Friday, December 19, 2014

Slate of Musicals Announced for Goodspeed Fest

The 10th annual Festival of New Musicals kicks off Friday, Jan. 16 at the Goodspeed Opera House with a staged reading of the Jesse James-inspired musical Outlaws.

Following will be the musical comedy The Noteworthy Life of Howard Barnes Saturday, Jan.17 and For Tonight on Sunday, Jan. 18.

will be presented. Several special events will round out this exciting weekend. Tickets are available at the Goodspeed Box Office or by calling 860.873.8668 or online at Tickets are $20 each for one show, $15 each for students. This year’s Festival is sponsored in part by lead corporate sponsor RisCassi & Davis, P.C., with additional support by The Adolph and Ruth Schnurmacher Foundation, Inc. and The Burry Fredrik Foundation.

On tap:

Friday, Jan. 16

Music and Lyrics by Alexander Sage Oyen
Book by James Presson
7:30 pm Goodspeed Opera House

Frustrated with Washington and hard-up for cash, Jesse James and his brother Frank take matters into their own hands - robbing banks, courting the press, and killing anyone who gets in their way. Alternating between sprawling epic and intimate family drama, Outlawsexamines the blurred lines between hero and villain, bravery and recklessness, and man and god.

Festival Cabaret, showcasing new songs by festival writers, 10 pm Gelston House

Saturday, Jan. 17
10 am to 12:45 pm Gelston House

Author Jennifer Ashley Tepper will share stories from her new book "The Untold Stories of Broadway: Volume Two." Meet the author and book signing will follow the session.

How Do They Do That? - Set Designer Paul Tate dePoo will debut his designs for Goodspeed’s upcoming production of Guys and Dolls and share his secrets for just how to make a night club, a mission, steamy Havana, and Times Square fit in the jewel-box theater.

Vocal Arranging 101 – Learn the process of vocal arranging from Goodspeed’s Resident Music Director Michael O’Flaherty with demonstrations performed by festival participants from The Hartt School.


Musical preview of a new musical set for Goodspeed in 2015
2:30 to 3:30 pm  Goodspeed Opera House

Symposium  (free and open to the public)
4 pm Goodspeed Opera House

The New Musical Challenge: Ever wonder what it takes to write a musical? WNPR’s Colin McEnroe will host a conversation with the writing teams represented in this year’s festival, a team currently writing-in-residence at Goodspeed and festival favorites Marcy Heisler and Zina Goldrich (upcoming production of Ever After at Papermill and Goodspeed’s The Great American Mousical). Learn first-hand about the challenges of writing a new musical and be the first to hear a brand new song written on-the-spot by one of the teams willing to take our New Musical Challenge.

Festival Dinner 5:30 pm Gelston House - OR - La Vita. Enjoy a three course meal with fellow festival goers.

Book and Lyrics by Christopher Dimond
Music by Michael Kooman 
7:30 p.m., Goodspeed Opera House  

Howard Barnes is a perfectly average man until he discovers that his life has become a musical. Equal parts satire, romantic comedy, and love letter to the American musical, The Noteworthy Life of Howard Barnes is a musical for people who love musical theater and their spouses who hate it.

Festival Cabaret 10 pmGelston House

Sunday, Jan. 18
Tour of Goodspeed’s Costume Collection, 11 am The Cynthia Kellogg Barrington Costume Center

Music & Lyrics by Shenelle Williams and Spencer Williams
Book by Whitney Rhodes, Spencer Williams, and Shenelle Williams
1 pm Goodspeed Opera House

When their parents die of a mysterious illness in their small Welsh village, surviving siblings Thomas, Haydon, and Nettie are forced to fend for themselves. Inspired by the gypsies who once shared their home, Haydon heads off to Liverpool, guitar in hand, to find what he's been missing. There he meets Mirela who speaks to his wandering soul. Through a riveting indie-rock/folk score, For Tonight explores the indelible power of home.

Meet the Writers Reception 3:30 pm Gelston House. Complimentary hors d’oeuvres and cash bar.

