Friday, November 18, 2016

CT Theater Review: An American in Paris -- The Bushnell

Sara Esty and Garen Scribner. Photo: Matthew Murphy
An American in Paris
Music By music and lyrics of George Gershwin and Ira Gershwin
Directed and choreographed by Christopher Wheeldon
Book by Craig The Bushnell through Nov. 20

By Lauren Yarger
What's It All About?
The stunning stage adaptation inspired by the 1951 Oscar winning film of the same name starring Gene Kelly and Leslie Caron about World War II veteran in Paris. This tour of the recently-closed Broadway musical which won four 2015 Tony Awards features Sara Esty and Garen Scribner who performed these leading roles on Broadway dancing the exquisite choreography by Christopher Wheeldon, artistic associate at England's Royal Ballet, who also directs.

Storytelling is done through the dance. Whole scenes, wordless, are communicated through movement which can include something as complicated as ballet or as simple as someone dancing a prop onto the stage. Wheeldon's direction is genius as well as he takes unconnected scenes happening simultaneously on stage and somehow connects the participants. It's exciting and riveting stage craft.

Craig Lucas (The Light in the Piazza) translates the light movie plot into a solid story that is propelled by the elements around it. Three men, artist Jerry Mulligan (Scribner) singer Henri Baurel (Broadway vet Nick Spangler) and a composer, Adam Hochberg (Etai Benson), become fast friends then, without realizing it, they all fall in love with the same girl, ballerina Lise Dassin (Esty).

Henri already is engaged to Lise, the choice of his parents, Madame and Monsieur Baurel (Gayton Scott and Don Noble), who have protected the girl during the war and made it possible for her to follow in her famous ballerina mother's toe shoes. The heir to the family's textile business, Henri begs his friends to keep his passion to be a musical entertainer from his parents.

Jerry forms an alliance with wealthy American, Milo Davenport (Emily Ferranti), who becomes a supporter of his artwork and who wants a little more than paintings in exchange for her patronage. Adam, meanwhile, is unable to express his love for the beautiful Lise except through his music.

What Are The Highlights?
Music and lyrics by George and Ira Gershwin. Need I say more? Adapted, arranged and supervised by Rob Fisher. “I Got Rhythm,” “'S Wonderful,” a very moving “But Not For Me,” “I'll Build a Stairway to Paradise,” “They Can’t Take That Away from Me” and orchestral music including “Concerto in F,” “2nd Prelude,” “2nd Rhapsody” and “An American In Paris" all sound as though they were written just for this story (with an excellent team taking care of the music: Christopher Austin and Bill Elliott (orchestrations); Todd Ellison (musical supervisor); David Andrews Rogers (musical director/conductor); Sam Davis (dance arrangements). It's always fun to watch the conductor smile throughout the show. And so do we thanks to an excellent sound mix (Jon Weston, design).

The choreography and direction, as mentioned above, are brilliant.

The fabulous sets by Bob Crowley (who also does the meticulously created costumes) that appear -- with the help of projections (designed by 59 Projections) and lighting (designed by the always excellent Natasha Katz). Locations and sketches leaping off Jerry's artistic pad appear before our eyes.

Esty and Scribner are delightful to watch and Esty lends a lovely soprano to her role. Spangler has a dreamy baritone and should be considered for leading-man roles.

What Are the Lowlights?
The ending ballet is set to a backdrop of colorful shapes, but doesn't convey a sense of what is happening and the storytelling seems to stop so an extended ballet can be performed.

Scott misses the mark as Henri's emotionless mother and some humor is lost.

While the tunes are favorites, audience members are humming along (the guy near me was very off-tune throughout the show) and the intermission seemed very long.

More Information:
The show runs through Sunday. Pirouette over to the Bushnell, 166 Capitol Avenue, to experience this terrific musical. Performances are Friday and Saturday at 8 pm, Saturday at 2 pm and Sunday at 1 and 6:30 pm. Tickets are $43.50-$119.50:; 860-987-5900

The musical received its world premiere at the Théâtre du Châtelet in Paris.

Leigh-Ann Esty and Ryan Steele perform the roles of Lise and Jerry at certain performances. Additional cast: Karolina Blonski, Brittany Bohn, Stephen Brower, Randy Castillo, Jessica Cohen, Jace Coronado, Barton Cowperthwaite, Alexa De Barr, Ashlee Dupré, Erika Hebron, Christopher M. Howard, Colby Q. Lindeman, Nathalie Marrable, Tom Mattingly, Caitlin Meighan, Alida Michal, Don Noble, Sayiga Eugene Peabody, Alexandra Pernice, David Prottas, Danielle Santos, Lucas Segovia, Kyle Vaughn, Laurie Wells, Dana Winkle, Erica Wong and Blake Zelesnikar.

