Monday, October 30, 2017

The Diary of Anne Frank -- Playhouse on Park

Frank van Putten as Otto Frank, Joni Weisfeld as Edith, Alex Rafala as Peter Van Daan, Allen Lewis Rickman as Mr. Van Daan, Jonathan D. Mesisca as Mr. Dussel, Lisa Bostnar as Mrs. Van Daan, Isabelle Barbier as Anne, Ruthy Froch as Margot. Photo: Courtesy of Curt Henderson
 The Diary of Anne Frank
Adapted by Wendy Kessleman from the play by Frances Goodrich and Albert Hacke (based upon                      "Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl"
Directed by Ezra Barnes
Playhouse on Park
Through Nov. 19

By Lauren Yarger
The lights go down. A Nazi hate song chills the air and young Isabelle Barbier enters house left looking so much like the real Anne Frank that we think we are seeing a ghost. The stage at Playhouse on Park is set for one of the most gripping productions of The Diary of Anne Frank you'll ever see, as directed by Ezra Barnes.

Wendy Kesselman's adaptation of the play by Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett, based on Anne Frank's diary detailing her years avoiding capture by the Nazis in World War II Amsterdam, offers an absorbing study of a teenage girl trying to make the best of her situation despite the horror and fear that surround her every day -- and Barbier channels Anne for an emotional and gripping experience. When she sheds outer clothes to complete her move into the attic, she reveals the requisite yellow star of David with each garment (Costume Design by Kate Bunce) as well as the promise of many layers of Anne's character to come.

When Anne's sister Margot (Ruthy Froch) receives orders to report to a work camp, her family knows what that really means in 1942 Amsterdam -- a sentence to board one of the trains regularly deporting thousands of Jews to death camps. Otto Frank (Frank van Putten) makes arrangements with his business associate, Mr. Kraler (Michael Enright), to hide the Franks along with another associate, Mr. Van Daan (Allen Lewis Rickman), his wife, (Lisa Bostnar), and son Peter (Alex Rafala), in the attic of the annex of his former office building.

The families, who are quite different, are thrown together in cramped quarters (Scenic Designer David Lewis gives a broad view of the attic with multiple levels). Mr. Van Daan spends most of his time smoking cigarettes and thinking about food (when he isn't stealing rations while the others sleep). His wife longs for a return to her privileged existence, and buries herself in the fur coat given to her by her father to escape. Shy Peter, who likes to stay in his own room with his flea-ridden cat, is no match for the vivacious, inquisitive Anne who is starting to discover her sexuality.

Being cooped up in the attic where the inhabitants can't make any noise (including using the water closet) during business hours begins to take its toll, especially after a dentist, Mr. Dussel (Jonathan Mesisca), needs a last-minute escape and is added to the group. He brings his own quirks -- and devastating news about the fate of friends who were unable to go into hiding or escape.

During the 25 months in  the attic, rebellious teen Anne decides she hates her mother. Edith Frank (a terrific Joni Weisfeld) must add that burden to a set of worries that already have her in a state of depression: Margot's health is deteriorating, Mrs. Van Daan flirts with Otto, Anne and Peter's relationship is changing and every noise might mean that the Nazi's have discovered their hiding place.

Thanks to the taut direction by Barnes (and Lighting and Sound Direction by Christopher Bell and Joel Abbott, respectively), that fear is translated to the audience. At a point of silent trepidation when the attic dwellers think they have been discovered, an audience member behind me dropped a program and the noise almost startled me out of my seat. Barnes, who founded Connecticut's Shakespeare on the Sound, also gets kudos for leaving the actors on stage, going about their routines, during intermission -- a sobering comment on how we are free to get up, leave, chat, use the rest room, etc., but they are not. (And during that intermission, I googled a photo of the real Anne Frank just to be sure I wasn't over-imagining how much Barbier was reminding me of her. I don't think I was...)

The one bright spot in the attic is daily visits from Miep Gies (Elizabeth Simmons), a Dutch woman who brings food, books and other supplies as well as companionship and news from the outside world. (The real Miep saved Anne's diary after the residents are discovered and arrested.)

