Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

July 29, 2015

Tanglewood: Selected Concerts, Part 2

Festival of Contemporary Music
Tanglewood, Lenox, MA
July 20-27, 2015
by Michael J. Moran

Besides the distinctions noted in the first installment of this three-part series, Tanglewood also features a week-long Festival of Contemporary Music that explores “new” music in more depth than most other summer music festivals do. The 75th anniversary of the Tanglewood Music Center, whose students perform most of the Festival repertoire, lends it a special resonance in 2015. Called fellows during their TMC summer residencies, many of these emerging musicians perform in two or more concerts per day, but always at the highest level of professional skill.

This year’s opening FCM program presented music by five former TMC fellows, and three of the four living composers were present to take a bow after their piece was performed. A TMC- commissioned arrangement for violin and strings by Einojuhani Rautavaara of his violin-and-piano piece “Lost Landscapes: Tanglewood” featured recent TMC fellow Samantha Bennett in an affecting performance. TMC faculty member Emanuel Ax was the exuberant soloist in Robert Zuidam’s colorful “Tanglewood Concerto” for piano and orchestra.

Another program featured pieces by six former TMC fellows, several of whom spoke after intermission about their works. Michael Gandolfi’s entertaining “Carroll in Wonderland” showcased soprano Dawn Upshaw (who also more or less conducted the piece) and three TMC vocal fellows in a delightful “mashup” (the composer’s word) of nonsense verse by Lewis Carroll. The other popular hit on this program was TMC fellow mezzo-soprano Kristin Gornstein’s virtuosic account of a clever original text by Steven Mackey in his “Madrigal” for female voice and percussion quartet.

Michael Tilson Thomas
The blockbuster FCM event was the closing concert, lovingly hosted by rock star conductor, TMC alum, and former Boston Symphony Orchestra assistant conductor Michael Tilson Thomas, Music Director of the San Francisco Symphony since 1995. MTT led brilliant accounts of short but challenging pieces by three of his own Tanglewood mentors in the first half of the program: Leonard Bernstein; Lukas Foss; and Aaron Copland. He introduced the second half -  Charles Ives’s astonishing “New England Holidays” symphony, a work he has championed and recorded – with several of the now unfamiliar hymns that Ives quotes in the last movement sung with spirited assurance by the high-school-aged Boston University Tanglewood Institute Chorus.

Reading from Ives’s own descriptive notes before each movement, he conducted only the first movement himself, while two TMC conducting fellows – Marzena Diakun from Poland, and Ruth Reinhardt from Germany - and a guest conductor led the last three movements. While all three were impressive, Christian Reif, a young German-born assistant conductor with MTT’s New World Symphony, exuded the special charisma of a star in the making as he led the orchestra and chorus in a mesmerizing account of the final “Thanksgiving” movement.

The last installment of this three-part series will appear next week.

July 27, 2015

Paradise Blue

Williamstown Theatre Festival, Williamstown, MA
through Aug. 2, 2015
By Bernadette Johnson

It’s 1949, the place, Blackbottom, a densely-populated Detroit neighborhood where African-American-owned businesses, nightclubs and theaters, which had experienced a growth-spurt in the ’30s and ’40s, are beginning to feel the encroachment of urban renewal. The once-vibrant music scene faces extinction. Blue, the owner of Paradise and trumpet lead in the club’s band has lost “soul” and is ready to sell out. Standing in the wings ready to save the club and its legacy are percussionist P-Sam and a newcomer to the scene, the sultry Silver (De’Adre Aziza).

Neil Patel’s moody set is a partitioned club/bedroom with freestanding doorways and lighting by Rui Rita directing attention from one space to the other.

Initially, the production lacks a bit of momentum as P-Sam (Andre Holland) and pianist Corn (Keith Randolph Smith) discuss the club’s shaky future and Blue’s seeming indifference, and Pumpkin (Kristolyn Lloyd), barmaid/cook/Blue’s girl, later tagged a “go-along girl”, and “prissy little thing,” recites memorized poetry.

