Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

May 22, 2018

REVIEW: Springfield Symphony Orchestra, All Rachmaninoff


Springfield Symphony Orchestra, Springfield, MA
May 19, 2018
by Michael J. Moran

For the final concert of the SSO’s 74th season and his own 17th as their music director, Kevin Rhodes notes in the program book, he celebrated “one of my favorite composers” with five pieces by Rachmaninoff. But Rhodes’ selections were unusual in that they all date from late in the composer’s career, only one of them is a repertory staple, and three of them are almost totally unfamiliar to the average concertgoer.

Those would be the 1929 orchestral arrangements by Italian composer Respighi of three “Etudes-Tableaux” (pictorial studies), originally written between 1911 and 1917 for solo piano, which opened this imaginative program. The composer suggested their titles to Respighi (“The Fair,” “Little Red Ridinghood and the Wolf,” and “March”), whose three years of study in Russia with Rimsky-Korsakov are reflected in the dark Slavic color of these orchestrations. Rhodes and the SSO performed them with conviction and flair.

Misha Dichter
Next came the only piece on the program that many audience members would recognize, the composer’s last work for piano and orchestra, dating from 1934, his “Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini.” The featured soloist was, in Rhodes’ words, “one of the grand gentlemen of the piano,” Misha Dichter. Now 72, the American pianist has lost none of the technical facility and interpretive depth which launched his international career over 50 years ago. His nimble fingers captured all the thunder of variations 13 and 22 and romantic lyricism of variation 18. Orchestra and conductor offered equally agile support.

Intermission was followed by a vibrant account of Rachmaninoff’s last work, and, according to Rhodes, “[his] masterpiece,” the 1940 Symphonic Dances, written three years before the composer’s death. While its three movements recall and even quote several of his earlier works, they also introduce new instrumental harmonies which make this the most modern-sounding of all Rachmaninoff’s works. Its mix of nostalgia and defiance was expertly rendered by all the musicians, including a first movement saxophone solo, meltingly played by principal Lynn Klock (Rachmaninoff’s only use of that instrument).

Season 75 will be hard put to match this insightful new slant on a beloved composer.

PREVIEW: Shakespeare for the 21st Century Audience


Shakespeare & Company, Lenox, MA
by Joan Mento

Shakespeare & Company's 2018 season features “Love's Labor's Lost,” “As You Like It,” and “Macbeth.” How will these plays be presented? Often scripts are cut or altered to "two hours traffic" upon the stage. Since most modern productions of Shakespeare will be cut, the question now becomes not whether to cut, but where, how, and why to cut. Cutting, altering and transposing scenes must be done judiciously so that the audience can follow the story line and make sense of the dialogue.

As You Like It, 2004
Photo by Kevin Sprague
The Company's track record has proven its ability in making the dialogue clear while achieving dynamic, entertaining performances. Cutting may keep a performance successful by not just cutting actors' roles but by having the same actor play multiple roles, or minimizing props, or altering historical periods through costumes. Such cuts serve to underscore thematic significance or to symbolize meaning. For instance the 2004 production of “As You Like It” presented a multiple of motifs, two being nurture vs. nature and good vs. evil. The Duke brothers, Frederick and Senior, played by one actor, symbolized the dual nature of man in his ability to encompass his darker nature and his better self. Costuming promoted this concept. When at court, men's costumes were black whereas in Arden they became white. Touchstone, the fool, wore a black and white Harlequin pattern jumpsuit, suggesting that he, unlike the men of the court, had the ability to balance the light and dark side of his humanity.

“Love's Labor's Lost” presents a challenge. This comedy is a feast of language with witty puns of topical references and archaic words. Shakespeare & Company's 1999 production also became a feast for the eyes and ears, employing devices to portray character and especially interpret and enliven lines. Wordplay was often translated through "sight" play: ropes as swings, masks to signify deceit, shadow puppets, and swordplay. Miming, dancing, singing, and swinging often accompanied dialogue. These devices added to the audience's understanding of archaic words, allusions, and complex puns, plus made long speeches entertaining.

Their 1994 Macbeth cut to the core actors, sets, and props. Eight actors played 24 parts. Two props reinforced the play's lines and images. One was a
galvanized tub used for Duncan's bath, the witches' cauldron, the washing vessel for Lady Macbeth's hands, and the weapon to murder Lady Macduff. A hospital gurney served as the banquet table, a morgue slab for Banquo's body, and a bed where nightly dreams shake Macbeth.

Macbeth, 2002
Shakespeare & Company
When Shakespeare & Company cut, how do they make certain not to sacrifice all Shakespeare's powerful poetry? First, the words need to make sense and come alive to the actor. Consequently, directors and actors work closely with meaning, meter, and word emphasis. The 2002 production of Macbeth was situated in a post September 11 world. The audience was plunged into a hectic era of modern warfare: soldiers in army fatigue and red berets, secret service men in sunglasses, reporters in trench coats with tape recorders. Yet, eight actors played 42 roles. The tyrant in the modem world evidently has more need of technology than magic. Act IV presented the witches as scientists in white coats in their experimental lab clutching clipboards and referring to notes as they chanted "Double, Double..."