Festival pricing as well as lodging and dining information for Festival attendees may be found at

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Vince Gilligan, Mitch Hurwitz, Tim Gunn Talk Breaking Bad, Arrested Development, Project Runway

Tim Gunn, Vince Gilligan, Mitch Hurwitz, Photo courtesy of the CT Forum.
The creators of "Breaking Bad," "Arrested Development" and the host of "Project Runway" got together for a chat about Today's Great TV at a recent program sponsored by the Connecticut Forum at the Bushnell.

WNPR's Colin McEnroe moderated the engaging conversation between Tim Gunn ("Project Runway"), Vince Gilligan ("Breaking Bad") and Mitch Hurwitz ("Arrested Development") which ranged from how their shows were created to what it's like working with Betty White (Hurwitz was a writer on "The Golden Girls").

Some of the highlights:

What motivated the creation of their shows:

  • Hurwitz: Executive Producer Ron Howard wanted to use digital video tape to show lots of different parts of a family's life.
  • Gilligan: Suffering a midlife crisis at 40 and wondering where his next paycheck would come from after his writing gig with "The X Files" came to an end, a friend in a similar situation kidded that they both could start selling meth out of the back of a van... What if someone actually were desperate enough to do that, Gilligan thought, and what would be his motivation....
  • Gunn: Producers were looking for a consultant for a reality show about fashion and contacted the dean at Fifth and Pacific (now Kate Spade and Co.) who previously was chief creative officer at Liz Claiborne, Inc. and on the faculty at Parsons New School of Design. The Emmy-Award winning co-host and mentor of Project Runway never thought he would end up on camera.
Any problems with the networks interfering with creativity?
  • Gilligan: Sony and AMC have been excellent partners. They did object to the episode where Walter watches Jessie's girlfriend die, saying, "You've gone too far here." He watched her die any way.
  • Hurwitz: Received polite commentary from time to time, once about not being able to use the term "balls." The network suggested "nads" instead. The day after the show won an Emmy, the network president suggested it was time to bring it under control...
  • Gunn: Had concerns about the intellectual property of the designs. He originally turned down doing a second season when he discovered unacceptable terms in the contract offered to the winner of season one. The designer's rights to their designs eventually were recognized.
What role does morality play in these shows?
  • Gilligan: He didn't start out with a moral theme, but "I lost sympathy for this guy along the way. He's a sociopath," he said of Walt, a "guy who is doing terrible things." In Breaking Bad, Walt goes from protagonist to antagonist. He goes out on his own terms, but his outcome is determined within minutes of the pilot episode.Walt is now the world's to judge.
  • Gunn: The very nature of runways means people will be jumping into cruel and punitive situations. There can only be one winner.... Gunn cited an episode of "zippergate" when real women, rather than models, were on the runway and a faulty zipper exposed a sensitive area. He intervened to keep the woman from being embarrassed.
  • Hurwitz: The morals of this family are not very good.... greed, dysfunction and incest get airtime... but they need and love each other. Mike (the character portrayed by Jason Bateman) needs to be controlling, money kept them from growing. You can't be rigid in storytelling. Eccentricities are allowed.
So what was it like working with Betty White?
Hurwitz: She was "so dear, special and sharp." Most people don't realize that her hair comes from a cotton candy machine, he quipped.

A personal note:
I'd love to see Hurwitz and Gilligan team up on a project. Hurwitz knew exactly how to push Gilligan's humor buttons and there was obvious respect between the two for each other's work. A show those two hooked up on would be a riot. Remember you heard it here first.

More information:
For information on other programs coming up at the CT Forum, visit
-- Lauren Yarger

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Book Review: Show Stopping Recipes: From Your Palace to Your Plate

Just in time for holiday shopping comes a special cookbook from the Palace Theater in Waterbury to celebrate its 10th anniversary.

Comprised of more than 250 recipes submitted by the theater's staff and volunteers, the hardcover volume (published through Morris Press Cookbooks, 2014) is creatively laid out with step-by-step instructions on how to make every meal a showstopper, from the "Opening Number" (soups, salads and appetizers) to the final "Curtain Call" (desserts). 

Other sections are "Supporting Cast"(vegetables and side dishes), "Featured Presentation" (main dishes), "Intermission" (breads and rolls) and "Encore" (cookies and candies). Clever!

