Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

April 16, 2019

REVIEW: Majestic Theater, The Marvelous Wonderettes


Majestic Theater, West Springfield, MA
through May 26, 2019
by Konrad Rogowski

Loaded with dozens of “top ten” songs from the pop music charts of the 50’s and 60’s, “The Marvelous Wonderettes” is a fanciful trip down memory lane to the gymnasium of Rockville High, and the romances and rivalries of four young girls who are the featured performers at their senior prom.

In Act I, which is set in 1958, life starts out so well, until simmering egos, and just who gets the spotlight next, plunge the festivities into the realm of youthful angst and who just stole whose boyfriend last. All quite predictable, and predictably fun.

The retelling of these dizzying dramas is cleverly woven together by the Wonderettes portrayed by Mollie Posnik, Tina Sparkle, Kait Rankins, and Kaytlyn Vandeloecht, as the names of those fickle boyfriends and favorite school staff members (kudos to the volunteers from the audience for a wealth of suggestions), just happen to be part of those great 50’s and 60’s songs, giving the girls plenty of ammunition to tell their tales of woe, and belittle their rivals.

Act II moves the foursome on to 1968, and their ten-year high school reunion. The years may have marched on, but some of those old hurts, insecurities, and rivalries just can’t be kept under control. As these things tend to do, the girls reach a boiling point, all done with great 60’s pop tunes of love and loss. Surprisingly, even some wisdom is gained, until all is well once again at Rockville High, as romance flourishes, the past fades, and friendships are rekindled.

Danny Eaton’s direction keeps the pace fast and fun, colorful costumes by Dawn McKay shine on stage, and the gym setting is classic, down to the photos of Ike and LBJ, red alarm bells, the stars and stripes displayed (with the correct number of stars), and the basketball court hardwoods are polished to a sheen. Like proms and reunions, this show is a fun evening to remember.

April 15, 2019

PREVIEW: Jacob's Pillow 2019 Season, Becket, MA

June 19 – August 25, 2019

Irene Rodríguez
photo by Christopher Dugg
an
Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival has the distinction as the longest-running dance festival in the United States, a National Historic Landmark, and a National Medal of the Arts recipient.

The Pillow announces its schedule of Festival 2019, which also marks its 87th season. Featuring more than ten weeks with of over 350 ticketed and free performances, off-site pop-up performances, exhibits, talks, classes, films, and dance parties, and Jacob’s Pillow’s Dance Festival 2019.

This summer’s highlights include U.S. company debuts, world premieres, international artists, Pillow-commissioned work, timeless classics, and anniversary celebrations, bringing an impressive range of dance artists from around the world to the 220-acre campus site in Becket, MA.

Ticketed performances occur every Wednesday through Sunday, and feature:
  • a world premiere in flamenco and Spanish dance from Cuba’s revered Compañía Irene Rodríguez (June 26-30)
  • Compagnie CNDC-Anger/Robert Swinston’s Pillow debut as part of the global Merce Cunningham Centennial celebration (July 3-7)
  • the 50th anniversary of Dance Theatre of Harlem (July 10-14)
  • the return of audience favorite Mark Morris Dance Group (July 17-21)
  • the U.S. debut of London’s Umanoove/Didy Veldman (July 17-21)
  • the world premiere of THE DAY, featuring cellist Maya Beiser and legendary dancer Wendy Whelan with choreography by prolific choreographer Lucinda Childs and music by David Lang (July 31-Aug 4)
  • a Pillow-commissioned world premiere from Andrea Miller’s Gallim (Aug 7-11)
  • and the return of Boston Ballet for the first time in over a decade (Aug 21-25), among others.

Boston Ballet
Photo by Rosalie O'Connor
The Inside/Out Performance Series is one of the Pillow’s most beloved traditions, free outdoor, onstage, every Wednesday through Saturday.

Blake’s Barn, the home of Jacob’s Pillow Archives and exhibit space, highlights notable aspects of the critically-acclaimed Dance We Must exhibit, which was created by the Williams College Museum of Art in 2018.  

For tickets to all performances, check the website at www.jacobspillow.org or call the Box Office at 413-243-0745

REVIEW: Hartford Symphony Orchestra, Vaughan Williams & Mendelssohn

Hartford Symphony Orchestra, Hartford, CT
April 12–14, 2019
by Michael J. Moran

In addition to three pieces by two composers, the seventh “Masterworks” program of the HSO’s 75th season, led by their Music Director Carolyn Kuan, featured soprano and baritone soloists as well as the 160 male and female singers of the Hartford Chorale.

The concert opened with perhaps the best known piece, if also one of the shortest, by British master Ralph Vaughan Williams, his “Fantasia on Greensleeves.” A collector of English folk songs, the composer arranged this beloved tune in 1928 for flute, harp, and strings, adding new melodic elements to produce one of his loveliest creations. The account by Kuan and the HSO was ravishing.