Monday, November 7, 2016

Jon Peterson Channels Anthony Newley in He Wrote Good Songs at Seven Angels

Jon Peterson, veteran of Broadway and West End shows, returns to Seven Angels Theatre with his new hit musical, He Wrote Good Songs, through Nov. 27.

Conceived and written by Peterson, it tells the story of Anthony Newley, the British actor, singer, song-writer, director, who wrote the standards "Goldfinger," "What Kind Of Fool Am I?," "Who Can I Turn To?," "Gonna Build A Mountain," and "Candy Man."

Peters previously brought his acclaimed George M. Cohan Tonight and Song and Dance Man to Seven Angels.

Performances are Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 8 pm; Thursday, Saturday and Sunday at 2 m. Tickets are $38-$57 depending on the day and time of performance:  203-757-4676;; box office, 1 Plank Road, Waterbury. 

CT Theater Review: Unnecessary Farce -- Playhouse on Park

Susan Slotoroff as Billie Dwyer, Will Hardyman as Eric Sheridan, Julie Robles as Karen Brown, Mike Boland as Agent Frank. Photo: Meredith Atkinson
Unnecessary Farce
By Paul Slade Smith
Directed by Russell Treyz
Playhouse on Park through Nov. 20

By Lauren Yarger
What's It All About?
Well, there are eight doors, so this must be a farce if the title didn't already give it away.  Two inept police officers, Eric Sheridan (Will Hardyman) and Billie Dwyer (Susan Slotoroff) are sent on a stakeout to record a conversation in the next hotel room between an accountant, Karen Brown (Julie Robles) and the town's Mayor Meekly (Everett O'Neil), who is under suspicion for embezzlement. A few zany things happen to prevent the investigation, however: Eric and Karen have found a mutual attraction and their lust is captured on videotape. There's also Special Agent Frank (Mike Boland) who says he wants to protect the mayor, but who dives into the bed when he thinks she wants him and who might not be a good guy, the mayor's wife Mary (Ruth Neaveill) who might not be a good woman and a psychotic Scottish Mafia hit man named Todd (John-Patrick Driscoll) who holds most of the aforementioned people hostage throughout the play (when he isn't changing clothes or getting ht with a door).

What Are the Highlights?
There are some funny moments. Director Russell Treyz keeps the zaniness in check on the set (designed by Christopher Hoyt) which allows us to see the action in the adjoining  hotel rooms. When a cop is watching the monitor to see action taking place in the next room, we experience the action as well as the cop's reaction. He also puts a nice touch in the final
chase" scene that has folks turning in circles around the room and over the bed.

I enjoyed Hardyman's impersonation of bagpipes and Slotoroff's trek across the floor as she tries to free herself.

What Are the Lowlights?
This plot by West Hartford native Smith is just a bit too much to get on board with. These have to be some of the dumbest cops on the planet. There are several times when they could simply walk out of the room and go get backup -- or when they could take action to gain control over the situation -- but they don't (because there wouldn't be  zany farce then....). One of the cops uses the code word that is supposed to be used to bring his partner running, but it's just part of the dialogue and no one seems to notice.

"Oh, I don't remember this door being here before," one character offers as a lame excuse for why she would enter a stranger's hotel bathroom and secret herself there.... Much of the show isn't all that funny or doesn't make sense and it looks as though it is necessary for the actors to work way too hard to make this an Unnecessary Farce.

More Information:
Unnecessary Force plays through  Nov. 20 at Playhouse on Park, 244 Park Road, West Hartford. Performances are Tuesday through Thursday at 7:30 pm; Friday and Saturday at 8 pm; Sunday at 2 pm. Tickets are $30-$40 with senior and student discounts available. Special matinee price of $22.50 on Tuesday, Nov. 15:; 860-523-5900 x10.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

CT Theater Review: Relativity -- TheaterWorks

Christa Scott-Reed, Lori Wilner and Richard Dreyfuss. Photo: Lanny Nagler
By Mark St. Germain
Directed by
Extended through Nov. 23

Relativity is Relative
By Lauren Yarger
Albert Einstein might have mastered how speed and light relate to each other , but he had some trouble figuring the theory of relatives.

Richard Dreyfuss stars as the genius physicist in Relativity, a new play by Mark St. Germain (Freud's Last Session, Becoming Dr. Ruth) at TheaterWorks, directed by Rob Ruggiero. The Nobel Prize winner who gave us E=MC2  and the atomic bomb welcomes another reporter to his Princeton home (designed by Brian Prather)  where his housekeeper, Helen Dukas (Lori Wilner), is convinced that government agents are checking Einstein's trash to find evidence that he is a spy and is suspicious about whether Margaret Harding (Christa Scott-Reed), really works for the Jewish Daily.

