Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

December 29, 2016

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

The Bushnell, Hartford, CT
through January 1, 2017
by Jarice Hanson

Photo by Joan Marcus
Told from the perspective of Christopher, a 15-year old autistic boy, this play overwhelms the audience with heightened sensory overload. The touring company’s rendition of “Curious Incident” at the Bushnell is largely effective, even though the play most certainly works even more effectively in a slightly smaller theatre where the sound system is more evenly balanced. Still, the grid-like set, complete with video projection and LED lighting contributes to an evening that draws the audience into the story and makes you understand what life is like for an autistic individual who struggles with complex situations. 

Christopher becomes obsessed with trying to find out who killed his neighbor’s dog. As he begins his detective work, he learns a family truth that has been withheld from him, and he goes about seeking answers—a difficult path for a young man who doesn’t comprehend irony or metaphor. The role of Christopher is exceedingly physically and vocally demanding and for this company, performances are shared by Adam Langdon and Benjamin Wheelwright. On the evening I saw the show, Langdon embodied the role with dexterity and energy, though his voice is a bit too mature for a teen. I’ve seen this performer before, and Langdon is undoubtedly an actor to watch as his career develops. He’s aided in this production by a multi-racial ensemble of seasoned veterans. Gene Gillette as Christopher’s father is particularly effective as a parent who tries to do the right things for his special-needs son, only to find that good intentions sometimes backfire.

The Broadway production of the play received five Tony Awards in 2015 for Best Actor, Best Play, Best Director, Scenic Design, and Lighting Design. The success of the show is balanced with all of the components, though the actor playing Christopher has the greatest burden in terms of maintaining stamina and gaining sympathy from the audience. Based on the first-person book written Mark Haddon in 2003, the story gives the audience a sense of what it is like to live with autism, and we cheer when we find this truly original hero optimistic about his future and his ability to live in the complicated “typical” world.

December 16, 2016


As Bravo Newspaper, Bravo-on-the-Air, and In the Spotlight celebrate 25 years, special awards were given to the following:

  • Lauren Grossman: co-producer, editor, host, etc., etc.
  • Keith Purcell: CPA extraordinaire
  • Angie Phelan: Bravo could NOT have done without
  • Bob Smith: 1st & still best writer, web guy, go to guy
  • WMAS: 13 years of free broadcasts on the arts
  • Springfield Cultural Council: initial grant to start Bravo

As In the Spotlight continues, thanks to all of you for helping to create Bravo (in all of its forms).


December 13, 2016

Bravo to “Bravo”

In March, 1991 Bravo Newspaper was founded, serving the local arts community as a free monthly publication. Twenty-five years later, Bravo has become In the Spotlight, a website primarily promoting the arts in Greater Springfield. Many from the former Bravo staff and current In the Spotlight staff will get together on December 14, 2016 at 235 State Street, Springfield at 7:30pm to celebrate this anniversary.

Equally important is formal acknowledgement to the Springfield Cultural Council for its initial grant which launched Bravo. That successful application for $6450 provided financial support, along with at least 50 grants from throughout Pioneer Valley, for the next 25 years.

Shera Cohen, of Springfield, and Lauren Grossman, of Longmeadow (now Arizona) ended their work for the Chicopee Centennial in December, 1990. “What to do now?” Both women had theatre backgrounds. “Let’s start a theatre newspaper,” Grossman said. Cohen followed with, “I don’t even know how to use a computer.” They both learned the mechanics; the subject matter grew from theatre to all the performing and visual arts; and office space moved from Grossman’s pool table, to Cohen’s living room floor, to a tiny office with stained glass windows, to one larger office on State Street, finally to three different spaces on Main Street, with each location larger than the one before.

The Springfield Cultural Council grant paid for production and printing of 1,000 papers monthly with distribution only in Springfield. Cohen and Grossman were the entire “staff” of Bravo which included writing articles, selling ads, design and paste up (computers didn’t perform as they do now), and delivery. Year #2 of Bravo increased distribution city-wide and to five cities/towns – each due to receiving more grants from as many cities. A few writers and a salesperson were added to the team. At its 12-year mark, Bravo delivered boasted 50,000 readers in 48 cities with a staff of approximately 50 at its high point. 

