Tuesday, October 27, 2015

It Will Be a White Christmas at the Palace

Photo by Kevin White
A flurry of fun is in the forecast for Waterbury when the Palace Theater presents five performances of Irving Berlin's White Christmas, the acclaimed stage adaptation of the beloved classic film, Nov. 6-8.

The Palace Theater will serve as the first stop on the production’s National Tour, which will be traveling Knoxville, Newport, St. Louis, Cincinnati, Providence, Rochester and Schenectady during the 2015 holiday season.

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.

Photo by Kevin White
Tickets are $69, $62, and $53: palacetheaterct.org; 203-346-2000; Box Office, 100 East Main St., Waterbury.

Before the Friday, Nov. 6, performance, the Palace will host a 6 p.m. pre-fixe, four-course dinner in the Poli Club, located on the mezzanine level of the theater. Dinner is $62.50 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 show’s Nation Tour will star Sean Montgomery as "Bob Wallace," Jeremy Benton as "Phil Davis," Kerry Conte as "Betty Haynes" and Kelly Sheehan as "Judy Haynes.” Also featured are Pamela Myers as "Martha Watson," Conrad John Schuck as "General Waverly,” David Perlman as "Ralph Sheldrake," Ravi Roth as "Mike Nulty," Cliff Bemis as "Ezekiel Foster" and Elizabeth Crawford and Samantha Penny as "Susan Waverly." 

Rounding out the cast are Maria Rose Briggs, Darien Crago, Elish Conlon, Laurie DiFilippo, Joe Grandy, Drew Humphrey, Bryan Hunt, Megan Kelley, Connor McRory, Bryan Charles Moore, Kristyn Pope, Jake Primmerman, Sean Quinn, Rachel Rhodes-Devey and Kelly Skidmore.

The creative team for the National Tour includes direction and choreography by Randy Skinner (Tony Award® Nomination, Best Choreography); book by David Ives (Finnian's Rainbow, On the Town) and Paul Blake (Producer, Beautiful-The Carole King Musical); set design by Anna Louizos (Avenue Q, In The Heights); set adaptation by Kenneth Foy; costumes by Carrie Robbins (A Class Act); lighting design by Ken Billington (The Drowsy Chaperone, Annie); sound design by Keith Caggiano; orchestrations by Larry Blank (Tony Award® nomination, Best Orchestrations); vocal and additional arrangements by Bruce Pomahac; music direction byMichael Horsley; casting by Binder Casting/Jason Styres, CSA. Original Broadway production directed by Walter Bobbie.

For more information, visit www.whitechristmasthemusical.com or www.palacetheaterct.org.

Refuse the Hour Begins No Boundaries at Yale

Yale Repertory Theatre’s 2015–16 No Boundaries performance series begins with the multimedia chamber opera Refuse the Hour, conceived and with a libretto by William Kentridge, music composed by Philip Miller, choreography by Dada Masilo, video design by Catherine Meyburgh and Kentridge, and dramaturgy by Peter Galison, on Friday, Nov. 6 at 8 pm and Saturday, Nov, 7 at 2 pm at the University Theatre, 222 York St., New Haven.

In this multimedia chamber opera, renowned South African artist Kentridge joins forces with a composer, a choreographer, a video designer, and a physicist to deliver an astonishing collision of art and performance. Sharing the stage with a menagerie of strange machines of his own invention, along with singers, dancers, and musicians, Kentridge conjures a stunning and profound exploration of the nature of time.  Refuse the Hour is co-sponsored by the Andrew Carnduff Ritchie Fund, Yale Center for British Art, Yale Institute of Sacred Music, Yale Repertory Theatre, Yale School of Music, and Yale University Art Gallery.

Tickets are $50–70: yalerep.org; 203-432-1234; Box Office, 1120 Chapel St. Student tickets are $25.

Refuse the Hour is the chamber opera companion to Kentridge’s five-channel video installation The Refusal of Time. Q and A sessions will be held immediately following each performance.


William Kentridge

Sunday, Nov. 8 at 3 pm (Doors Open at 2)

Yale University Art Gallery, 1111 Chapel St.

In this lecture, William Kentridge examines opportunities for learning from the edges and talks about his current project, Notes Towards a Model Opera. Free and open to the public; space is limited. Followed by a reception. Generously sponsored by the Andrew Carnduff Ritchie Fund.

Now through January 2016

Yale University Art Gallery, 1111 Chapel St.

In his work, Kentridge employs a variety of media—including drawing, animation, sound, and video—to reflect on larger themes such as violence, fear, the relationship between text and image, and the legacies of art, literature, and science. Two video installations, What Will Come (2007) and NO, IT IS (2012), along with a selection of prints by the artist showcase his masterful approach to exploring these themes.

