Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

February 28, 2012

Long Day’s Journey into Night

Majestic Theater, West Springfield, MA
through April 1, 2012
by Robbin M. Joyce

Long considered to be his masterpiece, "Long Day’s Journey Into Night" is a heartbreaking, semi-autobiographical depiction of Eugene O’Neill and his family. The play takes place in the summer home of the Tyrone Family on the Connecticut shore in 1912.

The set, designed by Amy Putnam and Shawn Hill, and the lighting, designed by Daniel D. Rist, have combined to create a summer home that feels simultaneously inviting and daunting. It has a façade of richly-stained, intricate woodwork while creating grimy pockets and deep shadows in the corners that could hide topics too painful to discuss. At the hand of Sound Designer, Mitch Chakour, Act II is punctuated by a haunting fog horn that could either help the wayward find their path or serve to remind them that they’re hopelessly lost.

Under the direction of Rand Foerster, the Majestic has let the light shine to reveal the shortcomings of the Tyrone family; undoubtedly to the consternation of James Sr. who isn’t interested in helping the "electric company get rich." Kenneth Tigar, as James Sr., plays a venomous and stingy miser. Although believable as the short-tempered, overbearing patriarch, he just misses the sorrow over watching his family disintegrate before his eyes and the regret of choices made. Beth Dixon, as his wife, is dressed in a beautiful costume designed by Elaine Bergeron. She wheels through her lines, rather than wading through them, giving the impression that she is manic rather than addicted to a sedative. Dan Whelton, as Edmund, appropriately garners sympathy as the sickly younger son who desperately loves his mother and is undeniably crushed by her addiction. Chris Shanahan, as James Jr., is less believable as the jealous, self-loathing older brother. Kait Rankins adeptly provides some much needed comic relief as Cathleen the maid. The story and the actors circle and skirt issues, take stabs at each other and then try to sweep every hurt back into the corner where it doesn’t have to be seen; all under the hope for a better future that can’t exist in an uncommunicative world of addiction and shattered dreams. Despite that, or perhaps because of it, they all give engaging performances as evidenced by the standing ovation at curtain call.

Mary says, "The past is the present, isn’t it? It’s the future, too. We all try to lie out of that, but life won’t let us." The cast takes us on an alcohol-fueled, deeply moving and emotional journey through past and present; don’t let the future slip by without catching this performance.

February 26, 2012

The Midtown Men’s Christian Hoff

Friday, March 2, 2012
Symphony Hall, Springfield, MA

Christian Hoff: singer, actor, guitarist, dancer, businessman. Hoff is one of the original Broadway “Jersey Boys” (JB). Along with the other three “Boys,” the quartet has morphed into “The Midtown Men,” taking their sell-out concert as ambassadors of 60’s music on a USA tour.

This is a paraphrased interview with Hoff.

Did you realize JB would be a hit? The minute we read the script the first time we knew there was something transcendent about this play. Magic happened. When we sang the first song, kinetic energy sparked. This was something special, although we didn’t realize JB would be so spectacular and live on. Even Frankie Valli doubted that it would be a phenomenon. I’m so happy we were part of it.

Tell us about the audition. I got a call, “What are you doing?” I answered that I was hanging around with my two kids and making dinner. “Get here NOW,” was the response. So, I grabbed my kids and my guitar, and raced to the audition. They just said “sing anything.” Apparently, they had already wanted someone like me – a tough guy image but soft inside. The director was a visionary and had picked out the personalities of each of us before he met us.

And you hadn’t met each other? We were all strangers at the start. After you work together as a team, overcome egos, you become a family. We have chosen to stay together. There is energy between each of us. The original chemistry that created JB has led us to this new show, Midtown Men. It was like magic on Broadway, and now it’s magic on the road. We are humble, and at the same time pumped up. We’ve got a kick-ass band, and except for them, we do everything ourselves – produce, choreograph, write arrangements, and do the paperwork of a business. I call us a creative juggernaut.

How is JB similar to Midtown Men? We are living what we portrayed. In many ways, Midtown Men replicates our personal JB experience. No group of Broadway actors from one show have ever broken off to perform as a unit. We had a chemistry and sound of four individuals who came together in JB. JB became our catalyst to continue as a unit. The sum is greater than each of us. We decided to keep that energy going and created Midtown Men. It takes a whole team to launch a rocket.

How did you feel when you won a Tony Award? It was a visceral feeling, a culmination of 30 years as an entertainer. To be recognized was transcendent, amazing. The real life men of JB won against all the odds. It was similar for us. I’m so proud to be part of something bigger than myself. I am honored to have been in a role worthy of a Tony Award, and honored to have portrayed Tommy DeVito. We have become good friends. He’s the kindest man.

Why the title Midtown Men? Just like The Four Seasons, we went through name after name. We wanted to segue from JB to where we are in our careers now. “Midtown” means Broadway and also means the center or any city – where anyone could have grown up. We’re just regular guys, like the people in the audience. Also, we are older now, so we decided to title ourselves “Men” instead of “Boys.”

