Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

December 24, 2008

Lloyd Cole + The Lonesome Brothers

Pioneer Arts Center, Easthampton
December 20, 2008
by Eric Sutter

"Turn away, turn away, turn your blue skies to grey" is a line from "Unhappy Song" off Lloyd Cole's CD "Love Story." Tales of heartbreak and true love were performed by the English singer-songwriter who got his start in a modern rock style in the 80s and has now evolved into a literate character-driven sensitive song writer on acoustic guitar. He sang the moody ballad, "Butterfly" from a 1991 CD. Many of his songs had sad outcomes and/or a caustic dry wit, such as "No More Love Songs" and "How Wrong Can You Be?" from 2006's "Antidepressant." He followed with the perturbed "Impossible Girl" and "Young Idealists," which could be the story of folksingers from the last century.

The Lonesome Brothers peppered it up with the rockabilly vehicle "Fins on a Cadillac" from their latest CD, "The Last CD." These singers are Northampton rockers who keep on doing what the locals love best -- exciting music with lively lead guitar by ace Jim Amenti performed in an Americana style. Both Armenti and Ray Mason are keen observers of human nature with lyrics that shine playful humor on relationships and life situations. Mason's comical "You've Never Seen My Baby Drunk" brought forth dancing at PACE on this bleak night just shy of the Winter Solstice. "Amy Cincinatti" was Armenti's joyful jaunt of rock n' roll.

The banter between Armenti and Mason, as they traded songs, caused chatter in the audience which spilled out with shouts of requests of such favorites as "Swamptown Girl" and "Frozen George." Mason slowed things down with his ballad "Early in the Spring." The duo concentrated on requests like "Sure Looks Pretty," but since it was a CD release party they focused on songs from "The Last CD." The audience was treated to Armenti's Christmas song, "Country Christmas." "Pass the Wrench" was Mason's and featured a bluesy harmonica solo by drummer Tom Shea. The trio encored with the country-rock tinged "Warm Vinyl," which was a homage to vinyl records before the age of CD.

December 23, 2008

Nathan Klau - "Jersey Boys" he started in Hartford & he's back

One of the performers in the "Jersey Boys" (2/4-2/20), the story of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, is Nathan Klau. Born at Hartford Hospital, brought up in West Simsbury, educated at Yale, he will be featured at one of Connecticut's prestigious performance venues - The Bushnell. The following is a paraphrased interview with Klau.

Your playbill credit is "swing". What does that mean?

Swing is anyone and everyone onstage. I'm a standby for several roles, and never know which part I will perform from night to night. That's what makes this job exciting. Someone calls in sick; I'm there. There are 3 male swings. We are back-up, which means we have to know every aspect of the play. On any given performance, I could easily be doing something different. I am a section of a puzzle. If that piece is gone for some reason, I fill the place.

You've been in several musicals. What's special about "Jersey Boys" (JB)?

Several shows on Broadway closed this month, but not JB. It just keeps going and going on Broadway and on tour. It's a fantastic true story paired with wonderful music that touches the older generation and young people. It's vital, exciting music. Even though it's decades old, it feels new and amaging. JB tells the rags to riches story of the group, which is what most people didn't know. My introduction to JB was seeing an excerpt on the Tony Awards. I became obsessed. I had to see it. It was almost like I discovered the play, just for myself, and I had to be part of it. Frankie Valli was at my rehearsal, which was a little unnerving, and he was very supportive. Since July, 2006, I've been in the cast.

You've been on tour for the past 15 months; what is that like?

I've been in musicals since 1994. In regional theatre or national tours, it's still magical, an adrenelin rush. Being employed is a very nice thing, especially in a job that you like very much. Touring is great because the audience is different for each show. They are like a character in the the musical, especially when they sing along, which is all the time. One common thing is that the music, script, and every exciting moment onstage becomes infectious. Every audience is literally on their feet at the end, clapping and dancing.

How did you make the life journey from Hartford, to NYC, to tour the US, and back to Hartford?

My mother was an actress for many years in Hartford productions. I followed in her footsteps, literally, dancing and singing. I was in just about every musical that teenagers do. I became active in theatre at Yale, sang in the chorus, and New York was next. I majored in history, but this was my dream. My first real role was in "Anything Goes"From then on, musicals have been my bread and butter. When I visit my parents in West Simsbury, my mother and I still sing "Les Miz" as she plays the piano. Of course, I had been to the Bushnell, but February 4th will be my first time on its stage. "Oh, What a Night."

December 10, 2008

Legally Blonde the Musical

The Bushnell, Hartford
through December 14, 2008
by Rachel White

In a time where all that's seen or read on the TV or in papers are grim and depressing accounts of the troubled economy and world affairs, Legally Blonde the Musical debuts in Hartford just in time. Bringing the fabulous movie to life with peppy, fun, toe-tapping songs and wonderful 21st century humor, Legally Blonde is sure to get audiences laughing out loud from start to finish.

Elle Woods, played by Becky Gulsvig, is a sorority girl who ends up at Harvard Law after chasing her ex-boyfriend there in the hopes of proving that she is serious enough for him and win him back. Instead, she encounters a world vastly different than her California fun and sun, and has to learn that glitz, glam and fashion do not always equal happiness. Gulsvig, originally the understudy for Elle in the Broadway cast, seems born for this role. Her natural perkiness and fabulous voice captivate and command attention while on stage. Throughout Elle's journey through her first year of law school. She meets a colorful cast of characters, notably Emmitt Forrest, played by D.B. Bonds, who is not only talented, but exceptionally charming in this role. Great chemistry is obvious between Gulsvig and Bonds, which makes songs and dialog even more believable and enchanting.

Award winning director and choreographer Jerry Mitchell delivers a smash hit for Broadway audiences with this energetic and colorful tale. The cast performs beautifully and delivers this hilarious and high-paced performance that sparkles just as much as the costumes. The music and lyrics are funny and creative, sure to have audiences humming and singing well-after leaving the theatre.

Legally Blonde the Musical is a delight and breath of fresh air. The Bushnell continues to offer the latest and best with their Broadway Series and this debut is proof of that.

December 8, 2008

Dave Mason

Mahaiwe, Great Barrington
by Eric Sutter

The British born Rock 'n Roll Hall of Famer Dave Mason rocked the Mahaiwe Theater with a mix of 60s Classic Rock, 70s solo material and new songs from his latest CD, "26 Letters~12 Notes." Mason, who came into prominence in the 60s with Steve Winwood from Traffic, went on to jam with many well known rockers including Clapton and Hendrix. He lit the fuse with the opening track from his new CD with "Good 2 U" firing off stinging lead guitar and a gutsy soulful vocal delivery. He easily slipped into his sensitive side and performed the familiar 70s songcraft of "Let It Go, Let It Flow" and "We Just Disagree" on strummed acoustic. His band sparked a strong pulse of blues tinged rhythm with the Traffic songs "Fourty Thousand Headmen" and a rockin' "Dear Mr. Fantasy," which featured the hot licks of John Sambataro's lead guitar.

Mason was an image of renewed vitality, even as he wiped the sweat from his bald head Louis Armstrong-style as he launched into "Ain't Your Legs Tired Baby?" More new blues followed with the true grit of "Let Me Go" and "One Day." The well-known opening riff of Bob Dylan's "All Along the Watchtower" brought the dancing baby boomers down front as the funky rhythm section of Gerald Johnson on bass and Alvino Bennett on drums picked up on the action. The new ballad "How Do I Get to Heaven?" featured acoustic guitar interplay and singing between Mason and Sombataro. They closed with the 70s shout of joy, "Only You Know and I Know" which was a full band workout with a fluid electric guitar solo courtesy of Mason and smart keyboard work by Bill Mason. After a standing ovation, they kicked into the rock anthem written by Dave Mason, "Feelin' Alright" with an electrifying interaction of dual guitars between Mason and Sombataro... I'd give Mason the sweaty edge.

November 25, 2008

The Seafarer

Theatreworks, Hartford
through December 21, 2008
Reviewed by: Meghan Lynn Allen

It wouldn’t be Christmas if you weren’t a little depressed, but Theatreworks’production of Conor McPherson’s The Seafarer pushes the envelope with a menu of drunken Irishmen, repulsive relatives, fist fights, disgusting bodily functions, arguments, loneliness, gambling, and regret …and that’s all before Satan knocks on the door!

There are fun, light moments born out of the depression of this Dublin dwelling. Ivan (John Ahlin) is a clown of a grown man who is too drunk and foolish to find his car and glasses after an all-nighter, but is relentless in his crusade to track down one more swig of whiskey. Richard (Edmond Genest) authentically masters the art of all things revolting from self stench to toilet trouble to a boil on his, well…it has to be seen to be believed.

But at its core, the piece explores the dark tones of the human experience. Sharky (Dean Nolen) made a deal with a devil of sorts over 20 years ago that comes back to haunt him on Christmas Eve. When Sharky is forced to confront his troubled past, Nolen delivers a contained and agonizing collapse that is heartrendingly inspired. Sharky’s brother Richard (Genest) portrays a real codger of an old man who is steeped in human failure. The brothers’ dilapidated home oozes with the hopelessness that emerges from every new day being just a little bit worse and yet just barely different than the last. McPherson carves out a world of existential angst fueled by massive quantities of alcohol. Fortunately, he also provides us a flicker of hope before the curtain comes down.

Chris Genebach (Nicky) and Allen McCullough (Mr. Lockhart) round out this talented cast. Director Henry Wishcamper brings all 5 men to sad life. Take advantage of this dysfunctional Christmas gift before it’s gone on December 21st!

November 22, 2008

Arlo Guthrie

Nov. 20, 2008
Colonial Theatre, Pittsfield
by Eric Sutter

Folk troubadour and Berkshire resident Arlo Guthrie brought his Lost World Tour before a full house hometown crowd with a Rock n' Roll band which included his son Abe Guthrie on keyboards. The Colonial was an acoustically perfect fit for Guthrie's brand of folk-rockin' music. Armed with a 12-string guitar and harmonica, he strummed an early period love song, "The Chilling of the Evening" with drummer Terry a la Berry's punctuated beats keeping time. They performed a comical version of "In The Shade of the Old Apple Tree" with typical Guthrie humor throughout.

Guthrie introduced a trio of women, the Burns Sisters, who provided harmony back-up singing on "St. James Infirmary" as he played the ragtimey fingerpicking gambler's blues on his acoustic 6-string guitar. Guthrie's playing is primarily folk-based, but his use of country style flat-picking was evident on his father's song, "Do-Ri-Me" with accompaniement on fiddle by Bobby Sweet. The songs performed were representative of a large variety of styles from a rocked up version of "The Motorcycle Song" to an instrumental piece from the 90's television show, "Byrds of Paradise" in which he appeared. "Coming into Los Angeles" featured great solo keyboard work by Abe Guthrie and an extended electric guitar solo by Bobby Sweet. The first half ended with a rousing Leadbelly tune, "Alabama Bound."