Radio media came next, when Cohen and Grossman approached WMAS for a weekly arts program, hosted by themselves. Did either have radio experience? No. But staff at WMAS offered free air-time on its AM station on Sundays – first for 15 minutes at 6:15am, then at 6:30am when more listeners might be awake, eventually to a half-hour at 9am. Thirteen years later, the show ended with a huge thank you to the five additional hosts subbing for Cohen and Grossman and the many, many listeners who said, “I heard you on the radio.”
Looking toward the 21st century here, Bravo printed its last publication in 2003, at the same time morphing Bravo to In the Spotlight electronic media. Many writers from the newspaper continued with Spotlight, even those who joined in 1992. 

In the Spotlight continues as a local source of reviews, previews, interviews, and “on the road” features on community and professional performing arts in the region.

December 12, 2016

Christmas on the Rocks

Theaterworks, Hartford, CT
Through December 23, 2016
By R.E. Smith

Like the cherished holiday movies and TV specials from which its characters spring, “Christmas on the Rocks” is fast becoming its own cherished seasonal tradition. Director Rob Ruggiero has conceived a holiday confection using all the right magical ingredients. He starts with original short stories written by the likes of John Cariani ("Almost Maine"), Jeffrey Hatcher ("Tuesdays With Morrie"), and Jonathan Tolins ("Buyer & Cellar"). Then he stirs in adult versions of iconic pop-culture figures, such as Tiny Tim, Charlie Brown, and Clara from the Nutcracker. Mixed with a solid serving of talent from three performers playing multiple roles and a dash of creative costuming, “Rocks” fourth Theatreworks appearance makes for an entertaining yuletide feast.

Jenn Harris & Ronn Carroll
Much credit must be given to Jenn Harris and Matthew Wilkas for bringing absolutely unique life to their various roles. Multiple refrains of “I had no idea it was the same person” were heard upon leaving the theatre. Each has the opportunity to play broadly humorous and touchingly melancholy with equal aplomb. Pulling double duty, Harris and Wilkas also wrote a new piece for this year’s production; a riff on social media frenzy from a “Frosty the Snowman” perspective that was a crowd pleaser. What works well is that the characters don’t necessarily take the most obvious path, with the playwrights often using more subtle points as the jumping off point, as is the case of Ralphie from “A Christmas Story” or Susan from “Miracle on 34th Street”.

Holding it all together is Ronn Carroll as the barkeep of a tiny bar (lovingly executed by set designer Michael Schweikardt). Having “seen it all,” he quickly shows the audience how to suspend disbelief and go along with the (sleigh) ride. His experience at playing this part for all 4 years of the show’s run is evident, especially in his ability to not break character in the face of some outlandish antics (and clever puns).

For those not intimately familiar with the source material, be sure to take a stroll through the lobby where characters’ more “youthful” photos hang. Even so, now that they’re “all grown up” they display universal attributes that anyone can relate to as they try to find the spirit of the season despite disillusionment and disappointment.

For those who long for something different (funnier) from the customary “A Christmas Carol” or “The Nutcracker,” your (Christmas) wish has come true once again at Theaterworks.

Springfield Symphony Orchestra: It's A Wonderful Life!

Symphony Hall, Springfield, MA
December 4, 2016
by Eric Sutter

It was a wonderful concert... the Springfield Symphony Orchestra under direction of guest conductor Nick Palmer brought out a sense of wonder in the season with the Springfield Symphony Chorus and the Children's Chorus of Springfield. "We Need A Little Christmas" set the tone for great musical beginnings and warm moods of connection in good cheer.

Cantor Morton Levson sang "There Are Stars" in an amazing voice that resonated a heartfelt joy. SSO accompanied him on "A Heart of Wisdom" with loving sentiments and a powerful message of cherished beauty of life. This is what makes it a wonderful life... teach us to number our days and love the moment.

