement, the internationally-acclaimed Beatles concert experience, RAIN, returns to the Palace Theater in Waterbury, for three performances, March 15 – 16.

RAIN performs the full range of The Beatles' discography live onstage, including some of the most complex and challenging songs that the Fab Four recorded in the studio but never performed in front of an audience. Together longer than The Beatles, RAIN has mastered every song, gesture and nuance of the legendary foursome, delivering a totally live, note-for-note, multi-media experience that is as infectious as it is transporting. From the early hits “I Want To Hold Your Hand,” “Hard Day’s Night,” and “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,” to later classics like “Let It Be,” “Come Together,” and “ Hey Jude,” this tribute takes audiences back to a time when all they needed was love and a little help from their friends. 

For more than two decades, RAIN has distinguished itself from the multitude of Beatles tribute bands by focusing on the details and staying true to The Beatles legacy. The band’s five longtime members – Mark Lewis (keyboards, percussion), Joey Curatolo (vocals, bass, guitar, piano), Joe Bithorn (vocals, lead guitar, guitar synthesizer), Ralph Castelli (vocals, drums, percussion) and Steve Landes (vocals, guitar, piano, harmonica) approach The Beatles’ music with the same respect a classical musician treats classical music, studying each song, note, movement and nuance both musically and vocally. Today, the talented musicians have mastered a repertoire of over 200 Beatles songs.

Tickets $65, $55, and $45: 203-346-2000,, box office, 100 East Main St., Waterbury. 

Connecticut Arts Connections for the Week of March 11

Check Out These Happenings:

The Legacy Theatre
Emerson Theatre Collaborative
Playhouse on the Park
The Bijou
and more. . .

Rendering of the Restoration of the theater by Vladimir Shpitalnik
The Legacy Theatre in Guilford has raised funds to purchase of Stony Creek Puppet House, one of the first silent movie houses in the region. A Legacy for Tomorrow, a gala to benefit the restoration of the110-year-old landmark will be held 6:30 pm Saturday, April 6 at the Pine Orchard Yacht and Country Club. Dinner, auction, and entertainment from former Miss Connecticut Stephanie Stiefel Williams will be featured at the red-carpet event. Tickets are $125, and all proceeds from the evening will be matched, up to $50,000. For more information and to purchase tickets, click here or visit

Emerson Theatre Collaborative (ETC) launches its “I Am Worthy” Suicide Prevention Project with the production of The Gospel According to Josh accompanied by suicide prevention advocacy, education and discussion from Friday - Sunday, April 5 - 7 at Union Baptist Church, 119 High Street, Mystic. General Admission: $10, Seniors and Students $8. Refreshments will be served at 6 pm on Friday and Saturday. More information and tickets:, 860- 705-9711.

Courtesy of Playhouse on the Park. Photo: Richard Wagner
Drama Desk Award Winner Russell Treyz directs Woody Allen's Play it Again Sam through March 24 at West Hartford's Playhouse on the Park. The cast including Marnye Young as Linda and Dan Matisa as Dick Christie, both making their Playhouse on Park debuts. Zane Johnston is Allan along with Bethany Fitzgerald as a number of Allan’s love interests and Ted D’Agostino as Humphrey Bogart. Tickets range from $22.50 - $32.50: 860-523-5900 ext. 10, Tuesday to Friday (10 am - 6 pm); Saturday (10am - 2pm) and two hours before curtain;

The Ivoryton Playhouse will be holding local auditions (Equity and non-Equity) for I'm Connecticut, the opening show of the summer season on Thursday, March 21 from noon – 8 pm at the Playhouse Rehearsal Studio, 24 Main Street in Centerbrook. Looking for male and female actors with a good sense of comedy – ages 21 and over. Prepare a comic monologue or scenes will be available on the Playhouse website by March 15 – For audition appointments, call 860-767-9520.

At the Bijou Theatre, 275 Fairfied Ave., Bridgeport: Steve D’Agostino will be singing from The Great American Songbook—hits from Frank Sinatra, Bobby Darin, Tony Bennett, Dean Martin and more. He has performed in Las Vegas, at Mohegan Sun and Foxwoods Casino. Joe DeVito is a regular at NY’s Gotham Comedy Club and a semi-finalist on NBC’s “Last Comic Standing 5”. In addition to being smart, silly and likeable, Joe has written fro MTV, FUSE, Stuff Magazine and Oscar-Nominated film “Super Size Me”. April 6 at 7 pm. Tickets.

