Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

May 30, 2011

The Wailers Uprising Tour

Mahaiwe, Great Barrington, MA
www.mahaiwe.org
May 22, 2011
by Eric Sutter


The soul shake down party of the 21st century happened at the Mahaiwe with a charismatic performance by the world renowned Wailers. Positive vibrations reverberated in the theatre to the dancing delight of the audience. Colors of red, yellow and green were displayed as people skanked to the funky bass riffs of Aston Barrett and the spine-tingling harmonies of The Wailers, while Ernest Williams kept the steady Roots-Rock Reggae beat. The exhilaration began with singer-songwriter Duane Stephenson's short set backed by The Wailers. The rhythmic stand-out "Jah Love" satisfied. Audley Chisholm reggae riffed the Chuck Berry classic "Johnny B. Goode" on his electric guitar. The soulful Stephenson closed with the socially aware thematic "August Town" from his new CD.

The Wailers mixed it up in their rockin' Rub-A-Dub style. The sun-splashed "Forever Loving Jah" affirmed their Rastafarian ideals in a Rock-Reggae fusion. Lead singer Dwayne Anglin's vocal combined with the solo electric guitar of Chisholm as they performed the pensive "Redemption Song." Themes of righteousness and unified struggle pervaded in "Take A Stand For Mankind," which was preceded by a plea to eradicate world hunger through the World Food Program on their website. The subtle rhythms of familiar songs "Could You Be Love," "Three Little Birds" and "Is This Love?" registered high in audience approval.

The peaceful spiritual solution of reggae's lyrics forever inform its world vision -- it came to fore with the anthem "One Love" with a beautiful keyboard solo by Keith Sterling. Two female back-up singers provided glorious vocal accompaniment. The catchy chorus of "Jammin'" had everyone singing and dancing. The funky reggae party finished with both dreadlocked lead singers who shared vocals on the scorcher, "Get Up, Stand Up." The Wailers encored with the musically adventurous "Exodus" with many a bluesy instrumental guitar break, not far removed from Bob Marley's 'one world' life affirming stance. The concert was a rousing success of socially conscious music for peace and love.

May 28, 2011

West Side Story

The Bushnell, Hartford,CT
www.bushnell.org
through May 29, 2011
by Meghan Lynn Allen


"West Side Story's" gifted playwright Arthur Laurents died at the age of 93, less than a month ago. He is probably hope looking down on the Bushnell's performance of the unforgettable musical this week. He would have been proud.

First and foremost, it's a night of incredible dancing. Bernardo is still the leader of the Sharks. Riff is still the leader of the Jets. They don't like each other. How do they prove it? Ballet, jazz, salsa, and modern dance. Jerome Robbins' original choreography is preserved with great integrity in this production. It is an incredible sight to see the Bushnell stage filled corner to corner with exceptional dancers. The men steal the show from the women as the Jets and the Sharks dance through their pain and troubles.

Secondly, it's a story of love and heartbreak. Tony (Kyle Harris) Maria (Ali Ewoldt) do this classic love story justice. Harris plays Tony perfectly as the adorable, romantic, honest hero with an unrelenting vibrato and a childlike charm. Ewoldt's flawless soprano vocals and talent for portraying Maria's endearing belief in love and life complete the love story. Harris and Ewoldt rejuvenate enduring classics like "Maria," "Somewhere," "Tonight," "I Feel Pretty" and "One Hand, One Heart."

Thirdly, it's an evening of ensemble. Every character, every scene, every dance matters. Standouts include Drew Foster's comedic performance as Action, leading the Jets in "Officer Krupke," Michelle Aravena passionate Anita, and Stephen DeRosa comic genius as who transforms the often-unnoticed character of dance chaperone Glad Hand.