Blair Underwood (Blue) leaves no doubt that his character feels the “demons closing in.” Underwood is a strong presence with a determined stride and troubled manner. His anger and frustration are genuine, especially when he picks up his blues horn, and struggles with reaching the pure notes that elude him. He lashes out at everyone, his rage comes to a climax in a fight scene with Holland and Randolph Smith (great direction by Thomas Schall).

Aziza is sultry and seductive as the enigmatic Silver, who leaves Corn and P-Sam mystified and entranced, Blue suspicious, and Pumpkin scandalized but curious. Randolph Smith is wide-eyed and mesmerized in a delightful bedroom scene between him and the seductive Aziza. Lloyd’s performance is spot-on as Pumpkin comes out of her shell and finds her voice. Her discovery of a gun in Silver’s belongings sets the scene for an ultimate confrontation.

Dominique Morisseau’s “Paradise Blue,” the middle play in a three-part history-based series, laments the “slum clearance” that led to the destruction of the Blackbottom neighborhood and the Paradise Valley cultural district. Who were the victims in this saga? These were black musicians struggling to earn a living while yet saving their “soul.”

July 24, 2015

Sunday Tanglewood Lawn Afternoons

Tanglewood: Lenox, MA 
through August 23, 2015
By Mary Fernandez-Sierra

For some Tanglewood fans, sitting in the shelter of the comfortable shed is the best way to enjoy a concert. There are also those who long for lovely outdoor landscapes to match the music they hear…and who relish the feeling of symphonies wafting around them on the wind.

The lush greens lawns of Tanglewood and the trees gracefully shading everywhere provide such a sensuous setting. One has the choice of the loveliest seats of all, by setting up one’s own space (often picnic-style) on the lawn. It’s there that, for many, the music comes alive in the sweet sunshine and open air.

The Sunday afternoon program on July 19 featured two Mozart works: Symphony No. 35 in D, K.386 “Haffner;” and Symphony No. 36 in C, K.425 “Linz,” as well as Schumann’s Piano concerto in A minor, Opus 54. Sir Neville Marriner conducted the Boston Symphony Orchestra, and it was a treat and a joy to be present.

Paul Lewis, playing the Schumann piano concerto, was the jewel in this lovely musical setting. Mr. Lewis stated in an interview that the concerto was like a love-letter from Schumann to his wife Clara. Judging by the hush as he played, and the tumultuous applause he received afterward, the listeners on the lawn (as well as those in the shed!) fell in love, too.

This particular concert was a true midsummer idyll; even the storm clouds, hovering on the outskirts of the Tanglewood skies throughout the afternoon, politely gave way, and did not intrude with rain until the concert was over.

Sunday concerts start at 2:30 pm; the gate opens at 12 noon. Arrive early to discover the best lawn places… and to enjoy the magic of a Sunday Tanglewood lawn afternoon.

Tanglewood: Selected Concerts, Part 1

Tanglewood, Lenox, MA 
June-July, 2015
by Michael J. Moran

A survey of four concerts at Tanglewood so far this season brings to mind at least two distinctions that set this summer home of the Boston Symphony Orchestra apart from many other music festivals: the diversity of its programming; and the wide age range of both its performers and its audience.

Before the official BSO season opened in the Koussevitzky Music Shed, for example, Keith Lockhart led his Boston Pops (which includes many BSO members) in a wide-ranging program entitled “Simply Sondheim” of mostly vocal selections by the greatest living composer/lyricist for the musical theater, Stephen Sondheim. Featured Broadway stars Kate Baldwin and Jason Danieley were both in glorious voice, but the six Tanglewood music fellows who joined them were equally impressive at the start of their promising careers. Special kudos go to baritone Davone Tines for his comic and dramatic turns respectively in “The Woman’s Mine” from “A Little Night Music” and “Losing My Mind” from “Follies.” The music thrived from the full symphonic treatment rarely accorded to Broadway scores.

