Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

November 26, 2021

PREVIEW: MOSSO to Present a Holiday Brass Concert

St. Andrew's Church, Longmeadow, MA
December 14, 2021
The Musicians of the Springfield Symphony Orchestra (MOSSO) will present a family-friendly performance, MOSSO and Friends Holiday Brass Concert, on Tuesday, December 14, at 7PM, at St. Andrew’s Church on 335 Longmeadow Street, Longmeadow, MA. 
The program will include the Carol of the Bells, traditional holiday songs from Russia and France, holiday music from Hollywood to Springfield, the Hanukkah Suite, and jazz interpretations of traditional holiday songs. 
The MOSSO and Friends Holiday Brass Concert features the Springfield Symphony Orchestra’s Principal Trombonist Brian Diehl, French hornist Robert Hoyle, and Principal Tubist Stephen Perry.
Tickets for the concert, all general admission, are $20/adults and $10/children. Tickets must be purchased in advance. No door sales will be available. Only a limited number of tickets will be sold to permit social distancing. All ticket holders will be required to wear masks, and all ticket holders over the age of 12 must show proof of vaccination.

Tickets are sold through

November 17, 2021

REVIEW: The Bushnell, The Band’s Visit

The Bushnell, Hartford, CT
through November 21, 2021
by Jarice Hanson

The Israeli film, “The Band’s Visit,” was one of the most highly acclaimed films of the 2007 Cannes Film Festival. The story, called “[a] small-scale musical with a big heart” was adapted for the stage and debuted Off Broadway in 2016 and moved to Broadway in 2018, where it won 10 Tony Awards, including Best Musical. Now, after a number of Covid-related delays, the touring company is back on the road, charming audiences with this simple story of hope, longing, and the power of music.

The story is simple. An Egyptian classical band is booked at the Arab Cultural Center in the Israeli city of Petah Tikva, but by mistake, they travel to a town in the desert with a similar name, called Bet Hatikva.Their poor translation skills and the travelers’ innocence results in the members of the band stuck overnight in a town where nothing ever happens, and the boredom and ennui have sent human relationships into a downward spiral. Thanks to Dina, the proprietress of the local cafĂ©, the seven members of the band are split up, and sent to stay with different local residents. By morning, music touches the lives of everyone, and everyone changes.

Both the film and the play are achingly real, in the sense that we learn and empathize with those who feel free to open up to strangers, rather than to their neighbors and loved ones; and there is an undercurrent of Arab/Israeli issues that focuses on what we have in common, rather than what drives us apart. Music and lyrics are by the wonderful David Yazbek, the musical genius behind soulful comedies like “The Full Monty,” “Tootsie”, and “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels.” The multiple award-winning Director is David Cromer, who also won the 2018 Tony for Best Director, who has the confidence and trust in the material to allow this play to slowly build to its inevitable conclusion, which allowed the opening night audience to leap to their feet with a standing ovation.

The singers and musicians all are top-notch, and of the 15 musical numbers, most are solos from the international cast of actors. Janet Dacal, playing Dina, is the catalyst who makes the decisions and sets the action in motion. Sasson Gabay, as Tewfiq, the Band’s maestro, is the noted Israeli actor who originated the role in the film. His quiet dignity and somber physicality epitomizes sadness; but his gentle, dignified portrayal makes it clear why Dina wonders if he could be her “Omar Sharif.” The members of the Band themselves are wildly talented musicians who also have acting chops and clearly defined characters.   

“The Band’s Visit” is what we need after the prolonged pandemic has beaten so many of us down. It is simple, honest, and transformative. On opening night, the sound quality in the auditorium at the Bushnell (often problematic) made it difficult to understand every word spoken by the heavily accented actors, but the message was clear, and “The Band’s Visit” is an encouraging reminder that simplicity can be a good thing, and finding a way to communicate with others, lifts our hearts.    

It should be noted that on Saturday and Sunday, there will be both matinee and evening performances.

November 15, 2021

REVIEW: Valley Light Opera, The Pirates of Penzance

Valley Light Opera, Northampton, MA
through November 14, 2021
by Michael J. Moran

"Penzance" Bobbies in Rehearsal
Returning to live performance after a two-year Covid hiatus with Gilbert and Sullivan’s “Pirates of Penzance” must have been an easy call for Valley Light Opera: G&S are a house specialty here (all 14 of the duo’s comic operas – and even more of their music - are in VLO’s repertoire); this is their 7th production of “Pirates” since 1979; and “Pirates” audiences always leave the theater feeling happy. The November 14th performance was a full house.

Subtitled “The Slave of Duty,” this 1879 creation tells the convoluted story of how 21-year-old Frederic escapes his apprenticeship to a band of soft-hearted pirates and surmounts a “most ingenious paradox” involving the date of his birthday to find true love with Mabel, daughter of a major-general who wants to bring the pirates to justice. As Ruth, the pirates’ “maid-of-all-work” responsible for Frederic’s apprenticeship, Kathy Blaisdell was a hoot. Travis Benoit and Rory Mason as the lovers brought sumptuous singing voices and stylized acting skills to their roles.

The most impressive vocalist was Thom Griffin, whose brilliantly pompous Major-General Stanley negotiated the challenging patter of his big number, “I Am the Very Model of a Modern Major General,” with flawless diction and dotty good cheer. Matt Roehrig was a close second, investing the pirate king with equal measures of swagger and compassion. But the strongest vocal highlight may have been the incongruously touching “Hail poetry” chorus, sung thrillingly by the entire 34-member ensemble near the end of Act I.

