Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

July 24, 2008

Schumann & Mendelssohn

Tanglewood, Lenox
Sunday, July 20, 2008
by Debra Tinkham

The Lost and Foundation, Inc. – Cynthia and Oliver Curme Concert featuring Shi-Yeon Sung, conductor, began with Robert Schumann’s ‘Overture from the incidental music to Byron’s Manfred, Opus 115.’ This was Korean born Sung’s Tanglewood debut, and what a debut it was. Sung’s curriculum vitae is longer than a large man’s arm, but she is a welcome breath of fresh air. (Note that Sung will make her BSO subscription series debut at Symphony Hall (Boston) in April, 2009.

Schumann’s Piano Concerto in A minor, Opus 4 was first performed in December, 1945. Schumann’s wife, Clara Wieck Schumann, was the pianist for this performance. Today’s performance featured the very talented Garrick Ohlsson on piano. The interpretive and technical artist is best known “…as one of the world’s leading exponents of Frederic Chopin’s music.” So, if Schumann isn’t his forte, imagine his Chopin!

Felix Mendelssohn’s Symphony No. 4 in A, Opus 90, written while spending two years in Italy, thus known as the “Italian” Symphony, has long been considered his most perfect work. In laymen terms, this would be considered beautiful, easy-listening music; but to a scholar, it is complicated, precise, emotional and euphoric. Written at an early age, (he died at 39) it is one of his….”most brilliantly orchestrated scores of this incredibly precocious artist.”

A “Farewell, Thanks, and All the Best” is in order for three of the BSO members retiring at the end of the 2008 Tanglewood season, who with a combined effort, bring in excess of 90 years of musical talent to the table. Peter Chapman, trumpet; Daniel Katzen, horn; and Ronald Barron, trombone, will be sorely missed in the final Tanglewood concert in August.

Debra Tinkham

July 23, 2008


Williamstown Theatre, Williamstown
Through July 20
By Shera Cohen

It’s not often that a play’s world premiere takes place in our region. It’s also not often that a playwright’s first piece of work is staged by such a well-known and respected venue as Williamstown Theatre Festival. Those two factors do not necessarily make for success. Yet, in the case of “Broke-ology,” the audience’s applause and standing ovation (including this reviewer) at the play’s end would lead many to believe that this play has a long life on the stage.

It’s a strange title, for sure. One character coined it and explains it as a college degree in “being broke (poor),” and this man would receive an A+. His younger brother, however, recently graduated from “real” college with a double major. The differences and conflict between these young men are immediately set. While in a happy marriage, their parents often see life from opposite points of view.

The setting is a poverty-stricken neighborhood, Kansas. But it could be Anywhere, USA. The times are 1982 and 2007. The family is African-American. Author Nathan Louis Jackson and Director Thomas Kail take these four characters and immediately make them real people. There are no good guys and bad guys; they are each human, opinionated, likable, and even lovable. The bottom line for the audience is that we care.

Every actor is exceptional, and while it is cliché, they seem born to portray their roles. Francois Battiste (the older brother) was outstanding. An actor with numerous Broadway and regional theatre credits, Battiste has also appeared in films. Like the long life of this play, here is a young actor to watch as he climbs the latter to his own success.

Some might think of the Nikos Stage at Williamstown as the smaller second cousin with plays that are less important or skillfully produced as those on the Mainstage. That would not be true. This is a wonderful venue, particularly for experimentation with new works before a live audience. Except for one detail at the play’s end (which will not be revealed) the story, dialogue, and execution were perfect. Take a chance on future Nikos productions.

Capitol Steps

Capitol Steps
Cranwell Resort, Lenox
through August 31
By Shera Cohen

The presidential campaign is perfect timing to see Capitol Steps – a parody on the news of today for the sheer purpose of laughs. Each summer, Cranwell hosts these zanies as they take the headlines and rewrite them into new lyrics to familiar songs.

A quintet of exceptionally talented comedians/actors/singers takes the small stage.

The emphasis is on comedians, however it must be noted that each is a skilled vocalist as well. Humor is the key to getting to the audience’s non-stop laughter. The troupe is lively, energetic, not subtle, and work up a visible sweat. Pianist Marc Irwin is a whiz at the keys, as he musically holds the program together.