Guthrie opened the second half with a pretty Hoyt Axton song, "Evangeline," and followed with a song written about Axton by Guthrie -- the whimsical "My Old Friend." He moved to piano and plunked out a boogie with "I'm Changing My Name to Fannie Mae" as well as his 1972 hit "City of New Orleans." He debuted his folk rocker "Ride until the Morning Comes" with good response. The closer was the sing-a-long, "This Land is Your Land." After a standing ovation, he performed the prayer song, "Forgiveness and Love" and his father's "My Peace," both of which received standing ovations.

November 16, 2008

At the Copa & SSO

Symphony Hall, Springfield
By Shera Cohen

Gary Mauer, solo performer with the Springfield Symphony Orchestra as back-up “band” – and what a fabulous back-up it was – did great justice to Barry Manilow in his “At the Copa” tribute. This first in the season’s SSO Pops Series staged an excellent flowing balance of the crooner’s most recognizable music. Interspersed were vignettes about the pop singer’s unexpected and slow rise to fame, fortune, and millions of female (especially) followers.

Mauer did not look, dress, or sound like Manilow. He didn’t walk the stage, run down the aisles, or work the room a la Manilow. None of these look-alike and act-alike methods was attempted. That was a good choice. Whatever listeners think of the “real McCoy,” even naysayers would agree that the voice, delivery, and staging of Manilow cannot be duplicated. So why try? Manilow does a show, with a capital “S,” and Mauer did a concert. One welcome similarity was the enunciation of the lyrics – thank you. The two presentations are decidedly different, and each man is talented in his own ballpark.

Mauer arrived with a lot of impressive credentials from Broadway and touring companies. It was no surprise that he had appeared in such mega-hits as “Phantom” and “Les Miz,” since both musicals require excellent trained voices, wide range of interpretation, and a strong hold of those long finale notes. While at times in the first part of the concert the sound system on the singer’s mic was too strong, this flaw was corrected. Mauer had his own style with a few variations in arrangements. He especially shined for the upbeat “Could It Be Magic,” thoughtful “I Made It Through the Rain,” and emotional “This One’s for You.” The latter was written as a memorial to his grandfather – not his typical love song – and in knowing this, had more depth of meaning.

Conductor Nyela Basney was fine and unobtrusive at the podium. Yet, one could not help but wonder where Kevin Rhodes was. He was missed. Mauer’s work was a sincere tribute to Barry.

November 15, 2008

Love Letters

Panache Productions, Springfield
through November 16, 2008
By Donna Bailey-Thompson

A sold-out house honored local luminaries Barbara Bernard and Seymour Frankel in Panache Production of "Love Letters," one of celebrated playwright A. R. Gurney’s most popular plays.

In this deceptively simple two-character play, Melissa (Bernard) and Andy (Frankel) sit side by side in chairs miles apart re-reading their life-long correspondence that began with cryptic notes exchanged in the second grade. On the surface, when wasp meets wasp, nothing happens; but beneath a veneer of propriety, mixed and misunderstood emotions conflict with The Establishment, a society almost as restrictive as Edith Wharton described in "The Age of Innocence." Well-behaved Andy is fascinated by Melissa’s moth-like dance with the flame. She epitomizes the poor-little-rich-girl cliché whose fairy-tale comforts are profoundly damaged. Rebellion is her defense: she shocks Andy’s button-downed facade with outbursts of reality. He rebels during a brief naval career by falling in love with a Japanese woman. Through his family’s velvet- glove pressure, Andy gives up the relationship, returns home, and resumes climbing the tradition-approved ladder.

Frankel’s Andy is calm and proper. His measured reasoning befits a Yale-educated attorney. His affection for the outwardly flighty Melissa is as constant as hers for him. During their boarding school days, Andy writes of being told he’s a diamond in the rough: "I’ll write again as soon as I’m smoother." Melissa flashes back, "Don’t let them smooth you out. I love your rough spots." Bernard’s Melissa is a cauldron of conflicting emotions but throughout, her feistiness prevails. Together, Bernard and Frankel breathe life into Melissa’s and Andy’s letters. In Andy’s words, Melissa "was the heart of my life."

Panache’s 10th season opener has paired seven other area celebrities in one-night performances, with WHYN radio personalities Kim Zachary and Dan Williams on November 16th.

Paul Taylor Dance Company

Fine Arts Center, UMass, Amherst
by Stacy Ashley

One of the world’s most renowned choreographers revived three popular classics that helped shape what contemporary dance is today. Spending six decades in dance, Paul Taylor brought his creativeness to a new audience.

Arden Court opened the evening with romantic elegance set to music by Baroque composer, William Boyce. With a background reminiscent of local artist Donna Estabrook, the dancers braided themselves within one another moving through syncopated jumps and turns, to simply walking across the stage.

As much as Arden Court was about love, Eventide was about love lost. Set to the bittersweet Suite for Viola and Orchestra and Hymn-Tune Prelude, the dancing focused on couples coming together only to be separated in the end. One of the most poignant moments came at the end when couples walked toward each other in a line, but were then pulled apart by an unseen force. The final couple reached for each other, but only in vain.

The last piece, Le Sacre Du Printemps (The Rehearsal), was quite different from the previous two, and shows off Taylor’s sense of humor. The context is a ballet company rehearsing for a detective-type ballet. There were the usual characters --The Girl, The Private Eye, The Crook, The Mistress, Henchmen and Police etc. Although it became difficult to discern the many layered plots, the dancers infused each character with real emotion. Just like a real Whodunit, there were surprises and twists that evoked shock and laughter.

With a collection of over 128 pieces, Taylor might want to consider his new audience and bring back even more!

Free Concert: U.S. Army Field Band Volunteers

Saturday, March 7th at 7pm
West Springfield Middle School
31 Middle School Drive, West Springfield

This band of professionals from Washington, DC will perform an eclectic array of music from pop to ballads, country to Broadway, not to mention a patriotic medley. While the concert is free, tickets must be obtained. Write a note requesting the number of tickets desired (up to 4) and send with a self-addressed stamped envelope to: US Army Band, West Springfield Park Department, 26 Central Street, West Springfield, MA 01089. Rain or shine, sleet or snow, the show will go on. Sponsored by: West Springfield Park & Recreation, West Springfield Department of Veterans Services, and In the Spotlight.

November 14, 2008

Bad Dates

Shakespeare & Co., Lenox
Jan. 9 - March 8

Shakespeare & Company of Lenox kicks off its first-ever winter season with the comedy "Bad Dates" starring Elizabeth Aspenlieder, who accoring to the Wall Street Journal is "one of the funniest actresses on the East Coast.”

This one-woman play presents Haley Walker, the charismatic heroine with a sharp wit and an unsinkable determination to pursue the promise of new love, even while providing for her daughter and running a business in a sometimes unforgiving city. But that doesn’t mean it’s going to be easy.

Shakes & Co.'s disarming and critically acclaimed comedic actress Elizabeth Aspenlieder stars in this hilarious Berkshire-premiere play. "Bad Dates" is performed in the new and new Elayne P. Bernstein Theatre. To purchase tickets call (413) 637-3353 or check the website at

November 11, 2008

Springfield Symphony Orchestra

Symphony Hall, Springfield
by Debra Tinkham

Springfield Symphony Orchestra's full-to-capacity house featured a bevy of rhapsodic rhythms with a diverse menagerie of fairly contemporary composers and performers. At the top of the program, with Mexican composer and violinist, Silvestra Revueltas' Sensemaya, and, at the bottom of the program was French composer Maurice Ravel's "…only masterpiece" "Bolero."

The "meat" in the middle featured German composer Paul Hindemith's "Symphonic Metamorphosis On Themes of Carl Maria Von Weber." This modern, symphonic four movement thriller featured a lovely oboe solo in the Allegro movement, as well as a purely beautiful flute solo in the (II) Turandot: Scherzo movement.

Much could be said for this musically packed evening, but if Hindemith were the peanut butter part of the program (yummy), then Sergay Rachmaninov's Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini" is the jelly. Rachmaninov and Paganini , in one sentence is a mouth full, to say the very least. Now you ask can it get better? The answer is definitively yes!

Young pianist, Aviram Reichart, an Israeli born genius, frequently performs for the leading orchestras of his country, in addition to such places as Japan, Korea, Dominican Republic, South Africa, Germany and the United States.

Paganini's variations, by themselves, are a study of virtuosic calisthenics, then along comes Rackmoninov throwing in a bunch of rather clever harmonization's, "Rack rhythms" (eccentric) and, of course the usual moodiness (borderline depression), which plagued the composer, performer and pianist most of his life. Reichart played Rackmoninov and Paganini masterfully. He was talented and emotional; serious and serene. He had a very close connection to his orchestra and a reverently respectful relationship with Maestro Kevin Rhodes.

The evening was a night of masterful music, packing more power than most lay people could or would learn in a lifetime. Bravo, SSO.

Taj Mahal

Mahaiwe, Great Barrington
by Eric Sutter

Multi-instrumentalist and musical interpreter of American folk and blues artist Taj Mahal wowed the full house audience at the Mahaiwe. His repertoire spanned from his early 70s acoustic country blues "Fishin' Blues" and "Queen Bee" to the more hip-shakin' electric blues from his later years. He gave a shout out to Springfield where he grew up. Later, he caught a soul-blues groove of musical expression early on with "Checkin' up on my Baby" and "E Z Rider." Mahal created a steamy soul sensation as he danced and called for the ladies to scream. He smiled broadly and cut into an easy rollin' blues in "You Don't Treat Me Like You Used To," which was the first song taught to him on guitar by North Carolina's Leonard Perry.

During a lull in the diversity of music, he shifted to electric piano. A fan yelled out, "Yes We Can," as Mahal's comeback resounded, "Yes We Have" and he proceeded to pound out "Blues with a Feeling." With 40 years in the recording business, his music has showed no signs of slowing down and he has incorporated different rhythms that have been assimilated into his blues style. He played an upbeat bounce boogie shuffle called "I'm Gonna Move Up to the Country and Paint my Mailbox Blue" and followed with the pretty instrumental acoustic piece "Zanzibar" from his new CD, "Maestro."

Incidentally, the singer has won two Grammys, most recently with 2000's "Shoutin' in Key" and the 1973 soundtrack to "Sounder" in which he played the role of Ike. To close the performance he played a celtic blues instrumental on banjo, which turned into an old school Mississippi chooglin' hoedown. Mahal danced his country blues banjo sound into the audience with everyone stompin' and dancing. He encored with a delicate song for 21st century lovers called "Lovin' in my Baby's Eyes," played on acoustic guitar.