In 1936, as if foreseeing the return of war to Europe, Vaughan Williams, an ambulance driver in World War I, set several war-related poems by Walt Whitman, a Parliamentary speech against the Crimean War, part of the Latin Mass, and several Biblical texts in his cantata “Dona Nobis Pacem” (“Grant Us Peace”), for soprano and baritone soloists, chorus, and orchestra. The work begins and ends quietly, with the soprano singing the title prayer, but through its five-movement, 37-minute length, it reaches turbulent climaxes in the Whitman poems “Beat! Beat! Drums!” and “Dirge for Two Veterans” (father and son).    

Soprano Jamilyn Manning-White’s singing was tender and luminous; baritone Yunpeng Wang’s solos were robust and sturdy; Chorale members sang with passion and precision. Kuan and an enlarged HSO offered dramatic support.

Hartford Chorale
The cantata and Mendelssohn’s rarely heard second symphony, which followed intermission, were HSO premieres. Bearing the title “Lobgesang” (“Hymn of Praise”), the 1840 symphony celebrates the 400th anniversary of Gutenberg’s invention of the printing press. Three short instrumental movements form a 25-minute prelude to the 40-minute choral finale.  Especially in light of thrilling performances by the HSO, Manning-White, and the Chorale, it was disappointing that Kuan omitted six of the finale’s ten sections.

Hartford Chorale Music Director Richard Coffey took a well-earned bow at the evening’s close, and his Chorale colleagues Executive Director Alan Mann, Assistant Music Director Jack Anthony Pott, and Accompanist James R. Barry were deservedly credited in the program book for helping prepare the scrupulous work of their singers.

April 4, 2019

REVIEW: Playhouse On Park, stop/time dance theater’s Reel to Real


Playhouse on Park, Hartford, CT
through April 7, 2019
by Sharon Smith

What’s more magical than the sense of anticipation that comes from a darkened movie theater? How about when that movie screen comes to life and engulfs the audience in the musical sights and sounds of a big Hollywood dance number? That’s what happens in stop/time dance theater’s Reel to Real, a loving tribute to American cinema.

This revue is directed and choreographed by POP co-founder Darlene Zoller, who keeps things moving along with homages to a variety of styles and genres . stop/time dance theater is POP’s resident dance company, and it is a pleasant surprise to discover that all the “good parts” of a musical can hold their own without extraneous things like plot and exposition.

Featuring a troupe of 19 talented dancers, 3 of whom pull double-duty as actors and singers, there actually is a slight framing device, built around the dreams of a sleeping movie-goer. Rick Fountain, a talented singer and tapper, starts things off with the more intimate “Mr. Cellophone” from Chicago and things only get bolder and brassier from there. Victoria Mooney has a wonderful singing voice, showcased nicely in “Good Morning Baltimore” and “A Million Dreams.” Amanda Forker stood out with her “When You’re Good to Mama”.

But, this show is really all about the dancing after all and each dancer is given a number or two in which to stand out and shine. There are pieces based on actual movie dance sequences, like “Step in Time” from Mary Poppins or merely influenced by them, like “Disco Star Wars.” All the dances, especially the outstanding tap productions, of which there are many, are delivered with precision style. There really is nothing like the entertaining power of a well-choreographed ensemble piece as it fills the stage with color, and movement and energy.

Sprinkled throughout are little theatrical touches like dinosaurs, droids and a bit of drag (Mrs. Doubtfire). Special mention has to made of Lisa Steier’s costuming, such as her choice of dress for some of the numbers, like “The Artist” or the unique leather styling of “Burlesque.”

Reel to Real is an extremely entertaining and well-produced evening of “show biz razzle dazzle,” that is bound to give even audience members with two left feet, an excuse to dance away happy.

April 2, 2019

PREVIEW: The Bushnell, 2019-2020 Broadway Series



The Bushnell has just announced the line-up of shows for the 2019-2020 Broadway series:

The SpongeBob Musical — October 1 - 5, 2019
A legendary roster of Grammy® Award winners. A visionary director and a Tony Award®-winning design team. One of the world’s most beloved characters. Turn them loose on Broadway and what do you get? The musical The New York Times declares, “BRILLIANT!” "Wonders pour from the stage in a ravishing stream of color and invention" (Time Out New York) in “a party for the eyes and ears” (Daily Beast). Get ready to explore the depths of theatrical innovation in SpongeBob SquarePants, where the power of optimism really can save the world.

