Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Theater Review: The World Goes 'Round -- Music Theatre of CT

 Melissa Carlile-Price, Aaron Young , Tricia Rapier Kathy Calahan, and Eric Scott Kincaid. Photo: Joe Landry.
The World Goes 'Round: The Songs Of Kander and Ebb
Music by John Kander
Lyrics by Fred Ebb
Conceived by Scott Ellis, Susan Stroman, David Thompson
What's It All About?
A love letter to the song-writing team of Kander and Ebb who brought us some great musical theater like Cabaret, Chicago, The Scottsboro Boys, Kiss of the Spiderwoman and so many more. Some 27 numbers, including some popular songs like "New York, New York," All That Jazz," "Ring Them Bells," and "Maybe This Time" as well as a number of obscure tunes are performed by five energetic performers (Kathy Calahan, Melissa Carlile-Price, Eric Scott Kincaid, Trisha Rapier and Aaron Young) in an unending number of costume changes (designed by Diane Vanderkroef).

Music Theater of Connecticut's Artistic Director Kevin Connors directs this opener in the theater's new home in Norwalk. Choreography by Jeri Kansas propels the numbers and is featured in a couple of dance breaks. Lighting Design (by Michael Megliola) becomes a character in the number "Mr. Cellophane" featuring Kincaid's talents.

David John Madore music directs the three-man band on top of a three-level stage designed by David Heuvelman.

What Are the Highlights?
  • Well, any time you get to hear Kander and Ebb, that's a highlight. Each song is a lesson in great lyric writing. Consider these from "My Coloring Book":
  • These are the eyes that watched him
    As he walked away
    Color them gray
    This is the heart that thought
    He would always be true
    Color it blue
    These are the arms that held him
    And touched him then lost him somehow
    Color them empty now
    These are the beads I wore
    Until she came between
    Color them green
    This is the room I sleep in
    Walk in and weep in
    Hide in that nobody sees
    Color it lonely, please
Lyric perfection.
  • Madore is exceptional on the piano. 
  • Connors adds some nice body language to enhance the numbers
  • The new Melissa and Doug Theater space is quite a treat.
What are the Lowlights?
  • The selections of songs for the show itself. There doesn't seem to be any rhyme or reason to the lineup of songs. With all of the great Kander and Ebb selections out there, we are left wondering what some of the songs are (there isn't a song list in the program), who these five people are supposed to be and why Young suddenly is belting about a spider woman.... Connors has inserted a setting of "a summer stock theater in Vermont," but a few lines of dialogue thrown in calling "half hour" and the like don't pull that idea together either. During "How Lucky Can You Get," for example, Carlile-Price appears to be pretty miffed at her male companions, but the reason is completely lost. If there is a story being told about these folks and their relationships while performing at a Vermont theater, I missed it.
  • Really didn't care for the arrangement of "Cabaret" and some of the songs go too long (the show runs two hours plus with an intermission and an extended encore).
  • Annoying, consistent feedback in the sound system
More Information:
The World Goes 'Round: The Songs of Kander and Ebb plays through Nov. 23 at the new Music Theatre of Connecticut, 509 Westport Ave. (Route 1 behind the Jones New York and Nine West Outlet), Norwalk. Performances are Fridays at 8 pm, Saturdays at 4 and 8 pm, Sundays at 2 pm. Tickets are $30-$50 ($5 off for seniors/students based on availability). 203-454-3883; www.musictheatreofct.com

-- Lauren Yarger

Take a Tour of One of Connecticut's Gems as Palace Celebrates 10th Anniversary

The foyer
The Palace Theater in Waterbury is expanding its monthly tour schedule this November to offer patrons an enhanced experience that includes admission to the theater’s debut history exhibit at the Mattatuck Museum, which opens on Nov. 22.

A combined tour package on Saturday, Nov. 29 at 11 am includes a guided tour of the theater followed by a walk to the Mattatuck Museum, where guests will enjoy lunch at CafĂ© at the Matt before viewing the Palace’s new history exhibit.

Ticket booth
Titled “A Staged Reflection: 1922-2014,” the Palace’s  history exhibit celebrates the theater’s 10-year anniversary since reopening in 2004, and will include a timeline of historic milestones dating back to the venue’s original opening in 1922. The exhibition will also feature never-before-seen photographs, ephemera, and Palace artifacts, as well as oral history interviews with community members, who have experienced the theater’s evolution throughout its 92-year history.

Due to the tours' increasing popularity, reservations are required in advance. Single tickets for individuals or groups of 10 or less can be purchased online at www.palacetheaterct.org.  Larger groups are asked to contact the Box Office at 203-346-2000 to book their reservations. The cost for the combined tour package, including lunch, is $25 per person.

