Monday, August 29, 2016

Connecticut Theater Preview Fall 2016

Coming this fall at Long Wharf. Theatre
As Summer Sun Cools Down, Connecticut Theater Stages Heat Up
By Lauren Yarger
The lazy, hazy days of summer are coming to an end (none too soon for those of us who aren’t fans of humidity), but that doesn’t mean there won’t be some hot shows turning up the heat of Connecticut theater stages this Fall.

As always the state’s professional theaters offer a wide range of plays and musicals and this season audiences will have the chance to see a number of premieres across Connecticut. Here are some highlights of the productions I most am looking forward to this Fall.

Stars are aligning for the world premiere of Meteor Shower by Steve Martin (whose musical Bright Star, written with composer Edie Brickell, won the 2016 Outer Critics Circle for Outstanding New Broadway Musical.

Martin has a long affiliation with Long Wharf. His plays Picasso at the Lapin Agile and The Underpants have had runs there. Meteor Shower is a co-production with the Old Globe in San Diego (where Bright Star got its start). It is extended in California through Sept. 7 and then will play here in New Haven Sept. 21-Oct. 16.  Craig Bierko is the only casting announced for Long Wharf so far.

The plot involves two couples getting together for some stargazing. What really takes place, in Martin’s silly/savvy style, is “an absurdist look at the comic anxiety lurking just beneath the surface of modern marriage.” Gordon Edelstein directs.;  (203) 787-4282.

In another world premiere, Hartford Stage shows why it was the recipient of a Seal of Approval from the recently formed Connecticut Chapter of the League of Professional Theatre Women with Queens for a Year featuring an all-female cast in a play by female writer T.D. Mitchell (a writer on TV’s “Army Wives”), directed by Lucie Tiberghien Sept. 8-Oct. 2 .

A Marine Corps office brings a young female private with her on an unexpected visit to her family home where four generations of women who have served their country clash.  The production features local actress Vanessa R Butler (HartBeat Ensemble; Bated Breath Theatre Company). She is joined by Broadway veterans Heidi Armbruster, Mary Bacon, Alice Cannon,  Charlotte Maier  with Sarah Nicole Deaver, Mat Hostetler and Jamie Rezanour.; (860) 527-5151

Academy-Award winner Richard Dreyfuss (“Jaws,” “Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” The Goodbye Girl,” “Mr. Holland’s Opus”) will play Albert Einstein in Relativity, a new play by Mark St. Germain Oct. 7-Nov. 13.  The author of Freud’s Last Session, Dancing Lessons and Becoming Dr. Ruth tackles Albert Einstein in his latest work.  It seems Albert and Mileva Einstein had a baby daughter who disappeared after 1904. When a young reporter confronts the genius years later at Princeton, Einstein must face his greatest challenge: his past.  St. Germain, who is known for plays that make us think, asks the question “To be a great man, does one first need to be a good man?”

Scenes From Court Life (or The Whipping Boy And His Prince) by Sarah Ruhl  was commissioned by the theater and kicks off its 50th anniversary season Sept. 30-Oct. 22. Mark Wing-Davey directs  the play about two political dynasties: the Stuarts with Charles I and Charles II defending their divine rights with the help of a whipping boy in 17th-Century Britain, and the Bushes: Jeb and George W., who in recent times, battle for power as siblings and in US politics.

Perhaps even more interesting to me is Seven Guitars, the fifth chapter in August Wilson’s Pulitzer-Prize winning cycle studying 20th-Century African-American experiences in Pittsburgh which will get a runat Yale Rep Nov. 25-Dec. 17.; (203) 432-1234

For fans of Judy Garland, Goodspeed offers a brand new musical Chasing Rainbows: The Road to Oz Sept. 16-Nov. 27. Broadway actress Ruby Rakos stars in a look at Judy Garland when she was just “the girl with the great big voice  -- before  “Meet Me in St. Louis,” “Easter Parade” and “A Star is Born” made her a legend. With a book by Marc Acito (Broadway’s Allegiance) the show is filled with many of the songs Judy sang adapted by David Libby.  Judy Garland historian and author John Fricke serves as Creative Consultant and Historian for the project, which was conceived by Tina Marie Casamento.