Hello, Dolly! — November 12 - 17, 2019
Tony Award®-winning Broadway legend Betty Buckley stars in HELLO, DOLLY! Winner of four Tony Awards including Best Musical Revival, director Jerry Zaks’ “gorgeous” new production (Vogue) is “making people crazy happy!” (The Washington Post). This production of HELLO, DOLLY! pays tribute to the original work of legendary director/choreographer Gower Champion – hailed both then and now as one of the greatest stagings in musical theater history.


Anastasia — January 14 - 19, 2020
Inspired by the beloved film, the romantic and adventure-filled new musical ANASTASIA is from the Tony Award®-winning creators of the Broadway classic Ragtime. This dazzling show transports us from the twilight of the Russian Empire to the euphoria of Paris in the 1920s, as a brave young woman sets out to discover the mystery of her past. Featuring a book by celebrated playwright Terrence McNally, a lush new score by Stephen Flaherty (music) and Lynn Ahrens (lyrics) with direction by Tony Award® winner Darko Tresnjak.

Jesus Christ Superstar — February 25 - March 1, 2020
Helmed by the acclaimed director Timothy Sheader and cutting-edge choreographer Drew McOnie, the Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre production won the 2017 Olivier Award for Best Musical Revival, garnering unprecedented reviews and accolades. Jesus Christ Superstar is set against the backdrop of an extraordinary series of events during the final weeks in the life of Jesus Christ as seen through the eyes of Judas. Reflecting the rock roots that defined a generation, Andrew Lloyd Webber's legendary score includes ‘I Don’t Know How to Love Him’, ‘Gethsemane’, ‘Heaven on their Minds’ and ‘Superstar’.

The Band's Visit — April 21 - 26, 2020
THE BAND’S VISIT is the winner of 10 Tony Awards, including 2018 Best Musical, making it one of the most Tony-winning musicals in history. In this delightfully offbeat story, set in a town that’s way off the beaten path, a band of musicians arrive lost, out of the blue. Under the spell of the desert sky, and with beautiful music perfuming the air, the band brings the town to life in unexpected and tantalizing ways. With a score that seduces your soul and sweeps you off your feet, and thrillingly talented onstage musicians, THE BAND’S VISIT rejoices in the way music makes us laugh, makes us cry, and ultimately, brings us together.

Dear Evan Hansen — May 19 - 24, 2020
WINNER OF SIX 2017 TONY® AWARDS INCLUDING BEST MUSICAL AND THE 2018 GRAMMY® AWARD FOR BEST MUSICAL THEATER ALBUM.
Evan Hansen is about to get the one thing he’s always wanted: a chance to finally fit in. This is the deeply personal and profoundly contemporary musical about life and the way we live it. “One of the most remarkable shows in musical theater history,” says The Washington Post. The New York Times calls DEAR EVAN HANSEN “a gut-punching, breathtaking knockout of a musical” and NBC News says that the musical is “an inspiring anthem resonating on Broadway and beyond.” DEAR EVAN HANSEN has struck a remarkable chord with audiences and critics everywhere.

Escape to Margaritaville — June 9 - 14, 2020
Get ready for a hilarious and heartwarming musical with the most unforgettable songs from one of music’s greatest storytellers. Entertainment Weekly says “It will knock your flip-flops off! This is what escapism is all about.” Featuring both original songs and your most-loved Jimmy Buffett classics, including “Fins,” “Volcano,” “Cheeseburger in Paradise” and many more. With a book by Emmy® Award winner Greg Garcia (“My Name is Earl,” “Raising Hope”) and Emmy® nominee Mike O’Malley (“Survivor’s Remorse,” “Shameless”), this electrifying production is choreographed by Tony Award® nominee Kelly Devine (COME FROM AWAY, ROCK OF AGES) and directed by Tony Award® winner Christopher Ashley (COME FROM AWAY, MEMPHIS).

The 2019-2020 Broadway Series is co-sponsored by: Travelers

March 30, 2019

REVIEW: Hartford Stage, Jeeves & Wooster in Perfect Nonsense

Hartford Stage, Hartford, CT
through April 20, 2019
by R.E. Smith

It may be a familiar cliché, but it could not be more appropriate: from the moment the curtain goes up on “Jeeves & Wooster in Perfect Nonsense” absolute hilarity ensues.

Photo by T, Charles Erickson
Based on the works of renowned British humorist P.G. Wodehouse, this show within a show has young English gentlemen, and member of the “idle rich,” Bertie Wooster, staging a one-man show. Quickly realizing that such a project requires a lot of concentration (and work) he enlists his faithful “gentleman’s man” Jeeves, to assist. Jeeves, in turn, brings along game but elderly butler Stebbings. As Bertie regales the appreciative audience with his tale, Jeeves and Stebbings act the parts of all the other people Bertie encounters along the way.

