Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

June 19, 2019

REVIEW: The Bushnell, Waitress

The Bushnell, Hartford, CT
through June 23, 2019
by R.E. Smith

It would be easy to lump Waitress in with the plethora of current musicals whose origins are in the movies, but like the titular character herself, this show defies expectations and delights in its differences.

Photo by Daniel Lippitt
To start, the original film was not a blockbuster, but rather a small independent production, written and directed by the late actress Adrienne Shelly. With a predominantly female production team, the message of sisterhood and empowerment is, yes, baked into the show. Waitress is really a small character study that nonetheless fills the stage beautifully. The story centers on imaginative Jenna, a talented pie-making waitress with a loveless marriage, unexpected pregnancy, and the surprising attention of a handsome doctor.

The charming Christine Dwyer, as Jenna, is on stage for almost the entire show and the audience is on her side throughout every endearing, sometimes “messy” moment. Her marvelously expressive voice and impressive range serve every song well and her generous performance finally gets a solo spotlight with “She Used To Be Mine.” Without ever breaking the fourth wall, she is able to connect with the audience through Jenna’s very relatable attempts to make sense of her often awkward life. Her cohorts are the quirky but caring Dawn, played by Ephie Aardema, and sassy, no-nonsense Becky, played by Melody A Betts, who each delight the audience with vastly different, but equally supporting personalities.

The music is by Grammy winner Sara Bareilles, a popular singer and songwriter, who has crafted some charming, homey, and diverse pieces, often relying solely on the blended voices of the 3 lead characters. The four-piece band is on stage much of the time, hiding amongst the other diner patrons. Befitting the Southern setting, it features cello and upright bass, giving the scores a unique sound for a Broadway show. While there are no big production numbers with dozens of dancers, there are definitely songs with huge emotional heart. There are brisk toe-tapping numbers like “Opening Up”, the oddly wishing for “The Negative” and the driving “Bad Idea”, contrasting with the intimate “A Soft Place to Land” and “You Matter to Me”.

Waitress is a delightful, funny, cozy, affirming, and endearing evening of musical theater, populated with playful and poignant songs and characters that quickly become like old friends, flaws and all.

P.S. Breathe deeply when you enter the lobby. . .you’ll be in for a scene-setting surprise!

REVIEW: Theatre Guild of Hampden, My Fair Lady

Theatre Guild of Hampden, Wilbraham, MA
through June 22, 2019
by Michael J. Moran

With its enthralling new production, Theatre Guild of Hampden (TGH) has created a “My Fair Lady” for the 21st century. By judicious use of supporting cast members, director Paula Cortis spotlights how the women in her cast routinely outwit the men who have all the advantages in the sexist class system of 1912 London. When the curtain comes down on this battle of the sexes between Professor Henry Higgins and flower girl Eliza Doolittle, whom he trains as a “lady” in six months, there’s no doubt who has the upper hand. 

Giza and Westbrook
In a triumphant return to acting after a 30-year hiatus, Mark Giza, best known to local audiences as TGH’s artistic director, is a pompous and persnickety Higgins, his “dream role” to play since he was 18 years old. As his student, nemesis, and potential love interest, Jeannine Westbrook is a revelatory Eliza. Her comic and dramatic acting chops match Giza’s, and her glorious soprano voice reflects her musical training at the Hartt School in Hartford. Paul DiProto is a hyperactive hoot as Eliza’s ne’er-do-well father and “moral philosopher” Alfred Doolittle.

Brian Rucci is remarkably convincing both as the gentlemanly Colonel Pickering, Higgins’s fellow linguist, and as Jamie, Alfred’s loose-limbed drinking companion. David Webber’s magnetic stage presence and ringing tenor voice make Eliza’s lovelorn suitor, Freddy Eynsford-Hill, into more than a fatuous cipher. And Tracey Hebert brings a welcome touch of ditsy humor to the wisdom of Mrs. Higgins, Henry’s exasperated mother.   

Musical highlights include: a jubilant “With a Little Bit of Luck” featuring DiProto; an exhilarating “The Rain in Spain” highlighting Westbrook; and a rapturous “On the Street Where You Live” from Webber, in which the presence of four women (but not Eliza) on stage suggests that he’d be nothing without them. Cortis’ similar staging of “I’ve Grown Accustomed to Her Face” has an equally bracing power. Her stiff-upper-lip “Ascot Gavotte” is hilariously presented on the theatre floor in front of the stage at Minnechaug Regional High School in Wilbraham, almost literally in the audience’s face.  