She might be right (about the reporter and those guys going through the trash). Harding starts asking difficult questions about Einstein's strained relationship with his sons and in particular, his first wife Mileva Marić. What happened to Liesrl, the daughter they had out of wedlock in 1902 who was never seen again after 1904? Did she die in infancy or was she given up for adoption?

Those questions form the basis for an examination of choices made and the importance of relationships -- a process that makes Einstein realize that being a successful man doesn't always mean he has been a "good"  man.

The quick 80 minutes gives Oscar-winner Dreyfuss ("The Goodbye Girl"), in the expected white shock of hair (Wig Design by Leah Loukas), an opportunity to shine. He and Wilner have a nice rapport as they depict long-time companions who know each other too well, and Ruggiero achieves comic relief without letting it go too far. After all, Einstein might not be the gentle, absent-minded guy we think he is.

The plot itself, is a fantasy of the playwright based on sketchy information about Einstein's daughter. Einstein probably would have enjoyed that, having said, after all that "imagination is more important than knowledge." The story, however, is implausible in parts. The opening scene (which is not necessary) has a publicity-weary Einstein inviting Harding to his home where he quickly answers questions about the most intimate relationships in his life even though it is obvious that she has an ulterior motive. An audience member -- in that helpful way of audience members who think everyone around them wants to hear that they have figured out an until-then secret of the plot and blurts it out loud -- figured out what was happening very early on, as did most of us. St. Germain should eliminate the element of surprise that really isn't and get right into why this woman really shows up on Einstein's doorstep.

Relativity has triggered some heavy box office traffic at TheaterWorks, 233 Pearl St. Hartford, and the run has been extended twice, now through Nov. 23. Performances are Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday at 7:30 pm; Friday and Saturday at 8 pm; Saturday and Sunday at 2:30 pm. Tickets are $15 to $75:; 860-527-7838.

Added bonus:
An Incredible Journey: Talkin' Movies with Richard Dreyfuss
Nov. 13 at 7 pm
A conversation with Dreyfuss moderated by Ruggiero and award-winning filmmaker Pedro Bermudez. Tickets are $40, $50 and $75.

CT Theater Review: Tenderly -- Ivoryton

Michael Marotta and Kim Rachelle Harris. Photo:Anne Hudson
Tenderly: The Rosemary Clooney Story
By Janet Yates Vogt and Mark Friedman
Directed and Choreographed by Brian Feehan
Ivoryton Playhouse
through Nov. 13

By Lauren Yarger
What's It All About?
Well, like the title says, it's the Rosemary Clooney story, complete with some of the tunes she made famous, like "Come On a My House," It's Only a Paper Moon," "Count Your Blessings," Mambo Italiano" and the title song, "Tenderly," among others (Music Direction is by Daniel Brandl.

If you're thinking juke-box musical, it is, in a way, but the songs all seem to belong and there is lots of story here.  Kim Rachelle Harris is a very likable Rosemary with a nice singing voice who helps us get to know the singer whose career was nearly sidelined by a dependence on pills. She captures the sadness of a woman trying to keep up her public image while falling apart in private. Harris also finds her character's bravery in making changes.

What Are the Highlights?
Michael Marotta, who does a wonderful job becoming every one else in Rosemary's life from her mother and sister to husband Jose Ferrer and a couple of other love interests to the doctor who helps her get her life back on track. He makes them all interesting, adds comedic relief to a sometimes depressing story, yet doesn't pull attention away from Harris.

Excellent Lighting Design by Marcus Abbott subtly creates scene changes and helps tell the story.

What Are the Lowlights?
Can there really be lowlights when we get to hear a throaty "Someone to Watch Over Me? The only tweak I would suggest would be a good edit of the book. It veers off in places (like Rosemary's friendship with Bobby Kennedy which doesn't reveal much about the character) and has some exposition-laden dialogue at the beginning which doesn't sound like actual conversation. But it's an enjoyable two hours, so these are minor flaws.