I just received a copy of the book to review an already have book marked a number of savory sounding recipes to try out:
  • Greek chicken, spinach and rice soup by Karen Streeter
  • Coleslaw vinaigrette by Judith Campbell
  • Bacon and double cheese quiche by Joan Montesi
  • Sour cream almond coffee cake by Maureen Piccochi
Actually, there are a lot of them --  more than I usually bookmark in these community group type cookbooks.

The front of the book offers a short history of the theater and a message from its CEO Frank Tavera (would have loved to see more photos of the beautiful theater, but they probably aren't an option for this publishing format). Also would have loved a listing of the contributors and their relationship to the theater. The book instead includes some generic "helpful hints" sections.

The idea for the cookbook was generated by the Palace Theater’s Volunteer Fundraising Committee, which is spearheaded by members Genevieve Delkescamp, Carol Marchand, Karen Streeter and George Theroux.

Each cookbook is $20, or $20 for the first book and $15 for each additional copy, and can be purchased at the Box Office, 100 E. Main St. in Waterbury, or in the theater’s gift shop during all upcoming performances. Proceeds from sales benefit the Palace Theater Annual Campaign.
-- Lauren Yarger

Connecticut Arts Connections

Irving Berlin's White Christmas, the stage adaptation of the beloved classic film is coming to the Shubert Theatre in New Haven this holiday season Dec. 30, 2014 through Jan. 4, 2015.

White Christmas tells the story of two showbiz buddies putting on a show in a picturesque Vermont inn, and finding their perfect mates in the bargain. Full of dancing, romance, laughter and some of the greatest songs ever written, including “Count Your Blessings Instead of Sheep,” “Happy Holiday,” “Sisters,” “Blue Skies,” and the unforgettable title song,

The show features music and lyrics by Berlin with book by David Ives and Paul Blake and is based upon the Paramount Pictures film written for the screen by Norman Krasna, Norman Panama and Melvin Frank.

The show will star James Clow as “Bob Wallace,” Jeremy Benton as “Phil Davis,” Kristen Beth Williams as “Betty Haynes,” and Kaitlyn Davidson as “Judy Haynes.” Also featured are Conrad John Schuck as “General Waverly,” Pamela Myers as “Martha Watson,” Ryan Reilly as “Ralph Sheldrake,”Danny Gardner as “Mike Nulty,” Cliff Bemis as “Ezekiel Foster,” and Elizabeth Crawford and Ava DellaPietra as “Susan Waverly.”

This brand new production is produced by Atlanta’s Theater of the Stars. The creative team includes direction by Norb Joerder, choreography by Randy Skinner, scenic design by Anna Louizos, scenic supervision and adaptation by Kenneth Foy, lighting design by Ken Billington, and sound design by
Peter Fitzgerald and Erich Bechtel.

Performances: Tuesday 7:30 pm, Wednesday (New Year’s Eve) 8 pm, Thursday (New Year’s Day) 1 pm Friday 2 and 7:30 pm, Saturday 2 and 8 pm, Sunday 2 pm.

Tickets: $15 – $110:; 203-562-5666

Pops! Series

Saturday, Dec. 20 at 3 pm and 7:30 pm
Mortensen Hall at The Bushnell
Tickets starting at $20; $10.00 for students with ID

NEW YEAR'S EVE: Shakespeare's Big Birthday Bash
A unique Elizabethan feast celebrating the 450th Birthday of William Shakespeare. Spend a splendid Elizabethan evening at Hyatt Regency Greenwich with Shakespeare and Queen Elizabeth I imitators, an Elizabethan inspired feast menu served with complimentary wine, beer and ale, as well as a costumed dance troupe, strolling singers and festive décor. Ring in the New Year with a wide screen showing of the Times Square Ball drop. The evening will benefit NAMI Connecticut, the National Alliance on Mental Illness. Tickets are $195 per person. RSVP to 203-356-9423.

Playhouse on Park offers Introduction to Improvisation, for those who want to perform, improve their public speaking or try something new. This class will teach the basics of improvisational theater. Students will discover how to actively listen, to use their own lives to create stories, and to avoid common thought communication patterns. The lessons will focus on the fundamental principles of improvisation with emphasis on scene building skills and having fun. Claire Zick, a seasoned improvisational actress, instructs. She was an ensemble member of Unexpected Productions in Seattle and has studied improv at Magnet Theater and UCB Theatre.