The comic high point was the hilarious Act II “Tarantara” chorus by the hapless troop of English “Bobbies” organized (but reluctant) to capture the pirates, enhanced by the clever choreography of Graham Christian. Reminiscent of the Keystone Cops, the men in full garb topped off their shenanigans from tapping toes to tall metal hats hilariously. Vibrant musical direction by Aldo Fabrizi drew spirited playing from the orchestra in the pit and kept them in clear balance with the company on stage in the warm acoustics of Northampton’s Academy of Music.

Straightforward stage direction by Steve Morgan, simple but imaginative set design by Chris Riddle, and appropriate period costume design by Laura Green further distinguished this crowd-pleasing triumph for VLO, whose next offering will be Mozart’s “Requiem” in April, 2022.

November 9, 2021

Review: Majestic Theater, Don't Dress for Dinner

The Majestic Theater, West Springfield MA
through December 5, 2021
by Tim O’Brien

Marrieds Bernard and Jaqueline, apparently both American expats, live a comfortable early 1960's life in rural France. They’re both conducting successful extramarital affairs, but tonight, things are going to become comically confusing, and fast. That’s because Jaqueline is about to leave for the weekend to visit her presumably ailing mother, while Bernard’s best pal (and best man) Robert is coming to visit for the weekend. But so is Bernard’s girlfriend Suzanne, as well as the Cordon Bleu chef Bernard has secretly hired: Suzette. It might’ve even all worked out, except at the 11th hour, Jaqueline decides to stay home, because her lover is none other than…Robert.

This classic farce is a fast-growing house of cards, with schemes, misunderstandings, mistaken identities, preposterous cover stories and straight-up lies frantically piling upon one another. Naturally, the fun lies in watching how the cast navigates these romantically-roiled waters.

Jack Grigoli’s Bernard vacillates skillfully between confident Lothario and terrified cad. While in the wrong as a husband,  he’s the kind of philanderer you almost find yourself rooting for. Bethany Fitzgerald’s similarly likable Jaqueline smells a rat from the opening moments, and while she’s also on thin moral ice, seeing her work both sides of the outrage street is a hoot. Scott Renzoni is a delight, playing Robert with a young Bob Newhart vibe, and unerringly reciting several tongue-twisting speeches as he desperately tries to keep the many ruses alive.

“Girlfriend Suzy” (Alexandra O’Halloran) fills the ingenue role nicely as a bewildered Paris sophisticate suddenly forced to cook dinner for strangers. “Chef Suzy” (Elizabeth Pietrangelo) earns plenty of laughs as the one who’s really got nothing to lose; she regularly extorts Bernard and Robert for her ongoing cooperation. Finally there’s the cook’s husband George (Shaun O’Keefe) played well as a hot-tempered Scot who inadvertently helps untangle some of the web of deceits.

Stephen Petit’s direction is crisp and the pace is rapid-fire throughout. The script itself seems to falter a bit in the very late going, but it’s no fault of anyone other than the original writer or adaptor. Overall, it’s a good romp and a perfect way to enjoy the ongoing return of live theater.

November 8, 2021

Review: Hartford Symphony Orchestra, Bernstein & Copland

The Bushnell, Hartford, CT
November 5-7, 2021 
by Michael J. Moran 

Music Director Carolyn Kuan’s first “Masterworks” appearances on the HSO podium this season found the energized Maestra and her musicians in a festive mood. No sooner did she bound onto the Belding stage to tumultuous applause than the orchestra burst into “Buckaroo Holiday,” the first of the four dance episodes from Aaron Copland’s 1942 ballet “Rodeo” that opened this program of music by four American composers. 

After pausing to welcome late arrivers through her mask (most HSO members and the entire audience were masked), she led accounts of the gentle “Corral Nocturne,” the courtly “Saturday Night Waltz,” and the exhilarating “Hoe-Down” that matched the jubilant opener in the musicians’ palpable joy at playing live music for receptive listeners. 

Leonid Signal
Kuan helpfully introduced two recent pieces by living composers, starting with the last two movements of Wynton Marsalis’s 2015 violin concerto, with HSO concertmaster Leonid Sigal as soloist. Known mainly as a jazz musician, Marsalis is also a classically trained trumpeter and composer who studied at Tanglewood and Juilliard. The eclectic musical traditions of his native New Orleans pervade the sensuous languor of the concerto’s slow “Blues” movement and the rollicking ebullience of its “Hootenanny” finale, complete with hand clapping and foot stomping musicians and a march played by a standing brass line, including a Sousaphone tuba.

Sigal’s lively encore, Marsalis’ “Bye-Bye Breakdown,” for solo violin invites (and received) enthusiastic audience foot stomping.   

Next came a dramatic rendition of nine “symphonic dances” which Leonard Bernstein arranged into a concert suite from his 1957 musical “West Side Story.” The large percussion section played its huge array of instruments with special fervor, from rattling guiros and clattering woodblocks to thundering congas, punctuated by shouts from players and audience alike in “Mambo.” The visceral commitment of the whole ensemble throughout deepened the poignancy of the quiet finale, as Tony dies in Maria’s arms.

In explaining why she ended the program with Laura Karpman’s 2019 overture “All American,” Kuan cited Karpman’s intention to honor forgotten women composers in quoting patriotic songs by three of them as a hopeful note to close on, with hard-working HSO percussionists making ironically beautiful music with kitchen tools like pots, pans, and silverware.