Tyne Rafaeli directs, Chris Bailey choreographs and Michael O’Flaherty, who is in his 25thseason at Goodspeed, music directs.; (860) 873-8668

I might not be looking forward to another production of Man of La Mancha (it’s overdone and not one of my favorite stories) except for the casting of this Don Quiote.  Rich baritone David Pittsinger, who wowed us Emile last season in South Pacific, returns to the Playhouse to star in this production Sept, 7-Oct. 2. “The Impossible Dream” will make this worth the ticket price. The music by Mitch Leigh (with lyrics by Joe Darion) are the highlight of this play within a play about a guy who fights windmills with his sidekick Sancho (Brian Michael Hoffman ) and defends a woman he is convinced is his love (played by Talia Thiesfield). David Edwards directs; Todd Underwood choreographs.; (860) 767-7318

Robert Sean Leonard
Tony Award-winning actor Robert Sean Leonard (“House,” “Dead Poet’s Society”) will portray King Arthur in Lerner and Loewe’s Camelot Oct. 4 – 30. This version will be "re-imagined" with a book adapted by David Lee and directed by Mark Lamos.; (203) 227-4177

A production of King Lear (Oct. 6-16) will coincide with the Folger Shakespeare Library’s national tour of First Folio! The Book that Gave Us Shakespeare which will be displayed Sept. 1-25 in the William Benton Museum of Art. King Lear will be directed by Dale AJ Rose. CT Rep is the producing arm of the Department of Dramatic Arts at the University of Connecticut, Storrs. Productions feature student performers and are directed, designed by, and cast with visiting professional artists and student artists. 

(860) 486-2113; Box Office: Nafe Katter Theatre, 820 Bolton Rd, on the Storrs campus Monday through Friday from noon to 5 pm.

Kate Simone and Kirsti Carnahan in Gypsy
at the Music Theatre of Connecticut. Photo: Heather Hayes

Broadway veterans Paul Binotto, Kirsti Carnahan, Jeri Kansas, Carissa Massaro and Jodi Stevens star in Gypsy to open its 30th-anniversary season Sept. 9-25.

The Norwalk-based company's production, directed by Kevin Connors, will star Broadway actress Kirsti Carnahan as Rose.  

It is a busy Fall at MTC. The season continues with Sleuth Nov. 4-20, and longtime community theater favorite It’s a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play, adapted by MTC'S own Joe Landry, Dec. 9-18. 454-3883

Susan Haefner directs another Connecticut staging of Alan Menken and Howard Ashman’s musical Little Shop of Horrors Sept. 16-Oct. 16. No matter how many times I see this musical (and it is a lot), I enjoy the catchy score which includes “Somewhere That’s Green” and “Suddenly Seymour.”; (860) 523-5900 x10

Acclaimed director/choreographer and 2015 Tony Award® winner Christopher Wheeldon blends George and Ira Gershwin tunes, dance and movie magic in the award-winning An American in Paris which makes a tour stop in Hartford Nov. 15-20. The Broadway production blew me away.; (860) 987-5900

The Connecticut premiere of  A Room of My Own, a semi-autobiographical comedy by Charles Messina (who also directs) revolves around a writer who grows up in a wacky Italian-American family. The play, which had a run Of-Broadway last season, runs Sept. 22-Oct. 16. 

Following is He Wrote Good Songs Nov. 3-27. This story of Anthony Newley, the British actor, singer, song-writer, director, who created songs like "Goldfinger," "What Kind Of Fool Am I," "Who Can I Turn To?", "Gonna Build A Mountain" and "Candy Man," was conceived and written by Jon Petrson (who brought his fine Song and Dance Man show to Seven Angels some years back.

