Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

March 30, 2020

"Spotlight on Broadway" Website

Shared with ITS by Michael Moran

If you're passing the time glued to your computer, perhaps now is as good a time as any to connect remotely with something we all love: The Theatre! More specifically, the theater buildings themselves. I happened to run across this website, filled with pics of (I believe) all of the Broadway theaters, inside and out. The rest of the site has interesting articles about Broadway history as well. I had a blast browsing through it and perhaps you will too!

https://www.spotlightonbroadway.com/theater-architecture

March 10, 2020

REVIEW: Springfield Symphony Orchestra, Beethoven & Tchaikovsky

Springfield Symphony Orchestra, Springfield, MA
March 7, 2020
by Michael J. Moran

Though SSO music director Kevin Rhodes had planned this program, guest conductor Daniel Hege, who directs the Wichita (KS) Symphony and Binghamton (NY) Philharmonic orchestras, embraced it enthusiastically for a memorable SSO debut.

In a pre-concert talk, he called the opening work, “Radiant Circles,” by Augusta Read Thomas, “a ten-minute crescendo” and “less a traditional piece than a sonic experience.” He also cited a strong jazz influence in all the African-American composer’s music. Hege led the SSO in a vibrant account of the colorfully orchestrated 2010 score, which features unusual instrumental combinations, including vibraphone, glockenspiel, and crotales (tuned bells).

Photo by Angelo Xiang Yu
Next came the grandest of all violin concertos – Beethoven’s – in a thrilling rendition and sensational SSO debut by 29-year-old soloist Angelo Xiang Yu. Trained at the New England Conservatory, the Mongolian-born, Boston-based violinist received both an Avery Fisher Career Grant and a Lincoln Center Emerging Artist Award in 2019. He described the “challenge” of this concerto to Hege’s pre-concert audience as its requirement throughout of “perfect intonation and beautiful sound.”

That he achieved both tonight was evident in the standing ovation he received after a broad 25-minute opening “Allegro ma non troppo” movement, to which he added hushed delicacy in a radiant “Larghetto” and dazzling finger work in a headlong “Rondo” finale. Conductor and ensemble provided vivid support.

The concert ended after intermission with Tchaikovsky’s rarely heard first symphony, which he nicknamed “Winter Daydreams” and gave titles to the first two movements. While this early work lacks some formal cohesion, it abounds in the melodic invention of his popular mature symphonies. The opening “Reveries during a Winter Journey” is melancholy and folk-like; “Land of Gloom, Land of Mist” is tender and haunting; the Scherzo third movement is elfin and sprightly; and the Finale builds from a slow start to a triumphant close. Hege’s leadership and the SSO’s playing were inspired, especially in the galvanizing Finale.

Noting the concert’s place in observing the SSO’s ongoing celebrations of women composers and Beethoven’s 250th birthday anniversary, Hege also praised the high quality not only of the musicians but of Springfield’s Symphony Hall, insightful reminders from a welcome visitor.

REVIEW: Stageloft Repertory Theater, A Little Night Music

Stageloft Repertory Theater in Collaboration with the Greater Worcester Opera, Fiskdale, MA
through March 15, 2020
by Jarice Hanson

Photo by Tatumn Coraccio Photography
Stephen Sondheim’s lyrics are always peppered with edginess and wit, often making it difficult for less experienced singers to articulate rapid-fire tongue twisters and pointed barbs. In Stageloft Repertory Theater’s collaboration with seasoned opera veterans from the Greater Worcester Opera, these difficult lyrics come trippingly off the tongues, and humor and double entendres delight the appreciative audience.

Musical Director Aldo Fabrizi conducts the excellent three-piece orchestra with aplomb, and the vocalists rise to the occasion of telling the almost mythic story through allegory and expression with the dignity and poise representative of 1900’s Sweden. This production has a talented cast, most of whom have very impressive credentials and experience. Only space limitations prevent a listing of the entire ensemble, but it would be negligent not to mention both Elaine Crane in the role of Desiree Armfeldt and Todd Yard as Fredrik Egerman for their exceptional grasp of character and outstanding voices. There is chemistry between the two that underscores the story’s development, and they light up the stage individually as well as in the scenes they share.

Director Richard Monroe moves his 17 actors around the small stage with precision and poise. The very clever set, designed by Scott Taylor and Aldo Fabrizi, complete with movable panels is highly functional and appropriately spare. Elaine Crane’s costume designs add a layer of elegance, and Ezekiel Baskin’s lighting design creates an illusion of a much bigger stage and establishment of scene.