Elegant period costumes by Rob Williamson, imaginative choreography (including several exuberant tap dance sequences) by Melissa Dupont, and lively musical direction by Karen Ducharme and her seven-piece band, along with the timeless lyrics and music of Lerner and Loewe, also make this a must-see show.

June 18, 2019

PREVIEW: The Capitol Steps, The Lyin' Kings

Cranwell Resort in Lenox, MA
June 28-August 30, nightly at 8PM except Tuedsays

The Capitol Steps, the political musical satire group that has been putting the “mock” in democracy since 1981, returns to the Cranwell Resort in Lenox, MA for the 12th summer with a new show based on their upcoming album, “The Lyin' Kings.” Performances run nightly at 8pm (except Tuesdays) at Cranwell's Harvest Barn. 

What better time to see the Capitol Steps than now, with the next Presidential election season approaching? The show will include the latest songs about the Democratic primary candidates (“76 Unknowns”) and the newest late-night thoughts from President Trump (“Tweet It”).  No one knows what 2020 will bring, but whether it’s Mayor Pete Buttigieg, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez or Beto O’Rourke, the Capitol Steps can tell you what rhymes with it!  Whether you’re a Democrat or Republican (or somewhere in-between), if you’ve ever wanted to see Donald Trump sing a rock song, Bernie Sanders sing a show tune, and Vladimir Putin dance shirtless…this is the show for you!

The Capitol Steps’ upcoming performance of mostly new material and some old favorites “is cheaper than therapy”, says Elaina Newport, co-founder of the Capitol Steps. “No matter who is making the news, we all need a laugh.  And as fast as a politician can send a tweet, our writers text a new song or joke.  The material comes from both sides of the aisle – sometimes it seems like the politicians are trying to provide us with material!”

The Capitol Steps began in 1981, when a group of Congressional staffers got together to provide entertainment for a holiday office party on Capitol Hill.   Since then, they have provided their unique mix of musical and political comedy and satire to audiences coast-to-coast. Each show consists of about 30 songs and skits, with “more costume changes than a Cher concert,” as an audience member once remarked. The Capitol Steps perform in Washington DC every weekend, tour nationally throughout the year, and have appeared on “The Today Show,” “ABC News Nightline,” “CBS Evening News” and on specials for NPR.

Tickets for the Capitol Steps are available at Cranwell resort.

REVIEW: New Century Theatre ,Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

New Century Theatre at Gateway City Arts, Holyoke
through June 23, 2019
by Beverly Dane

There’s a show at Gateway City Arts in Holyoke that should have everyone in the Valley clamoring for tickets. Edward Albee’s “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” regularly makes the “top 10” list of every theatre critic—but to see it performed so well and hear Albee’s outrageous turn of a phrase in an intimate setting by consummate professionals—well, that’s just icing on the cake. Cate Damon, Sam Rush, Robbie Simpson, and Alexandra O’Halloran masterfully create the four iconic characters in New Century’s current production and it will have audiences leaving the theatre saying “wow!”

Director Keith Langsdale masterfully moves his actors around the small stage and creates an environment so fraught with tension and heartbreak that audible gasps could be heard throughout the theatre. The characters, Martha, George, Nick, and Honey move like animals, ready to pounce at any moment, and ready to lie down and purr a moment later. The pacing of the production is exquisite, and each of the four actors create such believable characters it’s easy to find yourself drawn in, concerned about them and hoping for a happy ending—even if you know the outcome of this American classic.

Cast photos by Frank Aronson
For those uninitiated to Albee’s masterpiece, the plot centers around George and Martha, a married couple who live on or near a University campus where Martha’s father is President. They taunt and tease each other, sometimes lovingly, and sometimes with deadly terror. After a faculty party one night, Martha invites Nick, a new professor, and Honey, his wife, for a nightcap. What follows is a multi-layered exploration of how human beings are seduced by truth and illusion to create their own codependency. The two couples, one older, the other younger, but equally deluded by desire and tradition, drink too much, disclose too much, and their respective lives begin to unravel. Albee understands that humor is palliative when pain and this outstanding production mines the humor but never deviates from Albee’s essential truth—we always hurt the ones we love, sometimes, savagely.