In the more intimate Ozawa Hall, the Boston Symphony Chamber Players (nine BSO members) and pianist Randall Hodgkinson opened their concert with a 2014 BSO commission, “Why Old Places Matter,” for oboe, horn, and piano by 32-year-old former Tanglewood Music Center fellow Eric Nathan, who took a bow after the lively performance of this charming piece. The program concluded with sparkling accounts of Nielsen’s Quintet for Winds and a chamber arrangement of Brahms’ orchestral Serenade No. 1.

Koussevitzky Music Shed, Tanglewood
At “85 years young” (according to the program notes), legendary American pianist Leon Fleisher was the star of another Ozawa Hall concert, which also featured his wife and piano-duo partner Katherine Jacobson. After glowing accounts by Fleisher of short pieces by Bach and Debussy, the duo offered lovely four-hands renditions of Brahms’s first set of “Liebeslieder” Waltzes and Schubert’s Fantasy in F minor and closed with a shattering version of Ravel’s “La Valse.” It was heartening to see so many students in the audience whom Fleisher may have taught in his many years on the Tanglewood Music Center faculty.

But the biggest crowd so far at Ozawa Hall turned out for the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra, whose leader, trumpeter Wynton Marsalis, was also a genial host. Their repertoire included both classics, like Wayne Shorter’s ballad “Contemplation” in a touching arrangement by LCJO saxophone player Ted Nash and original compositions by band members like trombonist Chris Crenshaw, who also joined fellow trombonist Vincent Gardner in showing off their vocal chops.

The second installment of this three-part series will appear next week.

July 22, 2015

Museums of the Berkshires

Something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue 
by Shera Cohen

A wedding checklist can also be useful in assessing the many museums of the Berkshires. Recently, I had the opportunity of a lengthy visit to four of these sites: Berkshire Museum in Pittsfield, Clark Art Institute in Williamstown, MASS MoCA in North Adams, and Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge. The members of this prestigious quartet are within a relatively short distance from each other. And, yes, at each a visitor will find somethings old (Berkshire Museum’s mummy), somethings new (MASS MoCA’s floor to ceiling contemporary art), somethings borrowed (Van Gogh pieces at Clark’s special exhibit), and something blue (just think of Norman Rockwell’s “Triple Self-Portrait” and you’ll recall that his shirt is a blue). Okay, the last is a bit of a stretch.

Berkshire Museum

Berkshire Museum
Every summer, this museum mounts a touring exhibit sure to wow. A past show that I adored was on frogs -- tiny multi-colored frogs. I don’t even like frogs. “Immortal Present: Art and East Asia” (through September 7th), spanning several galleries on the second floor with works by 20 contemporary artists, include paintings, photography, video, sculpture, screens, and mixed media. Needless to say, Asian art dates to 600 BC, so there is more to see than one would imagine, oftentimes the new replicating the old, side by side.

Yes, “Immortal Present” is the summer draw. However, equally impressive to me are the ongoing exhibits that bear repeated visits; i.e. Hall of Innovation (famous people and facts on Pittsfield), Objectify (a walk through the museum’s own collection of various genres), and the aquariums (just sit a while and enjoy, nothing more to say).

Clark Art Institute

In July, 2014, Clark’s completion of its huge renovation and addition opened the world to perhaps one of the top rated museums in the country. “Van Gogh and Nature” (through September 13th) features dozens of the masters’ works. While many (myself included) think of Van Gogh as a man whose paintings reflected his depression, to some degree, that is true. Yet, so many pieces in Clark’s exhibit are delightful and joyous -- as they are in nature. Some words to readers -- while a picture may be worth 1000  words, don’t ignore the text, usually written directly on exhibit walls. You will learn a great deal which will assuredly add to the experience of the exhibit tour.

Clark does not place the onus on their changing special exhibit to draw visitors. A walk through numerous maze-like halls and galleries, one can enjoy art by some of the most famous and greatest, particularly Impressionists; i.e. Manet, Renoir, Degas, Cassatt. Space for America’s best includes Homer and  Remington.


Nothing is small at MM except its name. Big is beautiful in the eye of the beholder -- or not always beautiful, but fun, weird, unique, curious. In the case of MM’s name exhibits was art in each category or combination of categories, depending on your tastes. All of the featured arts are still alive and working. Yes! Let’s support living and breathing talented men and women. Hmm, I was sidetracked. 

