Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

June 25, 2022

PREVIEW: The Mount, "Concerts in the Dell"

The Mount, Lenox, MA
Six consecutive Thursdays
July 14 - August 18, 2022
6-8 pm

Join the musicians at The Mount for an exciting lineup of live music—ranging from globally-inspired jazz to indie blues—in a beautiful outdoor setting at the Dell, below the Mount's Stable. Concerts are held in an open-sided tent, rain or shine. Picnics are welcome, and BYOB (blankets and lawn chairs). Tickets can be purchased online or on-site prior to each event; minimum donation of $10 per person of which all proceeds will be directed to Cash for Refugees to support Ukrainian relief efforts.

Wanda Houston Band
On July 14th, the Wanda Houston Band kicks-off the series. This dynamic quartet specializes in the music of the ’30s through ’70s with a blend of rhythm, blues, jazz, and soul.

Muddy Ruckus
Guitarist Ryan Flaherty and drummer Erika Stahl play railroad indie punk
blues on July 21st. The duo blends rootsy guitar and edgy percussion on a suitcase drum
kit and are known for their full rock-band sound.

Mukana
Mukana is an eclectic gathering of world-class musicians hailing from Chile,
Haiti, Zimbabwe, Brazil, and the US. Fusing traditional songs and rhythms
with jazz and sublime arrangements, Mukana creates music that is a joyful celebration of our global community. The date is June 18th.

Heard World Jazz
Heard is a collective of musicians who bring their skills and passion for
world music, jazz, and improvising together on August 4th to create irresistible grooves
set in a unique sonic tapestry. Together for a decade, their vibrant sound
incorporates influences from West Africa, Brazil, and the Caribbean.

Misty Blues
On August 11th Misty Blues pays homage to the older blues popularized by the bold and
brassy women of its time, paying respect to classic male artists of the ’20s,
’30s, and ’40s. They also perform classic rock and folk tunes infused with a
healthy dose of the blues.

Pamela Meas Jazz Project
Closing out the summer series is the Pamela Means Jazz Project appearing on August 18th singing and playing jazz originals, contemporary jazzy covers, and Great American Songbook jazz standards from the ‘30s-’50s.

REVIEW: The Bushnell, "Hamilton"

The Bushnell, Hartford, CT
through July 10, 2022
by Jarice Hanson

It’s hard to determine who or what is the focus of the now legendary musical, “Hamilton.”  Is it
the civics lesson told through the eyes of Alexander Hamilton, the first Secretary of the Treasury in the United States? Is it Lin-Manuel Miranda’s exuberant hip-hop version of the telling of history? Is it exceptional casting that allows young actors to bring a fresh vision to a piece of history that is over 200 years old? In reality it is all of the above and so much more, as evidenced by the longevity of the ground-breaking musical that hit Broadway in 2015.  

The touring company currently at the Bushnell has all of the right ingredients to recreate the experience that is “Hamilton.” With original direction by Thomas Kail and extraordinary choreography by Andy Blankenbuehler, this cast doesn’t miss a beat. The 25-person cast, led by Pierre Jean Gonzalez as Hamilton, and supported beautifully by Jared Dixon as Aaron Burr, with a delightful Neil Haskell in the scene stealing role of King George, this version of the show is faithful to the original. Every voice is thrilling, but Marcus Choi in the role of George Washington nearly stopped the show with his heart-felt solo. His stage presence and vocal talent makes him a standout among the talented troupe. 

There are, however, two elements of the experience that demonstrate the challenge of keeping a ground-breaking show fresh. This version does seem light on the energy of the original show—perhaps due to the grueling schedule of performances that place a burden on any cast. 

Secondly, the Bushnell’s acoustics are not friendly to this show that relies so heavily on fast patter rap and clever wordplay. Depending on where your seats are, it might be hard to discern the words—particularly of the women performers. Despite some of the sound challenges presented by the hall itself, Emanuel Schvartzman conducts and directs an excellent pit band of 10 talented musicians who drive the beat of the show.   

This is the second time “Hamilton” has played The Bushnell, and it should be noted that this version has added several performances over a three-week period. As a bonus, the Wadsworth Atheneum in Hartford is featuring an exhibit called “Hamilton: The Art of Remaking History” which runs through September 11. Discount tickets are available to those with a ticket stub or playbill from “Hamilton.”

June 23, 2022

PREVIEW: Ko Festival, "Stepping Up/Stepping Back

Ko Festival, Hampshire College Campus, Amherst, MA
July 18-31, 2022

The Ko Festival of Performances’ 31st and season will include two productions curated around the theme of “Stepping Up/Stepping Back,” plus a Story Slam and the return of a favorite Personal Narrative workshop. This season’s events will take place on the Hampshire College campus, with indoor events in the air-conditioned Mainstage Theatre in Emily Dickinson Hall, and an outdoor event that will begin with a guided walk from Emily Dickinson Hall to an outdoor performance site at the Hampshire College Farm Center.
 
