Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

November 22, 2013

The Laramie Project

Springfield Technical Community College, Springfield, MA
December 5 - 9, 2013

Springfield Technical Community College theatre workshop students are set to open their performance of “The Laramie Project,” a play that chronicles the reaction to the death of Matthew Shepard, a gay University of Wyoming student who was brutally murdered in 1998.

Shepard’s murder, denounced as a hate crime, became the rallying cry against hate and homophobia internationally. The play, by Moises Kaufman and the members of the Tectonic Theater Project, will be performed by students, along with appearances from STCC faculty and staff. Assistant Professor of English/Theater Greg Trochlil is the producer.

“The Laramie Project” production will conclude the theatre students’ semester-long involvement with the topic, which commemorates the 15-year anniversary of Shepard’s death.

Trochlil said he is encouraged by how many people in the STCC campus community have been involved with the project, but notes how discouraging it is that so many people are still affected by hate. "The attitudes that promote hate, bullying, and prejudice, unfortunately, still affect many of us, our friends and our families,” said Trochlil. “We would like to continue to bring awareness to attitudes and behaviors that promote acceptance of the diversity of the STCC and Springfield communities.”

Performances will be held in the Scibelli Hall (Building 2) theatre on December 5 at 11 am, December 6 and 7 at 7:30pm, December 8 at 2 pm, and December 9 at 12:15pm. There will be a special “talk back” session hosted by STCC Professor Phil O’Donoghue after the final performance. General admission tickets are $10; $5 for students.

November 19, 2013


Broad Brook Opera House Players, Broad Brook, CT
through December 1, 2013
by Walt Haggerty

Broad Brook Opera House Players have put their best foot forward (make that feet), to present a rousing, foot-stomping performance of a less than perfect musical. The good news is that troupe, as always, give it an all-out example of their best work with strong performances from the large cast. Unfortunately, Broad Brook’s efforts cannot overcome what is, regrettably, not a very good show. The result is that a dedicated cast, through sheer willpower plus a lot of talent provide an enjoyable evening’s entertainment.

The story is a tried and true formula treatment of generational conflict, demonstrating that father does not always know best. Siobhan Fitzgerald, as Ariel Moore, gives a strong performance as a somewhat rebellious teenager filled with anger and resentment toward her demanding and tyrannical father/minister, Reverend Moore. In that role, David Chivers gives a controlling, demanding portrayal that borders on villainy, before finally seeing the light, barely in time for the finale.

Acting honors for the evening go to Debi Salli, who, as Vi Moore, conveys both love and understanding as she tries to bring peace to the conflict between her husband and daughter. She also possesses the best singing voice of the evening, most effectively in a moving solo rendition of “Can You Find it in Your Heart,” and a winning duet of “Learning to be Silent,” performed with Vickie Blake as Ethel McCormack, in another excellent performance.

Randy Davidson offers a strong and sympathetic treatment of Ren McCormack, the young hero who brings resolution to a seemingly unsolvable problem. Holden Smith’s Cowboy Bob, stops the show with his Act II opening delivery of “Still Rockin’.”

The talented ensemble, under the direction of John Sebatian DeNicola and choreography by Keith Leonhardt, keep the proceedings moving forward at a fast pace, giving the score the support of an upbeat interpretation that is generously welcomed by the audience.

November 18, 2013

“Sweeney Todd” The Demon Barber of Fleet Street

Greene Room Productions, Stafford Springs, CT
through November 23, 2013
by K.J. Rogowski

Sweeney Todd, the demon barber of Fleet Street, along with his culinary criminal companion, Mrs. Lovett, take to the stage once again in Greene Room Productions’ rousing presentation of Stephen Sondheim’s murderous musical.