May 15, 2011

South Pacific

Suffield Players, Suffield, CT
www.suffieldplayers.org
through May 22, 2011
by Meghan Lynn Allen


Suffield Players gives the classic Rodgers & Hammerstein musical "South Pacific" a new lease on life. It begins with the sweeping overture of a gifted orchestra led by Music Director and trombonist George Garber, Jr. A simple yet picturesque backdrop sets the stage for a classic story of love, loss and the challenges of America servicemen and servicewomen stationed on a small island during World War II.  The cast should be proud of their solid performance. Standouts include Stephanie Devine as naive U.S. Navy nurse Nellie Forbush who nails the romantic exuberance and tender, golden voice of a Rodgers & Hammerstein ingénue; Rich Moran, Jr. as sophisticated French plantation owner Emile Debecque who romances the audience with operatic bass tones; and Becky Rodia Schoenfeld as shrewd native merchant Bloody Mary with impeccable comic timing and a charmingly haunting mezzo.

Director Frank Borelli deftly pulls off a legendary large musical in a small space. The 20-member cast keeps the action fluid, an amazing feat on a small stage. And even though casting is liberal in terms of age and race, the actors make it happen and the audience is able to surrender to their suspension of disbelief. Much admiration to Konrad Rogowski (set design), Jerry Zalewski (technical direction and lighting design), and Dawn McKay (costume design) for completing the picture and putting the finishing touches on this romantic wartime musical. Special kudos to Al LaPlant (sound designer) Jerry Zalewski and for making everything beautifully heard. It's not often that you go to a community theatre production and can hear every word and sound, especially with such a large cast and orchestra. Songs like "Bali Ha'i," "I'm Gonna Wash That Man Right Outta My Hair," and "Some Enchanted Evening" resonate through the hall with warmth.

Still need a reason to see "South Pacific" before it closes? Cute kid alert! Bradshaw Mattson (Jerome) and Kennedy Mattson (Ngana) light up the stage and bring a smile to your heart in their brief appearances on the Suffield Players stage.

May 13, 2011

My One and Only

Goodspeed, East Haddam, CT
www.goodspeed.org
through June 25, 2011
by Shera Cohen


Goodspeed continues to make the best musical comedies even better. The production qualities of such classics as "Babes in Arms," "Me and My Girl" and "The Boy Friend" - at Goodspeed in the past decade - are equaled by those in "My One and Only." Considering that the familiar music is by Who's Who of 1940s composers (in this case, the Gershwins), and the dancing is "wow," it's no surprise that this energetic, excellent show is up to the exceedingly high standard as its Goodspeed predecessors.

Here's another inane plot of boy meets girl - boy is a hick pilot and girl is a swimming champ (think: pretty Gertrude Ederle). At first, it seems as if Tony Yazbeck (our hero) is primarily a dancer who can also sing. After all, his opening song is the not very difficult "Blah, Blah, Blah." Correction, once he is assigned more melodies, capped by the stirring "Strike Up the Band," it's obvious that Yazbeck excels at song and dance equally. Gabrielle Ruiz (our "little fish") is to be complemented on her vocal skills which are similar to those of Julie Andrews, particularly in "S'Wonderful." While her dancing cannot be judged, because she has little to do, lacking was charm and charisma. Ruiz's character didn't seem worthy of the affable hick.

Other characters fill out the bill, particularly the versatile and funny "Greek Chorus" quartet who becomes reporters, preachers, barbers, etc. throughout the story. The side plot of the snidely bad guy (with thick accent and mustache) and female mechanic is adorable. Alde Lewis, Jr. (Mr. Magix, relationship advisor) gives a standout performance the minute that he literally stands up from his chair. His Magix has a suave air and dry sense of humor, with tap dancing feet that create a capella music. The title song and very long tap and soft-shoe number by Yazbeck and Lewis is the showstopper. The audience reaction indicated that the piece wasn't long enough - give 'em more.

But there's lots more, and now enough room to write about the 3D movie-like set, the array of costumes, and the choreography. Goodspeed follows the adage of truth in advertising. Billed as a "tap dance spectacular" - it certainly is!

