Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

March 30, 2022

REVIEW: The Bushnell, Dear Evan Hansen

The Bushnell, Hartford, CT
Through April 3, 2022
By Jarice Hanson

Audiences in the Pioneer Valley/Nortern CT have been waiting for the touring company of the Broadway hit, “Dear Evan Hansen” since May, 2020 when it was originally scheduled to come to the Bushnell.  

Now that the pandemic has allowed touring companies to perform again, run--don’t walk--to see this wonderful story brought to life by an extraordinary company of actors/singers and musicians.

photo by Mathew Murphy
“Dear Evan Hansen” is ultimately a story of how hard it is to be a young person, social anxiety, parental relationships, and the aloneness of contemporary life.  E-mail is the way of communicating, and when Evan is instructed by his doctor to write a letter to himself, he composes a letter thought by others, to be his classmate Connor’s admission of his despair. The story deals tough subjects, including suicide, but it is also a story about hope and figuring out how the real world is preferable to the online world of lies and innuendo. 

There are 17 actors in the company, but only eight perform each night. On opening night Sam Primack, listed in the program as the “alternate” Evan Hansen took the lead with his boyish charm and skilled vocalizations. A totally believable lovable nerd, Evan is the kid in every class that everyone overlooks. When he has an encounter with a troubled teen named Connor, his imagination spins into a story that filled with humor, and an overshadowing sadness that gives this tale a contemporary wallop that had most of the audience in tears by the end of Act I. 

Nikhil Saboo, as Connor, has a voice like an angel, and when Alessandro Costantini as Jared, a kid with an entrepreneurial streak, joins in the trio, the three “boys” light up the stage with clever choreography by Danny Mefford. 

The songs carry most of the story that is supplemented by dialog and brilliant staging by Director Michael Grief. Every performer is perfect in their roles, and the sound design (sometimes a problem at the Bushnell) allows the singers articulation to carry the meaning in the extraordinary songs penned by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul. Music Director Garret Healey on keyboards conducted the seven live musicians on a cantilevered platform, and were perfectly attuned to the singers’ voices.

Every cast member is a standout, and most have Broadway credits to their names. Jessica E. Sherman was exceptionally moving as Evan’s mother; Claire Rankin and James Moye as Connor’s bereaved parents; and Stephanie La Rochelle as Zoe, their daughter, personalized the grief that can tear a family apart. Another “student” who becomes involved in the plan to memorialize Connor, is played by Ciara Alyse Harris, who demonstrates stage presence far beyond her years.

It’s easy to see why “Dear Evan Hansen” won six Tony Awards, including “Best Musical.” As an anthem to mental health and the problems of youth, the show seems timeless. It was also notable that the audience was comprised of a number of single parents and their teens. It’s a story that ultimately does what theater does best—it exposes the humanity we all need. This production, delayed by the pandemic, shows that life goes on and can be absolutely wonderful.

March 24, 2022

PREVIEW: Playhouse on Park, Divas: Double or Nothing

Playhouse on Park, West Hartford, CT
through March 27, 2022

Photo Credit: Rich Wagner

Ever wish you could see all of your favorite DIVAS on one stage? Well, thanks to award-winning choreographer/director, Darlene Zoller, West Hartford is getting the DIVA treatment! Our resident dance company, stop/time dance theater, now in its 17th year, is bringing the heat and paying homage to all of your favorites: Cher, Tina, Gloria, Shania, Dolly, Whitney...and more! DIVAS is an original show featuring 18 outstanding company members who will sing and dance their way into your heart with a mix of tap, jazz, swing and funk. This will be a non-stop, high-energy extravaganza with high kicks and even higher notes, so grab some friends and get your tickets today! And remember...what happens at Playhouse on Park stays at Playhouse on Park (but you’re going to want to tell everyone you know)!

COVID-19 Policy: All patrons must be fully vaccinated. Vaccination card, government issued ID, and masks are required for all patrons.

March 23, 2022

Preview: K and E Theater Group, Altar Boyz

Northampton Center for the Arts, Northampton, MA
March 24 - 27, 2022

"ALTAR BOYZ" is a foot-stomping, rafter-raising, musical comedy about a fictitious Christian boy-band on the last night of their national 'Raise the Praise' tour. The Boyz are five all-singing, all-dancing heartthrobs from Ohio: Matthew, Mark, Luke, Juan and Abraham. The Boyz perform their signature hits such as 'Rhythm In Me,' 'The Calling,' and 'I Believe' along with spectacular choreography. Not just great singing troupe, there is a plot to this musical as the Boyz  question their loyalty to each other and ask whether or not faith is really holding them together.

