Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

April 16, 2019

REVIEW: Majestic Theater, The Marvelous Wonderettes


Majestic Theater, West Springfield, MA
through May 26, 2019
by Konrad Rogowski

Loaded with dozens of “top ten” songs from the pop music charts of the 50’s and 60’s, “The Marvelous Wonderettes” is a fanciful trip down memory lane to the gymnasium of Rockville High, and the romances and rivalries of four young girls who are the featured performers at their senior prom.

In Act I, which is set in 1958, life starts out so well, until simmering egos, and just who gets the spotlight next, plunge the festivities into the realm of youthful angst and who just stole whose boyfriend last. All quite predictable, and predictably fun.

The retelling of these dizzying dramas is cleverly woven together by the Wonderettes portrayed by Mollie Posnik, Tina Sparkle, Kait Rankins, and Kaytlyn Vandeloecht, as the names of those fickle boyfriends and favorite school staff members (kudos to the volunteers from the audience for a wealth of suggestions), just happen to be part of those great 50’s and 60’s songs, giving the girls plenty of ammunition to tell their tales of woe, and belittle their rivals.

Act II moves the foursome on to 1968, and their ten-year high school reunion. The years may have marched on, but some of those old hurts, insecurities, and rivalries just can’t be kept under control. As these things tend to do, the girls reach a boiling point, all done with great 60’s pop tunes of love and loss. Surprisingly, even some wisdom is gained, until all is well once again at Rockville High, as romance flourishes, the past fades, and friendships are rekindled.

Danny Eaton’s direction keeps the pace fast and fun, colorful costumes by Dawn McKay shine on stage, and the gym setting is classic, down to the photos of Ike and LBJ, red alarm bells, the stars and stripes displayed (with the correct number of stars), and the basketball court hardwoods are polished to a sheen. Like proms and reunions, this show is a fun evening to remember.

April 15, 2019

PREVIEW: Jacob's Pillow 2019 Season, Becket, MA

June 19 – August 25, 2019

Irene Rodríguez
photo by Christopher Dugg
an
Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival has the distinction as the longest-running dance festival in the United States, a National Historic Landmark, and a National Medal of the Arts recipient.

The Pillow announces its schedule of Festival 2019, which also marks its 87th season. Featuring more than ten weeks with of over 350 ticketed and free performances, off-site pop-up performances, exhibits, talks, classes, films, and dance parties, and Jacob’s Pillow’s Dance Festival 2019.

This summer’s highlights include U.S. company debuts, world premieres, international artists, Pillow-commissioned work, timeless classics, and anniversary celebrations, bringing an impressive range of dance artists from around the world to the 220-acre campus site in Becket, MA.

Ticketed performances occur every Wednesday through Sunday, and feature:
  • a world premiere in flamenco and Spanish dance from Cuba’s revered Compañía Irene Rodríguez (June 26-30)
  • Compagnie CNDC-Anger/Robert Swinston’s Pillow debut as part of the global Merce Cunningham Centennial celebration (July 3-7)
  • the 50th anniversary of Dance Theatre of Harlem (July 10-14)
  • the return of audience favorite Mark Morris Dance Group (July 17-21)
  • the U.S. debut of London’s Umanoove/Didy Veldman (July 17-21)
  • the world premiere of THE DAY, featuring cellist Maya Beiser and legendary dancer Wendy Whelan with choreography by prolific choreographer Lucinda Childs and music by David Lang (July 31-Aug 4)
  • a Pillow-commissioned world premiere from Andrea Miller’s Gallim (Aug 7-11)
  • and the return of Boston Ballet for the first time in over a decade (Aug 21-25), among others.

Boston Ballet
Photo by Rosalie O'Connor
The Inside/Out Performance Series is one of the Pillow’s most beloved traditions, free outdoor, onstage, every Wednesday through Saturday.