Hair

The Bushnell, Hartford,CT
www.bushnell.org
through May 1, 2011
by Eric Sutter


In a word, the 60's were about change. America went from down home values to the musical revolt of Woodstock. During that span of time came the Tribal Love Rock Musical "Hair." A revival of the Tony Award winning musical appeared at the Bushnell with a groovalicious production of color and sound from the hippie era. The themes of equality and tolerance were weaved into the drama with love by the cast. The Tribe sang melliflously strong with lead character's solos standing out with each number. It was sensual from the start with the song "Aquarius," as Berger (Steel Burkhardt) disrobed and revealed a loin cloth at the sound of a gong. Provocative numbers "Hashish" and "Sodomy" set the tone for a wild ride of freedom. Sheila (Caren Lyn Tackett) sang heartily for "I Believe In Love" as the Tribe infiltrated the startled audience with a "Peace Now" chant and protest signs. After Claude's (Paris Remillard) draft notice arrived, he sang "I Got Life" to  scene his Dad (Josh Lamon). The title song was a free spirited hair waving dance, wild in the aisles. Tackett sang the popular "Easy To Be Hard." The tribe reminisced "Hare Krishna" consciousness for the audience, followed by "Where Do I Go" at which time they shed their clothes. The first Act was jam packed.

In Act 2, the Tribe sang "Oh Great God Of Power" with flashlights under chin ominosity on darkened stage. A clever segment from a hallucination scene challenged racism. "Four Score and Seven Years Ago" featured Shaleah Adkisson as Abraham Lincoln with the boys who sang doo-wop style. Spectacular dancing throughout kept it lively...until Claude's hallucination ended and is drafted by the Army. Tackett sang the hippie anthem, "Good Morning Starshine" with flowers passed to audience members for revived flower power. Jeanie (Kacie Sheik) fit her hippie girl role well with resonated love and beauty that remembered the times. With Claude laid on an American flag center stage, the full cast belted out "Let The Sunshine In" up the aisles with voices trailing off as the stage faded to black. The finale reprised "Hair" and a hand waving "Let The Sundshine In" with a not to be missed ending.

May 10, 2011

Ragtime

Opera House Players, Broad Brook, CT
www.operahouseplayers.org
through May 21, 2011
by Vickie Phillips


Take a journey back in time...Ragtime, 1906! This outstanding work by composer Stephen Flaherty, lryicist Lynn Ahrens and book by Terrence McNally has been greatly enhanced by Artistic Director Sharon FitzHenry and Music Director Bill Martin who have led the talented cast of The Opera House Players into a wonderfully entertaining production. The result is outstanding.
From the opening notes, the voices of the company on stage are nothing less than musically thrilling to hear. A strong cast featuring the talents of J.J. Martin (Father), Sue Dziura (Mother), Jerrial Young (Coalhouse), Chae-vonne Munroe (Sarah), Jayne Newirth (Emma Goldman), and Luis Manzi (Tateh) lead a large cast of more than 20 on stage, all beautifully costumed in turn of the century period by Moonyear Fields.

Another excellent production enhancement is the sound (Paul Leone) and lighting (Dianne St. Amand). The story line is set in New Rochelle and Harlem, New York, with families who have...and those who have not.  he affluance and hard times collide, bringing out the best and worst in people who are forced to share the many levels of their lives. The great "characters" of the day include Booker T. Washington, Houdini, JP Morgan and Henry Ford, played with flair and conviction by Joshua Thompson, Andrew Small, David Climo and Matthew Falkowski, Sr. respectively.

"On The Wheels of a Dream," the duet with Young and Munroe soars. "Gettin' Ready Rag" and "What A Game Of Baseball" are entertaining winners. "The Night Goldman Spoke at Union Square" makes a very strong statement and Act One closes with a powerful punch in "Till We Reach That Day." Luis Manzi sings a heart warming "Gliding," .then a smashing "Making Movies".

Act Two continued with FitzHenry's directorial creativity, and Martin's conducting the his talented musicians. This is an orchestra. The strength of Jayne Newirth as Emma Goldman is solid. Sue Dzura's rendition of "Back To Before" is another great moment of this electic show. Although the thought expressed at the top of the show is "what the world needs is a good kick in the pants," "Ragtime" rings with the sound of distant thunder -- music of a century spinning. Ragtime rocks!