Every performance in this production is nailed with individual clarity. Barbier taking the spotlight as she creates a multi-faceted Anne who pulls at our heartstrings. The drama is so absorbing, that I felt as though I had spent months in the attic, even though only an hour and 15 minutes had passed before intermission. The play seems very relevant today in the midst of news reports about the rise of Antisemitism and Nazi-themed hate groups. It boggles the mind how anyone would embrace being part of causing the terror felt by our friends in the attic, and Anne's staunch belief in the good of humanity calls to us across time to resolve that this must never happen again. Don't miss this one.

“In spite of everything I still believe that people are really good at heart. I simply can’t build up my hopes on a foundation consisting of confusion, misery, and death. I see the world gradually being turned into a wilderness, I hear the ever approaching thunder, which will destroy us too, I can feel the sufferings of millions and yet, if I look up into the heavens, I think that it will all come right, that this cruelty too will end, and that peace and tranquility will return again.”
== Anne Frank

The Diary of Anne Frank, produced in partnership with the Jewish Community Foundation and the Jewish Federation, runs at Playhouse on Park, 244 Park Road, West Hartford, through Nov. 19.  Performances are Wednesday and Thursday at 7:30 pm; Friday and Saturday at 8 pm; Sunday matinee at 2, followed by a talk back with the cast. Special Tuesday matinee on Nov. 7 at 2 - all seats $22.50 this show only. Tickets are $25-$40:; 860-523-5900 x10.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

School of Rock -- The Bushnell

School of Rock Original London Cast. Photo by Tristram Kenton
School of Rock
Music by Andrew Lloyd Webber
Lyrics by Glenn Slater
Book by Jullian Fellowes, based on the film by Mike White
The Bushnell
Through Oct. 29

By Lauren Yarger
What's It All About?
Dewey (Rob Colletti), a down-on-his-luck rock musician wannabe is facing his swan song when he gets kicked out of his band, loses his job and can't pay the rent to buddy Ned (Matt Bittner) where he has been freeloading. Ned's uptight, bossy significant other Patty (Emily Borromeo) demands that he get out. Dewey intercepts a substitute teaching offer for Ned at Horace Green, an upscale private school willing to pay a lot of bucks. Dewey pretends to be Ned and soon finds that he has a classroom full of privileged kids who play musical instruments. He convinces them to form a band and enter a competition without involving the input of their achievement-oriented parents or rule-following principal Rosalie (Lexie Dorsett Sharp). Romance and chaos ensue.

What Are the Highlights?
A score by Andrew Lloyd Webber (Evita, Cats, Jesus Christ Superstar) and a book by Julian Fellowes ("Downton Abbey") might be enough for a pleasant theater experience all on their own (and they are), but add to them some extraordinarily talented kids who all play their own instruments and you have a winner. Laurence O'Connor directs the fast-paced action on Anna Louizos' practical sets and JoAnn M. Hunter outs through some jumping choreography for the rousing numbers "Stick it to the Man" and "You're in the Band.". Sharp is excellent as the repressed headmistress who suppresses a passion for Stevie Nicks. She also has a great voice and does a nice rendition of "Where Did the Rock go," one of my favorites form this score that doesn't really sound a whole lot like Andrew Lloyd Webber's usual fare.

What Are the Lowlights?

That jumping choreography appears to be a bit beyond the reach of Colletti at times, but he has a great on-stage rapport with the kids.

It's hard to hear dialogue at times, particularly when individuals are speaking over music (Sound Design by Nick Potter).

More Information:
Music Supervision by John Rigby

Additional cast:
Merritt David Janes as Dewey Alternate, Deidre Lang as Ms. Sheinkopf, Olivia Bucknor as Shonelle, Theodora Silverman as Katie, Chloe Anne Garcia as Marcy, Carson Hodges as Mason, Gianna Harris as Tomika, Gilberto Moretti-Hamilton as Freddy, Phoenix Schuman as Zack, John Michael Pitera as Billy, Theo Mitchell-Penner as Lawrence and Ava Briglia as Summer. The adult ensemble features John Campione, Patrick Clanton, Christopher DeAngelis, Kristian Espiritu, Melanie Evans, Liam Fennecken, Kara Haller, Elysia Jordan, Jameson Moss, Sinclair Mitchell, Tim Shea and Hernando Umana. The kid’s ensemble features Rayna Farr, Bella Fraker, Alex Louis, Tommy Ragen, Gabriella Uhl and Aiden Niklas Villa.
School of Rock is in session at the Bushnell, 166 Capitol Ave., Hartford, through Oct. 29. Performances are Thursday at 7:30 pm.; Friday at 8 pm; Saturday at 2 and 8 pm; Sunday at 1 and 6:30pm. Tickets are $22.50-$135.50:; 860-987-5900.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Women in Theater Take the Spotlight

Several upcoming events highlight women in theater.