Classes run on Mondays from Jan. 12 through March 2, 2015 from  7 to 10 pm. Registration is required; class size is limited to 14 students, and will be filled on a first-come, first-served basis. The class fee is $200. To register, visit the Education page at, and download the registration form, or call 860-523-5900 x10 for more information.

And not too far from Connecticut....
To celebrate the group's 60th anniversary, the Camerata's Christmas concert features music from the early years of the American republic. The program includes music from a wide range of early tune books and manuscripts, a generous selection of carols, New England anthems, Southern folk hymns and religious ballads for the season.

Thursday, Dec. 18 at 8 pm
First Parish Church, 20 High Road, Newbury, MA
Friday, Dec. 19 at 8 pm
Hancock United Church of Christ, 1912 Mass. Ave., Lexington, MA
Saturday, Dec. 20 at 8 pm
First Church Congregational, 11 Garden St., Cambridge, MA

Featuring Anne Azéma, mezzo-soprano; Camila Parias, soprano; Deborah Rentz-Moore, alto; Dan Hershey, tenor, Taylor Ward, baritone; Joel Frederiksen, bass, guitar; Jesse Lepkoff, flutes, guitar  with Chris Belluscio, trumpet, cornet' Brian Kay, trombone; Steven Lundahl, trombone, baritone horn; Liza Malamut, trombone.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Theater Review: Altar Boyz -- Playhouse on Park

The Altar Boyz. Photo: Richard Wagner
These Altar Boyz Will Shake Up Your Faith in What You Can Expect from a Musical
By Lauren Yarger
Pop Music becomes Worship Band in Altar Boyz, a fun, guilty-pleasure musical getting a run at Playhouse on Park.

“Guilty,” because the musical, created by Marc Kessler and Ken Davenport, is the sort of cheesy, stereotypical show that we are supposed to call cheesy and stereotypical. Instead, we can’t help but smile and admit that we are having a good time.

Obviously, I am not alone. The show won the 2005 Outer Critics Circle Award for Best New Off-Broadway Musical and ran for more than 2,000 performances, making it the ninth longest running show in Off-Broadway history.

The Altar Boyz are five guys from Ohio, performing the last concert of their “Raise the Praise” tour, yes, you guessed it, right here in West Hartford!  Here’s the stereotype, provided in press info: Matthew (Mark G. Merritt) “The Leader,” Mark (Brandon Beaver) “The Sensitive One,” Luke (Nick Bernardi) “The Bad Boy,” Juan (Greg Laucella) “The Latin Lover,” and Abraham (Adam Cassel) “The Gefilte Fish Out of Water.”

Here’s the cheesy: They have a the Soul Sensor DX-12, a machine that can show the number of lost souls in their audience on a video screen (Christopher Hoyt designs the stage with two large neon crosses and the four-man band under the musical direction of  Robert James Tomasulo  housed in the rear).  The Boyz sing and pray their hearts out in hopes of seeing that number reach zero.

The tunes in varied styles with titles like “Rhythm in Me,” “The Miracle Song,” “La Vida Eternal” and “I Believe” allow the Boyz to “praise the Lord in funk and rhyme” with choreography by Director Kyle Brand that mimics boy bands (Christopher Gattelli’s original choreography for Altar Boyz won the Lucille Lortel Award). The lyrics are fun too. In “The Calling,” we discover that means “Jesus called me on my cell phone…”

Kevin Del Aguila’s book offers some plot in between musical numbers (the fast-moving show is 90 minutes with no intermission). Matthew is hiding a secret; Mark feels a bit more than he is willing to admit for the group’s leader; Juan wants to find the parents who abandoned him; Abraham wants to fit in and Luke isn’t the brightest bulb among the disciples (and seems to be constantly tugging at his pleather pants designed perhaps a tad too tightly by Erin Payne).

Adding to the fun is interaction with the audience, which smiles and taps their feet from the moment they arrive (greeted by organ music). Laucella and Cassel (who portrayed Abraham in the show’s national tour) are the Equity representatives here. Kudos to Beaver who captures Mark's quirky character and whose singing voice stands out – give that Boy a solo in the church choir.