A visitor immediately walks into Clifford Ross’ Landscape Seen & Imagined, which is the most accessible exhibit in the building. A continuous loop video of colored glass moving throughout water was exquisite. It’s Super, Man (with scattered images of Dan Quayle,  remember him?) was in the bizarre category. Liz Deschenes’ huge geometric blocks sitting or floating in one gallery might fit under the heading of strange. My favorite was Jim Shaw’s Entertaining Doubts paintings and sculpture. Yes, definitely entertaining, simple, yet imaginative. I liked it, but I’m not sure why.

Norman Rockwell Museum

Photo by Sarah Edwards
Ever hear of the name Roz Chast? Me, either. Chast, however, should (or perhaps will) be as well-known as Charles Schultz. The current special exhibit, Roz Chast: Cartoon Memoirs, is a hoot, a laugh-out-loud look at contemporary cartoons -- single drawings, strips, full pages, and her entire book which happens to be a cartoon autobiography. Trust me, you have seen the award winning of this New Yorker cartoonist many times. You, again like me, just didn’t know her name. Rockwell Museum offers that opportunity, to learn and laugh at some of the best cartoon drawings and scripts of this era. The exhibit closes on October 26th.

Of course, there are numerous galleries full of Norman Rockwell’s own captivating, familiar, sometimes under-appreciated art; i.e. the permanent collection and the 323 Saturday Evening Post magazine covers. Perhaps more than any other museum in this country, visitors point to the paintings saying, “I know that one,” “I remember that,” or “I saw that magazine in the attic.”

Even in the Berkshires, the weather can be bad -- perhaps especially in the Berkshires in the summer. I can’t think of a better thing to do on rainy or sweltering hot days than visiting a museum. Besides the wonderful art, a plus is the AC.

Lost in Yonkers

Barrington Stage Company, Pittsfield, MA
through August 1, 2015
by Jarice Hanson

Barrington Stage is rapidly becoming the place where audiences find intelligent interpretations of shows they may think they already know. Barrington’s production of "Lost in Yonkers" breathes new life into one of the most familiar of Neil Simon’s work.

Director Jenn Thompson has found the beauty of the original writing and has trusted an exceptional cast to deliver the heart and pain that portrays three generations of a family. This production makes the audience members realize what a craftsman Simon is, and how his words are timeless when actors fully commit to the script. Too often this playwright's works are delivered at rapid pace while actors reach for the laugh lines. But in this production the pacing is slower, and as a result, the lines have far more potency. What emerges is a sense of what family is, and what we most remember about our own family relationships.

Photo by Kevin Sprague
There’s not a single weak member of the cast, but special mention should be made of Lynn Cohen in her portrayal of Grandma Kurnitz, a mean spirited matriarch who “could tell if there was salt missing from a pretzel.” Paula Jon Derose as Bella captures the naiveté and awkwardness of a girl destined to always be child-like; and the boys, portrayed by Matt Gumley as Jay, and Jake Giordano as Arty, steal scenes and work together like veteran stage pros.

This "Lost in Yonkers" is deeper and more meaningful than any of the five (yes, five) previous productions this reviewer has seen, and it sets a new standard for finding life in older scripts that some have deemed “of their time.” Apparently, the audience agreed as they leaped to their feet in a standing ovation to honor the actors in this wonderful production. For those who don't necessarily enjoy Neil Simon, or think they can’t find something new in his work, they will not be disappointed by this loving offering of a classic tale from Barrington Stage.

Newport Music Festival

Newport, Rhode Island
July 10-26, 2015
by Michael J. Moran

If you tell someone you’re going to the Newport Music Festival, they’re likelier to assume you mean the folk or jazz festival in August than their less famous classical music sibling in July. But as it celebrates its 47th season, this venerable event also offers far more programming than its two counterparts, with 66 concerts of music from the Romantic Era and beyond presented by more than 100 performers from 17 countries in 12 venues over almost three weeks.

