Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Big Events Coming Up at Mark Twain House

A Conversation with Author R. A Salvatore
Wednesday, Sept. 9, at 7:30 pm

As one of the fantasy genre's most successful authors, R.A. Salvatore enjoys an ever-expanding and tremendously loyal following.

His books regularly appear on best-seller lists and have sold more than 10,000,000 copies. He is the author of more than forty novels and more than a dozen New York Times best sellers, including "The Two Swords."

Salvatore's first published novel, "The Crystal Shard" in 1988, became the first volume of the acclaimed Icewind Dale Trilogy and introduced an enormously popular character, the dark elf Drizzt Do'Urden. Since that time, Salvatore has published numerous novels for each of his signature multi-volume series including The Dark Elf Trilogy, Paths of Darkness, The Hunter's Blades Trilogy and The Cleric Quintet. 

Tickets are $25, and $20 for members of The Mark Twain House and Museum. There will be a VIP reception at 6 pm for $65 which includes premium seating, food and beverages, and a meet-and-greet with the author.  Tickets: 860-280-3130 or click here.

A Spoken Word Performance 
by Henry Rollins
Tuesday, Sept. 15 at 7:30 pm

Henry Rollins is a multi-talented man--he's a musician, writer, journalist, publisher, actor, television and radio host, spoken word artist, comedian, and activist. At The Mark Twain House and Museum, he'll be performing a spoken word show.  It's sure to be topical, funny, thoughtful, and unforgettable. 

Plus, it will be one of only a few shows that he is doing this year and the only one east of Chicago.

After performing for the short-lived Washington DC-based band State of Alert in 1980, Rollins fronted the California hardcore punk band Black Flag from August 1981 until mid-1986. Since Black Flag disbanded, Rollins has hosted numerous radio and television shows. He had recurring dramatic roles in the second season of Sons of Anarchy, in the final seasons of the animated series The Legend of Korra as Zaheer, and has also had roles in several films. Rollins has also campaigned for various political causes in the United States, including promoting LGBT rights, World Hunger Relief and an end to war.  

Tickets are $45, and $40 for members of The Mark Twain House & Museum. Tickets: 860-280-3130 or click here.

A Conversation with Stuart Woods
Tuesday, Oct. 20, at 7 pm
NEW DATE: Tuesday, Oct. 13 at 7 pm
Stuart Woods is the author of 54 novels, including the Stone Barrington and Holly Barker series. 
The last 39 of them have been New York Times best-sellers. 

He is an avid private pilot, flying his own jet on two book tours a year. His newest novel, "Foreign Affairs," will be released one week before his visit. Learn more about the author at www.stuartwoods.com.

Tickets are $30, and $25 for members of The Mark Twain House & Museum. There will be a VIP reception at 5:30 p.m. for $75 which includes premium seating, food and beverages, and a meet-and-greet with the author.  Tickets: 860- 280-3030 or click here.

The Mark Twain House and Museum goes into hyper drive with MARK MY WORDS V...IN A GALAXY FAR, FAR AWAY! In anticipation of the release of STAR WARS VII: THE FORCE AWAKENS, we have assembled a lineup of authors that write in the Star Wars Expanded Universe: novels, comics, reference books, children's books, and graphic novels.

With more then 100 Star Wars titles between them, JASON FRY, JOHN OSTRANDER, MARK STACKPOLE, RYDER WINDHAM and TIMOTHY ZAHN have staked out the farthest reaches of the Outer Rim with adventures and characters from the films and of their own. Join us for the MARK MY WORDS author panel and "Jabba-size" your experience with our VIP DEATH STAR DISCO and DESSERTS AFTER-PARTY at The Mark Twain House's Webster Museum Center. It's going to be more fun than an Ewok celebration!

With the Immanuel Congregational Church's beautiful neo-renaissance architecture serving as the backdrop for this unforgettable night, audiences will laugh, learn, and be inspired by these five men that have helped shape the face one of the greatest sci-fi franchises of all time.

