Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

February 1, 2023

PREVIEW: Westfield Athenaeum, MOSSO Chamber Music Concert

MOSSO (Musicians of the Springfield Symphony Orchestra)
Westfield Athenaeum, Westfield, MA

The Westfield Athenaeum will present a three-concert chamber music series beginning Thursday, February 23, 2023 at 7:00PM with MOSSO (Musicians of the Springfield Symphony Orchestra) performing. This is the second year of this partnership with Westfield Athenaeum. A pre-performance talk starts 6PM, which is free to ticket holders.
Violinist Beth Welty, horn player Sarah Sutherland, and pianist Elizabeth Skavish will perform horn trios of Frédéric Duvernoy, Trygve Madsen, and Johannes Brahms. Beth Welty, Chair of MOSSO, is Acting Principal Second Violin of MOSSO and the Springfield Symphony Orchestra. Sarah Sutherland, MOSSO and SSO horn player, is also MOSSO’s finance director.
Champlain Trio
The series continues on Thursday, March 23, with a performance by the Vermont-based Champlain Trio, which includes MOSSO and SSO Principal Cello Emily Taubl. The Champlain Trio will perform Brilliant Colors, a program which features music by Tchaikovsky, Erik Neilsen (Trio No. 2 written for the ensemble), Jennifer Higdon, Amy Beach, and Stravinsky’s Firebird Suite. 
The series concludes on April 20, with MOSSO and SSO horn player Robert Hoyle’s quintet, the Connecticut-based Harmonia V. The quintet will celebrate April in Paris with an all-French program, featuring pieces by Barthe, Fauré, Ravel, Poulenc, Debussy, Pierné, and Lefebvre. 

January 31, 2023

REVIEW: South Windsor Cultural Arts, "Liana Paniyeva"

Evergreen Crossings Retirement Community, South Windsor, CT 
January 29, 2023 
by Michael J. Moran 

Liana Paniyeva
Although Ukrainian-born pianist Liana Paniyeva’s South Windsor program included no music written less than a century ago, her skillful choice of repertoire and the order in which she presented it made each selection sound new and fresh for contemporary audiences. 

Her opening set drew on her Slavic heritage, from a ravishingly warm Prelude, Op. 23/4, by Russian composer/pianist Sergei Rachmaninoff, and a tender folk-based “Dreaming,” by early Ukrainian master Mykola Lysenko, to two charming but rhythmically daring etudes and two attractively Scriabinesque “Poemes-Legends” by later Ukrainian composer Victor Kosenko.   

Next came an elegant account of Maurice Ravel’s 1905 “Sonatine,” with a lively opening “Modere,” a graceful “Mouvement de menuet,” and a vivid closing “Anime.” In sharp contrast was a pungent reading of Sergei Prokofiev’s five strikingly avant-garde 1914 “Sarcasms,” featuring a fiery “Tempestoso,” a harsh “Allegro rubata,” a furious “Allegro precipitato,” a turbulent “Smanioso” (“Frenzied”), and a hectic “Precipitosissimo” fading into a quiet “Andantino” close. 

Following the still cutting-edge “Sarcasms,” which could have been written yesterday, Paniyeva’s versatile treatment of Robert Schumann’s five 1839 “Carnival Scenes from Vienna” heightened their novelty, from her forceful opening “Allegro,” melancholy “Romanze,” fleet “Scherzino,” and dramatic “Intermezzo,” to her brilliantly exuberant “Finale.”

A leap forward in time brought a rhapsodic take on George Gershwin’s 1924 standard “The Man I Love,” in a knuckle-busting transcription by pianist Earl Wild, written in the spirit of 19th-century composer-pianist Franz Liszt, whose own arrangements for solo piano of two songs by Franz Schubert brought the concert to a nontraditional close: a lush, reflective 1826 “Serenade,” and a somber, even harrowing 1814 “Gretchen at the Spinning Wheel.”  