Opening weekend featured a stunning Newport debut in the Breakers by Finnish-born Metropolitan Opera soprano Soile Isokoski. Her silken tone, clear enunciation (in five languages), and nuanced acting skill conveyed a vast range of emotion in music by Grieg, Wagner, Strauss, Sibelius, and Bernstein. From the sweet yearning of Grieg’s “Solveig’s Song” to the haunting depths of Wagner’s “In the Greenhouse” to the childish playfulness of Bernstein’s “My Name Is Barbara,” Isokoski communicated with total empathy and flawless technique. Finnish pianist Ilkka Paananen accompanied with warmth and flexibility.   

Another highlight of opening weekend was a blazing Newport debut in an all-Chopin recital by seventeen-year-old American pianist Eric Lu. Walking on stage at the Breakers, he looked like a modest teenager, but once his fingers hit the keyboard, his complete focus on the music was riveting. A selection of nocturnes and mazurkas, a waltz, and the Ballade #4 made an enticing first half, but the full cycle of Preludes, Op. 28, which followed intermission, showed off both the intimacy and the high drama of Lu’s playing. More surprising than his technical proficiency was the interpretive maturity of his performances. This is a pianist to watch. 

This weekend also presented the first installments in several series of concerts which will continue throughout the festival honoring Mozart, Sibelius, and Nielsen, both of whom were born 150 years ago. Festival veterans Eric Ruske and Thomas Hrynkiw impressed in an arrangement by Ruske for French horn and piano of Mozart’s fourth horn concerto, while Hrynkiw brought Nielsen’s rarely heard “Suite for Piano” to virtuosic life.

The beauty of the performance venues, including the Chinese Tea House and several mansions, and a stimulating mix of new and returning artists make the Newport Music Festival a uniquely rewarding attraction.

July 20, 2015

Bells Are Ringing

Berkshire Theatre Group
Colonial Theatre, Pittsfield, MA
through July 26, 2015
by Shera Cohen

Ella Peterson, a lovely young woman who sits at her station in her big skirt and crinoline slip, is bored with her job as an operator at a small answering service agency. She is essentially a disembodied voice to the “real people” who make or receive phone calls. Ella adds meaning to her life and spice to others as she rather unintentionally puts herself in the middle of situations as an erstwhile match maker.

Back up. Crinoline? Answering service? Readers under age 40 may be clueless about 1950’s garb and the environs of “Bells Are Ringing.” Let’s just call this an historical musical penned and mounted by a who’s who in musical theatre; i.e. writers Comden and Green, composer Jule Styne, director Jerome Robbins, choreographer Bob Fosse. With such a resume, “Bells” can’t help but be a delight.

Photo By Michelle McGrady
Kate Baldwin (Ella) exudes the style of Lucille Ball -- somewhat daffy, optimistic, and wholesome. Everybody likes her. Especially the audience. This lady has a powerful soprano voice, able to hold those long end notes. Graham Rowat (client Jeffrey, who Ella has fallen for simply by the sound of his voice) is a singer first and foremost. His “I Met a Girl” is poignant. Duets “Long Before I Knew You” and “Just In Time” move the characters’ love story forward.

Kudos to director Ethan Heard and his set and lighting designer team who create an ever changing and colorful “Laugh In” type geometric spaces. While sets change often, yet seamlessly, these backdrop boxes splash lights and hues. “Bells” is a long musical with a lot of songs -- some not essential to the story. A recommendation would be to condense or cut a tune or two. “Hello, Hello There,” with it’s repetitious lyrics, false stops, and just plain silliness would be no loss.

At curtain call during this particular performance, the cast forgot to point to and credit the talented pit band (large by non-Broadway standards). Spotlight gives a tip of the hat.

“Bells” is a feel good show with a ridiculous plot (actually three) with humor at its foundation. This musical is “Just In Time” this summer.

A Day in Lenox. . .

. . .as A Theatre Novice Tackles a Shakespeare duo of Berkshire treats: Shakespeare & Company at the Mount
by Janice Webb

It was FABULOUS! My friend Pam and I had such a delightful day.

Does a torrential rainstorm stop the outdoor production of Shakespeare's"Hamlet"? Never.