Advance tickets are $35 through Nov. 1. After, tickets will be $45. There will be a VIP ticket available for $85 that includes premium seating at the event, a poster signed by authors, and the DEATH STAR DISCO and DESSERTS after-party in the Webster Bank Museum Center at the Mark Twain House and Museum. Call 860-280-3130 or click here.

Monday, July 20, 2015

La Cage aux Folles -- Goodspeed

James Lloyd Reynolds and Cedric Leiba, Jr. Photo: © Diane Sobolewski

The Best of Times Really is Now, Making the Plot of this Musical a Bit Dated
By Lauren Yarger

“Look over there
Look over there
Somebody cares that much

“I found a combination
That works like a charm
I'm simply a man
Who walks on the stars
Whenever it's Anne on my arm

“The best of times is now
As for tomorrow, well, who knows?
Who knows? Who knows?”

These parts of La Cage aux Folles’ music and lyrics have been running through my head nonstop since I saw the show at Goodspeed last week. It’s a testament to Jerry Herman’s skills as a music and lyrics writer and evidence of why the somewhat out-of-date show gets so many regular productions in theaters across the country every year. (Our last visit was a very good production at Ivoryton Playhouse last season.)

With a book by Harvey Fierstein, based on Jean Poiret’s 1973 play of the same name, the original 1983 Broadway production won the Tonys for Best Musical, Best Score and Best Book. La Cage aux Folles is the only musical which has won the Tony Award for Best Revival of a Musical twice. Here at Goodspeed, demand has extended the production with six additional performances through Sept. 10.

And it is the score that is the main attraction. The silly plot about hiding a gay relationship from people who might be offended by it hardly seems relevant following the Supreme Court’s recent ruling on same-sex marriage.

Georges (a somewhat awkward James Lloyd Reynolds) runs La Cage aux Folles (literally translated: Cage of Mad Women), a drag queen nightclub in St. Tropez with his partner, Albin (Jamison Stern) as Zaza, as the star attraction. George’s son, John Michel (dreamy baritone Conor Ryan), the result of a one-night stand, announces that Anne (Kristen Martin) is the love of his life and that he is getting married.  There is one problem, however. Anne is the daughter of Edouard Dindon (Mark Zimmerman), an ultra-conservative politician who heads the "Tradition, Family and Morality Party" and who has pledged to close down immoral clubs like La Cage.

John Michel doesn’t exactly approve of Albin’s flamboyant and transvestite lifestyle, so he asks Georges to “uninvite” him when Anne, her father and mother (Stacey Scotte) come to visit. He wants his birth mother to pose as Georges’ wife – a notion which hurts Albin, who has been a “mother” to John Michel since he was a young boy.

Unpersuaded by Georges’ pleas – the moving song “Look Over There” -- John Michel forges ahead with the deception, redecorating the couple’s apartment over the club (done in cardboard-looking, pink walls by designer Michael Schweikardt) with pictures of Jesus to win Dindon’s approval. John Michel also insists that their house help, Jacob (a very funny Cedric Leiba, Jr), who has hopes of being able to star in the drag-club act himself one day, dress and behave like a butler instead of the high-heel, flamboyant-female attired maid he usually embraces.

When Jon Michel’s birth mother bails at the last minute, Albin steps into a dress and assumes the role of George’s wife for the meeting with the Dindons at a chic restaurant run by Jacqueline (an excellent Sue Mathys who lights up the stage whenever she is on it). As you might guess, the deception is discovered with ensuing chaos.

This production, directed by Rob Ruggiero, drags a bit (no pun intended), especially at the start. The devotion between Georges and Albin isn’t evident. Stern seems the most comfortable in his role and particularly enjoys interacting with audience members as Zaza. He delivers on the Act-One closer “I Am What I Am.”

Also confusing is the final scene when the Dindons need to make an escape in disguise to avoid the press (the staging looks like they already have captured the politician with their cameras). There may be a little too much reliance here, on the assumption that we have seen this show numerous times and know what is going on.

The show kept feeling dated to me. With sweeping changing opinion about gay marriage, this whole plot seems irrelevant. Would anyone embracing this lifestyle feel the need to go out of his way to impress a conservative, anti same-sex-marriage politician these days? Unlikely. Dindon is the French word for turkey, after all. The meaning might have needed to be disguised back in the early 1980s, but not so much now, and I would think John Michel would just tell Dindon to get on board with what is considered politically correct or kiss his political career goodbye. Ah, but then there would be no show.