November 6, 2008

Menopause the Musical

City Stage, Springfield
through November 16
By Karolina Sadowicz

“Menopause the Musical” might not sound inviting to most men, but it’s a hilarious musical romp that will make anyone laugh.

Set inside Bloomingdale’s, the show begins with four very different women caught up in one lingerie sale, discussing some of the small inconveniences and larger indignities of “The Change.” Relying on a score of well-known songs from the 60s, 70s, and 80s, “Menopause” brings new words to old tunes and muses on what the change means for women. The show’s opening number “Change of Life” is set to Aretha Franklin’s “Chain of Fools.” Though all the song reinventions are clever, the reluctant workout anthem “Puff, my God, I’m Draggin” had the audience in stitches. Whether it’s hot flashes, insomnia, libido, overeating, or antidepressants, the songs explore all the trials of menopause and aging with wit and self-deprecation, encouraging women in the audience to relate rather than feel embarrassed.

A professional woman played with attitude by Fredena Williams leads the ensemble in vocalizing symptoms and changes through music and humor. Williams is a standout singer who claims some of the show’s highest peaks. She is accompanied by the lithe Licia Watson, playing a vain but charming, aging soap, a hilariously dazed Pammie O’Bannon –as a hippie mom, and disarmingly earnest Sandy Dewoody as a wide-eyed Iowa housewife.

These four keep a lively pace through dance numbera that are equal parts sass, goofy miming, and unabashed hip shake. Minimal set changes swiftly and seamlessly take the ladies and audience to different floors and departments in the store, with the cast changing into silky pajamas for “Good Vibrations” – now a song about self-love - and into slinky black numbers for the show’s finale. The cast excel in singing and dancing together or solo, and make the most of ample opportunities for physical humor.

Making its fourth return to City Stage, “Menopause” is a fun and empowering musical for women of all ages and life stages, and a hilarious, eye-opening ride for everyone else.

October 28, 2008

Jerry & Ed

Majestic, West Springfield MA
through November 30 2008
By Donna Bailey-Thompson

Life-long friendship, mutual respect and tomfoolery, and the vicissitudes and nonsense of aging are woven into an original play that entertains while unloosing emotions – especially love.

"Jerry & Ed" has come along at the right time, a best buddy play that momentarily blocks out today’s downer news. The charm doesn’t unfold immediately because Jerry’s opening monologue is a collection of cornball one-liners that net painful groaning. But once Jerry (Steve Henderson, who also wrote the play) gets that painful shtick out of his system, the play rocks and rolls.

The plot is simple: Jerry and his life-long best friend Ed (Dick Volker) are widowers residing at the Garden Acres Retirement Community. They have walkers they don’t need; with a wink they let the audience in on the scam, "It’s an insurance thing." When their tempers flare, the walkers held at shoulder level turn the aging bad boys into antlered game who lock horns, so to speak. If their balance were better, they’d probably paw the ground.

As one memory leads to another, their adventures and misadventures are resurrected. They take us and the girls they’re courting, Margaret and Doris, to an amusement park where they hate the ferris wheel and are not thrilled with the rollercoaster. Their romancing is interrupted by World War II. During one firefight, pinned down by ordnance, Ed is injured in the leg. Even in the midst of battleground horror, their love and exasperation with one another spawns humor. When the war ends and their troop ship arrives in New York, they phone Margaret and Doris. They are battle-tested veterans, giddy with romantic longings. When their barely articulate proposals are accepted, they are euphoric.

Henderson’s Jerry and Volker’s Ed are fully developed characters. Volker’s restrained remembrance of Doris’s final illness grabs the heart. Jack Neary’s direction is sensitive to Henderson’s deceptively simple script that teems with the high drama of ordinary human beings’ basic emotions. Throughout "Jerry & Ed" a sweetness permeates. Regardless of how old and wise they get, their boyish innocence endures.

October 27, 2008


Hartford Stage, Hartford
through Nov. 16, 2008
By Bernadette Johnson

It’s not arbitrary that "Resurrection" cast members are identified in the program initially by their ages, then by the roles they play. From 10 to 60, the six male figures who bring this powerful drama to Hartford Stage are separated by decades. They share the same plight, however, lives rooted in the history of oppression of the black man, the context from which author Daniel Beaty draws so eloquently.

From 10-year-old Eric (Thuliso Dingwall) to The Bishop (Jeffery V. Thompson), a sexagenarian, there are no weak characters on this stage. Set against a single backdrop of a stylized cross, "Resurrection" tells the story of five black men and a boy who individually struggle with their collective past and personal demons all the while clinging to shared hopes and dreams, a vision that moves them beyond an “historical identity based on being property.”

The characters share the multi-level set for much of the 90-minute (no intermission) performance. Dingwall is the youngest cast member and holds his own remarkably well for a 10-year-old as a child scientist in search of a magic formula that will heal all ills. He is everyone’s hope, the future embodiment of “the better life.”

There are several powerfully moving scenes. In a tribute to black mothers who have sacrificed themselves for their sons, the litany “Dance, mama, dance” (for all the dreams you forgot) resounds, a plea increasing in intensity with each repetition. Che Ayende, as 30/Dre, recently released from prison and trying to build a new life for his “family,” his girlfriend and their baby, but seeing past mistakes catching up to him, delivers a heart-wrenching “how to be a man for you” monologue.

Not to be forgotten is 60/The Bishop, who adds a touch of humor Overeaters Anonymous style. It’s hard to know if the Amens from the front and center section were plants or spontaneous responses, but either way, they added a spark of authenticity to Thompson’s delivery.

Symbolism plays a role, as African robes yield way to tattered cloaks. Finally, although the ending seemed a bit too pat and predictable, there is great theatre here.

Big River

Goodspeed, East Haddam, CT
through Nov. 30, 2008
by Shera Cohen

Advertisements refer to “Big River” as “a slice of pure Americana.” Who was better than Mark Twain, through his most famous character Huck Finn, to simultaneously weave a tale of our county in its glory and shame?

“Big River” jam-packs most of the Huck Finn story (it was a thick book) along with 17 songs into two and a half hours. It’s a big task to accomplish this successfully. Goodspeed, known for its excellent productions of tried and true musicals as well as those fresh out of the computer, is the ideal setting for this important story. Many read Huck’s tale as a high school assignment. On the surface, Twain’s dialect is melodic and humorous which gives the tone of froth. Yet, the author – and in the case of the musical, the composer, lyricist, director, and actors – is dead serious in the subject matters of conscience, trust, humanity, and slavery.

Huck (Will Reynolds) and Jim (Russell Joel Brown) seek their own freedom. At times they are equals, yet circumstances of the 1840s make that impossible. The camaraderie between the actors/characters is obvious, particularly in the songs “River in the Rain” and the showstopper “Muddy Water.” While the lanky, curly top Reynolds portrays Huck with vim, naiveté, and a voice to accentuate his character, he seems a bit old for the role. Brown brings depth, sorrow, and his own innocence in his portrayal of the slave Jim. His only solo, “Free at Last,” shows off his pure baritone voice.

Director Rob Ruggerio, along with his crew, creates sets with minimum multi-purpose staging and maximum skillful lighting. The pit orchestra is as fine as any at Goodspeed, with the wonderful addition of The Musician (David Lutken), an ever-present figure onstage as he plays the guitar, harmonica, banjo, and zither. Tunes run the gamut, including country, gospel, ballads, and blues. The large ensemble of townsfolk, Huck’s buddies, and slaves fill the small stage with song and dance from the opening funny number “Do a Wanna Go to Heaven?” to the reprise of “Muddy Water” finale.

The Sunday matinee full house loved Twain and Huck in October, 2008 as much as readers must have loved both in 1885.

Beethoven & Beethoven

Hartford Symphony
Bushnell, Hartford
October 24-25, 2008
By Donna Bailey-Thompson

At the pre-concert half-hour talk by Music Director Edward Cumming, his anticipation of presenting two Beethoven symphonies on the same program touched off a spontaneous ultra-fast shuffle in place – while seated. He spoke of Beethoven’s "timeless quality:" His work "sounds like it could have been written just a few years ago....He sets up expectations and then surprises us." Cumming drew a comparison between Beethoven’s classical music and the classic music of Thelonious Monk and Paul McCartney: "Beethoven’s music makes as much sense to us today as the day it was written." Richard Wagner stated that if Beethoven had not written The Ninth, he could not have written his operas.

The Symphony No. 1 in C Major opened gently but within sixty seconds, Beethoven’s assertive style took command. By the third movement, Beethoven seemed to be saying, "Now just watch me fly!" as a lively hide ‘n seek of brass and strings boosted the happiness meter. A structured minuet-like dance complete with dainty steps and quick curtsies exposed the composer’s sense of humor. What a personal accomplishment! While composing this work, he knew he was losing his hearing.

Maestro Cumming had speculated about Beethoven’s thinking as he contemplated a new symphony. After building a masterpiece on four iconic notes, could he build a new symphony on only two? He composed his wondrous gift, the awe-inspiring Symphony No. 9 in D Minor much like a dedicated writer constructs a major novel – experimenting with ideas, discarding some, rewriting others, letting the manuscript rest, returning to rework. Finally, the audience after hearing teaser fragments of the celebrated melody, the bass fiddles played the heavenly air known around the world. The uncounted variations did not slake the thirst for more. (Oh, please Mr. Cumming – Sam – play it again.) With the forceful artistry of The Hartford Chorale and four soloists (soprano Elona Ceno, mezzo-soprano Ela Zingerevich, tenor Tadeusz Szlenkier, and baritone Anton Belov), the Ode to Joy permeated sinew and soul.

October 17, 2008

Morning's At Seven

Suffield Players, Suffield, CT
through October 25, 2008
By Donna Bailey-Thompson

This love of a comedic drama shows off the ensemble acting skills of the venerable Suffield Players. Nine experienced actors extract every drop of humor from characters created by the honored playwright Paul Osborn ("On Borrowed Time").

In 1932, unless you were a daredevil, day-to-day domestic life was light years slower than now. Not everyone, even in cities, had telephones, and radio programming was in its infancy. Especially in small towns, family life – its joys and vicissitudes – was the anchor from which feelings flowed.

Homer Bolton (Stephen Grout) brings Myrtle (Karen Balaska) his fiancée of seven years home to meet his family. His aunts are all atwitter: Cora (Cynthia Lee Andersen), Arry (Jane H. Maulucci), Esther (Kelly Seip), but the fourth sister (Ida) is his mother, and she’s not sure Homer is ready for marriage. Cora’s husband, Thor (Bruce Showalter) is philosophical; Esther’s husband, David (Dana T. Ring) is supercilious, and Homer’s father, Carl (Konrad Rogowski) is having one of his spells: he sags, stares at nothing, rubs his forearm, and exudes a tragic air that would do Eugene O’Neill proud. "What’s it all about? Where am I in life?" The idea that the son might inherit his father’s malaise is dismissed. "Homer’s too lazy to have a spell. He doesn’t have the gumption."

