Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

May 8, 2020

Stratford Festival Award-Winning Film Series Coming to a Couch Near You!

My Vicarious Return to Canada’s Shakespeare
by Shera Cohen

The title of one of my On the Road articles for In the Spotlight was “Canadian Mission: To visit the Top 10 English-speaking theatre cities in the world”. Having already journeyed to NYC and London, Toronto was next on the list. The date was August, 2013. Book-ending the city of Toronto were the Stratford Festival and Shaw Festival within less than two hours by train on both sides. Returning to these six-month long theatre fests is definitely on my “to do” list. However, 2020 is nothing like it was seven years ago. The longest excursion I take these days amidst the Coronavirus is from my couch to the mail room. However, I can reminisce and live vicariously through this inventive programming. You might want to read my article HERE

Stratford Festival Award-Winning Film Series  Coming to a Couch Near You!

You're about to have the best seats in the house (literally) as the Stratford Festival launches a virtual "film festival" offering FREE streaming of 12 of their finest Shakespeare prosuctions. One film will be released on their YouTube channel every Thursday at 7pm ET and will remain available for three weeks.

Their full lineup is below. Join the viewing party Thursday, or watch at your convenience. Each film will debut with a live viewing party - allowing us to get together virtually while we can't gather in our theatres. Details to come! If you can't make the viewing party, fear not! Each film will be available for free for three weeks on their website.

STREAMING DATES: 

KING LEAR: April 23 - May 14

CORIOLANUS: April 30 - May 21

MACBETH: May 7 - May 28

THE TEMPEST: May 14 - June 4 

TIMON OF ATHENS: May 21 - June 11

LOVE'S LABOUR'S LOST: May 28 - June 18

HAMLET: June 4 - June 25

KING JOHN: June 11 - July 2 

PERICLES: June 18 - July 9

ANTHONY AND CLEOPATRA: June 25 - July 16

ROMEO AND JULIET: July 2 - July 23

THE TAMING OF THE SHREW: July 9 - July 30

Filmed live before a Stratford audience! All films are captured live at the Stratford Festival in Canada.

May 5, 2020

In the Meantime…

Hello Readers:
It is noticeable that the arts continue, albeit in different formats, during this forced hiatus by Covid-19. The arts of nearly all genres will endure, whether resuming where they left off at the end of 2019 and/or morphing into other shapes and sounds. Neither of these results are not necessarily bad.
Selfishly, we hope that our website and Facebook fan will remember to seek out In the Spotlight reviews, previews, articles, and interviews once the world revs up, hopefully in the summer of 2020. In the meantime, In the Spotlight will post a variety of stories that are as applicable now as they were when first published.
From time to time, our writers will post. We are so thrilled that ITS writers are all sticking with us for the duration of the pandemic, and beyond. Their reason? Each has a sincere love of the performing arts, particularly the local arts.
ITS will offer up-to-date listings that the impact of the pandemic has had on your favorite venues. Some sites will temporarily close for the summer months, some will readjust their calendars to include as many programs as originally planned, and some might be relatively unscathed. I imagine that September will be jam-packed with numerous performances planned for the summer months. Please try to adjust your personal calendar to fill in as many art forms as you enjoy.
We start our look back on In the Spotlight. The history of ITS must include the history of Bravo Newspaper, Springfield, MA
The following is a reprint of an article written by Shera Cohen, co-founder of Bravo, in December 2016.

By Shera Cohen

In March 1991 Bravo Newspaper was founded, serving the local arts community as a free monthly publication. Twenty-five years later, Bravo has become In the Spotlight, a website primarily promoting the arts in Greater Springfield. We thank our many writers and other staff and thousands of readers through the years.

Equally important is formal acknowledgement to the Springfield Cultural Council for its initial grant which launched Bravo. That successful application for $6450 provided financial support, along with at least 50 grants from throughout Pioneer Valley, for the next 25 years.

Shera Cohen of Springfield, and Lauren Grossman of Longmeadow (now Arizona) ended their work for the Chicopee Centennial in December 1990. “What to do now?” Both women had theatre backgrounds. “Let’s start a theatre newspaper,” Grossman said. Cohen followed with, “I don’t even know how to use a computer.” They both learned the mechanics; the subject matter grew from theatre to all the performing and visual arts; and office space moved from Grossman’s pool table, to Cohen’s living room floor, to a tiny office with stained glass windows, to one larger office on State Street, finally to three different spaces on Main Street, with each location larger than the one before, all in downtown Springfield.

The Springfield Cultural Council grant paid for production and printing of 1,000 papers monthly with distribution only in Springfield. Cohen and Grossman were the entire “staff” of Bravo which included writing articles, selling ads, design and paste up (computers didn’t perform as they do now), and delivery. Year #2 of Bravo increased distribution city-wide and to five cities/towns; each due to receiving more grants from as many cities. A few writers and a salesperson were added to the team. At its 12-year mark, Bravo delivered boasted 50,000 readers in 48 cities with a staff of approximately 50 at its high point. 

Radio media came next, when Cohen and Grossman approached WMAS for a weekly arts program, hosted by themselves. Did either have radio experience? No. But staff at WMAS offered free air-time on its AM station on Sundays – first for 15 minutes at 6:15am, then at 6:30am when more listeners might be awake, eventually to a half-hour at 9am. Thirteen years later, the show ended with a huge thank you to five additional hosts and the many, many listeners who said, “I heard you on the radio.”

Looking toward the 21st century here, Bravo printed its last publication in 2003, at the same time morphing Bravo to In the Spotlight electronic media. Many writers from the newspaper continued with Spotlight, even those who joined in 1992. 

In the Spotlight continues as a local source of reviews, previews, interviews, and “on the road” features on community and professional performing arts in the region.

April 16, 2020

Goodspeed Musicals Launches Musical Theatre Podcast


Goodspeed Musicals Presents:
IN THE SPOTLIGHT, Goodspeed's Deep Dive into Classical Musicals

Michael Fling and Anika Chapin of the Goodspeed Artistic Staff explore and examine favorite musicals—from contemporary hits to classic Broadway. They’ll share fascinating tidbits about each musical’s creation and history, then analyze a song or scene to illustrate how the dramaturgy of the show works. 

Whether you're "Getting to Know" a show for the first time or learning more about an "Old Friend," you're guaranteed to fall in love with musical theatre all over again.

EPISODE 1: SOUTH PACIFIC
EPISODE 2: ANNIE
New episodes every Wednesday

https://www.goodspeed.org/in-the-spotlight




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.