Choreography by Ralph Perkins ranges from tap to ballet and is well executed. It offers a few welcome surprises (for those of us who HAVE seen this show numerous times) even as he sends groups out in small numbers to accommodate the tiny Goodspeed stage. The costumes by Michael McDonald are colorful, glittery and clever. The rest of the entirely all-male production team:  John Lasiter (lighting design which loses some actors when they come into the house) Jay Hilton (sound design) and Mark Adam Rampmeye (hair and wig design). Michael O’Flaherty (with assistant F. Wade Russo) directs the catchy music with many refrains that keeps playing in your mind long after the final curtain.

Shining here are Mathys with her stage presence and Leiba, who has the audience in stitches when his character throws some attitude.

La Cage entertains through Sept. 10 at Goodspeed Opera House, 6 Main St., East Haddam. Performances are Wednesday at 2 and 7:30 pm; Thursday at 7:30 pm. (with select performances at 2 pm), Friday at 8 pm; Saturday at 3 and 8 pm; Sunday at 2 pm (with select performances at 6:30 pm. Tickets $27-$78.50  860 873-8668; www.goodspeed.org.

The ensemble:
Chris Heitikko, Darius Barnes, Michael Bullard,  Alexander Cruz, Wade Dooley, Barbara McCulloh, Erin M. Kernion,  Alex Ringler, Nick Silverio, Nic Thompson , Brett-Marco Glauser and Emily Grace Tucker.

  • Lady Katharine Lunch Cruise: Enjoy summer on the Connecticut River on Wednesday, July 29. Add a leisurely cruise and sumptuous buffet aboard the Lady Katharine to your theater ticket. Choose 11:30 am lunch cruise ($42) or a 5 pm dinner cruise ($47) to pair with either the 2 pm or 7:30 pm performance. 
  • Meet the Cast: Take part in a lively discussion with the cast after the Thursday evening performances on July 23, Aug. 6 and 20. Meet the Cast events are free with a ticket to that evening’s performance. 
  • Friday Dinner Theatre Package: Includes dinner at the Gelston House (located next door to the Opera House) and a ticket to the 8 pm performance for $82.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Connecticut Arts Connections

Trolley Tour of Historic Federal Hill, Bristol, CT
Tour Bristol’s Historic Federal Hill Sunday, Aug. 30. A 90-minute trolley driving tour, presented by the American Clock and  Watch Museum, Bristol Historical Society, and Bristol Federal Hill Association, will be a fully narrated trip around one of the city’s oldest neighborhoods. 
Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, this area was home to many of the city’s important clockmakers, industrialists, and civic leaders. Hear stories of the individuals who owned these homes as well as the architect responsible for many of the homes’ designs, Joel Tiffany Case. 

After the tour, stay for a free concert on the Federal Hill Green, featuring the classic rock band Cajun Ray and the Steamers. The trolley tour will be conducted rain or shine, but in case of inclement weather, updates for the concert will be posted on bristolfederalhill.org

Tours begin in the parking lot of the First Congregational Church on Maple Street and will be offered at 1, 2:15, and 3:30 pm. Reservations are required. To purchase tickets ($25 each non-refundable), call the American Clock and Watch Museum at 860-583-6070. For additional information, consult the museum’s website clockandwatchmuseum.org.

Hello! Book of Mormon Rings the Doorbell at the Shubert

National Tour Company. (c) Joan Marcus, 2014
Single tickets for The Book of Mormon, winner of nine Tony Awards® including Best Musical, at the Shubert Theatre, New Haven, go on sale Friday, July 24 at 9:30 am.

Tickets can be purchased at www.shubert.com; 203-562-5666, Box Office, 247 College St., New Haven.

