Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

October 26, 2009

Dan Zanes and Friends

Fine Arts Center, Amherst, MA
by Eric Sutter

Dan Zanes and Friends brought their rollicking rollercoaster of musical fun into the Fine Arts Center for the entertainment of area families. Zanes is a multi-instrumentalist who fronted the 80's rock band the Del Fuegos. The new century has brought him into the children's music market where he has found success with numerous family friendly folk recordings that combine Latin, Cajun/Zydeco, Celtic, Bluegrass, Country, Blues and Rock synthesized into fun world-beat music. The colorful costumed six-piece band rocked with the opener, "Thrift Shop." Zanes was in fine form with vestiges of his Rock n' Roll moves still intact. They shifted to a Cajun/Zydeco rhythm on "Fine Friends" with John Fonti on accordion and Elena Moonpark on violin. "Pay Me My Money Down" found Zanes on mandolin with a bluesy folk harmonica solo as the audience sang along. His banjo provided a hoedown feel to the sea shanty "Farewell Nova Scotia." The folk gospel "Welcome Table" featured ukuleles and the children from the Prelude Pre-School of the Arts daycare who appeared on stage to sing along. "Jump Up" started the audience dancing. The acoustic band could play everything from Puerto Rican Christmas songs to Jugband music, which featured spoons and the stand-up bass.

Silly songs like "Mole in the Ground" and "Monkey's Wedding" caused wild dancing with drummer Colin Brooks' drumstick catches at songs' end. "Halloweentown" was seasonally fun with a Celtic recorder solo. Zanes played Rock n' Roll electric guitar behind his head on "Walking the Dog." The fun multiplied with "Catch That Train" as audience participation resulted in the "Locomotion" dance up and down the aisles. The funky "House Party Time" made it feel like a neighborhood block party. The Mexican folk song "Verde Luz" calmed the children as bubbles were blown into the audience. A flashing lighted disco ball upped the energy with dancing "All Around the Kitchen" and singing "Cock-a-doodle-doo." The group closed with "Bye Bye Roseanna" as they waltzed into the audience with all who swayed to and fro.

October 23, 2009

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum

Goodspeed, East Haddam, CT
through November 29, 2009
by Shera Cohen

The introductory song of "Forum" says it all. "Comedy Tonight" is exactly what takes place on the Goodspeed stage. The plot is silly, the women are sexy, and the characters are stupid - all with a capital "S." One of Stephen Sondheim's early works, it is also one of the more accessible. Perhaps better known for profound lyrics that move the play forward rather than beautiful music, Sondheim does show off his skill as a wordsmith. However, this time the text is all for laughs.

"Forum," set in 200 BC, takes the audience to a cartoon setting painted with bright colors. It's a tale of noblemen and slaves, eunuchs and courtesans, long marriages and young love, warriors and wimps, mistaken identities, and cross dressing. Let's not forget the rubber chicken. This is vaudeville at its best, an increscent flow of one-liners with ba-da-bing endings. The story is sexist, risqué, dated (okay, it's Ancient Rome), and full of shtick. What could have been a drama about a slave seeking freedom is immediately tossed aside and replaced by constant comedy. Throughout the play, the fourth wall (the audience) is completely open. There is no pretense of anything serious, and as the first song also states - expect a happy ending.

There are three categories of characters/actors: an ensemble of those in leading roles, curvaceous women who stand a lot, and a trio of Proteans (think Keystone Cops, each portraying a dozen roles each). Adam Heller (Pseudolus) works up a literal sweat as he creates the chaotic plot. David Wohl (Senex) underplays so well that he becomes one of the top laugh-getters. If John Scherer (Hysterium) had failed in his role of the nervous nelly, by the book, feigned female, a huge chunk of "Forum" would have sunk in the nearby Atlantic Ocean. All went swimmingly well, as this is an actor whose every nuance is the epitome of humor and comic timing.