The Connecticut Chapter presents a design panel on Monday, Oct. 23 to kick off its second season. If you are in Connecticut, or can get to Norwalk (an easy commute on MetroNorth), you won't want to miss this panel/demonstration led by Dawn Chiang:

Find Your Light 
Broadway Lighting Designer and League of Professional Theatre Women member Dawn Chiang will lead an interactive discussion on how visual vocabulary and theatrical crafts contribute to the emotional life of the storytelling art Monday, Oct. 23 in Norwalk.

Joining Chiang for the "Find Your Light!" panel are Elizabeth Williamson, artistic director at Hartford Stage, Costume Designer Tilly Grimes and Scenic Designer Jessica Parks. The event, produced by Co-Founder Marie Reynolds, will kick of the 2017-2018 season for the CT Chapter of the League of Professional Theatre Women, now in its second year.

A networking time with light refreshments will be held from 5:30 to 6:30 pm followed by the panel discussion/demonstration from 6:30 to 8:30 pm in the multi-media gallery at Stepping Stones Museum, Mathews Park, 303 West Ave, Norwalk, CT.

Space is limited and reservations are required via this link:

Chapter members and one guest are free. Non-members are welcome and will be charged $5 (cash only) at the door. Questions:

Oral History
The League of Professional Theatre Women continues its acclaimed Oral History program with producer Daryl Roth (left) being interviewed by theater critic Linda Winer (right)

Monday, Nov. 6
6 pm
Bruno Walter Auditorium, New York Public Library for the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center
(Corner of 65th Street and Amsterdam Avenue)
Daryl Roth holds the singular distinction of producing seven Pulitzer Prize-Winning plays and currently serves as the Co-Chair of the LPTW's Advisory Council. Join us as she discusses her extensive life and work in the theatre.  She will be interviewed by Linda Winer, a prize-winning theater critic, who wrote for Newsday from 1987 to 2017.

Free admission. First come, first seated.

Betty Corwin Lifetime Achievement Award
Pulitzer-Prize winnining Playwright Paula Vogel will introduce the program honoring Betty Corwin; "The Woman Who Preserved the American Theater."

Betty Corwin, a long-time LPTW member, created and founded  the Theatre on Film and Tape Archives for the Library of Performing Arts at Lincoln Center (TOFT) in 1970, and thus preserved generations of the American theater. She turns 97 Nov. 18 and continues to be a powerful force, helming the LPTW's Oral History Program, now in it's 25th year.

She will be honored at luncheon
Wednesday, Nov. 8
Sardi's Restaurant, 234 West 44th St., 4th Floor

$95 Member Ticket - Click Here
$125 Non-Member Ticket - Click Here
$1,750 - VIP Table for 10 - Click Here (Includes half-page black and white ad in "BettyBill."
For tickets and more information:

Thursday, October 19, 2017

CT Theater Review: Fireflies -- Long Wharf

Judith Ivey and Jane Alexander. Photo T. Chalres Erickson
By Matthew Barber, based on "Eleanor and Abel" by Annette Sanford
Directed by Gordon Edelstein
Long Wharf Theatre
Through Nov. 5

By Lauren Yarger
Here's a play that reminds us how great theater can be. Matthew Barber's Fireflies, getting its world premiere at Long Wharf Theatre, directed by Gordon Edelstein, is an absorbing piece of storytelling with vibrant characters experiencing a wide range of human emotion.

The star-studded cast features Jane Alexander as  retired school teacher Eleanor Bannister, whose lonely life rivals the Texas weather for being long and dry. Until one day, when drifter Abel Brown (Denis Arndt) enters the picture, however. The man inserts himself in Eleanor's rental cottage in exchange for doing some renovations on it-- and into her heart as well. Friend Grace Bodell (Judith Ivey), who keeps a watchful eye on her neighbor's comings and goings, is suspicious of Brown, whom she believes to be a con man after Eleanhor's money -- and perhaps more. She calls in Eleanor's former student, Eugene Claymire (Christopher Michael McFarland), now a Groverdell police officer, to help out.

