Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

June 19, 2018

REVIEW: Barrington Stage Co., The Royal Family of Broadway

Barrington Stage Co., Pittsfield, MA.
through July 7, 2018
by Jarice Hanson

Harriet Harris commands the stage in “The Royal Family of Broadway” now at Barrington Stage’s Boyd-Quinson Mainstage. This musical version of the 1927 play, “The Royal Family” by George S. Kaufman and Edna Ferber, is loosely based on the Barrymore dynasty with book by Rachel Sheinkin and nineteen highly original songs with lyrics and music by William Finn.

This production brings tongue-in-cheek references to all things Broadway while paying homage to actors whose first love (theatre) takes precedence over more usual life-decisions, such as marrying, having children, and paying the bills.  While I enjoyed every minute, I couldn’t help but wish the audience had been stocked with other theatre people who would get the sly humor and sincere passion that define the actor’s life.  Lines like, “you’re toying with my affectations,” shows that the book is written with warmth, heart, and a self-referential style that is both current and a nod to the acting profession.

Photo by Daniel Rader
The perfectly cast performers feature several stars like Will Swenson, who charms the audience while never losing connection with those on stage.  His antics are hilarious and he lands every line. Chip Zien as the family’s producer is magnetic.  His solo, “Gloriously Imperfect” is as charming and solid as he is as a performer. Laura Michelle Kelly’s voice is ethereal in its range and quality, and she is well matched by the magnetic Alan H. Green as her suitor.  Hayley Podshun as the youngest of the family and A.J. Shively as her fiancée (then husband) both have strong voices and graceful dance moves.  Arnie Burton has great comic chops that show well throughout the play, but bring down the house at the top of Act Two with the show-within-the show “Striking Viking”—a production in which everything that can go wrong, really does.  His stage wife, Kathryn Fitzgerald is cast against type and adds a special comic twist, providing a very original duo representing more “distant” relations.  Holly Ann Butler as the household’s “stage manager” provides perfectly timed comic action along with an ensemble that sings/dances/acts in some gender-bending ways, all led by the outstanding Broadway genius, John Rando (director). But on-stage—Miss Harris is magnetic.

The songs in this world-premiere could stand to be trimmed a bit for timing, but to be honest, I wouldn’t want to cut any of the lyrics.   If this show continues to attract attention, I’m sure many of the songs will enter the would-be actor’s repertoire of theatre-inspired audition songs for their relevance to the actor/singer’s craft and love of theatre.

REVIEW: Playhouse on Park, In The Heights

Playhouse on Park, West Hartford, CT
through July 29, 2018
by Stuart W. Gamble

Photo by Curt Henderson
Lin Manuel Miranda’s (of “Hamilton” fame) vibrant first success, “In The Heights,” has blazed its electrifying energy onto the stage at Playhouse on Park. Winner of the 2008 Tony Award for Best Musical, its power to entertain, delight, and move has not aged a bit since its decade ago debut. With a score featuring a hip-hop enhanced infusion of Salsa, Merengue, Bolero, and Mambo, and a cast of energetic actors, singers, and dancers, “In The Heights” delights and delivers.

Miranda’s musical centers on the lives of various denizens of Washington Heights in NYC. The two main characters Usnavi De La Vega (the affable Niko Touros), a Dominican immigrant and owner of a bodega on 96th street; and Nina Rosario (delicately played by Analise Rios), the Puerto Rican, college-age daughter of a family who owns a limousine service, whose stories are presented in Usnavi’s (and the ensemble’s) rousing rendition of the show’s opening number and title. Other characters introduced throughout the show include Usnavi’s irresponsible cousin Sonny (Nick Palazzo), Nina’s parents Kevin (JL Rey) and Camila (Stephanie Pope), Abuela Claudia (Amy Jo Phillips), Benny (Leyland Patrick), and street-savvy Vanessa (Sophia Introna).

The musical’s scintillating and scorching score simply flows, making nearly three hours of show time feel like a few fleeting moments. Musical highlights also include the cheery “It Won’t Be Long Now,” the tense “96,000,” the flavorful “Piragua,” the powerful “Enough,” the socially and politically charged “Blackout/We Are Towerless.” But this writer’s personal favorites are the extremely moving “Alabanza” led by Touros and Rios on a stage lit only with votive candles, and the infectious “Carnaval Del Barrio” sensuously sung by the striking Sandra Marante.