The Book of Mormon features book, music and lyrics by Trey Parker, Robert Lopez and Matt Stone. Parker and Stone are the four-time Emmy Award-winning creators of the landmark animated series, “South Park.” Tony Award-winner Lopez is co-creator of the long-running hit musical comedy, Avenue Q.  The musical is choreographed by Tony Award-winner Casey Nicholaw (Monty Python’s Spamalot, The Drowsy Chaperone) and is directed by Nicholaw and Parker. 

The Book of Mormon

DATE:            Oct. 13–18

DAY/TIME:   Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday 7:30pm; Friday 8 pm; Saturday 2 and 8 pm’ Sunday 1 and 6:30 pm

PRICES:         $34 – $126

LOCATION:  Shubert Theatre, 247 College Street, New Haven

For Group Sales and information call the Shubert Box Office at 203-562-5666

For more information, visit www.BookofMormonTheMusical.com

Toulouse-Lautrec's Life Sees if it Can Can be a Musical at the Norma Terris

Developmental Theater at Goodspeed's Norma Terris

My Paris
Music and Lyrics by: Charles Aznavour
Book by: Alfred Uhry
English Lyrics and Musical Adaptation: Jason Robert Brown

Theatre: The Norma Terris Theatre
33 North Main St., Chester

Director and Choreographer: Kathleen Marshall
Set Design Derek McLane
Costume Design: Paul Tazewell
Lighting Design: Donald Holder
Sound Design: Jay Hilton
Music Director: David Gardos
Music Supervisor: David Chase


Bobby Steggert (Henri Toulouse-Lautrec)
Mara Davi (Suzanne Valadon)
Donna English (Maman)
John Glover (Papa /Bonnat)
Greg Hildreth (Anquetin/Doctor)
John Riddle (Grenier)
Paul Castree (Rachou)
Chad Jennings (Aristide Bruant)
Tari Kelly (La Gouloue)
Jeffrey Pew (Valentin)
Jermaine R. Rembert (Le Chocolat)
Kate Marilley (Yvette Guilbert)
Shawna Hamic (Cha-u-kao)
Wendi Bergamini (May Milton)
Cameron Adams (Jane Avril)

Dates: July 23 – August 16, 2015
Performances: Wednesday at 2. and 7:30 pm, Thursday at 7:30 pm., Friday at 8 pm, Saturday at 3 and 8 pm and Sunday at 2 and 6:30 pm.

Tickets: Starting at $46: 860-873-8668; goodspeed.org

Special Events and Offers:
  • Wine Tasting: Sunday, July 26, 5 pm. Enjoy a sampling of fine wines hosted by Shore Discount Liquors of Deep River with hors d’oeuvres from Restaurant L and E of Chester and a pre-show chat with a member of the creative team. Only $12 with your ticket to the 6:30 pm performance. Reserve in advance through the Box Office. 
  • Talkbacks: A lively discussion with the cast after the Saturday matinee performance on July 25 and the Thursday evening performances on July 30 and Aug. 6.
  • Lady Katharine Dining Cruise: Wednesday, July 29. Enjoy summertime on the Connecticut River! Add a leisurely cruise and sumptuous buffet aboard the Lady Katharine to your theatre ticket. Choose an 11 am lunch cruise ($42) or a 4:30 pm dinner cruise ($47) to pair with either the 2 pm matinee or the 7:30 pm evening performance. The ship departs from and returns to the dock at Goodspeed Opera House in East Haddam.
  • $25 for 40 and Under: Patrons 40 and under can enjoy affordable $25 tickets for any evening performance. Available in advance by visiting or calling the Goodspeed box office.
  • Student Rush: $15 tickets for any evening performance available in advance by visiting or calling the Box Office. Must have valid student or teacher ID.
  • Goodspeed Dinners: Reserve tickets for a Wednesday, Thursday, or Sunday evening performance and enjoy special pre-show dinner offers at local restaurants.

So, You Want to Be Playwright? You Have 24 Hours. . .

Playhouse on Park celebrates its fourth year hosting a 24-Hour Play Festival. 

Theater enthusiasts meet on Friday, July 31 at 8 pm to receive their assignments; the performance is at 8 pm on Saturday, Aug. 1, just 24 hours after the first meeting!