Gifted chorus director Nikki Stoia led the Symphony Chorus in "Oh, Christmas Tree" which flooded the audience with fond memories of joy. Audience participation ensued with a clapping beat of joy urged on by Stoia. Santa Claus appeared to announce WMASS newsman Dave Madsen to the stage for a reading of "Twas the Night Before Christmas" with the strings moving the story wonderfully while the percussion accented with fun sound effects at appropriate times. The Children's Chorus sang selections from "Frozen" in endearing harmonic voices. The Orchestra's "Carol of the Bells" worked a magical spell of delight. Symphony Hall was decorated with a large wreath above the stage and a garland of smaller wreaths strung around the balcony posts. This is certainly a large venue, yet at the same time it seemed cozy.

"It's A Wonderful Life" completed the hometown atmosphere. "Minor Alterations" featured woodwinds and strings mixing classics with Klezmer to a rousing finish. "Stille Nacht" with the simple beauty of piano to start combined added instruments and voices for glorious effect. "Sleigh Ride" made for fun musical moments with percussive horse hooves, whip, and sleigh bell sounds. Humorous seasonal dialogue between Santa and the conductors led to a warm and fuzzy audience sing-long. “The Hallelujah Chorus” from The Messiah brought the house down for a wonderful finale!

November 22, 2016

In tribute to Conductor Rhodes

Brahms’ Double Concerto
Springfield Symphony Orchestra, Springfield, MA
November 19, 2016
by Michael J. Moran

In his “Rhodes’ Reflections” column in the program book, SSO music director Kevin Rhodes describes this concert as “the Jurassic Park of our season, in that everything is BIGGER! Instead of the usual single soloist concerto, we have Brahms’ Double Concerto for Violin and Cello” and, in Bruckner’s seventh symphony, a “cathedral of sound…an amazing work of beauty which is almost too much to take in at once…but the experience of having done so is unforgettable!”

Mark Kaplan, Violin & Clancy Newman, Cello
In an interview with The Springfield Republican, Rhodes recalled leading this concerto in New Mexico with violinist Mark Kaplan and cellist Clancy Newman, where he found “that they are of two different generations…made for an extremely rich musical pairing.” With the SSO, the same pair fully engaged in what the maestro calls “essentially a duet…that is very rare in Brahms.” Their close rapport heightened both the excitement and the poignancy of the many solo passages they exchanged, and Rhodes drew warm, vibrant support from the orchestra in all three movements. 

During remarks before the Bruckner symphony after intermission, Rhodes introduced four players of “Wagner tubas,” invented by that composer to combine the sounds of the French horn and trombone in his operatic “Ring cycle.” As Rhodes noted, they add “a unique sonority” to this symphony’s radiant second movement, an elegy to the dying Wagner, Bruckner’s musical idol.

Evoking the frequent description of Bruckner’s symphonies as reflecting the mountains and valleys of his native Austria and the resonant church organs he played for most of his life, the SSO’s towering performance of this epic work was one of Rhodes’ finest achievements in his 16-year tenure. All four movements feature strong contrasts of tempo and dynamics, and Rhodes and his musicians made the most of them. Members of the brass section may have been the stars of the evening, but woodwinds, strings, and percussion were equally adept.

That the capacity audience was riveted throughout this relatively unfamiliar 65-minute symphony and that the players have never looked more enthralled with their craft are tributes to Rhodes’ inspirational leadership. This is clearly a musical partnership built to last.

Beauty & the Beast

St. Michael’s Players, East Longmeadow, MA
through November 19, 2016
by Tim O’Brien

Taking on any large-scale musical is daunting enough, let alone a tale that’s been an animated Disney film beloved for a quarter-century, but the St. Michael’s Players have turned out a true winner.

This reviewer arrived with eight-year-old daughter in tow (to ensure that any glaring departures from the film would be duly noted) to find a packed house, still abuzz from the previous (opening) night’s performance. Clearly, the bar had been set high.