Photo by David Dash
While interrupting Ophelia's speech, a short time afterward, the play went on. Somehow, the affect of nature made this theatre experience even more magical. Everyone (audience and actors) ran for cover in the Stables at the top of the field at the Mount. The actors took that opportunity, soaking wet, to introduce themselves; i.e. where they were from, what they had done, etc. Very intimate, very special, everyone dripping wet.

Pam and I arrived at the Mount about 10am, viewed the new and massive sculpture exhibit disbursed throughout the grounds, enjoyed the play, took the garden tour, had lunch with champagne on the Mount porch, did the house tour, had coffee and dessert and left about 5:30pm with a stop at the Outlets. A very special day.

So, my review of "Hamlet" from a novice's point of view. I'm telling the ending, a "no, no" in reviews, but I figure, it's "Hamlet," it's expected.

As I watched the body count pile up on the "Hamlet" stage, I thought back to this morning when I asked my son, the recent college graduate,  "What's the play about? " He said, I think someone dies and there is a skull speech. Oh boy, he got that right. 

Photo by Elizabeth Aspenlieder
Shakespeare is not something I quote often, but it a good deal came back to me with familiarity. The "To be or not to be" speech, the "Alas, Poor Yorick" skull speech, and the " What a piece of work is man"  speech that I always loved because the musical "Hair" put it to song. But, this was more than familiar words, this was alive, entertaining, intriguing. To see the play was worlds better than reading the play in Freshman English class. Shakespeare & Company actors revved up the story with energy and excitement, brought to life by very talented actors. These thespians' passion for the play was matched by their ability to make it understandable and enjoyable. The expressions, gestures, interaction made a dead language alive again. The actors were the catalyst changing something from black and white text to Technicolor reality.

Condensing the play to 90 minutes instead of four hours makes the experience even better. The characters are developed and defined early, the story line easier to follow. Some of the actors take on two or three roles, and are amazingly able to infuse each character with individuality. Luke Reed is magnificent as the lead, and Greg Boover a joy to watch as both Polonius and Horatio. 

The rolling hills and glens were backdrops of beauty, lending to the sparse stage. The costumes stood out rich and magnificent in the simple setting. Thunder rolled ominously through the open-aired theatre each time the King Ghost appeared, but this was not a sound effect, this was real. The timing was perfect, but the result was a downpour onto the actors holding true to character. The production was actually magnificent to watch, that is, until lighting appeared.

I wish everyone would see Shakespeare this vibrant and this alive so that they could truly appreciate the work.

Shakespeare & Company, Lenox, MA
The Mount, Lenox, MA

Interview with David Kane: Capitol Steps much forgotten pianist

Cranwell Resort, Lenox, MA
through August 31, 2015
by Shera Cohen

In the Spotlight approached this article of the annual comings and goings of Capitol Steps (bringing DC to Lenox) with a Q&A to its accompanist. Sure, the singers/comedians get all of the laughs and applause. It's time that the pianist, the guy squished into the corner of the stage at Cranwell, receives credit for keeping this 90-minute show musically paced at near break-neck speed. Below is our conversation with David Kane.

Spotlight: Describe a typical performance. Is each night unique or the same? Is it fun?

Kane: It is generally fun -- it's a comedy show! Some aspects are similar as we tend to do the same show over a week. Variables include errors from the cast or myself (hopefully, not too many of those!), age/mood/size of the audience and the day of the week as well, but in all in all there is a general and agreeable consistency to the shows.

Spotlight: Do you have input in the show's preparation?

Kane: I have little input with the music selection -- which is a good thing since I'm a jazz musician at my core. I have occasionally made lyric suggestions that have been incorporated in the show, but generally speaking, most of the humor comes from our crack team of writers.

Spotlight: Do you feel a bit left out of the "action" and humor, literally being on the sidelines at your piano?

Kane: Nope. I have my hands full at the keyboard as most of the time I'm emulating a band, trying to remember each performer's key and following the idiosyncratic tendencies of each performer. I'm content to leave jokes to the professionals.

Spotlight: How did you get this gig?