Further effects of this techno-world are blared with media reports from radio and TV. Sounds and floodlights bombard the audience as Macbeth gave his inauguration speech. Despite all the special effects, the production still made the language clear. The visual and aural effects did not replace the text as much as reinforce a contemporary interpretation.

Shakespeare & Company's cutting and alterations have been successful in keeping the language understandable for a contemporary audience while retaining Shakespeare's powerful poetry. We are looking forward to what this season brings for entertaining and lively productions.

May 20, 2018

PREVIEW: Jacob’s Pillow, Inside/Out Series


Jacob’s Pillow, Becket, MA

The Henry J. Leir Stage and Marcia & Seymour Simon Performance Space, comprise the this outdoor amphitheater with a panoramic view of the Berkshires Hills for its Inside/Out Series. An essential part of the Pillow’s mission and a beloved tradition is to offer free programs to the public. Audiences of all ages and walks of life travel from around the world and right down the road to meet new people and enjoy the art of dance as a community.

Performances are scheduled every Wednesday through Saturday at 6:15pm during the Pillow’s Festival season, June 20-August 26, 2018

Every year Inside/Out performances feature a variety of styles. Past performances have included classical ballet, tap, jazz/musical theatre dance, hip-hop, flamenco, traditional Korean dance, India’s bharata natyam, and many other genres. Performances are family-friendly and are followed by a brief question and answer session with the audience.

Patrons are welcome to arrive early to claim a seat or to bring chairs from home. Food and drink are welcome in the performance space.

May 19, 2018

PREVIEW: Jacob’s Pillow, Free Stuff


Jacob’s Pillow, Becket, MA
June 20-August 26 2018

GOTTA DANCE, TOO!
Blake’s Barn
Open daily, noon through final curtain
This select group of original movie posters follows up on the hugely popular 2014 exhibit with a different set of rarities from the collection of Mike Kaplan. More than 50 vintage posters feature Fred Astaire, Josephine Baker, Gene Kelly and more screen legends, excitingly illustrated in vibrant color.

DANCE OF THE AGES

Photo: Jacob's Pillow Dance Festival Archives
Ted Shawn Theatre Lobby
Open daily, noon through final curtain
Commemorating the 80th anniversary of Dance of the Ages, a culminating achievement by Ted Shawn and His Men Dancers, this exhibit also highlights a full reconstruction of the work to be performed by Adam Weinert in September. Included here are images, memorabilia, and costumes from the original 1938 production, many on view for the first time.

PARAMODERNITIES/REVELATIONS
Doris Duke Theatre Lobby
Open daily, noon through final curtain
Netta Yerushalmy has created a new performance work entitled Paramodernities, deconstructing classic dances by pioneering choreographers. Historic Pillow images from one of these, Alvin Ailey’s iconic Revelations, are displayed here.

May 14, 2018

INTERVIEW: One-on-One with Capitol Steps’ co-founder Elaina Newport


by Shera Cohen

If you’ve seen Capitol Steps, you need to see it again, and again. Just as the news constantly changes, so must the skits in this extremely popular, political lampooning of who’s who, all set to music. The performances are satire with a capital “S”. The phrase, “ripped from today’s headlines” describes Capitol Steps’ ever-changing and hilarious material.

Elaina Newport, back row, middle
Who is behind the shenanigans in creating Capitol Steps? Mark Eaton and Elaina Newport. Elaina credits her brother and his stash of “Mad Magazine” as her impetus to become co-founder of Capitol Steps. In a recent interview with Elaina, her sense of humor is both effusive and contagious.

The year was 1981, Republicans held the reigns and Reagan was president. It was a different time, but not a different place – Capitol Hill, Washington, DC. Elaina and a small group of friends were asked to write a few scripts and songs for a Christmas party. The event was fun, and a one-shot gig. The audience was bipartisan, and for the most part, got along.

“We kept getting invited to parties,” said Elaina, realizing that lampooning politicians and other front-page personalities could quickly get her and her troupe into a lot of trouble. “The more we were hired, the more [our show] spread the risk around.” In other words, the group was democratic in lambasting just about everyone, yet always with wit and a smile. No one was sacred.

Sooner than she ever anticipated, Elaina gave up her day job to become a full-time writer, producer, singer, comedian, lyricist, and manager of what became titled Capitol Steps. Along with partner, Mark Eaton (whose job description mirrors Elaina’s), the seriously ridiculous Capitol Steps has spread its political humor across the U.S. for over 35 years.

Elaina’s favorite roles include Nancy Pelosi, Elizabeth Warren, Angelina Merkle, and Hilary Clinton. In any given show, the cast of five plus pianist perform approximately 30 songs and become 60 characters, all in 90-minutes. A crew of one helps the quintet quickly change costumes for this fast-paced entertainment.  “Our wig person is the star of the show; there are at least three Trump wigs,” said Elaina. Oftentimes, costumes and headwear are ill fitting or crooked, which unintentionally adds to the fun.