Her unassuming stage presence belied the power of Paniyeva’s nimble fingers, which didn’t hit a wrong note throughout this technically challenging program, and the unfailing sensitivity of her interpretations through such widely varied repertoire. The theater in this northern Connecticut venue offers warm acoustics and comfortable, accessible seating. 

SWCA, a nonprofit, volunteer-supported organization, has sponsored this free concert series for 40 years. All concerts take place on Sundays at 2:00 pm, and seating on a first-come, first-served basis begins a half-hour earlier. Next up is Israeli pianist Einav Yarden on February 19.

January 29, 2023

Preview: TheaterWorks, "Queen of Basel"

TheaterWorks, Hartford, CT
Feb. 3-26 and steaming Feb. 19-26

Cast members of "Queen of Basal"
TheaterWorks Hartford, under the leadership of Producing Artistic Director Rob Ruggiero, is proud to present the New England Premiere of "Queen of Basel" by Hilary Bettis. Directed by Cristina Angeles, Queen of Basel is a bold adaptation of Strindberg’s Miss Julie set within the Latinx community during Miami’s Art Basel. The production features an all Latinx cast and creative team.

It’s Miami’s Art Basel, where real estate heiress Julie reigns over the blowout her mogul father is throwing at his South Beach hotel. But after tangling with him and a tray of drinks, Julie plots her next move in the hotel’s storage kitchen with Christine, a waitress who recently fled violence in Venezuela, and Christine’s fiancé John, an Uber driver with ambitions. This explosive elixir of power, class, and race within the Latinx community examines the timelessness of love and betrayal in this bold new play.

Artistic Director Rob Ruggiero commented, “Queen of Basel" is a play that has excited me since I first read it a couple of years ago. When planning the 2022-2023 season, I felt it was essential to include a story that speaks to our Latin community. 

The cast includes Silvia Dionicio as Christine, Kelvin Grullon as John, and Christine Spang as Julie.

The running time is 80-minutes with no intermission.

Note: The play contains strong language and adult content. It is not recommended for persons under the age of 18. 

Preview: Playhouse on Park, "Indecent"

Playhouse on Park, West Hartford, CT
January 23-February 26, 2023

Photo by Meredith Longo
"Indecent" by Paula Vogel will run at Playhouse on Park for one month this winter.

This production will be directed by Kelly O’Donnell, with music direction by Alexander Sovronsky and choreography by Katie Stevinson-Nollet. The theme of "Indecent" and the other plays featured in POP's 14th season is Perseverance. This season highlights stories of fighters and survivors, to coincide with the Playhouse’s journey of persevering through the pandemic. 

Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Paula Vogel tells the explosive and deeply moving story of the controversial 1923 Broadway debut of Jewish playwright Sholem Asch’s God of Vengeance—a play about a forbidden lesbian romance that enchanted and outraged audiences. We follow the path of the artists who risked their careers in order to perform it. It actively pays tribute to the Yiddish, immigrant families, Jews, theater makers, and the women, specifically the queer women, who are erased from historical narratives. "Indecent" is a riveting backstage drama filled with music, movement, groundbreaking theater, and stage magic. 

Director Kelly O’Donnell is a theater and film director based in New York City who believes that theater can be a powerful tool for fostering peace. Kelly is returning to POP, after having directed last season. A co-founder of the critically acclaimed and nationally recognized Flux Theatre Ensemble, she has directed throughout New York City in numerous venues.

About Playhouse on Park: Managed under the direction of Playhouse Theatre Group, Inc., Playhouse on Park is Greater Hartford’s award-winning destination for the performing arts. Playhouse on Park offers a wide range of thought-provoking, inspiring and thoroughly enjoyable professional theatre productions that leave audiences often smiling, sometimes crying, and always talking about what they have just experienced. 

There will be a talk back with the cast after each Sunday matinee. COVID-19 Policy: Vaccination card checks and masks are not required. However, masks are strongly recommended. 

