Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

October 20, 2015

Faithfully: The Music of Journey

Springfield Symphony Orchestra, Springfield, MA
October 18, 2015
by Eric Sutter

The Springfield Symphony Orchestra Pops concert series touched off with a unifying force in the sound of the Journey tribute band “Faithfully.” Power ballads mixed with rockers to create a hypnotic effect of heightened appreciation of the glorifying freedom in the spirit of connection to the music and to each band member. As the audience's instinctual attraction to the music grew, it seemed as if the collective unconscious manifested in the music. Somehow, the sounds became ever more commanding to a point of spiritual awareness and clarity.

The Springfield Symphony Orchestra joined the six-member band in celebration, which multiplied the positive vibe. Guest conductor James Fellenbaum was marvelous at keeping the Orchestra in the Rock 'n' Roll mix. Premier rock songs "Anyway You Want It" and "Wheel In The Sky" expanded the good atmosphere outward until it seemed every note of music cried out for freedom.

Notable guitar solos galore included one especially upbeat extended single jam to "Stone In Love" by the amazing Dan Kalisher. Good balance to sound was added by the Symphony strings that enhanced the emotions. Intense vocal harmonies complemented superb lead singers Jesse Bradman and Alisha Zalkin's performances. The delicate "Open Arms" was well done with keyboards, woodwinds, and strings elevating the musical experience.

The band started the second half in a similar clear melodic formula with the dramatic "Lights" sung by Zalkin. Bradman's suppliant take on "Lovin', Touchin', Squeezin'" surged with youthful love. The prominence of keyboardist Will Herrington added to the creative force measurably as did his lead vocal on "Foolish Heart." The exhilarated musical moments of "Faithfully" gave a completely positive mood to all in the audience. Steve Perry would be proud. The rhythm section kicked in once again to "Don't Stop Believin'" which reinforced the mutual connection between the music and the masses in an awestruck ending of excitement.

This was one of the best Pops concerts and made one wish the house rocked full.

October 17, 2015

A Wonderful Life

Goodspeed Opera House, East Haddem, CT 
through November 29, 2015
by R.E. Smith

Like many film to stage translations, “A Wonderful Life” must decide whether it is going to compete with or complement its celluloid predecessor or forge a path entirely of its own. In this case, the addition of songs to a faithful narrative serves as compliment but leaves the audience wondering if that was enough to justify the endeavor.

In small town Bedford Falls, NY, George Bailey is a decent, kind man with dreams that have been thwarted by the very goodness that defines him. In a desperate hour, when he regrets the course his life has taken, heavenly intervention will allow him to see what the world would have been like without him. Though the film is inextricably linked to Christmas, the story really has very little to do with that specific season and this interpretation downplays the association even more: no need to fear seeing a yuletide show in October.

First produced in 1986, the music is by Joe Raposo, an Emmy & Grammy winner, who wrote over 1000 songs for Sesame Street. The book and lyrics are by Sheldon Harnick, of “Fiddler on the Roof” fame. “In a State,” a jaunty Charleston number, brightens the stage with peppy choreography and youthful energy, though it does little to drive the story. In the same scene, “A Wonderful Life,” nicely incorporates the underlying theme. Both are winningly performed by Josh Franklin as Sam Wainwright, George’s dashing friend (and reminder of life outside the town).

Photo by Diane Sobolewski
”I Couldn’t Be With Anyone But You” is a lovely ode to the comfort and foibles of marriage, sung by Mary to George. That song, as well as ”Not What I Expected” allows the talented Kirsten Scott the opportunity to add much-needed dimension to her character. Duke Lafoon plays George, with a subtle nod to Jimmy Stewart, but in no way an imitation. George is not a perfect man; he is good-hearted but frustrated at every turn and Lafoon plays all facets masterfully.

As always with Goodspeed, the staging, musicianship, and performances are all top notch. The sentiment is certainly sincere and the show’s message is a positive one. Movie fans will not have their memories tarnished and theatre fans will appreciate Goodspeed’s continued mission to reviving forgotten American works.