Participants will be assigned into casts at random, each with one director and one playwright. Through the night playwrights write one-act plays, while everyone else leaves to get their beauty rest for the next morning. Directors and actors take the following day to rehearse. Playwrights return later that afternoon to help with costumes and props.

If you are at least 16 years old, have an undying passion for theater, and are up for the challenge, register now. Participation is free. Preference is given to those with experience and who register before July 24.

Performance tickets are $10, general admission. To purchase tickets, please call the Playhouse box office at 860-523-5900 x10 or visit www.playhouseonpark.org. For additional registration information, call 860-523-5900 x15 or email dloveland@playhousetheatregroup.org. Playhouse on Park is located on 244 Park Road, West Hartford, CT, 06119.

Twelfth Night Set at Elm Street Shakespeare

 Aaron Moss (Duke Orsino). Photo courtesy of El Street Shakespeare Company.

Elm Shakespeare Company continues its 20th anniversary season celebration Aug. 20-Sept. 6 with 16 performances of Twelfth Night, one of Shakespeare’s most beloved and riotous comedies of mistaken identity.

Since its inception in 1995, Elm Shakespeare Company has been engaging audiences each summer with its professional productions under the stars in Edgerton Park, New Haven.

This summer, under the direction of Artistic Director James Andreassi (who will also play the role of Sir Toby Belch),Twelfth Night has been relocated from Illyria to the south of Spain. Andreassi and the company's veteran design team have created a production that is redolent with the mystery of Moorish Andalucia. The designers are: sets Vladimir Shpitalnik, costumes Elizabeth Bolster, sound/music Nathan Roberts  and lighting Jamie Burnett.

The cast includes Paula Plum as Maria, Aaron Moss as Duke Orsino, Raphael Massie and Jeremy Funke as Malvolio and Sir Andrew Aguecheek. Also Andrea Goldman as Olivia, Lydia Barnett-Mulligan as Viola, Jacob Heimer as Feste. Other cast members include Shawn Tyler Allen, Joshua Dill, Edward Hall, Jonathan Higginbotham, Nathan Tracy and Keith Watford.

True to its mission to strengthen the artistic and educational landscape of New Haven, the company remains dedicated to mentoring and training local high school students passionate about theater. Joining the professional company this summer as either cast members or in technical positions are 10 students from high schools in the Greater New Haven area: Zane Bendici (Shelton), Talia Colten (New Haven), Sydnee Peterson (Hamden), Sophia Ginnow (Ansonia), Jeremy Bedoya (New Haven), Candice Gosta (New Haven), Chiara Giampietro (Meriden), Kathryn Kuhn (New Haven), Ashley Velleco (Ansonia) and Mimi Zschack (Orange).

Outdoor performances of William Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night

Edgerton Park, 75 Cliff St., New Haven

Aug. 20-23, 25-30 and Sept. 1-6

All performances at 8 pm

Free with a suggested donation

Bring a blanket or chair. Picnics encouraged.

Free street parking

Handicap accessible parking available

(203) 874-0801; info@elmshakespeare.orgwww.elmshakespeare.org

Coming up:
Thursday, Sept. 3, from 5-8 pm: 20th Anniversary Gala and Auction, in support of Elm Shakespeare Company’s Shakespeare in the Park performances each summer and innovative educational programs throughout the year. Food and drinks provided by many of the finest restaurants and caterers in New Haven: L’Orcio, Le Petit Gourmet, Caseus, Temple Grill, Whitneyville Food Center, Geronimo and others.

Followed by performance of Twelfth Night

Tickets for Gala: $125-$200

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Sharon Playhouse Will Stage Merrily We Roll Along