The costuming by Dawn McKay is time perfect. The sisters wear ankle socks. The fiancée is appropriately up tight in a button down the front shirt dress that sports crocheted collar and cuffs. When David commiserates with Carl, their haphazard garb suggests a vaudeville team. Suffield’s theater, Mapleton Hall, boasts an elastic stage: its dimensions may be small but clever set designs (this time, Rogowski’s) accommodate the impossible: two backyards of two houses.

Director Rayah Martin has opted to quickly acknowledge reality before spraying the well-written script with laughing gas. Three acts cover high, infectious drama from afternoon until almost noon the following day. The audience responds with laughter, chortles, giggles, guffaws, and when needing to catch their breath, they simply smile.

October 15, 2008

Sweeney Todd

The Bushnell, Hartford
through Oct. 15, 2008
By Meghan Lynn Allen

Ominous from the start, The Bushnell lives up to the gory task of bringing Sondheim’s musical tale of revenge to life, or rather, to death. It begins abruptly with Tobias (the insanely talented Chris Marchant) in a dim pool of light bound and gagged, setting the tone of the bleakness and bizarre. As Tobias softly and eerily utters the first few notes into the starkness, we are instantly drawn into Sweeney’s world. Supported by Musical Director/Conductor David Fiorello, the cast succeeds in the spectacle that is Sweeney Todd.

The production gives a fresh take on the performance you may remember from 1979’s original Broadway cast. There is no orchestra pit. Watch in awe as cast members double as musicians, playing multiple instruments on stage. Pirelli (Ruthie Ann Miles) impresses with her talent on flute, keyboard, and accordion. Beggar Woman (Patty Lohr) provides a brilliant, disturbing performance plays an outstanding clarinet. There is another huge difference: minimalism. A hat depicts a dead body, a plate represents an entire pie shop, a bucket of blood symbolizes a murder. Jarring at first, you are soon charmed by this clever construction. This production also pushes the boundaries of the audience imagination with non-traditional casting such as a raven-haired Johanna (the hauntingly sweet Wendy Muir) and a female Pirelli (the diminutive but fiery Miles).

Even Sweeney Todd (Merritt David Janes) is not what you might expect. At first glance, he seems not maniacal and unkempt, but handsome and strong, though obviously darkly living in misery. Janes shrewdly reveals the madness that is Sweeney Todd one little piece at a time. Mrs. Lovett (Carrie Cimma) breathes life into an atmosphere of death, providing comic relief that the audience desperately needs. In addition to her magnificent voice, amusing antics, and delightful sense of comic timing, she plays the tuba, orchestra bells, and percussion throughout the show. The audience is in for a sweet treat when Cimma and Marchant tenderly come together in “Not While I’m Around.”

Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street is a true ensemble piece that will repulse and thrill.

The Cello, Springfield Symphony

Symphony Hall, Springfield, MA
October 11, 2008
by Debra Tinkham

The continuing celebration of the 65th anniversary of the Springfield Symphony Orchestra began with American conductor Kevin Rhodes, with a full to capacity performance.

First, of course, it is a delight when the lovely and talented Masako Yanagita, Concertmaster, enters to finely tune the orchestra. Once completed, the program begins with a night of "The Elegant Cello." First up is Johannes Brahms' Tragic Overture, Op. 81, which Rhodes describes as, "…an absolutely perfect single movement symphony in traditional 19th century harmonic language," followed by Edward Elgar's Cello, Concerto in E minor, Op. 85, (four movements) featuring the illustrious talent of Matt Haimovitz, and finally, Jean Sibelius' Symphony No. 2 in D Major, Op.43.

For the sake of brevity let's fast forward to Elgar's Cello Concerto with Maestro Haimovitz (cellist). The performance would give any person chills on a Texas-high-humidity day. This was a "one heartbeat, playful, extremely talented, amazing camaraderie between Haimovitz, orchestra and Rhodes performance."

Not intending to be name-dropping, but Haimovitz has studied with many talented talents, including Yo-Yo Ma. (Oh, Mr. Ma, we miss you at Tanglewood!) One of the many talents so likeable about Haimovitz is that he has a Tibetan spaniel named Shoko. Okay, enough of the trivial.

Elgar wrote the Cello Concerto (in E minor) in 1919, and this was his last grand musical attempt because of his bewildered take on the WWI situation. Sometimes referred to as the "War Requiem," which is flawed, he considered it a loss of life. Elgar wanted the cello to dominate this number, but he flawlessly placed both orchesta and cellist center stage. Both played crucial rolls in revealing a cacophony of emotions -- no dissonance intended. Rhodes, Haimovitz, SSO performed splendidly.

October 6, 2008

Bernice Lewis and Dar Williams

Mahaiwe, Great Barrington
October 3, 2008

by Eric Sutter

What a pleasant evening of fine melodic music was had in a quaint theatre nestled in the Berkshire Hills. In addition to the wonderful music, the setting offered peak foliage colors. The audience was revved up for both regional singer/songwriters. Bernice Lewis opened a capella with "Where the Rivers have No Name." This songwriting teacher from Williams College sang from a powerful women's perspective asking, "Where Did Our Country Go?" Her humor was evident with "Normal Is Just a Setting on a Washing Machine" while her acoustic guitar and voice worked wonders on the final song, "Somewhere Between Religion and Release."

The much anticipated appearance of Dar Williams brought a passionate response to the singer and what she stands for: i.e. a long-held connection to social and environmental issues that ring true to our collective human conscience. She began the evening with "Calling the Moon" from her 2000 CD "The Green World." Her refreshing folk pop was delivered in a clear sweet voiced, but witty and conversational style, that revealed universal truths in a confessional manner. She told interesting stories in relationship songs like "The Easy Way" and "The Promised Land." Williams; intelligent and thought-provoking lyrics fostered human connections in "The Babysitter's Here" and "The Beauty of the Rain." The toe-tapping folk-rocker hit about change, "It's Alright," buzzed the audience.

The singer's acoustic guitar was a delight on "Holly Tree" and the lyrics of "Christians and Pagans" were well received. She shifted to a gentle and resonant mode with the close to home, "The Hudson," -- where she resides in New York. "Mercy of the Fallen" was a favorite sing-a-long. She encored with "When I as a Boy" from her debut CD of 14 years ago. Her remembrances had a magical child-like Peter Pan memory and effect.

October 3, 2008

The Canterville Ghost

Shakespeare & Co., Lenox
through November 9, 2008

By Donna Bailey-Thompson

The front page of "The Canterville Ghost" program states: "Adapted by Irina Brook and Anna Brownsted with the Ensemble from the story by Oscar Wilde." Well, the play is wild and who knows? Oscar may generate enough spin within his grave to haunt this interpretation. If so, Michael Hammond may continue as a cartoonish Canterbury ghost and double as an elegant ghostly Wilde.

This contrived production defies categorizing. There’s satire and farce and slapstick, and madcap comedy. There’s also shtik. Lots of shtik.

A too-rich Texas family defies a realtor’s warning about the Canterville castle being haunted and buys the place. Immediately after moving in, something possesses them to line dance to Achey Breaky Heart. They frustrate the ghost’s efforts to frighten them off. They reincarnate backwards a generation or so where, thank goodness, they’re no longer vulgar high rollers but proper English relatives of the notorious ghost. The pathetic, lost soul sadness of Sir Simon de Canterville (as depicted in Wilde’s original story) is ultimately revealed. He longs to be loved (and forgiven for murdering his wife three centuries earlier) because he knows that love is stronger than death. The pure love of the young Texas daughter, Virginia (winningly played by Alyssa Hughlett) brings Sir Simon the release he craves – a tender scene that uses Wilde’s words, devoid of embellishment, played by Hammond with appropriate sensitivity. Portraying the Texas parents with gusto are Dana Harrison as the wife, Michael F. Toomey as her husband, and Alexandra Lincoln as their other child.

There are speedy scene shifts and equally fast costume changes (all excellent, thanks to costume designer Shelby Rodger). Set Designer Katy Monthei’s secret doors, Tina Louise Jones’ lighting designs, Michael Pfeiffer’s weird sounds, and Ian Guzzone’s multiple props inject authenticity into the mayhem.

September 29, 2008

Springfield Symphony Orchestra

Bernstein, Gershwin, Prokofiev
Springfield Symphony Hall
September 27, 2008
By Donna Bailey-Thompson

From the beginning – our "National Anthem" – through Bernstein, Gershwin, and Prokofiev, the Springfield Symphony Orchestra under the energetic direction of Kevin Rhodes never sounded better. It’s an open secret, indeed one to brag about, that Rhodes has continuously raised the bar and the musicians continue to meet the challenge. Rhodes’ enthusiasm energizes musicians and audiences alike. The payoff is a maturing orchestral cohesiveness of which Springfield is rightly proud.

Maybe every concert should open with Leonard Bernstein’s "Overture to Candide". Such a happy score! Boisterous! Bam! Boom! Bam! The orchestra went a mile a minute, lifting spirits as well as memories of the youthful Bernstein on Omnibus, sharing his love and knowledge of music with uncounted millions.

Those who attended the pre-concert talk had already met guest soloist Norman Krieger and learned that when as a boy of seven he attended a Hollywood Bowl concert, music became his passion. Now a seasoned performer, his technique is embedded deep within his being. Perhaps he’s honored as a musician’s musician. Such seemed to be true during George Gershwin’s "Concerto in F for Piano and Orchestra": eschewing flamboyant pyrotechnics at the piano, he became an integral part of the orchestra.. From its beginning, the Concerto demanded attention. Kettle drums, jazzy rhythm. Flights of fancy morphed into the blues of a wailing trumpet; there was a conversation with the piano. Then a new rhythm made dancing feet itch. The climax was a booming end.

The opening movement of Prokofiev’s "Symphony No. 5 in B Flat Major" was busy yet languid, ideal music for black swans, heavy with percussion, ponderous, an appropriate complement for the ongoing financial deliberations in Washington. With the second movement, it was as if a system was purged and a race was on. All the strings were plucked simultaneously. There was a brass frenzy. An abrupt ending stunned the audience. Within the third, the mood became lugubrious, writhing pain, churning souls. Then with the final movement, storm clouds dissipated and wholesomeness was resurrected. The thunderous finale released an outpouring of applause. The celebration of the SSO’s 65th year and the 2008-2009 season were launched.

September 27, 2008

Hartford Symphony & Joshua Bell

Bushnell, Hartford
September 24, 2008
By Donna Bailey-Thompson

Expectations that the Hartford Symphony Orchestra’s 2008-09 opening concert and 65th birthday celebration would be a gala affair were exceeded by the musicians under the direction of Edward Cumming and the virtuoso performances by the acclaimed violinist Joshua Bell and an exciting newcomer, organist Christopher Houlihan.