Choreographer Darlene Zoller merits special attention. Her imaginatively staged dancing utilizes the entire three-quarter stage space and the aisles as well. Director Sean Harris has done a superb job of bringing together this super-talented company who are so energetic; there is not a single dull moment throughout this marvelous show. The only suggestion is that the orchestra, while superbly directed by Melanie Guerin, play a bit more softly, since a couple of the singers were drowned out.

The themes of “In The Heights,” maintaining a strong community and knowing when to let go of the past and to move on with one’s life, are durable ones that strike to the hearts and souls of its audiences

REVIEW: Berkshire Theatre Group, Church and State

Berkshire Theatre Group, Stockbridge, MA
through June 30, 2018
by Mary Fernandez-Sierra

In his eloquent playwright note for “Church and State,” Jason Odell Williams defines his view of the reason for writing: “…to speak to each other’s hearts.”

With fine acting and subtle artistry, the play gives voice to Williams’ heartfelt vision. This show is a triumph, particularly due to its strong cast, production values and wonderful script; it is moving and amazing theatre.

Photo by Emma Rothenberg-Ware
"Church and State" tells the tale of a senator who starts to question his core beliefs, political career, and marriage – just hours before his bid for re-election. His wife and campaign manager, as well as the media, become tangled in his effort to untangle himself. There’s plenty of comedy as well as drama woven everywhere in the play: as the playwright also states, “Comedy and tragedy are not two ends of a single line, but two points right next to each other on the same circle.”

As troubled southern senator Charles Whitmore, Graham Rowat is utterly convincing, charming and heartbreakingly human. He draws the audience in to understand and empathize with his conscientious struggles regarding religious faith, controversial lawmaking and political aspirations, as well as his personal challenges with a strongly opinionated and passionate partner.

Judy Jerome gives a powerhouse performance as the Senator’s wife Sara. This actress runs an incredible gamut from conventional politician expected-wife behavior to Southern-belle hissy fits, down-home wisdom and more than a little feminism and independence. Jerome’s monologue about her husband’s legislative amendment is a masterpiece.

Keira Naughton, portraying Charles’ campaign manager Alex with just the right amount of frenzy and frankness, is superb. Her comic timing, delivery and the sensitivity with which she responds to both the senator and his wife as the play develops, are a joy to behold. She is a perfect foil to both Charles and Sara, bringing reality, humor and perspective into the story.

Much applause and admiration are due to Andy Talen, performing several smaller pivotal roles. Talen is a true trouper, portraying each character uniquely and skillfully. His wonderfully understated water bottle speech as Tom is one of the highlights of the production.

The skill of director Charlotte Cohn is seen everywhere in this production. The movement is centered, natural and intimate, bringing the audience right into the heart of the drama. The main characters are never preachy, though several semi-sermons are delivered throughout this powerful script. She uses a light director’s hand in dealing with some heavy themes, allowing the words and ideas to shine as much as the fine performances.

Subtle colors, moods and images are evoked, thanks to designer David L. Arsenault’s elegant sets and lighting. Sharp-looking contemporary costumes by David Munn truly enhance the characters, and the beautiful and effective video and projections designed by Alex Hill add even more to the visual artistry of this production. Sound designer and resident composer Scott Killian’s seamlessly adds background tunes at just the right moments throughout, and well-crafted crowd noises during campaign speeches. Bravo!

If it’s true that the devil is in the details; this production proves that there are also angels. It is rare to find a show in which so much careful attention has been given to virtually every aspect of a production, each component in harmony and sync with the other.

June 14, 2018

REVIEW: Hartford Symphony, Carmina Burana: Festival of Fate

Hartford Symphony, Hartford, CT
June 8-10, 2018
by Michael J. Moran

For the concluding “Masterworks series” program of the HSO’s 74th season, Music Director Carolyn Kuan presented three diverse works, each of which, in contrasting ways, celebrates life.

The brief concert opener was Anna Clyne’s festive “Masquerade,” commissioned by the BBC and premiered at London’s Promenade concerts in 2013. In the absence of program notes, Kuan called on concertmaster Leonid Sigal and the orchestra in a spoken introduction to introduce the 5-minute piece’s several dance-like themes. Their performance of this colorful score by the rising young British-born composer was appropriately exuberant.