The Presenting Sponsor of Playhouse on Park’s 2022-23 Season is The Richard P. Garmany Fund at the Hartford Foundation for Public Giving. 

Preview: Hartford Stage, "Espejos: Clean"

Hartford Stage, Hartford, CT
January 12 - February 5, 2023

"Espejos: Clean" is a groundbreaking bilingual tour de force presented at Hartford Stage.

Two worlds collide one evening at a high-end resort in Mexico, igniting a series of misunderstandings, miscalculations, and internal reckonings. Told entirely in English and Spanish — with respective supertitles — Espejos: Clean offers an eye-opening story of unlikely and meaningful connection.

Spanish translator/adapter Paula Zelaya Cervantes has molded Christine Quintana's play to appeal to speakers and/or listeners of either language. Melissa Crespo directs. These performances are in association with Syracuse Stage.

In order for those whose first language is Spanish, accommodations include: open captioned performance on January 29 and audio described performance (in English) on February 4 at 2pm.

Preview: Exit 7 Players, "Clue"

Exit 7 Players, Ludlow, MA
February 10-12, 17-19, 2023

The classic board game is brought to life in Clue! Six guests are invited to a dinner party thrown by an anonymous host. They are given aliases -- Colonel Mustard, Mrs. White, Mr. Green, Mrs. Peacock, Professor Plum, and Miss Scarlet. Though discouraged from revealing personal information, it is soon discovered that all of them have fallen victim to the same blackmailer, they're very host of the evening. Each is presented with a weapon and an option: pay their extortionist double or kill the innocent butler. What follows is a madcap, slapstick evening full of murder, mystery, and laughs as they seek to puzzle out the culprit amongst criminals.

The director for the production is Krystle Bernier.

Understudy performance on Friday, February 17, 2023.

January 18, 2023

Review: The Bushnell, "Six"

The Bushnell, Hartford, CT
through October 22, 2023
by Shera Cohen

So many superlatives can describe the musical "Six". For example, there's: energetic, enthusiastic, and exciting. Several more positive adjectives include vibrant and colorful, literally and figuratively. However, these accolades are balanced with some that are not necessarily praiseworthy: loud, sometimes inaudible, and confusing.

"Six" is a relatively new musical based on very old history of England's Henry VIII's six wives. One memorable and funny line, in essence, asks, Who was Henry IX's wife? Henry V? Henry VI, Henry VII? They don't know or care. Ah, but Henry VIII not only topped the head count of wives at six (although two lost their heads), history buffs in the audience at the Bushnell knew the who's who, when, where they were from, and most importantly, who succeeded whom. Indeed, it's fair to assume that most seated in the theatre were up on their history books, movies, and/or PBS Specials to be familiar with these true stories.

As a teen, I was taught, "Divorced, beheaded, died, divorced, beheaded, survived." Therein lies the plot. Six actors, boisterous singers, and dynamite dancers represent the sextet. For better or for worse, only two of the women are set apart from the others. Common are non-stop boisterous voices, most as ensemble pieces, and effervescent dance numbers throughout the production.

Separate reviews on backstage points of "Six" could easily accompany this broad stroke review; i.e. the campy metallic costumes, flashing light show, and band to "beat the bands". I'm sure it's no coincidence that all musicians were female.

At no point does the audience see Henry, just the wives. Overheard at the musical's end were comments that "Six" is a feminist musical. Others used the description "inspirational". Perhaps? No steadfast stance is necessary. A take-away for me was wannabe-feminists crushed by actual history of some 500+ years ago. 

Two comments are important to the audience:
  • Assuredly, it's fun to boot 'n holler, sing-along, wave your arms, etc. Yet, think about courtesy to those seated nearby.
  • Try to give 5 or so minutes to read the 2-page bios on each queen. Included are facts and fun commentary. Catherine's interests: religion, sewing, dancing, a bit more religion. Jane's was obedience. Anna of Cleves' was staying alive.