Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

July 31, 2022

REVIEW: BSO, "Ozawa Hall Concerts"

Tanglewood, Lenox, MA 
July 21 & 28, 2022 
by Michael J. Moran 

Two recent concerts in the recital series by visiting artists at Tanglewood illustrate the vast range of programming offered in this intimate venue.
The first, “Music from Copland House,” featured members of the touring ensemble based at Aaron Copland’s historic home in upstate New York and opened with Pierre Jalbert’s “Crossings,” a 2011 work they commissioned from the Canadian-American composer. A 15-minute meditation on migration for five instruments, its adventurous, sometimes agitated, deconstruction of the French-Canadian folk song “When I Left Canada” was especially well rendered by violinist Suliman Tekalli and flutist Carol Wincenc. The unusually spiky rhythms of Copland’s own three-movement 1937 sextet were particularly well served by clarinetist Benjamin Fingland and pianist (and Copland House artistic and executive director) Michael Boriskin. 

Susan Graham
The major work on this program was the 75-minute 2020 song cycle “Standing Witness,” with music by American composer Richard Danielpour and words by African-American poet Rita Dove, commissioned by a consortium including the Boston Symphony Orchestra for mezzo-soprano Susan Graham and Music from Copland House. In a lively pre-concert conversation, Danielpour and Dove recounted the “amazing synchronicity” of their remote mid-pandemic collaboration in writing thirteen “testimonies” on milestones in American history since 1968. 

The appealing score drew inspiration from Mahler, rock, and Bernstein, while the wide-ranging text included a chorus shouted by several players during the third testimony, about Muhammad Ali’s Vietnam draft refusal. Except for the tenth testimony (an “instrumental elegy” for 9/11 and the Iraq War, with a heartrending solo by cellist Alexis Pia Gerlach), and including a prologue and epilogue, Graham sang fourteen selections, while standing heroically still as Lady Liberty, with her customary vocal elegance, emotional warmth, and charismatic stage presence. 

The second concert presented a typically eclectic program by the Silkroad Ensemble, founded by cellist Yo-Yo Ma in 1998 to promote cross-cultural exchange as modeled by the historical Silk Road trade route of Central Asia. Their new artistic director, Rhiannon Giddens, added multiple American flavors to the group’s international roots. Highlights were: a thunderous “Ho-oh,” by Kaoru Watanabe on Japanese flute and percussion; a sweeping “Walk Alone,” by Sandeep Das on tabla, with the versatile Giddens singing lyrics by Rabindranath Tagore in Bengali; and her own Juneteenth homage to African-American resilience, “Build a House,” in which surprise guest Ma accompanied Giddens’ voice and banjo on cello.

Coming attractions at Ozawa Hall include: the annual “Festival of Contemporary Music” (August 4-8), featuring Tanglewood Music Center fellows; and four concerts of Brahms’ complete solo piano music by Garrick Ohlsson (August 16, 18, 23, and 25).   

July 28, 2022

Review: Mahaiwe Arts Center, "Parsons Dance"

Mahaiwe Arts Center, Great Barrington, MA
July 18, 2022
by Shera Cohen

A preface to this review is in order. I do not dance; never have. I don't know the dance jargon except what I have heard over the years. Yet, I can see talent, exuberance, and the comradery called for in the ensemble pieces by the Parsons Dancers. Even in the darker pieces, Parsons troupe is, in my opinion, the most accessible modern dance form in this country.

Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center has hosted Parsons for two performances only for several years. They fill the house of this elegant large venue, and the instant standing ovations received are never obligatory. 

Artistic Director/Choreographer David Parsons founded the group of contemporary dancers in 1985. In the past 30+ years, Parsons, et al have performed throughout the world, winning just about every dance award given. Coupled with the skills of the dancers, one can't help separating the movement onstage with the exquisitely timed lighting. The program book states that Tony Award-winning lighting designer Howell Brinkley co-founded Parsons. Often an ancillary phrase or line about the mechanics of performances are included in our In the Spotlight reviews. However, I have to single out the extraordinary work of Brinkley's lighting. 

While some of the dance sections were from Parsons' older repertoire, two were recently choreographed. Act I included "Kind of Blue," a jazzy salute to Miles Davis; and "Nascimento" which delighted me and everyone else. Between these full cast pieces was "Balance of Power," an eery solo work danced by one man whose body rippled in robot-like positions, enough to say to oneself, "How did he do that?"

Act II presented the humorous "The Envelope" which was handed by one dancer to another, yet never touching the ground. The choreography was impeccably precise. "The Road" with music by Cat Stevens, was light with country-western steps and kicks. Again, as in Act I, the middle performance, "Caught," showed the hand-in-hand balance of a single female dancer's talent with that of the lighting designer. 

I would have suggested a program note warning about strobe lighting, as lengthy parts were created by stacatto-like images, so much so that I closed my eyes through the entire segments. However, my companion told me that when dance met lights, the movement seemed to life the dancer off and onto the stage in mid-air.