Chandler Williams as Bertie Wooster, with his broad smile and jovial demeanor instantly ingratiated himself to the audience. As Bertie tends to be a bit vague, at times his character seemed to be enjoying the show as much as the audience. Looking like a young Colin Firth, with superb clowning skills, he made for a master storyteller as he narrated Bertie’s many misadventures.

Arnie Burton, as Jeeves, (and a stuffy judge, and a expert on newts and TWO romantically inclined young ladies!) could convey an entire performance with his facial expressions alone. Unflappable manservant, blowsy paramour and blustery barrister all portrayed perfectly with elastic voice work, energetic eyes and moustache with a mind of its own.

Finally, Eddie Korbich as Stebbings (and an overbearing Aunt, and a Scottish butler and a violence prone dictator) completes the “three hander”, delighting with expert physical shtick, fully committing all his resources to the endless silliness.

Making its American debut at Hartford Stage the show is directed by the original London director, and Olivier Award winner for it, Sean Foley. The madcap pacing never lags, the fast changes from character to character by the same actor are executed flawlessly and every inch of the stage seems to be filled with madcap energy at every minute. As the night goes on, Alice Power’s set becomes more and more integral to the proceedings, and practically gets its own laugh-lines. Her costume design is vital to the execution of many of the heartiest laughs. The script has not a single false note or wasted word.

“Jeeves and Wooster in Perfect Nonsense” is truly comedy “perfection”, in which every aspect of the production contributes to the most enjoyable comedic “nonsense” one could ever imagine.

March 27, 2019

REVIEW: The Bushnell, Beautiful: The Carole King Musical

The Bushnell, Hartford, CT
March 26 – 31, 2019
by Shera Cohen

Is it necessary to be familiar with the music/singing of Carole King to thoroughly enjoy “Beautiful”? The simple answer is “no.” The longer answer is “absolutely not,” as proved by the instant standing ovation at the Bushnell on opening night.

The format is familiar: a fictionalized biography of a now famous singer(s) and/or composer(s) set to his/her/their own music. Think “Jersey Boys.” Presented in chronological vignettes, “Beautiful” is a musical with a story; not just a bunch of songs, albeit 25 terrific and memorable songs. For those in the full audience an “American Bandstand-type” visual backdrop, energetic ensemble characters, and the new sounds of rock & roll create perfect staging and mood. The set also doubled as a recording studio and the stage of the Ed Sullivan Show.

Many causal theater-goers probably have no idea of King’s pre-“Tapestry” talent as a writer for other singers. From the bubble-gum rhythms of “The Locomotion” and “Be-Bob-A-Lula” to the serious “It’s Too Late” and “Up on the Roof,” King and her husband Gerry Goffin were a successful team that put performers front and center.

Sarah Bockel & Dylan S. Wallach
Sarah Bockel (Carole) delivers an outstanding yet subtle Carole. She sings, she plays the piano, she acts. Not all leads in musicals hit the trifecta. She gives her character a humble, matronly demeanor whose family comes first. Yes, Carole knows she is talented, but even more important to her than the appreciation of audiences is her relationship with Gerry. However, as the music gets better, the marriage does not. Dylan S. Wallach (Gerry) nicely depicts a confused young man who doesn’t know where he is headed. Wallach’s best talent is his voice – in duets with Bockel and solos. Note that Bockel will soon take the Broadway stage as Carole King.

Much of “Beautiful” pits the music-maker team of King & Goffin vs. Cynthia Weil & Barry Mann (“On Broadway”). The BFF couples banter as to whose songs will make it to #1 on the charts. Alison Whitehurst (Cynthia) and Jacob Heimer (Barry) perform well together as opposites, with her sophistication and his kvetch-iness.

There are no ensembles of high kicking choreography. Instead, each vocal group performs the movements just like the original guy/gal quartets. Picture a lead singer with three backups striding and snapping in unison, often dressed in purple. It didn’t look quite as funny then as it does 50 years later.

The staging works well to meld what could have been slightly boring song-writing desk scenes immediately and without a hitch into mini-performances with theatrical lighting, giving the musical smooth transitions and pops of energy and color.

“Beautiful” pays fitting tribute to a beautiful talent.

March 18, 2019

REVIEW: Hartford Symphony, Mozart Meets Klezmer


Hartford Symphony Orchestra, Hartford, CT
March 15–17, 2019
by Michael J. Moran

The title of the sixth “Masterworks” program of the HSO’s 75th season may sound strange at first glance, but the musical tradition of Eastern European Jews known as klezmer often features the clarinet, one of Mozart’s favorite instruments.

The concert opened with an ebullient account by the orchestra and their Music Director Carolyn Kuan of the little-known overture to Mozart’s early opera “Lucio Silla.” Written when the composer was only sixteen, it lacks the seamless structure and emotional depth of his later opera overtures, but some dramatic passages and the quiet central section hinted at the mature Mozart to come.

