Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

September 28, 2020

REVIEW: Barrington Stage Company, Three Viewings (Virtual Reading)

Barrington Stage Company, Pittsfield, MA
September 23 through September 27
By Jarice Hanson

In an effort to engage with, and bring quality entertainment to audiences, Barrington Stage has been streaming works that bow to Covid-19 regulations.  In “Three Viewings” by Jeffrey Hatcher, the talents of an outstanding playwright and three charismatic actors fill the bill.  Hatcher’s three monologs have a common theme.  All take place in a Midwestern funeral home which might suggest decorum, but each actor uses direct address with the viewer to create an intimate, hilarious relationship.

Kirkwood Smith is delightfully smarmy as a mild-mannered undertaker with a passion for the local real estate broker in "Tell-Tale." Angel Desai performs "The Thief of Tears" about a woman who is committed to getting the jewelry she was promised as a child from her dead grandmother.  Finally, the wonderful Debra Jo Rupp gives a funny, but poignant performance in "Thirteen Things About Ed Carpoletti," in which she plays a new widow who finds out her late husband has left her in debt to the bank and the mob.  Each of these actors is brilliant in expressing the comedy and pathos of the monologs, without audience feedback to fuel those performances. Julianne Boyd directs all three pieces and guides her actors in pacing and delivery so that the audience sees three very different individuals who complement each other as believable characters. It should also be noted that Mr. Smith and Ms. Rupp have a long relationship as the Red and Kitty Forman in the television sitcom "That '70s Show."

Hatcher’s script was published in 1996, but the content is timeless. In Barrington Stage’s decision to mount “Three Viewings” with these three actors, the company has hit the mark with seasoned professionals who are as comfortable on the big stage as they are in the intimate rectangle of a television or computer screen. There are many laugh out loud moments and the production does provide a certain satisfaction of watching quality work that is often missing in trying to stage theatrical events for streaming purposes.

Barrington Stage offered the show for a donation of $25 or more, and streaming was available for 96 hours.  Though the experience of the show was not as invigorating as seeing the productions live, the laughter it provided at this time in history was well worth the modest donation, and once again, Barrington Stage shows how quality productions in a variety of venues and formats.

September 4, 2020

REVIEW: Tanglewood 2020 Online Festival, ITS Presents the "Lenny Awards"

Tanglewood 2020 Online Festival
July 1 – August 23, 2020
by Michael J. Moran

With 78 programs in eight weeks now concluded, it’s time to look back at the Tanglewood 2020 Online Festival and present what In the Spotlight is calling the "Lenny Awards", named in honor of Tanglewood’s favorite son, composer-conductor Leonard Bernstein, for excellence in the following categories:

Seiji Ozawa
Best “Boston Symphony Orchestra Encore Performance from Tanglewood:” Facing strong competition from a thrilling Shostakovich tenth symphony and a sweeping Mahler third, both under current BSO Music Director Andris Nelsons, the Lenny Award goes to Seiji Ozawa’s emotional 2002 farewell concert, with a buoyant Berlioz “Symphonie Fantastique,” a rare Beethoven “Choral Fantasy,” and a touching audience-participation finale, Randall Thompson’s “Alleluia.”

Best “Tanglewood Music Center Orchestra Encore Performance:” Despite a lovely conductor-less Tchaikovsky  “Serenade for Strings” and stirring accounts under Thomas Ades of his own “Asyla” and Lutoslawski’s third symphony, the Lenny Award goes to Andris Nelsons for the dramatic reading he led of Act III from Wagner’s “Die Walkure,” featuring soprano Christine Goerke as a searing Brunnhilde. 

Best “BSO Musicians in Concert from Tanglewood” Program: Since each of these seven programs, all recorded without audience this summer in Studio E of the Linde Center for Music and Learning at Tanglewood, beautifully showcased different sections of the orchestra in imaginative repertory selections, the Lenny Award goes to the entire Boston Symphony Orchestra. 

Best “Great Performers in Recital from Tanglewood” Program: Even up against such formidable competition (also recorded audience-free this summer in Studio E) as revelatory Bach from pianist Daniil Trifonov and powerful Beethoven from violinist Joshua Bell with pianist Jeremy Denk, the Lenny Award goes to pianist Conrad Tao for a boldly inventive program that surrounded Beethoven’s “Tempest” sonata with modern experimental pieces which made it also sound new again.

Best “Recitals from the World Stage” Program: This series featured vibrant Shostakovich by the Danish String Quartet from Copenhagen and towering Beethoven by pianist Garrick Ohlsson from San Francisco, but the Lenny Award goes to the multinational Silkroad Ensemble for a stunning concert with their new artistic director, Rhiannon Giddens.

Best “TMC Chamber Concert” (audio): In spite of challenges from two programs featuring string quartets and wind instruments, the Lenny Award goes to the episode showcasing TMC vocal fellows for their virtuoso performances of an extremely broad repertoire, including several recent commissions by TMC composition fellows.  

Stephanie Blythe
Best Tanglewood Learning Institute MasterClass: Even with stiff competition from Midori’s sensitive tutoring of high-school-aged Boston University Tanglewood Institute violinists and from Dawn Upshaw’s empathetic coaching of Tanglewood Festival Chorus sopranos, the Lenny Award goes to mezzo-soprano and TMC faculty member Stephanie Blythe for her matchless verve and magnetic stage presence in working with TMC vocal fellows on Broadway repertoire. 

Best TLI ShopTalk: With two strong runner-up panels featuring saxophonist James Carter with composer Roberto Sierra and composers Gabriela Lena Frank and Augusta Read Thomas, the Lenny Award goes to conductors JoAnn Falletta and Thomas Wilkins, for firsthand stories of their respective pioneering careers as female and African American conductors.

Best TLI Forum Program: Though all three programs in each series offered new perspectives on “The Roaring Twenties” and “The Romantic Spirit,” the Lenny Award goes to pianist Tom Beghin for his fascinating research into the special piano on which the deaf Beethoven “heard” his new music in “Inside the Hearing Machine,” which kicked off the wide-ranging “TLI Celebrates Beethoven” series. 

Sue Elliott
Best Series Host: Berkshire resident Karen Allen was cordial; TMC vocal alum Lauren Ambrose was charming; frequent Tanglewood guest soprano Nicole Cabell was classy; and “famous father girl” Jamie Bernstein was wryly effusive; but the Lenny Award goes to indefatigable TLI Director Sue Elliott, who hosted all TLI programs and moderated all TLI panels, and whose lively and engaging manner drew insightful comments from all her many interviewees.  

Lenny Lifetime Achievement Award: This award goes to Ludwig van Beethoven, the 250th anniversary of whose birth was extensively observed in both musical and educational programming throughout the season. 

Special Lenny Award: This award goes to BSO President and CEO Mark Volpe for his 23 years of distinguished service in this position before he retires next year and for opening the Tanglewood grounds for free within Covid-19 guidelines to the general public three days per week this summer.