July 27, 2022

REVIEW: Shakespeare & Company, “Much Ado About Nothing”

Shakespeare & Company, Lenox, MA
through August 14, 2022
by Shera Cohen

After Shakespeare & Company's near-quarantine and my own hibernation of the year(s) of Covid 19, my sole ached for theatre. I couldn't think of any better place to solve my problem than Shakespeare & Company. Add to this cure was one of my favorite plays, "Much Ado About Nothing". I suspect this play makes the top pick of many theatre-lovers, and perhaps #1 of "Shakespeare's Best Comedies".

This season's new outdoor, open-air theatre provides the perfect three-quarter thrust stage amid nature's trees and shrubs. The audience sits on a hillside in fixed chairs, and the view of the actors is ideal. 

The "Much Ado" plots are: one set of erstwhile lovers, another duo of young lovers, a brother scorned, and comedy within a comedy. That's a lot of story and Shakes & Co. handles it seamlessly. Although, the speed can be revved up a bit and/or remove some unnecessary songs.

Director Kelly Galvin, a woman with a significant resume, is a newcomer to this theatre. There are a lot of comings and goings that Galvin handles with aplomb, especially in the scenes of feigned subterfuge by their friends when both Tamara Hickey (our lead character Beatrice) and L. James (our other lead character Benedict) supposedly and quite obviously hide behind trees and whatnot to eavesdrop.

Beatrice and Benidict balance each other in personality, playfulness, and intelligence. Their wits carry the production throughout. Thorns in the plot are the jealous brother, portrayed soberly by Madeline Rose Maggio; and Gregory Boover's successful portrayal of the scorned boy/man Claudio to Jenna Forseca's likeness of sweet chaste Hero. The latter is a small section of "Much Ado". While the Bard was certainly a man ahead of his time, the misogynistic Claudio and Hero plot would never fly today. The audience must accept it for whatever it is worth.

It is the mechanicals Dogberry, et al who beef up the "Much Ado" comedy to a new low of vulgar humor, and the audience loves it. My guess is that the "Pyramus and Thisbe" concoction by this quintet must be as fun for the actors to portray as the audience to watch.

One would think that vocal projection in a large outdoor theatre would be difficult for those onstage and those watching the play to hear. As is done in professional opera, these exemplary actors have mastered the skills of enunciation and voice level. The lighting director's timing couples with the evening dusk as both sets of lovers’ revel, the evil Don John has left town, and the mechanicals effervescently bring "Much Ado" to a happy conclusion.

Note: What happens if it rains? "Much Ado" is moved into the main, indoor, air-conditioned theatre on campus.

Preview: TheaterWorks, "Secondo"

TheaterWorks, Hartford, CT
July 29, 2022 - August 28, 2022

TheaterWorks is thrilled to present the world premiere of SECONDO the sequel to our beloved hit show, I LOVED, I LOST, I MADE SPAGHETTI by Jacques Lamarre based on stories by Giulia Melucci. Directed by Rob Ruggiero, the production marks the 10th anniversary since Lamarre's first play was produced at TW.  

TheaterWorks welcomes back Antoinette LaVecchia in the role she premiered 10 a decade ago at Playhouse, Cincinnati Playhouse and Asolo Rep. Audiences are familiar with LaVecchia's 30-year career on Broadway, Off Broadway and in film and TV including a recurring role on the 2020 reboot of the popular TV series Mad About You and for Hartford audiences, most recently in Eugene O’Neill’s Ah, Wilderness! at Hartford Stage.

Giulia invited her audience into her kitchen for a homemade Italian dinner and to share the hilarious highs and lows of her dating life. On the evening of her 10th wedding anniversary, we’re back together to discover how married life has provided unexpected delights and challenges. While Giulia rushes to prepare her anniversary dinner, we learn that a boyfriend from the past has resurfaced to complicate her recipe for a happy marriage. SECONDO serves up new stories, delicious food, and a bellyful of laughs. You don’t need to have seen I LOVED, I LOST, I MADE SPAGHETTI to enjoy this tasty world premiere!

July 25, 2022

REVIEW: Berkshire Opera Festival, “Three Decembers”

Berkshire Opera Festival, Great Barrington, MA
through July 23, 2022
by Michael J. Moran

BOF launched its seventh season with this 90-minute one-act chamber opera in three parts at 21/Performance Spaces for the 21st Century, an open-air pavilion in the Berkshire foothills of Chatham, NY. Based on the unpublished play “Some Christmas Letters” by Terence McNally, its colorful music is by Jake Heggie and idiomatic libretto by Gene Scheer.   

Written in 2008 for three singers and 11 instrumentalists, it tells the story of famous theater actress Madeline Mitchell and her two adult children - Beatrice and Charlie - over three decades (1986, 1996 and 2006), each section depicting the events of a December as they struggle to reconnect after Madeline’s career has made her a frequent “absentee mother” following the mysterious early death of the siblings’ father.  

Photo by Matt Madison-Clark
The opening scene, when Beatrice and Charlie mock the grandiose tone of their mother’s
annual Christmas letter in a phone conversation, established everyone’s character. Theo Hoffman’s strong, incisive baritone rendered Charlie’s dismay that Madeline has never bothered to meet his lover, Burt, who is dying of AIDS (“She called him Curt”), along with an underlying playfulness that he can’t totally suppress. Monica Dewey’s clear, buoyant soprano captured Beatrice’s distress in her unhappy marriage, as well as her delight in happier memories of their father.