Rossini’s deceptively simple "Overture to The Thieving Magpie" was delightful from the opening snare drumming through sprightly dances, an arresting crescendo, and concluding with a rouser-douser finale. Dvorak’s "Carnival Overture" devoked introspection and exuberant emotions and expansive congeniality culminating in a lively conclusion.

The two overtures were the bookends for the "Toccata Festiva for Organ and Orchestra" by Samuel Barber. The Austin concert organ, a massive cube, was wheeled into place and plugged in. The soloist, Houlihan, age 20, a senior at Hartford’s Trinity College, preceded Maestro Cumming across the stage, walking to the hulking organ as if he were about to reunite with a good friend. Well, they are. The organ responded to his friend’s every wish regardless of location – tiered keys, pedals, pulls. A one-man orchestra in perpetual motion. A pedal solo, black shoes flashing with the speed of fingers. Stunning. Standing ovation. Self-named "Houli-Fans" cheered. The encore reinforced the authenticity of the audience’s enthusiasm.

Following intermission, Joshua Bell stood at stage center, touched his bow to his 300-year-old Stradivarius violin and fused with Tchaikovsky’s "Concerto for Violin and Orchestra in D Major." Bell’s mastery made the familiar new; the combination of artist and composer generated pure bliss. The birds Bell has charmed out of the trees live within his violin. He propelled their gossamer song to its highest note where it turned into mist. Yet bowing into the lower depths conjured a cello’s rich mellowness. His rapid tapping with the bow was a gentle metronome, not a tempo to intimidate. Following a standing ovation and four curtain calls, he pleasured his admirers with a selection from "The Red Violin." More curtain calls. Now only 41, he’s a violinist for the ages.

September 24, 2008

Indigo Girls

Mahaiwe, Great Barrington
September 21, 2008
By Donna Bailey-Thompson

From the moment Australian Missy Higgins, acoustical guitar in hand, greeted the audience with a smile and "G'day!" her opening act could do no wrong. She sang, strummed, scurrying fingers across a keyboard or pausing to bang out a succession of pay-attention chords. Her clear, no-nonsense voice sang with the fervor of her age – 25 – and of her beliefs in love, betrayal, anger, and dismay. Already an award-winning success in Australia, she spoke of temporarily relocating in Los Angeles – the center of the music business – slowly building her profile, through touring and writing songs for selected film scenes. An old poster advertising "Gone With The Wind" caught her fancy, especially the "cheekiness" of Vivien Leigh (Scarlet) and the sensuality of Clark Gable (Rhett) locked in a passionate embrace which inspired the writing of "Angela" and the repeated phrase, "You’re a danger he’s addicted to." Toss in "Scar,"and Missy’s profile jumped.

The hoots and hollers burst forth when the reasons for the sold-out house appeared – dark Emily Saliers and blonde Amy Ray, the musically electrifying and compelling Indigo Girls. For more than 20 years, they have built a legion of followers who adore them and their blend of folk rock – and whatever embellishments and surprises they incorporate. The fans know all the lyrics and sing along continuously. Occasionally when Emily stepped away from her mike, a row of white lights strung across the proscenium arch shone into the audience, illuminating the dedicated choir, their singing in sync with The Girls. Excitement surged whenever Emily got into the music, knees bent, jamming. Amy focused, serene. Emily into another plane. Wild shouts from fans dancing in place. "The Power of Two." Yes! Then, "I was waiting for me."... "I’m all washed up when Poseidon has his day."... "Land of Canaan" and the screaming and whooping hit higher decimals.

Emily Saliers has said, "Creating harmonies with someone is magical; it’s a whole other side of performing." Amy Ray has reaffirmed the principle that drives the Indigo Girls: "It’s all about living in the moment...and trying to make it better than the moment that came before," a comment in tune with the beautifully restored Mahaiwe.

September 22, 2008

The Goodbye Girl

Exit 7 Players, Ludlow
through October 4, 2008
By Donna Bailey-Thompson

Say a huge hello to "The Goodbye Girl" a musical, that hits all the right notes – story, director, choreographer, cast – another outstanding Exit 7 Players production.

From the rousing opening number filled with expectations about moving from Manhattan to Los Angeles, the mood plummets when single mother Paula (Lea Oppedisano) discovers that Tony, her actor boyfriend, has dumped her in favor of a role in Spain. Her daughter Lucy, a precocious 10 (Emma Henderson), stoically accepts this latest downer. Paula vows, "No more!" and is determined to resume her career as a dancer. At a rehearsal studio with dancers who know the routine, she demonstrates she’s not only out of shape but rusty. The intricate number, "A Beat Behind," is cleverly choreographed by Todd Santa Maria.

In the middle of the night, a deadbolted door prevents a stranger, with a key, from entering the apartment. Elliot (Nate Luscombe) has bought out Tony’s lease. Paula dictates the house rules. Elliot, armed with the lease, pulls rank and imposes new rules. Wide-eyed Lucy misses nothing. Elliot is an actor who has been lured from Chicago to star in "Richard III" at a theater so far off Broadway, it’s off the sanity map. Its director, Mark (Jim Coulter) wants Elliot to play the king like a queen who wants to be king. That sequence brings down the house. Still to come is Act II.

Originally a movie written by Neil Simon, based upon the life of his then-wife Marsha Mason who played the title role, the musical version opened on Broadway in 1993. Simon’s craftsmanship endures but, thankfully, the wisecracks are minimized. The voices of Paula, Elliot, Lucy, and the landlady Mrs. Crosby (Christine Kasparian) have the Broadway-like zing of professional training.

This "Goodbye Girl" is edgy, at times hysterically outrageous, yet tender and sweet, especially the individual scenes Paula and Elliot have with Lucy: Emma Henderson is a little girl with big talent and the poise of an adult pro. She listens. This is a polished production – nine musicians, a stylish set design, and a crew with no wasted motions. Director Dan Derby, take a bow.

September 19, 2008

Artist Linda Post

Major Exhibit, Northampton
through Nov. 14, 2008

How Linda Post, co-founder of the unbelievable successful biannual Paradise City Crafts Show, balances the work of that impressive job with her other full time career as a painter is a question only she can answer. However, a major first exhibition of her work, titled “Balancing Acts,” is on view at R. Michelson Galleries, Northampton. Pieces in oil, pastel, gesso, triptych, and monotype mount the walls through November 14. Why balancing acts? Post’s art explores the cusp of adolescence – the space between childhood and adulthood.

Balancing Act by Linda Post
Post says of her own work, “Many of my paintings take place at twilight or dawn – the most ambiguous times of day…it is figurative with a distinct psychological edge.” And yet another balancing act of time and nature.

Prior exhibits throughout New England and New York include the Rose Art Museum and the Newport Art Museum as well as painting covers of Gettysburg Review and Return of the Great Goddess.

September 8, 2008

A Midsummer Night’s Dream

Hartford Stage
through October 5
By Bernadette Johnson

“Up and down, up and down, I will lead them up and down.” What the mischievous Puck has planned for Shakespeare’s crisscrossed lovers is a mere fragment of the merry chase Shakespeare leads us on in this, his great dream play. He offers us not merely a dream, but dreams intersecting with reality, fairies, sprites, forest creatures, and a play within a play.

It’s all very simple? Hermia loves Lysander, but must marry Demetrius, her father’s choice. Helena loves Demetrius, but he is smitten with Hermia. Hermia and Lysander plan to escape through the forest, but not before Hermia tells Helena, who tells Demetrius. The four head for the forest as does a troupe of would-be actors (a company of misfits) rehearsing a play for the Duke of Athens’ wedding. Add a magic love potion, a vengeful fairy king, mistaken identities, masks and transformations, and you get the picture.

Director Lisa Peterson has updated the production. We are “lost in the fifties” and love the reminders. Despite its simplicity, Rachel Hauck’s set is intricate and ingenious and transforms readily from town to forest. Interestingly, Hauck chose to retain a single window casement throughout. Puzzling at first, it becomes a constant reminder that all is not as it seems.

Of all the delightful creatures that roam the forest, two in particular stand out. Hartford Stage newcomer Susannah Flood as Helena definitely steals the spotlight as the woman scorned. “Not made to woo,” she nevertheless stoops to just about anything to further her cause, including her hilarious “I am your spaniel” tail-wagging declaration of love, delivered on all-fours. Lucas Caleb Rooney is top-notch as Bottom the Weaver. His John Wayne imitation and his “ass-inine” song are priceless.

Paul James Pendergast’s original score lends a fairytale atmosphere, evoking a dreamlike state, convincing us to “let the magic take us away.” And it does.

The Miracle Worker

Majestic, West Springfield
through 10/12/08
By Shera Cohen

The staging is the first clue that the Majestic’s opening play, “The Miracle Worker,” launches a wonderful professional 2008/09 season. Set designer Greg Trochlil and lighting designer Daniel Rist arrange multiple areas, representing indoors and outdoors, clearly defined by outlines of wooden panels and variations of spotlights.

The high caliber of the play continues from the very first words spoken to final words of Helen Keller fingered in the hand of her teacher Annie Sullivan. Playwright William Gibson’s dialogue is exquisite as he initially hints at the potential of each character, and then proves it. Just as Gibson depends on choosing the right words, the plot is about words and language. Communication is the crux of the play – without it, the human spirit is locked. Helen and Annie’s story is real, and playgoers know its beginning, middle, and end. Yet, seeing it often never seems to be too often.

Zoya Kachadurian skillfully directs her cast of 14 (including some adorable children) in a well-paced natural clip. The flow is seamless, especially when moving in and out of flashbacks. There are no weak actors. Marianna Bassham (Helen’s mother) portrays a gentile Southern lady with a backbone when it comes to her child. Eric Love (father) could have easily phoned in his performance as one-dimensional, but this was far from the case. Dan Whelton (brother) shows the clear growth of his character’s inner self.

Wherever did the Majestic staff find Brittany Andrea? Actually, the answer isn’t important. What is pertinent is that she is a must-see young actress who is only in town for one month in the physically and emotionally demanding role of Helen. She balances relentless frustration with naïve awakening. Andrea is Helen.

The play is truly the story of Annie Sullivan, who was the miracle worker. Jen Schwaber gives Annie a dichotomy of forthrightness and doubt, strength and vulnerability, courage and bravado, humor and drama. Her battles with Andrea call for shear stamina, and perhaps accepting some bruises throughout the play’s run. Schwaber is an actress who easily meets the many challenges of Annie.

While at the Majestic, note the beautiful paintings by Willie Ross School for the Deaf students which are on display throughout the run of this play.

September 5, 2008


The Bushnell, Hartford
through 9/7/08
By Shera Cohen

There’s one really big thing wrong about “Spamalot” at the Bushnell – only five performances. Given that one fault, audiences have no choice but to fill the seats immediately and to the rafters to experience one of the most outrageous, creative, and funniest musicals ever.