David Krakauer
Next, clarinetist David Krakauer was the featured soloist in Osvaldo Golijov’s “The Dreams and Prayers of Isaac the Blind,” composed in 1994 for clarinet and string quartet and arranged in 2005 for clarinet and string orchestra, as heard here. An Argentinean-born Jew, Golijov was inspired by writings of Isaac, a 12th-century French rabbi, and mystic, to base each of its five short movements on a different Jewish prayer.

The quiet opening and closing movements showed off the hushed radiance and full mellow tone of the clarinet that may have appealed to Mozart. But in the livelier inner movements it sometimes revealed a harsh, dissonant, frenzied sound as well. These qualities were even more prominent in Krakauer’s two encores: a “semi-improvised” recap of his decades-long career, and a klezmer-wedding dance. Accompanied by a buoyant Maestra and orchestra in the Golijov and the dance, he tossed it all off with virtuosic control and jubilant high spirits.

Following the two HSO premieres in the first half, the program concluded after intermission with Mozart’s familiar 39th symphony, the first of the final trilogy that he wrote within two very productive months during 1788. Kuan led an affectionate performance, relaxed in the opening Adagio-Allegro movement, flowing in the Andante, playful in the Minuet, and exuberant in the “Allegro” finale.
In introducing his encores, Krakauer cited the joy of the klezmer tradition he had inherited from his Eastern European ancestors to condemn recent violence against Muslims in New Zealand and Jews in Pittsburgh, comments that clearly resonated with the appreciative audience.

March 15, 2019

March 14, 2019

Review: The Bushnell, Rent


The Bushnell, Hartford, CT
through Marcy 17, 2019
By Stuart W. Gamble

While exiting the opening night performance of “Rent” at the Bushnell, one could hear amongst the throngs of patrons such enthusiastic responses as: “It was a great show!” and “It was worth coming to see!” The production marks the 20th anniversary tour of this iconic musical drama.

More of a rock opera than a conventional musical, Jonathan Larson’s epic late 20th century story is a reworking of Puccini’s opera “La Boheme”. Set among the New York artistic communities of Alphabet City and East Greenwich Village, “Rent” comprises the inter-twining travails of several artistic denizens: there’s filmmaker Mark and his guitarist/songwriter roommate Roger, their upstairs neighbor and exotic dancer Mimi, Roger’s ex-girlfriend and performance artist Maureen and her girlfriend Joanne, Jack of many trades Tom Collins and his beloved drag performer Angel, and their turncoat friend Benjamin Coffin III.

This production is smashingly performed from the namesake opening number performed by the entire company to Roger’s (Joshua Bess) cathartic closing number “Your Eyes,” which he dedicates to the ill Mimi (Deri’Andra Tucker). In between these first and last scenes, the talented cast lets loose with some fabulous songs including Tucker’s spirited “Light My Candle” and “Out Tonight,” Collins’ (Devinré Adams) and Angel’s (Javon King) loving ballad “I’ll Cover You,” Mark (Logan Marks) and Joanne’s (Lencia Kebede) comical “Tango: Maureen,” Maureen’s (Lyndie Moe) satiric poem slam “Over the Moon” and the company’s rousing Act I curtain closer “La Vie Boheme”. Only the show’s well-known Act II ensemble number “Seasons of Love” seems to lack the vibrancy of the show’s other numbers. Perhaps this was due to the number’s over-familiarity and chorus line style presentation.

Paul Clay’s metallic, bare-bones set imaginatively creates many spaces including a garret apartment, a hospital room, an AIDS support group meeting-place, and street landscapes. The striped tights, mini-skirts, baggy jeans and shirts, vests and denim jackets all owe their mid-1990’s look to Angela Wendt’s inventive and extremely colorful costume designs. Matthew DeMaria’s spot-on musical direction is well-matched with Keith Caggiano’s sound design and Jonathan Spencer’s mood-enhancing lighting design.

Much has changed since “Rent’s” revolutionary debut in 1996: the frightening specter of AIDS and HIV have been somewhat diminished by more effective medicine; the internet which has allowed artists to market their work worldwide; and the gentrification of many New York areas which have changed the face of our world. Unlike Coffin’s (Marcus John) statement that the Bohemian life is Dead, the music and lyrics of Larson’s “Rent” prove quite the contrary.

March 9, 2019

PREVIEW: WAM, Lady Randy

WAM, Lenox, MA
www.wamtheatre.com
April 20-May 5, 2019

Lady Randolph Churchill, c 1880
Most people have no idea who Lady Randy was. Yet, Jennie Jerome, the mother of Winston Churchill, was the proverbial female force to be reckoned with in her own right. She was a woman who was at once so ahead of her time and yet very much a product of her era.