Blake’s Barn, the home of Jacob’s Pillow Archives and exhibit space, highlights notable aspects of the critically-acclaimed Dance We Must exhibit, which was created by the Williams College Museum of Art in 2018.  

For tickets to all performances, check the website at www.jacobspillow.org or call the Box Office at 413-243-0745

REVIEW: Hartford Symphony Orchestra, Vaughan Williams & Mendelssohn

Hartford Symphony Orchestra, Hartford, CT
April 12–14, 2019
by Michael J. Moran

In addition to three pieces by two composers, the seventh “Masterworks” program of the HSO’s 75th season, led by their Music Director Carolyn Kuan, featured soprano and baritone soloists as well as the 160 male and female singers of the Hartford Chorale.

The concert opened with perhaps the best known piece, if also one of the shortest, by British master Ralph Vaughan Williams, his “Fantasia on Greensleeves.” A collector of English folk songs, the composer arranged this beloved tune in 1928 for flute, harp, and strings, adding new melodic elements to produce one of his loveliest creations. The account by Kuan and the HSO was ravishing.

In 1936, as if foreseeing the return of war to Europe, Vaughan Williams, an ambulance driver in World War I, set several war-related poems by Walt Whitman, a Parliamentary speech against the Crimean War, part of the Latin Mass, and several Biblical texts in his cantata “Dona Nobis Pacem” (“Grant Us Peace”), for soprano and baritone soloists, chorus, and orchestra. The work begins and ends quietly, with the soprano singing the title prayer, but through its five-movement, 37-minute length, it reaches turbulent climaxes in the Whitman poems “Beat! Beat! Drums!” and “Dirge for Two Veterans” (father and son).    

Soprano Jamilyn Manning-White’s singing was tender and luminous; baritone Yunpeng Wang’s solos were robust and sturdy; Chorale members sang with passion and precision. Kuan and an enlarged HSO offered dramatic support.

Hartford Chorale
The cantata and Mendelssohn’s rarely heard second symphony, which followed intermission, were HSO premieres. Bearing the title “Lobgesang” (“Hymn of Praise”), the 1840 symphony celebrates the 400th anniversary of Gutenberg’s invention of the printing press. Three short instrumental movements form a 25-minute prelude to the 40-minute choral finale.  Especially in light of thrilling performances by the HSO, Manning-White, and the Chorale, it was disappointing that Kuan omitted six of the finale’s ten sections.

Hartford Chorale Music Director Richard Coffey took a well-earned bow at the evening’s close, and his Chorale colleagues Executive Director Alan Mann, Assistant Music Director Jack Anthony Pott, and Accompanist James R. Barry were deservedly credited in the program book for helping prepare the scrupulous work of their singers.

April 4, 2019

REVIEW: Playhouse On Park, stop/time dance theater’s Reel to Real


Playhouse on Park, Hartford, CT
through April 7, 2019
by Sharon Smith

What’s more magical than the sense of anticipation that comes from a darkened movie theater? How about when that movie screen comes to life and engulfs the audience in the musical sights and sounds of a big Hollywood dance number? That’s what happens in stop/time dance theater’s Reel to Real, a loving tribute to American cinema.

This revue is directed and choreographed by POP co-founder Darlene Zoller, who keeps things moving along with homages to a variety of styles and genres . stop/time dance theater is POP’s resident dance company, and it is a pleasant surprise to discover that all the “good parts” of a musical can hold their own without extraneous things like plot and exposition.

Featuring a troupe of 19 talented dancers, 3 of whom pull double-duty as actors and singers, there actually is a slight framing device, built around the dreams of a sleeping movie-goer. Rick Fountain, a talented singer and tapper, starts things off with the more intimate “Mr. Cellophone” from Chicago and things only get bolder and brassier from there. Victoria Mooney has a wonderful singing voice, showcased nicely in “Good Morning Baltimore” and “A Million Dreams.” Amanda Forker stood out with her “When You’re Good to Mama”.