Altar Boyz runs through Dec. 21 at Playhouse on Park, 244 Park Rd, West Hartford. Perfromances: Wednesday and Thursday at 7:30 pm; Friday and Saturday at 8 pm; Sunday at 2 pm. Tickets $15-$45. Additional special ticket offers are available. 860-523-5900 x10 or visit

Monday, December 8, 2014

Music and Dialogue at the Hartford Public Library

The Hartford Symphony Jazz Ensemble will perform a program of holiday favorites noon to 1 pm at Hartford Public Library, 500 Main St. Wednesday, Dec. 17.

The event, which is free and open to the public, will take place in the library’s atrium, and is part of Hartford Symphony Orchestra’s Musical Dialogues series.

Musical Dialogues is a unique series of free concerts presented by the HSO providing audience members an opportunity to engage in dialogue with the musicians. The discussion portion of the Dec. 17 event will be led by Mitchell Korn, a nationally-recognized leader in arts and arts education strategic planning, advocacy and interdisciplinary education.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Manhattan Steamroller Anniversary Tour Celebrates Christmas at the Palace

Photos from Mannheim Steamroller’s 30th Anniversary Tour courtesy of the Palace.
The multi-platinum selling Mannheim Streamroller celebrate their 30th Anniversary Christmas Tour with a festive holiday performance created by Grammy Award-winner Chip Davis at the Palace Theater in Waterbury on Friday, Dec. 12, at 8 pm. 

Tickets for the multimedia stage show, which is sponsored by Ion Bank, are $100, $68, and $48: 203-346-2000;; box office, 100 East Main St., Waterbury.

Before the concert, Riverhouse Catering will prepare a 6 pm pre-fixe, three-course dinner in the Poli Club, located on the mezzanine level of the theater. Dinner is $50 per person, which includes tax, service fees, coffee, and tea. A cash bar is also available. Seating is limited, and reservations can be made when purchasing tickets through the Box Office. The dinner menu can be viewed in advance at

This year marks the 30th anniversary of the Christmas Tour and release of Mannheim Steamroller Christmas, an album that revolutionized the Holiday Season music category. It is also the fortieth anniversary of Chip Davis’ first album in his Fresh Aire series, which pioneered the New Age music category. Davis will direct and co-produce the tour’s performances with MagicSpace Entertainment. The show features classic Christmas hits from Mannheim Steamroller and multimedia effects in an intimate setting.

In addition to being a holiday tradition for many families, the Mannheim Steamroller Christmas Tour regularly attracts repeat attendance from multi-generational guests and is one of the longest running tours in the music industry. The group has sold more than 40 million albums, of which 28 million are in the Christmas genre. With a total of twelve holiday CDs, an average of eight Mannheim Steamroller Christmas albums occupy Billboard’s Top Seasonal Chart every year.

This fall, Davis released a new album, Mannheim Steamroller 30/40, in celebration of the group’s thirtieth anniversary Christmas tour. The album’s tracks include Christmas fan favorites along with selections from Davis’ iconic Fresh Aire series , which will celebrate 40 years of ground-breaking sound. With nineteen gold, eight multi-platinum and four platinum-certified records, Chip Davis is among an elite group of artists with similar certifications that include U2, Jay-Z, and The Beach Boys.
For more information on the tour, visit or

Family Festivities Are Getting Frosty at Westport Country Playhouse

Photo by Barter Players
Westport Country Playhouse’s 2014-15 Family Festivities Series will present three performances of “Frosty,” on Sunday, December 14, at 11 a.m., 1 p.m., and 4 p.m.  Due to ticket demand, the 11 am performance was added with plenty of seating available. Seating is limited at the 1 and 4 pm shows.

Produced by the Barter Players, the show is recommended for ages 4 to 10. Running time is approximately one hour. Tickets are $20. 

“Frosty” is about a young orphan named Billy who discovers magic in a stolen hat when he places it on a snowman’s head and that snowman comes to life. But can Frosty the snowman help Billy find his real family in time for Christmas? Billy and Frosty embark on a New York City adventure filled with thrills and chills and the discovery that the real magic of the season is Love.

Family Festivities shows are presented on selected Sundays from November through March. Upcoming shows are:  “Stella, Queen of the Snow,” on Sunday, January 18, the story of two children as they spend the day playing in the snow, discovering the world of winter together; “The Lightning Thief,” on Sunday, February 8, about  mythological monsters and the theft of Zeus’s master lightning bolt; “Dog Loves Books,” on Sunday, March 1, a musical about the irresistible Dog who decides to open his own bookstore; and “Curious George,” on Sunday, March 29, about the inquisitive, lovable little monkey of books, movies, and the award-winning PBS television show.