Combine “Saturday Night Live” with “Mad TV” and “South Park” (yes, it is a bit adult-rated) and there you have Capitol Steps. Add on the ugliest and cheapest costumes, wigs, and a mustache made of duct tape; props that look stolen from an elementary school playground; and the show gets better and better with each vignette.

No celebrity or political figure is sacred: Obama, McCain, Hillary and Bill, Gore, Huckabee, et al. No subject is taboo with the funniest being the mangled lyrics of “What Kind of Fuel Am I,” the Chinese president’s take on the Olympics, and the ozone problem sung in-the-round. Of course, GW was the brunt of many skits, including one spoken backwards.

For those who have seen Capitol Steps and think there is no reason to go again, there is. As the news constantly changes so do the segments, music, and lyrics of this show. If you’ve seen it once there’s plenty of reason to return.

July 22, 2008

Berkshire Choral Festival

Rovensky Shed, Sheffield
Saturdays in July/August
By Shera Cohen

The experience of Berkshire Choral Festival was three-fold for this reviewer, having the privilege of attending three concerts in a matter of eight days.

For 27 years, thousands of choristers have gathered weekly to BCF for the love of singing and the camaraderie of those like themselves. An average concert includes 180 vocalists, who travel from nearly every U.S. state, the Americas, Europe, and Asian countries. One aspect that does not change is the “back-up” musicians – the Springfield Symphony Orchestra.

Each Saturday night features different conductors and selections. Oftentimes, soloists are featured. Be assured that the pieces are all big; nothing but the most challenging.

A musicologist speaks in a free talk prior to each concert, offering better insight into the background of the pieces and composers.

Titled “I Hear America Singing,” under the direction of Craig Jessop, the highlight was “Frostiana.” This was a flowing compilation of seven Robert Frost poems including “The Road Not Taken” and “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening.” Coupling Frost with music by Randall Thompson made for a wonder to the audience’s ears.

That same week, a select group of BCF members performed a free concert at the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge. Lead by an assistant conductor, the 20 or so singers crooned several old chestnuts, including big band tunes. Theirs was a nice teaser concert for the upcoming Saturday’s program.

There could not have been a better pair of choral works as Orff’s “Carmina Burana” was teamed with Beethoven’s “Ninth Symphony (finale).” Tom Hall was the guest conductor. From the first loud and harsh bang of the instruments and voices to the soft and soothing movements, the lush and humorous songs of baritone Alexander Tall to the superior soprano notes of Penelope Shumate, “Carmina” was a standout piece. Its reputation precedes it as one of the most illustrious choral/symphonic works of the 20th century. To tackle the difficulty in the ebb and flow, ups and downs of the exceptionally long work, was no small task. This performance was without a doubt one of the most memorable music experiences for any in the audience. The well-deserved standing ovation lasted at least five minutes.

Almost, Maine

Chester Theatre Company, Chester MA
through July 27, 2008
By Donna Bailey-Thompson

"Almost, Maine" is a delight, a smorgasbord of vignettes with beginnings, middles, and endings that make sense. Some are poignant, or frothy, or silly, even a tad shocking – especially the latter is to the characters played by two actors, Jim Beaudin and Paden Fallis, who are appropriately direct, awkward and flabbergasted.

A director less skilled and disciplined than Chuck Hudson might have encouraged excessive punching of some lines, even supported an actor’s inclination to go over the top. Not Mr. Hudson. Instead both he and the cast of four (who divvy up portraying 19 characters) respect the creative machinations of the playwright’s mind. That John Cariani’s "Almost, Maine," is included in "New Playwrights: Best Plays of 2006" by Smith and Kraus seems a logical choice.

This is an all A-Team production. The ending of one mini play and the beginning of the next are effected a few beats shy of blackout pace. As soon as the lights come up, the actors have nano seconds to establish who they are. Each actor assumes a new identity: Manon Halliburton (six), Tracey Liz Miller and Fallis, (four each), and Beaudin (five).

Halliburton and Beaudin may be sitting self-consciously on a bench. Miller may be waiting for a display of the Northern Lights or arriving at the door of a long-ago suitor. Fallis and Beaudin may be comparing notes on their individual preferences when it comes to spending an evening. Innocuous stuff? Not the stuff of drama? Wrong. And, wrong again.