To have remembered and enjoyed the Monty Python series or movies means instant love of “Spamalot,” because it’s more of the same along with music and funky lyrics, cartoon-like sets, costumes from every century (who cares if this is supposedly the Middle Ages), cheeky special effects, and this time it’s all in fabulous Technicolor. Nothing is off-limits – sex, politics, death, or religion. The monk and nun sensual dance is a hoot. To have never seen Python makes little difference. Audiences need only bring open minds, funny bones, and expectations of exaggeration and camp to thoroughly enjoy the play, at least enough to see it once a year.

The story is that of King Arthur, his knights, the Lady of the Lake, and search for the Holy Grail. Ahh, sounds familiar, from books of old. From that basic plot are twists and turns to Casino Camelot, “a very expensive forest,” and Broadway. Blatantly hysterical running jokes are poked at many musicals: i.e. “Fiddler,” “West Side Story,” “Singin’ in the Rain,” “Les Miz,” and “Phantom.” The knights especially like Mel Brooks and especially dislike Sondheim and Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber.

The actors are constant hams, which could give the expectation that the singing skills might not be equal to the shtick. Wrong. There are some wonderful strong voices, in particular Christopher Sutton at Prince Herbert doing a lovely falsetto. Except for those playing Arthur and Lady, all of the actors have at least three roles each. It wasn’t until after the standing ovation to boisterous audience cheers that this reviewer had time to read the playbill. Two of the best acted characters are Sir Lancelot and The French Taunter. What do you know – Patrick Heusinger portrays both.

Ending with an audience sing-along to a reprised “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life,” it is clear that “Spamalot” shines bright.

August 30, 2008

"Eleanor: Her Secret Journey"

Berkshire Theatre, Stockbridge>
through November 9
By K. J. Rogowski

Berkshire Theatre Festival's production of "Eleanor: Her Secret Journey" is a one woman show of power, passion and change, that documents her reflections on the early years with yet to be president, Franklin. Equally important is a look at her personal observations on both world and intimate personal events that were to shape her future from 1945 on.

Elizabeth Norment's skill as an actor captures the panorama of that world stage as she plays Eleanor, Franklin, and a cast of others notables, as they discuss, debate and sort out the morals, mania and politics of world powers and family domination. Here, she faces the challenges of dealing with an unfaithful husband, a manipulative mother-in-law, the senseless inhumanity of man at war, and the strange, seductive power that each possesses. Through her journey, Eleanor strips away the grandeur and the public face of war, and those who manipulate that machine, and shows, instead, the back story, the human frailty that actually drives world events. She humanizes the inhumane, and reduces it to its most basic components. She reveals the personal quirks and idiosyncrasies of the great and near great, and casts a light on the personal toll of being a public figure, that the public sometimes thinks it owns.

Norment does all this with humor, passion and vulnerability, that make the view into the lives of these very public figures a true journey of little-known human struggles. Stephen Temperley's direction keeps the action smooth, uncomplicated, and focused on the message, as does the simple, yet elegant, set design. The use of lighting shifts and occasional sound effects to set the tone and to punctuate the changing emotions of Eleanor's pilgrimage are also nicely played. For an evening of drama, humor and humanity, Eleanor's journey is well worth the trip.

August 28, 2008

Toby Lightman & Marc Cohn

Colonial Theater, Pittsfield
August 28, 2008
by Eric Sutter

Sometimes a reviewer gets lucky to hear two phenomenal aritsts on the same bill. Such was the case with the performance by acoustic guitarist Toby Lightman and singer/songwriter Marc Cohn at the Colonial Theater. Lightman shined as she played her acoustic guitar and sang a short set of original relationship songs with a gutsy delivery. The songs "Fair Weather Boyfriend" and "Milk and Honey" expressed different emotions from opposite viewpoints. She covered Carole King's "I Feel the Earth Move" with uncanny perception of the original. She closed with her upbeat sing-a-long "Love is All Around," while the audience joined in on the chorus.

Singer/songwriter extraodinaire Marc Cohn appeared with his band and showed why he was chosen Best New Artist of 1991 when he debuted. Proficient on piano and guitar, he began this evening on piano with "Live Out the String," which is a song he wrote after being caught in the crossfire of a stray bullet. He lived and sang with a deep abiding joy from the vestige of his ordeal. His excellent CD from 2007, "Join the Parade," is his testimony. He performed other notable songs from the CD such as "The Calling (Charlie Christian Tune) and the tribute to the New Orleans Katrina disaster, "Dance Back From the Grave." "Listening to Levon" was his ode to young love in his father's blue Valiant that name dropped songs from Levon Helm and the Band. His voice was very soulful on "Lay Your Healing Hands on Me." He told a story of a chance encounter with a 70-year-old black pianist/singer named Muriel Davis Wilkins who inspired the song that launched his career -- Walking in Memphis" was staged with gospel fervor by Cohn and bandmates and dedicated to Wilkins. Cohn's lead guitarist Shane Fontayne tingled the audience's senses with his solos as Cohn emptied his heart and soul in voice.

"Miles Away" was a vexed mid-tempo rocker that featured Shane Fontayne's ringing acoustic guitar and wailed harmonica playing. Cohn offered a nice piano ballad in "Silver Thunderbird" and countered with a rockin' "Let Me Be Your Witness." By this time he gave his audience a gift of two encores, ending with "True Companion," which received a standing ovation. A true talent with words of wisdom, Cohn gave it his all to a very appreciative audience.

August 25, 2008

Noel Coward in Two Keys

Berkshire Theatre, Stockbridge
through August 31
By Shera Cohen

Long before “Private Lives” and “Blithe Spirit” Noel Coward wrote two one-act plays which very few people have ever heard of, let alone seen. Berkshire Theatre mounted these together as their mainstage final play of the season. A substitute for the previously scheduled “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf,” this reviewer had low expectations. Coward’s pithy British wit could not compare with the drama with a capital “D” of “Woolf.” Having experienced the plays, however, the comparison was as unfair as the proverbial apples and oranges. This was, surprisingly, an entertaining evening of theatre.

The concept of the plays was unique as common denominators linked the two; i.e. the same actors, setting, director, and stage crew. It’s an audience’s dream come true – to see three actors portray completely different characters in back-to-back plays with only a 15-minute intermission in the middle. Since play #1 was a comedy and #2 was a drama (yes, Coward wrote something serious), the actors were forced to use opposite sides of their brains, so to speak, in developing their roles. This was, assuredly, not an easy task, even for the best of thespians.

Maureen Anderman essentially played the same character. The actress would have shined in Coward’s later plays (a perfect Elvira in “Blithe Spirit,” for example), but was a bit too affected in these one-acts. Casey Biggs (the husband in each scenario) was type-cast as an unhappy, quick to cheat man which he took on with workmanlike skill. His challenge was in play #2 as a man with a title, fame, and a secret – this he did quite well, as the audience saw his pain and bravado. Mia Dillon created a loud rich American visiting Europe and later a demure and smart post-World War II escapee. Dillon was extremely talented in both roles – first an in-your-face boar, and second a stand-by-your-man lovely lady. Of the three actors, her roles called for the broadest stretch and Dillon was keenly able.

August 24, 2008

Goatwoman of Corvis County

Shakespeare & Co., Lenox
through August 31
By Shera Cohen

It’s not every day that an audience member has the opportunity to see the world premiere of a play which is also the first play in a new venue. This was the case with “The Goatwoman of Corvis County” at Shakespeare & Company’s Bernstein Theatre.

This play, which was one of the semi-staged readings at the end of Shakes & Co.’s last season, was brought to life as a full-blown production. [September 1st marks the full-day of this year’s readings.]

“Goatwoman” has a strange title, indeed. Its characters and plot are equally as strange and quirky. Charlotte, a healer of goats, is a five-time married woman who has huge difficulties healing her own life. Keira Naughton commands the stage in nearly every scene. This young actress, who also starred this season at Berkshire Theatre Festival’s “The Book Club,” is both strong and subtle in her performances. Charlotte is a mentally sick woman, and Naughton portrays her perfectly – as if we (the audience) are eavesdropping into her life.

Charlotte’s husband is a brute with a low IQ, yet he is smart enough to know that his wife could get him into trouble. Thomas Kee nicely creates a wise-guy Randy who no one would possibly like, let alone love. David Rosenblatt (Charlotte’s son) and Daniel Berger-Jones (an attorney) don’t have a lot to do, but are effective as foils in fleshing out the characters of Charlotte and Randy.

Kudos to set designer Susan Zeeman Rogers, who brought the audience immediately into the story. Through smells and sounds, even from the lobby and rounding the corner into the theatre, it was obvious to theatre-goers that every detail had been attended to. The working kitchen, garage, patio, and secret room clearly defined the parameters of the story and its characters. Seamlessly segued in were many flashbacks arranged by director Robert Walsh.

The playwright, Christine Whitley, attended the performance. She is so young, and she is so talented. Watch for her name in the future.

August 23, 2008

Trey McIntrye Project

Jacob's Pillow, Becket
August 23
by Colleen Moynihan

What makes an artistic endeavor great, enjoyable or memorable? In dance is it the choreography, the personality of the dancers, the marriage of music, form and energy? Jacob's Pillow ended its 2008 season with a new dance ensemble, the Trey McIntrye Project, that absolutely delighted the audience on every level.

Artistic director/choreographer McIntrye has been recognized as an innovative choreographer since 1989. His troupe combines the discipline of classical ballet and the energy of modern dance.

The program opened with a quiet, tender piece, "Surrender," a world premiere. The dancers captured the audience with an engaging interpretation of 60's music by Carole King and John Lennon interspersed with Tschaikovsky's "Dance of the Mirlitons". It was easy to follow, pleasant to view; athletic but simple.

Another premiere, "Leatherwing Bat," featured John Michael Schert, the image of American youth. His ability to move in space around the other dancers while containing himself without any rigidity was compelling to watch and added depth to the story.

The unique style of the Project lies in its use of intricate interlocking body movements that lead to subtle interpretations of space -- vertical, horizontal or within the personal realm of self. Their closing piece demonstrated this skill by seamlessly combining the elements of classical ballet and modern dance. Four women were on point; four men executed their roles in vibrant modern dance tradition. The result was a mix of physical dynamism and restraint that was elegant, energetic, playful and sensuous. Dvorak's "Serenade in E, Op22" sounded ever so sublime augmented by the visual interpretation of the dancers, also providing a rollicking background to the ensemble's effective play on form through body movement and varying spatial effects.

The troupe's strength is in its modern dance elements: athletic energy and control. The classical ballet movements are safe and correct but lack the stretch, height or stamina associated with electrifying ballet. McIntrye's integration of the two dance forms increases the interpretation opportunities and delights the viewer with the results.