Monday, August 8, 2016

Professional Theater Women Gather to Launch State Group

Anne Keefe.
Photo: Kerry Long
Women working in theater throughout the state will join together to launch an official chapter of the League of Professional Theatre Women with events in northern and southern Connecticut.
Launch events will be held Monday, Aug. 15 in Hartford and Monday, Sept. 12 in Westport and will feature a mingle and reception starting at 6 pm followed by a panel featuring women from various theater disciplines speaking on the theme “Lean In and Branch Out: Claiming our Voice as Women in Connecticut Theater.”  The chapter also will present its first “Seal of Approval” awards for Connecticut theaters with policies that hire women on and behind the stage.
Panelists for the Hartford Event include Director Lucie Tiberghien, Playwright T.D. Mitchell, and  Hartford Stage’s Associate Artistic Director Elizabeth Williamson. The moderator is Tracey Moore, an associate professor at University of Hartford’s Hartt’s Theatre Division.
Mitchell, best known as a writer and story editor for the acclaimed TV series "Army Wives," is the author of Queens for a Year, receiving its world premiere Sept. 8-Oct.2 at Hartford Stage, directed by Tiberghien. 
Elizabeth Williamson
The event at the Handel Performing Arts Center's Kent McCray Theater, 35 Westbourne Parkway, Hartford, is free, but an RSVP is necessary because seating is limited. Wine and light refreshments will be served. Register for the Hartford Launch at

Meanwhile, the second Launch event, at Westport Country Playhouse’s Lortel White Barn on Sept. 12 will feature a panel including Anne Keefe (former artistic director at the Playhouse and curator of its popular Script in Hand play reading series), Pat Flicker Addiss (Tony-Award-winning Broadway producer and producer of Buyer and Cellar which recently had a run at the Playhouse), Director Jenn Thompson (Bye Bye Birdie at Goodspeed and The Call at TheaterWorks) and actresses Mia Dillon and E. Katherine Kerr. The moderator is Producer/Director Marie Reynolds. Register for this event here:
Jenn Thompson
The Connecticut Chapter of LPTW is co-founded by state residents and members of the League of Professional Theatre Women Lauren Yarger (Broadway and Connecticut theater critic), Reynolds (theater director/producer), Mary Miko, (special events coordinator at Goodspeed) and Moore. All women in Connecticut working in professional theater are invited to join the chapter which will hold regional meetings throughout the year. A festival of works by women will be presented in Fall of 2017.
For more information, contact 
T.D. Mitchell
T.D. Mitchell's award-winning play scripts include A Gray Matter, In Dog Years, and Beyond the 17th Parallel (being adapted as a feature film). A prominent speech writer for non-profit and philanthropic organizations (US Fund for UNICEF, Feminist Majority, the Rolex Institute, ex.), her travelogue essays for Verbal Supply Company and, next year, a nonfiction book, exemplify her multi-format, cross-genre passion for storytelling.
Lucie Tiberghien’s directing credits include the recent world premieres: Pen/Man/Ship, by Chrisitina Anderson (Contemporary American Theater Festival), Blueprints to Freedom, by Michael Benjamin Washington, (Lajolla Playhouse, and Kansas City Rep) The Other Thing, by Emily Schwend, (Second Stage, NY). Soldier X, by Rehana Mirza, (Ma-Yi Theater Company, NY). The Ashes Under Gait City by Christina Anderson (Contemporary American Theater Festival, WV), Love in Afghanistan by Charles Randolph Wright (Arena Stage, DC) and Don’t Go Gentle by Stephen Belber (MCC).
Elizabeth Williamson served as senior dramaturg and director of new play development for Hartford Stage prior to her appointment as associate artistic director at Hartford Stage. Over the years, Williamson has developed new work with Brooke Berman, Bill Cain, Sheila Callaghan, Robert Freedman and Steven Lutvak, Kyle Jarrow, Julie Jensen, Kimber Lee, Matthew Lopez, Wendy MacLeod, T.D. Mitchell, Peter Morris, Brighde Mullins, Janine Nabers, Dan O’Brien, Dominique Serrand and Steve Epp, Octavio Solis, Bess Wohl, Lauren Yee and Mary Zimmerman. More recently, she translated La Dispute by French playwright Pierre Marivaux in the 50th anniversary season for Hartford Stage and helmed the theatre’s Brand:New Festival in its final years. Williamson also helped launch the Hartford Stage world premieres of the Tony Award-winning musical A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder (2012); Big Dance Theatre’s Man in a Case (2013); Breath & Imagination (2013); and Matthew Lopez’s Reverberation (2015).
Tracey Moore (moderator) is an associate professor at The Hartt School of Music, Dance, and Theatre where she teaches a variety of acting and music theatre classes.  Prior to academe, Tracey was an Equity actress and singer in New York.  She appeared in the Broadway National Tours of Ragtime and Camelot, and has held leading roles in several Off-Broadway productions in addition to appearing at New York's Metropolitan Opera and at regional theaters across the country.  Articles she has written have appeared in The New York Times, The Chronicle of Higher Ed, International Studies in Music Theatre, Teaching Theatre Journal, and Dramatics magazine.  She is the author of two books including “Acting the Song,” a book on musical theatre performance techniques that is receiving a second edition this Fall.
Pat Flicker Addiss has produced numerous shows on and Off Broadway including Buyer and Cellar, Vanya, and Sonia and Masha and Spike,  A Christmas Story The Musical, Promises, Promises, The 39 Steps, Spring Awakening, Passing Strange.  Chita Rivera; The Dancer's Life Bridge and Tunnel and  Little Women.Currently serving on the Board of the League of Professional Theatre Women, her passion is for creating opportunities for young women in the 21st Century.

