Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

November 24, 2014

Death and the Maiden

Panache Productions, Springfield, MA
through November 23, 2014
by Phil O’Donoghue

Ariel Dorfman’s play “Death and the Maiden” is not an easy play to watch. Set in the aftermath of Chile's dictatorship rule in the 1990's, which included kidnappings and torture on a daily basis, Maiden is just one story about those abuses; but one story can be a harrowing experience.

Panache has gained a well-earned reputation for choosing plays that are challenging. Maiden is a complex play about Paulina, a victim of torture and interrogation. Her husband, Gerardo, works on a Human Rights Commission of the play’s unnamed country. The visitor, Roberto, is a seemingly innocuous man, eager to help, and is just as eager, if you believe him, to see his country’s past abuses made right.

When the play starts, Paulina seems to be a nervous, slightly scattered woman. Gerardo is solicitous to his wife, yet concerned that her frail condition will upset his career. When Paulina hears Roberto’s voice, her persona takes a sudden turn. She is stunned, shocked, and finally, determined. Paulina knocks Roberto out, ties him to a chair – and the play begins.

Believe it or not, there is a danger of the script being, what some critics of the original Broadway production referred to as, somewhat of a light play. There are lines where the audience nervously laughs, almost making the situation absurd. Thankfully, this community theatre's experienced director and cast walks that tightrope with ease. Marge Huba’s Paulina is overpowering in her rage and her need for vengeance. Hal Chernoff, as her husband, makes his character change into a weak, helpless onlooker – making his audience understand how a country can bend so easily under a forceful personality. Mark Ekenbarger, in the role of Roberto, shows a wide range of emotions. He is terrified at first, but ultimately almost contemptuous of Paulina. It is a fascinating standoff.

Kudos to Panache, its director, cast, and crew for undertaking this difficult production. It makes for an interesting and thought-provoking evening.

November 18, 2014

Fiddler on the Roof

Broad Brook Opera House, Broad Brook, CT
through November 30, 2014
by Jennifer Curran

"Fiddler on the Roof," that classic and beloved musical, stands the test of time for a simple reason: it’s got a heart of gold. So, too, does Broad Brook with it current production. "Fiddler" is filled to the brim with sweetness and gentleness that has seep into the boards of the stage and reaches up to the open beamed ceiling.

Inside the playbook was a small note sharing that Director and Musical Director John DeNicola had been hospitalized and therefore others had stepped in to finish his work during those incredibly trying final weeks of rehearsal. And they did, with rousing success. 

Brad Shepard’s Tevya is a gentle giant with a humanity that stretches right out to the back row. Could this be his best performance thus far? Anna Giza, always a terrific performer, is a Golde worth sparring with and falling in love with. It could have been, and often is unfortunate, to play the conflict between these two characters. Shepard and Giza never let the audience forget that these two characters love each other. It’s more than a song; it's how they treat one another with playful jabs. Such nuances, which may be over-done in lesser productions, are underlined with true affection. The relationship between his man and woman is clear and important, raising the stakes for the audience and adding that extra dimension to a marriage whose lasting power exists for more than mere tradition.

Huge kudos go to the beautiful, rich voices of Kaytlyn Vandeloecht (Tzeitel), Stella Rivera (Hodel) and Madeline Lukomski (Chava). Also of note in this charming production is Gene Choquette as Lazar Wolf. Every scene that he is in has its own energy and lightness; Choquette brings out the best in his fellow actors. 

This is a "Fiddler" that is endearing and delightful. With a delicate ballet routine performed quite beautifully by Randy Davidson (Fyedka) and Madeline Lukomski (Chava), this production runs lovingly. If comedy is hard, ballet is certainly a way to raise that barre. Well done, Broad Brook and get well wishes to John DeNicola.

Beethoven’s Emperor Concerto

Hartford Symphony Orchestra, Hartford, CT
through November 16, 2014
by Michael J. Moran

The second program in the HSO’s Masterworks series this season focused on music from the German tradition, but with an unusual (and educational) twist. The season’s closing concert next June will feature Mahler’s Fourth Symphony, and this was one of several earlier programs in which Music Director Carolyn Kuan is finding connections to that work in other repertoire.

She led off with a dramatic performance of Brahms’ alternately turbulent and consoling Tragic Overture, which he wrote as a darker companion to his jubilant Academic Festival Overture in 1880. Kuan’s leadership and the orchestra’s playing were taut and incisive.