October 15, 2015


The Bushnell, Hartford, CT
through October 18, 2015
by Shera Cohen

Photo by Dean van Meere
“Extra, extra, read all about it.” Read this review and, undoubtedly, many others that appear this week, and don’t hesitate to buy tickets to “Newsies.” The immature sounding title and a large cast of young actors who, perhaps, haven’t yet earned their wings might connote that this musical is kids’ stuff. Hardly. “Newsies,” based on the newsboy strike of 1899 in NYC, is gritty, dramatic, and serious in telling its story of David and Goliath (a line in the play).

Mix a little bit “Oliver” with “Billy Elliott,” then blend the two in a big Disneyesque bowl of reality and dreams, hardship and hope, charmingly flawed handsome young guy and plucky intelligent beautiful young lady and the result is delicious.

Act I kicks off with an all-boy song and dance. From there the story, character connections, pace, and purpose revv up. Act II finds a balance of poignant solos and full-chorus action, romance, dance, and laughter.

Joey Barreiro plays Jack (our lead) with charisma and street smarts. Not until Act II is his character challenged to sing his heart out. He does, and nails it. Morgan Keene (girl reporter aka Jack’s sweetheart) could very well play any Disney heroine. Yet this gingham gal separates herself from the pack in “Watch What Happens” – a Sondheim-like fast talking song. Ah, she’s no Ariel.

This musical has so many elements that make it a success, notably the sets and staging. It is difficult to believe that this touring company [say what you will about bus & truck shows, but Bushnell brings in Broadway-quality] mounts such a big musical on the day of opening night. Giant scaffolding, swinging up, down, sideways, create every one of the often-changing sets. The multi-fold arrangements of apparatus of metal and man (male dance ensemble of 25+ ) should be given credit of as one of the “leads.”          

Choreographer Christopher Gattelli is a magician. Of course, large dance numbers are expected – why else are there some 30 or so characters on the stage at one time? Yet, the footwork goes above and beyond the predictable. The tap is sleek, the gymnastics are Olympian, the fighting is fresh, and the show stopping “Seize the Day” is breath-taking.

Don’t be surprised if, before orchestra plays its final notes, the audience bolts out of their seats for a standing ovation.

2nd Western Mass Film and Media Exchange

October 23, 2015
Holyoke, MA

The Berkshire Film and Media Collaborative (BFMC) is pleased to announce that the 2nd Annual Western Massachusetts Film and Media Exchange will feature a diverse series of panels and workshops of interest to the film and video community and the business community who want to utilize film and video in their marketing and social media efforts. The Exchange will take place on Friday, October 23rd from 9:30am – 5:30pm at the Baystate Health’s Conference Center, Holyoke, MA.

Cynthia Wade, the Academy Award-winning Berkshires-based filmmaker will be the Keynote Speaker. Wade won the Oscar for her short documentary “Freeheld,” the story of a New Jersey police officer who was diagnosed with cancer and wanted to give her benefits to her same-sex partner. The acclaimed documentary has been turned into a motion picture of the same name.

Other panels during The Exchange will be geared to filmmakers and their interests. Entertainment lawyer, Fred Fierst, who led a standing room only seminar last year, will bring a panel of lawyers and filmmakers to discuss every legal aspect of getting a project done – from concept to script, to raising the funding, to attaching cast and crew and dealing with the unions, to negotiating and closing the distribution deal, tax credits, and gap financing.

Another panel, “Funding Your Film” will include with leaders in crowdfunding and how to source local production grants.

Several panels will be geared to all of the attendees.

October 12, 2015


TheaterWorks, Hartford, CT
through November 8, 2015
by Jarice Hanson

Wendy Wasserstein
TheaterWorks is celebrating their thirtieth anniversary season and the tenth anniversary of Wendy Wasserstein’s final play, “Third.” Director Rob Ruggiero impeccably blends the talents of his lighting, set design, sound design, and costuming team in this thoughtful, evenly paced production. He honors the timelessness of Wasserstein’s play by focusing on the personal story she wanted to tell shortly before she died of cancer in 2006.

Actress Kate Levy keenly projects the multiple dimensions of Laurie Jameson, a professor who questions hegemonic masculinity and political power while struggling with her father’s dementia, her two daughters’ life choices, a friend with cancer, and her own entry into the third stage of life opens the show with a monolog in which she lectures her students to “challenge the norms.” While the character hopes to open the others’ eyes to what she sees as “truth” in literature, she is really speaking about Wasserstein’s own challenge to the norms of theatre, patriarchy, and politics. Levy, who portrays enigmatic characters beautifully, is flawless.