Director Ted Pappas moves his motley groups of characters (many dressed to look like jesters) at a very fast clip. "Forum" is a broad show with lots of physical humor. As dark winter comes to New England, take a trip to Rome, aka Goodspeed, for bright shiny fun.

October 22, 2009

Interview with Estelle Parsons

Massachusetts native and Academy Award winning actress Estelle Parsons stars in the Bushnell’s production of “August: Osage County,” November 17 – 22, 2009

Q: After appearing in the show for almost a year on Broadway, why were you eager to go on the road with this play?

A: I haven’t had much opportunity to tour, because I was always bringing up kids. But I’ve always loved the idea of touring: I have this old dream of being in vaudeville. And there are all kinds of different audiences out there. I learned that from doing summer stock. Audiences are always a learning opportunity.

Q: Actors say that each audience has a certain personality. Do you find to be true?

A: Absolutely, particularly with this play, where the audience is so dynamic and vocal in every way – moaning, groaning, laughing, crying. The audience is really the third essential part. They’re not just sitting on their hands listening. They’re incredible and they’re always different, and as we go from city to city.

Q: Did you audition?

A: I did. I always prefer to audition, because very often when you’re saying the words out loud, you really can tell whether you want to do a play or not. I thought, “Let me work on this for awhile, and see if this is something I really want to be up there doing.” The more I worked on it, the more I loved it. And then when I auditioned, it just came alive, like whoosh.

Q: What do you think your character?

A: I think she’s a wonderful person who went astray. I have sympathy for her. It’s hard to know what’s underneath all that. I think she is basically a colder person than I am, and it’s been very exciting to work on that. I think she was a very smart, sensitive woman who was deeply abused as a child, and bears the scars. Who knows what would happen to people if they didn’t have the background they have.

Q: How did the role come about in Bonnie and Clyde?

A: In 1966, I was doing Berkshire Theatre Festival. I had seen Arthur Penn’s movies, and I wanted to work for him. I managed to get an interview with him for The Skin of Our Teeth, and he hired me. Working with him, I suddenly knew that I was in the right profession. I was [almost] 40. But I used to think, “Maybe I should have kept on at law school, or maybe I should try something else.” Working for Arthur Penn, I realized that I was in the right place. Then he asked me to do Bonnie and Clyde. I was just about join a rep company. The day after he asked me to read, I got a call telling me that funding for the rep had fallen through. I called Arthur and I read the script, and I thought, “Why is he offering this to me?” But the more I read it; I realized it was an incredible part.

Q: Did the Academy Award affect your career?

A: It did in that I could have had a lot of movie success, which I wasn’t really interested in. Looking back on it, I think that’s kind of too bad. I did a few movies when I was on vacation from a theatre job. I don’t think I ever chose a movie job over a theatre job. I love to entertain people.

October 19, 2009

Dionne Warwick

Springfield Symphony Orchestra
Symphony Hall, Springfield, MA
by Eric Sutter

Elegant, graceful and soulful... these words describe popular music icon Dionne Warwick. Through Motown, the British Invasion, Heavy Metal, the 70's singer-songwriter era, Disco and the Big 80's she has weathered the musical storm with class and integrity.

Nightfall in Springfield brought guest maestro Sean Burton to conduct the Springfield Symphony. The evening began with a drum roll into the "Star Spangled Banner." It continued with "The Barber of Seville Overture" by Rossini with the strings and woodwinds mighty expression of passion accented by a flute solo. Then came two selections by Stevie Wonder with "Isn't She Lovely" and "You Are The Sunshine of My Life." An 80's drum beat led to the theme song from "Fame" with the soothing sound of strings which lulled the piece into a wonderful crescendo of percussive happy rhythm.