Mezzo-soprano Adriana Zabala embodied Madeline the glamorous diva with self-centered bravado but brought poignant vulnerability to Madeline the mother as the trio’s often troubled interactions led in later scenes to some measure of mutual understanding and acceptance. The closing coup de theatre fully befits a great lady of the stage, who has the surprising last word. 
Conductor Christopher James Ray led a virtuosic ensemble from the BOF orchestra in an incandescent account of Heggie’s eclectic score, which adds a Broadway-like flourish to the emotional depth of his better known “Dead Man Walking.” Director Beth Greenberg drew commanding portrayals from all three performers. Imaginative scenic design by Janie E. Howland, sensitive lighting by Alex Jainchill, and vibrant costumes by Brooke Stanton further enhanced the powerful impact of this brilliant production.

Yet to come in BOF’s 2022 season are: a free concert of music by Black composers at the Berkshire Museum in Pittsfield (August 10); and Mozart’s “Don Giovanni” at the Mahaiwe in Great Barrington (August 20, 23, and 26).

REVIEW: Jacob’s Pillow, “Music From The Sole”

Jacob’s Pillow, Becket, MA
through July 24, 2022
by Josephine Sarnelli

It seems appropriate for “Music From The Sole” to start their performance with a procession of the musicians and dancers through the audience, reminiscent of Brazilian Carnival.  The entire program was an unusual fusion of American tap dance with Latin music that somehow seemed totally natural.

Leonardo Sandoval, co-founder of the ensemble with Gregory Richardson, hails from Brazil as a tap dancer and choreographer. Richardson, sharing Sandoval’s passion for Brazilian music composed the music entitled “I Didn’t Come to Stay” for the hour-long performance. They capitalized on the fact that tap is both dance and music and, therefore, incorporated it as an integral part of the percussive section of this composition.

Photo by Jamie Kraus
Traditional tap dance aficionados were not disappointed by the outstanding performance by the eight dancers.  The high energy, rapid tap rhythms included flawlessly performed over-the-top jumps and single-foot wings. Likewise, ballroom dancers could recognize samba steps, such as the volta, interspersed with shuffles and flaps. Of particular interest was the use of very nontraditional arm motions that drew upon the Latin and Afro-Cuban influences, along with jazz, tap and balletic movements.

The five musicians were all talented in their own right.  In particular, flutist Magela Herrera and cellist/bassist Jennifer Vincent added a haunting quality to the music. The musicians also participated in the vocal portions of the composition.

No evening of tap would be complete without a “dueling” between dancers.  Gerson Lanza and Ana Tomioshi each gave excellent solo performances before entering into a tête-à-tête. But in keeping with the tone of collaboration, it sounded much more like an expressive conversation between the two dancers than a competition.

One sequence drew from the Juba style of African-American dance in which dancers performed barefoot and relied on stomping and slapping their feet on the floor.  Through hambone motions of patting parts of their body, they created the illusion of instrumentation for the audience.

Leonardo Sandoval’s magnificent solo offered “scraping” sounds not often heard in contemporary tap performances.  He utilized these for the group choreography also and it was a refreshing look back to an earlier time in tap dancing.

Richardson and Sandoval creative endeavor grew out of playing music and dancing together for donations (known as “busking”) on the streets of New York.  In addition to practicing their artistic skills, it must have also developed their talents for holding a crowd.  As the audience gave the performers a standing ovation, the ensemble exited the same way that they had entered, releasing colorful streamers over the audience.  The evening was truly a celebration of the ongoing evolution of tap dance!

July 23, 2022

REVIEW: MOSSO, “The Return of the Rhodes”

Springfeld Symphony Hall, Springfield, MA
July 21, 2022
by Kathleen Andrew

Under the direction of conductor Kevin Rhodes, the MOSSO ensemble recently performed an ambitious program of classical music and movie themes by composer John Williams. Selections ranged from the pulsing lyricism of Rossini's The Barber of Seville, to Williams' heart-racing “Flying Theme” from E.T. Other selections included Stravinsky's “The Firebird Suite” and excerpts from Williams' themes for Superman and Harry Potter.

Yevgeny Kutik
The concert featured world renowned violinist Yevgeny Kutik. He expertly cajoled plaintive strains from his violin while performing “Meditation” from Thaïs, by Massenet. His playing of three pieces from Schindler’s List was a reminder of his role as an advocate for refugees. A native of Minsk, Belarus, he immigrated to the United States at age five and grew up in Pittsfield, MA. In a tribute to his mother, a music teacher, he wrote,

“Truly, the future of art, music, humanity is being built right now at a local public school near you.” Mr. Kutik, winner of many prestigious awards, is also a thoughtful son.

“Return of the Rhodes” is a prophesy, not just a title. Although Maestro Rhodes has been named conductor of the National Opera and Ballet in Slovakia, he has agreed to return as artistic advisor to the MOSSO. His exuberant style captivates audiences, and he is regarded with affection and admiration.

The thunderous applause of 800 people in Symphony Hall prompted an encore, Williams' “Imperial March” from Star Wars. Maestro Rhodes and the MOSSO musicians deserve high praise. Forte shouts of “Bravo” still echo in galaxies far away.