Tour Guide Michael
For more information visit, palacetheaterct.org/about-us/theater-tours, or mattatuckmuseum.org.

Note: I took a tour of the Palace, which is my personal favorite theater in the state. It's drop-dead gorgeous. My tour guide was friendly and knowledgeable and the 'behind-the-scenes" information was fascinating. The photos here are the ones I took on tour. Don't miss an opportunity to see this beautiful Connecticut treasure (and now I want to get over and see the museum exhibit too!). 

-- Lauren Yarger

The celebration of the theater's 10-year anniversary kicks-off tomorrow on the theater’s actual anniversary, Wednesday, Nov. 12, at 9:30 am with a ceremonial ribbon cutting and official proclamation by Mayor Neil O’Leary and Waterbury Regional Chamber President Lynn Ward at the Palace. It continues with a pre-show party and concert starring the legendary Steve Miller Band on Saturday, Nov. 15 at 8 pm.

The band returns to Waterbury 41-years after its original performance Nov.9, 1973, to pay homage to the theater’s significant rock and roll history. The concert’s 6 pm pre-show anniversary party is an additional $75 per guest and includes heavy hors d' oeuvres, specialty drinks, and an exclusive Steve Miller Band commemorative gift. Tickets can be purchased online at www.palacetheaterct.org, by phone at 203-346-2000, on in persona at the Box Office.

During that same weekend on Nov. 16, the Republican-American will feature a special Palace-themed supplement in their Sunday edition. The exclusive publication will highlight some of the remarkable successes the Palace has accomplished over the past ten years, in addition to featuring interviews with community supporters, fun theater facts and incredible photos of the venue and its blockbuster performances from the past decade.

The celebration continues, on Saturday, Nov. 22, with the grand opening of the Mattatuck Museum’s Palace Theater history exhibit that will feature a free cheese-and-cocktail reception from 5 to 6:30 pm. The exhibit will be on display in the Ion Bank Community Gallery until Feb. 2, 2015.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Theater Review: Wicked -- The Bushnell

Kara Lindsay and Laurel Harris. Photo: Joan Marcus
Twist in Oz’s Yellow Brick Road Leads to Wickedly Fun Time at the Theater
By Lauren Yarger
So you think you know the story of the “Wizard of Oz,” do you? Well think again.

The second national tour of Wicked, playing and extended run at The Bushnell, takes the Cowardly Lion, the Tin Man, the Scarecrow, Good Witch Glinda and the Wicked Witch of the West (a.k.a. Elphaba) on a trip down the yellow brick road that’s probably very different from the L. Frank Baum’s “The Wizard of Oz” you know and love. Unless of course you are one of the more than 8 million people who already have seen the musical sensation since it first hit Broadway in 2003. . .

If you are, then you’ll know that the Tony-Award-winning Wicked, with music and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz (Pippin, Godspell), with a book by Winnie Holzman based on Gregory Maguire’s bestselling novel Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West tells the untold, backstory of the witches of Oz.

Elphaba (Laurel Harris) and Glinda (Kara Lindsay) meet when they are thrown together as roommates at Shiz University where both hope to study sorcery. Bubbly, popular and very blonde Glinda and outcast, green Elphaba, who is hated by her father and given a place at Shiz only to take care of her more beloved crippled sister Nessarose (Jenny Fellner), quickly enter a state of “Loathing.”

Headmistress Madame Morrible (Kathy Fitzgerald) sees potential in Elphaba’s magical power, however, and suggests that the Wizard himself (Gene Weygant) might take an interest in her instruction. The girls find themselves liking each other in spite of their differences and form a bond of friendship that can’t be broken, even when both are attracted to Fiyero (Matt Shingledecker), a handsome prince, who also is a student at Shiz.

Things aren’t right in Oz, though, as Elphaba realizes that animals, including her favorite instructor and goat, Doctor Dillamond (Michael Devries), are treated as second-class citizens and being denied the right to speak. Elphaba’s efforts to help keep the animals free and Glinda’s attempt to rid herself of the unwanted affections of munchkin Boq (Lee Slobotkin) by setting him up with Nessarose result in chaos, flying monkeys and life-changing decisions.

The musical is presented on a large scale with sets designed by Eugene Lee (lighted by Kenneth Posner) and special effects designed by Chic Silber. To give you an idea of the scope, each performance uses about 200 pounds of dry ice for fog effect, the electrical department needs between four and five miles of cable to operate, the show uses 70 wigs per performance (designed by Tom Watson), all made of human hair, and made individually for each actor, using their own hairline in the front. The elaborate, colorful costumes (designed by Susan Hilferty) use 179 different types and finishes of leather in shoes, gloves, hats and costume trim.