Sharon Playhouse presents a rare staging of Stephen Sondheim and George Furth’s Merrily We Roll Along from July 15-19. 
On July 18 following the 8 pm performance there will be a discussion with noted theater historian Jennifer Ashley Tepper on the history of this fabled Sondheim work.  Anyone with a ticket for that evening’s performance can attend.  The discussion will also feature cast members of past productions of the show – including the original Broadway cast, the 1994 York Theater revival, and the 2012 Encores staging - alongside the Sharon Playhouse cast.
Merrily We Roll Along is directed by John Simpkins, with choreography by Jennifer Werner and music direction by Eric Kang.
Sharon Playhouse’s production features Jason Tam as Franklin Shepard, A.J. Shively as Charley Kringas, Lauren Marcus as Mary Flynn, Sarah Cline as Gussie, David Fanning as Joe, and Evan Fine as Frank, Jr.  The ensemble includes Emma Camp, Mac Cherny, Jack Flatley, Elena Juliano, Naree Ketudat, Alyssa Lundberg, Mac Myles, Stephanie Meadowcroft, Megan Mistretta, Thomas Prast, and Owen Russell.
The design team includes Brian Prather (sets), Clifton Taylor (lights), Michelle Eden Humphrey (costumes), and Brad Berridge (sound). Taylor Wilkerson is production stage manager.  Geoff Josselson is casting director.
The authors of the landmark musical Company reunite to turn the traditional showbiz musical on its head in this thrilling and compelling Broadway fable about friendship, compromise and the high price of success.  Merrily We Roll Along moves backwards in time from 1976 to 1957 and examines the lives of Franklin, Charley and Mary whose friendship is tested by time, events, ambition and fate.  Inspired by the 1934 play by George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart, the powerful and moving story features some of Sondheim’s best known songs including 'Good Thing Going', 'Not a Day Goes By' and ' Old Friends.’
Jim Walton, Lonny Price, Ann Morrison, Liz Callaway, Tonya Pinkins, and Jason Alexander starred in the original cast directed by Harold Prince.  Although unsuccessful in its original 1981 Broadway production (which ran 16 performances at the Alvin Theatre), Merrily has gained in stature and reputation over the ensuing years, beginning with a reconfigured version at the La Jolla Playhouse in California in 1985, directed by James Lapine. An Off-Broadway revival, directed by Susan H. Schulman, opened on May 26, 1994 at the York Theatre in St. Peter's Church. The cast included Malcolm Gets, Adam Heller, Danny Burstein, and Michele Pawk.  The Tony-winning City Center Encores! presented Merrily in concert in 2012 starring Colin Donnell, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Celia Kennan-Bolger, Betsy Wolfe, and Elizabeth Stanley.
Performances times for Merrily We Roll Along the week of July 15-19 at the Sharon Playhouse are Wednesday and Thursday at 7 pm, Friday and Saturday at 8 pm, with matinees Thursday at 2 pm, Saturday and Sunday at 3 pm.  Tickets are $20-$47: 860- 364-SHOW (7469); www.sharonplayhouse.org.
About the Sharon Playhouse:
The Sharon Playhouse is located at the foot of the Berkshires in idyllic Sharon, CT, and just a few minutes from the Metro North (Wassaic) train station.  Performances are Wednesday through Sunday (performance times vary).  Single Tickets ($20-$47) are on sale now.  Subscriptions run $39 - $198.  For more information about the theatre and 2015 season, please visit www.sharonplayhouse.org or call (860) 364-SHOW (7469).

Theater Review: Xanadu -- CT Repertory

Cast of  Xanadu.  Photo: Gerry Goodstein.
 Take a Trip Back to the ’80s and to Corny Fun with Xanadu
By Lauren Yarger
hart-topping pop songs from the 1980s such as "Evil Woman," "Strange Magic" and "Have You Ever Been Mellow" take us on a trip down memory lane – and to Xanadu, closing out the Nutmeg Summer Series at CT Repertory Theatre on the UConn Storrs campus.

Vincent J. Cardinal directs the silly story by Douglas Carter Beane (Cinderella, Sister Act) adapted from the popular film by Richard Christian Danus and Marc Reid Rubel which starred Olivia Newton-John. It tells the story of Sonny (Luke Hamilton), a discouraged artist who decides to commit suicide after completing a mural of Greek muses. One of them, Clio (Amandina Altomare), decides to visit him in person to inspire the young artist. She disguises herself by changing her name to Kira, adopting an Australian accent (though Altomare’s is pretty annoying) and sporting leg warmers and roller skates to fit into the culture of 1980s California.