And deservedly so. From the first moments, said daughter sat wholly entranced, as was the audience at large. The big first number, “Belle,” introduced this winsome yet strong-minded lead character (played and sung wonderfully by Jasmine Rochelle Goodspeed) along with seemingly dozens of cheery townsfolk. Her inventor father’s steampunk-ish wood-chopping device was cleverly portrayed as half-bicycle half-machine, adroitly getting around the need to have a horse-drawn cart as in the film.

Much of the comedy here comes from the preening, clueless village macho-man Gaston (AJ Berube) and his wisecracking sidekick LeFou (Brandon Garcia this night; the role was double-cast). The pair were simply outstanding. With his linebacker’s build and inexorable confidence, Berube shines as Belle’s relentless, musclebound suitor. Garcia, small and wiry, is young-Jerry-Lewis, bouncing back from every undeserved punch with the springy energy of a cartoon character.

Once at Beast’s enchanted castle, we meet another terrific group of actors too numerous to mention individually. Silk Johnson is a pure delight as Lumiere the human candelabra, complete with flaming “hands” that “burn” brightly to illuminate his zest for life. Tim Moriarty’s sputtering half-clock Cogsworth is a perfect counterpoint. Sue Comstock McNary (Mrs. Potts) brings motherly compassion and sings the title song beautifully. David Leslie’s acting is a bit handicapped by the Beast mask, but his rich baritone voice is special and humanizes the character nicely.

The costumes were simply outstanding; the sets well-realized and excellent choreography moved the huge cast of extras and kids about the space without traffic jams. Director Frank Jackson’s band was note-perfect as well.

No wonder the place was sold out. This is exactly how big community theatre musicals should be done.

November 17, 2016

An American in Paris

The Bushnell, Hartford, CT
through November 20, 2016
by Bernadette Johnson

Whenever a beloved classic is re-imagined — be it from book to screen, from stage to screen or, as in this case, from screen to stage — there are always skeptics who would discourage the attempt and purists who would protest.

In the case of  “An American in Paris,” one of the most beloved MGM movie musicals, starring the suave screen legend Gene Kelly, who danced his way to stardom through the 1940s and ’50s, it was a bold undertaking.

However, the new stage adaptation of “An American in Paris” that opened on Broadway in 2015 was nominated for 12 Tony Awards, capturing four of them. Now at the Bushnell on its first national tour, we can honestly say, “’S Wonderful!”

It’s a simple story line. In post-World War II Paris, war veteran Jerry Mulligan (Garen Scribner) takes the stage as a giant Nazi banner floats to the floor and a French tricolor is raised. An aspiring artist, Jerry attempts to stake his claim to fame in the city. Within the first balletic intro, Jerry is instantly smitten by the elusive Lise Dassin (the petite Sara Esty), an aspiring prima ballerina. He also meets and befriends fellow war-veteran Adam Hochberg (Etai Benson), an aspiring concert pianist, and Henri Baurel (Nick Spangler), an aspiring song/dance artist. Did I say aspiring? Yes, in the wake of war’s desperation and darkness, hope is slowly reemerging. The three new friends, self-dubbed the “Three Musketeers,” have a lot in common, including, unbeknownst to each other, love for the same woman — “boy-meets-girl” times three. Did I say simple?

Reemerging hope is depicted visually as bread lines, blackouts and drab tones give way to vivid color, light and vitality, best exemplified by numbers like the splashy “I’ll Build a Stairway to Paradise,” Henri’s Radio City fantasy sequence, and climaxing in the Mondrian-style vibrance of the concluding 14-minute piece-de-resistance that brings the production to dramatic heights and gives Scribner and Esty the spotlight in a breathtaking, flawless performance.

Vintage musical numbers (Gershwin), the proficiency, and versatility of gifted actors, who not only dance, but sing and act exceptionally well, and the professionalism of the entire company make this a must-see. I guarantee you’ll agree that “’S Marvelous!”