Connecticut Arts Connections



Isn't it time we had an honest conversation
about racism?

Thurs., Dec 3, 2015
8 pm at The Bushnell

Eric Garner. Sandra Bland. Michael Brown. Baltimore protests. Police. White privilege. Institutional racism. Racial profiling. "Post-racial." Black Lives Matter.
Let's talk about it. 
Be part of a candid conversation about power, privilege, and prejudice in the context of history, current events, and personal experience.
All Forums LIVE at The Bushnell. VIP ticket packages available.
Click here for tickets or call 860-509-0909. 
Claire Kelly has been with Shakespeare on the Sound for the past five years as the Artistic Associate and Director of Education. She has directed two main stage shows with the company, As You Like It (2013) and The Two Gentlemen Of Verona (2014). Claire co-created and directed Shakespeare on the Sound's K-5 touring production Let's Play Shakespeare!, and directed their anti-bullying program Speaking Daggers. Claire has assembled and lead the young adult Apprentice program for the past three years. She has worked at the Guthrie Theater, The Shakespeare Theater of New Jersey, the Ordway Music Theater, and the George Street Playhouse, among others. Claire was the Director of Drama at Proctor Academy in New Hampshire. She holds a Masters of Arts degree from New York University in Educational Theater. Claire currently resides in New Canaan. She has two children, a dog named Ophelia, and a tortoise named Romeo. 

Online submissions are being accepted beginning today through January 8 for the 2016 YALE INSTITUTE FOR MUSIC THEATRE. Under the leadership of Artistic Director Mark Brokaw, two original music theatre works will be selected for the 2016 Institute’s summer lab, which will take place June 12–26 in New Haven. Online applications are being accepted now through January 8, 2016, 11:59PM (EST) at drama.yale.edu/YIMT.

The Hartford Symphony Orchestra and the Simsbury Meadows Performing Arts Center have signed a new, five year agreement to host the Talcott Mountain Music Festival at Simsbury Meadows through 2020.

Salt Marsh Opera: Madame Butterfly and Aladdin are among the offerings this November at the Katharine Hepburn Cultural arts Center in Old Saybrook.

Saturday, November 14
8 pm
The Kate 300 Main St., Old Saybrook$25 ~ 877-503-1286http://www.thekate.org

B-side Media Group in collaboration with The Mark Twain House and Museum presents "Bigger Thank Hip Hop: A Dialogue on Hip Hope Culture and #Black Lives Matter"--a conversation with best selling author/Sundance filmmaker MK Asante, Hip Hop Activist/Journalist Rosa Clemente, and Capital Community College Professor Femi Bogle-Assegai. They will be discussing the #Black Lives Matter movement, Hip Hop's Social responsibility, and the roles that the black community plays to set the tone for change.

This event takes place on Sunday, Nov. 8 at 7:30 pm at The Mark Twain House and Museum. 351 Farmington Ave., Hartford.Tickets for this event are $20 in advance, $25 at the door, and $15 for students with ID. Please call (860) 247-0998 or visit marktwainhouse.org and click on Events.

TRINITY COLLEGE"Funny You Should Ask.... The Kafka Project," a new work directed by Michael Preston ("Fräulien Maria") and created with Trinity College students, will be presented at Trinity College, Nov. 5, 6, and 7, at 7:30 pm.

Using excerpts from short stories by Franz Kafka (1883-1924), "Funny You Should Ask...." presents themes in the German language writer's work through clowning, vaudeville, and silent film. Admission is free although tickets are required: 860-297-2199. 


Monday, October 26, 2015

Arts on Tap -- Literally -- at Annual Bridgeport Art Trail

Rick Reyes plays the Artists Kick-Off party at Read's ArtSpace_Nov-12. Photo: courtesy of Mike Horyczun
Art's on tap at more than 30 locations during the seventh annual Bridgeport Art Trail (BAT) Nov. 12- 15.

Open studios and galleries provide the nucleus for BAT activities, with workshops, studio sales, gallery tours, performance space concerts, and hands-on learning experiences featured on the schedule. Countless artists, photographers, designers, musicians, dancers, deejays, film makers, actors, and poets take part in a weekend of mostly-free events that celebrate what local inspiration and genius can accomplish. Online information is available at: http://bridgeport-art-trail.org/ . To view a downloadable BAT brochure, click here.