Mia Dillon has appeared at Westport Country Playhouse in Once A Catholic, Return Engagements, Speed-The-Plow, Angel Street, Our Town, A Song at Twilight and in various Script-In-Hand play readings.  Her many award nods include a a Clarence Derwent Award and Tony, Barrymore and Drama Desk Award nominations.

Anne Keefe, an associate artist at Westport Country Playhouse, served as artistic director there with Joanne Woodward in 2008 and as associate artistic director from 2000-2006.  At Westport Country Playhouse, she co-directed a production of David Copperfield, directed readings of And Then There Were None, Harvey, Bedroom Farce, A Song at Twilight, Chapter Two and many more, as part of the popular Script in Hand program. She was awarded the Del Hughes Award for Lifetime Achievement by the Stage Managers’ Association. In October of 2012, she was honored by the Connecticut Women’s’ Hall of Fame as one of 10 Women of Distinction as well as receiving the Westport Arts Award for Theatre. In 2016 she received the Tom Killan Award from the Connecticut Critics Circle
E. Katherine Kerr is an actor, teacher, author and director. In addition to her many screen roles, as an actor her Broadway credits include the ground-breaking, Pulitzer Prize-winning No Place to Be Somebody; Night Watch and Passion. Her  Off-Broadway credits include The Trojan Women; Cloud 9, Laughing Wild written by Christopher Durang for Kerr and himself; and Love Letters. Her other credits as an actor include the national tour of The Gingerbread Lady by Neil Simon, starring Maureen Stapleton. As an author, her works include the plays Intelejunt Dezyne (The God Play) and Juno's Swans, and the highly regarded "The Four Principles: A Guide for Living from Authentic Acting." When not acting, writing, and directing, Kerr teaches privately in New York City and Connecticut.

Jenn Thompson's freelance directing work has been seen in NYC and across the country. Her recent production of Women Without Men, for Off-Broadway's Mint Theatre Company, garnered 2016 Lortel and Off-Broadway Alliance Award nominations for Outstanding Revival as well as five Drama Desk Award nominations including Outstanding Director and Revival. She served as co-artistic director of Off-Broadway's TACT/The Actors Company Theatre from 2011 to 2015. She has developed work at MCC, Primary Stages, The Mint Theatre Company, Hartford Stage, York Theatre Company, Abingdon Theatre Company,  The Bridge Theatre and Rattlestick, among others. She also spent 19 seasons with Connecticut’s award-winning River Rep at the Ivoryton Playhouse where she served as producing director working on more than 50 productions. Thompson was a 2012 finalist for the SDC’s Joe A. Callaway Award, for excellence in New York City directing.

