Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

April 19, 2018

REVIEW: Hartford Stage, The Age of Innocence


Hartford Stage, Hartford, CT
through May 6, 2018
by Shera Cohen

“The Age of Innocence” becomes a painting of the beautifully stunning New York City at the turn of the last century. Life was slower, pretense was ever-present, and the class-system was dictate. We see characters walk through their perfectly steadfast  stations in time, exquisitely designed because no less would suffice. These people are the nouveau riche. The story depicts a love triangle, with weak Newland at the center, bookended by sweet fiancé May and scandalous cousin Ellen. It is important to know that “scandal” of 1920 meant outcast and scorned for behaving in ways that are different from the norm. Ellen is a woman about to be divorced – hardly of any consequence by today’s standards.

Photo By T. Charles Erickson
The story is told with the advantage of hindsight. Boyd Gaines (The Old Gentleman, aka Newland’s older and wiser self) portrays the most believable character. He speaks directly to the audience. Gaines’ subtle movements on stage often mirror those of actor Andrew Veenstra’s young Newland. We see and hear the anguish of the love-tortured man through Gaines’ character’s retrospect. It is a stretch to compare Gaines to Veenstra, especially physically. While Veenstra displays acting skill and might be excellent in another play, he is miscast in “Innocence” – a primary reason being his seemingly boyish age.

Sierra Boggess presents a sophisticated warmth and sensitivity to Ellen as a woman put in an unenviable position by the mores of the time. Boggess is given the opportunity, albeit short, to sing in her lush soprano voice.

While most audience members may count Helen Cespedes in a supporting actor category, she gives May a demure and dull façade while simultaneously determined and wily. Cespedes successfully creates an unassuming girl turned woman in a flash.

Director Doug Hughes and Scenic Designer John Lee Beatty have shaped an extraordinary backdrop for the characters. The set is elegant, at the same time uncluttered so that the comings and goings of those onstage is smooth and clear. Linda Cho’s costumes could (should) win awards. All actors (female and male) are bedecked extravagantly as becoming the era and class. Yet, perhaps extraordinary, extravagant, and exquisite can be a bit overpowering. In the case of “The Age of Innocence,” the trappings sometimes distract from the characters and the actors’ talents.

Edith Wharton, author of the Pulitzer Prize winning novel “The Age of Innocence” would feel at home watching Douglas McGrath’s adaptation of her work. My guess is that McGrath’s task of condensing this classic dramatic story into an hour and forty-minute play was extremely difficult. Kudos to him.

April 16, 2018

PREVIEW: Jacob’s Pillow, Royal Danish Ballet

Jacob’s Pillow, Becket, MA
June 20-24, 2018

Revered as the world’s third oldest ballet company, the Royal Danish Ballet returns to Jacob’s Pillow for the first time in over a decade to open Festival 2018 in the Ted Shawn Theatre.

Praised as “a master class in style” (The Guardian), leading principals and soloists perform a program of pas de deux, imbued with a rich Danish-Pillow history which dates back to company’s U.S. debut of the first group of soloists in 1955.

While the distinctive repertoire of Danish choreographer August Bournonville remains a cornerstone for The Royal Danish Ballet, in his ten years as Artistic Director, Nikolaj Hübbe has brought the company to an impressive technical level that masters a wide range of modern and classical ballets.


The program includes eight pieces, including “Swan Lake,” Napoli,” and Dvorak’s pas de deux. There are evening and matinee performances.

REVIEW: Playhouse on Park, “The Revisionist”

Playhouse on Park, West Hartford, CT
through April 29, 2018
by Shera Cohen

The playwright’s name Jesse Eisenberg, an Academy Award nominated actor, is the audience draw to “The Revisionist.” While I have never seen this man on the big screen, Eisenberg should recognize that his talent is acting, not writing.

Photo by Curt Henderson
It is extremely difficult to separate the text from the performance in this review, except to say that the protagonist, an elderly Polish woman (Maria), holds the play together as best as she can. Portrayed by POP newcomer Cecelia Riddett, the actress remains onstage throughout the play – thank goodness. Her acting skills and her character are equally matched.

The plot is thin. The theme is confusing. Is this a comedy? A drama? The audience is uncomfortable laughing. Maria warmly welcomes her American cousin, ersatz writer David, into her modest home. David is young, and the audience hopes to see the development of a relationship between the two. Carl Howell creates a one-dimensional David. Again, I blame the playwright, far more than Howell, for his depiction of a brash, selfish, arrogant SOB. Maria remains stalwart as the hostess, until a breaking point. My breaking point, however, came a lot earlier than Maria’s in this all-too-long story, sans intermission.

To some degree, Riddett fleshes out Maria’s background and motivation. Howell is given no impetus to develop David into a human being – even an unlikeable one.

Thank goodness for Sebastian Buczyk as taxi driver/handy man Zenon. In his small role, Buczyk develops the only living character onstage.