Joe Mantello directs the large ensemble through their paces with Musical Staging by Wayne Cilento. Nine local musicians join the traveling orchestra of five under the Musical Direction by P. Jason Yarcho to play the terrific score, which includes fan favorites “Popular,” “Defying Gravity,” “As Long as You’re Mine” and “For Good.” Yarcho is fun to watch as he thoroughly enjoys conducting the score.

Vocals here are good, particularly Harris who does the required belting that defies gravity (though the sound designed by Tony Meola isn’t mixed well, so she often is drowned out by the orchestra). Lindsay boasts a high soprano, but teases a bit too much out of Glinda’s blonde dialog giving her a harsh, rather than bubble-headed tone.  Weygandt, Fitzgerald and Devries bring polish to the characters they played in the Broadway production.

If you haven’t seen a production of Wicked, this tour is a good place to start your voyage down the yellow brick road. There is more here than just a children’s story, like great lyrics and messages about not fitting in, tolerating alternative opinions, the definition of truth and looking at things differently.

If you have seen it on Broadway, the tour lacks a bit of the original magic, but still is enjoyable. (recommended for children age 8 and up).

Wicked runs at The Bushnell, 166 Capitol Ave., Hartford, through Nov, 23. Performances are 

Thursday at 7:30 pm; Friday at 8 pm; Saturday at 2 pm and 8 pm; Sunday at 1 pm and 6:30 pm. Tickets $57.50-$157.50. www.bushnell.org860-860-987-5900.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Theater Review: Say Goodnight, Gracie -- Ivoryton

R. Bruce Connelly. Photo: Rose Picarelli

One of Connecticut’s Best Portraying One of Hollywood’s Best
By Lauren Yarger
The actor I like to call a gem of Connecticut Theater takes on an entertainment icon when he plays George Burns in Say Goodnight, Gracie.

The one-man show, written by Rupert Holmes, and directed her by Michael McDermott, is a trip down memory lane with Burns, who finds himself “auditioning” for a place in heaven when he lands in a sort of purgatory where his life ( of 100 years) is a command performance for the Almighty.

Moving around on a stage set with a chair, a table and a movie screen where projections bring some of the past images to life, Burns recounts his life, beginning as a young Jewish boy in a New York tenement, delivering papers and singing songs to bring in a few pennies to help support his mother and 11 other siblings after his beloved father dies.

He lands many jobs in show business, but hits it big after teaming up with the love of his life, Gracie Allen. The script combines Burns’ recollections, intimate memories and radio and TV show clips to bring Gracie to life (Marcus Abbott is the lighting designer). Originally, Burns had scripted their routines with Gracie as the “straight man,” but quickly realized that the talented actress, with her trademark voice and dizzy delivery, was the one who would get all the laughs.

We also hear about Burns long-time friendship with Jack Benny and for his ability to make the comedian laugh. It is a nice blend of humor, nostalgia and fine stage craft.

Connelly channels Burns without trying to do an imitation (though he kind of looks like him, thanks to costuming by Kari Crowther). It’s a pleasure to sit back and watch a master at his craft. 

Connelly has been a fixture on Connecticut stages for years, and in fact, played Burns in Say Goodnight, Gracie last year at Seven Angels Theatre in Waterbury. At Ivoryton, he recently appeared as Jim in the summer production All Shook Up, Barney Cashman in Last Of The Red Hot Lovers, Max Bialystock in The Producers, Felix Unger in The Odd Couple, Pseudolus in A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, and Finian in Finian's Rainbow.

If you don’t know him from Connecticut stage, you might have caught Connelly as Barkley, Jim Henson's Muppet dog on “Sesame Streetfor which he has been honored 15 times by the National Academy of Television and Radio at the Daytime Emmy Awards, according to a press release.

This Ivoryton production is a delightful wrap-up of the 2013-2014 season. The performance I attended was sold out, so get you tickets quick (and check out next season, which hasn’t been announced officially, but which will include the US premiere of Calendar Girls and the Tony-Award-winner Memphis, according to Artistic Director Jacqueline Hubbard’s curtain speech.)

Say Goodnight, Gracie runs through Nov. 16 at Ivoryton Playhouse, 103 Main St., Ivoryton. Performances are Wednesday and Sunday matinees at 2 pm. Wednesday and Thursday at 7:30 pm, Friday and Saturday at 8 pm. Tickets $42 for adults, $37 for seniors, $20 for students and $15 for children 860-767-7318; www.ivorytonplayhouse.org.

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