While leaving the theatre, one patron was overheard talking to his wife, and said, “You’d have to go to New York to see a production this good.” Kudos to New Century Theatre and this outstanding cast and production team. “Virginia Woolf” has been produced in many many versions, but this is the one to make an effort to see. It’s a winner.

June 12, 2019

REVIEW: Albany Symphony, Sing Out! New York

Albany Symphony, Albany, NY
May 30 – June 9, 2019
by Michael J. Moran

David Alan Miller
The Albany Symphony and their longtime (1992-) Music Director David Alan Miller have a reputation for adventurous programming of contemporary American music, making them ideal curators of the annual American Music Festival for the past 20 years. This year’s theme is “Sing Out! New York,” which celebrates the state’s “leading role in championing equal rights” by observing the centennial of the 19th Amendment, giving women the right to vote, and the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall uprising. Two June 1 programs paid notable homage to this theme.

An evening concert by the orchestra in Troy’s breathtaking EMPAC concert hall featured music by three living composers, including one world premiere and two major revivals. The world premiere opened the concert: “Knit/Purl,” in which recent Yale Music School graduate Tanner Porter declaimed a libretto by Vanessa Moody which draws on texts by leaders of the American women’s suffrage movement. Porter’s soprano voice was amplified to blend with the music she wrote for a percussion-rich ensemble, producing a dense but often diaphanous sound mix. Her vocal virtuosity and the orchestra’s fluid performance made a powerful impression.

This was extended by John Corigliano’s fiery 1968 piano concerto, whose technical difficulties were handily mastered by rising British soloist Philip Edward Fisher. The brilliantly orchestrated piece is, in the composer’s words, “basically tonal [with] many atonal sections [including] strict twelve-tone writing.” Fisher’s total commitment and the orchestra’s virtuosity brought the concerto to vivid life and earned him a standing ovation by the appreciative audience.

David Del Tredici
The concert closed after intermission with a riveting account of “Pot-Pourri,” the earliest among several major works by David Del Tredici based on Lewis Carroll’s “Alice in Wonderland.” The composer calls the atonal piece, also written in 1968, “a kind of Cantata of the Sacred and Profane,” setting texts from “Alice” and Carroll’s “Jabberwocky” alongside a “Litany of the Blessed Virgin” from the Catholic liturgy of his childhood, and a Bach Chorale. In addition to the orchestra, it calls for a rock band, soprano soloist, and 16-member mixed chorus. The predictably wild-sounding result was transfixingly rendered by all forces, particularly redoubtable soprano Hila Plitman.      

The jovial Miller gave often humorous introductions to each piece and invited Del Tredici up from the audience to speak before “Pot-Pourri.” After bounding to the stage, the amiable 82-year-old composer read his droll manifesto “A Composer’s Ten Commandments.” The substantially full house showed that Miller’s enthusiasm for new music has built a loyal following. His announcement that these performances of the Corigliano and Del Tredici pieces would be recorded for commercial CD release was a tribute to his ensemble’s distinction. 

Del Tredici was also the subject of the engrossing 2018 documentary film, “Secret Music,” by New York-based pianist and music educator Daniel Beliavsky, shown in EMPAC’s theater after the concert. Examining the composer’s stated goal “to create a gay body of music,” the film included much interview and performance footage of Del Tredici, Beliavsky, and other musicians.

It was revealing for this writer, sitting by chance beside the composer, to witness his firsthand reactions to various candid scenes in the film, including a compelling performance by Beliavsky, soprano Chelsea Feltman, and baritone Michael Kelly of his incongruously gorgeous setting of Allen Ginsberg’s “S&M” poem “Please Master” (Del Tredici even cracks a small whip in the background). The filmmaker led a lively post-show discussion.

Only an hour and a half from greater Springfield, the American Music Festival is a resourceful annual destination for all lovers of contemporary American music.

June 5, 2019

REVIEW: The Waverly Gallery, Shakespeare & Co.

Shakespeare & Company, Lee, MA
through July 14, 2019
By Barbara Stroup

The “strings of the heart” provided the theme for Artistic Director Allyn Burrows as he chose this year’s plays for Shakespeare & Company, and the summer season’s first offering pulls on those strings throughout. “The Waverly Gallery” looks at a family whose own hearts are seized by the gradual mental decline of their beloved matriarch. When the audience meets Gladys Green, a former attorney and current gallery owner, she is engaged in a loving conversation with her grandson. It takes only a few moments to realize that this is a conversation oft-repeated, but the devotion she and her grandson share is intense and enduring - for the moment.