The expansive stage at the Stafford Palace Theater allows for director Erin Greene’s set to have multiple stairways leading to numerous levels, and lots of scary places for the denizens of Fleet Street to climb on, around, and under as they recount the tale of Sweeney Todd. David Wallace and Rose Keating, as Sweeney and Lovett, make a nicely matched pair of homicidal maniacs -- singing, slashing, and baking their way to riches and revenge, as their unsuspecting customers gorge themselves on Lovett’s insanely tasty treats. Austin Welker and Mallory Wray, as Anthony and Johanna, the young star-crossed lovers, struggle, and plot their escape from the maniacal Judge Turpin, played by Josh Farber, and his smarmy sidekick, The Beadle, played by Martin Levson. Welker and Wray are well cast, with good voices, but occasional issues with their wireless microphones leaves the audience wanting to hear more of their now famous duets. Also of note are Nicole Ouimet, as the tawdry Beggar Woman who haunts Sweeney, and Josiah Durham, who delivers a particularly enjoyable portrayal of the simple and loyal Tobias Ragg.

Backing up this group of desperate and unsavory characters is an energetic ensemble cast, who help bring the company numbers to life, and the action moving. For those who like Sondheim, a clean shave, lots of great music, and more than a little mayhem, they all await, if future audience members dare to take a stroll down the dark twists and turns of Fleet Street.

November 16, 2013

The Music Man

St. Michael's Players, East Longmeadow, MA
through November 17, 2013
by Eric Sutter

St. Michael's Players is staging America's happiest musical in Meredith Willson's "The Music Man." From the onset, the audience is captivated by this gem of a show with enjoyable characters under the guidance of the very capable Frank Jackson.

This heart-warming story of a tricky traveling salesman and the love of a good woman has tremendous appeal. The show begins on a railway coach headed for River City, Iowa in 1912. The speech and song rhythms of the salesmen and train imitations are effective. Professor Harold Hill (Drew Gilbert) is the leading man with a half-spoken, half-sung delivery in song. A simple set of the center of River City becomes the backdrop for "Iowa Stubborn" by the townspeople. Salesman Harold warns the townies, however, with "(Ya Got) Trouble." Love interest and heroine Marian the Librarian (Stephanie Gilbert) sings a lovely and pensive "Goodnight My Someone." Marian's mom, Mrs. Paroo (Mary Anne Arnold) steals scenes with her brilliant Irish brogue and comedic timing.

There's the show-stopper, "Seventy-Six Trombones," led by Hill and helped along by many skilled child actors, featured exciting visuals of a star formation and baton twirl march down center aisle. One great melody followed another; i.e. the clucking of the towns-women's chatter in "Pick-a-Little" and Marion "My White Knight" in a beautiful soprano. The clincher love duet of "Til There Was You" is lovely. Proving that local talent is not hard to find, not only in the lead actors, but in all roles, is the charismatic barbershop quartet by resident luminaries singing "Lida Rose"

Kudos to choreographer Debra Vega for her creative talent -- action includes Irish capped boys in knee socks hop scotching with dolled up girls. Act II opener, "Shipoopi" is another highlight for Vega, as is Eulalie's ballet, "Rustle of Spring," seemingly dramatic, yet a real hoot.

Love is certainly in the air in River City and in East Longmeadow. Don't miss the brazen and brassy finale by the entire company.

November 14, 2013

A Christmas Story-The Musical

The Bushnell, Hartford, CT
through November 17, 2013
by R.E. Smith

“A Christmas Story-The Musical,” like the holiday season itself, is a heart-felt mix of nostalgia, warmth, good humor, music, color, and spectacle. The creators have succeeded in enhancing and expanding the spirit of the original movie so well that it seems this story has always had a life on stage.

In the Midwest of 1940, young Ralphie Parker just wants a Red Ryder BB gun for Christmas, but there are obstacles, from protective adults to childhood perils of every kind. It is the child’s perspective that allows the addition of musical numbers to work so well, with many based around Ralphie’s daydream plans to obtain his prize. The score by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul features some real crowd pleasers that nicely echo different styles and periods, from the Hollywood Western sound of “Ralphie to the Rescue” to the lovingly sentimental “A Christmas Story.”