Before the next work on the program, Richard Strauss’ tone poem Death and Transfiguration, the musicians played an excerpt from the third movement of Mahler’s Fourth. In spoken comments Kuan noted that the composers, born four years apart, were lifelong rivals, or “frenemies,” whose music influenced each other’s. After this preface, the HSO’s sublime rendition of the Strauss, which depicts an artist only finding his ideal after death, made it sound more Mahlerian than usual, from the vividly painful climaxes to the transcendent hushed conclusion. Brasses, woodwinds, and two harps were particularly evocative.

Martina Filjak
Intermission was followed by a riveting account of Beethoven’s fifth and last piano concerto, nicknamed the “Emperor” presumably for its grandeur but also because it was written in Vienna during 1809, when Napoleon was conquering the city. The young Croatian-born soloist, Martina Filjak, met its considerable technical demands with dazzling virtuosity. She also scaled its interpretive heights with maturity and balance. Orchestra and conductor were with her all the way, strings providing a warm bath of support in the slow movement and the whole ensemble opening and closing the piece with appropriate pomp and circumstance.      

Responding to the audience’s enthusiastic applause, Filjak then offered something completely different as an encore – a quiet “study for the left hand” by Scriabin. The delicacy of her playing here in contrast with Beethoven’s massive sonority was impressive. The early return of this rising star to Hartford would clearly be most welcome to her many fans at this concert.

November 17, 2014

The Yeomen of the Guard

Valley Light Opera, Academy of Music, Northampton, MA
through November 16, 2014
By Mary Ann Dennis

Gilbert and Sullivan’s "The Yeomen of the Guard," is a favorite of both author and composer, as well as the VLO family. Although the darkest of the G&S operas, pointed satire and punning one-liners abound. There are plenty of topsy-turvy plot complications and many believe that the score is Sullivan's finest. The plot involves ever-changing emotional balance of joy and despair, love and sacrifice.

It is said that the sign of a great director is in the casting. The VLO's perfect cast gives an almost perfect rendition of this masterpiece, giving full vocal and histrionic justice to both text and music. Jacqueline Haney’s direction is spot on and musical director Aldo Fabrizi shapes the decrescendos with great sensitivity including outstanding acapella pieces.

Phoebe, played by Kate Saik, opens the show with a solo and literally sets the tone from the start. Saik embraces this character from head to toe, moving about the stage through intentions, not just blocking. Jonathan Klate as Jack Point, in one of the most difficult roles, does a wonderful job as he plays a subtle account of this sad, lonely, self-mocking clown. Jonathan Evans, who performs Fairfax, sings some of his moments with such a sweet falsetto. He has a beautiful tone, especially in his wooing Elsie. Not only can Elaine Crane, who plays Elsie, sing, but she brilliantly “takes on” the emotions needed for this demanding role. The stunning contralto, Dame Carruthers, played by Kathy Blaisdell, has all the right stuff; a rich voice and a magnificent stage presence. Michael Budnick, who plays Wilfred the Jailer, is hilarious in his conflict. Although he doesn’t have the pipes of the rest of the cast, he makes it work.

The chorus is tight in their vocals and diction. The stunning set and lights complement the show perfectly. Elaine Walkerk and Laurla Glenn's set and costumes bring authentic early 1500’s to life. Seems like it would take years to make just the costumes.

For G&S fans and for those who are not, this production of "Yeomen" is a must see.

November 10, 2014

The Man Who Came to Dinner

Wilbraham United Players, Wilbraham, MA
 through November 16, 2014
by Walt Haggerty

“The Man Who Came to Dinner,” an inspired comedy by George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart, was a major success in 1939, and still sparkles with its authors' sophisticated wit, much of which was derived at the expense of their friend, Alexander Wollcott. Wilbraham United Players' production is a delight, capturing all the humor of the original through the efforts of a multi-talented cast expertly directed by Deborah Tremble.

As the story unfolds, Sheridan Whiteside is a reluctant house-guest in a small Ohio town, where he was to deliver a lecture. Entering the home of the Stanley’s, he has fallen. In his least charming and most aggravating manner, he proceeds to terrorize everyone. Paul Nesbit plays Whiteside with great vigor and matchless timing, never missing a laugh at the expense of his hosts or anyone else.