The intimate Stageloft Theater is a wonderful location to see a play and, in this case, to appreciate the natural voices of the performers without microphone distortion or over-amplification. Stageloft Repertory Theater has the ambitious goal of producing a new show every month, and the way they succeed is by partnering with other companies. If this production, featuring the talent of the Greater Worcester Opera, is any indication of the quality of the work, it is undoubtedly a venue to consider. Hopefully, these two artistic organizations will continue to collaborate on many future projects.

REVIEW: Theatre Guild of Hampden, Mamma Mia!

Theatre Guild of Hampden, Wilbraham, MA
www.theatreguildofhampden.org
through March 15, 2020
by Michael J. Moran

The Theatre Guild of Hampden has transformed its new home, the Red Barn at Fountain Park in Wilbraham, MA into an immersive theater-in-the-round, with four resourceful musicians split at opposite ends of the stage and dressing rooms behind curtains in the four corners of the building which are shared by the 24-member cast and various props which they entertainingly move on and off stage between scenes.

The Guild’s reimagining of this rustic space proves surprisingly hospitable to their exuberant production of the ultimate feel-good musical, “Mamma Mia!,” of which Wikipedia says at least seven versions are presented somewhere in the world on any given day. Director Mark Giza and stage manager Jan Plumb have ingeniously used every square inch at their disposal, with the ensemble dancing around the actors just offstage and often providing harmonies, seen or unseen, from their dressing rooms.  

Repurposing many familiar “earworm” hits by the Swedish pop band ABBA as its score, the show follows 20-year-old Sophie to a Greek island where her mother, Donna, runs a tavern and will soon host her daughter’s wedding. Without telling Donna, Sophie has tracked down and invited three older men, one of whom is likely her father, to the ceremony. “Mama Mia” debuted in London in 1999, on Broadway in 2000, and on screen in 2008 (with a 2018 sequel). In other words, just about every musical-theatre lover has already seen “MM.” Yet, it is still a winner that everyone should enjoy. Yes, “The Winner Takes It All.”

Carina Savoie’s clarion singing voice and fine acting chops make her an endearing Sophie. Kiernan Rushford’s Donna turns wistful charm to youthful energy when lead-singing with her girl group, the Dynamos. As her band mates/sidekicks, Jami Wilson’s hilarious Tanya sounds and looks like a young Joan Rivers in “Does Your Mother Know,” while Kathy Renaud’s scene-stealing Rosie is a hoot whenever she appears, but especially in her big number, “Take a Chance on Me.”

Michael DeVito is charismatic as Sophie’s fiancé, Sky, and music director Mark Cloutier does a double star turn as one of Sophie’s might-be dads, British banker Harry. Choreography by ensemble member Dina DelBuono is elastic and energetic.

For sheer fun and joy, this spirited production would be hard to beat. Unfortunately (as Giza quipped in his welcoming comments, “We’re hotter than Hamilton!”), the entire run is currently sold out.

March 2, 2020

REVIEW: Majestic Theater, The Pitch

Majestic Theater, West Springfield, MA
through April 5, 2020
by Konrad Rogowski

“The Pitch,” Stan Freeman’s first play, being premiered at the Majestic Theater, is a classic mix of what the public sees and hears about career making, or career breaking, moments in sports, and what really occurs in the shadows of some public figure’s lives, moments that oftentimes define the direction of those lives.

Photo by Kait Rankins
So it appears to be for Vern, played by R. Steve Pierce, a promising young pitcher who blows his first, and only, outing with a major league team by throwing only one pitch, a pitch that loses the game and hurls his career, his marriage, and his health into a 50-year downward spiral. And that would have been the end of his story, until a young writer, portrayed by Julian Findlay, starts to dig into Vern’s past, only to find too many unanswered questions as to the real reasons for Vern’s disintegration.

To solve this life-long question, the writer engages an older sports writer and long-time friend of Vern’s, featuring John Haag in the role, to help unearth the truth, only to find his writing partner becoming increasingly evasive and resistant as conflicting stories start to mount, and Vern’s public history make less and less sense.

What is ultimately discovered and made public then creates the second wave of trauma for those who are left to expose the story, as the issues of personal loyalty, ethics, the right for the public to know, and the burden of profiteering off of other’s personal misfortunes all land at the feet of the two writers.

The interaction and conflicts between the two leads are credible under Danny Eaton’s direction, with flashbacks that illuminate the past and help build the tension as the pieces of Vern’s private puzzle fall disturbingly into place.