Played by veteran stage actress Annette Miller, it is difficult to imagine anyone else in the role of Gladys, despite accolades heaped on prior distinguished performances. Miller is stunning in her portrayal, never over-reaching for audience sympathy, but genuine in maintaining the core of her character’s self. Her Gladys is thoroughly charming, vital and complex, whose love for her family reaches over the wall that her illness is building around her. How Miller can maintain this performance is  astounding.

Gladys’ grandson Daniel, ably played by David Gow, also provides narration as the drama unfolds over a period of several months. Gladys’ daughter Ellen, and her second husband Howard (Elizabeth Aspenlieder and Michael F. Toomey) appear as the family hosts Gladys for their ritual weekly dinner. Each has chosen a way to cope with Gladys: Ellen by giving constant and frustrated reality checks, and Howard by using a booming voice to compensate for Gladys’ hearing loss. Both fail. Gladys enlists the help of Don (David Bertoldi), an artist of questionable worth for a gallery show. This new friendship proves of some value, but the dilemmas this character faces seem glued onto the central drama unnecessarily. Gladys is ultimately alone with her changing self, revealing to the audience a glimpse of some of her panic as she shuffles down the hall to her grandson’s door.

Playwright Kenneth Lonergan draws out Gladys’ decline in a series of wrenching scenes that drive the play toward the inevitable. Director Tina Packer makes the most of conversations that are simultaneous, a hallmark of this play. There is a hint of the future when Ellen herself forgets a word - twice, and love prevails with poignancy at the close. The viewing audience has seen several dramatic portrayals of Alzheimer’s disease in movieland, but this representation is superbly intimate. Bravo to Shakespeare & Co. for a choice that reflects a dilemma that faces so many today and for presenting it with admirable artistry and laughter.

PREVIEW: Barrington Stage Company, Hold These Truths

Barrington Stage Company, Pittsfield, MA
through June 8, 2019

Joel de la Fuente
Barrington Stage Company (BSC), the award-winning theatre in the Berkshires, kicks off its 25th Anniversary season with Hold These Truths by Jeanne Sakata.Directed by Lisa Rothe, the play runs through June 8 at the St Germain Stage.

The drama stars Joel de la Fuente (Amazon’s The Man in the High Castle) reprising his Drama Desk-nominated role in this solo play inspired by the life of Gordon Hirabayashi.  

Unsung American hero Gordon Hirabayashi fights passionately for the Constitution against an unexpected adversary: his own country. During World War II, he defies the US government’s orders to forcibly remove and mass incarcerate all people of Japanese ancestry, launching a 50-year journey from college to courtroom and eventually to a Presidential Medal of Freedom. A story filled with hope, this play’s focus is a man who stood up for the true meaning of patriotism.

Joel de la Fuente makes his debut for Barrington Stage Company in Hold These Truths. The play garnered a Drama Desk Nomination in New York City for Outstanding Solo Performance when it debuted in 2012. The actor has performed on stages throughout the world and numerous times on television; i.e. 10 seasons on Law & Order: SVU and Madam Secretary.

REVIEW: Hartford Symphony Orchestra, Mahler 5

The Bushnell, Hartford, CT
May 31 – June 2, 2019
by Michael J. Moran

For the final “Masterworks” program of their 75th anniversary season, HSO Music Director Carolyn Kuan chose a minor work by one major composer and a towering masterpiece by another. 

Wendy Warner
The minor work was Beethoven’s 1804 “Triple Concerto” for piano, violin, cello, and orchestra, featuring HSO concertmaster Leonid Sigal, HSO pianist Margreet Francis, and guest cellist Wendy Warner. The home-town soloists teamed gracefully with world-renowned Chicago native Warner, who won first prize at age 18 in the 1990 International Rostropovich Cello Competition, for an affectionate rendition of this rarely heard work. From a relaxed opening “Allegro,” through a heartfelt central “Largo,” through an ebullient closing “Rondo,” Kuan and the orchestra offered plush accompaniment.