Dionne Warwick's selections were like a stroll down memory lane of heartache, harmony and heavenly sounds. Songs like "Close To You", "Walk on By" and "Anyone Who Ever Had A Heart" brought a warm assurance of the past. The night was cherished as the audience perked up to sing "I'll Never Fall in Love Again." Some of these are defining moments in music and Warwick's alto voice, although weathered, was still magical. "Message to Michael", "Say A Little Prayer", and "Alfie" demonstrated how her beautiful voice is like a violin with its lilt and fall between notes. The strings supported the Brazilian music she interpreted as her back up band employed a bosa nova rhythm with congas, shakers and drums. "Do You Know The Way to San Jose" was pitched nicely and featured an extended piano solo. Warwick hit and held some high notes on "I'll Never Love This Way Again." "What The Word Needs Now" became the perfect audience sing-along to close. Her encore was breathtaking... her landmark recording to fight AIDS, "That's What Friends Are For."

October 17, 2009


Arts Theatre, London, England
through October 24, 2009
by Emily List

In 2006, England's National Youth Theatre celebrated "50 Years of Giving Youth a Voice." Three years later, that voice resonates strongly in the NYT's latest production to date, Shakespeare's Cymbeline. Directed by Brendan O'Hea, the cast members (all of whom are under age 21) expertly handle a play that lends itself to the melodramatic. Imogen, the play's heroine, goes through several ordeals before being united with her true love, Posthumus. She is unjustly accused of being unfaithful, threatened with death, forced by circumstance into the guise of a boy and unsuspectingly drugged in a plot laid by her wicked stepmother, the Queen. Playing the part of Imogen, Rosie Sansom carries the audience through this unlikely chain of events with a consistently tight grasp of Imogen's strong-willed character. Providing a marked constrast to Sansom's serious-minded Imogen is Will Edelston in the role of the cocky prince, Clotten. Edelston plays the oblivious fool with flair and with his servants, provides welcome comic relief.

As a whole, the cast handles the themes of jealousy, treachery, betrayal and war with gentle consideration and cunning. The Queen, played by Catriona Cahill, exemplifies the sentiment of Shakespeare's Richard III that one "may smile and smile, and be a villain." Decked in gothic fishnet tights and a black-corseted ball-gown, Cahill flits gracefully about the stage, plotting murder with piercingly witty asides aimed at the audience. Luke McEwan brings a quiet dignity to the role of Cymbeline, playing a man caught between his own emotions and the duties he must perform as King.

The supporting players add color to the performance, doubling in their roles as musicians, dancers and martial artists. In a surprisingly lighthearted moment, a band of court musicians called on by Clotten to woo Imogen, rebelliously breaks out into a blue-grass style jam session. The creative playfulness, depth of character and mastery of a complicated plotline demonstrated by the cast of Cymbeline furthers the argument that young artists should be seen and heard.

One of Spotlight's reviewers is out of the country, but we put her to work. Emily List is in the Masters program at UMass studying Theatre and Media for Development. The play was performed at the Arts Theatre in Leicester Square, London.

Visiting the Cape in Off-Season

By Alyce Skelton

Wellfleet Harbor Actors Theatre
Harbor Stage
"Sexual Perversity in Chicago"

Located along a stretch of the docks and beach that looks out over boaters and kayakers, the theatre is a double decker building. The letters WHAT - several feet high - sitting atop the theatre reminded me of the Hollywood Hills sign. Floodlit, the letters are hard to miss. This production of "Perversity"- one of David Mamet's earliest works - received a terrific reception. The audience had a shocked response. Some of the dialogue sounded a bit dated, yet the production was fast moving, funny and thought provoking. In an interview in the Village Voice, Mamet said the characters were losers. The characters might be losers, but in this production the cast members certainly were winners. The play is, obviously, about relationships, featuring a cast of four outstanding young actors. The minimalist set design was very effective in keeping with the pace of the story. The wide lapels and polyester leisure suits fit the times perfectly. Sliding doors that had a 90's disco dance club look allowed the cast to quickly switch from set to set.