July 17, 2022

REVIEW: BSO, "Pathways from Prague"

Tanglewood, Lenox, MA 
July 7 & 14, 2022 
by Michael J. Moran 

Emanuel Ax
Full-blooded passion characterized both the Czech music and the performances in the first two of three programs in this series curated by and featuring Tanglewood favorite guest pianist Emanuel Ax. They also shed new light on major composers Dvorak and Janacek by presenting some of their least known works. 

The first concert opened with Janacek’s haunting 1920 cycle of 22 brief songs, “The Diary of One Who Disappeared,” for tenor, contralto, three female voices, and piano. Janik, a farmer’s son, is seduced by Zefka, a Gypsy girl, and “disappears” with her after she bears him a son. Tenor Paul Appleby was a fervent Janik, contralto Emily Marvosh, a fiery Zefka, three members of the Boston-based Lorelei Ensemble, an evocative offstage chorus; and Ax, an intense accompanist. 

The short melodic rhythms of the Czech language were less jagged but equally heartfelt in the second concert’s choral selections by Janacek and Dvorak. Sung with seamless blend by Cantus, a low-voice ensemble of four tenors, two baritones, and two basses, their sources ranged from anonymous folk texts to Lord Byron in Czech translation. Highlights included Janacek’s powerful “The Little Dove,” Dvorak’s “Goin’ Home,” with words by his American student William Arms Fisher (and an affecting solo by baritone Jeremy Wong), and two spirituals arranged by Dvorak’s African-American student Harry T. Burleigh.   

The young American Dover Quartet closed the first concert with an impassioned account of Dvorak’s 1895 thirteenth string quartet, with a dramatic “Allegro moderato,” a ravishing “Adagio ma non troppo,” a fleet “Molto vivace,” and a jubilant “Allegro con fuoco” finale. In the second concert, rising American pianist Mackenzie Melemed played Janacek’s shattering two-movement piano sonata, written in memory of a Czech student killed in a 1905 street protest, with blazing conviction. He then joined Ax, his Juilliard teacher, in the piano four-hands versions of five Slavonic Dances by Dvorak, less familiar than their orchestral transcriptions but just as exuberant in these energetic renditions. 

The final “Pathways from Prague” concert on August 12 in the Koussevitzky Music Shed will present Ax, violinists Pamela Frank and Leonidas Kavakos, violist Antoine Tamestit, and cellist Yo-Yo Ma in music of Dvorak, Janacek, and the rarely heard Viteslava Kapralova.   

July 13, 2022

Preview: The Foundry, “Thelma and the Sleaze”

The Foundry, West Stockbridge, MA
July 22, 2022

Independent all-female, queer southern rock band, Thelma and the Sleaze will play at The
Foundry, Friday July 22 at 7:30PM.

LG is the embodiment of hustle. As the driving force behind Thelma and The Sleaze, she is the songwriter, the visionary, the take-no-mess-from-anyone front woman who single handedly tries to keep rock and roll alive. Thelma and The Sleaze has toured the US for years building a legion of fans, affectionally called her creepers. In 2019, she played almost nonstop with over 100 shows. The growing social media presence, the hit podcast, the features with Yamaha Guitars are really all the result of her incredible songwriting, visceral guitar playing, and the guts to deliver on her vision of what Rock and Roll should be.

Having performed with acts like Eagles of Death Metal, The Coathangers, Birdcloud, Burmuda Triangle, and Charles Bradley, Thelma and The Sleaze have long established themselves as one of the best touring bands out there. Having signed on to The What of Whom for the release of their next record, they have also released music through the likes of Burger Records and Third Man Records.

PREVIEW: Tanglewood Season 2022

Tanglewood, Lenox, MA
through September 4, 2022

This is the first summer since 2019 when all venues on the lush Tanglewood campus in the beautiful Massachusetts Berkshire town of Lenox are fully open to the public. 

At this writing, no proof of Covid vaccination or negative test results is needed to enter Tanglewood. Masking is optional on the grounds and in the open-air Kousssevitzky Music Shed but highly recommended (though not required) in indoor performance spaces like Ozawa Hall and the Linde Center.

Here are some major highlights of the 2022 Tanglewood season:

*Boston Symphony Orchestra Music Director Andris Nelsons will lead most BSO weekend concerts (Friday-Sunday) in July

*BSO guest conductors in August include: JoAnn Falletta (BSO debut, August 7); returning favorites Dima Slobodeniouk (August 13 & 21) and Michael Tilson Thomas (August 27-28); and BSO assistant conductors Earl Lee (August 5) and Anna Rakitina (August 26)

*Guest soloists performing with the BSO include: returning favorites, pianist Paul Lewis (July 29-31), violinist Joshua Bell (August 7), and cellist Yo-Yo Ma (August 14); and debuts by pianists Seong-Jin Cho (July 24) and Alexander Malofeev (August 27), soprano Ying Fang (July 17), and bass-baritone Dashon Burton (August 28)

*The Boston Pops and their conductor, Keith Lockhart, present two programs: live performance of John Williams' score for a showing of "The Empire Strikes Back" (July 15); "Remembering Stephen Sondheim," with a cast of Broadway vocalists (August 19)