It is possible to mount a play without sound and lighting designs but when the wind howls hard enough to overcome thoughts of a heat wave baking Chester’s outdoors and a shimmering aurora borealis fills one’s senses, the talents of Sound Designer Tom Shread and Resident Lighting Designer Lara Dubin enhance the many pleasures of "various locales in the small, remote town of Almost, Maine."

July 21, 2008

Rabbit Hole

New Century Theatre, Northampton
through July 26, 2008
By Donna Bailey-Thompson

Clues to the type of play that will be performed are evident from Emily Dunn’s set design. A front door opens into an open layout of a sprawling family room that links with a kitchen table that fronts a roomy kitchen area. The overall effect is antiseptic; the furnishings could be metal and glass. There is nothing to suggest warmth. Even a child’s bedroom visible on an upper level is hospital-neat, in spite of stuffed animals and a poster. In the opening scene, Becca (Cate Damon) sits at the table folding a small child’s clothes. Her younger sister Izzy (Sandra Blaney) chatters, disclosing information, piecemeal, about herself which culminates with the announcement that she’s pregnant. Does that shock Becca? Only somewhat. Becca is mired in grief for the death of her son several months before, accidentally killed when he chased his dog into the street.

Keep tissues handy.

Oh, there is topical humor but not much. Becca and her husband, Howie (Keith Langsdale) are coping with a loss too profound for them to bear.They can’t derive comfort from one another. They’re living by rote. There is no clue to how they were before the accident. But now, they are barely functional. Izzy tries to divert with inanities, fulfilling a role textbooks classify as the "mascot" Becca’s mother, Nat (Ellen Barry) rattles on. Attempts at normalcy fail. One person who has addressed his grief and guilt is the high school boy, driving with a new license, who while trying to avert hitting the dog instead hit the child. As Jason, Daniel Plimpton "reads" the letter he has written to the parents, a recitation sensitively rendered that exudes authenticity.

Playwright David Lindsay-Abaire’s "Rabbit Hole" won a Pulitzer Prize for the best drama of 2007. This production is well-executed; the performances are strong with one exception: too often dialog is missed because voices are lowered, particularly when Becca speaks of a rabbit hole.

July 20, 2008

Awake, Sweet Love

Aston Magna
Simon’s Rock, Great Barrington
By Barbara Stroup

It was a privilege to hear the July 19 concert in the Aston Magna series on the bucolic campus of Simon’s Rock. This sampling of the consort song literature from 17th century England included both somber and humorous offerings performed exquisitely by soprano Roberta Anderson and a consort of viols.

From this brief period in England’s musical history, modern viol players and their audiences are fortunate to be left with a wealth of consort music which, by definition, requires a like-minded group of players with advanced yet equal technical and interpretive facility. This is exactly what was on offer. Jane Hershey, Emily Walhout, Sarah Cunningham, and Laura Jeppesen are authoritative performers of this literature and beloved teachers in the viol-playing community; they deeply honored both the music and the instrument with their performance.

According to Steven Ledbetter’s program notes, fantasias allowed the composer to play imaginatively with changing ideas. Changes in tempo help characterize these sequential ideas. In the consort’s capable hands, the four lines wove around each other with clarity and balance, demonstrating the best of the instrument’s sound as well as the players’ remarkable skills to both listen to each other and put forth individual lines. Tuning can suffer with gut strings even in dry weather; on this humid day, the audience was treated to perfect intonation.

The remarkable Roberta Anderson understood her contribution to be one of equal standing rather than that of solo, and blended her vocal line beautifully with the polyphony of the instruments. Sometimes in metaphoric excess, the songs dwell on love, life, and death. Anderson brought a respectful articulation to each theme with her unfalteringly clear and agile voice, always enhanced by the voice-like viols. Her considerable range never weakened as the program required her to sing like a cuckoo bird, mourn unrequited love, convey the meaning of life and death, and finally to call like a common street vendor in “The Cries of London.” The last piece left the audience convinced that “hot puddings, hot” and “white cabbage, white” were actually for sale outside, giving the audience both a lasting and a memorable taste of the Renaissance drawing room and street.