Wellfleet Harbor Actors Theatre
Julie Harris Theatre
"The George Place"

The play explored the decision of an older couple who have decided to sell the family home and move into a retirement community. They have only 60 days to tell family members and sell the house. So goes the story line, as the seniors relate their information to the important people in their lives, as well as the reactions that follow. The struggles of these characters to communicate and understand each other were sometimes touching, sad, amusing and at the same time funny. The play took place on the porch of a wonderfully designed home. The lighting highlighted the innovative and realistic set design which left the audience seeing a warm and inviting home despite the problems that sometimes trouble all families.

Thornton W. Burgess Museum

The museum, a quaint Cape Cod structure, houses the author's room in which he wrote his beloved children's books and displays of Harrison Cady illustrations of Burgess' menagerie. Burgess, a naturalist and conservationist, had influenced conservation efforts in Massachusetts both during his lifetime and afterwards. In addition to Laughing Book, I was amazed to find that Sandwich, his birthplace, had four similar sites that were directly the result of his influence.Burgess began writing the stories which he told his son at bedtime. Ultimately, the author penned the tales to create Peter Rabbit, Jimmy Skunk, Sammy Jay, and Bobby Raccoon

Sandwich Glass Museum

This museum has a phenomenal history of glassmaking, and its staff daily demonstrates that techniques have changed since 1825 when Demming Jarvis incorporated the Boston and Sandwich Glass Company. The company led the world in the manufacture of glass during the early 19th century. The best part of the exhibit was watching molten glass drawn from the furnace, blown and pressed into unusual shapes. A glass blowing demonstration was scheduled every half hour. Another favorite was viewing the Levine Gallery of Early American Lighting, demonstrating the evolution of early light fixtures from 1825 through the onset of electricity. A recording accompanied the demonstration of the 50 lamps as they light in sequence. Viewing the magnificent collections of glassware, where over 6000 glass pieces of lead glass, opaque blue glass, beehive glassware, molded blown glass and pressed glass were exhibited, is well worth follow up visits to this museum.

The Andrews Brothers

Exit 7 Players, Ludlow MA
through Oct. 31, 2009
by Eric Johnson

What is so funny about guys in dresses? In this case, it seems to be these particular guys.

Robert Clark III, Joe Alvernaz, and Steven Sands are hysterical as Lawrence, Max and Patrick Andrews, three USO stage hands who find themselves caught without a headline act (you guessed it, the Andrews Sisters) and have to perform in their stead. There are plenty of belly laughs to be had in Act II as the boys cavort about the stage; Sands in particular has some hilarious scene-stealing moments.

Diane Lamoreaux is the perfect choice for pin-up girl/chanteuse Peggy Jones; her curvaceous physique and sultry voice fit the time period perfectly. It would be nice to see more depth to her character; perhaps it was just opening night jitters but against the bar set by the rest of the cast, her performance seemed somewhat flat.

Creator/author Roger Bean doesn't present anything truly original or fresh, as all of the music is culled from existing songs of the '40s and the story is fairly predictable, but that doesn't make it any less entertaining. The show is also refreshingly short for a musical -- about two hours.

The standout performance comes from the orchestra. Eight musicians (including music director/keyboardist Karla Newmark) create a big band sound that fills the room and gets toes tapping. The vocal performances by the cast are deftly executed with a generous amount of three-part harmony.

Pam Abair's direction creates a wonderful pace that keeps this show rolling along nicely. Kudos to choreographer Jenn Marshall for not going over the top; the movements never seem awkward or beyond the abilities of the actors. Likewise, the set design by Paul Hamel and Abair is just enough to complement the production without going too far.

The cast and crew are to be commended for a balanced and highly enjoyable performance. "The Andrews Brothers" delivers a night of great music, plenty of laughs and, oh yes, guys in dresses.