*Tanglewood Music Center fellows (early career musicians enrolled in the BSO's summer academy for advanced musical study) perform in chamber music and TMC Orchestra concerts, mostly in Ozawa Hall and the Linde Center, throughout the summer

*Special events presented by one or more of the above ensembles include: annual Tanglewood on Parade concerts (August 2); annual Festival of Contemporary Music (August 4-8); and "John Williams - The Tanglewood 90th Birthday Celebration" (August 20)

*The Boston University Tanglewood Institute gives advanced training to talented musicians aged 14-20 who also perform at Tanglewood in chamber music and orchestra concerts with their peers throughout the summer

*A recital series of programs by world-renowned soloists and ensembles in Ozawa Hall includes: "Pathways from Prague," a three-concert series of Czech music featuring pianist Emanuel Ax (July 7 & 14; August 12); and a four-concert series of Brahms' complete piano music by pianist Garrick Ohlsson (August 16, 18, 23 & 25) 

*The Tanglewood Learning Institute offers many educational events about the arts for the general public, including: an "open conducting workshop" with Andris Nelsons (July 28); "Spotlight Series" talks by U.S. Poet Laureate Jay Harjo (July 30) and playwright Tony Kushner and theater critic Jesse Green (August 20); and a concert performance by Cecile McLorin Salvant of her album "Ghost Story" (August 21) 

*Performers appearing in Tanglewood's Popular Artists Series throughout the summer include: Brandi Carlisle & the Indigo Girls (August 30); Judy Collins & Richard Thompson (September 3); and Van Morrison (September 4)

So why not "escape to extraordinary" musical and natural adventures at Tanglewood this summer? Tickets can be ordered online or by phone (888-266-1200).

July 12, 2022

REVIEW: Sevenars Music Festival, Family and Friends

The Academy, Worthington, MA 
July 10, 2022 
by Michael J. Moran 

The 54th season of this beloved summer festival opened with its traditional showcase of musical talent in the founding Schrade-James family, along with premieres of compositions by two multi-talented friends of the festival, in the intimate acoustic of the Academy in Worthington. 

The festive spirit of the occasion was dimmed by the passing a week earlier of Randolph Schrade, a brother of Sevenars Executive Director and pianist Rorianne Schrade, who dedicated her loving performance of the tender “Prelude in E Flat” by Alexander Scriabin (a favorite composer of both) to his memory. She dedicated an equally affecting lullaby by Ukrainian composer Viktor Kosenko to her new grandnephew and a flamboyant Horowitz-enhanced “Wedding March” by Felix Mendelssohn to her husband. 

Rorianne’s brother-in-law, pianist David James, back from a three-year Covid-forced absence in his native New Zealand, followed with a vivid “Dedication” by Robert Schumann, arranged by Franz Liszt, and a flowing Liszt “Valse-Impromptu.” David’s son Christopher James next played two Liszt piano etudes: a lush “A Sigh;” and a Herculean “Wild Hunt.”

Playing cello, Christopher then partnered his sister, pianist Lynette James, in transcriptions by Friedrich Kummer of three Franz Schubert songs – a lilting “Serenade;” a fleet “The Trout;” and a lively “To Be Sung on the Water” – and a youthfully exuberant “Polonaise Brillante” by Frederic Chopin. 

Music educator/performer Anita Anderson Cooper was next accompanied by cellist James (her former student) and pianist Clifton “Jerry” Noble in her “Four Songs on Poems by Gloria House/Aneb Kgositile.” Cooper’s warm soprano voice and evocative musical settings, along with sensitive instrumental support, movingly conveyed the African-American writer’s eloquent words. 

The protean Noble, joined by Rorianne, ended the program with his two-piano suite, “Canival of R-nimals,” composed for Sevenars and honoring its namesakes - parents and five children, whose first names all begin with R. While channeling both Saint-Saens’ charming “Carnival of the Animals” and Ogden Nash’s droll companion verses, Noble put a virtuosically Schrade-y spin on his wide-ranging score (which includes scurrying “Rats,” rippling “Rays,” and plodding “Rhinoceri”), and his wife Kara read his self-penned “doggerel” with tongue firmly in cheek. 

Remaining Sevenars concerts, featuring such visiting artists as pianists Jiayan Sun and Liana Paniyeva are scheduled for Sundays July 17-August 14 at 4pm. 

July 11, 2022

REVIEW: Playhouse on Park, "Pippin"