Marie Reynolds (moderator) was a model for 35 years and shot more than 80 national TV commercials. On TV, she played Mickey Barlowe on “All My Children,” traded comedy lines on “Late Night” with Conan O'Brien, and on David Letterman's “Late Show,” and has many other appearance credits. Since receiving an MFA in Theatre at Sarah Lawrence College in 2002, Marie has concentrated on directing and producing. She was a Founding Producer of the New York Musical Festival (NYMF), produced Pterodactyl Island, The Seagull (musical), directed for Falcon Rep and Theatre Actors Workshop in Connecticut and served two terms on the board of Shakespeare on the Sound. She is currently developing a new play, Florence Nightingale, The Bitch Of Balaclava.

An advocacy organization with a mission to reinforce the positive image of, promote the visibility of, and increase opportunities for women in the arts and entertainment industries, more particularly professional theater, with a goal to enrich and infuse culture, the League is a support system for women in theatre, in which they serve as resources for each other by mutual sharing of experiences, insights and work. The League links women in professional theater with colleagues in college and university theaters and with women in other performing arts organizations in the United States and abroad. For more information about the league or to join the Connecticut chapter, visit

Theater Review: RENT -- Ivoryton

The cast of RENT. Photo: Jacqueline Hubbard
It Took a Couple of Decades, but Theater-Changer Finally Pays Some RENT at Ivoryton
By Lauren Yarger
When Ivoryton Playhouse Artistic Director Jacqueline Hubbard greeted the audience for the current production of RENT, she did more than welcome the crowd. She sort of made a statement about how theater stays current.

This rock musical, which won the Pulitzer Prize in 1996 and forever changed the face of musicals, appeals to a younger crowd and represents a bit of a gamble for Ivoryton, where the crowd is, like many smaller regional theaters, shall we say with respect, not so young, and used to more happy-ending type productions. It might have taken 20 years for the timing to feel right to bring to quiet Connecticut this story of a bunch of Bohemian kids in New York’s East Village who are trying to survive poverty and AIDS, but it seems to have paid off. Audiences have been responding favorably to this well staged production featuring a talented cast that is one of Ivoryton’s vocally strongest to date. “Seasons of Love,” for example, one of the well known tunes form the show, is a pleasure with Jamal Shuriah and Sheniquah Denise Trotman, who wowed us as Effie in Ivoryton’s production of Dreamgirls, nail their solos.

In a story by Jonathan Larson inspired by Puccini’s La Bohème , some young people are squatters in a building (Set Design is by Martin Scott Marchitto), owned by former tenant Benny (Collin Howard). Benny is demanding back rent that the friends can’t pay. They are Mark (Tim Russell), a filmmaker whose girlfriend, Maureen (Stephanie Genito ), just left him for Joann (Maritzaa Bostic), his roommate Roger, a musician, whose AIDS-infected girlfriend committed suicide, and their friend, Tom Collins (a beautifully voiced Patrick Clanton), who finds love with drag queen Angel (Jonny Cortes). Roger might find a second chance at love with neighbor Mimi (Alyssa Gomez), who also is HIV positive.

Maureen stages a protest against plans to evict the building’s dwellers in a very funny “Over the Moon” avant-garde presentation, but the building is padlocked when they return. Benny might have a change of heart, however, if former girlfriend Mimi can influence him.

The story focuses on how these young kids become a makeshift family of support and love – in contrast to their biological families. Parents leave a number of voice messages for their kids, but are clueless about “La Vie Bohème” and what they are going through as they try to find their place in the world.

“Forget regret. Life is yours to miss,” go the lyrics.

Hubbard’s attention to detail helps tell the story as it plays out on multiple levels. There is a lot going on, with the entire cast on stage throughout (costumed by Designer Lisa Bebey and performing Choreography by Todd Underwood that puts us in mind of the original production.). Hubbard effectively fills out background movement without distracting from the main action. When Roger and Mimi are exploring their feelings in “Another Day,” the spot light (design by Marcus Abbott) appropriately is on them and the actors bring a full scale of emotions and depth behind the words they are saying and the fear that encompasses them.

That duo also has one of the show’s favorite tunes, “Without You” which was delivered with such raw emotion (under the guidance of Musical Director Michael Morris) that the audience was silent at its finish instead of bursting into applause, which somehow would have seemed out of place in the touching moment.