The 2013 Connecticut Visitors Guides from the state Office of Tourism are in. Click here to sign up for a fee guide.

It's Time to Play With Your Food

Patricia Kalember and Daniel Gerroll. Photo: Phyllis Groner
Play With Your Food
Fairfield Theatre Company, 70 Sanford St.
Buffet Lunch, Readings of Short Plays, Discussion with Actors

Tuesday, March 12

It’s About Forgiveness, by Albi Gorn – A husband and wife square off in an unusual place.
Three Wishes, by Robert Caisley – A short play about what can happen when you get – what you want.
J-E-T-S, by Frederick Stroppel – A play about fanatics, family and football…
Lunch by Spic&Span Market, Southport

Tuesday, April 9

Andre’s Mother, by Terrence McNally – Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award winning writer. Short, sweet response to the AIDs crisis.
Bar Mitzvah Boy, by Samara Siskind – First love… first fight… first dance.
Driving Miss Daisy, by Alfred Uhry (an Excerpt) – Miss Daisy and her driver go on their first outing.
The Battle of Bull Run Always Makes Me Cry, by Carol Real – Dating: the good, the bad, and the surprising.
Moby Dude or The Three Minute Whale, by David Ives – A very short play about a young dude trying to impress his English teacher.
Confessions of a Golfaholic, by John O’Hern – The title says it all.
Lunch by Safita Restaurant
Info and tickets: (Monday - Friday, 10 am - 4 pm).

Punk Rock Plays Studio at CT Rep

William Carlisle (played by Connor Donnally) with Lilly Cahill (played by Alyson Danielczuk) in a scene from Connecticut Repertory Theatre’s upcoming Studio Works Series production of Punk Rock, by Simon Stephens, playing in the Studio Theatre March 28 – April 7, 2013. For tickets and information call 862-486-2113 and visit Photo by Sean Nicholl.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Jayne Houdyshell, Liv Rooth Cast in Upcoming Westport Playhouse Productions

Jayne Houdyshell
Liv Rooth
Westport Country Playhouse casting for the upcoming season includes Jayne Houdyshell in The Show-Off, and Liv Rooth in Loot.

The five-play 2013 season opens with A.R. Gurney’s The Dining Room, a witty and heartfelt story of the American family and its vanishing traditions set in the most singular of rooms, where people gather, meals are eaten, conversations begin, and generations converge, directed by Mark Lamos, April 30 – May 18.

The Show-Off by George Kelly is a funny, surprising, and moving story of a family in upheaval when their youngest daughter becomes engaged to a brash loudmouth, directed by Nicholas Martin, June 11 – 29. Casting to date for The Show-Off includes Houdyshell as Mrs. Fisher. Houdyshell earned a 2006 Tony Award nomination as Ann Kron in Broadway’s Well by Lisa Kron. 

Loot is a wickedly funny send-up of larcenous, lascivious behavior among the English middle classes by the master of British farce Joe Orton, directed by David Kennedy, Playhouse associate artistic director, July 16 – Aug. Rooth, who understudied the lead in Venus in Fur on Broadway, then played the part at TheaterWorks Hartford, will play the role of Fay. 

The second world premiere in as many seasons, Oblivion, is a touching and funny—and very modern—tale of parents, children, and the gulf that sometimes exists between them, written by Carly Mensch, a writer for three seasons on Showtime's "Weeds," and directed by Mark Brokaw, Aug.20 – Sept. 7. 

Room Service is a madcap American farce about a producer and his ragtag bunch of actors who try to raise money for a Broadway show as they scramble to evade their hotel bill, written by John Murray and Allen Boretz, directed by Mark Lamos, Oct. 8 – 26.

For more information or tickets: 203-227-4177; 1-888-927-7529, 25 Powers Court, Westport;

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Theater Review: His Girl Friday -- CT Rep

Olivia Saccomanno flanked on her right by Kevin Crouch and Christopher Hirsh. Photo by Bob Copley.
Read All About It! Staged Edition of Screwball Comedy Unfolds at UConn
By Lauren Yarger
Love in the newsroom, corrupt politics and a murder trial combine for screwball comedy in His Girl Friday over at Connecticut Repertory’s Nafe Katter Theatre on the UConn campus.

Dale AJ Rose directs a colossal, mostly non-Equity cast in the stage adaptation by John Guare combining elements from the film of the same name, starring Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell, and the play The Front Page by Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur.