Why should people attend this concert? All ages are diggin’ it. The show transcends music interests. It’s nostalgic and innovative at the same time, pure entertainment and joy. We burst out from the heat of the spotlight. Tommy DeVito told me, “You guys are better than we ever were.”

In addition to The Four Seasons, the guys “become” The Beatles, Beach Boys, Jackson 5, and even the Zombies.

February 24, 2012

The Addams Family

The Bushnell, Hartford, CT
through Sunday, February 26, 2012
by Walter Haggerty

Gomez, Morticia, Uncle Fester, Grandma, Wednesday, Pugsley, and, of course, Lurch, are all on hand at the Bushnell and the opening night audience for “The Addams Family” loved them all. And they deserved it! The cast is impeccable from start to finish including the actors performing the “normal” Beineke family, plus a ghastly-ghostly ensemble of grave escapee singer-dancers.

The show has been considerably reworked from its critically devastating New York run, with the story line revised and clarified, songs dropped, songs added and other changes. It would be a pleasure to report that the musical now has a great book and fantastic score, but that is too much to hope for. For most audiences familiar with the TV Addams clan, the current reincarnation will work just fine. It is funny with plenty of jokes. Reducing the amplification of the orchestra might help the audience hear all of them, especially the lyrics.

Douglas Sills gives Gomez heart to match his humor. Sara Gettelfinger plumbs the depths of Morticia to reveal the cares, concerns and love of a mother along with her ever-present dark side. Blake Hammond, by employing a modicum of restraint, resists stealing the entire show from the rest of the cast.

As the young lovers, Cortney Wolfson’s Wednesday, and Brian Justin Crum’s Lucas, give this oddly matched pair true credibility, particularly in dealing with their respective parents. Patrick Kennedy is disarming as he cheerfully submits to torture by his sister while plotting to derail her romance,

Resorting to the first bars of the television theme to launch the overture cued the audience that they were in comfortable territory. As to the individual songs, “When You’re an Addams” provided a welcome introduction. “Death is Just Around the Corner” and “The Moon and Me” each contributed to the humor of the evening, while ”Happy/Sad” introduced a rare tender moment. “Tango de Amor,” led by Gomez and Morticia, with the entire cast joining in, was the high point of the performance.

For an evening of laughs with a cast of zanies, and no message to interpret, “The Addams Family” is an innocent escape from reality performed with panache. Who needs more?

February 17, 2012

The Learned Ladies

Shakespeare & Company, Lenox, MA
through March 25, 2012
by Shera Cohen

The added treat to an anticipated fun romp through 16th century French farce at Shakespeare & Company was a talk-back by Poet Laureate Richard Wilbur. “The Learned Ladies” comes to this stage with a stack of fabulous credentials – written by Moliere, directed by Tina Packer, costume designed by Govane Lohbauer. As English translator of the play, Wilbur’s sharp and delightful wit topped off the afternoon at the theatre. Unfortunately, Wilbur’s visit was a one-timer. However, that fact cannot be used as a reason not to see this play.

As is typical of Moliere, “The Learned Ladies” is hilarious, bawdy, and colorful (in costume, set and language) with lickety-split action and characters running in and out of doors. So much humor abounds that one would think there is no time to squeeze in an actual plot. Wrong. To educate or not to educate women, that is the question. Add over-the-top dialogue and super-exaggerated movement and the query of the benefits of being learned or merely wisely cunning become the crux of the plot.

The actors are familiar to Shakespeare & Company’s summer audiences. The winter season’s offer this younger troupe their chance to shine in lead roles. For the most part, “Ladies” is an ensemble piece. Packer assembled a fabulous group of thespians who seem to have as much fun on stage as those watching in the audience. While praising the skills of 11 actors requires too many words than this review allows space for, let’s just say that each has his/her moments to savor onstage to the audience’s delight. Singling out Ryan Winkles might be unfair, but so be it – while he is not the star and has as many lines as others in the cast, he exudes more humor with a hand motion or glance than any of the company’s actors. Let’s add that purposeful scene stealing runs amuck.

“Ladies” is a hilarious poem “sung” in rhymed couples throughout. Packer gets the absolute best from her cast as does the appreciative audience.

February 16, 2012


Opera House Players, Broadbrook, CT
through February 26, 2012
by Walter Haggerty

“Murder, greed, corruption, violence, exploitation, adultery, and treachery.” Add them up and the result is an explosive, extraordinary production of Kander and Ebb’s “Chicago” by the Opera House Players. This production is Broadway-worthy from start to finish.

From the first bars of the overture to the last crashing note of the finale, “Chicago” has audience members on the edge of their seats every minute that they aren’t standing and cheering. Director Becky Beth Benedict deserves special accolades for creating a seamless ensemble performance where even the smallest role is polished to perfection. The Fosse-esque choreography of Alison Bogatay, is an admirable reflection of the Fosse masterwork, without ever resorting to imitation.