August 16, 2008

Tilted House

Chester Theatre Company
Chester MA
Now through August 24, 2008
August 14, 2008
By Donna Bailey-Thompson

Chester Theatre Company’s problem is one any acting troupe would welcome: regardless of a script’s popularity, their productions are noted for being interesting, indeed, provocative. Again, for their 2008 season, Chester has presented four disparate plays which have elicited reactions ranging from high praise to "Oh, please." The season’s finale, the world premiere of Tilted House by Susan Eve Haar, falls somewhere in between.

Not that Tilted House is a so-so play. The story line is there. The editor husband (Victor Slezak) has invited his wife’s old love, a successful novelist (Michael Milligan) to their summer seaside retreat which confuses the banked ennui in the restless wife (Ylfa Edelstein), mother of Henry (Alex Slezak, making his theatrical debut weeks before entering first grade). These are attractive people who, with the exception of Henry, are rife with nefarious goals, nagging doubts and occasional insights: "I should never marry a man who hates his mother." During an emotional meltdown, the wife begs her husband, "Reach for me, even if you don’t love me," only to have him say, "I can’t," which may be his way of saying, "I won’t."

If ever a play has potential, it’s Tilted House. There are sustained moments that pull the audience into the play but then, suddenly, there’s a glitch that breaks the bond: a succession of scene changes contributes to a choppiness; a few scenes take more time to set up and tear down than they do to play. The audience scrambles to find an opportunity to renew the caring they developed for the characters. These interruptions in the flow beg the question: Is it possible to reduce the number of scene changes, perhaps by spotlighting the actors, and so keep the story moving forward?

Against an idyllic background of sand, beach grass, ocean, blue sky, fair weather clouds and the screech of gulls, the characters cope, and sometimes toy, with the strain of resolving the messy issues perpetuated within a triangle of bruised egos. In sharp contrast is the sweet innocence of the boy. He does not deserve to live in a tilted house.

August 11, 2008

Not Waving

Williamstown Theatre Festival
through Aug. 17
By Bernadette Johnson

An afternoon at Williamstown Theatre Festival might be your safest bet these days for a storm-free day at the beach. But don’t be too sure. While there are only light, wispy clouds on the horizon, there are definitely storms brewing in Ellen Melaver’s “Not Waving.”

Melaver gives the audience permission to eavesdrop on three separate couples who stake out their claims for an afternoon on a stretch of beach near where a man has recently drowned. David Korins’ beach is definitely inviting with its dunes and driftwood, sea grasses and gently sloping sandy surfside expanse. An empty lifeguard stand adds an ominous note. There was no lifeguard on duty the day of the drowning.

The three couples as settle in: Matt and Lizzie (Nate Corddry and Maria Dizzia), a young married couple determined to relax (“We agreed on fun”); Patsy and Peter (Harriet Harris and Dashiell Eaves), a mother and her 32-year-old son seeking quality time together (at least she is); and Bo and Cara (Will Rogers and Sarah Steele), teenagers out for a fun day at the beach (Bo less enthusiastic than Cara, who has a subtler plan). The roles are well cast, each player contributing substantially to the unfolding drama.

It is as if the waves wash away all pretense, and layer by layer, we discover the issues that lie just beneath the surface. Secrets are revealed, emotions laid bare. Harris and Eaves play out the friction between mother and son, which is apparent and harmless enough from the outset then deepens. He eventually reveals that he finds her snobbish and she that she finds him forbidding and intimidating.

And from his “I’m bored” (minutes into their arrival) to his frantic attempt to build a gigantic skate park, Rogers captures the restlessness of one who isn’t quite thrilled with being at the beach.

There is very little interacting among the couples. Plot lines are not interwoven. These could easily be three separate vignettes if it were not for the underlying theme, three couples dealing with life situations, “the waves that knock you down.”

Les Miserables -Youth

Exit 7 Players, Ludlow
through August 17, 2008
August 8, 2009
By Donna Bailey-Thompson

The tension of social unrest – generations of injustice that led to France proclaiming a Second Republic – and the individuals caught up in its life-changing drama, are knocking the socks off audiences as performed at a professional level by dedicated amateur actors ranging in age from five to eighteen. In this abridged version of the blockbuster musical, "Les Miserables," the integrity of Victor Hugo’s classic novel is honored and in many respects intensified by the awe-inspiring performances of 47 young people.

Based upon the high quality of Exit 7 Players’ productions, the professionalism of their "Les Mis" should not be surprising, but, it is. To inspire such outstanding performances is a testament to Director/Choreographer Jenn Bauduccio’s skill and the cast’s trust in her guidance..

Exit 7's "Les Miserables" Special School Edition is an outstanding theatrical experience. As the dying Fantine, Monica Giordano’s solo is heartbreaking. Other emotional peaks are attained by Michelle Waslick, age 9 (Gavroche); Tray K. Sanders, age 13 (Enjalras); Sarah Banning, age 15 (Eponine) whose "On My Own" breaks more hearts. The amoral Thenardiers – Lisa Rizza, about to become a college freshman and Colby Herchel with three years acting experience – offer lively, humorous nastiness. Star-crossed lovers Cosette (Katie Stiefel) and Sam Plotkin (Marius, age 16) pour out their longing for one another.

The determination of Jean Valjean (Gavin Mackie, high school senior) to become an honest man and the doggedness of the sadistic law enforcer Javert (Michael Piels who enrolls in NYU this coming semester) to destroy Valjean, infuse their scenes, singly and together, with raw energy. Their duets stir and alarm. Musical Director Devon Louise Bakum has infected the young cast with a desire to excel. The songs are not easy to sing, yet the chorus and soloists deliver with ease and conviction. The costumers – Bauduccio, Mary Hernandez, Sherri Montagna, Lori Rodriguez, Cheryl Chant – incorporated authenticity into their creations. The imaginative minimal sets are the handiwork of master carpenters Paul Hamel and Tom Marshall Jr.

Unsung are the parents and families of the cast who juggled their other responsibilities to support their cast member’s ambitions. Before the auditions, Exit 7 spent years planning and negotiating. And now, Bravo!

Wishful Drinking

Hartford Stage
through Aug. 17
By Bernadette Johnson

Carrie Fisher reels in her audience hook, line and zinger. What an entrance. To a star-studded backdrop a la “Star Wars”, Fisher showers the audience with handfuls of glitter as she belts out “Happy Days are Here Again” (yes, she can sing too) while fake tabloid headlines from the lives of her famous Hollywood icon parents, Eddie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds, the not so happy days, stream behind her. Then comes the standard AA introduction “…and I’m an alcoholic.”

The audience feels almost guilty laughing as Fisher recounts the ordeal of waking up next to a corpse, her “gay, Republican drug-addict” friend who died in her bed. “Republicans contributed to his death,” she assures us and thus sets the no-holds-barred tone for the evening. Everyone and everything is fair game for her hilarious anecdotes, from her matinee idol parents, to George Lucas and his wardrobe theory (“There is no underwear in space”), to her famous Princess Leia honey-bun hair, to her first husband, Paul Simon, and finally to her own mental illness, drug dependency and ill-fated romances. Not even her “blue blood, white trash” Texan grandmother is immune.

Fisher, dressed mainly in black with a slight wardrobe variation in Act 2, paces the stage, frenetically at times, smokes clove cigarettes and constantly interacts with the audience, particularly patrons in front-row seats. She is the quintessential story teller and stand-up comic. A hilarious first act “Are they related?” segment titled “Hollywood Inbreeding 101” takes the form of a CSI-style photo board/flow chart of the generations, tracing Debbie’s and Eddie’s descendents through their marriage, breakup, subsequent marriages (multiple), their exes’ subsequent marriages and so forth.

For those in the audience who fall in Fisher’s generation, “Wishful Drinking” is a trip down Memory Lane, tabloid sensationalism plus all the juicy details, the inside scoop. Fisher‘s formula for comedy is “tragedy plus time.” She doesn’t lay blame, doesn’t offer excuses for herself or others, doesn’t provide any psychological insight. It is what it is. The “funny slant” is her key to survival. It’s not surprising that among her “Special Thanks” in the program she includes “all 12 of my shrinks.”

August 10, 2008

Ben Davis – “Spamalot’s” Sir Galahad – speaks about hair & other issues

One of the featured actors in the Bushnell’s “Spamalot” (starts September 4) is Ben Davis. He’s young, talented, and already a Broadway star. In multi-roles, including the Black Knight and Prince Herbert’s dad, Davis’ primary role is Sir Dennis Galahad. [Bet you didn’t know that he had a first name.] The following is a paraphrased interview with Davis.

How does Monty Python influence you, the play, and the audience?

I wasn’t bathed in Monty Python when I auditioned. The actors and the audience don’t have to be. The musical was produced brilliantly to appeal to Python fans in particular, but more importantly, to fans of all musicals. There are some scenes straight out of “The Holy Grail,” several of its characters, and sometimes people in the house quote lines right along with the actors. Do you have to be a lover of MP to love “Spamalot”? Absolutely not.

It seems as if the performers are having as much fun onstage as the playgoers.

We are, at every show, in every city. We have a great time, and if you can’t have fun doing this show, then you’re in the wrong business. We don’t do the play by rote. Each audience is different and we feed off and respond to them. They are all ages, and everyone laughs. Although we are professionals, cracking up onstage is not unusual. “Spamalot” is on the edge, it’s purposely outrageous and the audience knows it; they expect the unexpected and that’s what adds to the humor.

You’ve starred in dark dramas (“La Boheme” and “Les Miz”) and fluff. What is your background?

I started as a singer, then became an actor, so now I’m 50% each. I’ve been incredibly blessed. I’ve worked fairly consistently. Baz Luhrmann’s “La Boheme” was amazing. He directed the movie “Moulin Rouge.” I’ve also been in Kenneth Branagh’s “The Magic Flute.” I love opera and would like to perform more some day. Javert in “Les Miz” on Broadway was something I’m very proud of. Then, there’s “Spamalot,” and the enjoyment of performing comedy is equal to that of drama.

What’s in your future?

I’ve been in “Spamalot” one year now. Theatre is exciting and you don’t know what the next jobs will be. For the long run, I’d hope for health and happiness. In the immediate future, I’d hope that the safety pins continue to hold my very long Sir Galahad wig in place. It’s fun doing the hair flips.

August 8, 2008

“Half a Sixpence”

Goodspeed Opera House, East Haddam, Conn.
Through Sept. 19, 2008
by Bernadette Johnson

Goodspeed patrons have come to expect nothing but high quality musical productions. As usual, “Half a Sixpence” fits the bill. A musical comedy extravaganza directed by Gordon Greenberg, a rags to riches and back to rags tale, it provides the kind of feel-good entertainment for which Goodspeed is famous.