Lisa Williamson
The first half of the program continued with Samuel Barber’s haunting memory piece for soprano and orchestra, “Knoxville: Summer of 1915.” Setting excerpts from American writer James Agee’s memoir A Death in the Family about his Tennessee childhood, Barber wrote it in 1947 for soprano Eleanor Steber. A reduced HSO and Kuan offered lush backing to soprano Lisa Williamson’s crystalline-voiced account of the nostalgic text.

But the main attraction of this concert came after intermission: a jubilant rendition of Carl Orff’s massive “Carmina Burana,” a cycle of 24 songs for soprano, tenor, and baritone soloists and two choruses. The Latin title means “Songs of Beuren,” the site of an abbey near Orff’s native Munich, where about 200 thirteenth-century poems were discovered over a century before he set a selection of them in 1936 to original music, according to the program book, of “a sinewy, electric muscularity that is driven by an almost primeval rhythmic energy.”

The hour-long cantata begins and ends with the fatalistic “O Fortune,” surrounding three sections which revel in the pleasures of spring, drinking, and love. Highlights included: tenor David Guzman’s hilarious impersonation of a swan being cooked for a meal; baritone Tyler Duncan’s vividly drunken abbot; and Williamson’s radiant “Dulcissime,” where she nailed the highest note in the score as she embraced her lover. The Hartford Chorale and the Connecticut Children’s Chorus sang with vigor and precision, fervently supported by orchestra and conductor.

Full printed texts and translations for the Barber and Orff pieces capped as grand a season finale as Hartford has seen in some time.

June 5, 2018

PREVIEW: Radical Acts: Ko Festival, Amherst, MA

Ko Festival of Performance, in its 27th summer season on the Amherst College campus, is a perennially popular summer experience in Western Massachusetts, featuring five weeks of theatrical performances, the KoFest Story Slam, and three 6-day intensive theater workshops. Unlike standard summer stock theater, Ko performances are all original, devised pieces, created by distinguished professional solo and ensemble theater artists from across the U.S. Each year, the performances are curated around a theme; this year it’s “RADICAL ACTS” and audiences will have an opportunity to meet a group of 60’s radicals, hear true tales of going AWOL in the jungle, examining one’s relationship with the planet and the courage to create. Post-performance discussions, often with guest experts, are included.

July 6 – 9 | THE RADICALIZATION PROCESS | The Hinterlands
The Living Theatre’s "Antigone" asks us to question our assumptions about what drives us to take action.

July 13 & 14 @ 8pm | July 15 @ 1:30pm| THE OVEN
AWOL, on a shamanic journey into the Amazon leads to discoveries of just how precarious our Western views on faith & reason really are.

July 21 | 8pm | KoFest STORY SLAM & PARTY
Returning this year, Ko focuses on short, true, first-person stories of “RADICAL ACTS” told by community members and Ko artists.

"Like A Mother Bear"
July 27 – 29 | LIKE A MOTHER BEAR | Helen Stoltzfus/Black Swan Arts & Media 
One woman’s journey to healing in which she discovers the Great Bear Mother of the imagination and all that comes with it.

Aug 3 – 5 | INDUSTRIOUS ANGELS | Laurie McCants, music by Guy Klucevsek
A solo, hand-crafted story-spinning shadow-puppet memory-play with music.

For tickets and further information contact or call after July 2 at (413) 542-3750.  Before July 2, information can be found online or at (413) 427-6147.

REVIEW: TheaterWorks, The Invisible Hand

TheaterWorks, Hartford, CT
through June 23, 2018
by Jarice Hanson

“The Invisible Hand” is a bone-chilling, powerful drama that shocks and surprises at every twist and turn of the plot. Artfully written by Ayad Akhtar, 2013 Pulitzer Prize winning playwright of “Disgraced,” the play is set in a prison in Pakistan after Nick Bright (Eric Bryant), a low-level investment banker is kidnapped by mistake. The three captors we meet intended to abduct Nick’s boss, but now have to figure out how to use Nick to raise ten million dollars in ransom money.