City Lights Gallery, the lead organization of the Bridgeport Art Trail, is joined by several anchor locations throughout the city – all products of successful gentrification initiatives. These include the American Fabrics Arts Building, hosting its 10th annual “Open Studios” showcase, The Bridgeport Innovation Center, the historic Arcade Mall, Read’s Artspace, 305 Knowlton, and The NEST Arts Factory. Additional participating galleries, studios, and spaces include: B:Hive, Gallery @ 999, PenRod Studios, Bridgeport Creates Gallery, Bert Chernow Gallery, Misencik Photography, Maggie Daly Arts Cooperative, Revisit Bridgeport, The Seasides, Black Rock Galleries, SteP uP Gallery, Pious Bird, Source Coffeehouse and Harborview Market. Several Open House events take place at locations such as the Bridgeport School of the Arts, (Steve Hladun's Jefferson School Loft in the South End), Hall Arts Academy, the Neighborhood Studios of Fairfield County, and Soundview Community Media.

Bridgeport’s recognized institutions are participating in BAT this year, including the University of Bridgeport’s Schelfhaudt Gallery, the Housatonic Museum of Art, the Discovery Museum, the Barnum Museum, and community radio station WPKN. Additionally, Bridgeport’s renowned concert halls and theatres celebrate the weekend with significant performances scheduled for The Klein Memorial Auditorium, marking its 75th anniversary, the Downtown Cabaret Theatre, and The Bijou Theatre. The city’s New England Ballet also presents a free all-day ballet workshop. Activities added to the mix include poetry readings, an all-day BAT bike tour, morning yoga session, vinyl record sale, Moroccan brunch, and Gambian-food evening opening.

Visitors can mingle with artists at a kick-off party on Thursday night at the historic Read's Artspace Ground Floor Gallery with guest combo featuring Rick Reyes of the Cosmic Jibaros. WPKN programmers will keep the party atmosphere going between sets. On exhibit will be the annual "Artists Choose Artists" exhibit produced by the Read's artists community. Once the Read's department store, an anchor store to the twentieth-century downtown, it is now a community-based, redeveloped live/work artist space in downtown Bridgeport. The gallery is utilized by the Read's residents to host exhibitions and related programming and is open on an event/appointment basis.

Another BAT anchor location is the American Fabrics Arts Building (AFA), which presents its 10th Annual Open Studios, showcasing over 25 artists in studios where the creative process happens. 2 Roads Brewery will host a beer tasting at the AFA building where WPKN will present its popular Vintage Vinyl Record Sale. AFA is located in a renovated factory building where linen and lace were once manufactured. The event has become a destination for collectors, interior designers, and art lovers alike. AFA's diverse group of artists are engaged in painting, printmaking, sculpture, quilting, jewelry, photography, ceramics, textiles, design, mixed media, and more.

A sampling of other BAT highlights includes visual art exhibitions ranging from Denyse Schmidt quilts, short videos and still photos from Misencik Photography, supersized drawings by Rick Shaefer, a fashion show Boutique presented by Bridgeport Creates and Fashion Oasis with works from local and regional designers, and a film presentation at the Bijou Theatre hosted by City Lights entitled “Mostly Silent” featuring vintage-to-contemporary film, news reels, and animation commercials, plus a presentation of works by Saturday Night Live’s animation and creative powerhouse J.J. Sedelmaeir.

The fifth annual Bridgeport Art Trail Bike Ride begins at City Lights Gallery at 9 am Saturday, Nov. 14, with a coffee and a bagel, then heads out with Bob Halstead to stops that include Mountain Grove cemetery, the final resting place of PT Barnum and Tom Thumb, plus the historic Majestic and Poli Theatres, and a number of open studio locations.

The Bridgeport Innovation Center (BIC), site of a number of special weekend events, has been providing a nurturing space for artists, entrepreneurs, community organizers, and small to mid-sized companies to grow and flourish since 1989. The building itself possesses a rich history and is a hidden historical gem of Bridgeport's East End. The oldest of the 10 buildings within the complex dates back to 1914 and for the majority of its life it was occupied by the Weed Tire Chain Company. Today, BIC is home to artists, entrepreneurs, business professionals, community organizations, religious organizations, and mid-styled companies in a variety of industries.

The Arcade Mall was one of America's first enclosed shopping malls. The renovated downtown landmark is being reactivated by the artists. Its charm and scale make it a perfect location for social gatherings and events. The NEST Arts Factory is a community of artists and musicians working in a wide variety of media in a re-imagined factory building on the West Side. Open space and a dedicated gallery within the NEST allow both performing and visual artists to share their work with the community. And 305 Knowlton Street Artist Studios is a repurposed factory building located on the Pequannock River providing two floors of working studio spaces. The rustic Armstrong Gallery on the first floor is home to exhibitions and events. There is plenty of parking in a new off-street parking lot. Check http://bridgeport-art-trail.org/ for BAT event details at these historic venues and at all BAT locations.

Check out all the offerings at http://bridgeport-art-trail.org/.