November 15, 2016

My Fair Lady

Opera House Players at Broad Brook, Broad Brook, CT
through November 27, 2016
by Michael J. Moran

In the program book’s “Director’s Notes,” Anna Giza observes that “My Fair Lady” is “often referred to as the most popular musical of all time,” winning six Tony Awards for the original Broadway production in 1957 and eight Academy Awards for the movie in 1964. After seeing the Opera House Players’ exhilarating take on this classic show, it’s easy to understand why.

The musical is based on the play “Pygmalion” in which a Cockney flower girl, Eliza Doolittle, is transformed into a lady through speech lessons from Professor Henry Higgins. Shaw’s edgy satire of the British class system in 1912 London is softened by Lerner and Loewe’s stronger focus on the budding romance between student and teacher.

This production benefits enormously from a star-making performance by 17-year-old Caelie Flanagan as Eliza. Her strident protests against Professor Higgins’ discourtesies in the opening scene are just as grating on the audience’s ears as on his. But when she starts getting the right pronunciation in “The Rain in Spain,” her now limpid tone is equally caressing to the ear. With acting chops to match her lovely singing voice, Flanagan has a bright future on the stage.

While there’s not a weak link in the 21-member cast, other standouts include: Gene Choquette, irascible yet sympathetic as Higgins; Robert Lunde, a hoot as his dotty comical sidekick and fellow linguist, Col. Pickering; Dennis J. Scott, hilarious as Eliza’s ne’er-do-well father, Alfred P. Doolittle; and, in a brilliant stroke of luxury casting, the radiant Erica Romeo investing every word from Mrs. Higgins (the professor’s caring, exasperated mother) with dramatic weight.

Musical highlights include: Choquette’s vulnerable “I’ve Grown Accustomed to Her Face;” Scott’s rollicking “With a Little Bit of Luck;” and a touching “On the Street Where You Live” from Michael Graham Morales as Eliza’s hapless suitor Freddie Eynsford-Hill.

Inventive choreography by director Giza, sensitive lighting by Diane St. Amand, period-perfect costumes by Moonyean Field, resourceful set design by Francisco Aguas, and expansive support from musical director Kelly Sharp’s four-person band further enhance this gem of a production.

November 14, 2016

Bewitching Brahms

Hartford Symphony Orchestra, Hartford, CT
November 11–13, 2016
by Michael J. Moran

For the second “Masterworks” program of its 73rd season, the HSO presented a full concert of music by Johannes Brahms, whom their web site calls “one of the most captivating masters of musical form” and quotes as saying, “It is not hard to compose, but what is fabulously hard is to leave the superfluous notes under the table.” No superfluous notes could be heard in this rewarding program.

HSO Music Director Carolyn Kuan opened it not with one of Brahms’ two concert overtures but with two of his 21 Hungarian Dances. Arranged for orchestra from his original piano settings of traditional Gypsy melodies, these were the most popular of all Brahms’ works during his lifetime. The HSO gave bracing accounts of the famous fifth and less familiar seventh dances. 

Cho-Liang Lin
World-class violinist Cho-Liang Lin was featured next in one of the cornerstones of the classical repertoire, Brahms’ Violin Concerto. Like Kuan, a native of Taiwan, Lin never achieved the superstar status of the older Itzhak Perlman or the younger Joshua Bell, but it would be hard to imagine a better performance of this rapturous yet challenging masterpiece. A moderate tempo proved ideal for the long opening movement, where Lin’s burnished tone reflected both technical mastery and emotional depth. He played the ravishing slow movement with sensitivity and the lively Gypsy-flavored finale with flair, while conductor and orchestra were in full-bodied rapport throughout. 

A commanding rendition of Brahms’ fourth and final symphony brought the program to a somber close. The symphony opens with a quiet melancholy theme, but the first movement builds to a dramatic conclusion. The slow second movement is dark and funereal, while the third movement is a bright dance-like scherzo. The finale is a passacaglia, or variations on a short theme, that reaches a shattering climax.

Kuan’s urgent leadership drew passionate commitment from her musicians and made it clear why the audience at the work’s Vienna premiere in 1897 was so moved when the composer made his final public appearance there less than a month before he passed away.