Scene from "Flushing"
The festival opens with “FLUSHING (Make Room for Someone Else),” created by Eric Bass, co- founder/Sandglass Theater and Linda Parris-Bailey, co-founder/Carpetbag Theatre, and directed by Kathie deNobriga. A puppet show with songs, made for adults, "FLUSHING" begins at the Brink, where two theater directors are passing the leadership of their ensembles to the next generation.This moment sparks a reflection on what it means to retire and what it might mean to inherit. For those stepping down, what do we leave and who do we become? For those stepping up, how do we take what is given and make it our own? Performances will be July 22- 24.
 
This year Ko welcomes back the “Story Slam & Celebration" on the Sunday evening of the first performance weekend, July 24 at 8pm. A celebration of KoFest’s three decades, featuring true stories on the season’s theme of “Stepping Up/Stepping Back.” There will be some ringers, and also some wild-card slots, for these stories about transitions. Special guest appearance by Sara Felder whose previous performances at Ko have made her a Ko audience favorite. Potential storytellers can email info@kofest.com to pitch a story.
 
The season closes with Clear Creek Creative’s “EZELL: Ballad of a Land Man,” with performances on July 29 -31. An environmental, cultural and spiritual parable of domination and resilience that explores the complexities of climate change, indigenous erasure and environmental extraction (fracking) is based on the artists’ lived experience in their rural Kentucky. This immersive outdoor experience features a contemplative walk through the woods to the performance site with live music, the play, a return walk and a post-show dialogue with the artists and a panel of local experts. 

REVIEW: Barrington Stage Company, "Ain't Misbehavin'

Barrington Stage Company, Pittsfield, MA
through July 9, 2022
by Shera Cohen

With an uncontrollable tap of your shoes on the floor of the theatre, a pleasantly stuck smile on your face, and slight shift of your shoulders back and forth, the enjoyment of "Ain't Misbehavin'" delivers all that one would expect. Frankly, it's debatable which group is having the better time -- the seated audience members or those onstage.

While not a musical, per se, "Ain't Misbehavin'" is titled "a musical show." In today's description, it would be a review logically strung together with an unspoken theme or plotline. Even for those unfamiliar with this piece of theatre, undoubtedly anyone over age 40 will recognize tunes like "Honeysuckle Rose," "The Joint is Jumpin',"Mean to Me," "Keepin' Out of Mischief Now," "Two Sleepy People," and, of course, the title song.

Photo by Daniel Rader
Three women and two men are flawless singers in their consistent roles at once was the Savoy Ballroom in Harlem's Savoy Ballroom, where Black singers took the stage, each given their opportunity to shine. The music is performed by soloists, duos, or the ensemble. The solos allow each of the three actresses to showcase their skills and clear dialogue. Maiesha McQueen lends sunshine to the fun "Cash for Your Trash," Anastacia McClesky offers a wink of the eye to her "Keepin' Out of Mischief Now," and Allison Blackwell's "Squeeze Me" brings a splash of humor to this solo number. 

The two male actors are Arnold Harper II and Jarvis B. Manning, Jr. Again, both are equal to the quality of the female component of the cast. A plus for the guys is that their numbers tend to be much for humorous than those of the ladies. Harper is a physically large man whose, "Your Feet's Too Big," comments on his shoes in a comic style, and Manning's "The Viper's Drag" shoes off his soft-shoe dance talent. Manning's lieth stature uses every appendage of his body as soft puddy, if you can envision that.

Speaking of choreography, Jeffrey L. Page, who also serves as director for "Ain't Misbehavin' moves his cast and one pianist seamlessly on the large stage with very few accoutrements. Not until Act II does the curtain of the semi-circle backdrop open for the audience to see the band. This devise purposely made Act II even more energetic and delightful than Act I. The full ensemble, cast and musicians, recreated what must have been the scene as it replicates the real Black Harlem band of decades ago. Music Director/pianist Kwinton Gray creates a full perspective for the audience.

It's no wonder that patrons left humming one of their favorite and most memorable songs from the review.

June 21, 2022

PREVIEW: Aston Magna Music Festival

Mahaiwe, Great Barrington, MA        
by Michael J. Moran 

The mission of Aston Magna, founded in 1972, is to enrich the appreciation of music of the past and the understanding of the cultural, political, and social contexts in which it was composed and experienced. Aston Magna seeks to inter­pret the music of the past as the composer imagined it. 

On Saturday, June 25, at 7:00 pm, they will present a program entitled “The Devil Is in the Tales,” at the Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center, 14 Castle Street, Great Barrington, MA. The program will consist of two pieces: Alessandro Scarlatti’s 1706 oratorio “Humanita e Lucifero” for two voices and ensemble; and Igor Stravinsky’s 1918 theater piece “A Soldier’s Tale” for three actors and seven instruments.   