Based on the 1905 HG Wells novel “Kipps,” “Half a Sixpence” follows the adventures and misadventures of Arthur Kipps, a shop clerk in an English seaside town who suddenly inherits a fortune and leaves all behind in order to claim his place among the “la-di-dah” gentry and make a mess of his life in the process. Among the “discards” is Ann, his lifelong sweetheart, who holds the token of his love, half a sixpence.

Jon Peterson, a newcomer to Goodspeed, is first-rate in the demanding role of Arthur Kipps. Peterson is never off-stage and never out of the spotlight, whether acting, singing, dancing or cavorting. His thick Cockney accent, a bit difficult to adjust to at first, complements his quirky personality, and his societal faux-pas and often-exaggerated silliness, demand terrific energy and conviction to keep the character believable. But this is not a one-man show, and there are many stand-outs among the cast, among them Jeff Skowron as the aspiring playwright Chitterlow, whose every entrance provokes an audience reaction, and Sara Gettelfinger, whose vivacious yet demure disposition well suits the jilted Ann.

The show is fast-paced and high-spirited. Choreographer Patti Colombo, who wowed Goodspeed audiences with 2005s “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers,” has outdone herself once again. From banjos to beer steins to umbrellas, sights and syncopation keep frenetic pace with the relentless momentum of such numbers as “Money to Burn” and “Flash Bang Wallop,” and this amazing ensemble doesn’t miss a step.

Scene changes are so seamless and free-flowing as to be imperceptible. Robert Bissinger’s backdrops materialize out of nowhere, either gliding up from the floor or floating across in panoramic fashion. To sum it up, “Half a Sixpence” delivers and you won’t be disappointed.

August 7, 2008

Yo-Yo Ma Concert

Tanglewood, Lenox
August 3, 3008
by Debra Tinkham

The traffic from exit 2 west was bumper-to-bumper on this breezy, Sunday afternoon. It was a slow crawl all the way to Lenox, Tanglewood parking lots were filled to capacity, and “park where you can” instructions came from the valet attendants. Why? Yo-Yo Ma!

The program, unfortunately, started on time, because many admirers of Ma were late. Fortunately for viewers/listeners, Ma’s performance was second on the program, so not one note was missed. It’s uncanny how faithful Ma’s followers are, yet, he seems to continually give his all, knowing how pleased his audience is going to be.

It was, needless to say, an incredible afternoon, with music by composers Isaac Albeniz, Edouard Lalo and Sergei Rachmaninoff (1873 – 1943), but Lalo’s Cello Concerto in D minor most definitely was a show stealer. Special in many ways because Ma was performing this piece for the premiere performance at Tanglewood, and Carlos Miguel Prieto, conductor, was also making his Boston Symphony Orchestra’s debut. This young conductor had an immediate rapport with his players, then add Ma to the mix and you are “simply having a wonderful music time.”

The entire program consisted of Albeniz’s Suite from Iberia; Lalo’s Cello Concerto in D minor and Rachmaninoff’s Symphonic Dances, Opus 45. The Symphonic’s first Boston Symphony Orchestra’s performance was 1974, with the illustrious Seijji Ozawa conducting, and the first Tanglewood performance was not until 1991. This Rachmaninoff piece is one of his easier works to follow - melodically. Each movement flowed purely and with ease – not often a trademark of Rachmaninoff. To the untrained ear, it might even be misconstrued as “easy listening.” All in all, another magical day in the Berkshires.

August 4, 2008

Film Night

Tanglewood, Lenox
July 26, 2008
By Shera Cohen

For the past ten years, the Boston Pops Orchestra and maestro-extraordinaire John Williams have performed Film Night at Tanglewood. Yes, the July 4th concert as well as Tanglewood on Parade in August are huge events. With lesser fanfare, Film Night stands above those other evenings of music, particularly for anyone who has ever seen a movie composed by Williams. Let’s see…that means nearly everyone in the U.S., abroad, and probably on other planets. Williams has a special knack with extraterrestrial sounds.

The program’s first part began with a montage of movie music with every other piece a Williams’ theme. Whispers accompanied each number as the audience guessed the names of the movies. Once the screens descended for those in the Shed and outside, there was no need to wonder, except for the segment of “women in the movies.” Who was that star from the 1930s, for example.

While it was no secret (it was listed in the program book) that the entire second half was devoted to Indiana Jones, the special guests were huge surprises who received standing ovations: Kate Capshaw, Karen Allen, and Steven Spielberg. The latter narrated behind the scenes development of the Jones’ movies, including film clips without music. Williams’ creations were added, the clip repeated, and the crowd’s appreciation for the composer’s work was boisterous.

No, Harrison Ford was not at Tanglewood. But, isn’t it wonderful that Williams (just a composer!) and Spielberg (just a director!) are names as recognizable as Ford.

Williams shared his applause after each piece with his orchestra, making them stand. Let us not forget the Boston Pops. Without their talents, Williams’ work would have been silent. Indeed, he seemed like a humble man, unassuming by his skills and fame.

The only unfortunate part of the evening was a heavy storm immediately prior to the concert, perhaps keeping some listeners away. The stalwarts sat on soggy grass. Yet, even on a bleak day, Tanglewood’s grounds coupled with music from its venues make for one of the truly wonderful places in our country and in our culture.

August 3, 2008

3 Plays/1 Stage

Shakespeare & Co., Lenox
through August 31
By Shera Cohen

Add it up: 2 Shakespeare plays (one deadly serious and the other almost deadly comedy) + 1 by someone else + 3 skilled directors (Tina Packer, Kevin Coleman, Tony Simotes) + dozens of exceptional actors (among them are Shakes & Co. “old timers” Jason Asprey, Elizabeth Aspenlieder, Jonathan Croy, Michael Hammond, Annette Miller, Dennis Krausnick) = a fabulous summer season at Shakes & Co.

“Othello,” directed by Shakes & Co. alum, teacher, fight captain Tony Simotes, offers a triumvirate of talent. Simotes’ stages his actors in exactly the right positions with voices and demeanor to become their characters. John Douglas Thompson (Othello) shines as the tortured man, triumphant in battle on the field yet failing himself and those he loves. This is the perfect role for Thompson. Michael Hammond shows his audience every minutia of what makes his evil, conniving Iago tick. Hammond is not shy in his in-your-face performance, which is exactly what is called for in this role.

“All’s Well That Ends Well” might be called a musical, or at least that is the case with this version. Called “the house band,” nine actors accompany singer/interlocutor Nigel Gore regularly liven up the stage with original rock music composed by Shakes & Co.’s own Bill Barclay. The songs link the scenes together in this feminist and perhaps atypical Bard play.

Charles Morey’s “The Ladies Man” (based on the work of Geydeau) treats the audience to non-stop comedy in the shape of traditional French farce. In the course of the show, a total of 14 doors and entries permit the cast comings and goings at such rapid speed nearly faster than the eye can see. One can only imagine the bumping and bruising that occurs backstage. The extremely talented ensemble (many from last year’s successful “Rough Crossing”) must be having the time of their lives, which is certainly contagious to the audience.

Actually, there’s more at Shakes & Co., and it’s the free stuff; i.e. the very funny premiere of “The Mad Pirate and the Mermaid,” a terrific lecture series, pre-show mini-plays, and more.

3 Plays/1 Stage

Shakespeare & Co., Lenox
through August 31
By Shera Cohen

Add it up: 2 Shakespeare plays (one deadly serious and the other almost deadly comedy) + 1 by someone else + 3 skilled directors (Tina Packer, Kevin Coleman, Tony Simotes) + dozens of exceptional actors (among them are Shakes & Co. “old timers” Jason Asprey, Elizabeth Aspenlieder, Jonathan Croy, Michael Hammond, Annette Miller, Dennis Krausnick) = a fabulous summer season at Shakes & Co.

“Othello,” directed by Shakes & Co. alum, teacher, fight captain Tony Simotes, offers a triumvirate of talent. Simotes’ stages his actors in exactly the right positions with voices and demeanor to become their characters. John Douglas Thompson (Othello) shines as the tortured man, triumphant in battle on the field yet failing himself and those he loves. This is the perfect role for Thompson. Michael Hammond shows his audience every minutia of what makes his evil, conniving Iago tick. Hammond is not shy in his in-your-face performance, which is exactly what is called for in this role.

“All’s Well That Ends Well” might be called a musical, or at least that is the case with this version. Called “the house band,” nine actors accompany singer/interlocutor Nigel Gore regularly liven up the stage with original rock music composed by Shakes & Co.’s own Bill Barclay. The songs link the scenes together in this feminist and perhaps atypical Bard play.

Charles Morey’s “The Ladies Man” (based on the work of Geydeau) treats the audience to non-stop comedy in the shape of traditional French farce. In the course of the show, a total of 14 doors and entries permit the cast comings and goings at such rapid speed nearly faster than the eye can see. One can only imagine the bumping and bruising that occurs backstage. The extremely talented ensemble (many from last year’s successful “Rough Crossing”) must be having the time of their lives, which is certainly contagious to the audience.

Actually, there’s more at Shakes & Co., and it’s the free stuff; i.e. the very funny premiere of “The Mad Pirate and the Mermaid,” a terrific lecture series, pre-show mini-plays, and more.

August 2, 2008

A Man for All Seasons

Berkshire Theatre, Stockbridge
Through August 9
By Shera Cohen

It’s been several seasons since Eric Hill was last on stage. The opportunity to observe Hill’s portrayal as Sir Thomas More in “A Man for All Seasons” is one important reason to catch this play before it closes. Another is to watch the other actors, as this is a collection of thespian work at its best.

“Man” is based on the true story of More, of which there is much history. Set in the era of Henry VIII, is the battle of church and state over the divorce of the king’s first wife, Catherine. Equally, it is the conflict of conscience and convenience. The plot is far from black and white or right vs. wrong. The play could, indeed, be titled “A Man for all Days” or “Years” or “Centuries.” Beliefs and convictions of 1530 may as well be the same, with the same vehemence in 2008.

Richard Corley directs his cast in a series of chronological segments in the life of More, his family, and constituents. The thread linking each part is The Common Man, portrayed exceptionally well in multiple roles by Walter Hudson. David Chandler’s Cromwell plays sinister to perfection, Gareth Saxe’s Henry combines humor with determination in his king, and Diane Prusha evenly balances love and strength for and against her stubborn husband as More’s wife.

Hill is quite understated, except for a few short moments, as More. As a man of the cloth and of government, More’s professions pulled him in two directions, resulting in deadly consequences. Through Hill, we see the struggle of a man who willingly sheds both exterior garments to live solely by his own judgment.

The trappings of staging and costuming create 16th century England. Yet, actors do not feign British accents, and much of the playwright’s dialogue seems quite 20th century. Throughout, the play asks the question, “What is a man without principles and values?” Today’s audience members leave asking the same question of themselves.