Aston Magna Summer Concerts

Simon’s Rock, Great Barrington
concerts every Saturday
by Debra Tinkham

Aston Magna and Johann Sebastian Bach’s “Art of the Fugue” went off flawlessly at Simon’s Rock College. This venue featured eight talented musicians -- talented being a gross understatement -- on nine baroque-period instruments.

Daniel Stepner, Artistic Director and violinist extraordinaire, began the program by briefly explaining the definition of fugue, which meant "chasing." And chasing they did, via duet, trio, quartet, octet – the whole “nine yards”. Without going into a long history of Bach’s Fugues, suffice it to say, they are problematic, they are original, they are inverted (it gets complicated).

This extremely loaded program, without intermission, was an evening of perfection. Stephen Hammer, oboe; Stepner, violin; Andrew Schwartz, bassoon; and David Miller, viola, began with a simple (original form) Contrapunctus I. Not only during this piece, but throughout the evening, the artists were unified in their playful interaction, while at all times keeping a keen eye out for Stepner’s direction.

Let’s jump to the end – Contrapunctus XIV -- which was, as Steven Ledbetter puts it, “… perhaps the greatest and assuredly the most complex fugue Bach ever created.” But, the big question is, did Bach fail to complete the fugue? Several scholars have attempted to finish the composition, but Stepner says: “We’ve done it with the ending trailing off…which seems the only honest way to end the piece. There are several creditable endings but these all seem ultimately unconvincing.” Will we ever know?

Aston Magna has completed several recordings by J.S. Bach; W.A. Mozart, Handel, Schubert, Monteverdi, and others as well as a book on Schubert and a soon to be released book of J.S. Bach. Perhaps an investment in their music would be an excellent alternative, if unable to attend a concert.

Ballet Boyz

Jacob’s Pillow, Becket
though July 20
By Stacy Ashley

Founders of Ballet Boyz, Michael Nunn and William Trevitt, are changing what it means to "go to the ballet." Oh yes, audiences will still see ballet greatness -- both were former leading dancers with The Royal Ballet after all. However, also prominent will be more familiar sense of who they are through video snippets that precede each piece. Throughout the videos there's a look at a day in the life of Ballet Boyz. They are funny and real, from joking with each other to running up the steps a la "Rocky" in Philadelphia. There is even some footage of a friendly bear when they arrived at Jacob’s Pillow!

The first piece and one of their most popular, “Broken Fall,” is a visually stunning showcase of the strength and stamina of Nunn, Trevitt and Oxana Panchenko. Each movement is a catalyst, connecting the dancers as they play with balance, support and trust. At times, Panchenko is balancing on shoulders, legs and even hands. She is beautiful to watch and provides some truly breath-taking moments.

The second act began with “Edox,” performed by Panchenko and Tim Morris. Set to music by Ezio Bosso, this piece was strong, precise and powerful. In a sensual piece performed by Nunn and Panchenko, “Propeller” shifts from fluid movements to sharp, aggressive accented legs and arms. Nunn and Panchenko once again offered surprises with unpredictable partnering.

In the finale, the Boyz danced a tango…with each other. “Yumba VS Nonino” is filled with pratfalls and fake punches, showcasing their comedic versatility along with strong technical dancing. It is fun and entertaining and a fine way to end a "night at the ballet."

July 13, 2008


Hartford Stage
50 Church Street
Hartford CT
Now through July 27, 2008

July 9, 2008
By Donna Bailey-Thompson

"I guess what everyone wants more than anything else is to be loved. And to know that you loved me for my singing is too much for me. Forgive me if I don't have all the words. Maybe I can sing it and you'll understand." – Ella Fitzgerald.

On opening night, a packed house, the audience understood. The real Ella may have been gone a dozen years but her stand-in, Tina Fabrique (almost a reincarnation), resurrected Ella’s essence and with it a renewed appreciation of Ella’s remarkable vocal gifts: how she could bend a note without blurring it and still hit it true, take a hurtin’ song as prickly as a briar patch and croon the barbs into a pool of healing tears, and then with finger-snappin’ playfulness – about as sly as a fox – swing into an upbeat novelty song that she wrote when she was still a skinny, snake-hipped young girl, "A Tisket, A Tasket."