New this year will be a BAT Shuttle Bus service connecting all artists’ studio space sites. Park downtown and pick up a Shuttle Pass at City Lights, which is partnering with Neighborhood Studios to provide this service. Passes are free, but a $5 donation is suggested.

Theater Review: Disgraced-- Long Wharf

Rajesh Bose and Nicole Lowrance. Photo: T, Charles Erickson
Prejudices Surface, Identities Get Blurry – and Uncomfortable
By Lauren Yarger
When a Muslim, a Jew, an African-American and a WASP start talking religion, it gets messy and before the evening is over, friends and spouses discover they don’t really know each other or themselves very well.

Welcome to the compelling world of Ayad Akhbar’s Pulitzer-Prize winning play Disgraced, getting a run at Long Wharf Theatre. This production, tautly directed by Long Wharf’s Artistic Director Gordon Edelstein, also will play at Boston’s Huntington Theatre Jan 8-Feb. 7, 2016.

Rajesh Bose  reprises a role he has played before (for PlayMakers Repertory in North Carolina): Amir, a former Muslim – whether there even can be such a thing is one of the themes explored here – who has decided to worship his career as a mergers and acquisitions attorney in New York instead of the religion into which he was born. He rejects the archaic Quran and the often violent religion it promotes. Accused of just “going through a phase” by his nephew, Abe (Mohit Gautam), who has Americanized his name from Hussein, Amir replies that such a phase is called “intelligence.”

If Amir feels a pull toward his Pakistani roots, it is because his WASPy American artist wife, Emily, (Nicole Lowrance, who gives a very strong performance) defends the religion and continually praises the beauty and wisdom she finds in her studies of Islamic art. Her latest works have been influenced by it and have earned her a spot in a new show being produced by Isaac (Benim Foster), who is married to Jory (Shirine Babb), an attorney vying for partnership with Amir at their firm.

It’s Emily who sympathizes with an imam accused of having terrorist ties and joins with Abe in urging Amir to help. Would she be so quick to defend Islam if she knew that even his mother thought all white women were whores, he asks? He eventually capitulates to their pleas, but appearing to support the suspected terrorist has unpleasant professional consequences for Amir.

When Isaac and Jory come to dinner at Amir and Emily’s swank Manhattan apartment (designed by Lee Savage ), Amir has a few too many drinks and all hell breaks loose as the conversation goes from “all religions have idiosyncrasies” to a hate-filled round of “your religion is bad.”

It turns out that Amir isn’t as removed from his religious upbringing as he thinks. He certainly has some opinions that offend his Jewish and African-American guests (and us) like thinking that blowing Israel off the map is a good idea and feeling “tribal” pride over the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Later, Emily and Jory both tragically find that their husbands’ views about how to treat their wives aren’t what they thought they were either.

The play is intelligent and witty – and very uncomfortable because of unspoken truths that lie just beneath the surface. We don’t want to have to talk about these things, let alone discuss them over dinner with friends, but the characters (all excellently portrayed and well directed by Edelstein) don’t give us any choice.

There is no escape (there’s no intermission in the 90-minute play) and we are forced to explore some of the deep-rooted thoughts we have about religion. We also have to face the fact that the ugliness on stage could show up at our next dinner party too if we and our guests were to serve up honest opinions about Islam and events taking place as we speak throughout the world.

How much are we able to separate ourselves from the roots of who we are? Not very, Akhbar would seem to point out.

Disgraced runs at Long Wharf's Main Stage, 222 Sargent Drive, New Haven through Nov. 8. Performances are Tuesday and Wednesday at 7 pm; Thursday, Friday, Saturday at 8 pm; Matinees Wednesday and Sunday at 2 pm, Saturdays at 3 pm. Tickets $25-$85: 203-787-4282; www.longwharf.org.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Evita -- Music Theatre of CT

 Katerina Papacostas and Donald E. Birely. Photo: Joe Landry
Music by Andrew Lloyd Webber
Lyrics by Tim Rice
Directed by Kevin Connors
Music Theatre of Connecticut
Through Nov. 1

Starring Donald E. Birely, Corinne C. Broadbent, Christopher DeRosa, Matt Greenberg, Tyler Keller,
Daniel C. Levine, Rachel MacIsaac, Carissa Massaro,Christopher Hudson Myers and Katerina Papacostas.
What's It All About?
It's a newly re-imagined version of the Tony-Award-winning musical about the rise and fall of  Argentina's pre and post-World-War II-era First Lady Eva Peron. The large-scale musical has been repackaged to be presented by just a cast of 10 playing multiple roles. More than 25 songs include "Don't Cry for Me Argentina," Rainbow High," Rainbow Tour" and "Buenos Aires." They get Musical Direction by Thomas Martin Conroy, who leads a four-man band on stage. Some arrangements suffer by having so few instruments, but overall, they do an admirable job accompanying.