Several individual points, perhaps generally unnoticed in other plays, were literally very loud and clear; i.e. the constantly ringing of a Maria’s telephone, David’s elongated vomiting scene, and spoken Polish that seemed to go on forever (all of which was “foreign” to the audience).

Back to comedy or drama. Inconsistencies and confusion were plentiful; i.e. the year was 2007 and the television news reported about Bush and the Iraqi war, at the same time Maria and David discuss text messaging on cell phones.


The tasks for director Sasha Bratt were many. The first task for POP – otherwise, an exceptional theatre with well-chosen seasons – was to choose another play.

April 10, 2018

REVIEW: Hartford Symphony, Copland & Gershwin


Hartford Symphony, Hartford, CT
April 6–8, 2018
by Michael J. Moran

For the seventh “Masterworks series” program of the HSO’s 74th season, HSO Assistant Conductor Adam Kerry Boyles stepped in on short notice for guest conductor Laura Jackson, who had been scheduled to lead these concerts but cancelled due to illness. The program of four works by three American composers remained unchanged.
It opened with a bracing rendition of Copland’s “Outdoor Overture,” written in 1938 for the student orchestra at the High School of Music and Art in New York City. In the composer’s own words, “the piece starts in a large and grandiose manner,” introduces four major themes, two of them march rhythms, until “at a climactic moment, all the themes are combined [and] a brief coda ends the work on the grandiose note of the beginning.” Boyles and the full HSO played it to the hilt.
Alessio Bax

The first half concluded with a full-blooded account of Gershwin’s 1925 “Concerto in F” for piano and orchestra, featuring soloist Alessio Bax in his HSO debut. Born in Italy 40 years ago, Bax has lived in the United States for over 20 years, clearly absorbing the American idiom of Gershwin’s sound. From the jazzy Charleston-based opening Allegro, through the blues-inflected central nocturne, to the “orgy of rhythms,” as the composer put it, in the finale, Bax’s playing was nuanced and virtuosic, with enthusiastic backing from Boyles and the ensemble. 

The newest piece on the program in another HSO debut was “Rainbow Body,” written in 2000 by Christopher Theofanidis and performed after intermission. Based on a chant by the 12th century German Benedictine abbess Hildegard von Bingen, which it quotes several times, the piece tries, as the composer notes, “to capture a halo around this melody…by emphasizing the lingering reverberations one might hear in an old cathedral.” The warm Belding acoustic nicely conveyed this halo in a sensitive performance by Boyles and the HSO.

The concert aptly closed with a suite from Copland’s ballet “Billy the Kid” on which he interrupted work to write the “Outdoor Overture.” Its colorful presentation under an animated Boyles brought the evening to a crowd-pleasing close.

April 9, 2018

REVIEW: Theatre Guild of Hampden, Cabaret


Theatre Guild of Hampden, Hampden MA
through April 21, 2018
by Michael J. Moran

On entering the Greenhouse Theatre in Hampden, the audience finds itself in the dressing room of Chris Rojas’ scathingly louche Emcee, as he primps at a pink makeup table, in front of a full-length mirror, before turning, at show time (there’s no curtain), to welcome the audience, seated at cabaret tables, to the Kit Kat Club in 1929-1930 Berlin, as the free-wheeling Weimar Era gives way to Nazi Germany, with an exuberant yet foreboding “Wilkommen,” introducing a jaded assortment of dancers called the Kit Kat Girls.

Josiah Durham’s claustrophobic two-tier set, with only a few chairs, also becomes a train station and Fraulein Schneider’s boarding house, where aspiring American writer Cliff takes a room and soon meets other residents. One is scrappy English cabaret singer Sally, who moves in with Cliff after being fired by the Club, where they met the night before. Others are Herr Schultz, a Jewish grocer who is courting Fraulein Schneider; Ernst, a young German who befriends Cliff; and Fraulein Kost, a prostitute whom Fraulein Schneider catches hosting sailors in her room.

Hal Chernoff’s genial Schultz and Robyn Scott’s warm-hearted Fraulein Schneider are endearing in their tender duets “It Couldn’t Please Me More” and “Married.” Nazar Tracy’s frighteningly intense Ernst and Tracey Hebert’s deceptively ditsy Fraulein Kost are menacing in “Tomorrow Belongs to Me.”

But the emotional heart of this production is Ally Reardon’s sensational Sally. A fine Lily Garland in the troupe’s “On the Twentieth Century” in 2016, Reardon has since completed a theatre degree at AIC, and her greater maturity is clearest in her show-stopping rendition of the title song near the end of the show. To witness her transformation from terrified waif at the start of the song to devil-may-care vixen by its close is to know this is a singing actress to watch.  