Kane: I had myself recently carbon-dated and concluded that I have been with the Steps for 18 years or so. I was foolishly recommended by one of our other pianists, who should have known better, Lenny Williams. The rest is history.

Spotlight: Besides Steps, what else would we read on your resume? 

Kane: I trained as a classical performer/composer and as a jazz saxophonist though I know better than to play saxophone now. I've worked in a wide variety of situations from symphony orchestras to Greek wedding bands, and I even recorded a Zydeco album years ago. I love all music and have been fortunate to play a little bit of just about everything.

Spotlight: Do you ever get so caught up in the audience's laughter that you laugh miss a beat?

Kane: Humor tends to lose its impact with repetition, so while I will know the upcoming punchlines, I find it useful to identify with the audience's enjoyment and that makes it more fun for me. It's like seeing a funny movie with a friend that you've already seen before -- you feed off of their reactions.

Spotlight: Do you think you would ever want to be one of the comedians/singers?

Kane: No way! Sometimes I imagine I could up there and be funny but, truth be told, the thought terrifies me. In very rare instances there will be a mismatch between our show and an audience where they're not enjoying the humor as much as they could be. It is at those times I'm happy to be cowering behind the relative safety of my piano.

Spotlight: Are there any onstage or backstage anecdotes you would like to talk about?

Kane: Sharing life on the road with a bunch of comedians for 18 years has surely generated an impressive pile of anecdotes over the years. It would be difficult to single out one or two. Rather than leave you empty-handed, I will relate one of my worst moments on stage. During a show many years ago, during intermission, our leader needed to substitute a different song than had been listed. He asked my if I remembered the song "Women's Room Line," a song we used to do all the time but hadn't done in a while. I said, "I don't think I remember it well enough" as the song had some complexities which eluded my recall at that moment. Unfortunately, the backstage environment was noisy at that moment and he thought I said, "I remember it well enough." This led to an uncomfortable moment when the singer, one of our pluckier performers, came out and started singing "Women's Room Line" to my utter shock and horror. Since she had already started singing I was forced to try and play the song which at that point, I remembered approximately 10% of. This led to a bizarre rendition where I played the wrong chord, she tried to adjust to my chord which led to me playing even worse chords, and so on. Somehow, we got to the end of the song and the audience dutifully applauded despite the fact that from their perspective, they had just listened to the equivalent of an Arnold Schoenberg atonal song with oddly satirical lyrics. After the show, our leader said, "We shall never speak of this again." I'm hoping that with the passage of the years, finally the truth can be told without me losing my job. This is certainly a much more palatable anecdote than the time when I got sick onstage in full view of the audience at the Chicago Field Museum. I will not speak of this again.

Luna Gale

New Century Theatre, Northampton, MA

through July 25, 2015

by Konrad Rogowski

New Century Theatre's production of "Luna Gale" is engaging because of a strong script, strong acting, and a title character, who the audience never actually gets to see.

The Rebecca Gilman play, directed by Gina Kaufmann, is a firestorm of planning and plotting by a group of adults, each with his or her own best intended solution, as to who should be the guardian of baby Luna Gale, the daughter of two young, inexperienced, and addicted parents. Enter the social worker, the grandmother, the pastor, and the child protection administrator, each with not only a plan to 'save' Luna, but each with an agenda that taints those best intentions, and raises the suspicions of the others vying for the infant.

The cast does a fine job making their characters credible as motivated, yet flawed, individuals who in some instances teeter on the edge of moral and/or ethical failure. Of particular note are the performances of Cate Damon and Sue Dziura as the social worker and grandmother, respectively. The action and plotting are quick, and nicely helped in their pace by Daniel D. Rist's multiple site set, that moves from office to home and on to a waiting room or nursery. "Luna Gale" is one of those plays that is worth seeing because it mandates that its audience think and evaluate, oftentimes in an uneasy manner. What really is best for baby Luna Gale?