Eva Duarte (Katerina Papacostas) pulls herself up from the gutter by sleeping with men like sleazy lounge singer Agustin Magaldi (a fabulous Christopher DeRosa who is the best I ever have seen) and makes her way to Buenos Aires, where she meets rising political star and soldier Juan Peron (Donald E. Birely). She unemploys his young mistress ( a charming Carissa Massaro) and the two go on to enjoy a monarch-like reign. Eva is given almost saint-like status by the people, but not everyone is fooled. Revolutionary Che (Daniel C. Levine) sees his country being robbed blind and the rights of the people being stripped away by socialist policies.

What Are the Highlights?
Director Kevin Connors has triumphed in many ways. Producing this type of musical in the intimate space at Music Theatre of Connecticut is a challenge and he succeeds in delivering a show that is dynamic, exciting and satisfying -- especially for those of us who have been fans of Evita since it first burst onto a Broadway stage back in 1977. In some ways, he does the original one better, He focuses on the relationships, particularly between Eva and Juan and the show is much better for it.

Scenes that never really jelled for me before (and failed horribly in the recent Broadway revival) come to life in fresh interpretation. I even thought the insertion of the song "You Must Love me," which was written for Madonna in the film version, and which I hated in the revival, was brilliantly placed here and made perfect sense. It also is the strongest song for Papacostas, who sings admirably on the rest of the score, but who doesn't have the high belts for "Rainbow High.". I was touched and felt for Eva in a way I never have before.

In addition, Connors refocuses on Che as the storyteller. This aspect was lost completely in that horrible revival in which Ricky Martin wandered aimlessly around the stage and sent me home weeping for Mandy Patinkin. In this production, Levine gives a powerhouse performance (as electrifying as Mandy's in the showstopping "The Money Kept rolling In") as he takes us through Eva's life from his perspective -- high belts and all.

The acting is strong and vocals, for the most part, are solid and effectively mixed.

Costumes by Diane Vanderkroef help tell the story (and provide amusement as the ensemble doubles as soldiers on one side and aristocrats on the other.) Becky Timms tautly choreographs large numbers in the small space designed by David Heuvelman

What Are the Lowlights?
I really missed Eva's high belts, even if I did enjoy Papacostas' portrayal of Eva.
Lighting (designed by Joshua Scherr) leaves soloists in the dark and fails to highlight Che in his narrator's role.

There is some slowness in tempo and in timing in the staging of a few scenes, but if you haven't seen this show a lot and listened to it several thousand times, you probably won't notice. Overall, this production far exceeds the 2012 Broadway revival, so don't miss it.

More Information:
Evita plays through Nov. 1 at Music Theatre of CT, 509 Westport ave., Norwalk. Performances are
Fridays at 8 pm, Saturdays at 4 pm and 8 pm, Sundays at 2 pm. Tickets are $35-$55: 203-454-3883; www.musictheatreofct.com.

MTC Students appearing:
(October 16-18 performances:) Rica Monaghan, Raquel Paie, Madeleine Tansley, (October 23-25 performances:) Ariana Brodows, Jonah Frimmer, Jolie Shey, (October 30-November 1 performances:) Jonah Frimmer, Cessa Lewis, Rica Monaghan, Hannah Pressman.

Theater Review: A Wonderful Life

The cast of Goodspeed's A Wonderful Life. Photo: Diane Sobolewski

It’s a Wonderful Life, but Not So Wonderful a Musical
By Lauren Yarger
The classic film “It’s a Wonderful Life” charms folks every year at Christmas time. Who can resist the charm of Bedford Falls and the folks who come to the aid of desperate leading citizen George Bailey, including Clarence an angel in search of his wings?

The Frank Capra movie somehow doesn’t make the transition to stage, however, in A Wonderful Life, getting a run at Goodspeed, despite its popularity and the talented music/lyric team of joe Raposo and Sheldon Harnick (who also wrote the book and few others like those for the musicals Fiddler on the Roof, She Loves Me,and Fiorello! to name  few). You’ll probably know Raposo best  for his work on TV’s “Sesame Street,”for which he wrote the theme song, as well as classics such as "Bein' Green" and "C is for Cookie."

You won’t remember any of the Wonderful Life score, unfortunately. No catchy tunes to hum on the way out of the theater here, despite the efforts of the orchestra, directed by Michael O’Flaherty to make the songs sound good, even if they appear to have been inserted so the tale could be called a musical. In fact, a lot of them include cacophonous moments (orchestrations by Dan DeLange) so that even the Bailey kids singing a simple song doesn’t sound quite right.