The depth of talent in this production cannot be overemphasized as the adult leads originated the roles in New York last season. Dan Lauria, known as the father on “The Wonder Years,” plays narrator Jean Shepherd, upon whose short stories the book is based, with warmth and good cheer. Erin Dilly’s “Mother” sweetly embodies all the disparate elements that parenthood requires. John Bolton as the “Old Man” has 2 standout numbers with “The Genius on Cleveland Street” which shows that Ralphie’s predilection to fantasy is probably inherited. Aided by a kick-line of plastic leg lamps, he gets to express his joy in winning “A Major Award.” As Ralphie’s teacher, Caroline O’Connor brings down the house, ably assisted by the children of the ensemble, as she explains to the lad that “You’ll Shoot Your Eye Out.” Of special note is young Luke Spring, a tap dance prodigy whose solo in that number is a spectacularly pleasant surprise.

Most of the original creative team is on board as well, and that consistency is evident in everything from the inventive choreography to the homey, snow globe-evoking set.

Whether you’ve ever enjoyed the 24 hour Christmas Eve marathon of the movie or not, this is a highly recommended family show.

November 12, 2013

Beethoven & Bernstein

Hartford Symphony, Hartford, CT
November 7–10, 2013
by Michael J. Moran

“The apotheosis of the Dance,” Richard Wagner’s famous description of Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony, is a phrase that could also describe the other two pieces on the second Masterworks concert of the current HSO season.

The program opened with Leonard Bernstein’s 1944 ballet "Fancy Free." HSO Music Director Carolyn Kuan made her entrance, turned on a vintage gramophone at stage left, where Billie Holiday sang “Big Stuff,” the prologue Bernstein composed for her, and waited for "Lady Day" to finish before giving her musicians their downbeat. It was a lovely prelude to the HSO’s exuberant performance of this jazzy music. Brass and percussion played their featured parts with gusto, and HSO pianist Margreet Francis earned a solo bow for her dazzling work.

Next came a rarely heard piece by a composer seldom played in the concert hall: Astor Piazzolla’s "Four Seasons of Buenos Aires." Reflecting the tango rhythms of his native Argentina, these four pieces (named Summer, Autumn, Winter, and Spring) were arranged by Leonid Desyatnikov after the composer’s death in 1992 into a half-hour-long suite for solo violin and string orchestra. Each movement includes at least one clever quotation from Vivaldi’s Four Seasons.

Photo by Peter Schaaf
The brilliant soloist was Hartford native Peter Winograd, a Juilliard graduate, member of the American String Quartet, and son of Arthur Winograd, who led the HSO from 1964 to 1985. Both soloist and other ensemble members interspersed lyrical playing with entertaining bursts of distorted string sound or percussive effects from knocking on the wood of their instruments. The enthusiastic audience rewarded them with a standing ovation.

A thrilling account of Beethoven’s "Seventh Symphony" followed intermission. A flowing introduction led into a lively reading of the first movement Allegro, while the ravishing Allegretto was taken at a moderate pace. The last two movements were breathtaking in their energy and forward motion. The full orchestra played all four movements with an exhilaration that showed why, as Klaus G. Roy is quoted in the program notes, “many a listener has come away from a hearing of this Symphony in a state of being punch-drunk.”

Stick Fly

The Majestic, West Springfield, MA
through December 15, 2013
by Shera Cohen

The folk at the Majestic Theater seem to have developed their 2013/14 season with emphasis on stronger subject matter than in the past. For example, “Stick Fly” presents racism, classism, and prejudice through the characters in the LeVay household. The LeVays are black and their summer home is Martha’s Vineyard. The color and setting literally and immediately set the stage for conflict. Yet, lots of humor takes the edge off the tough topics.

The LeVay brothers -- complete opposites in looks, goals, and lifestyles -- bring their girlfriends home to meet mom and dad. Kent’s gal is a well-educated, high-strung, preachy spitfire. She is black. Flip’s lady is a well-meaning, introspective negotiator. She is white. At its core, the play points fingers at fathers and their affects on their children of both sexes. Kent and Flip’s dad is very much in the picture of this dysfunctional family. But, neither color nor money clean up dysfunction.