Playhouse on Park, West Hartford, CT
through August 21, 2022
by Rebecca Phelps
Upon arrival at Playhouse on Park one becomes immediately aware that this is a much beloved, and well cared for little gem of a downtown theatre. The main stage is an intimate, black-box style theatre with seating three quarters around the stage and pit band tucked into the remaining side. Although tight and without wings or proscenium, the configuration is a perfect one for the musical Pippin which is set in no particular time or place, or as the director puts it, "Perhaps right in your head." It brings the magic up close and personal as the cast and action are never farther than arms reach from the audience.
The cast is as strong as one could ever imagine. Pippin is a showcase for classic Bob Fosse style choreography, which is fully explored in this production by the artful and imaginative direction of Darlene Zoller, director/choreographer, and co-founder of Playhouse on Park. Zoller has a lot to work with; this cast being exceptionally gifted dancers. Each has vocals strong enough to carry off the significant demands of the fantastic Stephen Schwartz score, performed flawlessly by an accomplished pit band.   
Photo by Meredith Longo
The story of King Charlemaigne's son, Prince Pippin, a naive seeker of true happiness and
fulfillment in life, has a familiar ring for today's current atmosphere of angst, anxiety and confusion. Ultimately, Pippin's decision to take control away from the Leading Player and submit himself to the "unextraordinaryness" of a more life-affirming path leads to a rather anti-climactic ending. But then, here comes young Theo; and the next generation of seekers begins all over again with the classic "Corner of the Sky" anthem. The Leading Player (performed perfectly by Thao Nguyen) and all his Players, stand-outs: Fastrada (Kate Wesler) and Lewis (Brad Weatherford), provide irresistible entertainment as they draw us into their intrigue, illusion, humor and magic, right along with Prince Pippin (played to perfection by Shannon Cheong).

REVIEW: Berkshire Theatre Festival, “Once”

Berkshire Theatre Festival, Pittsfield, MA
through July 16, 2022
by Stuart W. Gamble

Based on the Oscar-winning film written and directed by John Carney and the winner of 8 Tony Awards, “Once" makes its Berkshire debut at the Colonial Theatre. And what a show it is, indeed! From the sweeping, pre-show fiddling, dancing, and singing to lovely Irish shanties to its contemplative ending with the cast singing on the Cliffs of Moher, Greg Edelman’s sparse, yet glowingly beautiful show, is a feast for the ears and eyes.

Set in the early years of the 21st Century (compact discs play a crucial role in the story), Edna Walsh’s adaptation of the film centers on a chance meeting between Guy (David Toole) and Girl (Andrea Goss) on the streets of Dublin, Ireland. We learn that Guy is distraught over the break-up with his girlfriend (EJ Zimmerman), while Girl, we later learn, is estranged from her husband in the Czech Republic, leaving her to care for her young daughter Ivanka (Ella Fish).

After Guy sings “Leave,” declaring his wish to divorce himself from his guitar and singing forever, Girl insists: “Don’t be mad. You Must Sing!” And so he does, warbling out the well-known and heartfelt song “Falling Slowly”. With perseverance and prodding, Girl eventually is able to rent a recording studio for a day so Guy can record his music.

The central characters and music are both gritty and gossamer in the way in which they expose their souls to the audience through words, emotion, and especially the music that envelops them both. One character states: “You can’t have a city without music”.  since the music in “Once” forms the structure of the play. It transitions one scene to the next, defining the characters, and touching the hearts and minds of the audience.

Both Toole and Goss are wonderful in the leads, simply named Guy and Girl, as they can represent anyone, anywhere, who has been touched, broken, and reborn by love. Toole is especially good in evoking the woeful demeanor of his character. At one moment of heightened emotion, I saw the most tears fall from his eyes than I have ever seen from a performer on stage. Goss has a challenging role as she guards her feelings by repeatedly saying (to the audience’s delight): “I am always serious. I am Czech.” But she releases her aching hurt in both “If You Want Me” and “The Hill”.

The supporting cast is uniquely versatile, both as performers and musicians, transforming themselves in an instant from anonymous instrumentalists (banjo, recorder, guitar, accordion, fiddle) to various characters. Kurt Zischke (Da), Shani Hadjian (Barushka), Benjamin Camenzuli (Andrej), Will Boyajian (Svec) and especially Adam Huel Potter (Billy) and Andy Taylor (Bank Manager) dynamically display their comedic and musical skills as both Irish and Czech denizens of Dublin.

Elevia Bovenzi Blitz’ earthy yet vibrant costumes complement the performers as do the dilapidated building facades of scenic designer Josafath Reynoso. Mathew E. Adelson’s moody stage colors maintain the melancholy tone.

Despite its superlative production values and marvelous performances, it was rather strange that audience members did not applaud after such stellar songs as “Gold” and “Sleeping” ended. Perhaps they were too mesmerized by "Once's" haunting mood to acknowledge its greatness.

REVIEW: Jacob’s Pillow, The New York Korean Performing Arts Center

Jacob’s Pillow, Becket, MA
through July 9, 2022
by Josephine Sarnelli

Jacob’s Pillow, celebrating its 90th season this year, invited back The New York Korean Performing Arts Center that had last been there in 2018. The nine performers include Artistic Director Sue Yeon Park-Wartski, who started the troupe 36 years ago.   The Henry J. Leir outdoor theater, with its new comfortable wooden benches, was a perfect setting, both visually and acoustically, to enjoy an evening of colorful dance and music.

For the first of the six performance pieces, entitled Farmer’s Dance, the entourage entered through the audience, each with a different percussive instrument and one with a double-reed horn.  With its folkloric origins in praying for a successful harvest, the women’s headdresses resembled large multi-colored flowers.  The dance’s highlight was an interesting sequence by Margarite Soh-Choe (dressed as a man) who had a long ribbon attached to her hat.  She was able to keep the ribbon spinning as she playfully transitioned to many various poses.