October 14, 2009

Girls Night Out: The Musical

CityStage, Springfield, MA
through October 25, 2009
by Sharon Smith

The "girls" in the audience of "Girls' Night Out: The Musical" want to have just as much fun as the title implies. Five 40-something friends gather to celebrate the milestone of one of their daughter's engagement. Drinking and karaoke ensue. That the audience comes prepared to party helps create moments filled with laughter and sing-alongs.

"Girls' Night" borrows elements from many sources: "Carousel", "Desperate Housewives", "Mama Mia" and "Sex and the City." The girls reminisce, dish, snipe, gripe and, of course, dance to anthems like "It's Raining Men". The show has a loose, improvisational feel that gives the effect of ease dropping on a drunken bachelorette party.

Kira Galindo, Laura Saenz and Debra Toscano had wonderful voices. Toscano had an especially effective interpretation of "Don't Cry Out Loud". Priscilla Fernandez was often reduced to the role of cheerleader, cajoling the audience to get up and sing along. The female-centric crowd did want to join in, but seemed a bit stifled by the conventional theatre seating.

No prompting was needed for the audience to fully invest in Christina Cataldo's emotionally powerful version of "The Love of My Man". After her scorching performance of this potent song, the audience would have happily listened to her sing about the contents of her purse. She also proved a deft physical performer, breaking out some funky dance moves and high kicks.

It seems, however, that show doesn't seem to know what it wants to be: a cabaret, a musical review or a play with karaoke moments. Some characters are played over the top, others are rather mean spirited at times. The author creates a serious, revelatory moment to explain these traits, but when a show is billed as "hilarious" it only serves to cast bring everybody down.

However, the energy and talent of the performers is enough to carry the evening. The song selections are varied and amusing and the "girls" deliver some funny lines with great timing. Go for the camaraderie and to enjoy some very talented singers. They earn their "one more time!" at the curtain call.

October 12, 2009

The Foreigner

Suffield Players, Suffield, CT
weekends through Oct. 24, 2009
By Donna Bailey-Thompson

The Suffield Players are whooping it up with a wild and raucous comedy that 25 years ago won Obie and Outer Circle Critics awards for Best New American Play. Written by Larry Shue, "The Foreigner" is as timely today and perhaps even funnier because, let's face it, the lousy economy has boosted laughing's value into the realm of a precious commodity. As directed by Robert Lunde, the action never lags, nor does sly humor or bellywhompers.

S/Sgt. Froggy LeSueur, a Brit with a Cockney accent, drags a pathetic Charlie Baker into a Georgia fishing lodge who, if he could, would curl himself into an invisible ball. Froggy (take-charge Mark Proulx) has virtually kidnapped Charlie (Dale Facey kidnaps the role), spiriting him away from the hospital bedside of his supposedly dying wife. Charlie's plight is an absence of self-worth which renders him pathologically shy. He describes himself as profoundly boring and entreats Froggy, "How does one acquire a personality?" The possibility of having to interact for three days with other guests at the lodge fills him with panic. Froggy's solution: tell the lodge's owner, Betty Meeks (a forceful Cynthia Lee Andersen) that Charlie is a foreigner who speaks no English. This thrills Betty who has longed to travel; at least now she'll meet a foreigner.

The other guests are a snippy, unwed pregnant heiress Catherine (as believable as she was as the father-controlled Catherine in "The Heiress"), her simple brother Ellard (the inventive Brian Rucci), her creepy fiancé, the Reverend David Marshall Lee (Christopher Berrien, appropriately mysterious) and the town's racist inspector, Owen Musser (befittingly unlikable).

That the plot is slim is of little consequence because the real suspense is created by Charlie's determination to remain a speechless cipher. His body language, double and triple takes, the play of emotions across his face, are not simply funny, they are endearing. During a protracted scene in the second act, Charlie and Ellard mimic one another with deftly executed sight gags that carry the audience into near hysteria.

The Suffield Players' latest contribution to its 57-year history honors the essence of quality community theatre.