At each Family Festivities performance, Westport Country Playhouse will once again host a book collection for Read to Grow, Inc.  Bins will be located in the Playhouse lobby for donations of gently used and new children’s books which will be given to families with limited access and to community resources that serve them in the greater Fairfield County area. 

Family Festivities Corporate Sponsor is Pitney Bowes.  Family Festivities Partner is Darlene Krenz.  The series is also supported in part by Westport Young Woman’s League.

Everyone in the audience requires a ticket. For more information or tickets, call the box office at (203) 227-4177, or toll-free at 1-888-927-7529, or visit Westport Country Playhouse, 25 Powers Court, off Route 1, Westport. Tickets are available online 24/7 at Stay connected to the Playhouse on Facebook (Westport Country Playhouse), follow on Twitter (@WCPlayhouse), orview Playhouse videos on YouTube (WestportPlayhouse).

Theater Review: Picasso at the Lapin Agile -- Long Wharf

Robbie Tann, front, and David Margulies. Photo: T. Charles Erickson
A Comic Meeting of the Minds that Shaped the 20th Century
By Lauren Yarger
Have you heard the one about Picasso and Einstein walking into a bar?

In Steve Martin’s play Picasso at the Lapin Agile, getting a run at Long War Theatre, the joke becomes plot. The Lapin Agile is a bar in 1904 Paris run by Freddy (Tom Riis Farrell), whose art appreciation includes a much-mocked portrait of a bunch of sheep, and Freddy’s lusty girlfriend, Germaine (Penny Balfour). Genius Picasso (Grayson DeJesus) hangs out there in between creating a masterpiece or seducing beautiful women.

One of the painter’s latest conquests, Suzanne (Dina Shihabi), announces her intention to wait for the man who drew her cubist sketch after a couple of intimate encounters. She strikes up a conversation with an awkward, but very intelligent and cocky Albert Einstein (an engaging Robbie Tann) who is besotted with a countess (also Shihabi).

Einstein and Picasso banter and compete (with a very funny duel scene directed by Gordon Edelstein) as they try to convince everyone that their next amazing idea will change the course of the world in the new century. Einstein will go on to deliver the theory of relativity and Picasso will change the art world with works like “Les Demoiselles d’Avignon.” They find that the creative processes for a scientist and an artist might not be as different as they thought.

Among their audience in the bar are Gaston (David Margulies), an older man who frequently has to leave the action to use the rest room, Sagot (Ronald Guttman), Picasso’s art dealer who infuriates him by praising Matisse, and a mysterious visitor from the future (Jake Silbermann) whose musical contributions leave a part of the new century “all shook up.” Also stopping in the bar/café (designed by Michael Yeargan) is a guy named Schmendiman (Jonathan Spivey) who doesn’t seem to know much about anything, but who is convinced a great idea from him will be the one that changes the 20th century.

Martin’s intelligent, witty dialogue provides chuckles, and Tann’s frenzy-haired, over-confident Einstein, who often has a belly laugh while getting jokes after the fact, is quite amusing.

In 1993, this was the first stage play written by the comedian, known for a variety of writing and acting roles in TV and film (“Saturday Night, Live,” “Dirty, Rotten Scoundrels,” “Parenthood,” “Father of the bride”). My personal favorite is his movie “Roxanne,” an adaptation of Cyrano de Bergerac. I couldn’t help wishing that Martin himself couldn’t be there to deliver lines that had his mark on them. Gaston sounded more like Walter Matthau than an old French coot.

Germaine provides a voice of reason, with the idea of making us remember that all women aren’t as content to be treated as sexual objects like the characters here might suggest. Shihabi portrays various kinds of feminine stereotypes from the sensual Suzanne (making an entrance that has her ripping her top off) to grand and domineering (the countess) to innocent and modest (as the newest admirer of Picasso). Their costumes (design by Jess Goldstein) are disappointing, however, and seem drab (with odd combinations of colors) compared to the guys in their dapper turn-of century attire.