The Buddhist Monk Dance showcased Park-Wartski, who has been recognized by the Ministry of Culture of South Korea for her high level of mastery of this traditional ritual dance.  She held a drumstick in each hand to help manipulate the six-foot long sleeves of her robe, reminiscent of those used in Chinese Water Sleeve dances. Her fluidness was punctuated by pauses of stillness on her journey to nirvana, which culminated in a drum solo.

Five graceful dancers created lovely patterns in Buchae-chum, each carrying two large, embroidered fans.  The choreography included the usual formations seen in fan dances.  However, there was one very unique pattern where two dancers stood stationary behind one another and created a circle with their four fans.  This dance was distinctly a crowd pleaser and somewhat of a turning point for engagement with the audience.

Arirang was a piri solo performed by a musician who goes simply by the name “gamin.”  The instrument is described as a double-reed bamboo oboe.  Gamin sometimes created music with almost a “blues” sound to it.  At other times it sounded jazz-like, as if played with a muted trumpet.

In her solo Jindo Drum Dance, Songhee Lee-Chung danced while performing on the buk (barrel drum).  Although drum playing is usually gender specific to males in Korean culture, this troupe with only one male performer has made successful adaptations.  This routine personified feminine elegance without compromising the artistry.

The Buddhist Drum Dance finale engaged all the performers on stage, but highlighted five drummers, who each played three drums.  The synchronization of their movements and high level of technique in drumming was truly impressive. 

This delightful immersion into Korean music and dance is best summed up in the comment made by my guest: “I feel like I took a 45-minute drive to the other side of the world!”

July 8, 2022

PREVIEW: Passport Theatre Company, "Educating Rita"

Passport Theatre Company, Easthampton, MA
July 21 - 24, 2022

Passport Theatre Company presents a new take on Willy Russell’s classic comedy, Educating Rita. Starring Stephanie Carlson and Adrian Goldman, the production opens July 21 at 7:30 pm at The Blue Room, Old Town Hall, 43 Main St in Easthampton, MA.
Rita is a working-class hairdresser who wants to learn and grow. She sees education as the path to a better way of living her life. Frank is a disillusioned university professor who uses alcohol to mask his feelings of inadequacy. Rita sweeps into his cocoon of an office like a strong gust of wind, ruffling his papers, absorbing his knowledge and challenging his assumptions. Each has a romanticized view of life in the other's social circle. Rita believes that the educated have more culture, and that their lives therefore have more meaning. Frank believes that any problem can be forgotten with a trip to the pub.
Rita and Frank struggle, connect and clash, and do or don't learn. It is a quiet play. Like Rita, it is charming with a serious side as well. Perhaps the moral of Educating Rita is that it doesn't matter so much what song you sing; it's how you sing it. If we value growth, if we want to get "the absolute maximum out of this living lark", the choice is ours to do so, and it is never too late to start.

In the spring of 2021, longing for a return to theatrical collaboration, Passport Theatre co-founders Stephanie Carlson and Adrian Goldman revisited Educating Rita, a play that has a strong female protagonist. They wondered whether the play, written in 1980, would resonate with a modern audience. It could be dismissed as a dated romantic comedy-take on the classic Pygmalion story. Exploring the script, they found that it did work in today’s climate, and felt that audiences would appreciate its earnest exploration of themes of connection, belonging, implicit bias and personal growth.

REVIEW: Barrington Stage Company, "ABCD"

Barrington Stage Company, Pittsfield, MA
through July 23, 2022
by Jarice Hanson

May Treuhaft-Ali is a young playwright to watch. Her first play, "ABCD," now at the Barrington Stage Company’s St Germain Stage, shows that she can tell a story with multiple viewpoints, strong characters, and some pretty heavy contemporary themes. Her work is bold, in-your-face, and very honest.  The writer also shows a real talent for blending drama and comedy in a way that results in feelings of empathy and compassion.

photo by Daniel Rader 
Carnegie Middle School is a public school in a low-income neighborhood on the brink of being
closed if the teachers can’t get the students to perform better on standardized tests. Columbus Preparatory High School is an elite school where students feel the pressure to do well so that they get into the best colleges. Moral and ethical dilemmas drive the students and the faculty to consider any means necessary to survive in academic competition—often to the point of doing something wrong, while they justify their actions to be right. Themes of family and tradition cut through each scene, leaving the audience with the memory of how high schools play a pivotal role in shaping the lives of young people, learning to function when the stakes are raised, and how race and class define one’s potential for the future.

The eight actors in this ensemble seem very comfortable making their characters strong and clear. Each one is beautifully cast, and every actor is likable and fresh. Director Daniel J. Bryant, originally a Springfield, MA resident, allows the show to pick up energy as the situations become more tense, while allowing his actors to infuse their characters with kinetic energy. 

Kevin Iega Jeff’s choreography adds a joy of whimsy and fun, and Jason Lynch’s lighting design enhances the action on two sides of the stage as scenic designer Baron E Pugh’s revolving lockers morph into a variety of scenes suggestive of multiple locations. It’s challenging to fit so many scenes into a 94-minute show, but this creative team makes it look easy.

There is a lot to like about this show and the audience on opening night responded accordingly. As this ensemble grows together to collectively mine the power in Treuhaft-Ali’s words, we can expect even more shading of the language of seduction and power. There are so many sub-themes, this could be a two-act play, but the show is kept to a length suitable for summer entertainment.