Two of her sister muses, Calliope (Steve Hayes) and Melopomene (Ariana Shore) follow her. They are jealous that their father, Zeus (Dirk Lumbard), has promised Clio “Xanadu,” though none of them are exactly sure what that is…. They put a curse on her so that she will create art herself (forbidden to muses) and fall in love with a mortal (also forbidden.)

Meanwhile, Sonny, now inspired, discovers an abandoned theater called the Xanadu and hopes to present concerts and other artistic endeavors, like a roller disco, there. Owner Danny (also Lumbard) is not interested at first, but remembers a time when he rejected a visit by his own muse, and gives in realizing that he let pride get in the way of his chance for love and happiness all those years ago.

Will Kira and clueless Sonny (well portrayed by Hamilton) find true love? Will Kira’s disobedience incur the wrath of Zeus? The answers to these and other not-so-hard-to-answer questions are revealed in a very silly show that fortunately doesn’t take itself very seriously. Cardinal also doesn’t try to play the show for more than it is, and the result is a corny, fun-filled time at the theater evoking memories of Newton-John’s renditions of the Jeff Lynne/John Farrar  tunes that some of us remember blaring on all of the popular radio stations back in the ’80s.

Hayes and Shore, who shines, do have good rapport on stage and account for most of the show’s laughs. Hayes gets guffaws just for showing up in ridiculous wig and garb designed by Lisa Loen and had a group of older women near me cackling throughout. Loen also has fun creating costumes for some of the Greek gods. Tim Brown designs the sets and projections that transport us from California to Mount Olympus.

Why Cardinal chooses to have a number of the muses (the others are Taylor Stutz, Johnny Brantley III, Jayne Ng, Annie Wallace and Conor Connally) played by physically well-chiseled men who couldn’t possibly be mistaken for females is one question that remains unanswered, however. It is a personal pet peeve to see women playing women’s roles on stage for no apparent reason.

The very small band is directed by NDavid Williams with Daniel Moctezuma conducting. The musical beat, choreography by Cassie Abate and the singing voices sometimes seems at odds with each other and could use some polishing. Broadway vet Lumbard entertains with some tap dancing skills.

Xanadu appears through July at the Harriet S. Jorgensen Theatre, UConn, Storrs campus. Performances are Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays at 7:30 pm; Friday and Saturday at 8 pm; Saturdays and Sundays at 2 pm. Tickets are $12 – $55. (860) 486-2113; www.crt.uconn.edu.

Monday, July 6, 2015

Theater Review: South Pacific -- Ivoryton Playhouse

Adrianne Hick and David Pittsinger. Photo by Roger Williams
A New Perspective on an Old Classic Results in Relevant Themes
By Lauren Yarger
American bass-baritone David Pittsinger, who starred as Emile de Becque in the acclaimed production of South Pacific at Lincoln Center in New York, reprises the role at Ivoryton Playhouse, joined by his wife, Patricia Shulman, who stars as sassy, souvenir-selling Bloody Mary.

Pittsinger, who has sung on opera and concert stages in Vienna, Salzburg, Brussels, Paris, Tanglewood, Pesaro, New York, Santa Fe, Cincinnati, Los Angeles and San Francisco, thrills with his goosebump-triggering renditions of “Some Enchanted Evening” and “This Nearly Was Mine.” Just those songs alone are worth the price of the ticket.

A Connecticut native and graduate of UCONN and the Yale School of Music, Pittsinger received the University of Connecticut School of Fine Arts Alumni Award in 2006. Shulman began her career with the great Mozart repertoire, performing Donna Elvira (Don Giovanni) and Contessa Almaviva (Le nozze di Figaro) at the Metropolitan Opera and has performed at most of the great opera houses throughout Europe and the United States.
The couple resides in Essex, CT.

Besides looking forward to hearing Pittsinger sing, I decided to approach this production of South Pacific a little differently. After all, it is a 65-year-old musical set in World War II and the afore-mentioned revival at Lincoln Center, directed by Bartlett Sher was thrilling and the definitive staging of the classic, in my opinion, so why see another?