In case you haven’t watched the film, starring Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed a couple of hundred times, the story follows the life of George Bailey (Duke Lafoon), who always wanted to escape small town Bedford Falls, but finds himself stuck running the family savings and loan business when his father dies. He gives his chance for a college education to his younger brother, Harry (Logan James Hall) and eventually settles down with Mary Hatch (Kirsten Scott) who always has dreamed of marrying him and raising a family in a big, old abandoned house in town.

George soon is wondering whether his wife made the right choice when their honeymoon is cancelled by a business crisis and Mary’s former beau Sam Wainwright (Josh Franklin) makes it big. George just can’t seem to put his own interests in front of the people of Bedford Falls, however and takes a very small salary to make it possible for the town’s poorer folks, like cabbie Ernie (Ryan G. Dunkin), cop Bert (Kevin C. Loomis) and immigrant Mr. Martini (George McDaniel) to own homes and businesses. He also uses his own money to help out friends who are down and out. (OK, I am sure I am not the only one getting a chuckle out of the fact that Raposa has written music for Bert and Ernie in both of their carnations.)

Their loans were turned down by town boss Mr. Potter (Ed Dixon, who is so villainous that he gets booed at the curtain call) who hopes to put his only competitor, the Bailey Savings and Loan, out of business. He seizes on a mistake made by George’s Uncle Billy (Michael Medeiros) and suddenly George is missing a lot of money and facing financial ruin. He realizes that he is worth more dead than alive and considers suicide to bail out his family.

Enter guardian angel Clarence (Frank Vlastnik), who must help George realize that his life is wonderful – and in the process, earn his wings as a full angel.

Somehow the feeling of Bedford Falls is never captured here, so we don’t experience the transition to what life might have been like had Gorge never been born. Lighting by Scott Bolman helps create a dark look – and costumes by Jennifer Caprio help do the same and pace us in the time periods – but the set designed by Brian Prather is pretty bleak and nondescript for both versions of the town. Perky choreography by Parker Esse helps establish a joyful mood for Bedford Falls, but Director Michael Perlman doesn’t define it.

Some changes are made in the story to adapt the film to stage: There’s no dance intothe high school swimming pool and Clarence doesn’t save George from a fall from a bridge, but pushes him instead out of the way of an oncoming train.

And Clarence is an effeminate, meek, rather than rotund, bumbling angel-in-training.
There are a few funny lines, and the heartwarming story of friends rallying to payback kindnesses still brings a smile, but overall, this musical lacks the charm of the movie and has us kind of wishing Clarence could transport us into the film.

A Wonderful Life offers extended angel wings through Dec. 6 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-$80.50 (860) 873-8668; www.goodspeed.org.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Theater Review: Newsies -- The Bushnell

The original North American Tour company of Newsies. Disney Photo: Deen van Meer
Newsboys Flip, and So Does the Audience
By Lauren Yarger
A huge cast jumps, spins, sings, dances and flips across the stage – and the audience flips as well for Newsies, the stage adaptation of Disney’s 1992 movie making a tour stop at The Bushnell.

Think “Mickey Mouse Club on steroids” and you have a pretty quick picture of this wholesome crowd pleaser featuring a cast of more than 30 performing Christopher Gattelli’s over-the-top, Tony-Award-winning choreography to a peppy, pounding score by Alan Menken (of Beauty and the Beast fame. He won a Tony for Newsies, despite the repetitive sound of the score, driven by too many belts and reprises. Lyrics are by Jack Feldman.

Director Jeff Calhoun directs the story, inspired by the real-life ‘Newsboy Strike of 1899,’ when newsboy Kid Blink led a band of orphan and runaway newsies on a two-week-long action against Pulitzer, Hearst and other powerful newspaper publishers. Harvey Fierstein pens the stage adaptation of Bob Tzudiker and Noni White’s screenplay.

The newsboys (although in this musical the boys are mostly all young men in their 20s) go on strike when publisher Joseph Pulitzer (Steve Blanchard) decides to increase the amount the boys must pay to purchase their papers

Leading the revolt is streetwise Jack Kelly (Joey Barreiro) who teams up with newbie newsboy, Davey (Stephen Michael Langton ) and his kid brother, Les (shared by Jonathan Fenton, Ethan Steiner, John Michael Pitera – I saw Steiner who was terrific), who have left school to support their family while their father recovers from a work-related accident. If the father had been in a union, they discover, things might have been different, so they eagerly join the newsies’ efforts to organize and make a stand against the sleazy Pulitzer.  

Assisting them in their efforts is a woman reporter, Katherine (Morgan Keene, who has a powerful vocal instrument), who hopes reporting on the strike will bump her from reviewing theater to the front page. There might also be some romance in store between her and Jack.