It’s 1939 Chicago. The scene: the press room of the criminal court building where newspaper reporters Mike Endicott (Adam Schneeman) of the Daily News, Ernie Kruger (Will Haden) of the Journal, Buddy “Mac” McCue (Ryan Marcone) of the Times, Eddie Schwartz (Michael John Improta) of the Herald, Jaclyn Wilson (a feminization of the name for the male role played by Sarah Wintermeyer) of the Sun, Ralph Sweeney of the Daily Record pass the time playing cards, teasing German-speaking court cop Woodenshoes (Andrea Payne) and waiting for the next big scoop while uppity Roy V. Bensinger (James Belkin) of the Tribune keeps them away from his coveted roll-top desk.

Former Chicago Daily record ace reporter Hildy Johnson (Olivia Saccomanno) drops in to tell the boys she is engaged to insurance salesman Bruce Baldwin (Kevin Crouch) and is leaving that night with him and his smothering mother (Penny Benson) on a train to a new life in Albany. Her ex-husband, Walter Burns (Christopher Hirsh), editor of the Record, has other plans, however. He wants her to cover the execution of convicted cop killer Earl Holub (Darek Burkowski), who is scheduled to be hanged in the morning and urges criminal Diamond Louis (Colby Lewis) to keep Bruce and his mother in trouble with the cops and out of Hildy’s way.

Hildy scores an interview with prostitute Mollie Malloy (Khetanya Henderson) who believes Holub is innocent. He claims he was framed by Chicago’s political machine: the Mayor (Anthony J. Goes) and Sheriff Percival B. Hartman (Thomas Brazzle). It seems likely when they conspire to keep Floyd Pinkus (Gabriel Aprea) from delivering the governor’s reprieve for Holub.

Highlighting the production is Crouch’s portrayal of Hildy’s naïve, hapless fiancé, complete with a high-pitched, nerdy laugh. Sharp movement coaching by Choreographer Marie Boyette creates some physical comedy and first-time-out Set Designer Posy Knight scores a knockout with a two-level, amazingly detailed press room, complete with stained glass windows, marble floors and set parts that get blown away in gunfire. Bringing a well deserved chuckle from audience members is Mrs. Baldwin’s ridiculously tacky fur purse with four dangling rabbit feet (Christina Ostner designs the period costumes).

The script, not as entertaining as the movie, drags, however, as does the pace making it impossible for the production to achieve the rapid-fire, screwball type banter we expect. Saccomanno isn’t comfortable in Hildy’s skin (and doesn’t know how to use her old-time, but post-1939, I suspect, upright model typewriter) while Hirsh delivers most of his lines in a steady shout. They never develop a rapport.

His Girl Friday plays at the Nafe Katter Theatre on the UConn campus in Storrs through March 10. Performances are Wednesday and Thursday, 7:30 pm; Friday and Saturday at 8 pm; Sunday at 2 pm. Tickets $6-$30; (860) 486-2113;

Pat Sajak Spins Another Nutmeg Show at UConn

Actor Pat Sajak ("Wheel of Fortune" returns to UConn this summer for CT Rep's Summer Nutmeg series as The Man in the Chair in the musical The Drowsy Chaperone.

Sajak starred last summer in The Odd Couple. Pigeon sister Liz Larsen joins him again as the Drowsy Chaperone herself. More info to come.

Announced for this summer:
The Drowsy Chaperone
June 6-15

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum
June 20-30
Steve Hayes who played the Modern Major General last year for CT Rep's Pirates of Oenzance stars.

The Music Man
July 11-21

Friday, March 1, 2013

Theater Review: Man in a Case -- Hartford Stage

Tymberly Canale and Mikhail Baryshnikov. Photo: T. Charles Erickson
Chatting with Chekhov to Shed Some Light on Hartford Stage’s Man in a Case
By Lauren Yarger and Anton Chekhov
Dramatic music plays, people talk in short sentences expressing their deepest feelings, video mimics what is happening on stage – or the stage action depicts what already has happened – in an atmosphere that feels depressing and foreign. We have stepped into the world premiere of Man in a Case starring former ballet-sensation-turned-actor Mikhail Baryshnikov at Hartford Stage.

Lauren: Wait a minute, Anton. Are we at the right theater? Almost avant-garde at Hartford Stage? I really hate avante-garde. (And don’t tell Anton, but I’m not a big Chekhov fan either, so this is a double whammy.)

Chekhov: Allow yourself to explore the possibilities beyond traditional storytelling, Lauren Yarger. I am a master at that, you know.