The world premiere of “Lady Randy” by Anne Undeland takes the Shakespeare & Company Bernstein Theatre stage this spring. The play kicks-off the first production of WAM’s 10th Anniversary. The play was first developed by Undeland and director Jim Frangione at the Berkshire Playwrights’ Lab, making this a true collaboration of outstanding regional talent.

“Lady Randy” began its life at Berkshire Playwrights Lab (BPL) and has been in development by WAM staff for the past year and a half. BPL’s mission is to give playwrights a safe and supportive environment.

Undeland will play the title role, with WAM newcomer Mark Zeisler portraying the roles of Winston Churchill and nine other smaller roles. Undeland is well known to local audiences for her one-woman shows at Ventfort Hall, and performances at Mixed Company in Great Barrington and Oldcastle Theatre in Bennington, VT.  Zeisler has extensive credits on Broadway and in regional theatres across the country. In the Berkshires, he has performed for the last two seasons with Shakespeare & Company.

In 1875, the American heiress, Jennie Jerome, seemed to have have it all. She had married an English lord; she was young, rich, and beautiful; and she had just given birth to Winston Churchill. “Lady Randy” takes the audience on a dizzying ride through the treacherous, kaleidoscopic sexual and political landscape of her marriage.  A woman ahead of her time, Jennie kept everyone watching, kept them guessing, and she never, ever surrendered.

PREVIEW: Goodspeed, The Music Man

Goodspeed Musicals, East Haddam, CT
www.goodspeed.org
April 12 - June 20, 2019

TROUBLE Is Coming To Town!

River City’s about to get the last thing they expected ̶ and the very thing they need ̶  in “The Music Man.” Goodspeed Musicals kicks off its 2019 season with the rip-roarin’ dance-filled classic running April 12 – June 20, 2019. “The Music Man” is so popular that, even before the run has started, nine performances have been added.

You got trouble in River City! Professor Harold Hill and Marian the Librarian march into their first appearance at Goodspeed in a rousing new production of this great American musical. When huckster Harold promises to save an Iowa town by selling the dream of a boys’ band, Marian is the only skeptic, until she starts to buy his pitch. Fall in love with “76 Trombones,” “The Wells Fargo Wagon,” “Trouble” and “Till There Was You.” This is considered to be one of America’s glorious classic musicals. The mastermind creators of “The Music Man” are Meredith Willson (book, music, lyrics) with story by Meredith Willson and Franklin Lacey.

The huge cast of professional actors, singers, and dancers include many Goodspeed returnees, while others make their debuts. Several in the cast and crew have found homes on Broadway stages.

A few words about the Goodspeed venue. This is not your typical theatre, but a large, old, elegant, three-floor mansion-like building. Somewhat like a mini-castle, the site it white with classic designed trimmings. Once inside, immediately at the center is a sprawling staircase, carpeted in deep red, branching off to each side. Patrons walk up to the first floor. [There is also an elevator.] Goodspeed seats fewer guests than one might expect.

One of the most amazing aspects is its postage stamp-sized stage. Through the years, Goodspeed’s choreographers have directed their dancers to tap, waltz, Lindy Hop, Charleston, rock ‘n roll in solo pieces, duets, ensembles, and full cast Broadway-like spectacular numbers. Easily (actually, maybe not so easily), more than 30 dancers have occupied the space at any one time. “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers” probably boasted the biggest number. Here’s guessing that “The Music Man’s” young musicians, their parents, townsfolk, and leads will fill Goodspeed’s stage to the brim. It’s a challenge for any choreographer, and all have fully succeeded.

March 7, 2019

PREVIEW: Berkshire Museum, Leonardo da Vinci: Machines in Motion

Berkshire Museum, Pittsfield, MA
February 9 – May 19, 2019

It’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s super man! No, not Superman, but one man who, through the centuries, is lauded with the title “genius” -- Leonardo da Vinci. The same man who created the Mona Lisa is credited as the inventor of more than 40 machines; therefore, the title for Berkshire Museum’s exhibit: Machines in Motion.

Full-size working models of Leonardo da Vinci’s innovative designs, from flying machines to an early robot, fill several large galleries on the first and second floors of the Museum.  Each mechanism is accompanied by da Vinci’s drawings and a descriptive narrative of his life.

Five hundred years removed, his drawings, designs, and machines continue to invoke curiosity and wonder. Few creative bodies of work can speak to and represent the mastermind of one human being.
The experience is that of stepping back in time to view the technological beginnings of today’s world. So many museums are bedecked with signs, “Do Not Touch.” This exhibit, however, promotes the opposite. Touch, crank, turn, assemble, step into these pieces of art. On one day’s visit, more adults were seen TOUCHING, etc. the designs than the youth.