Also lending a hand to their efforts is Medda Larkin (Aisha De Haas) who offers her theater as a rallying point for the strikers. Standing out from the ensemble in other roles are Zachary Sayle as Crutchie, a newsie who walks with a limp and who takes a terrible beating (not seen) for the cause, and Kevin Carolan reprising his Broadway role as Gov. Teddy Roosevelt. Sayle has a great singing voice and stage presence and would be playing the role of Jack if I were casting. 

The action takes place around or on a three-story, three-piece moving truss (Tobin Ost). Jack’s sketches (he’s an artist) and some location paintings are projected onto it (Swen Ortel, projection design). Costumes are by Jess Goldstein.

Michael Kosarin supervises the music played by a full-sounding orchestra and provides the vocal arrangements. The orchestrations by Danny Troob tend to make the accompaniment sound different from the melodies being sung. The sound mix (designed by Ken Travis) often has vocals straining to be heard over the music.

The audience loved it, though, giving enthusiastic applause and cheers after many of the belting, numbers reprised many times during the two and a half hours of flipping, spinning and jumping. I felt like I got a work out just watching it.

Newsies flip on the stage at The Bushnell through Oct.18. Performances are Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays: 7:30 pm; Fridays and Saturdays: 8 pm; Saturdays at 2 pm; Sundays 1 and 6:30 pm Tickets $29.50-$100.50: (860) 987-5900; www.bushnell.org.

Additional cast:
Michael Gorman - Wiesel, Mr. Jacobi, Mayor, Ensemble
Alex Prakken - Oscar Delancey, Ensemble
Michael Ryan - Morris Delancey, Ensemble
Josh Assor, Bill Bateman, Josh Burrage, Benjamin Cook, DeMarius Cope, Nico DeJesus, J.P Ferreri, Sky Flaherty, Kaitlyn Frank, David Guzman, Evan Kasprzak, Eric Scott Kincaid, Melissa Steadman Hart Jeff Heimbrock, Stephen Hernandez, Meredith Inglesby, James Judy, Eric Jon Mahlum, Nicholas Masson Jordan Samuels Andrew Wilson, Chaz Wolcott

Creative team:
Music by Alan Menken; Lyrics by Jack Feldman; Book by Harry Fierstein, based on the film by Bob Tzudiker and Noni White Direction by Jeff Calhoun; Choreography by Christopher Gattelli , Music Supervision, Vocal and Incidental Music Arrangements by Michael Kosarin, Orchestrations by Danny Troob , Dance Music Arrangements by Mark Hummel, Set Design by Tobin Ost, Costume design by Jess Goldstein, Hair and Wig Design by Charles G. LaPointe, Lighting Design by Jeff Croiter, Sound Design by Ken Travis, Projection design by Sven Ortel

Monday, October 12, 2015

Theater Review: Third -- TheaterWorks

Kate Levy and Conor Hamill. Photo:
Prejudices Get Scrutinized Center Stage, and In Theater Seats
By Lauren Yarger
When’s the last time you admitted you could be wrong, or that you might have misjudged someone simply because they hold an opinion different from your own?

That’s the challenge presented by playwright Wendy Wasserstein in her thought-provoking play Third, kicking off the 30th anniversary season at TheaterWorks, Hartford. The themes and issues brought into the light are just a relevant as they were when the play first premiered in 2004 – perhaps even more so now as the nation seems increasingly polarized by political and religious thought.

Kate Levy (who won last season’s CT Critics Circle Outstanding Lead Actress Award for The Other Place) returns here as Laurie Jamseon, a liberal, women’s rights champion and pioneering professor at a small New England college. She dismisses one of her students, Woodson Bull III, as a super-privileged white male, whose political views get him labeled as a Republican, though he claims no official ties with the party.

More interested in his wrestling schedule and the sociological studies of athletes in pursuit of a sports-contract management career, Bull doesn’t fit in with the serious academic student Jameson feels should be admitted to the selective school, which not too long ago was only for women.

The professor labels him as shallow and suggests that he transfer to a different school. So when Bull turns in an insightful paper discussing a new take on the anger of King Lear, she accuses him of plagiarism, convinced he could never have come up with such a fresh and academic approach on the subject. Bull claims reverse prejudice – athletes like him are only admitted so they can be photographed for college propaganda to urge donors to give the college money. They aren’t taken seriously as academics, he claims, then goes on to defend his astonishing sociological study of Lear.

On the review board is Jameson’s best friend and co-women’s libber Professor Nancy Gordon (a terrific Andrea Gallo who gives a touching portrayal laced with humor), who is going through a second round of breast cancer treatment. Fighting for her life has given her some new perspective and Gordon challenges Jameson to rethink some of her long-held opinions and to embrace life.