Photo by Lee Chambers
There are no stars in “Stick Fly,” but an ensemble that holds well. Ashley Denise Robinson (Cheryl, the maid’s daughter) is the first to step on stage doing funky choreography to her headphone music. She hasn’t said a word. Her audience likes her. Seemingly a small role develops into the most important in the story. We really like Cheryl, her language, nuances, quips. We really like Robinson. The other actors in the sextet do their jobs -- some far better than others. Even though the play’s theme explores the importance of fathers, it is the girls who rule onstage.

“Stick Fly” will have to overcome a few problems to become an excellent production. First, the play is too long. This is not the director’s fault. However, some cuts within scenes is advised. Second, the set does not work. In fact, it works against the characters/actors. The audience sees a kitchen, living room, porch, and entries/exits. Okay, that’s a lot, but doable. But, the partition between rooms not only looks like a slab of drywall, but even worse, is so high that actors can only be seen from the torso up. Many important scenes occur in the kitchen. Because the stage area is so small, the actors block each other, and sometimes only their heads are seen. The play’s run just began. It’s not too late for some interior redecorating.

This play is recommended for adult audiences.

The Mystery of Irma Vep

Panache Productions, Springfield, MA
By K. J. Rogowski

To truly enjoy the plot and purpose of Panche Productions’ current show, Charles Ludlams’  “The Mystery of Irma Vep,” the audience needs to make note of a key line in the play’s title, in the small print, which reads “a penny dreadful." Wikipedia defines the term as: “a variety of publications that featured cheap sensational fiction…” With that firmly in mind, all of the silliness, improbable plot twists and melodramatic carrying on makes nearly perfect sense, which is as close as it has to come to make for an evening of fun and laughs.

The setting for the action is, of course, the classic…"it was a dark and stormy night" at the old Hillcrest estate, complete with abundant thunder and lightening. The cast of eight outrageous characters is carried off by only two actors, Mark Ekenbarger and Robert Laviolette, who are, at one moment, a maid named Jane and a groundskeeper named Nicodemus. The actors then dash off stage and back on stage to become Lord and Lady Edgar Hillcrest. More dashing takes place as they become… well, the audience gets the idea.

These multiple changes are handled nicely, with the help of a three person backstage dressers' crew, who transform their actors back on stage in time to keep the action flowing. The set design by Robert Laviolette, who also directs the show, carries the penny dreadful theme through the comedy with portraits that come alive, secret panels, and an Egyptian tomb, complete with a golden sarcophagus. This fast paced and comically convoluted plot takes participants on a pulp fiction adventure from the moors at Hillcrest to the deserts of Egypt, in an effort to discover just what “The Mystery of Irma Vep” actually is.

November 10, 2013

Sweet Honey In The Rock

UMass Fine Arts Center, Amherst, MA
November 8, 2013
by Eric Sutter

The female African American acapella group Sweet Honey In The Rock sang a spectacular set with a live jazz trio that they dubbed the Honey Men. The men, Parker McAllister on bass, Jovol Bell on drums/percussion and Stacey Wade on piano/keyboard served as a tasty jazzy side dish to the soulful main course female harmonies.

This was a celebration tribute to four out-spoken musical icons: Nina Simone, Odetta, Miriam Makeba and Abbey Lincoln. The evening featured unique African music as in Makeba's South African chant, "Shuka, Shuka (Choo Choo Song)" which sounded like a steam engine. Female harmony and hand claps supplemented Odetta's, "I Can't Afford To Lose My Man." A beautifully sung solo vocal by N. B. Casel on Simone's "If I Should Lose You" was matched by Stacey Wade's earnest piano solo. Aisha Kahlil interpreted Simone's "Feelin' Good" with sign interpreter Shirley Childress doing an outstanding job. Louise Robinson highlighted "Trouble In Mind" with the sweet added Honey Men refrain, "She's Got Trouble In Mind." "Pata Pata" solicited lively audience dance participation that revved up the fun factor.