The 40 machines were meticulously crafted by scientists and skilled artisans in collaboration with the Leonardo da Vinci Museum in Florence, Italy, and inspired by designs from the Renaissance thinker’s notebooks. The exhibition includes several largescale models including a life-sized armored tank and a glider. The models are fabricated with careful attention to the types of materials that would have been used in da Vinci’s era and are described in his manuscripts. Faithfully adhering to artist’s instructions and utilizing the tools of his time, they are hand-crafted with wood, rope, and glue. Graphic displays and videos explain the life and legacy of the inventor and provide context for his inventiveness and designs.

Machines in the exhibition are grouped into four sections — fire, water, earth, and air — each which held a strong fascination for da Vinci. Under fire there is a cannon, a machine gun, and a moving wooden battle tank. The water segment features machines that use water pressure to enable a man to literally walk on water. The earth category presents a crane, the printing press, and even a robot. Fascinated by flight, drawings related to air invite visitors to discover several types of flying machines, from a device with mechanical wings to a parachute, and even a flying bicycle.

An important recommendation is to allow approximately two hours to take in the da Vinci Exhibit. Berkshire Museum has much more to see and experience; allot an additional hour or two especially with kids in tow. For more information, visit www.berkshiremuseum.org or call 413-443-7171

March 3, 2019

REVIEW: Majestic Theater, Boeing Boeing

Majestic Theater, West Springfield, MA
through March 31, 2019
by Konrad Rogowski

They say you can tell how good a silly sex farce is by the number of doors through which folks suddenly enter, just as someone else is making an equally sudden exit to avoid drastic/comic results. To his credit, director Rand Foerster has five such doors, which adds up to an evening of very funny “how will they get out of this mess?” moments.

The plot is as thin as the ethics and motives of the lead, played with appropriate physical and facial mugging by Jack Grigoli, as he plots how to balance his three (yes, three) airline stewardess “fiancés’” travel schedules to keep his love life from going into a tail spin. This is somewhat complicated, since they all live with him in his Paris apartment, each on a different shift.

Photo by Kait Rankins
His grounding force in this madness, is his maid, Bertha, played with delightful disgust and dismay by Christine Anthony, as she hurriedly whips up appropriate foods for his American, German, and Italian conquests, and runs about swapping out pictures and anything else that might give the whole scheme away. Jack’s long-lost friend arrives, played by Scott Renzoni, who tries, and fails, to be the voice of reasons, as he slowly succumbs to the wiles of all three women. Kyle Boatwright, Katie Mack, and Larissa Marten round out the cast, each as comically high flying as the next.

The set is straight out of the 1960’s Paris chic playbook, right down to that obligatory shag rug. The comedy all comes down to that final scene that could nose dive everyone into disaster, but is saved by the quick-talking guys whose logic, defies both reason and the laws of gravity. “Boeing Boeing” is a barnstorming night of fun and frolic.

February 27, 2019

REVIEW: Playhouse on Park, The Revolutionists


Playhouse on Park, West Hartford, CT
www.playhouseonpark.org
through March 10, 2019
by Shera Cohen

Congratulations to Playhouse on Park’s (POP) on its 10th anniversary season. Over the years, POP’s triumvirate co-founders (Tracy Flater, Sean Harris, and Darlene Zoller) have presented an array of dramas and comedies, straight plays and musicals, old chestnuts and new works. For the most part, and the reason that single ticket buyers soon become subscribers, is the excellent quality, talent, and purpose of the plays. Skilled staff, both onstage and backstage, can always be depended upon.

POP does nearly everything right to create a fine production of “The Revolutionists.” The major element of what makes a play the best it can be is the ability of a director to present a full story from the opening line to the final curtain. Any theatre-goer knows that the actors, crew (a very long list of highly skilled individuals), and even those at the concession stand help to make a theatre experience important and memorable to the audience. POP has all of this good stuff.

Photo by Meredith Longo
Yet, even with POP’s skills on every level, it seems unlikely that no theatre could produce this particular play to audience satisfaction. In the Spotlight’s review criteria purposely omits critique of the text – that’s a given, and it is the production that is considered. However, here is an exception, the reason being to essentially not kill the messenger - in this case, POP. Apparently, the playwright’s record of success is broad, but this work by Lauren Gunderson is not up to the level of POP’s abilities. Big question: why did POP select this play?

As a tragi-comedy, the play’s story does not ring true, which is especially odd because three of its four characters were actual people living at the time of the French Revolution. The contemporary language stuffed with numerous and unnecessary expletives mixed with that of 18th century semi-aristocratic conversations. The play would have had a decent start had it been a drama throughout. At the very least, if the writer meant “The Revolutionists” to be a comedy, then stick with it.