November 9, 2016


TheaterWorks, Hartford, CT
through November 26, 2016
by Shera Cohen

Richard Dreyfuss
A few years ago, I discovered a little theatre located on a side street in downtown Hartford. The venue is not typical; audience members enter through an art gallery, walk a long staircase, then to seats and stage surrounded by metal poles. This is TheaterWorks. Its current play, “Relativity,” is “little” at 85 minutes and three characters. This is where to find a triumvirate of talent: renowned actor Richard Dreyfuss, creative director Rob Ruggiero, and flawless playwright Mark St. Germain.

With a title like “Relativity,” it’s not surprising that Albert Einstein is its central character. To a large degree, the word “relativity” delves into Einstein’s family rather than science; in other words, his relatives. His wives, sons, daughter, grandchildren – who would have thought that geniuses like Einstein also have mundane lives? We watch a journalist’s interview with the famous man. The clue comes immediately when she questions Einstein about his first wife and his sons – this is no ordinary interviewer asking very personal questions.

“Relativity,” one of St. Germain’s fictionalized biographies succeeds, as all his works do, as a dramedy. An unfolding mystery evolves. More important are conflicting questions of greatness for mankind vs goodness for one’s small world of family.
Credit to the audience that did not applaud when Dreyfuss first appeared onstage. Oftentimes, famous actors are acknowledged simply because they are well-known. Dreyfuss, disheveled and sporting the iconic hairdo, immediately becomes Einstein. Dreyfuss portrays the scientist as steadfast and egotistical. Yet, we can see the wheels turning in his head, as Einstein questions if goodness and selfishness can possibly go hand in hand, even for him. Dreyfuss is as brilliant an actor as his character is a scientist.

Christa Scott-Reed, the journalist, holds her own in the role of woman on an important mission. Verbal fisticuffs with Dreyfuss are an even match. Lori Wilner, the housekeeper, makes a formidable appearance in a role that helps define her friend/employer more than herself.

Director Rob Ruggiero (who wears many creative hats at TheaterWorks) places every movement, moment, and word of dialog in unison. There is no waste. Masterful set designer Brian Prather provides a strewn-about private space with an always-closed door that the interviewer enters, somewhat at her own risk, and more at Einstein’s risk.

Unfortunately, the run of “Relativity” is just about sold out, even with two weeks added. But call the box office, just in case; there might be a seat for you.

November 8, 2016

Love, Loss, and What I Wore

Majestic Theater, West Springfield, MA
through December 11, 2016
by Barbara Stroup

Eight lively actresses grace the Majestic Stage in the current production of “Love, Loss, and What I Wore.” The steady appearance—on hangers, one at a time— of a lifetime’s wardrobe prompts memories, both poignant and amusing. As they take turns describing the events that surround the occasion when each particular dress was worn, they reveal fragments from the stories of their lives. Experiences shared by so many women – body awareness and shame, comical interactions with mothers, sales clerks, and the men in their pasts – prompt laughter and sympathy.

However, this Nora Efron piece lacks a story arc, character development and conflict, plot, and other elements we rightly expect of live theatre. At best, it seems the writer could have used a one-person monologue as the vehicle for this memoir, in the style of Billy Crystal’s recent “700 Sundays.”  We never really get to know any of these women (we see only one relationship among them), nor are we told why they have assembled and how they relate to each other. Where does their bond come from? What prompts these confessional-type revelations? Our emotions are buffeted about, from sadness to comedy and back again, and stereotypes keep emerging.

Because their assigned roles vary as well -- each actress takes on different parts during the play—the audience is further distanced from the possibility of character growth and familiarity. They vow devotion to dressing in black, but this production’s lighting makes their black clothing go flat and dull. Both this absence of costume and the minimal set rob the audience of visual interest and make this production feel under-funded.

In spite of these limitations, the matinee audience (largely female) supported the performance with frequent laughter and the almost universal recognition of women’s shared experiences. Ephron’s script – tying memoir to outfits – just needed a better concept.