Laurie accuses a student of plagiarizing his paper on “King Lear” at an elite New England school (a thinly disguised Amherst College), reasoning that young Woodson Bull III is a white male who is used to a life of privilege. Preferring to be called “Third,” the young man challenges his accuser in an academic honest hearing, and Laurie is forced to reevaluate her search for what might be her ultimate truth.  In a debut performance, Conor M. Hamill is believable as Third. Olivia Hoffman as Laurie’s daughter and Andrea Gallo as a professor friend with cancer who embraces life are original characters who defy convention. Laurie’s father, heartbreakingly played by Edmond Genest, reminds the audience of the tenuousness of the mind and the many roles we play in our worldly lives.

“Third” is the type of play that gives the audience member much to ponder and much to appreciate. The play requires some serious thinking, reminding its patrons that theatre often tells the universal story of life, the quest for meaning, and coming to terms with what is learned along the way.

The Mousetrap

Suffield Players, Suffield, CT
through October 24, 2015
by Stuart W. Gamble

A mild autumn evening, friends enjoying snacks sitting in cabaret-style seats, a warm family-like atmosphere prevails, hardly the stuff that murder mysteries are made of, but not so at the Suffield Player’s season opening show, “The Mousetrap.”

Christie’s chestnut is given a fresh transfusion in SP’s production. The play opens as Mollie Ralston (Rachel Berezin) and her husband Giles (Steve Wandzy)  prepare to open their home, Monkswell Manor (a former monastery), to paying guests as a sort of rooming house. The Ralstons are a decidedly normal couple in their first year of marriage. Their guests, however, prove to be an eccentric, and in some cases, a downright bizarre bunch: there’s the foppish and fey Christopher Wren (Shaun O’Keefe); the blowsy, domineering Mrs. Boyle (Kelly Seip); the stiff-upper-lipped Major Metcalf (Mark Proulx); the dour, androgynous Miss Casewell (Brianna Stronk); and the truly strange Senor Paravicini (Roger Ochs).

If this sounds like a somewhat altered game of Clue, that’s because Christie was one of the earliest practitioners of the disparate group of people trapped together in an isolated setting. Into this seemingly unrelated group of strangers, comes Detective Sergeant Trotter (Reid Sinclair), who despite his youth and inexperience, tries to unravel the mystery before another homicide occurs.

“The Mousetrap” is truly an ensemble piece and all eight actors work well together. O’Keefe steals the show with his joyful performance as the superficially funny, but ultimately deeply troubled Christopher Wren who spouts off such lines as “I like murder” with gleeful abandon. Seip is also a standout as the ill-fated Mrs. Boyle. Her no-nonsense dismissal of the strange goings-on as “melodramatic rubbish” adds much humor to the more melodramatic moments. Sinclair offers perhaps the most complex performance in a truly difficult role. His detective keeps the audience engrossed in the Act II. Sinclair’s accent is very authentic as well, revealing his lower-class origin.

The stately yet cozy drawing room setting has been meticulously designed by Art Christian and assisted by Konrad Rogowski and Kelly Seip right down to the circa 1950’s radio and telephone. Boutin’s costumes range from “veddy British” tweeds to brightly colored argyles.

Suffield Player’s respectable production is obviously a labor of love for the group. With over 40 people in the program credited for their contributions, SP exemplifies the meaning of a theatre community.

October 8, 2015


Barrington Stage Company, Pittsfield MA 
through October 18, 2015 
by Barbara Stroup

Freshman year of college - in Cairo -  for a devout American Muslim girl begins with airport chaos until her “all-American” Egyptian roommate plucks her from the crowd. Offers of punk rock and MacDonald’s from her new friend, Samar (light-skinned in tight jeans and baseball cap and chatting amiably on her cell) surprise “Inty” (dark-skinned, head covered). These distinguishing features help fuel the confusion (and attempts at resolution) of the identity theme that is the basis of this striking new play by Tom Coash.

Photo by Kevin Sprague
Impeccably acted by Donnetta Lavinia Grays and Hend Ayoub, their instant bond seems believably sincere. They address their differences carefully at first, but as Samar puts Inty into her “educational” video on head coverings and veils, they discover the depths of difference and the unaddressed attitudes that their backgrounds have carved into them. Their friendship develops with wonderful energy, even as it is challenged by their faith, their nationalities, their religious practices, and their cultural imbalances.