But, this show is really all about the dancing after all and each dancer is given a number or two in which to stand out and shine. There are pieces based on actual movie dance sequences, like “Step in Time” from Mary Poppins or merely influenced by them, like “Disco Star Wars.” All the dances, especially the outstanding tap productions, of which there are many, are delivered with precision style. There really is nothing like the entertaining power of a well-choreographed ensemble piece as it fills the stage with color, and movement and energy.

Sprinkled throughout are little theatrical touches like dinosaurs, droids and a bit of drag (Mrs. Doubtfire). Special mention has to made of Lisa Steier’s costuming, such as her choice of dress for some of the numbers, like “The Artist” or the unique leather styling of “Burlesque.”

Reel to Real is an extremely entertaining and well-produced evening of “show biz razzle dazzle,” that is bound to give even audience members with two left feet, an excuse to dance away happy.

April 2, 2019

PREVIEW: The Bushnell, 2019-2020 Broadway Series



The Bushnell has just announced the line-up of shows for the 2019-2020 Broadway series:

The SpongeBob Musical — October 1 - 5, 2019
A legendary roster of Grammy® Award winners. A visionary director and a Tony Award®-winning design team. One of the world’s most beloved characters. Turn them loose on Broadway and what do you get? The musical The New York Times declares, “BRILLIANT!” "Wonders pour from the stage in a ravishing stream of color and invention" (Time Out New York) in “a party for the eyes and ears” (Daily Beast). Get ready to explore the depths of theatrical innovation in SpongeBob SquarePants, where the power of optimism really can save the world.

Hello, Dolly! — November 12 - 17, 2019
Tony Award®-winning Broadway legend Betty Buckley stars in HELLO, DOLLY! Winner of four Tony Awards including Best Musical Revival, director Jerry Zaks’ “gorgeous” new production (Vogue) is “making people crazy happy!” (The Washington Post). This production of HELLO, DOLLY! pays tribute to the original work of legendary director/choreographer Gower Champion – hailed both then and now as one of the greatest stagings in musical theater history.


Anastasia — January 14 - 19, 2020
Inspired by the beloved film, the romantic and adventure-filled new musical ANASTASIA is from the Tony Award®-winning creators of the Broadway classic Ragtime. This dazzling show transports us from the twilight of the Russian Empire to the euphoria of Paris in the 1920s, as a brave young woman sets out to discover the mystery of her past. Featuring a book by celebrated playwright Terrence McNally, a lush new score by Stephen Flaherty (music) and Lynn Ahrens (lyrics) with direction by Tony Award® winner Darko Tresnjak.

Jesus Christ Superstar — February 25 - March 1, 2020
Helmed by the acclaimed director Timothy Sheader and cutting-edge choreographer Drew McOnie, the Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre production won the 2017 Olivier Award for Best Musical Revival, garnering unprecedented reviews and accolades. Jesus Christ Superstar is set against the backdrop of an extraordinary series of events during the final weeks in the life of Jesus Christ as seen through the eyes of Judas. Reflecting the rock roots that defined a generation, Andrew Lloyd Webber's legendary score includes ‘I Don’t Know How to Love Him’, ‘Gethsemane’, ‘Heaven on their Minds’ and ‘Superstar’.

The Band's Visit — April 21 - 26, 2020
THE BAND’S VISIT is the winner of 10 Tony Awards, including 2018 Best Musical, making it one of the most Tony-winning musicals in history. In this delightfully offbeat story, set in a town that’s way off the beaten path, a band of musicians arrive lost, out of the blue. Under the spell of the desert sky, and with beautiful music perfuming the air, the band brings the town to life in unexpected and tantalizing ways. With a score that seduces your soul and sweeps you off your feet, and thrillingly talented onstage musicians, THE BAND’S VISIT rejoices in the way music makes us laugh, makes us cry, and ultimately, brings us together.