When some information about Abel's past comes to light, Eleanor has to admit that Grace's suspicions might be right, but she can't deny the feelings that have left a warm glow in her heart.

Everything about this production, based on the novel "Eleanor and Abel" by Annette Sanford,  is perfection. Alexander gives a moving portrait of a woman who is afraid to hold on to the hope of happiness after spending so many years convinced it would never come. She's slowly felt the life go out of her since losing her parents 18 years ago and Abel might just be the spark that can reignite it.  Ivey is a hoot as the non-stop talker, busybody neighbor with a heart the size of Texas. At first annoying, she wins us over and makes us wish we had a neighbor like this who would come over on the pretense of borrowing a can of pineapple so she can have an excuse to talk our ear off.

Arndt creates an enigmatic character who we never are sure we can trust, but he gives back as good as he gets and shows enough of Abel's good side that we find ourselves rooting for him. Even McFarland, whose role is brief, captures the audience with the humor of a man confronting a former teacher who didn't like him much as a schoolboy. 

Fireflies is reminiscent of Barber's Tony-Award-nominated play, Enchanted April, in that multiple older characters suddenly choose to approach life differently. Eleanor's cluttered old house (designed by Alexander Dodge) transforms to a home offering comfort. Edelstein expertly uses physical action to convey emotion, and the result is so heartwarming, that we feel the glow of love and hope (as well as see it, thanks to  Lighting Design by Philip Rosenberg, enhanced by Sound Design by John Gromada.)

Fireflies lights up the stage at Long Wharf Theatre through Nov. 5. Performance times vary. Tickets are  $29-$90.50: Don't miss this one.

Additional credits:
 Jess Goldstein (costume design)

Friday, October 13, 2017

CT Theater Review: The Wolves -- TheaterWorks

Scene from The Wolves. Photo: Lanny Nagler

The Wolves
By Sarah DeLappe
Directed by Eric Ort

By Lauren Yarger
If you've ever thought that a group of teenage girls seems like a pack of wolves, you might be on to something there.

High school juniors who are members of the indoor Soccer Team The Wolves getting a run at TheaterWorksspend a lot of time practicing drills in the hopes of going to nationals or getting a scholarship to play for a top college team. They spend even more time putting people down (but demanding political correctness from each other while they do it) and lamenting the sad state of their parents. You know, having conversations that are typical of most teen girls in suburban America today....

What's atypical in Sarah DeLappe's outstanding debut drama, which was a finalist for the 2017 Pulitzer Prize, however, are the compelling character studies the playwright nets in just over 90 minutes with no intermission. Dribbling the ball through the field of expected concerns and emotions of 17-year-old competitive girls, DeLappe sneaks by defenses and presents an unexpected kick: another side to the story. These girls are on the cusp of womanhood, and feel pressure to act like adults, but they are really just steps away from childhood and aren't quite sure how to deal with the confusion (one teammate gushes over the thought of a possible trip to Disney World.) They all wear the same uniform (Costume Design by Blair Gulledge) and they deal with the force of needing to belong and to be accepted, but they also need to discover who they will become individually and find a way to break from the pack.

The teammates are all stereotypes in a way, but each becomes distinctive and after a few minutes, you won't need jersey numbers (which is how they are identified in the program) to tell them apart:
Rachel Caplan (Armenian #14),  Carolyn Cutillo (anorexic #2), Karla Gallegos (goalie #00 who throws up before every match), Déa Julien (pothead #13), Shannon Keegan (the smart one  #11), Emily Murphy (captain/rule enforcer #25), Claire Saunders (childlike #8), Caitlin Zoz (the new girl #46) and Olivia Hoffman (the star who will be sidelined with an injury #7).

At the start of the game -- the game of life in a suburb as seen through the eyes of teen girls, that is -- the girls gossip about the things that are important to them: where the nationals will be held, who had an abortion, whether a person who has committed genocide should be executed, who has the hottest mom. . .  A newcomer, #46, who has never played on a soccer team before, shows amazing skill. She is a source of puzzlement for the girls who are jealous of her soccer prowess, but who mock her home-school existence which includes living in a yurt with her weird mom....  