Jameson begins to examine her life and discovers to her shock, that she might not always have been right about everything. She seems to have taken some missteps in her marriage, which is not as strong as she’d like to think, and daughter Emily (Olivia Hoffman) has no trouble telling her mother where she’s gone wrong – especially with regards to Third, the nickname by which Bull goes. She might even be able to repair her relationship with Gordon who is enjoying the third portion of her life to the fullest.

As she cares for her father, Jack (Edmond Genest) slipping ever more frequently into the memory loss of Alzheimer’s, Jameson struggles to hang on to “know what she knows.”

It’s a thought-provoking piece that challenges us to consider whether we are just as prejudiced and unwilling to change as the people we accuse of the same offense. What are the consequences of labeling people and dismissing them when don’t agree? If you’ve ever decided that supporters of Donald Trump or listeners of Rush Limbaugh shouldn’t be allowed to vote, perhaps you should head to the TheaterWorks Box Office….

Rob Ruggiero coaxes fully developed performances and assembles an able creative team to help tell the story: Michael Schweikhardt’s rotating set easily switches scenes and John Lasiter’s expert lighting adds focus and mood.  This is a favorite work by Wasserstein: She makes her points by developing interesting characters instead of creating stereotypes and gives them room to grow, which they do here through the solid performances, especially by Levy and Gallo.

Third runs through Nov. 8 at TheaterWorks, 233 Pearl St., Hartford. Performances are Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays: 7:30 pm; Fridays and Saturdays: 8 pm; Saturday and Sunday Matinees at 2:30 pm. Wednesday Matinees Oct. 15 and 21 at 11 am. Tickets $15-$65; 860-527-7838; www.theaterworkshartford.org.

Additional offerings:
Talk Back Tuesdays
Free Student Matinee Oct. 17 at 2:30

Monday, October 5, 2015

Theater Review: Tuesdays With Morrie -- Playhouse on Park

Gannon McHale and Chris Richards. Photo:Meredith Atkinson
Gripping Life and Death Drama about . . . Well, Life and Death ...
By Lauren Yarger
The classroom was in a home in West Newton, MA. Class were every Tuesday and there wasn’t any homework. And the one and only student had already graduated from college.

These lessons were about life, and about death, as related by Mitch Albom in his book Tuesdays With Morrie.  He and Jeffrey Hatcher have combined to turn the book into a one-act stage adaptation, getting a fine production at Playhouse on Park.

Chris Richards stars as Mitch, who having discovered that his sociology and mentor at Brandeis University is dying of ALS (Lou Gerhig’s Disease), travels from his home in Detroit to pay a visit after not having kept in contact for 16 years. For Mitch, there is a sense of duty, a deire to pay his respects, and a nagging curiosity about death.

Morrie (Gannon McHale) is happy to see his former student, who has made quite a name for hiself as a sports reporter and columnist. The first visit is a bit awkward, as Mitch feels guilty about not having kept in touch with his “Coach,” but Morrie is overjoyed. The disease is progressing, but Morrie still feels he has a few things he can teach Mitch, who agrees to visit every Tuesday.

Armed with a tape recorder, the journalist comes each week with a list of questions, and what transpires is a lesson on what’s important in life and how to face death. Morrie wishes he had realized the importance of being with people he loved and telling them that he loved them. He hopes that Mitch, troubled with issues of intimacy in his marriage and struggling with the need to be successful in his career, will take his advice and find enjoyment in life.

Sasha Bratt directs the intimate two-hander which offers effective performances, particularly from McHale, who effectively portrays the devastating effects of the illness and Morrie’s struggle to maintain dignity while trying to live life to the fullest – at least as full as the disease will allow. Richards is a good foil as the uptight, scoffer who fears the love he has for Coach and allows himself to feel it. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house the night I saw it, so bring some tisues.

The action is played out, and told in some narration,  on a minimal set designed by Christopher Hoyt, effectively lighted by Aaron Hochheiser. Sound effects are added (Joel Abbott, design) to help take us out of the room and remind us of a world taking place outside the talks about life and death. Albom and Hatcher’s script is plied with humor throughout to keeo the topic from being too morose. 

Catch this slice of life . . . and death at Playhouse on Park, 244 Park Rd, West Hartford  through Oct. 18. Performances are Wednesdays and Thursdays at 7:30 pm, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 pm, Sundays at 2 pm. Tickets $22.50-$35 www.playhouseonpark.org; (860) 523-5900 x10. 

Additional events in conjunction with this run include:
• Tuesday Playdate Matinee Oct. 13 at 2 pm with all seats priced at $22.50
• Tuesdays With Morrie book club, meetings Oct. 6 and 18. Call the box office or visit the website to register. 

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