Full of sharp parody, sinfully spectacular dancing and irreverent humor, "ALTAR BOYZ" has been adored by audiences all over the world. With an extraordinary mix of side-splitting songs, uncontrollable laughs and light-hearted fun, this award-winning and totally original musical is 90-minutes of heavenly delight that is destined to rock the masses of all denominations!

Bill Martin is the musical director. K and E Theater Group Artistic Director Eddie Zitka is the director and choreographer.

Performances run from Thursday, March 24, through Sunday, March 27, 2022 at Northampton Center for the Arts, 33 Hawley Street, Northampton, MA. 

Tickets are general admission for $27.00. There is no reserved seating.

For additional information and to purchase tickets, visit
* There are strobe light effects used in this production.
** Proof of vaccination and face coverings that cover the nose and mouth will be required for entrance and while seated at the Northampton Center for the Arts.

March 17, 2022

Preview: Majestic Theater, Blithe Spirit

Majestic Theater, West Springfield MA
through April 3, 2022
by Tim O’Brien

The formal title of this play is “Blithe Spirit; An Improbable Farce in Three Acts.” Author Noel Coward famously dashed off the formidably lengthy script in less than a week in early 1941.

Upscale British author Charles Condomine has invited village psychic Madame Arcati to his Kent home for a summer’s eve séance, as research for an upcoming novel. The spiritualist inadvertently conjures up the ghost of Charles’ young wife Elvira – deceased for seven years now. Life in the Condomine household shall never be the same.

While the inherent comic premise of the script is mild by contemporary standards, director Sue Dziura has dealt admirably with the biggest challenge (sheer time) by setting a very brisk pace. The cast - clearly up to the task - deliver their lines in a classic Coward-esque rapid-fire and keep things moving.

Russell Garrett (Charles) is at the hub of the plot, and delivers everything the role demands, from bored English privilege to terrified realization. Only Charles can see Elvira, which causes immediate problems with his very-much-alive-so-far second wife, Ruth.

Sarah Corbyn Woolf charms as the ethereal Elvira. Her arc from bemused spirit returned to Earth to malevolent plotter is well-nuanced. Jeannine Haas (Madame Arcati) earns many of the biggest laughs as the eccentric medium, giving her country-side accent and an air of genuine unpredictability.

Stuart Gamble and Christine Voytko (Doctor and Mrs. Brandman, respectively) are exactly right as the earnest country physician and his wife, who is a bit star-struck by Madame Arcati.

Caelie Scott (Edith) darts through the production as the over-eager maid, trying hard to please. She displays a lovely singing voice in the endgame as well.

For being more than 80 years old, "Blithe Spirit" has aged well, and this Majestic Theater production does it proud. Catch it if you can.

REVIEW: Hartford Symphony Orchestra, Mendelssohn’s Italian

The Bushnell, Belding Theater, Hartford, CT
March 11-13, 2022 
by Michael J. Moran 

As a gesture of solidarity with the suffering people of Ukraine and a reminder that music reflects the full range of human experience, Music Director Carolyn Kuan began each concert of the sixth “Masterworks” weekend of their current season by leading the HSO in the Ukrainian national anthem. HSO musicians also wore Ukrainian flag emblems over their hearts. 

The following program surrounded a 21st-century concerto with two popular favorites by Felix Mendelssohn, opening with four numbers from his incidental music for an 1843 Berlin production of Shakespeare’s comedy “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” A playful “Intermezzo,” a radiant “Nocturne,” a mercurial “Scherzo,” and a magisterial “Wedding March” were all performed with conviction and finesse. 

The concert’s centerpiece was American composer Kevin Putz’s Flute Concerto, whose 2013 world premiere in California was led by Kuan. Her humorous spoken introduction included helpful excerpts played by orchestra members and rising Chicago-born soloist Demarre McGill. He met the piece's technical challenges with fluid tone, dexterity, and emotional sensitivity, from a virtuosic first movement (marked “With great sincerity and affection; flexible, with motion”) and a sensuous “Andante” to a rollicking finale (“Very fast, with tremendous energy”). 