This review was published simultaneously at

October 8, 2009

Bruce Hornsby/Wood Brothers

Mahaiwe, Great Barrington, MA
by Eric Sutter

An audience has to move when hearing good music or at least be moved... this was the case with both acts which knew how to make a good noise. The Wood Brothers are biological brothers with a rootsy front porch blues-folk brand of Americana that rocks. The rich ringing tones of "Lovin' Arms" from their "Loaded" CD sounded outstanding. Oliver Wood's acoustic guitar and voice was out front through his set with brother Chris' support on stand-up bass guitar and harmony vocal. "Liza Jane" featured their brotherly harmonies and a bowed bass solo by Chris. Chris began their "Train Trilogy" with a chugging harmonica as Oliver cut in with electric slide guitar and humorous vocals. They closed with "Postcards from Hell."

Here came the noisemakers... live and on the move! Musical visionary Bruce Hornsby began his set with "Heir Gordon" from 2004's "Halycon Days." His piano solo was exquisite as he segued into "Harbor Lights." He performed a couple of gems on piano with "Michael Raphael" and "Here We Are Again" from his new CD "Levitate." His band, the Noisemakers, provided a full sound accompaniement and solos with electric guitar, bass, drums, keyboards and reeds. The six piece band launced into "This Too Shall Pass." The songs took on a new life in a live setting with Hornsby's co-written ballad on Don Henley's hit "End of Innocence." At times, Hornsby's vocals were ragged, but the powerhouse band pumped him up on the 1988 hit "Look Out Any Window" which morphed into the Rolling Stones "Tumblin' Dice" with a rock riff supreme and saxaphone interlude. Hornsby performed a playful "Prairie Dog Town" on the dulcimer and also jammed on the accordion. He took a request and played "Gonna Be Some Changes Made" with its hypnotic percolated rhythms. This three time Grammy winner -- Best New Artist of '87 -- performed his hit song "The Way It Is" with J.T. Thomas on keyboards. A standing ovation led to the adventurous "Space is the Place" and "Dreamland."

October 5, 2009

Opening Night

Springfield Symphony, Springfield, MA
Saturday, October 3, 2009
by Debra Tinkham

Despite a difficult year, Maestro Kevin Rhodes trumped off the 66th opening night red carpet gala with the orchestra playing, and the audience singing, The Star Spangled Banner. Already impressed by the energy emanating from Rhodes, the orchestra and the audience were ready for a dynamic evening. Of course, the lovely Concertmaster, Masako Yanagita, did her usual graceful entrance and continuation of tuning the orchestra.

Richard Wagner's Ride of the Valkyries, Franz Liszt's Mephisto Waltz No. 1, and Liszt's A Faust Symphony were on the menu. Rhodes took a variation on his usual "Saturday Night Live" extravaganza. In Rhodes words, he "…decided to do something completely different than ever before in the history of the symphony." Wagner's Ride of the Valkyries, a very familiar melody, featured lots of brass, with wonderful dynamics. His piano version of Mephisto's Waltz was, to say the least, incredible. The man expects perfection and does nothing less.

Rhodes ricocheted back and forth from Mephisto Waltz No. 1 to A Faust Symphony. While explaining the major, minor and diminished chords to the audience, (which probably most did not understand) Rhodes stated that Liszt was, "A rock star before we had rock music." He is dedicated, a man with high energy, engaged and entertained. This is Rhodes 9th season with the SSO, although there are rumors that he may have a new employers -- the Hartford Symphony Orchestra. That would be a terrible loss!

His narration, explanation and display of virtuosity on the piano, led the audience to a better understanding that Faust's sad and depressing display of Mephistopheles' love of Gretchen and, in the end, Mephistopheles' ultimate redemption and, in Rhodes words, "carried off to heaven in a Hollywood style."

Rhodes never quits, never runs out of energy. We just hope he won't run out of desire to remain in Springfield.