Martin drags out the ending of the play, however, stretching the otherwise brisk 85-minute, no intermission play.

Catch it through Dec. 21 at Long Wharf Theatre, 222 Sargent Drive, New Haven. Performance times vary. Tickets are $ $25-$75. (203) 787-4282;

Theater Review: War -- Yale

Tonya Pinkins, Philippe Bowgen and Tyrone Mitchell Henderson. Photo Joan Marcus

Sins of the Fathers Visit Throughout the Generations
By Lauren Yarger
When relatives gather at the hospital bed of a stroke victim, family tensions reach new dimensions in the world premiere of Branden Jacobs-Jenkins’ War at Tale Rep.

Feuding siblings Tate (Donté Bonner) and Joanne (Rachael Holmes) bicker as their mother, Roberta (Tonya Pinkins) lies in a coma. Why didn’t Joanne call him sooner, blunt speaking, take-charge Tate wants to know. And what was she thinking marrying a white guy like Malcolm (Greg Keller), a “going-nowhere,” unmotivated dude who is obsessed with talking to political operative Tate about President Obama and why his family should or shouldn’t be called “African-American”? Maybe he should just quit his job and take care of things at home since he recently broke up with his partner? At any rate, Joanne is offended by the message that Tate finds her less than satisfactory on so many levels.

The siblings’ war escalates with each attempting to throw the other out of the room, much to the distress of Roberta’s over-the-top, effeminate nurse (amusingly portrayed by Tyrone Mitchell Henderson). Meanwhile, they need to figure out who the mysterious German-speaking woman who arrived in the ambulance with their mother is. With the help of her irate son and translator, Tobias (Philippe Bowgen), they discover that Elfriede (Trezana Beverley) is Roberta’s sister.

Meanwhile, scenes are interrupted (the barely set stage designed by Mariana Sanchez Hernandez inclines and narrows with lighting effect designed by Yi Zhao), as we visit Roberta in her coma (sound effects by Bray Poor). She is in a strange place where an ape named Alpha (also Henderson) helps her try to remember what was happening in her life. She does recall Elfriede, her recently discovered sister, the result of her father’s wartime romance in Germany. Elfriede’s mother apparently was one in a long line of indiscretions clouding Roberta’s memories of her father. 

Nothing is very clear (the ape’s language is translated for us in projected captions designed by Kristen Ferguson) and Roberta isn’t even sure she likes her daughter…. Oh, and by the way, Alpha likes the fact that Roberta is so different from her kind (why, we don’t know) and is rather insistent that she mate with him….

OK, back in the land of the dying, we discover that some of Tobias’ anger comes from the fact that Roberta had promised to help her new family financially. Now, she won’t be able to do that and he and his mother are stuck here in a foreign country with no money. Elfriede tries to be helpful to Tate and Joanne, however, by modeling dresses that might look attractive on their mother in her coffin when she dies and by reading a ridiculously long letter she has written about how much it means to her to have met her own flesh and blood.


Director Lileana Blain-Cruz does coax good character portrayals and Pinkins is moving as the woman trying to sort out the confusion of her life before leaving it. Keller provides comic relief as the well intentioned, but mousy husband and Bonner manages to keep officious Tate likable. The playwright, however. who received a 2014 Obie award for Best New American Play for Octoroon and Appropriate, fails to find his message in WAR, which was commissioned by Yale Repertory Theatre.

The coma scenes (and a finale scene at DC’s National Zoo) with a bunch of chanting chimps choreographed by David Neumann seem to imply that human behavior hasn’t changed much throughout history, going back as far as when man is believed to have evolved from the apes. but they are confusing and distract from what could be an interesting play about family dynamics, particularly in view of the newfound, entitled-minded relatives.

Tobias’ anger is out of proportion to the situation and beyond giving us a glimpse into who these people are and why they all are so angry, Jacobs-Jenkins doesn’t develop them or the themes enough to engage us. Folks leaving the theater were asking ushers what the ape scenes were about. One woman commented that if she had wanted to see a play in a foreign language (the translation of Elfriede’s letter is interminable) she would have gone to the opera.

War rages through Dec. 13 at Yale Repertory Theatre, 222 York St., New Haven. Performance times vary. Tickets $20-$94; (203) 432-1234, Box Office (1120 Chapel St.). Student, senior, and group rates are available.