When tragedy strikes, the bubble of the girls' fairly privileged existence is burst by the need to deal with real loss and suffering.  The teammates find they don't have all the answers. Phrasing things in a politically-correct way won't help here. Even one of the soccer moms (Megan Byrne) is at a loss to help, but the girls find strength in themselves and in each other to continue on.  The performances score a goal, as the girls go through their paces doing thrusts, squats and passing exercises all while reflecting on life as they see if from Mariana Sanchez's simple set of sloping  AstroTurf. It's a different kind of theater and an extraordinary first work by a playwright.

Director Eric Ort fails to capture the essence of the female universe in the first crucial 10 minutes, however, leaving many wondering what this play is about or what the plot might be (many still seemed to have questions on the way out of the theater, unfortunately.) The opening needs to be tighter and sharper to allow the overlapping, brisk dialogue to carve out precise character and momentum instead of sounding like a bunch of silly chatter. To be honest, it feels he's trying to figure out what he's dealing with here -- a guy trying to navigate the world of female brains in rapid fire. Later he skillfully finds his footing and leads the girls through their pre-game routines (with help from soccer advisor Lexi Menard) and staging that makes sure our eye stays on the ball -- that is to say, where our focus should be directed -- so we can field the next conflict or complex emotion.

This play caused such a sensation Off-Broadway last season (it was nominated for the Lucille Lortel and Drama League awards for Best Play, and for the Outer Critics’ Circle John Gassner Award for Outstanding New American Play) that it is getting another run at Lincoln Center next month featuring a number of the original cast members. Lila Lila Neugebauer, who helmed the Playwrights Realm production, will return to direct.

The Wolves pack together through Nov. 5 at TheaterWorks, 233 Pearl St., Hartford. Performances at Tuesday, wednesday, Thursday at 7:30 pm; Friday and Saturday at 8 pm; Weekend matinees at 2:30 pm. Weekday matinees added Oct. 18, 25 and Nov. 1. Tickets are $55-$70:

Monday, October 9, 2017

Dawn Chiang Leads Interactive Panel on Theater Design

Find Your Light Pane Kicks Off 
Theater Season for the CT Chapter 
of the League of Professional Theatre Women

Broadway Lighting Designer and League of Professional Theatre Women member Dawn Chiang will lead an interactive discussion on how visual vocabulary and theatrical crafts contribute to the emotional life of the storytelling art Monday, Oct. 23 in Norwalk.

Joining Chiang for the "Find Your Light!" panel are Elizabeth Williamson, artistic director at Hartford Stage, Costume Designer Tilly Grimes and Scenic Designer Jessica Parks. The event, produced by Co-Founder Marie Reynolds, will kick of the 2017-2018 season for the CT Chapter of the League of Professional Theatre Women, now in its second year.

A networking time with light refreshments will be held from  5:30 to 6:30 pm followed by the panel discussion/demonstration from 6:30 to 8:30 pm in the multi-media gallery at Stepping Stones Museum,  Mathews Park, 303 West Ave, Norwalk, CT.

Space is limited and reservations are required via this link:
Chapter members and one guest are free. Non-members are welcome and will be charged $5 (cash only) at the door. Questions:

About the Connecticut Chapter:
The League of Professional Theatre Women is committed to promoting and advocating for professional women in theater and to providing members networking and development opportunities. The Connecticut Chapter is co-founded by state residents and members of the League, Lauren Yarger (Broadway and Connecticut theater critic), Mary Miko, (Special Events Coordinator at Goodspeed), Tracey Moore (Actress/Educator) and Marie Reynolds (Actress/Director/Producer). All Connecticut women working in professional theater are invited to join the CT Chapter which holds events regionally throughout the year. For more information contact or visit the chapter's website at