Williamstown Theater Festival, Williamstown, MA
through July 25, 2015
by Jarice Hanson

In "Kinship," author Carey Perloff has mined the mythological story of Phedre to tell a contemporary story of passion, obsession, and power in a compellingly contemporary way. Noted director Jo Bonney sets the tale on a stark stage with minimal furniture, well used to illustrate the dark and light of emotion and impulse, intensified by Philip Rosenberg’s lighting and an edgy techno sound-track designed by Fitz Patton.

On opening night there were some rough moments in the performances, but the talented cast has the intelligence and humor to reach into the core of what makes this show compelling. Cynthia Nixon, as “She,” is the energetic newspaper editor who seems to have it all—a loving family and the type of success promised to women -- but seldom realized.  Penny Fuller, her close friend, provides friendship and guidance despite the age difference in the duel archetype of “Friend/Mother.” Into the picture comes Chris Lowell as “He,” the Mother’s son, and what emerges is an unfolding of multiple themes that walk the tightrope of impulse, honesty, and self-deception. 

"Kinship" is very much a contemporary play about women in the world today, and it relies on the undercurrents of sexual attraction and power, particularly well communicated by Nixon. Author Perloff gives the actors beautifully crafted sections of dialog, but there are moments of staccato verbiage that fall flat and self-referential language that has characters saying “I hate theatre” while drawn into their own dramas is a device that may amuse some, but was unsuccessful for this reviewer. With time, these actors will find the way to incorporate some of the intentionally clipped language so that it is woven more fully into the fabric of the play. "Kinship" is an intelligent piece with humor and impact.  The timelessness of Greek tragedy reminds us that desire often overrules good judgment, and this play may well become a milestone marking the evolution of strong women in contemporary theatre.

July 16, 2015

La Cage aux Folles

Goodspeed, East Haddam, Conn.
through Sept. 10, 2015
By Bernadette Johnson

Glitter, glamour, and glitz! The perfect setting for Goodspeed’s phenomenal production of “La Cage aux Folles.”

James Lloyd Reynolds and Jamison Stern are Georges, a cabaret owner, and his partner, Albin, taken aback by “their” son’s revelation that he is to marry “a girl”— not only a girl, but also one whose father is an ultraconservative politico. Change is imperative in order to impress the future in-laws. Not only must the home be sanitized, but also all appearance of personal impropriety must be eradicated.

Photo by Diane Sobolewski
Stern is, without a doubt, totally and convincingly the outlandish diva, whether applying “A Little More Mascara,” entertaining on the “La Cage” stage as female-impersonator Zaza, interacting with the audience or engaging in high drama as the inimitable Albin. Even a simple line such as “I deboned a chicken” draws whoops and cheers, and his John Wayne imitation is as side-splitting as his “I Am What I Am” declaration, the show’s signature anthem, is heartrending.

Reynolds provides the perfect counterpart as the down-to-earth “homosexual plain” to Stern’s outrageous transvestite. His “Song on the Sand” and “Look Over There” are at once romantic and sensitive.

As the couple’s butler/maid Jacob, a wannabe performer, and flamboyant homosexual, Cedric Leiba, Jr. is a standout. Appearing in increasingly outlandish costumes, striking farcical poses and delivering over-the--top commentaries, Leiba is a definite crowd-pleaser.

Other standouts include Conor Ryan as Jean-Michel, the “prodigal” son. His “With Anne on My Arm” with Leiba and Jean-Michel’s intended, Anne (Kristen Martin), is sentimental and heart-warming. And Mark Zimmerman is inflammatory and moralistic as Anne’s father, Edouard Dindon.

Kudos are called for all-around. Michael Schweikardt’s luxuriant sets and Michael McDonald’s glittering costumes provide the backdrop for the Cagelles, transvestite performers who defy you to define their sex, which proves quite the challenge thanks to Mark Adam Rampmeyer’s makeovers. “You’ll find it tough guessing our gender,” is an understatement. No fair peeking at the playbill.

Choreographer Ralph Perkins hits a high note with the ensemble’s gilded birdcage number, a flight of fancy in green and gold plumage by McDonald.
This production is flawlessly delightful, as Goodspeed’s patrons have come to expect, and they showed their appreciation with a rousing standing ovation.