Video displayed behind the actors moves the narrative and unfailingly creates mood and place. It is so well done that it seems essential to the script. There is only one rough spot there: the use of soliloquy for Samar to describe a rally gone very wrong requires sustained shock and terror of the actress over too many lines.

The writing - a skilled combination of passion, positioning, territoriality, and humor - makes these characters into people one wants to know better, and makes them people in whom one can place hope for the future of the planet.

The Homecoming

Berkshire Theatre Group, Stockbridge, MA 
through October 25, 2015
by Shera Cohen

Michelle McGrady Photography
No one with any sense of normalcy would purposely return to the home of Harold Pinter’s “The Homecoming.” Or, one would hope not. Yet, there is a seemingly mundane atmosphere, language, and comings and goings that might apply to any home; i.e. there’s yelling, lousy breakfasts, and assigned seating. Eric Hill directs Berkshire Theatre’s heavy-duty drama with much comedy, or in the reverse, a black and edgy comedy that borders on sinister, with a taut and deft hand.

These characters don’t make for a typical dysfunctional family. They are dysfunctional with a capital “D.” Max, the dad, is at the center of the messiness. Rocco Sisto (a stalwart character actor in the Berkshires) portrays the father, definitive in his ways and decision, until he immediately changes his mind. Sisto’s mannerisms and voice lay a harsh layer onto Max. Max’s sons are extreme opposites of each other and of Max. It’s a curious thought how different the play would be with a mother character. Joey Collins very successfully provides Lenny an eerie, slimy, macabre demeanor, so much so that the idea of running into Joey on the street would cause instant flight. The character of older brother Teddy gives actor David Barlow the opportunity to become a man smoldering inside. Something’s going to bust…we think. In smaller, yet important roles, are Rylan Morsebach as the youngest son Joey, and John Rothman as Max’s brother. What a lovely household held together by those with the Y chromosome.

In walks Tara Franklin, Teddy’s wife Ruth, at first shy, mousey, quite average. Teddy leaves the room, Joey enters, Ruth sheds her coat to reveal a fully-clothed, albeit femme fatal. Franklin’s smirks and especially her silences become the focal point, indeed, the point of power which she so easily steals from each of the others.

“The Homecoming” is chock full of secrets and implications that pit one character against another in a game. At times, this is not an easy play to watch. But, that is no excuse to dismiss Pinter (if you think you might not like his work). The unbelievably talented cast and crew make the production a feat.

Berkshire Theatre Group has made a smart decision (as have other theatres in the Berkshires) to extend its summer season into fall, especially for the leaf-peeper tourists.

October 6, 2015

SSO: Opening Night Gala 2015

Springfield Symphony Orchestra, Springfield, MA
October 3, 2015
by Michael J. Moran

To open the SSO’s 72nd season and his own 15th season as music director, Kevin Rhodes presented several examples of what he calls in his “Rhodes’ Reflections” column in the program book “our most difficult repertoire right out of the gate” by three “composers using folk music elements.”

After a rousing “Star-Spangled Banner” to launch the new season, Dvorak’s “Carnival Overture” began the concert on a festive note. The whirlwind speed of the opening and closing theme nicely contrasted with a slower than usual tempo in the ravishing middle section. From the glistening percussion at the start to the final climax for full orchestra, all the players proved their mettle in this virtual mini-concerto for orchestra.

Philippe Quint
Next, the darker northern colors of the violin concerto by Sibelius were masterfully rendered by 41-year-old Russian-born soloist Philippe Quint, whose flawless technique was matched by his interpretive subtlety. He and the orchestra captured all the brooding intensity of the first movement, the tender warmth of the second, and the lumbering humor of the finale. Almost as restless as the famously kinetic maestro, the charismatic Quint paced rhythmically with the music even when he wasn’t playing, always maintaining productive eye contact with the musicians.

The concert closed after intermission with a performance for the ages of Bartok’s “Concerto for Orchestra.” Rhodes achieved an ideal balance of the careful orchestration in all five movements, highlighting the high drama of the first, the jaunty humor of the second, with its playful side drum ostinato, the eerie “night music” of the third, the lively rhythm of the fourth, with its hilarious send-up of the Nazi march from Shostakovich’s “Leningrad” symphony, and the brilliance of the finale.

