Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

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.