Theater Review: The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee -- CT Repertory

Gavin McNicholl and Gina Salvatore. Photo:  Gerry Goodstein
Teen Angst, Guest Contestants Spell an Entertaining Show
By Lauren Yarger
For contestants in The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee being held by CT Repertory Theatre at UConn, more than just getting the right spelling of a word is on the line. Students must overcome various forms of angst and guest spellers from the audience have to try to avoid being overcome with laughter.

And laughter there is, thanks to a book by Rachel Sheinkin, with additional material by Jay Reiss, conceived by Rebecca Feldman, based on the play C-R-E-PU-S-C-U-L-E by The Farm. No matter how many times I see this show – and every theater seems to do it eventually – I laugh out loud. Particularly side-splitting are the responses to the spellers’ requests of “Can you use it in a sentence, please.”

The sentences are given by Vice Principal Douglas Panch (Mark Harapiak), who wants to be anywhere else besides the run-down gymnasium where the county spelling bee is held (Lindsay Duval and Tim Brown design the set). In charge is super-producing realtor Rhona Lee Peretti (Blythe Wilson), who introduces each speller and relives some of the glory of her own championship at the 4th annual Bee. Helping things move along is Mitch Mahoney (Melvin Abston), a parolee doing his community service as “comfort counselor” for contestants eliminated from the Bee. He sends them off in a chorus of goodbyes with a consolation juice box.

There are many contestants to eliminate. They all bring emotional baggage to the Bee and have unique methods for working out the correct spelling of their words (they also wear costumes stereotypical of who they are, designed by Raven Ong):

  • William Barfée (Ryan Shea) a nerdy kid with an attitude – especially when Vice Principal Banch mispronounces his last name as vomit-sounding “BARFee” instead of the more elegant and accented “BarFAY”. He spells with the help of his magic foot,
  • Chip Tolentino (Kent Coleman) last year’s champ who has a few embarrassing moments when his concentration moves from spelling to an attractive girl.
  • Leaf Coneybear (Gavin McNicholl) an awkwardly dorky guy whose family has always assured him he isn’t smart, but who finds himself representing his district when the winner and first runner up from that Bee can’t make the county competition.
  • Marcy Park (Julia Estrada) an overachiever from Our Lady of Intermittent Sorrows School, who gets some help from Jesus.
  • Olive Ostrosky (Whitney Andrews) a neglected girl who made friends with a dictionary to cope with the loneliness of growing up with a workaholic father and a mother who lives on an Ashram in India. She and Barfée find that F-R-I-E-N-D-S-H-I-P might be the most important word to spell.
  • Logainne SchwarzgandGrubrniere (Gina Salvatore) the youngest competitor, still just in grammar school, has two gay fathers who pressure her to win. One even is willing to cheat to make it happen.
Each night there are four guest spellers from the audience and community who join the group. The night I attended, Salome Raheim, dean of UConn’s School of Social Work on the West Hartford campus, and CT Secretary of State Denise Merrill were among the contestants. Particularly amusing was the sequence in which Harapiak eliminated Merrill with increasingly ridiculously difficult words. Also scheduled to compete during the run were UConn Men’s Baseball Coach Jim Penders and UConn Women’s Softball Coach Jen McIntyre.

While the script and music and lyrics by William Finn (Musical Direction by Ken Clark) are entertaining, this production, directed by Paul Mullins, doesn’t come together as it might (some solo numbers are quite painful). The three Equity actors (Wilson – love her nervous laugh--Harapiak and Abston) anchor the show and bring out their characters’ idiosyncrasies, but some good humor is lost on the others. We are barely aware, for instance, that William Barfée has a rare mucous disorder that’s usually played up throughout the show. The pace also drags the 90-minute run time without intermission to almost two hours.

Standing out is McNicholl, whose character finds guidance in some sort of trance. The actor looks as though he is giving birth with each correct spelling and is quite amusing as the awkward youth.

The Bee spells F-U-N through Dec. 7: Show dates and performance times vary and are subject to change. Weeknight evening performances start at 7:30; Evening performances start at 8; Matinees start at 2 pm. Tickets: $7-$36.  (860) 486-2113;; Box Office: Nafe Katter Theatre, 820 Bolton Road.

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