Unusually, this concert featured two encores: a fiendishly difficult reworking by Paganini for solo violin of a theme from Paisiello’s opera “La Molinara,” which Quint dispatched after the Sibelius with crowd-pleasing acrobatics; and, to close, “O Fortuna,” the opening number of Orff’s “Carmina Burana,” which the SSO performed last month in Gillette Stadium before the New England Patriots’ season opener for their largest audience ever. This orchestra is really going places.

Opening Nights: New World Visions

Hartford Symphony Orchestra, Hartford, CT
October 1–4, 2015
by Michael J. Moran

The HSO website calls the weekend of concerts opening their 72nd season as showcasing “music by composers who were inspired by diverse musical traditions and genres to create visionary new works.” All three pieces on the program fit this description in sometimes surprising ways.

It opened not with a traditional overture but with John Adams’ “Shaker Loops,” a 25-minute score in four movements for strings, which “shake” as they oscillate between notes and suggest the motion of Shakers dancing at their worship services. In this early example of musical minimalism, featuring repetition of slowly changing chords, the HSO strings shimmered with a radiant glow in the slow “Hymning Slews” movement and throbbed with passion in the thrilling finale, “A Final Shaking.”

Digital artist Christopher Gerson enhanced the often spellbinding music with video projections of light over water and other outdoor images through the course of a day. 
Caroline Goulding

Max Bruch’s Violin Concerto #1 is such a warhorse that it’s hard to hear it as the “visionary new work” it may have been in 1868, but 22-year-old American soloist Caroline Goulding played it with a youthful swagger and conviction that made it sound new again. Her tone was rich and vibrant in the opening “Prelude,” soft and poignant in the lovely “Adagio,” bold and heroic in the lively “Finale.” Called “precociously gifted” by Gramophone magazine, this rising star should have a bright musical future.

A full-blooded account of Dvorak’s ninth, or “New World,” symphony closed the concert after intermission. Inspired by African American and Native American music that the composer heard while working in New York during the 1890s, this “visionary new work” suggested a previously unexplored direction for American composers. While Kuan’s tempos were mostly conventional, she and the musicians brought fresh depth of feeling to the familiar “Largo” and rare urgency to the last two movements.

Ever ready to surprise her audience, Kuan led the HSO in the traditional season-opening “Star-Spangled Banner” at concert’s end, where it risked no clash with Adams’ opening serenity and served as a rousing encore. This is a maestra with potent imagination.

October 5, 2015


Theatre Guild of Hampden, Hampden, MA
through October 11, 2015
by Stuart W. Gamble

“What do you do when you’re not sure?” is a question posed to the audience/parishioners by Father Flynn (Heath Verill) at the beginning of John Patrick Shanley’s drama “Doubt.” And for the next 80 minutes (there is no intermission), the audience, like a trial jury, must uncover the truth, however elusive it may be.
Presiding over this “court” is the icily stern Sister Aloysius (Jeanne Wysocki), principal of St. Nicholas Catholic School in the Bronx, whose strict orthodoxy excludes art and dance, both of which she believes are a waste of time. She even says that “Frosty the Snowman should be banned from the airwaves” for its promotion of magic. Her interrogations of the gentle, idealistic Sister James (KK Walulak), a history teacher at the school, and her obsession to “bring him (Flynn) down,” form the central story line in “Doubt.

The Theatre Guild of Hampden’s production of “Doubt” is assuredly directed by TGH Artistic Director Mark Giza. This production is notable for its simplicity, and its ability to provoke audience thought. The simple central set consists of two chairs, a desk, a small table with religious icons, and a bust of JFK. The billowy, white curtains and folk guitar strands of “How Great Thou Art” and “Amazing Grace” lend gentle contrast to the darker elements of the play.

“Doubt” is uniformly well acted by a competent cast. Verrill’s affability and Wysoki’s puritanical nun in their fierce battle of wills, come off best. Walulak, and Diane Flynn as a student’s troubled mother, lend sincere support to the principle characters.

Set in 1964, during the height of the Cold War, “Doubt, A Parable” (the play’s full title), when uncertainty and winds of ideological change were blowing about, Shanley’s literate drama presents its audience with a disturbing situation without simple solutions.