Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

January 28, 2015

Caitlin Canty


The Parlor Room, Northampton, MA
January 24, 2015
by Eric Sutter

Caitlin Canty and her full band played The Parlor Room in support of her CD release, "Reckless Skyline.” The house  gave Canty an opportune venue and the band gave her lots of room in which to shine. The band included Jeffrey Foucault on guitars, Bill Conway on drums, Jeremy Moses Curtis on bass, and Eric Heywood on pedal steel and guitars. These were all great players who created a strong musical beat. Canty's voice was a refined dusky alto, and pure. Her lyrical themes hurled words into darkness that gnawed at the hunger of life in all of us. When she smiled, the audience members melted on "My Love For You Will Not Fade."

Song after song gave way to a poetic lyrical resonance. "Get Up" was a rave up alt-country rocker. Within the dark lyrical landscape, the pedal steel found home in its bright stir of excitement. The darker toned songs, "Enough About Hard Times" and the ballad "Wore Your Ring," slowed the energy for enjoyment of lyrical quality. Her words calm with even phrasing and tone for simple inflection for easy listening.

However, not all was lost to darkness. "Southern Man" phrased some bright lines into its narrative from the female perspective. Another bright moment included the Canty/Foucault upbeat duet "Get Back To Idaho." The mid-tempo roots rocker "My Baby Don't Care" featured flashy blues guitar breaks over the rhythm. The cover of Neil Young's "Unknown Legend" was treated with the sonic beauty of the singer's voice. Guest artist Kate Lorenz, from the local band “Rusty Belle,” provided background vocals on certain songs for female harmony.
  
"True" posed the question, "How can I be true to you and true to me?" in duet form with Jeffrey Foucault for glorious effect. The concert closed with the rousing "Reckless Skyline" and alt-country rocker "I Never." A country weeper encore "Cold Habit" showcased a pretty Heywood pedal steel guitar sound.

Catch this Vermont regional star on her adventurous glide to Nashville. She shines light in all the dark places.

January 27, 2015

Proof

Playhouse on Park, West Hartford, CT
through February 8, 2015
by Jennifer Curran

Nearly 15 years ago "Proof," written by David Auburn, was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Drama and a Tony Award for Best Play. "Proof” has been produced in community, regional and professional theatres across the globe. Its themes of logic and reason, right and wrong, and trust and love are universal, but bring these deeply human emotions into the ultra-logical world of math, ambition, academia, and insanity and the result is extraordinarily profound.

The play is a story told through the eyes of Catherine, the daughter of Robert (Damian Buzzerio), a genius mathematician. Recently deceased after struggling with mental illness for several years, Robert was cared for by Catherine alone. He shares his love of math, but fears deeply she may also share the same mental illness as her father. 

Marty Scanlon & Dana Brooke. Photo: Rich Wagner
The role of Catherine is inherently difficult, but in the hands of actress Dana Brooke it looks as easy as adding one and one. Brooke brings Catherine so fully to life, so perfectly balanced between likable and stridently imperfect that the audience is on her side within minutes. At times heart-breaking and others hilarious, this is a performance worth seeing again and again. Her scenes with Hal, played with everyman charm by Marty Scanlon, are endearing and enriched with a sweetness.

Credit must be given to Melissa Macleod Herion for her ability to find the gentleness and love in Claire, also a role that is a tightrope act. It would be, and tragically often is, easy to play Claire deeply unlikable, but here Claire is rooted in love and good intentions. She is the Big Sister and to that end, we love her for her imperfections, for her true desire to be a source of comfort. The two women lead this production with great care about this family and who they were and who they will become.

With a stripped down stage, the acting is what matters here. Christopher Hoyt’s stage design is deceptively simple, a playground for actors who so clearly deserve a packed house. Director Dawn Loveland nails the casting and tells one great story. This is a truly terrific production of the modern classic.

January 26, 2015

Iris


The Majestic, West Springfield, MA
through February 15, 2015
by Shera Cohen

It’s always a thrill for the theatregoer to participate in a world premier, which is the case with “Iris,” penned by Majestic’s Artistic Director Danny Eaton.

The era is the present and future. The characters are every-day folk, primarily representing a family; one member, ever-present center-stage, lays in a coma. Her daughter (Iris) is the primary narrator as well as the lead character. As the story progresses, what seems to be normal under the circumstances and in the setting of a long-term health care facility, takes a twist.