Throughout the performance, Fabrique pattered, a la Ella , relaying the First Lady of Song’s story of early hardships, poor romantic choices, winning first prize for singing at the Apollo’s amateur night the first time she was ever on a stage, hired by Chick Webb – the beginning of her 58-year career, the springboard for thirteen Grammys and the sale of more than 40 million records.

Set Designer Michael Schweikardt’s creation of a 1966 art deco-influenced curved five-level stage in a Nice, France concert hall, is home to a swinging foursome – Piano/Conductor George Caldwell; Drums, Rodney Harper; Bass, Clifton Kellem; and Trumpet, Thad Wilson, who in one number resurrects Louis Sachmo Armstrong.

Lighting Designer John Lasiter piggybacked clues from about two dozen songs to set and enhance the music’s moods (during "That Old Black Magic," a low horizontal spot ends on Ella’s face), and the changing of colored gels keeps the staging fresh.

For an evening of fine musicianship, honed by hours and years of growing their collective talent, Tina Fabrique as Ella, and the boys in the band, swing. Ella also bebops, scats, and caresses ballads that stretch one’s soul until it aches.

July 11, 2008

Rounding Third

Majestic Theater, West Springfield
through August 2
By Shera Cohen

It’s no surprise that the subject matter of a play titled “Rounding Third” is baseball. This all-American sport is not, however, a favorite pastime of many theatre-goers, and vice versa. The Majestic cast and crew had to do a lot of skilled work to win over this reviewer. Interestingly, one of the running themes throughout the play is that never the twain (jocks and thespians) shall meet.

Readers…not to worry. Knowledge of home plate, dugouts, and shortstops is not necessary to thoroughly enjoy “Rounding Third.” The only requirement for audience members to laugh at, sympathize with, and appreciate the play is the huge achievement of having survived childhood. There’s no doubt that everyone left the theatre having seen a “home run.”

The play takes place today in Any Town, USA. The set is simple – a backdrop fence of a baseball field and benches. Steve Henderson stars as an experienced little league coach and John Hart is the new guy assistant coach. While there are no other actors onstage, these two men, under the direction of Danny Eaton, bring to life a team of 12-year-olds, none of whom are ever seen. These little leaguers – Frankie, Eric, Timmy, et al – fill the stage. Now, that’s an accomplishment!

The essence of the story is to win at all costs even if it means tossing away one’s integrity vs. enjoying the journey while trying and hoping to succeed. Through dialogue, body language, and impeccable timing, the actors seamlessly react of each other. Occasionally, the banter is a little too fast, leaving some humor unheard or ignored.

Henderson and Hart create three-dimensional real life roles which are far from stagnant. Henderson is always a pro on the Majestic stage. It was a pleasure to see Hart return. When he was younger, Hart was just fine in small roles. He’s paid his proverbial dues in New York City and earned his Equity card. His talent continues to grow. His soliloquy in a final scene is so poignant that it undoubtedly touches anyone who has a heart.

Take a ride around the rotary to the Majestic to see “Rounding Third.” It’s “way cooler” than seeing a real ballgame, and it’s air conditioned.

July 7, 2008

Berlioz, "Les Troyens" Part II, Acts III - V

Tanglewood, Lenox
by Colleen Moynihan

This grand masterpiece by Hector Berlioz, composed in the mid-19th
century, was conceived as a counter to the acclaim being awarded to
Berlioz's competitor, Wagner. Les Troyens, enduring a century of
struggle to be known by concert goers, proves it does meet the standard
of a grand masterpiece. Requiring 7 hours to do the complete work, Part
II has historically been the most performed.

This performance by the Tanglewood ensemble was exciting, lush, filled
with both vocal and instrumental moments of brilliance. Berlioz's genius
as an orchestrator was reinforced by a tight yet flexible interpretation
by Maestro Levine and the Boston Symphony Orchestra which gave the lyrical lines of the opera a
positive tension. The chorus and individual vocalists added to the
vibrancy of the overall performance.