As for the performers, they are incredible. Nicole R. Giguere as Velma, sets the mood for the performance with a knock-‘em dead delivery of “All That Jazz.” Wow, can that gal belt! She is backed up by a stellar troupe of multi-talented singer-dancers. Meg Fenton Funk squeezes every ounce of ego, anger, pathos, and petulance out of Roxie. With back-to-back numbers, “Roxie” by Funk and “I Can’t Do It Alone” Giguere, plus their duets of “My Own Best Friend” and “Nowadays,” this pair could revive vaudeville all by themselves.

In the role of Billy Flynn, Jeff Clayton is a perfect match for predecessors Jerry Orbach and James Naughton as the scheming, money-grabbing defense attorney. Kathi Such, as Matron Mama Morton, deservedly stops the show with  her performance of “When You’re Good to Mama.” Mike King, as Amos, Roxie’s naïve, two-timed, ever-loving husband, definitely gets noticed by the audience, especially for his “Mr. Cellophane” lament.

P. Stone’s Mary Sunshine is a gem of a performance by an actor finding the heart of a character and playing it for all it’s worth – and this one was worth every falsetto trill.

Kander and Ebb never ran away from a dark subject. With “Chicago” they achieved their greatest success and Opera House Players have given it an electrifying production that no true theatre lover should miss.

February 14, 2012

The Kingston Trio

Symphony Hall, Springfield, MA
February 12, 2012
by Eic Sutter

A warm receptive audience was treated to the combined musical talents of the Springfield Symphony Orchestra and folk icon the Kingston Trio from the first wave of the late 50's-early 60's folk revival. The glissading strings of the orchestra provided a smooth soundscape to a round of opening Americana themed music. Leroy Anderson's country numbers, "Fiddle Faddle" and "Chicken Reel" brought a down home hoe-down feel to energize the audience. Dressed in country attire, an animated Maestro Kevin Rhodes hammed it up with the audience for added effect. The piece ended with an authentic sounding "rooster crow." Woody Guthrie's "This Land Is Your Land" set the tone for greater things from the brass section which pumped up the volume to a crescendo ending. The wonderful Bethoven's 7th Symphony moved mightily! The first half ended with the familiar theme to the John Wayne movie, "The Cowboys." To echo a word of description used by Rhodes, "Fantastic!"

A strong soaring harmonied folk anthem, "Road To Freedom" sung by the Kingston Trio began the second half. The resounding cheer by the audience after the opening chords of "Charlie on the M.T.A." resulted in a sing-a-long of folk "hits" such as "Chilly Winds" and a calypso banjo fueled "Kingston Town" by George Grove. Much humor evolved from the trio, but their serious spiritual side shone forth on the joyous "Glorious Kingdom" and "Go Tell It On The Mountain." After 55 years, the Trio has received a Lifetime Achievement Award. Baritone Bill Zorn, who replaced original member Bob Shane, sang solo the favorite "Scotch and Soda." The ochestra offered a lovely prelude to the ballad, "Tom Dooley" complete with banjo lead-in to the narrative by Rick Dougherty. Incidentally, the song won the first country music Grammy in 1958. Their folk song, "A Worried Man," closed the evening. The Trio of Bill Zorn, George Grove and Rick Dougherty encored with Pete Seeger's "Where Have All The Flowers Gone?" A slice of Americana, "I'm Going Home" (California) became another encore with the upbeat bass playing of Paul Gabrielson backing the Trio's golden harmonies.

February 3, 2012


Symphony Hall, Springfield, MA
February 12, 2012
by Eric Sutter

Winner of the 2001 Tony Award for Best Special Theatrical Event and the Emmies for Best Choreography, "BLAST!” will rock Symphony Hall. Born on athletic fields across the nation, steeped in the tradition of the military drill teams, precision drum corps and color guards, this thrilling production promises to be bold and lively with athleticism, musical talent and kaleidoscopic movement which are merged into an art form. In The Spotlight interviewed percussionist Andrew Barlow.

ITS: Hi Andrew. We are very excited about "BLAST!” making a stop in Springfield. 
Can you tell us who influenced you to get into this performance style?
Barlow: My elementary teacher from North Carolina influenced my decision to get into music and percussion. Later, when I was at UMass, Dr. Brian Tinkle urged me to go further with it as did Tom Hamel.

ITS: When did you start this challenge?
Barlow: Well, when I was around 7-8, I was tutored on piano, and around age 10 the world of percussion opened up to me.

ITS: When did you get involved with “BLAST!”?
Barlow: This is my first tour, but it all began in the 90's.

ITS: What can we expect from the cast of “BLAST!”?
Barlow: Well, it's a mix of music, theatre and dance. The co-ed cast is split evenly between the musical ensemble of percussion and brass and the visual ensemble of sabers, rifles and flag waving. The dancers add an angelic quality. It's amazing.

ITS: Is there a notable highpoint in the performance?
Barlow: Definitely, when some of the cast interact with the audience. Then we sing one song in the performance...the American folk song “Simple Gifts.”

ITS: How many people make up the cast?
Barlow: The entire ensemble numbers 40 with 5 swings of which I am one. I perform percussion and double as a swing captain with other duties in the performance.

ITS: Thanks and good luck! We'll be looking for you.
Barlow: Sure enough!