The masterpiece was Mahler’s 1902 fifth symphony, which unfolds over 75 minutes and requires one of the largest orchestras in the symphonic repertoire, including six percussionists. But each of its five movements contains many episodes for only a small number of instruments, and Kuan carefully balanced the full-ensemble passages with those quieter interludes to produce a transparent texture which often had the intimacy of chamber music.

While all sections of the HSO played with passionate intensity, the brass did especially fine work throughout. Principal trumpet Scott McIntosh’s solo fanfare, which opens the “Funeral March” first movement, had technical polish and emotional resonance. Percussion and brass dominated both the “Stormy and vehement” second movement and the lighter, waltz-like “Scherzo” third movement. Lush strings and harp set a hushed tone for the radiant “Adagietto” fourth movement, and the full orchestra turned the closing “Rondo” into an exuberant romp.

This thrilling account of a colorful but challenging work showed off Kuan’s artistry at its finest and ended the eighth year of her HSO tenure on a high note. That artistry is not afraid to aim for perfection, as when she politely stopped after beginning the “Adagietto” until several audience members had stopped talking, so that the nearly silent music could be heard throughout the Belding Theater.

Connecticut’s public television (CPTV) was in the hall recording the concert for future broadcast.

June 1, 2019

A funny thing happened on the way to “The Sound of Music”

The Bushnell, Hartford, CT
by Shera Cohen

My semi-annual bout with bronchitis conveniently arrived like an anvil in my head accompanied by a vice around my throat. The day was the Press Night to review “The Sound of Music” at the Bushnell. Certainly, not my first trip to the Alps or hearing and humming “Edelweiss”; yet, you can never get enough “Sound of Music” (SOM) in your life.

I made a quick decision – contact another reviewer from In the Spotlight. That project was, unfortunately, unproductive. My second decision – ask someone else to attend the musical and, instead of a review, tell a story about the experience. Because SOM had such a straightforward story with uncomplicated characters, it would be an easy task to write about.

Of course, I do not pass-off writing reviews to those not on our staff. At the same time, I often invite “non-theatre” or “non-artsy” friends to be my Plus One whenever I attend plays or musicals. Not that my philosophy is profound but introducing neophytes to theatre builds a community of novices-turned-aficionados. Well, perhaps that word is too elite. The point is that one of my missions in life is to introduce theatre to those who might rarely think of attending. Over the past 30 or so years, I am proud to say that I have been rather successful.

I didn’t think that the Bushnell folk would mind if I offered their two tickets to a lovely woman and her 8-year-old granddaughter. The little girl had never seen a live production of SOM, or any musical. This was a special gift from me and from the Bushnell for them to appreciate this amazing and lush building to see a live production of one of the most famous musicals of all time. Neither had seen SOM other than at home – the Julie Andrews’ movie shrunk to TV screen-size. I gave eight-year-old Mayah an assignment: write comments about what you saw and how you felt seeing SOM.

These are a few of her favorite points. 1) I loved the music! 2) I recognized some of the songs that I used to sing along to when I watched the movie. 3) There were some funny parts like the bedroom scene with Maria and the children. 4) They seemed to be using American Sign Language during the “Doe a Deer” song. 5) The singing voices were wonderful, and Maria was our favorite. The Reverend Mother came in pretty close behind. 6) The sets were exquisite [grandmother’s word]. 7) The set changes flowed, and some pieces were moved by the actors. 7) It was great, and they did a wonderful job.

This keen little girl also commented on the building, including the beautiful artwork on the ceiling. Would little Mayah return to the theatre to see SOM? “Yes!” Would little Mayah return to the theatre to see other musicals? “Yes!”

May 28, 2019

REVIEW: Hartford Stage, The Flamingo Kid

Hartford Stage, Hartford, CT
through June 15, 2019
by Stuart W. Gamble

Lately, there have been a slew Broadway musicals based on films of the 80’s, 90’s, and 00’s (think Pretty Woman, and most recently Mean Girls and Tootsie). Hartford Stage’s latest musical debut is based on a sleeper comedy The Flamingo Kid, which starred Matt Dillon and was directed by Gary Marshall. Judging from the audience’s thunderous curtain call applause, this show could be on its way to Broadway in the future.