When asked about the audition process, Elaina immediately reacted, laughing. “That’s one of the fun parts [of this job]. They sing a song beautifully, then we ask them to sing the same song as if he/she was Kim Jong-un.”

“Our audiences are fully prepared for this humor,” she said. They come expecting to hear parodies and see caricatures, and that’s exactly what they get. With politics at the top of every news report and above the fold on newspapers, the humor of Capitol Steps is more apropos than ever.

What role would Elaina like to play? President! Not anyone whose name we know, but the first female president. After a few decades backstage and onstage for Capitol Steps, she still loves the fun. “But, if the [current] Congress got quickly competent, then we would be out of a job, but we’ll be okay.”

Capitol Steps will be performed at Cranwell Resort, Lenox, MA from June 30 – September 1, 2018, nightly except Tuesdays. CLICK HERE FOR MORE INFO AND RESERVATIONS

May 11, 2018

PREVIEW: Norman Rockwell Museum, Pittsfield, MA


Keepers of the Flame: Parrish, Wyeth, Rockwell and the Narrative Tradition
Norman Rockwell Museum, Stockbridge, MA

This summer, Norman Rockwell Museum presents the first comprehensive exhibition to look at the work of master illustrators Maxfield Parrish, N.C. Wyeth, and Norman Rockwell in relation to the history of Western art. With more than 60 works by 25 American and European painters, along with more than 300 digital representations of some 50 other artists, Keepers of the Flame: Parrish, Wyeth, Rockwell and the Narrative Tradition will reveal the lineage connecting American illustration to some 500 years of European painting through the long line of teachers who have passed along their wisdom, knowledge, and techniques to generations of creators.

The exhibit occupies four galleries, with each artist’s work displayed in one gallery.  The final gallery of Keepers of the Flame sums up some of the exhibition’s major themes, featuring works of these three artists among others.

Keepers of the Flame traces the student-to-teacher lineage of the above-mentioned artists to their artistic forbears reaching back to the Italian Renaissance. In so doing, it shows how these illustrators, all of whom painted with the same principals and techniques as their artistic ancestors created what would prove to be iconic imagery and unforgettable narratives that defined them as keepers of the flame of traditional Western painting.

The opening will be held Saturday, July 14 at 5:30pm with commentary by exhibition curator Dennis Nolan at 6pm.The event is free for members, $20 for not-yet members.

The Norman Rockwell Museum is located on 36 park-like acres in Stockbridge, which was Rockwell’s hometown for the last 25 years of his life. For information about the exhibit and Museum check www.nrm.org

May 8, 2018

Review: Opera House Players, Parade


Opera House Players, Broad Brook, CT
through May 20, 2018
by Shera Cohen

“Parade” is going to be a tough show for Opera House Players to sell. First, the title is a misnomer. Second, virtually no one has ever heard of it. Third, the story is very difficult to watch. Rape, murder, feigned-justice, and bigotry do not make for a fun evening at the theatre. However, in the Opera House’s 15 years of performances, “Parade” can be singled out as its finest, skillfully-executed production.

Based on the true drama of Leo Frank, a New York Jew living in Georgia at the turn of the last century, the story is gritty, dramatic, and oftentimes embarrassing to watch. Set 50 years after the Civil War, the characters are bitter and cruel. For them, the Confederate flag, which is situated squarely in the center of the stage, is paramount in their minds, their hearts, and their words. Enter, newcomer Frank, married to a Southern Jewess, into this hostile world. The outcast Franks become victims of their times. Unfortunately, this is no surprise to the audience.

Sharon FitzHenry directs her large cast on a minimalistic stage with moveable platforms that create multiple indoor and outdoor settings. Credit to set designer Francisco Aguas who constructs slight but important visuals with dual purposes; shadows on the flag become jail cell walls.

Arguably, “Parade” boasts the most talented community theatre voices in the Valley. Both Michael King (news reporter) and Tim Reilly (district attorney) are given a good deal of stage time. Both are excellent in their roles. Kings’ “Real Big News” offers some of the few light moments in the play. Reilly’s solos are exquisite, at the same time portraying evil personified. Carl Cannella (Leo Frank) is an unsympathetic protagonist. Basically, he’s not a nice guy, and an awful husband. Cannella effectively gives Frank an air of entitlement and selfishness. The audience wants to like Leo. He is not a mensch.

The full ensemble, with some voices singled out on occasion, prove that Director FitzHenry and Producer Moonyean Field selected their cast carefully. Bill Martin, one of the most employed Music Directors within a 60- mile radius, is as talented as ever.

The star of “Parade” is Lindsay Botticello (Lucille Frank). Oftentimes, musicals are populated with singer who can act, or the reverse, actors who can sing. Botticello gets an A+ at both. She portrays a woman whose love for her husband is minimal, yet her efforts to save him are unrelenting. Where did Opera House find this gem? Hopefully, she will return.

“Parade” is the final production of the Opera House Players before locating to Enfield in the fall.