Adapters and Directors Annie-B Parson and Paul Lazar use video surveillance footage (designed by Jeff Larson), folk dance (choreographed by Parson) and music (Giarmo whips out an accordion and sings in an unexpected tenor) to tell two stories by Anton Chekhov. They are told by two hunters (Jess Barbagallo and Chris Giarmo -- who also designs the sound) who talk late into the night (their flannel plaid shirts designed by Oana Botez turn out to be one of the easiest things to understand during the presentation).  

Chekhov: The idea is to create “a bridge between our time and that of these two 19th-century, anti-love stories,” as clearly stated in the press release, Lauren Yarger.

Lauren: I confess that I wouldn’t have been able to report most of that – or even that there are two separate stories – without information provided in the press release

Story number one is about Belikov, (Baryshnikov) an unpopular teacher of Greek in one of the hunter’s Russian towns, whom he recalls as a lover of rules and regulations. Everyone is afraid of him. 

“Belikov displayed an impulse to wrap himself in a covering, to make a shell or case for himself which would isolate him and protect him from reality. And he tried to hide his thoughts also in a case.”

Chekhov: Such beautiful language. Such realism in a metaphor!

Lauren: Oh, so that’s what the title means. I didn’t really get that, even though the play includes a lot of dialogue including what was just quoted. Thank goodness I have access to the script – and you, dear Anton

Belikov finally finds a reason to open the multi-locked door to his drab, book-lined apartment filled with televisions allowing him to keep a watchful eye (designed by Peter Ksander). It’s lovely, outgoing Ukrainian beauty Barbara (Tymberly Canale), whom he meets at a faculty party she attends with her brother, Kovaenko (Aaron Mattocks).

Chekhov: I enjoy exploring their relationship develop, Belikov’s reaction to his feelings and his inability to tolerate being mocked.

Lauren: Yes, but we have to sit through more conversation between the hunters about their guns and discussion among characters about whether they are eating mutton or onions for dinner. This kind of thing really drives me nuts, Anton.

The second story involves a man who forgoes his love for Anna Alexyevna (also Baryshnikov and Canale). Their growing affection cannot be, for Anna will not forsake her husband and children – all of whom are like family to the man. They are forced to part. 

Chekhov: How sad. The unending well of emotion dug by unfulfilled longings.

Lauren: Kind of like what the audience was feeling, I think, Anton. Exiting audience members were asking of each other, “What was that about?” And many wished they could have seen Baryshnikov dance a little. Especially when ticket prices top out at $116. 

Chekhov: He does dance.

Baryshnikov does perform a little shuffle to some jazz music (there’s even a Carly Simon number in this presentation if you can believe it) and he also takes a few steps in a Ukrainian folk dance number, but it’s a tease to anyone hoping that a leap or some ballet might be found somewhere in a show produced by Baryshnikov and featuring members of a company called Big Dance Theater.

At the end of the second story, Baryshnikov and Canale perform some movement together on the floor depicting the yearning of the couple and their inability to consummate their relationship. It’s appealing and mimicked on the video screen. 

Chekhov: The raw emotion, the grace of the movement is riveting. The moment when the man realizes how unnecessary, how petty, and illusory all those considerations were that had frustrated their love: it made me weep with emotion. 

Lauren: I’m happy for you, Anton, but I wanted to weep with frustration. All of the best intentions don’t matter when the audience doesn’t get what they just saw. The hour-and-15-minute presentation without intermission amazingly seemed to drag. Even the lighting (designed by Jennifer Tipton) annoyed me. I’m sure your fans and/or lovers of avante-garde will deem it significant, revealing and clever. To me, everything was just too dark.

Chekhov: Darkness is appropriate for themes of disillusionment, failed ideas, profound tragedy, cultural futility and government tyranny. 

Lauren: There were some things I did enjoy: The two hunters imitating turkeys, relentless laughter that poisons a man’s soul, interaction with the sound guy located on stage,  and that nifty fall down some stairs. But I must confess, overall, I wasn’t moved. And, yes, I would have liked to see Baryshnikov dance at least a little.

Chekhov: You are too bound by tradition, my peasant friend. I enjoyed the boldness of the effort, the willingness to think outside of the box. 

Lauren: I'm going to head up to UConn tonight for CT Rep's presentation of His Girl Friday. Girl gets engaged, ex-husband is jealous, journalism careers get in the way. Now there's a story I can relate to.

Man in a Case runs through March 24; Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday at 7:30 pm; Friday and Saturday at 8 pm; Stay/Play performance March 13 at 6:30 pm; Matinees Sundays and select Wednesdays and Saturdays at 2 pm. Tickets $36.50-$116.50 (860) 527‐5151;

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