Photo by T. Charles Erikson
Set in July, 1963, The Flamingo Kid tells of Jeffrey Winnick (Jimmy Brewer), who along with his buddies bemoan their plight in the opening number “Another Summer Day in Brooklyn”. Soon, Jeffrey finds himself at the exclusive El Flamingo Club, where wealthy Long Islanders play gin, surf, and sunbathe. Jeffrey soon meets card shark Phil Brody (Marc Kudisch) who charms Jeffrey with the jazzy “Sweet Ginger Brown”and “The World According to Phil, Parts 1 & 2”. Jeffrey becomes a cabana boy at the club and romances Phil’s niece, Karla. Conflict arises as Jeffrey’s working class parents, Arthur and Ruth (Adam Heller and Liz Larsen), vie with Phil for Jeffrey’s soul.

The first act of Flamingo Kid is bouncy, effervescent, and colorful, emphasized by Linda Cho’s incredible array of polka-dotted, stripped, floral, neon-colored Havana shirts, skirts, stretch pants, short shorts, halter tops, bikinis, and house dresses and Alexander Dodge’s early 60’s gaudy décor. Humorous songs such as “Cabana Boy” and “A Plumber Knows” add to the soufflé textured tone. Act II, however, offers less gaiety, and three musical reprises. Ruth’s tender “Not For All The Money in The World” and Phyllis’ (Lesli Margherita, Phil’s unhappy wife) Sondheim-ish, vitriolic “The Cookie Crumbles” offer the best musical moments. One might expect that the male leads would carry the show with big, booming, and/or dramatic pieces. This is not the case. The women, sometimes subtly and occasionally overtly, give this new musical texture and depth.

Another question to ask might be, why musicalize this relatively unknown film from 1984? In this writer’s mind, it represents the brief moment of American culture between the doo-wop/Juke Box sound and the soon-to-be onslaught of Beatlemania and hard rock. It also gives its audience an insider’s view of Jewish-American culture, unknown to some, in which white fish salad and latkes with applesauce smack of comfort food.

May 21, 2019

REVIEW: Springfield Symphony Orchestra, 75th Season Finale

Symphony Hall, Springfield, MA
May 18, 2019
by Michael J. Moran

For the “grand finale” of their 75th anniversary season, the SSO’s Music Director Kevin Rhodes paired a brand new piece written for the occasion with two of the most popular selections in the classical repertoire, one of which (Dvorak’s “New World” symphony) was performed in the SSO’s very first concert on March 5, 1944. This retrospective focus also felt like a nod to the recent passing of Rhodes’ SSO predecessor (SSO conducting years 1955-1969) Robert Staffanson.

The concert opened with the world premiere of the “Overtura Rocambolesca” by the SSO’s own principal bass player, Salvatore Macchia. In a pre-concert talk, the sometime composer and 40-year SSO member translated the title as “rambunctious” or “celebratory” overture, not only for the anniversary but for individual orchestra colleagues. The colorful 13-minute piece was exuberantly performed, including virtuosic solo passages for new principal flute (Ann Bobo) and bassoon (Yeh-Chi Wang) players.

Yevgeny Kutik
The other star of the evening was Belarussian-American violinist Yevgeny Kutik, who grew up in Lee, MA, in his third SSO appearance in five years. What distinguished his riveting account of Tchaikovsky’s violin concerto from those of other gifted young soloists was not just his mastery of its stringent technical demands but his careful attention to its musical details. He captured the dramatic mood swings of the long opening movement with rare passion; his tenderness in the slow “Canzonetta” made it clear why Leo Tolstoy wept on first hearing it; and his dark, weighty tone perfectly conveyed the lumbering humor of the Russian dance finale. The enthralled audience gave him the first of two standing ovations after the first movement!

The fresh energy which characterized the SSO’s rendition of Dvorak’s ninth symphony after intermission confirmed Rhodes’ assurance in the pre-concert talk that he never gets tired of conducting it. The solemn start and lively main theme of the first movement have seldom sounded so intense; the familiar “Largo” (later adapted as “Goin Home”) was hushed and radiant; the scherzo movement was fleet and insistent; and the “Allegro” finale had exhilarating sweep.

If the SSO’s April 27 concert (“Mozart and Mahler 2”) was this season’s “first grand finale,” as Rhodes called it then, tonight’s follow-up was fully its equal.