Three plays round out the second half of POP’s 2018-19 season. In spite of what is written above, Playhouse on Park is worth a trip.

February 25, 2019

REVIEW: Springfield Symphony Orchestra, Mendelssohn’s Italian and Brahms


Springfield Symphony, Symphony Hall, Springfield, MA
February 23, 2019
by Michael J. Moran

A more appropriate title for this concert might have been “A Superstar Is Born.” When the scheduled violin soloist, SSO favorite Rachel Barton Pine, was forced by a short-term health issue to cancel, William Hagen stepped in to replace her with less than two weeks’ notice. To retain the original program, he learned a new piece and prepared one of the most difficult works in the standard repertoire, both of which he did in a triumphant local debut.

Continuing the SSO’s 75th anniversary seasonal focus on American women composers, the program opened with short pieces by two of them. First up was the four-minute “Prayer and Celebration,” an “homage to Mahler,” which Augusta Read Thomas wrote in 2006 for her alma mater, St. Paul’s School, in New Hampshire. Next came Amy Beach’s 1893 “Romance,” originally for violin and piano, in a recent transcription by Chris Trotman for solo violin, harp, and strings.

Both received lush, lyrical performances from an ensemble which included members of the SSO and the Springfield Symphony Youth Orchestra, also celebrating its 75th anniversary this year. The “Romance” featured Hagen as well, who shaded his tone from robust to delicate in capturing the warmth of this lovely eight-minute confection.

The SSO then turned in a powerful rendition of Mendelssohn’s fourth, or “Italian,” symphony, to round out the concert’s first half. From a surging opening “Allegro vivace,” to a fleet “Andante con moto,” a flowing “Con modo moderato,” and a rambunctious closing “Saltarello-Presto,” Rhodes coaxed an urgent energy from his musicians that never flagged. 

William Hagen
The high point of the evening was Hagen’s riveting account of the Brahms Violin Concerto. The opening “Allegro non troppo” was broad and spacious, with the 26-year-old, Utah-born soloist balancing interpretive maturity with technical skill, especially in the demanding five-minute cadenza. Duetting stunningly with SSO principal oboe Nancy Dimock in the central “Adagio,” and playing vigorously through the “Allegro giocoso” finale, Hagen achieved a strong rapport with Rhodes and the fervent orchestra.

After a thunderous standing ovation, Hagen presented a whirlwind solo encore of the “Allegro assai” finale from Bach’s Sonata in C. The return of this charismatic artist to Springfield would be welcomed in a heartbeat.

REVIEW: Hartford Stage, Detroit ‘67


Hartford Stage Company, Hartford, CT
through March 10
by Jarice Hanson
Photo by T. Charles Erickson

Dominique Morisseau’s exquisitely crafted “Detroit ‘67” is a powerful reminder of the so-called “race riots” that erupted across American cities in 1967. Detroit is Morisseau’s hometown, but it serves as a metaphor for what was, and what was to become a turning point in the cultural lives of all Americans.  Punctuated by the optimism and soul of Motown—one of Detroit’s musical gifts to the world, the story begins with a sister and brother who have inherited their family home.

Chelle (Myxolydia Tyler) likes life the way it was. Her brother, Lank (Johnny Ramsey), has plans to open a neighborhood bar with his best friend, Sly (Will Cobbs). Neighbor and friend Bunny (Nyhale Allie) adds a level of sass and funk, but these four actors/characters convince their audience that they’ve had a history together and that they belong to a community in Detroit. Their petty squabbles, difficult past, and desire for the future are all upset when Lank brings Caroline, a white woman (Ginna Le Vine) beaten into unconsciousness, to the safe haven of the home’s basement as Detroit begins to burn and the forces outside begin to impact the characters’ lives.

Directed by Jade King Carroll and with an effective scene design by Riccardo Hernandez, lighting by Nicole Pearce, and brilliant sound design by Karin Graybash, the play establishes Detroit as a place where past and future clash. Morriseau’s metaphors are powerful and she is the type of playwright who knows when humor is needed. There are some very funny lines and character interpretations that all serve to build to the exciting, heart-rending conclusion.

The pace of this production, though, works against the message. Whether the director thought it necessary to slow the action so that the powerful words could be experienced by the audience, or the actors needed the time to traverse the big stage, the production plods somewhat through Act I, though there are some dramatic, even chilling moments in Act II. 

What Morisseau has effectively created, though, is a snapshot of American history. The breadth of this moment in time is also highlighted by a display in the upper lobby of the theatre that juxtaposes black and white photography of Detroit with Hartford’s own racial and civil unrest in 1967. This story needs to be told, and the important controversies of the late 1960’s should never be forgotten.