In addition to Nesbit, other standout performers include the Stanleys, expertly played by Kevin Kary and Patricia Colkos. Janet Crosier as Whiteside’s frazzled and frustrated nurse is priceless. Stacy Gilmour is outstanding as the patient and understanding secretary in love with the strong, handsome local editor, ideally played by David Chivers. Carolyn Averill’s Lorraine Sheldon is hilarious in her dual pursuit of the editor as she awaits a long sought proposal from a stuttering English lord.

The play overflows with amusing cameo appearances by Whiteside friends and others including Mark Jacobson as a devastatingly funny Beverly Carlton. Don Clements contributes knockout comic twists that nearly derail the proceedings, and Paul Rothberg as Dr. Bradley has only to appear to have the audience roaring. Other cast members giving winning interpretations include Joe Van Allen and Christine Zdebski, the Stanley children and Michelle McBride as Mr. Stanley’s sister. Jay Muse and Gina Marieparo are the Stanley’s butler and cook, (whom Whiteside is trying to hi-jack to New York).

 “The Man Who Came to Dinner” is a perfect example of a laugh-a-minute comedy from another era when theatre did not need to resort to shock or foul language to find success.


Majestic Theater, West Springfield, MA
through December 14, 2014
by Jennifer Curran

"Harvey," written in 1944 by Mary Chase, won the Pulitzer Prize in 1945 beating out Tennessee Williams’ "The Glass Menagerie." Williams’ play is performed routinely by high schools, community, regional and professional theaters across the country, while "Harvey" is significantly less popular. "Harvey" can be a terrific play, but one that is extraordinarily difficult to get right. Most recently, it was successfully revived on Broadway and starred Jim Parsons of "The Big Bang Theory."

Our hero of the play, Elwood, has a best friend that nobody but he can see: a six-foot tall rabbit named Harvey. Elwood, (David Mason) is affable, likable, and absolutely committed to sincerity. Upon meeting someone he likes, he immediately becomes their friend. Mason’s Elwood is childlike and completely endearing. Unfortunately for Mason, an ensemble comedy depends on all of the actors’ ability to jab and punch and dance to a specific timing that is unique to each production.

Director Randy Foerster comes close, but sadly, this production falls flat. With actors clumped together in awkward poses or quite literally shoulder to shoulder, the audience members sitting anywhere other than the center section almost never see the face of one of the characters. With a stage design as gorgeous as Greg Trochlil’s is, there is little excuse to see the director’s hand or not see an actor almost at all.

The Majestic’s production of this American classic tries hard, but ultimately forgets that "Harvey" is supposed to be funny.

November 7, 2014


The Bushnell, Hartford, CT
through November 25, 2014
by Walt Haggerty

“Wicked,” with music and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz and book by Winnie Holzman, has become one of those modern phenomena – a Broadway musical that just runs forever. Currently in its tenth year on Broadway, “Wicked” is making a return visit to Hartford, certain to achieve another sell-out run, attracting both new and repeat enthusiastic fans.

Based on a novel by Gregory Maguire, the story relates the pre-Dorothy origins of the “Wizard of Oz” good witch Glinda (pronounced Ga-linda most of the time) and not-so-good witch Elphaba. Key to the plot is the audience's discovery of the women's personalities. Staged as a spectacular production, complete with flying monkeys, “Wicked” creates an electrifying evening of theatre, no matter how many times it is seen, and this production ranks with the best.

In the pivotal roles of Elphaba and Glinda, Laurel Harris and Kara Lindsay, respectively, are impeccable, with Harris delivering a complex characterization confirming Kermit the Frog’s conclusion, that “it’s not easy being green.” On the other hand, Lindsay eagerly shares her appreciation of, and entitlement to, being “Popular,” one of several show-stoppers distributed generously, like gems, throughout the score. Another special moment occurs in Act II, as Elphaba and Fiero sing “As Long As You’re Mine.”

The entire cast shines in their execution of a series of demanding characterizations. Among the most memorable are Matt Shingledecker as Fiero, the object of both Glinda and Elphaba’s affections. Kathy Fitzgerald’s Madame Morrible is the personification of evil, and Jenny Fellner is a tenderly moving Nessarose. As the Wizard, Wayne Schroder’s performance of “Wonderful” is introduced as a welcome touch of old-time vaudeville at precisely the right moment.

This touring production of “Wicked” matches the Broadway original in every way, from its amazing scenery and gorgeous costumes to an enthusiastic and highly talented cast giving their all as though each performance is opening night. “Wicked” also delivers a message that is not limited to children.