PREVIEW: Tres Classique

Kimball Towers, 140 Chestnut Street, Springfield, MA
Monthly through December 2019, third Wednesday, 5:30pm
by Michael J. Moran

The goal of Très Classique is described on its web site as “to make classical music accessible and available to the…Apremont Triangle neighborhood of downtown Springfield.” In March 2019, with primary funding from the Massachusetts Cultural Council and the Armoury Quadrangle Civic Association, the project launched a monthly series of free chamber music concerts in the lobby of historic Kimball Towers.

Repertoire focuses on short pieces, often movements from larger works, arranged for a rotating ensemble of two or three musicians. Lead artist/host, local resident, and flutist Karoun Charkoudian was accompanied by her mother, pianist Bethel Charkoudian, for the first three concerts. Karoun will be joined by cellist Norma Wanegar at the next concert, on June 19.
The atmosphere is decidedly informal, with guests invited to mingle, watch the musicians play, and enjoy light refreshments. Attendance has steadily increased each month, as 25 or so appreciative concertgoers stayed for the whole hour at the May concert. In addition, Kimball Towers residents or visitors passing through the lobby often stopped to listen for short periods, several even taking photos of the musicians on their cell phones.

Karoun Charkoudian
Performances by the Charkoudian duo of music by a wide range of composers, from Bach and Handel to Schubert and Tchaikovsky, were consistently spirited and sensitive, clearly heard in the resonant acoustic and visually enhanced by the elegant marble columns and oriental carpets of what was built in 1911 as the Hotel Kimball and now houses 132 residential and commercial condominiums. Highlights included Schumann’s lovely “Traumerei” and several themes from Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Scheherazade.”

Karoun’s enthusiasm for this project is infectious as she introduces each piece, and this month’s audience was diverse enough so that she easily persuaded two volunteers to step forward and turn sheet music pages for the pianist. Word of mouth seems to be retaining loyal attendees and attracting new ones. Guests are asked to sign in as they enter, and those who list an email address receive a monthly reminder a few days ahead of the next concert in the series.

This admirable initiative to bring the joy of classical music to new listeners deserves widespread support and participation not only from the local neighborhood but from the entire Springfield community.

May 15, 2019

PREVIEW: American Music Festival: Sing Out! New York
May 30-June 2, 2019
Tour: June 6-9, 2019
by Michael Moran

The Albany Symphony recently announced the 2019 American Music Festival, Sing Out! New York, a two-weekend national festival and regional tour of musical performances and new art happenings, in concert venues in Troy, New York, and in public parks throughout New York State’s Capital Region. Sing Out! New York runs from May 30 - June 2, in Troy, and concludes with a four-concert tour of the greater Capital Region, from, June 6 - 9.

David Alan Miller
Two milestone anniversaries frame the festival: the centennial of the passage of the 19th Amendment, giving women the right to vote, and the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall uprising. Sing Out! New York draws inspiration from both events, and celebrates New York’s leading role in championing equal rights. Curated by GRAMMY® Award-winning conductor and Albany Symphony Music Director, David Alan Miller, the festival will present 55 new or recent works by 38 American composers, including 27 world premiere performances.

The Festival’s programs include world premieres by numerous talented composers. Performers joining the Albany Symphony and Music Director Miller include the vocalists, solo musicians and small groups. 

According to Miller, “The Albany Symphony is committed to telling the stories of our time, place, and history through the creation of compelling new music and collaborations between composers and fellow artists. The fight for women’s equality in the 19th and early 20th century, and for LGBTQ rights beginning in 1969, are great New York stories. To tell them, we paired new works by emerging composers with established ones by composers who have told related New York stories, and have designed immersive events that celebrate the things that bring us together as New Yorkers and human beings.”

Sing Out! New York includes more than 22 concerts and related events. On Friday, May 31, the orchestra’s new music chamber orchestra, Dogs of Desire, will premiere five new works on subjects ranging from the 1848 Seneca Falls Convention to Frederick Douglass’ participation in the abolitionist and suffragist movements, from the aftermath of the Stonewall Rebellion to Alice Duer Miller’s Women are People and Sojourner Truth’s “Ain’t I a Woman” speech. On Saturday, June 1, the full orchestra will premiere a suffragist-inspired piece by composer/performer Tanner Porter, alongside Pop-Pourri, with soprano Hila Plitmann, David Del Tredici’s first work based on Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, and John Corigliano’s Piano Concerto, with pianist Phillip Fisher. Committed to giving new music life beyond the concert hall, the Albany Symphony will also record both Pop-Pourri and the Piano Concerto for commercial release.