A rousing opening chorus set the tone for the work. Queen Dido's (Anne
Sofie von Otter, mezzo-soprano) opening aria was full of passion and
foreboding. Von Otter maintained this exciting tone throughout her three
plus hour performance. Aeneas (Marcus Haddock, tenor) was well matched
in tone, control and mastery of phrase. The solos as well as the duets
had energy and lustiness based on technical mastery.

The performance was diluted slightly in Act 4, Scene 2. The secondary
leads (Christin-Marie Hill, mezzo and Kristinn Sigmundsson, bass) and
their respective solos and duet were a bit lackluster and in some instances
demonstrated less control of lower ranges . The appearance of these
individuals in subsequent scenes was decidedly improved as the vocals
were more comfortably placed.

Act 4, Scene 1, was completely instrumental. This showcased Berlioz's
talent as a composer and skill as an orchestrator. The
orchestra obligingly gave their all in this counterpoint of reeds and
brass, full voiced strings showcasing the flowing, lyrical themes of the

Heroic tenor arias, soaring soprano vocals, lush, lyrical passages,
simple flowing lines and texturally complex voicing for both vocalists
and instrumentalists marked a musical experience that reinforced
Berlioz's goal of creating a grand masterpiece. First played in the
United States in 1955, it is time to "play it again and again"!


New Century Theatre, Northampton
through July 13, 2008
By Donna Bailey-Thompson

"Well" surprises – often. The performance begins before the audience realizes that the woman introduced by Sam Rush (co-founder of NCT with Jack Neary) is actually speaking the opening lines of "Well." Adrianne Krstansky, portraying Lisa Kron the playwright responsible for this madcap play, at times is so far out of the box that it defies categorizing. The premise: what keeps some people, i.e., Lisa’s mother, Ann Kron (played to a fare-thee-well by Ellen Colton) continuously ill whereas Lisa recovers from whatever besets her, most notably a panoply of allergies. But there’s more, e.g., racial relations, religious prejudices. Because "Well" is not concerned, per se, with exploring the dynamics intrinsic to a mother-daughter relationship, it is not fraught with Freudian slips or petticoats. Nor is it exactly linear. It’s all over the place but disciplined. Pithy points are encased in humor.

In fact, the first act rollicks with one funny bit after another. When the line itself isn’t funny, the body English is. The surprised looks shot back and forth between mother and daughter engender laughter. The second act is a tad less frenetic.

Krstansky owns the stage. She talks a blue streak, jumping from fragments to an almost-complete thought, then second-guesses herself, all at the speed of light. In many respects, "Well" is a solo show that includes other people.

Periodically, Colton stirs from her lounger in the corner of a livingroom to shuffle in her slippers and layered sleep attire to the front of the stage where she expounds, smiling. When she stops talking and smiling with her mouth, her body continues smiling and communicating. She is one very funny lady.

Portraying 12 roles are four multi-talented actors –Troy David Mercier, Joan Valentina, Susan Dziura, and Jose Docen. The speed-wheeling of white privacy screens and hospital beds seems patterned after Rome’s wild and crazy vehicular maneuvers.

Kudos to Heather Crocker Aulenback’s costuming, Daniel D. Rist’s lighting, Andrew Stuart’s set design (Ann’s oasis is a hypochondriac’s dream), and especially to Director Keith Langsdale for a "Well" that charms and challenges.


Chester Theatre Company
Chester, MA
Now through July 13, 2008
July 3, 2008
By Donna Bailey-Thompson

Some may view this taut, suspenseful pas de deux through two prisms – a baggage-loaded May/December romantic drama or a case study of the after effects generated by the seduction of an innocent girl by a man more than three times her age. Or, there’s a third option – a prism that combines both interpretations.

First performed in Edinburgh in 2005, then London in 2006, and New York in 2007, David Harrower’s script is a high wire act that evokes empathy for the broken heart of Una (Rebecca Brooksher) now 27 and disdain for Ray (Steve Hendrickson) now 56 who maintains that as a 40-year-old man, his seduction of 12-year-old Una was an act of love. But, is he rationalizing? Was it, instead, what therapists have been trumpeting for years, an act to enhance the seducer’s power? Or did the fates play games with timing – Ray was born too soon and Una too late because, really, they were foreordained to meet and love? But because of a quirk in the calendar, they are, instead, destined to continue their lives as walking wounded, burdened with questions that can’t be answered?