The next theme focused on the Civil Rights movement. Kudos to sound director Art Steele for his creative talents as the girls sang "Oh Freedom," "Ain't Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me 'Round," "I'm On My Way To Freedom Land", and "Glory, Glory Hallelujah." The Abbey Lincoln tribute included "Down Here Below," "The Music Is The Magic" and a spirited "I'm In Love." Robinson rocked Odetta's mind-blowing "God's Gonna Cut You Down" with a powerful message.

The performance seemed to flow with music that touched all aspects of life. A jazzy rendition of "Let There Be Peace On Earth" was silky smooth. Sweet Honey closed with a sultry West African Makeba song, "My Love Has Come" which showcased an infectious keyboard solo. The encore, "N' diarabi/Africa Is Where My Heart Lies" was a hand percussion soother with colorful imagery of African skies, valleys, and mountains.

November 5, 2013

World Blues with Taj Mahal

Mahaiwe, Great Barrington, MA
November 3, 2013
by Eric Sutter

A beacoup of blues entertained a lively audience at the Mahaiwe. Fredericks Brown opened with a contemporary soul-blues set. Vocalist Deva Mahal, the daughter of Taj Mahal, proved to be a powerful blues tinged soul singer with "Can't Pretend." Their musical blend included Bonnie Raitt's "I Can't Make You Love Me." Keyboardist Stephanie Brown added a nice touch as Mahal performed the passionate soul hand-clapper "Everybody Deserves To Be Free." Watch for their rise!

International artist Vusi Mahlasela from South Africa stressed the need for Ubuntu (kindness) in "A Prayer For Our Time." During "Say Africa," he urged the audience to sing along as he danced for the joy of his homeland. Next, was a dedication of "My Song Of Love" to the women of South Africa, sounding especially beautiful through its many tones and pitches, in both Zula and English languages. 
Taj Mahal Trio performed a blues happy set. Mahal spoke of the world gone crazy with everyday "Uh Oh" news. The trio lit up with "I Used To Be Down, But I Ain't Down Anymore." The master multi-instrumentalist played many guitars. "Fishin' Blues" sounded clean on acoustic guitar. Mahal's bluesy rasp worked to great effect on his classic songs.

Mahal carries the torch for roots music. On ukelele, the star played the traditional jug band song "Wild About My Lovin'" that  danced friskily. His banjo jubilee was pure magic. Mahlasela joined in for a world-music acoustic guitar duet "Zanzibar" with a haunted vocal blend. Mahal swept away the audience with the low rumble of his resonator guitar as he dueted sweetly with his daughter on "Lovin' In My Baby's Eyes." Guest keyboardist John Savitt became the swingin' part of the encore, "Ain't Gwine Whistle Dixie No More". The avalanche of sound prompted an audience soul-clap. In the aftermath, every player joined in the bustin' loose thrill of "Everybody Is Somebody."

November 3, 2013

The Game’s Afoot

Wilbraham United Players, Wilbraham, MA
through November 10, 2013
by Eric Johnson

 “Dying is easy, comedy is hard," an oft repeated quip in the theatrical community. If comedy is hard, then farce is a monumental task indeed. Author Ken Ludwig offers up a nice foundation for some out of control, sidesplitting hysteria that doesn’t quite hit the mark in this production.

Greg Trochlil did a very nice job on the set design with functional elements that help bring the castle setting to life.

Pace and energy are the key to pulling off a farce of this ilk and, although there were some very funny moments, this performance never quite conveys the obligatory sense of urgency and impending doom consistently. One of the aforementioned funny moments comes at the beginning of Act II with Kevin Bechard as William Gillette and Heath Verrill as Felix Geisel. Theirs is an enjoyable synergy between the two characters and the scene rolls along nicely.

In general, the acting is good yet understated, almost as if there was a fear of going over the top. The character of Daria (played by Patricia Colkos) seems to be particularly underplayed. This role is begging for some scenery chewing, which just doesn't happen. Perhaps it can in upcoming performances.

This show has the potential to be quite good, the director and cast just need to release the brakes and trust their instincts.