The colorful orchestration of Putz’s lush and attractive score, which included a ravishing quotation from Mozart’s twenty-first piano concerto and a joyous round of clapping, offered the musicians, especially the percussionists, many opportunities to show off, which they did with flair and panache.    

The program closed with a blazing account of Mendelssohn’s fourth symphony, which he based on his 1831 travels through Italy and always called his “Italian” symphony. Inspired by Kuan’s animated leadership, the orchestra tore with gusto into an exuberant opening “Allegro vivace,” a stately “Andante con moto,” a tender “Con moto moderato,” and a breathless closing “Saltarello: Presto.” The cohesive power of this performance made it all the more surprising that the composer didn’t allow the work to be published in his lifetime because he doubted its quality. 

The HSO’s next “Masterworks” program, “Rachmaninoff & Tchaikovsky,” will feature Kuan and pianist Henry Kramer on April 8-10, 2022.

March 14, 2022

REVIEW: Exit 7 Players, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

Exit 7 Players, Ludlow, MA
through March 20, 2022
by Jarice Hanson

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time originated in London’s West End in 2012 and came to Broadway two years later, winning multiple Tony Awards and the “Best Play” award in 2015. The show is based on the novel by Mark Haddon and adapted by Simon Stephens, and tells the story of Christopher, a neurodivergent 15-year-old, who stumbles upon a neighbor’s murdered dog and writes about the experience of trying to find the murderer. In the process, he negotiates his first foray into the sensory-stimulating world of dealing with police who initially think he killed the dog, to negotiating train travel to find his mother, and dealing with people whom he can’t and won’t trust. 

The play gives the audience an insight into the mind of a young man coming of age who is on the Autism Spectrum. Without ever specifying Christopher’s condition, the staging of the play itself brings us into the mind of a person for whom sensory overload is a matter of daily life. It’s a play so well written and so sensitively structured, it would be rare for a community theater to successfully tackle the subject. Fortunately, in the hands of director Michael O. Budnick and a cast of hard-working actors, Exit 7’s production hits the mark. 

Young Lucas Gonsalves very ably portrays Christopher, the sparkplug who drives the show. Gonsalves has fine stage presence, a believable British accent, and the physical stamina to sustain the energy of the show. Make no mistake—this is a very taxing role, and Gonsalves commits to it fully. He demonstrates a range that allows him to moderate his performance between moments of frenzy and a controlled collapse when external forces require the character to completely shut down in withdrawal.    

Jason Rose-Langston very effectively portrays Christopher's father as he deals with his son’s gifts and limitations, while still making you believe he deeply loves his son and struggles to understand him. Equally up to the challenge of the role is Gilana Chelimsky who portrays Siobhan, Christopher’s teacher, who adds an effective measure of control to the events that draw young Christopher into the functioning world while she recognizes his very special talent for math and systematic information processing. Also of note is Jami Wilson's performance in the pivotal role of Christopher's mother.

Much of the show depends on helping the audience experience the sensory overload that drives Christopher’s boundless energy.  The set constructed by Michael O. Budnick, Frank Croke, and Bruce Torrey is a masterpiece of projections, light, and sound that defies the limitations of the space and gives attention to the ensemble of Nancy Wright, Jeffrey Flood, Andy Price, Dan Jarvis, Hannah Zaitz, and Teresa Allie, all of whom play multiple roles, and who hit their marks with precision, timing, and control.   

Kudos to Exit 7 Players who recognized the importance of this very unique story and who so effectively take the audience into the mind of a young man who is considered “different.” In their telling of the story, they reach into our hearts and minds to show the beauty in love that cuts through all of our differences.