Director Mark Giza, choreographer Sandy Coughlin-Wedrzyn, and music director Tom Slowick’s three-man band have created a dark and chilling “Cabaret,” whose slide toward fascism resonates in 2018 America, especially in the shocking finale.

The run is currently sold out.


REVIEW: The Bushnell, The Wizard of Oz


The Bushnell, Hartford, CT
through April 8, 2018
by Susan Choquette

On occasion, the Bushnell offers short-run musicals, separate from its annual Broadway Series. This was the case with the iconic “The Wizard of Oz.” In the Spotlight sent a mother and young daughter team to “Oz”on opening night.

My daughter and I joined the audience of “The Wizard of Oz” during the company’s three night tour stop at the Bushnell in Hartford. The musical was a definite fun family-friendly show that young children obviously enjoyed. However, seasoned theatre-goers might have found “Oz” a bit lacking. While the overall stage craft was extremely impressive - the set, projections, and special effects - the acting was not at the same level seen in other national tours at the Bushnell.

A highlight of “Oz” was its choreography with strong dancing of the ensemble in colorful and creative costumes. In addition, the visual transformation of the mundane trio of Kansas farmers into the Scarecrow, Tin Man and Lion deserves kudos. Several strong vocal performances made up for some lackluster jokes that were added to this production.

While young kids may find the show appealing, die-hard fans of the original book or movie may be disappointed. As an introduction to children to theatre, “Oz” was very cute.

PREVIEW: Berkshire Theatre Group, Che Malambo Dance Company


Berkshire Theatre Group/Colonial Stage, Pittsfield, MA
April 22, 2018

The Argentine based dance company, Che Malambo, excites audiences through precise footwork and rhythmic stomping, drumming of the bombos, and singing and whirling boleadoras (lassos with stones on the end). Presenting a thrilling, percussive dance and music spectacle, the company’s work celebrates the unique South American cowboy tradition of the gaucho. This powerhouse, all-male company of 14 gauchos is directed by French choreographer and former ballet dancer, Gilles Brinas. Che Malambo brings fiery Malambo traditions and virtuosic dancing to the contemporary stage for an exhilarating and entertaining.

Malambo began in the 17th century as competitive duels that would challenge skills of agility, strength, and dexterity. Zapeteo, their fast paced footwork, is inspired by the rhythm of galloping horses in their native Argentina.

For tickets and further information contact the Box Office at 413-997-4444, www.berkshiretheatregroup.org

PREVIEW: Opera House Players, Parade


Opera House Players, Broad Brook, CT
May 6 – May 20, 2018

The tragic, true story of Leo Frank; a  man wrongly accused of murder is brought to theatrical life by Opera House Players. This is the troupe’s final production in Broad Brook, as the group will move to Enfield, CT for its first musical of the 2018/19 season.

Amid religious intolerance, political injustice, and racial tension, the stirring Tony Award-winning musical Parade explores the endurance of love and hope against all the odds. With a book by acclaimed playwright Alfred Uhry (Driving Miss Daisy) and a rousing, colorful and haunting score by Jason Robert Brown ( Bridges of Madison County), Parade is a moving examination of the darkest corners of America's history.

Sharon FitzHenry is the director and Bill Martin is the musical director.

For information and to order tickets call 860-292-6068, www.operahouseplayers.org

PREVIEW: Exit 7 Players, Spring Awakening


Exit 7 Players, Ludlow, MA
April 20 – May 6, 2018

Based on Frank Wedekind’s groundbreaking and controversial play (once banned in Germany), Steven Sater and Duncan Sheik’s brilliant rock score and searingly emotional book take the story of sexual awakening, youth revolt, and self-discovery into a new century. It’s 1891, and grown-ups hold all the cards.

Rated R. Due to mature content, parents are strongly cautioned. Material may not be suitable for young audiences.

The April 27 and May 5 performances will be ASL (American Sign Language) interpreted. If needed, contact the box office to inform them.

April 2, 2018

PREVIEW: Silverthorne Theatre’s “Tar2f”


Hawks & Reed Performing Arts Center, Greenfield, MA
April 12-15 & 19–21, 2018

In this farcical rebuke of religious and moral hypocrisy – particularly timely in today's world – Tartuffe, a wily con man who passes himself off as a pious puritan, has insinuated himself into the household  of Orgon, a wealthy Parisian. The impostor has designs on his benefactor's fortune, as well as his attractive wife. Members of the family are exasperated, then outraged, by Tartuffe's malign influence, as he plots to gain control of Orgon's assets, disinherit his son, marry his daughter and take over his house – along with his mind.

The script updates Moliere's language without losing his incisive wit. In this face-off between love and greed, credulity and cynicism, is a framing device that parallels the crisis within the play, leading to a surprise climax. The tuneful score likewise reflects both the play's period and our own.  

The play runs April 12-15 & 19–21, 2018, at the Hawks & Reed Performing Arts Center, Greenfield, MA