Presented without an intermission avoids interrupting the escalation of Una and Ray’s charged emotions; the two actors embodiment of the star-crossed lovers demonstrates they have embraced their characters’ back story. "Blackbird" is lyrical, abrasive, tender, brutal, confrontational, and occasionally peppered with vernacular language. The sterility of the set – a lunch room in a manufacturing plant – designed by Regina Garcia – points up how equally bleak are Una and Ray’s lives. Director Sheila Siragusa varies the tempo of the showdown, from the melancholy to entreaties to eruptive anger and ultimately, what next? She directed last season’s "Mercy of a Storm" starring Mr. Hendrickson who three days before "Blackbird" was to open, responded to Artistic Director Byam Stevens’ SOS by stepping into the role of Ray thus proving that experience (ah, those actor’s chops) made it possible for a compelling show to go on.

New this season: pending seating availability, Chester Theatre Company is offering patrons free tickets to see a production for a second time. Just show proof of purchase (original ticket).

July 6, 2008

She Loves Me

Williamstown Theatre, Williamstown
through July 12, 2008
By Jarice Hanson

In his first season as Williamstown’s new Artistic Director Nicholas Martin has brilliantly staged what some have called “the most perfect musical.” "She Loves Me" has a familiar “boy meets girl” plot, but with music (by Jerry Bock) and lyrics (by Sheldon Harnick) that are witty, joyous, and intelligent.

The book (by Joe Masteroff) sets the story in a Budapest perfumery in 1934 where clerks are kept in line by the store’s patrician owner, Mr. Maraczek (Dick Latessa). When lovely Amalia Balash (Kate Baldwin) is hired, she and senior clerk, Georg Nowack (Brooks Ashmanskas) are simultaneously attracted to each other, even though their personalities mix like oil and water. Little do they know that they have been corresponding in the persona of “Dear Friend.” If this sounds like the 1998 film, “You’ve Got Mail,” or the 1940 film, “The Shop Around the Corner,” you’re right.

Ashmanskas’ Georg is everyman—he’s not a drop-dead leading man (that’s left to Troy Britton Johnson as the cad, Steven Kodaly), but his charm and sincerity, along with exceptional comic timing, makes him a lovable teddy bear. Kate Baldwin is well matched as the sometimes ditzy Amalia, with a voice that ranges from music hall to operatic with such control, some audience members actually gasped with delight.

Under Nick Martin’s flawless direction, every cast member gets their moment to shine—including ensemble actors who have no lines. The generous spirit of director and cast makes the audience feel privileged to participate in this energetic romp. As a musical “She Loves Me” does what a musical should—it gives the audience joy, a little song for our hearts, and it puts a smile on faces. If a lover of musicals—don’t miss it.

July 1, 2008

Aston Magna Concert

Simon’s Rock, Great Barrington
By Debra Tinkham

The young Felix Mendelssohn’s music took the stage in Great Barrington with the Sinfonie no. 10 in B minor – three short movements, without break. Although originally written for two violins, two violas and the violincello/bass, the performance featured a string quartet. Before the Sinfonie started, it had already ended. This is a true sign of the Aston Magna performers. They make it so wonderful, it’s over before it has begun.

Quintet No. 1 in A Major, Opus 18 displayed an array of wonderful dynamics and emotions. Cellist Loretta O’Sullivan especially had a mesmerizing style during her performances. However, enough just cannot be said of Daniel Stepner. His flair, flamboyance, style, brilliance, devotion, commitment, and pure love of what he does is so apparent.

Octet in E-Flat Major, Opus 20 featured Stepner, with the most flamboyant part of the eight, but the audience could not miss the overlapping interactions of the other seven performers. The four movement Opus, a la octet, gave many forms – ongoing contrasting themes, chromatic scales throughout, an ever present liveliness and yet an emotional stoicism on the faces of the performers.

During the Scherzo movement (third) those in attendance experienced a whimsical, almost mystical, soft-spoken fairy tale. The different styles of this octet were certainly varied, and as their personalities become one with their instruments, it still boils down to an evening that you not soon to forget. The summer season has just begun, with more Aston Magna concerts in store.