More Information:
Tenderly runs at Ivoryton Playhouse, 103 Main St., Ivoryton through Nov. 13. Performances are Wednesday and Sunday matinees at 2 pm; Wednesday and Thursday at 7:30 pm, Friday and Saturday at 8 pm. Tickets are $50 for adults; $45 for seniors; $22 for students and $17 for children: 860-767-7318;

Additional credits:
Scenic Design, William Russell Stark; Costume Design by Rebecca Welles; Wig Design by Liz Cipollina; Sound Design by Tate R. Burmeister

CT Theater Review: Chasing Rainbows -- Goodspeed

Photo: Diane Sobolewski
Chasing Rainbows" The Road to Oz
Conceived by Tina Marie Casamento Libby
Book By Marc Acito
Directed by Tyne Rafaeli
Choreography by Chris Bailey
Goodspeed Opera House
through Nov. 27

By Lauren Yarger
What's It All About?
You know her as Judy Garland, star of "The Wizard of Oz," "A star is Born" and other classic films as well as the singer of "Somewhere Over the Rainbow," but before she was a legend, she was Frances Gumm, a talented young girl with a big, gown-up sounding voice.

Ruby Rakos (Broadway's Billy Elliot) plays Judy (with a younger Frances played by Ella Briggs) in this new musical conceived by Tina Marie Casamento Libby with a book by Marc Acito (Broadway's Allegiance).  Judy overshadows her less talented sisters, Virgina (Andrea Laxton and Piper Birney) and Mary Jane (Lucy Horton and Claire Griffin) as the family moves from Minnesota to California to escape the financial ruin (and moral scandals) their father, Frank (Kevin Earley), has created for them. He tries to manage a movie theater while the rest of the family hits the road. His wife, Ethel (Sally Wilfert) eventually begins a relationship with family friend, Bill Gilmore (Jesse Sharp), and Frank hides his homosexual relationship with a film distributor.

Judy enrolls in a professional school for child performers where friends Joe Yule (Michael Wartella), Judy Turner (Berklea Going) and Shirley Temple (Lea Mancarella) also go on to fame. (Those first two are Mickey Rooney and Lana Turner, by the way.)  This is the story of Judy's childhood and how she eventually gets to step into those ruby shoes -- and fame-- in "The Wizard of Oz." Many song favorites are included in the score (music adapted by David Libby who does arrangements and original orchestrations) like "I'm Forever Chasing Rainbows," Zing! Went the Strings of My Heart" and "You Made Me Love You." Acito weaves them into the story line with skill, so there is no feel of jukebox musical here.

What Are the Highlights?
The story is quite interesting: I hadn't know most of this background ( Judy Garland historian and author John Fricke serves as Creative Consultant and Historian for the project.) If you are a Judy Garland fan, you'll enjoy this intimate portrait and hearing the songs she made famous.

Rakos is up to the task of filling the ruby shoes. She sings well and hits the ending belts required on most of the songs. Her "Over the Rainbow" is moving.

Earley and Wilfert find depth and sensitivity in the roles of the parents. Standing out is Karen Mason as Ma Lawlor, the amusing teacher at the school for kid performers and later as Kay Koverman, the assistant to MGM film mogul Louis B. Mayer (Michael McCormick, who excels), who spots something in Judy and is as much behind the girl's becoming a star as anyone.

Set Designer Kristen Robinson Ward creates numerous locations with simple changes.

What Are the Lowlights?
The two-hours and 35 minutes could use some trimming. Toning exposition in dialogue in the beginning and consolidating some musical numbers like "Beautiful Girls" would make that possible.

Chris Bailey's choreography can be circular and dizzying at times. There's just a lot going on up on that stage at times, though the tap dancing is fun.

Those ruby shoes don't look authentic for some reason (Costume Design by Elizabeth Caitlin).

I'm not a Shirley Temple expert, but she would have been about 6 when this story is set and Mancarella seems to appear to be more mature than that.

More Information:
Chasing Rainbows runs at Goodspeed, 6 Main St., East Haddam, through Nov. 27. 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, and Sunday at 2 pm (with select performances at 6:30 pm.) Tickets are $29 to $84:  at; 860-873-8668.

Additional credits:
Lighting Designer: Ken Billington; Sound Designer: Jay Hilton; Music Director: Michael O’Flaherty; Assistant Music Director: Bill Thomas; Orchestrator: Dan DeLange; Creative Consultant/Historian: John Fricke.

Additional casting:
Gary Milner (Roger Edens/George Jessel), Lissa deGuzman Colby Dezelick (Sound Engineer) Jennifer Evans Berklea Going Claire Griffin (Deanna Durbin/Young Mary Jane) Jordana Grolnick Michael Hartung Dan Higgins Lucy Horton (Mary Jane Gumm) Bryan Thomas Hunt Andrea Laxton (Virginia Gumm) Danny Lindgren Jesse Sharp (Bill Gilmore) Swings: Joseph Fierberg Elise Mestichelli

Thanksgiving Food Drive: Monday, Nov. 21. Buy one ticket, get one free for select seats for the 2 and 7:30 performances with a generous non-perishable food donation to benefit the East Haddam Food Bank. Donations will be collected at The Goodspeed.

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