About the panelists:
On Broadway, Dawn designed the lighting for Zoot Suit, was co-designer for Tango Pasion, and associate lighting designer for Show BoatThe Life and the original Broadway production of La Cage Aux Folles. Off Broadway, she has designed for the Roundabout Theater, Manhattan Theatre Club, and co-designed the first two seasons of the “Encores!” concert musical series at City Center. Dawn was resident lighting designer for New York City Opera, and has worked for the concert tours of Paul Anka, The Carpenters, Diana Ross, and Loggins and Messina. She has designed the lighting at numerous regional theaters including the Mark Taper Forum, Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Denver Center Theatre Company, Guthrie Theater, Alliance Theatre, South Coast Repertory and Arena Stage. Dawn has earned two Drama League Critics' Awards, two Lighting Designer of the Year Awards (Syracuse Area Live Theatre), and nominations for the San Francisco Drama Critics’ Award, Los Angeles Drama Critics’ Award and the Maharam Award for design from American Theatre Wing. She is also a senior consultant with Theatre Projects Consultants, who plan, design and help build performing arts facilities worldwide.  tp://

Elizabeth Williamson is Hartford Stage's associate artistic director and also leads the company's work in new play development. For Hartford Stage, She has directed Cloud 9, translated La Dispute, and dramaturgedHeartbreak House, Anastasia, Romeo and Juliet, The Body of an American, An Opening in Time, Hamlet, Reverberation, Macbeth, Man in a Case, A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder, and others. Before joining Hartford Stage, Williamson served as Associate Artistic Director and Literary Manager for Pioneer Theatre Company, where she premiered Bess Wohl'sTouch(ed) and In, and Wendy MacLeod's Find and Sign. She has worked around the country with About Face Theatre, the American Conservatory Theater, Aurora Theatre, the Bay Area Playwrights Festival, Berkshire Opera, Court Theatre, HERE Arts Center, the La Jolla Playhouse, Lincoln Center Theatre Directors Lab, Lorin Maazel’s Castleton Festival, the Magic Theatre, Steppenwolf Theatre, Theatre de la Jeune Lune, and the Williamstown Theatre Festival. Education: Bachelor of Arts in Theatre Directing and Comparative Literature, Bennington College; Master’s in European Literature, Oxford University; trained at the École Jacques Lecoq. Awards: NEA Fellowship in Literary Translation. 

Tilly is an English theatre designer based New York. Recent credits Underground Railroad Game (Lucille Lortel Nomination, International, National Tour and Ars Nova), Small Mouth Sounds (New York and National Tour), The Government Inspector (Duke on 42nd and New World Stages). Recognition - Lortel Nomination Best Costume Design, Balsamo Grant for Immigrant Artists, Irish Design Award, Irish Times Theatre Nomination and Onstage Critics Award. New York - Roundabout, Ars Nova, Women’s Project, Foundry, Red Bull Theatre, Cherry Lane, The Pearl, Clubbed Thumb, Here Arts Centre, Barrow Group, and La Mama. Regional - Williamstown Theatre Festival, New York Stage and Film, Alley Theatre, Shakespeare Theatre DC, Goodspeed Opera, OSF, Wilma, Hudson Valley Shakespeare, Two Rivers Theatre Company, Trinity Repertory Company, Pittsburgh Public & Westport County Playhouse.

Jessica, (Scenic Designer, NNPN Producer in Residence),  has worked in theater as a set designer since 2003. NYC design credits include: Dan Lauria's Dinner with the Boys at The Acorn Theater, Butler at 59E59 St. Theaters, The Housewives of Mannheim at 59E59 St. Theaters, and Jericho and Poetic License for The Director's Company at 59E59 Theaters. Jessica has been the resident scenic designer for the New Jersey Repertory Company since 2009. Credits there include: & Juliet, The Jag, Mad Love, Happy, Broomstick, Swimming at the Ritz, and Noir. Other design include: Claire Went To France for Strange Dog Theater Company at Hamilton Stage, 37 Stones for Working Man's Clothes, The Normals at Luna Stage and Bust, a short film by Dana B. Benningfield, directed by Duncan M. Rogers. In August she was made the NNPN Producer in Residence at the New Jersey Repertory Company and helped produce their week long All About Eve: Festival of the Arts.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Quick Picks for Connecticut Theater

By Lauren Yarger
I am up against deadlines that are taking me out of town and limited time to write about the great shows I have seen recently in Connecticut. Here are some highlights (back soon!).
Will Clark, Stephen Wallem and Amanda Huxtable. Photo: Anne Hudson
I HATE MUSICALS, THE MUSICAL at Ivoryton Playhouse
By Mike Reiss
Music by  by Walter Murphy
Directed by James Valletti

Simpsons’ television writer and producer Mike Reiss returns with the story of Alvin, a cranky comedy writer (a talented Stephen Wallem) trapped in the rubble of an LA earthquake.  His life plays out before his eyes in the form of a musical -- and he hates musicals. 