November 7, 2016

Unnecessary Farce

Playhouse on Park, West Hartford, CT
through November 20, 2016
by Shera Cohen
When I look at the word “farce” in a play’s title or as a key description of what I am about to see, I immediately count the number of doors onstage. As it turns out, the cover of Playhouse on Park’s program book for “Unnecessary Farce” had already printed the words in a large font – eight doors. Eight, hmm? This was sure to be fun.

Playhouse is a small theatre, both outside and in, yet its stage is large, permitting enough room to hold just about any piece of theatre. The audience sits on three sides, evenly distributed, with the stage as the fourth wall. Sight-lines are perfect. Its actors are a mixture of Equity and community pros – it is impossible to know which actors have the credits and which do not. Besides, it doesn’t matter.

Comedies, especially those with an emphasis on farce, are about as brainless as one might expect. Playhouse does perform some meaty works; i.e. a Eugene O’Neill play is scheduled for this winter. However, this lark is sheer fun. And, yes, every door is opened and shut (sometimes slammed) countless times.

Our heroes, two rookie cops on their first stake-out, set up a sting to catch the mayor’s embezzlement scheme. With an invisible wall center-stage, are two abutting hotel rooms. There are lots of fast comings and goings which also include a couple of crooks and an “assistant crook”.

Although “Farce” is an ensemble work, Susan Slotoroff (Police Officer Billie) takes the helm. Slotoroff plays newbie Billie with humorous bravado and effervescence. Will Hardyman (Officer Eric) embodies his nebbish role with fun. Julie Robles makes her Playhouse debut as a purposely over-the-top lovelorn accountant, Mike Boland gives his Agent Frank a no-nonsense ridiculous Jack Webb demeanor, and John-Patrick Driscoll depicts physical humor with aplomb.

Director Russell Treyz creates “Farce” somewhat as a circus. Every member of his cast moves fast and is extremely agile. The two side-by-side beds quickly become the literal jumping off point when the play’s action sparks. Even the 6’+ Driscoll is nimble on his feet. It must also be noted that Driscoll’s indecipherable Scottish brogue offers the play’s funniest moments.

“Unnecessary Farce” might not be necessary to see. For those who want laughs, it comes close.

October 27, 2016

A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder

The Bushnell, Hartford, CT
through October 30, 2016
by Shera Cohen

“The musical’s first song, ‘A Warning to the Audience’ [to go home] is, of course, not heeded. No one should leave the theatre until our young, handsome, serial killer/hero and his eight victims receive standing ovations.”

Photo by Joan Marcus
I quote the last line of my own review of “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder,” having seen it in 2012 as a world premiere at Hartford Stage. Within what seemed like a New York second, “Gentleman” landed on Broadway, won a ton of Tony Awards, to then come full circle to Hartford – this time to the larger Bushnell stage. The saying goes, “You can go home again,” and in the life of “Gentleman,” welcomed by a full house, rousing cheers, bold laughter, and yes, a standing ovation. Frankly, I easily could have spent another two hours watching the erstwhile protagonist knock off another eight preys, but I doubt if the cast members had the stamina to keep up the physical and verbal speed.

The plot: Rent the 1949 Alec Guinness splendid macabre comedy, “Kind Hearts and Coronets,” add romantic and devilish music, 20 or so elaborate cartoonish scenes, and four leading actors/singers. Without movie CliffNotes, think: poor, orphaned (okay, so he’s 25ish) low class Monty discovers that he has a slew of upper class relatives, each of whom he must murder in order to climb the ladder to success. While nice-guy Monty is at first reluctant to pursue his mission, he quickly gets over it. What singles out this farce from other musicals and plays is that the role of all eight family members (men, women, young, old) is portrayed by the same actor.

Kevin Massey (Monty) acts as well as he can sing. It is obvious why he has earned his Broadway credits. His bittersweet “Sibella” is offset by a spritely “Poison in My Pocket.” John Rapson (Monty’s kin; i.e. cousins, uncles, aunts) purposely milks the bizarre humor of each family member to perfection. Just when one would think that Massey is ONLY a funny man, he sings a brassy “Lady Lyacinth Abroad” or dramatic “Looking Down the Barrel of a Gun.” Best of all is the duet, “Better With a Man,” which without going into details, is exactly what you would guess.