Dylan Brown plays Iris as intelligent, sprightly, and charming. She portrays the daughter who every mother would want. It is through her eyes that the audience sees and understands the others on stage. She watches every minute movement and listens to every syllable, reacting with her eyes and demeanor. To say more is to give away the mystery of the plot.

The playbill refers to the subject matter as “putting a human face on issues.” Yes, “Iris” certainly fulfills that requirement, and in most cases appropriately, slowly, and gently. However, Act II, in particular, seems to have “issues” that come from nowhere, causing some characters to react unexpectedly. Issues include religion, war and veterans, and euthanasia, among others -- with a different character leading the charge and rhetoric on each. Tom Dahl portrays the best of these outspoken characters as maintenance man Leonard. Steve Henderson, whose volume on stage is often loud (or he is directed to be loud), is spot-on as a caring father. It is Keith Langsdale’s Columbo-ish cop who in Act II brings some much-needed humor.

An important factor in all Majestic plays is the mix of Equity and community actors. Skipping the definition of “Equity,” suffice it to say that these are pros, and community actors are just that -- from the community, usually with day jobs that don’t resemble the arts in any way. Yet, the difference between the two genres of actors is undetectable by the human eyes. Once again, The Majestic has mounted a play whose actors have been well cast and, for the most part, exemplary.

January 20, 2015

Sigal Plays Carmen Fantasie


Hartford Symphony Orchestra, Hartford, CT
January 15-18, 2015
by Michael J. Moran

The program book for the fourth concert of this season’s HSO Masterworks series notes that guest conductor Daniel Hege has been “twice honored…for innovative programming.” So it was no surprise to hear pops concert fare, movie music, and a rarely heard symphony from diverse national traditions on his HSO debut program.

Hege led off with a sensuous and exciting take on the “Ritual Fire Dance” from Falla’s 1914 ballet “El Amor Brujo.” The insistent beat of pianist Margreet Francis in the background and the colorful gloss of Julie Spring’s harp evoked the exotic Spanish atmosphere of the score with special impact.

But HSO concertmaster Leonid Sigal was the featured soloist and real star of the program. Born and mostly trained in Russia, he makes solo appearances annually with the HSO and regularly with other orchestras. Sigal played Chausson’s haunting “Poeme” with purity of tone and depth of feeling, and Franz Waxman’s “Carmen Fantasie” with stunning technical aplomb. Based on themes from Bizet’s opera “Carmen,” the Fantasie was originally written for the 1946 film “Humoresque,” where it was played by one of Sigal’s teachers, Isaac Stern. Orchestra and audience alike rewarded their favorite son with enthusiastic applause.

Daniel Hege
With the hard-working Sigal back in his concertmaster’s chair after intermission, the concert ended with two pieces by the Finnish master Jean Sibelius. Commanding brass launched a thrilling version of “Finlandia,” the 1899 symphonic poem and hymn of resistance to Russian occupation of Finland that put Sibelius on the musical map. Next was a vigorous reading of the too seldom played Symphony No. 5, whose major-key energy annotator Richard Rodda notes is often interpreted as “an affirmation of the human spirit,” since the composer wrote it during World War I. Hege and the HSO captured the shifting moods of its three varied movements and rollicking close with clarity, power, and conviction. 

Music Director of the Wichita Symphony and frequent guest conductor of major American and world orchestras, Hege is a communicative leader whom the orchestra clearly enjoyed working with and the audience appreciated and would undoubtedly welcome back to Hartford.

Private Lives


Hartford Stage, Hartford, CT
through February 8, 2015
by Barbara Stroup

For at least 90 minutes, it is possible to leave serious considerations behind while enjoying “Private Lives,” the well-paced production currently offered at Hartford Stage.

Superior acting and a Noel Coward classic combine to breathe life into the private but frivolous lives of two badly paired couples. Audiences can forgive them their shallow self-concern because Coward writes so well for this kind of superficiality that laughter, rather than scorn, is the result. The world the characters inhabit does not have work or responsibility or weighty issues in its landscape, as they mix their cocktails and unsuccessfully attempt to convince themselves they are hitched properly for life. Mayhem results, and coupling at last is resolved to everyone’s satisfaction, and that really is all that happens. Can it be enough to entertain for 90 minutes?

In this production, it most definitely serves. The staging is exquisite as the director requires actors to climb railings in tuxedos and to stay in almost constant motion. Costumes for the wife Amanda, as well as the husbands in the play, are breathtaking, but that of the other wife Sybil is almost a mockery.