What Are the Highlights?
I enjoyed some laugh-out-loud moments (I enjoy Reiss's out-there, blunt sarcasm, even when Jesus and his mother, Mary, pay a visit.) James Valletti directs a solid ensemble including R. Bruce Connelly (who never fails to please and had me chuckling as Alvin's clueless agent, Lee), Will Clark, Sam Given, Amanda Huxtable and Ryan Knowles.

More information:
Through Oct. 15 at Ivoryton Playhouse.

Music direction and vocal arrangements by Michael Morris. Choreography by Schuyler Beeman. The set design is by Dan Nischan, lighting by Marcus Abbott and costumes by Elizabeth Cipollina.

Performances are Wednesday and Sunday matinees at 2 pm. Evening performances Wednesday and Thursday at 7:30, Friday and Saturday at 8.

Tickets are $50 for adults, $45 for seniors, $22 for students and $17 for children: 860-767-7318; 

One Day More. Photo: Deen Van Meer
LES MISERABLES at the Bushnell
The Victor Hugo classic plays another tour in Hartford (this revised 25th anniversary edition came through on tour a couple of years ago, then settled down on Broadway for a run that recently closed).

What Are the Highlights?
Nick Cartell (Jean Valjean), Josh Davis (Javert) and Phoenix Best (Eponine) nail "Bring Him Home," "Stars" and "On My Own" respectively. The vocals are pretty good across the board and Victor Hugo's own drawings serve as the backdrop. Lighting by Paul Constable is exquisite.

More information:
Through Oct. 8 at the Bushnell. Performances are Friday at 8 pm;  Saturday at 2 and 8 pm; Sunday at 1 and 6:30 pm.. Ticket prices start at $22.50:; 860-987-5900


Director Darko Tresnjak's take on Shakespeare's fairy-filled fantasy about love among gods and mortals.

What Are the Highlights?
Bottom (a brilliant John Lavelle) and his troupe of actors putting on a play within a play (usually my least favorite part of this too-oft produced play) find new depth and comedy. Alexander Dodge's set is anchored by a beautiful rotating gatehouse, apparently inspired by the one at the Biltmore mansion in North Carolina. Its stone and ivy are surrounded by greenery and benches that transport us to another time and place, then Tresnjak effectively startles by placing Puck (Will Apicella) in the house.

More information:
Through Oct. 8 at Hartford Stage. Performances are Friday, Saturday at 8 pm; Sun at 2 pm. Tickets start at $25:

EJ Zimmerman as Christmas Eve, James Fairchild as Brian, Weston Chandler Long as Princeton/Rod, Colleen Welsh as Bad Idea Bears, Peej Mele as Trekky/Nicky, Ashley Brooke as Kate Monster/Lucy the Slut, Abena Mensah-Bonsu as Gary Coleman. Photo: Courtesy of Curt Henderson, Imagine It Framed

AVENUE Q at Playhouse on Park
Those zany not-for-kids puppets are back, this time at Playhouse on the Park, where director Director/Choreographer Kyle Brand has assembled the ensemble of performers who speak for the puppets.

What Are the Highlights?
Ashley Brooke stands out as Kate Monster/Lucy.

More information:
Through Oct. 8 at Playhouse on Park. Tickets are $40-$50: 860-523-5900 x10 or visit


Robert Dubac proves that when something is funny, the joke can last for a lot of years. Dubac has been touring his one-man, five character exploration of man's psyche in the quest of what women really want for many years.  The saucy, witty presentation is still entertaining.

What Are the Highlights?
The piece has been updated with contemporary jokes.

More information: 
Through Oct. 15 at Seven Angels Theatre. Tickets are $39.50-$54 depending on day of performance. Evenings at 8 and matinees at 2 pm: 203-757-4676;

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