We meet Dar (Anand Bhatt), a low-level guard who appears to have a gentle soul. Imam Saleem (Rajesh Bose) is the boss who strikes a deal with Nick to raise the ransom by doing what he does best—speculate in global currency. Bashir (Fajer Kaisi) is a British-born Pakistani who studies global markets and debates power with Nick. What is so fascinating about each of these characters is that each is motivated to do what they do for different reasons, and each changes in very unexpected ways. All four actors communicate with precision and passion, and watching the tension they create on stage truly insights the audience’s senses as we see the boiling pot that is the playwright’s story start to bubble.  This is socially-conscious entertainment at its best.

You might expect that this play has both political and ideological themes, but these are only backdrops for what happens as these characters work against our assumptions. The result is that this play is much more about greed, corruption, morality, and human desire. Director David Kennedy understands how to build tension with extraordinarily controlled pacing, claustrophobic set designed by Kristen Robinson, and effective lighting by Matthew Richards.

This play was presented last year at the Westport Country Playhouse where it won the Connecticut Critics Circle Award for Outstanding Production, Outstanding Director, and, for Bryant’s performance, Outstanding Actor. Ayad Akhtar’s most recent Broadway play, “Junk” has been nominated for two Tony Awards, including Best New Play. This American-born playwright, actor, and award-winning book author is someone to watch. I intend to start following his career and can’t wait to see how he continues to create such intelligent work about global capitalism, human desire, and the lengths people will go to for power.

June 1, 2018

REVIEW: The Bushnell, Love Never Dies

The Bushnell, Hartford, CT
Through June 3, 2018
By Stuart Gamble

Andrew Lloyd Webber’s sequel to his long-running Broadway show “The Phantom of the Opera” is currently staged at Hartford’s Bushnell. “Love Never Dies” has been performed in London and the U.S. but has yet to make its debut on Broadway. The elephant in the room begs the question - why? One reason may be that “Phantom” has played on Broadway since 1987; if it’s not broken, don’t fix it. Another may be that what can possibly top the original’s spectacle including ghostly apparitions in mirrors, an illuminated underground lake among the catacombs, and of course the thrilling first act’s conclusion with the titular character’s entrance on a swinging chandelier.

Photo by Joan Marcus
Then, of course is the show’s score. Phantom’s music includes such hits as Think of Me, The Music of the Night, All I Ask of You, Masquerade, and the title tune. In contrast, “Love Never Dies” has fewer memorable songs, in fact, only three come to mind: Look with Your Heart, Until I Hear You Sing, and the title song. Nonetheless, the score was captivatingly sung at Tuesday’s opening night by its ensemble principals and cast of approximately thirty.

“Love Never Dies” begins 10 years after the conclusion of “Phantom.” The setting has changed from the gothic Paris Opera House to the gaudy Coney Island Amusement Park. The theater at Coney Island is presided over by the still love-lorn Phantom (Gardar Thor Cortes), who invites his long-ago protégé Christine Daae (Meghan Picerno) to come and sing his music at the Phantasma, his Coney Island lair, under the pretense of being Oscar Hammerstein. Christine, now penniless, yet still elegantly beautiful, arrives with her alcoholic husband Raoul (Sean Thompson) and her angelically voiced son Gustave (Christian Harmston). Intrigue after intrigue ensues, concocted mostly by the reptilian Madame Giry (Karen Mason) and her deceptively buoyant daughter Meg (Mary Michael Patterson).

Like its predecessor, the secret to “Love Never Dies” (moderate) success lies in its awe-inspiring spectacle. The revolving set, compactly designed by Gabriela Tylesova, includes moments of awe, beauty, and terror: the Phantom’s jarring entrance through the double doors into Christine’s hotel room; the gilded, ghostly frames of the circus-like Fantasma (which is framed by the gaping-wide mouth of a gigantic Phantom; and the red, purple, brown, black and blue capes, gowns, hats, and jackets with ruffles in satin velvet (also designed by Tylesova). One image will never die from this reviewer’s mind: the title song melodically sung by Picerno decked in a sprawling green gown with a backdrop full of oversize peacock quills, dazzlingly lit by lighting designer Nick Schlieper. Indeed, this lilting aria earned Picerno an ovation lasting nearly two minutes. That alone, spells success.