Dear Evan Hansen — May 19 - 24, 2020
WINNER OF SIX 2017 TONY® AWARDS INCLUDING BEST MUSICAL AND THE 2018 GRAMMY® AWARD FOR BEST MUSICAL THEATER ALBUM.
Evan Hansen is about to get the one thing he’s always wanted: a chance to finally fit in. This is the deeply personal and profoundly contemporary musical about life and the way we live it. “One of the most remarkable shows in musical theater history,” says The Washington Post. The New York Times calls DEAR EVAN HANSEN “a gut-punching, breathtaking knockout of a musical” and NBC News says that the musical is “an inspiring anthem resonating on Broadway and beyond.” DEAR EVAN HANSEN has struck a remarkable chord with audiences and critics everywhere.

Escape to Margaritaville — June 9 - 14, 2020
Get ready for a hilarious and heartwarming musical with the most unforgettable songs from one of music’s greatest storytellers. Entertainment Weekly says “It will knock your flip-flops off! This is what escapism is all about.” Featuring both original songs and your most-loved Jimmy Buffett classics, including “Fins,” “Volcano,” “Cheeseburger in Paradise” and many more. With a book by Emmy® Award winner Greg Garcia (“My Name is Earl,” “Raising Hope”) and Emmy® nominee Mike O’Malley (“Survivor’s Remorse,” “Shameless”), this electrifying production is choreographed by Tony Award® nominee Kelly Devine (COME FROM AWAY, ROCK OF AGES) and directed by Tony Award® winner Christopher Ashley (COME FROM AWAY, MEMPHIS).

The 2019-2020 Broadway Series is co-sponsored by: Travelers

March 30, 2019

REVIEW: Hartford Stage, Jeeves & Wooster in Perfect Nonsense

Hartford Stage, Hartford, CT
through April 20, 2019
by R.E. Smith

It may be a familiar cliché, but it could not be more appropriate: from the moment the curtain goes up on “Jeeves & Wooster in Perfect Nonsense” absolute hilarity ensues.

Photo by T, Charles Erickson
Based on the works of renowned British humorist P.G. Wodehouse, this show within a show has young English gentlemen, and member of the “idle rich,” Bertie Wooster, staging a one-man show. Quickly realizing that such a project requires a lot of concentration (and work) he enlists his faithful “gentleman’s man” Jeeves, to assist. Jeeves, in turn, brings along game but elderly butler Stebbings. As Bertie regales the appreciative audience with his tale, Jeeves and Stebbings act the parts of all the other people Bertie encounters along the way.

Chandler Williams as Bertie Wooster, with his broad smile and jovial demeanor instantly ingratiated himself to the audience. As Bertie tends to be a bit vague, at times his character seemed to be enjoying the show as much as the audience. Looking like a young Colin Firth, with superb clowning skills, he made for a master storyteller as he narrated Bertie’s many misadventures.

Arnie Burton, as Jeeves, (and a stuffy judge, and a expert on newts and TWO romantically inclined young ladies!) could convey an entire performance with his facial expressions alone. Unflappable manservant, blowsy paramour and blustery barrister all portrayed perfectly with elastic voice work, energetic eyes and moustache with a mind of its own.

Finally, Eddie Korbich as Stebbings (and an overbearing Aunt, and a Scottish butler and a violence prone dictator) completes the “three hander”, delighting with expert physical shtick, fully committing all his resources to the endless silliness.

Making its American debut at Hartford Stage the show is directed by the original London director, and Olivier Award winner for it, Sean Foley. The madcap pacing never lags, the fast changes from character to character by the same actor are executed flawlessly and every inch of the stage seems to be filled with madcap energy at every minute. As the night goes on, Alice Power’s set becomes more and more integral to the proceedings, and practically gets its own laugh-lines. Her costume design is vital to the execution of many of the heartiest laughs. The script has not a single false note or wasted word.

“Jeeves and Wooster in Perfect Nonsense” is truly comedy “perfection”, in which every aspect of the production contributes to the most enjoyable comedic “nonsense” one could ever imagine.