I decided to pretend that I never had seen the show, that I hadn’t been singing some of the Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein songs most of my life and to see whether the premise, which never really made sense to me, might. As a young child I hadn’t really understood why Navy nurse Nellie Forbush (Adrianne Hicks) couldn’t be with her love, French plantation owner Emile.

“But what difference does it make?” I asked, when my mother explained that Nellie had issues with people of color. She nixes any idea of marrying Emile when she discovers that he has two non-white children, Ngana (the role is shared by Kaiya Colguhoun and Avital Goldberg-Curran) and Jerome (Dylan Huber) from a previous relationship with an island woman. This might have been an  issue during World War II, but it just didn’t seem relevant to me in the '70s.

There is a lot of  backwards thinking in the book by Hammerstein and Joshua Logan (who won the Pulitzer Prize for their adaptation of James Mitchner’s “Tales of the South Pacific” which won a Pulitzer itself.) There are words like “colored,” “dames,” broads” and “Japs,” which would have been normal back in 1949.

Nellie’s friend, Lt. Joseph Cable (Peter Carrier) also deals with prejudice when he falls in love with Bloody Mary’s daughter, Liat  (Annelise Cepero), but can’t marry her for fear of what his family will think.

Looking at the musical with fresh eyes, I was shocked to realize just how relevant it is, even more than it seemed in 2008-2010 when the revival ran at Lincoln Center. Just weeks ago, members of a black church in Charleston, SC were murdered by a white man with ties to a white supremacist group and the Confederate flag. Overwhelming pressure for the state to sever its relationship with the flag, a symbol to many of slavery and black oppression, brought race relations front and center on a national stage. 

Many have called for the removal of the Confederate flag from South Carolina’s capitol. Walmart stopped selling merchandise bearing the flag’s image and even reruns of “The Dukes of Hazard” were pulled from TV. Suddenly Nellie’s concerns about race aren’t as out-of-date as we’d like them to be. The song “You Have to Be Carefully Taught” is chilling.

Though I was considering the musical from a fresh perspective, surprisingly, many of the audience members actually appeared to be seeing it for the first time. There were gasps at what I thought were universally known plot turns and genuine laughter at Bloody Mary’s dealings with the sailors as well as at the antics of sailor Luther Billis (William Shelby), who seeks a way to get over to nearby island Bali Ha’i where native women have been relocated while American troops try to get a handle on nearby Japanese war activity. Heading the effort are Captain George Brackett (R. Bruce Connelly) and Cmdr. William Harbison (Tom Libonate).

I am going to be sparse on more plot details. Either you have seen it a ton of times like me and you should pretend you haven’t, or I don’t want to give spoilers for you newbies. Directed and choreographed by David Edwards, the action takes place on a military base in the South Pacific and in Emile’s hilltop plantation home. Simple sets, excellently lighted by Marcus Abbott,  are designed by Daniel Nischan. Lenore Grunko designs the military and native garb with Joel Silvestro designing hair and wigs. 

There are a few problems unique to this production. The pace is too slow and the choreography doesn’t appear natural. I didn’t buy that Nellie was floating around because she was “In love with a wonderful Guy.” She obviously just moves through choreography steps. Also disappointing, she doesn’t really “Wash That Man Right Out of Her Hair,” since only a few drops of water get splashed around. Even approaching with new eyes, I would have expected some real shampoo action. That’s what makes this number so fun.

The male and female choruses sing with gusto, accompanied by an eight-person band, under the music direction of Michael McAssey. The overture and other instrumental parts are weak for the score, which is best presented by a full orchestra,

But don’t let these things trip you up (or keep you from making a trip to Ivoryton). Go hear Pittsinger, Enjoy Schuman. And ponder how much (or perhaps sadly, how little) our attitudes toward race in this country have changed in the last 65 years.

South Pacific makes waves through July 26 at Ivoryton Playhouse, 103 Main St., Ivoryton. Perfromances are Wednesday and Sunday matinees at 2 pm. Additional matinee performances are at 2 pm on Thursday July 16, Saturday, July 18 and Saturday,  July 25. Evening performances are Wednesday and Thursday at 7:30, Friday and Saturday at 8. Tickets are $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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