Other festival highlights include: the powerful new documentary film, “Of Rage and Remembrance,” in which composer John Corigliano tells the story of his Symphony No. 1, commemorating the friends he lost to AIDS; Del Tredici’s Bullycide, performed by the Argus Quartet in St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, one of the only fully integrated Tiffany interiors in the world; and a free family-friendly concert and suffragist- themed street fair in Monument Square on Sunday. On Saturday afternoon at the Troy Savings Bank Music Hall, Miller and a 14-member chamber orchestra will premiere four newly commissioned melodramas. 

The following weekend, the Festival will break out of the concert hall with free outdoor concerts at Hudson Crossing Park in Schuylerville (June 6), Mohawk Harbor in Schenectady (June 7), Albany’s Jennings Landing (June 8), and Basilica Hudson in Hudson (June 9), NY. Executive Director Anna Kuwabara notes, “the program in each community includes Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, sing-alongs, and summertime favorites. The centerpiece of each is one of the newly commissioned works from the Dogs of Desire concerts earlier in the Festival. Along with great music, we look forward to bringing attention and business to each site with family activities, food trucks, fireworks, and other festivities.”  

For over 20 years, the American Music Festival has served as an incubator for new American music by showcasing the diverse voices of America’s living composers with several world premiere works and dozens of composers-in-residence programs.

May 14, 2019

REVIEW: Opera House Players, Newsies

Opera House Players, Enfield, CT
through May 19, 2019
by Shera Cohen

“Extra, extra, read all about it!” This was the resounding chant of young newsboys throughout the boroughs of New York City in the late 19th century. With a cute title like “Newsies” starring lots of kids who seem to keep coming out of nowhere – theatre aisles, backstage, stage wings – one might anticipate a frothy musical. Yet, it’s characters, story, and setting are far from shallow. “Newsies” is the realistic, albeit with song and dance, bit of American history. That said, an important lesson can be taught with a whole lot of fun at the theatre.

Opera House Players (OHP) has taken on a huge challenge; the most obvious is casting 28 talented boys (plus a few girls with their hair stuffed into caps, voila – another boy appears). The big ensemble numbers, of which there are many, require ability in dance, agility, and gymnastics, not to mention acting. This is a demanding requirement for any director to oversee with a cast of adults, let alone children.

It is obvious that Sharon FitzHenry does not heed the famous W.C. Fields’ quote, “Never work with animals or children.” As OHP’s perennial director, FitzHenry must enjoy challenges; she has guided many of the “big musicals” on OHP’s community theatre stages for many years, receiving numerous accolades.

Our hero Jack (sweetness and sincerity portrayed by Christopher Marcus) and sidekick Crutchie (sorrow exuded from Max Levheim) team up with Davey (smarts and sensibility from Josiah Durham) and Les (cuteness personified by Alex Barry), and ultimately the other 24 newsboys to create a brotherhood of down on their luck, nice kids, looking for small opportunities to survive by selling newspapers. They are newsies. The story presents the audience a look at the highs and lows of children working for a living. Ultimately, Jack, et al, challenge the renowned publishers of the era (Pulitzer, Hearst) for fair wages and safe working conditions.

Standout moments include: Amanda Urquhart’s high-spirited “Watch What Happens,” Tim Reilly’s bombastic and humorous Pulitzer, Bill Martin’s multi-tasking orchestra conductor and keyboardist, and Josiah Durham’s imagination as set designer. Special kudos to choreographers Aileen Merino Terzi and Karen Anne McMahon. Dance can make or break this musical. OHP’s should be proud that these two brilliant women, along with dance and assistant dance captains, deliver ensemble pieces that shine. “The World Will Know” and “Seize the Day” are inspiring and profound.

May 7, 2019

PREVIEW: Children's Chorus of Springfield, Spring Concert

Children's Chorus of Springfield, The Community Music School Of Springfield

Saturday, May 11, 2019, 12:30 pm
Community Music School of Springfield's Robyn Newhouse Hall
127 State Street, Springfield, MA 01103

Featuring Chicago Children’s Choir and Young at Heart Chorus.

The concert is free and open to the public.

Come see the Children’s Chorus of Springfield showcase their hard work!