May 31, 2018

Preview: Paradise City Arts Festival

Paradise City Arts Festival, Northampton, MA
May 26, 27, 28, 2018

Oil painting by Enfield artist Zhiyi Li
Twenty-three years ago, two artists had a vision – to create a world-class arts festival at the historic, but admittedly rustic, fairgrounds in Northampton. “When we first walked the Northampton Fairgrounds in 1994, puzzling over the pieces that would come to be known as the Paradise City Arts Festival, we took a giant leap of faith,” say Founding Directors Linda and Geoffrey Post. “We pictured the Arena, a cavernous horse barn, transformed into a venue to showcase museum quality master craft and fine art. We fretted over whether we could draw serious art and craft lovers from across the country to the small New England town of Northampton.”

More than twenty years later, Paradise City Northampton fills three newly erected buildings, an outdoor Sculpture Promenade and a 12,000 square-foot Festival Dining Tent. Visitors have traveled from all fifty states and five continents to immerse themselves in an exhilarating environment that features an unparalleled collection of the nation’s finest craft makers and independent artists. In 1998, the Posts took their show on the road. They now hold a Paradise City Arts Festival in Boston’s western suburbs twice a year. Upon awarding their events the #1 spot in 2008 in the annual “Top Ten Art Fairs and Festivals in America”, AmericanStyle Magazine declared Paradise City Arts Festivals “truly innovative… fresh and vibrant, with extraordinary quality.”

Wood sculpture by Warren Vienneau
Pittsfield, MA
Paradise City was founded in 1995 by Geoffrey and Linda Post, both practicing artists who spent twenty years on the show circuit themselves. “Making a living as a practicing artist is no easy thing,” Geoff explains, “being creative in your studio, coming up with a body of work that excites you, hoping that customers will respond, then packing it all up and bringing it to a show. But you’re still not done. You need to put on your marketing hat and connect with your customers and display your work in a way that people will respond to.” Their lives as artists lay the foundation for the guiding principles of Paradise City: respect artists in all ways possible, make shows easy, fun and profitable, and help artists reach an ever growing audience both at shows and beyond.

To this end, Paradise City has cultivated a loyal customer base of nearly a quarter of a million people.  For further information check the website at

May 29, 2018

REVIEW: Barrington Stage Company, Typhoid Mary

Barrington Stage Company, Pittsfield, MA
through June 16, 2018
by Shera Cohen

Photo by Carolyn Brown
At some point, writer Mark St. Germain may become tired of creating plays with the central focus on an historic figure. As an audience member of seven of these works, I doubt if I will ever become weary. The powers that be at Barrington Stage Company (BSC) have recognized St. Germain’s excellent talents that its second theatre is titled the St. Germain Stage. It is not surprising that BSC kicks off its 2018 summer season with, not only a play by St. Germain, but a World Premiere.

“Typhoid Mary” depicts slices of life of Mary Mallon. While most people assumed at the time (and still assume) that the derogatory name cliché, an actual Mary lived during turn of the century New York, just off the boat to America from Ireland. The fate of this young woman would have easily become that of millions of immigrants, of little importance except to family and certainly of no significance in history books. However, Mary became synonymous with fear and death. Unbeknownst to the character, at least at first, Mary was a carrier of the dreaded Typhus. The word “killer” is often spoken, but was Mary a killer in the normal definition of the word?

St. Germain’s dialogue is concise and taut, Matthew Penn’s direction is purposeful with every minutia of movement. Settings and times are juxtaposed or layered. The talents of both men make for an intelligent team. Even though the play is relatively short (with an unnecessary 10-minute intermission), there are numerous and important philosophies which, to some degree, overshadow the depth that the actors are permitted to explore the characters. Themes of morality, justice, religion, ethics, science, and self-will fill the language eloquently, at a realistic pace. Yet, maybe there was too much to consolidate?

Tasha Lawrence portrays Mary as conflicted, at the same time vehemently upset by her circumstances. Her character doesn’t have a lot of dialog, but she is the emotional center of every scene. Lawrence is a physically beautiful woman who is intentionally pictured as beige. As a carrier, she is plain and innocuous. Kevin O’Rourke (Mary’s doctor) is recognizable to BSC audiences. Here he portrays shrewd and bombastic with balance in equal measures.

Every St. Germain work sets the brain cells on overdrive. Audience members will take “Typhoid Mary,” just as they have other plays, home to be thought about, questioned, and even judged.