Tenor Frank Kelly
Both works feature the struggle between personifications of good and evil. Scarlatti pits the Virgin Mary against Lucifer, and Stravinsky dramatizes Satan’s Faustian bargaining for the soul of an innocent soldier. Both composers and their librettists were looking over their shoulders towards the medieval morality play, in which the existential contests between the forces of light and dark play out in stark, primary colors. 

Featured vocalists include soprano Kristen Watson, tenor Frank Kelly, and baritone David McFerrin as the Devil. A pre-concert talk will be held at 6:15 pm, with Aston Magna Artistic Director Daniel Stepner. 

Tickets may be purchased by phone at (413) 528-0100 or online at the Mahaiwe website.

June 15, 2022

Preview: Great Barrington Public Theater, Leave Your Fears Here

Great Barrington Public Theater, Great Barrington, MA
June 30-July 10, 2022

"Leave Your Fears Here" is a loving and insightful memoir written and performed by the accomplished and familiar stage and screen actor James Morrison. In a riveting performance that legendary producer Norman Lear called “An extremely moving play by an extremely moving performer,” the actor recounts his 10-year-old son Seamus’ daunting passage from brain cancer diagnosis, through treatment to ultimate recovery, and how he inspired courage and change in others, most notably his father. It’s a profound, heroic story of the power of hope leading to triumph in the darkest hours.

When catastrophic illness strikes suddenly, lives are rudderless. When their son all at once faced numerous physical disabilities and a life-threatening diagnosis, Morrison, his wife and family had to face reality and mortality while simultaneously navigating the labyrinth of 21st century life and medical processes. They and other adults found themselves transcended by their son’s courage, innate wisdom, and ability to face and accept harrowing experience with truth, strength, humor, and poetic nature.

Directed by Robert Egan, the play was incubated, developed, and first staged at the award-winning Ojai Playwrights Conference.

Actor James Morrison/Credit Zaugh Photography
Audiences will recognize James Morrison from 24, Law and Order SVU, The West Wing, Six Feet Under, and other series and movies. “It’s more than just a story about a boy who had brain cancer,” he says. “It’s about each of us walking into unknown, frightening places, realizing our untapped strengths and powers, and learning how to bring courage to life, even when the lesson is being taught by your child. Theatre is my medium, it’s where I started as an actor 50 years ago, and along with being Seamus’ father, I’ve always felt it was what I was put here to do, so it only seems natural to bring my story to the stage. If making our journey public allows one person to feel hope or gratitude as they navigate, battle, and conquer their fears, I’ve succeeded beyond measure.”

REVIEW: Hartford Symphony Orchestra, Beethoven’s Ninth

Bushnell, Belding Theater, Hartford, CT
June 10-12, 2022 
by Michael J. Moran

For the ninth and final “Masterworks” weekend of their current season, HSO Assistant Conductor Adam Boyles and the orchestra went all out with a spectacular program of two contrasting masterpieces from 1995 (Philip Glass’s “Concerto for Saxophone Quartet and Orchestra”) and 1824 (Beethoven’s “Choral” symphony). 

Few composers have written concertos for even one saxophone, so Glass’ piece featuring four of them was a rare treat, especially as exuberantly played by the Hartford-based Resurgam (“I shall rise again” in Latin) Quartet, formed at the Hartt School in 2015. The first movement was gentle and flowing, the second jazzier, with a raucous duet by soprano sax Harry Kliewe and alto sax Colette Hall, the third quietly mesmerizing, with flashy solos by tenor sax Sean Tanguay and baritone sax Michael Raposo, and the finale a whirlwind dash to the finish line.    

Their crowd-pleasing encore, the perpetual motion finale of John Mackey’s 2012 “Unquiet Spirit” saxophone quartet, was played with all the staggering “barn burner” virtuosity demanded by its American composer.    

The concert ended with a grippingly dramatic account of Beethoven’s ninth symphony. For scope of ambition, length and variety of content, and sheer grandeur of impact, this iconic work was unprecedented in its time and only challenged in the following two centuries by Gustav Mahler. The opening movement was eerie and forceful; the “Molto vivace” scherzo, visceral and relentless; the “Adagio” slow movement, radiant and enthralling; and the choral finale, which included the Hartford Chorale, prepared by their music director, Richard Coffey, and four vocal soloists, built powerfully to a thrilling close.

Baritone Sumner Thompson vividly proclaimed the recitative which introduces the chorus singing Schiller’s “Ode to Joy,” a poem Beethoven had long admired. Thompson blended beautifully in later passages with crystalline soprano Jamilyn Manning-White, lush mezzo-soprano Margaret Lias, and supple tenor Jordan Weatherston Pitts.      

With a range of dynamic gestures, Boyles drew playing of deep conviction and technical polish from all sections of the orchestra, particularly the brass and percussion members whose skills were showcased throughout the program. His evident rapport with musicians and audience alike suggests that his leadership of more HSO subscription concerts would be welcome.