March 10, 2022

Review: The Bushnell, My Fair Lady

The Bushnell, Hartford, CT
through March 14, 2022 
by Rebecca Phelps
When you arrive at the Bushnell Theatre get ready to sit back and soak in nostalgia for this beloved and most popular Lerner and Loewe musical. This newly minted Lincoln Center revival of the iconic classic "My Fair Lady" does not hold back on the glamourous costumes, sumptuous sets, full orchestra, and spectacle that audiences love to see fully realized on stage. Director Bartlett has mastered the art of reviving an old classic, updating it, and yet keeping all the original charm in the script and music as written.
Shereen Ahmed plays the role of Eliza Doolittle, the lowly girl selling flowers at Covent Garden when the opera lets out. She shows herself to be no shrinking violet right from the start when she realizes that Professor Higgins is writing down every word she says. Unfortunately for this reviewer as well as audience members, her cockney accent was so pronounced she was not only difficult for Professor Higgins to understand, but difficult for the audience to understand as well. One member of the audience commented that she needed closed captioning. Nevertheless, as soon as Ahmed opened her mouth to sing, we were immediately transported by her crystal clear, effortless singing voice. It was obvious that her voice training regimen with Higgins began to pay off in the story; her lines became easy to understand. Ahmed made for a sensational Eliza, as poised, elegant, and self-possessed as one could imagine.
Laird Macintosh portrays Henry Higgins as an appropriately blustery, privileged, bullying, and winey mama's boy.  Alfred Pariseau makes the most of his role as Colonel Pickering - a difficult one with relatively few lines but lots of stage time. Martin Fisher rounds out the major cast of characters as the often scene stealing role of Alfred Doolittle (Eliza's unlikely philosophical father). The accents utilized by Alfie, Mrs. Higgins, Mrs. Pearce and Alfie's wife-to-be represent several well-defined accents; a tribute to the detailed work that went into this production.
One can't leave out a mention of the huge, beautifully elaborate set that is on stage for most of the production. It is an enormous piece depicting Higgins' library, complete with circular stairway, that rotates bringing Bushnell's patrons into four different rooms in the house. Often the set is moving as the servants and other cast members walk through from one room to another in elaborate choreography. The show is worth seeing just for that alone.

The Bushnell's "My Fair Lady" makes for a delightful well-spent evening being transported into a world of classic musical theater bliss.

March 7, 2022

REVIEW: UMass Fine Arts Center, “Guitarra!” Berta Rojas

Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art, Amherst, MA 
March 5, 2022 
by Michael J. Moran 

As the exclamation point after the title of this concert suggests, the quiet charisma and impressive virtuosity of Paraguayan guitarist Berta Rojas not only won a standing ovation from a nearly full house in the intimate Eric Carle Museum auditorium but inspired such post-show comments from satisfied concertgoers as “That was amazing!” and “How do you even do that?” 

Berta Rojas
Rojas built each half of her program around one of two preeminent women guitarist-composers of the past century. The first half honored French musician Ida Presti, who has been called “the greatest guitarist of the 20th century and possibly of all time.” In both the opening “Segovia,” Presti’s rhapsodic 1962 tribute to Spanish guitarist Andres Segovia, and “Danse Rythmique,” her joyful 1959 homage to her husband, guitarist Alexandre LaGoya, Rojas navigated the swift changes of tempo and mood with flawless dexterity and interpretive sensitivity. 

British composer-guitarist John Duarte’s 1982 “Idylle pour Ida,” commemorating Presti, and Spanish composer Federico Moreno Torroba’s 1924 “Sonatina,” whose first movement Presti played on her debut recording in 1938, drew equally deft performances from Rojas, especially in the Sonatina’s lush and haunting central movement, to complete the concert’s first half. 

The second half featured four compositions by Argentinian guitarist-composer Maria Luisa Anido. The gentle melancholy of her 1971 “Preludio Lejania,” the high spirits of her folklike “Aire de Vidalita,” and the mercurial colors of her “Triste No. 1” culminated in the emotional intensity of “El Misachico,” a funeral march in memory of Anido’s mother, in which Rojas added percussive effects by tapping the bridge and side of her guitar. 

Brazilian composer-guitarist Sergio Assad’s 2015 suite “Anido’s Portrait,” commissioned by Rojas, depicts in four short movements places that helped shape Anido’s life and career: Argentina, Spain, Russia, and Cuba. Rojas skillfully balanced the high energy of “Zapateado” and “Aire de Salsa” with the subtler rhythms of “Chacarera” and “Aire de Kalinka.” 

Her moving encore was a spellbinding account of her countryman Augustin Barrios’s final composition, “El Ultimo Tremolo.” The clear acoustic of the Carle auditorium, which Rojas called “a beautiful space to play guitar,” and her warmly personal spoken introductions to the music further enhanced this memorable event.