REVIEW: Hartford Stage, A Lesson from Aloes

Hartford Stage, Hartford, CT
through June 10, 2018
by Jarice Hanson

Photo: T. Charles Erikson
Athol Fugard, recognized internationally as a playwright who observed the horrors of the post-WWII Apartheid system in South Africa, brilliantly recognized how definitions of race, segregation, and White political manipulation of power could destroy individual civil rights within the country and globally. In this powerful play, we see what the playbill accurately notes: “The Past Informs the Present.”

The story is set in Port Elizabeth, a provincial city in 1963 at a time in which the government’s violence against resistors of the segregationist legal system was at its apex.  Piet, a White Afrikaaner sympathizes with the resistance. His wife Gladys identifies with her British family roots and has recently been hospitalized because of a trauma resulting from the government’s raid of their home and the confiscation of her personal diaries.  Piet’s best friend, Steve, is Coloured (biracial) family man who decides to leave the country for England, where he hopes his children will have a better life. The tension of living in political turmoil is heightened by the violation each character feels and their reactions to the political situation and their sense of fear (or denial) of what the future may bring. The three characters’ lives are all on the brink of disaster when it becomes known that Piet is accused of being a political informer.

Fugard’s words are potent and director Darko Tresnjak presents us with the similarities of the Apartheid system to today’s world in which political divisions have become entrenched and political ideology destroys civility and civil rights. Matters of immigration, indigenous rights, civil rights, and unfair policies destroy nations, people, families, and friends.

In this deeply intellectual and effective production actors Piet (Randall Newsome), Gladys, (Andrus Nichols), and Steve (Ariyon Bakare) are brilliant in exposing the devastation each feels in their environment. Set (Tim Mackabee), sound design (Jane Shaw), and lighting (Matthew Richards) work seamlessly to give the illusion of both open space and claustrophobia. Once again, Hartford Stage’s total concept of the production allows the playwright’s words and the directorial and actors’ interpretations to meld into an effective production that gives the audience much to think about. “A Lesson from Aloes” is not always an easy show to watch, but it is an important play to think about and it deserves praise for the truths it uncovers and presents.  

A note on the title. The aloe plant is indigenous to South Africa, and though the plant is ugly and full of thorns, it continues to propagate. The rich symbolism is typical of Fugard’s work and his reputation as a social/political observer. The play won a Tony for Best Play in 1981.

PREVIEW: Clark Art Institute: Trailblazing Women Artists

Clark Art Institute , Williamstown, MA
June 9 – September 3, 2018

ECHO, by Ellen Thesleff (1891)
Oil On Canvas, Photo by Kjell Soderlund
Courtesy American Federation of Arts
The Clark Art Institute’s summer 2018 exhibition, Women Artists in Paris, 1850–1900, celebrates an international group of artists who overcame gender-based restrictions to make extraordinary creative strides, taking important steps in the fight for a more egalitarian art world. Featuring nearly 70 paintings drawn from prominent collections across the United States and abroad, the exhibition includes works by renowned artists including Berthe Morisot, Mary Cassatt, and Rosa Bonheur as numerous equally remarkable peers. Women Artists in Paris, 1850–1900 was organized by the American Federation of Arts and curated by Laurence Madeline.

Paris was a cultural mecca, luring artists from around the world to its academies, museums, salons, and galleries. Despite the city’s cosmopolitan character, gender norms remained strikingly conservative and women painters faced obstacles. Women painters in the 19th century engaged in portraiture, shaping an image of themselves as serious artists. Social restrictions hindered women’s full participation in artistic circles.

The perception of childhood evolved as an important stage in the formation of healthy adults, and children were celebrated as the future of a family’s line. This new attention lavished on children coincided with the burgeoning aspirations of women artists. These painters produced images that poignantly celebrate the wonder of childhood and the profound nature of motherhood. Mary Cassatt specialized in maternal scenes and portraits of children.

In a lecture on June 10 at 3:00 pm, curator Esther Bell will speak about the achievements of the artists represented in the exhibition. A conversation with Laurence Madeline, Chief Curator for French National Heritage, and curator of Women Artists in Paris, follows.

The Clark Art Institute is one of a small number of institutions globally that is both an art museum and a center for research, critical discussion, and higher education in the visual arts. For more information on these programs and more, visit or call 413-458-2303.

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.