Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

January 28, 2013

Moonlight and Magnolias

Playhouse on Park, West Hartford, CT
through February 10, 2013
by Jarice Hanson

The stories and anecdotes that surrounded the making of the movie "Gone With the Wind" are as legendary as 1930s Hollywood itself. "In Moonlight and Magnolias," one of those stories is realized as a zany farce. The play uses slapstick and speculation to comically comment on popular culture, the star system, and the role of Jews and Blacks in the formation of the most powerful storytelling industry in the world.

Self-referential and melodramatic, the play is written in the same way that Margaret Mitchell wrote her novel. There are moments of insight, but more often, clunky dialog drags down the story. The play comes alive with director Russell Garrett’s deft hand and ability to “find the funny” on the arena stage.

The three fine actors who energetically infuse their characters with charm, narcissism, and intelligence, portray what might have happened when Selznick (Kevin Eldon) summoned screenwriter Ben Hecht (Allan Greenberg) and director Victor Fleming (Bill Mootos) to “fix” the movie that had already started production. The three attempt to reenact famous scenes while sequestered for a five day period in Selznick’s office, including the burning of Atlanta, the search for a better way for Rhett to say “I don’t give a shit,” and the meaning of Scarlett’s famous last line in the movie, “Tomorrow is another day.” Beleaguered secretary, Miss Poppenghul (Denise Walker) adds a comic comment and the result is an evening of fun.

Playhouse on Park is a young professional theater, but productions like this are promising. Kudos to the cast and the exceptional production team for their attention to detail and allowing the spotlight to shine on this story of Hollywood history with passion, whimsy, and good, old fashioned fun!

NOTE: Contains some strong language

January 13, 2013


Springfield Symphony Orchestra
Symphony Hall, Springfield, MA
January 12, 2013
by Michael J. Moran

Two familiar masterpieces bookended the local premiere of a work by a leading contemporary American composer in the third classical concert of the Springfield Symphony Orchestra's season. The programming skills of Music Director Kevin Rhodes made the old warhorses sound new again.

The program opened with four selections from Grieg's incidental music for Ibsen's "Peer Gynt." Placing "Ingrid's Lament" from the standard second orchestral suite before three movements from the first suite commanded the attention of the well-filled house, after which "Morning Mood" was a calm interlude, "Anitra's Dance" a light diversion, and "In the Hall of the Mountain King" a rousing finale. The orchestra played with warmth and flair.

Next came Ellen Taaffe Zwilich's 2003 piece "Rituals" for five percussionists and orchestra. Thirty percussion instruments arrayed in five "stations" across the front of the stage were introduced and demonstrated by the soloists. The Maestro added that the title of the 25-minute work reflects the ceremonial importance of drumming in many cultures and eras. The titles of its four movements - Invocation, Ambulation, Remembrances, and Contests - suggest the wide range of sounds produced by the various gongs, cymbals, bells, drums, and other instruments played with amazing dexterity against a colorful orchestral backdrop. "Contests" in particular gave the soloists their chance to sound like rock stars, and the audience loved it.   

Those extra percussionists came in handy for the exhilarating account of Rimsky-Korsakov's symphonic suite "Scheherazade" that followed intermission. Inspired by the Arabian setting of the stories told by the title character in its four movements, the brilliant orchestration sounded even more exotic than usual in the wake of "Rituals." Rhodes' flexible tempos and careful balances highlighted the surprising intimacy of many quieter passages, and concertmaster Masako Yanagita played "Scheherazade's" recurring theme with heartfelt sensitivity. 

Along with Rhodes and the orchestra members, no one is more responsible for the SSO's current artistic excellence than retiring executive director Michael Jonnes, who was honored for his distinguished 15-year tenure here by a proclamation from Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno before the concert and a special reception in Symphony Hall's Mahogany Room afterward.

January 12, 2013

The Cabbage Patch

The Majestic, West Springfield
through February 10, 2013
by Shera Cohen

While reviews should primarily focus on production quality, actors’ talents, and the director’s vision, it is sometimes difficult to set aside a story’s shifting premise and the script’s cliché writing.  Kristen van Ginhoven and her troupe of excellent performers, unfortunately, have little to work with, although the actors especially, pore themselves into the roles as much as can be possible.

Set in Canada in the 1980’s, with frequent flashbacks to a decade earlier, are the adult members of the McKay family – Mr. & Mrs. along with a brother and sister-in-law. It’s not an interesting bunch so their conflicts are boring. Admittedly, the play revs up toward the end of Act I with the presence of the town drunk, bringing with him the more important parts and true essence of the story – the personal experiences of veterans and effects of war. However, this element in the script is secondary. Not that the theme should immediately hit the audience in the face, but it seems ancillary to the plot.

Barry Press and Jeannine Haas in the lead roles are quality actors portraying an old married couple who often take each other for granted. Sam Rush’s character, arriving late in the play, realistically exemplifies narcissism and meanness. John Thomas Waite, perhaps one of the finest actors frequently seen on the Majestic’s stage, is given the role of the town drunk which, for the most part, is played without individuality.

There are numerous distractions throughout, the most frequent being one character’s constantly changing his shoes. Only two off-handed lines in the script indicate his reason for this habit. It’s a guess that this was a director’s choice that ended up being a nuisance.

Greg Trochlil continues to work magic on set design. The kitchen/porch complete with essence of a roof is enough to depict an entire house. Planks of wood and a dirty window create a work shed. This house becomes a home that “real people” live in.

Perhaps the best part of the experience of “The Cabbage Patch” was the full house in attendance on a Wednesday night. This speaks to the reputation of the Majestic and its large following.

January 9, 2013

Million Dollar Quartet

The Bushnell, Hartford, CT
through Janaury 13, 2013
by Eric Sutter

Ironically, Elvis' 78th birthday coincided with the opening night of the Broadway musical "Million Dollar Quartet" at The Bushnell.

Hartford is stung with a smash rock n' roll revival show that re-enacts the date of December 4, 1956 when four alumni of Sun Records met in Sam Phillips Sun Studio for an impromptu jam. All the early rock n' roll moves are presented as the company sings "Blue Suede Shoes." The rock n' roll beat, stand-up bass twirls and swiveled hips bring back the glory of the sound.

Benjamin Goddard plays a "Real Wild Child" as Jerry Lee Lewis who pounds the keys and creates theatrical drama on piano. James Barry as Carl Perkins proves to be an unruly presence with guitar swagger performing snatches of "Matchbox" and "Who Do You Love." A unique Johnny Cash persona is portrayed by David Elkins whose deep bass voice sings hits "Folsom Prison" and "I Walk The Line."

Then there's Elvis. Billy Woodward's Elivis is pure charisma, crooning both softly on "Memories Are Made Of This" and frenzied on "That's All Right Mama." Woodward has the Elvis magic, moves, and mannerisms. The greatness of the young Elvis style is precise. In a quieter moment, he sings the gospel song "Peace In The Valley" in harmony with the entire company.

Putting this "fab four" together is Vince Nappo as an impressive Sam Phillips with his hard driving style and banter.

"Let's Have A Party" really rocks the Bushnell house and lights the fuse for fun. As Carl Perkins cranks out guitar riffs, Elvis swivels and slides to the floor. "Great Balls Of Fire" finds the audience giving into the fun spirit. The piano sounds vibrant with energy that transfers from stage to audience. Elvis sneers "Hound Dog" for smiles galore. Each performer has his turn in the spotlight and together. The show is on fast pace, to say the least. The cast encores with a must see finale of "Whole Lot Of Shakin' Goin' On.