Photo by: T. Charles Erickson
Alexander Dodge should win any prize that might exist for scenic design. Act II’s Paris flat contains two staircases with deco railings; animal prints and stripes are everywhere. Dominated at center by a tiger face, the set is a classy, perfectly-stated apartment that is used to every advantage by the director. It includes a grand piano, ably played by Ken Barnett, during the two minute, delicately choreographed time-out the couple uses to avoid bickering. The whole production is a feast for the eyes and the rotating stage is used with perfect timing.

Hartford Stage treats audiences to a display of costumes from other productions in its lobby. The play, which runs without intermission, is a warm bubble in a cold winter.

January 8, 2015

Pippin

The Bushnell, Hartford, CT
through January 11, 2015
by Michael J. Moran

Since it first opened on Broadway in 1972, this stirring tale of life choices made by the young adult son (Pippin) of medieval King Charles (Charlemagne) has become a classic coming-of-age story that resonates with audiences of all ages. In the Actors Equity tour of the 2013 Tony-Award winning revival at the Bushnell, director Diane Paulus adds a circus setting which heightens the drama of the plot and delights an enthusiastic full house.

With catchy music and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz and book by Roger O. Hirson, the original production was directed and choreographed by Bob Fosse, whose jazzy dance style is evoked in much of the new choreography by Chet Walker. Colorful costume design by Dominique Lemieux and often daring circus acts by Gypsy Snider further enhance the razzle-dazzle quotient in this fast-paced presentation.     

Sasha Allen
All these elements are brought to pulsing life by a well-matched cast, featuring the original Pippin, John Rubinstein, as his father, Charles, whom he portrays with zany exuberance. Kyle Dean Massey is a convincingly endearing and bewildered Pippin, a role he also played in the Broadway production. Sasha Allen, a veteran of NBC TV’s “The Voice,” brings a steely irreverence to her portrayal of the Leading Player/narrator who sets the overall tone for the production.  

The scene that best conveys the “Magic To Do” of the show’s opening number features Lucie Arnaz in a star turn as Pippin’s grandmother, Berthe. As the now 63-year-old actress gamely cavorts high above the stage on a trapeze, her big number, “No Time at All,” brings the house down.


With great ensemble work and other memorable tunes like Pippin’s “Corner of the Sky” and his stepmother Fastrada’s “Spread a Little Sunshine,” fans undeterred by cold weather should get their tickets to this entertaining production before remaining seats at later performances sell out.

December 10, 2014

Mozart and Dvorak


Hartford Symphony Orchestra
through December 7, 2014
by Michael J. Moran

Though HSO Maestra Carolyn Kuan is a multi-talented musician, guest conductor William Eddins did something in the third program of this season’s Masterworks series that Kuan hasn’t done yet in Hartford (but give her time): performed as featured soloist and conductor in the same concert. He also did something Kuan does regularly and well: spoke to the audience.

He opened by leading ten wind instruments from the piano in the HSO premiere of the nine-minute “Homage to Friendly Papageno” written in 1984 by Jean Francaix as “a hymn of gratitude to Mozart.” Sounding like a sprightly mash up of Mozart and Poulenc, it was played with charm and bite, and it led nicely into Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 17 in G, K. 453, in which Eddins led a larger ensemble of winds and strings again from the piano as soloist.

William Eddins
Not rising from the bench or leaving the stage between these pieces, he engagingly discussed the themes from Mozart’s “Magic Flute” quoted by Francaix and Mozart’s pet starling, which loved quoting the main theme of this concerto’s coda but could never get all the notes quite right. From its lively opening Allegro through a flowing Andante and vigorous romp of a finale, the affectionate performance showed why this was one of Mozart’s own favorites among his concertos. The conductor’s clear and decisive head motions complemented the dexterity of his fingers.

A white-hot reading of Dvorak’s Symphony No. 7 by the full orchestra followed intermission. The dark color of the opening cello chords made clear that this would be a powerfully dramatic interpretation. A warm, loving Poco Adagio, a stately, Czech-flavored Scherzo, and a passionate, intense finale brought the audience to its feet. Here Eddins was a full-body and high-energy conductor (think Leonard Bernstein), who led without a baton or score all evening but with obvious communication skill.   

Music Director of Canada’s Edmonton Symphony Orchestra, guest conductor of major orchestras throughout the world, and at 18 the youngest graduate ever of the Eastman School of Music, this gifted and charismatic musician can’t be invited back to Hartford soon enough.