RENT developed a cult following, especially when its composer, Jonathan Larson, died the day before the show opened in New York. It grabbed the hearts of a young generation and won the Tony Award for best Musical. It went on to play more than 5,000 performances and is the seventh-longest running show in Broadway history.

“Rent Heads” were folks who went back to see the show multiple times. It was one of the first shows to offer “Rush” tickets – cheap seats in the front row – on the day of the performance to make sure lower-income people had a chance to see live theater. Following this tradition, Ivoryton Playhouse will save 20 seats for every performance at a $25 price. Those seats will be available after 6 pm every show day.  If you are interested in helping to support this program, call (860) 767-9520 ext 205.

Note: the show contains brief nudity.

RENT rocks out the Ivoryton Playhouse, 103 Main St., Ivoryton, through Aug, 28. Performances are Wednesday and Sunday matinees at 2 pm. Evening performances are Wednesday and Thursday at 7:30 pm, Friday and Saturday at 8 pm. Two additional Saturday matinee performances have been added Aug. 20 and 27, both at 2 pm. Tickets are $50 for adults; $45 for seniors; $22 for students and $17 for children.  (860) 767-7318;

Additional credits:
Sound Design by Tate R Burmeister, Costume Design by Lisa Bebey, Hair and Wig Design by Elizabeth Cipolina.

Full Cast:
Jamal Shuriah….Mr. Jefferson, Pastor, “Seasons of Love” Soloist 2 
Sheniquah Denise Trotman…. Mrs. Jefferson, Coat Vendor, “Seasons of Love Soloist 1” 
Collin Howard…. Benjamin Coffin III 
Tim Russell…. Mark Cohen 
Grant Benedict….  Gordon, Mr. Grey and others 
Johnny Newcomb…. Roger Davis 
Alyssa Gomez…. Mimi Marquez 
Patrick Clanton…. Tom Collins 
Jonny Cortes…. Angel Dumott Schunard 
Maritzaa Bostic….Joann Jefferson 
Stephanie Genito…. Maureen Johnson 
Ronnie S. Bowman, Jr….. Paul, Police and others 
Mac Cherny…. Steve, Squeegee Man, Waiter 
Sandra Lee… Mrs. Cohen and others 
Josephine Gottfried…. Alexi, Roger’s mom and others

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Sharon Playhouse Presents Quartet

Tony Award-Winner Elizabeth Franz stars in Sharon Playhouse's production of Ronald Harwood’s Quartet Aug. 18-28.

Franz (Broadway’s Death of A Salesman) stars as Jean, alongside real-life husband and wife actors Joseph Hindy as Reginald and Patricia McAneny as Cecily; and Greg Mullavey (TV’s iCarly and Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman) as Wilfred.
Harwood’s play features four elderly opera-singers who have ended up in the same retirement home for artists.  A concert is about to take place to celebrate Verdi’s birthday.  Will these four singers be able to recreate their youth and perform their acclaimed quartet from Rigoletto?  Quartet was adapted as a 2013 film, directed by Dustin Hoffman and starred Maggie Smith.

“We deal with the issues of relationships, friendships and aging in Quartet,” Franz said  “I’ve played Jean Horton before, so she is an old friend of mine at this point. I feel particularly comfortable portraying her this time at The Sharon Playhouse in my own Litchfield County neighborhood. Though I’ve been living in Warren (CT) since the 1970s this is the first time that I’ve been on the stage here and I’m very much looking forward to it. I’m totally delighted and impressed with the quality of the playhouse productions under John Simpkins.”

The production is designed by Michael Schweikardt (scenery), Chris Dallos (lighting) and Michelle Humphrey (costumes).  Sara Sheets is production stage manager. Geoff Josselson is casting director.

Performances are Tuesday through Friday at 7 pm, Saturday at 8 pm, and Sunday at 3 pm. Tickets are $15-$47: 860- 364-7469The Sharon Playhouse is located at 49 Amenia Rd.

Lauren Yarger with playwright Alfred Uhry at the Mark Twain House. Photo: Jacques Lamarre)
--- A R T S ---

Blog Archive

Copyright Notice

All contents are copyrighted © Lauren Yarger 2009-2016. All rights reserved.