If a competition was held as to which of the two actresses has the best soprano pipes it would be a tie. Both Kristen Beth Williams and Kristen Hahn could easily be mistaken for opera divas. Indeed, Williams plays her role as diva-like as is possible. Hahn’s character, on the other hand, is proper and demure. Monty loves them both. So does the audience. Perhaps the show-stopper is the trio’s (Monty and ladies) “I’ve Decided to Marry You,” with each woman on the opposite side of a wall, Monty between them, with doors slamming, running about, and gymnastics to give Moliere a smile.

Director Darko Tresnjak and Scenic Designer Alexander Dodge work in sync flawlessly. This half-paragraph does not property credit their skills. Music Director Lawrence Goldberg and his talented orchestra carry refrains of hysterically yet ghoulish sounds throughout.

A flaw with “Gentleman”? There has to be something? Ah, the musical runs less than a week at The Bushnell.

October 25, 2016

Little Women: The Musical

Exit 7 Players, Ludlow, MA
through November 6, 2016
by Michael J. Moran

Louisa May Alcott’s classic novel “Little Women” tells the story of the four March sisters – Jo, Meg, Amy, and Beth – coming of age during and just after the American Civil War in the 1860s. The musical version debuted on Broadway in 2005, and has been a popular choice ever since for college, school, and regional theatres.

The luminous production by Exit 7 Players makes a strong case for the show. The central character is the headstrong tomboy Jo, and 17-year-old Stephani Bauduccio is sensational in the role.  Bauduccio’s kinetic energy and plastic face unerringly convey all of Jo’s shifting emotions as she matures from an adventure-seeking teenager to an insightful young woman on the verge of a successful career three years later as a writer about her beloved family and community. Bauduccio’s lovely singing voice makes her big number, “Astonishing,” a real tour de force. This is a local actress to watch.

The other nine cast members fill out a convincing ensemble, with especially fine musical acting by Janine Flood as the girls’ mother, Marmee, whose rendition of “Here Alone” is heartbreaking; Gavin Kramar as their student neighbor, Laurie, whose “Take a Chance on Me” brims with lovesick enthusiasm; and Jarod Bakum as Professor Bhaer, whose subtly shaded “How I Am” perfectly expresses the gradual opening of this stern academic’s heart to love.

Director Jenn Marshall is also responsible for the nicely varied choreography and the resourceful set design. Judy Hemingway’s appealing costumes are period appropriate. Musical director Dan Monte leads a spirited eight-member band.

Those who frequent community theatre know that each troupe uses every opportunity possible to fundraise; i.e. raffles, homemade refreshment sales, and “telegrams” to actors.. These helpful traditions have not only helped the company to maintain and improve its historic Ludlow theatre, but built them a loyal following.

Musical theatre lovers in the Pioneer Valley are urged not to miss this delightful telling of a timeless tale for all ages.

October 24, 2016


Eligibility: any high school senior (public, private, home school) in WMA/ NCT who has been accepted by any college/certificate program leading to a degree in any of the arts.

Arts: theatre, music, dance, writing, backstage, mime, painting, sculpting, choreographer, etc. 

Requirements: 1 page (ONLY) Letter of Interest describing your experience in your chosen art and goals for college.  Include your name, address, phone number, cell number. 

1 Letter of Reference from any of the following: teacher, artist, art venue manager, etc.

Samples of work (as many as you wish, cannot be returned, copies are fine); i.e. theatre program book  with your name, a painting, recording of song you wrote, etc. 

Judges: The MA Critics Circle Scholarship Committee 

Deadline: MAY 1, 2017; winner will be announced at the Awards in early June, date TBA. 

Mail to: Shera Cohen, In the Spotlight, 235 State Street, #102, Springfield, MA 01103