July 7, 2022

Preview: Berkshire Botanical Garden, “The O'Tones”

Berkshire Botanical Garden, Stockbridge, MA
July 18, 2022

The O-Tones take the stage at Berkshire Botanical Garden for the first time. Join the full 6-piece band for a fun night in a beautiful Berkshire garden setting outdoors.The O-Tones are thrilled to bring their Swing, Soul, Blues and Motown to this lovely venue for Music Mondays.

The O-Tones, a hot New England Swing & Motown band, appeals to all ages. With lots of soul, they’ll melt your hearts & get your feet dancing. The O-Tones band has been playing for events in New England since 1990 & is a dynamic entity. Over their lifespan, various singers & instrumentalists have lent their talents to the band’s fun & professional Swing, Motown, Blues, & Soul sound. The basic group is 6-piece with three singers, sax, guitar, piano, bass, & drums, but this talented group performs regularly in many forms, ranging from duo to the full 6-piece and even a 14-piece big band! Dancing will be encouraged.They have many happy clients to recommend them.

Bring a picnic, a blanket or lawn chairs, stroll the grounds, dance and be merry as music drifts from Lucy’s Topiary Garden, a collection of 21 “live” sculptures circling a performance area.  Big Elm Brewing of Sheffield, MA will be on site for all concerts.

New this year is BBG partnership with Berkshire Picnics to provide a picnic experience for Music Mondays at the Garden. Berkshire Picnics will only host 5 picnics per evening. 

Music Mondays will take place rain or shine, but in case of severe weather, concerts will be cancelled, and refunds given. In the event of questionable weather, please check the website,, or call 413 320-4794 for updated information.

Preview: Springfield Armory, "Bad News Jazz & Blues Orchestra"

Springfield Armory NHS, Springfield, MA
July 16, 2022

The historic grounds of Springfield Armory National Historic Site are once again taking the stage this summer for live music. Bring a lawn chair and dust off your dancing shoes and enjoy a free, energizing, twilight jazz and blues orchestra performance on the lawn in front of the Commanding Officer’s Quarters.

On Saturday, July 16 at 6pm, the Bad News Jazz and Blues Orchestra, led by Jeff Gavioli, will perform. The 19-member band has been performing since 2012, playing swing music from the 1930's and 1940's.     

Springfield Armory National Historic Site is the location of the nation’s first armory (1794 – 1968) and was established by George Washington. The Museum is open Wednesday-Sunday, 9:30am-4:00pm. For further information call (413) 734-8551, check the website at or

Download the NPS App for the latest information at your fingertips.

July 6, 2022

Preview: Great Barrington Public Theater, “Public Speaking 101”

Great Barrington Public Theater, Great Barrington, MA
Daniel Arts Center, Bard College
July 14 - July 24, 2022

The Great Barrington Public Theater 2022 mainstage opens with Public Speaking 101, a fun, turn-the-tables comedy by the wonderfully accomplished Berkshire-based playwright Mark St. Germain.

When a neurotic, amateur actress leads her community college class of terrified adults to compete in their county’s First Annual Public Speaking Competition, their cross-currents, tongue-tied quirks and foibles become a tight, repartee comedy, brought to life by a cast, including Peggy Pharr-Wilson, David Smilow, Nathan Hinton, Brendan Powers and Rachel Burttram. Directed by GBPT Artistic Director Jim Frangione, Public Speaking 101 brings the misfit contest and laughter to the McConnell Theater for ten performances. 
Mark St. Germain
Audiences know and love Mark St. Germain’s quick, sharp dialogue and knotty situations where characters walk into quicksand of their own making and need to reach out to others for a lifeline. “Mark Germain is a master at comic set-up, timing and real character quirks,” director Jim Frangione says. Speaking in public is the #1 phobia for almost everybody. For these people it’s absolute terror. The play becomes more than a comic story about a classroom of mixed nuts and lost dogs. It’s about finding that sweet spot in your heart that lets you pump yourself up and show yourself off as the prize-winner we all know we are, no matter what. 
As St. Germain explains it, “We have a pastor terrified of addressing his congregation and sings to them instead, a cop who dissolves on the witness stand, a mortician more comfortable with the dead than the living and a writer whose every word sounds like drying paint, taught by Sunny Strutt, an aspiring community theater actress whose offstage life is falling apart. It takes us into the hearts of a misfit class struggling to find their own voices.”

Tickets can be reserved on the Great Barrington Public Theater

Preview: The Foundry, “Gospel Folk Noir”

The Foundry, West Stockbridge, MA
July 15, 2022

Singer/songwriter Micah P. Hinson will play his first US solo show in 10 years at The Foundry, July 15 at 7:30 PM.

Descended in part from the Native American Chickasaw tribe, Hinson's gospel-influenced, alt-country music is best described as "Folk Noir". Micah P. Hinson and the Gospel of Progress, his first album, was produced in 2004 by the Earlies, Micah's friends, collaborators and sometimes tour buddies (where they play as his backing band). In 2005, his earlier 4-track recordings were produced and released properly as an album under the title The Baby & the Satellite. Micah has toured with and opened for artists such as Will Oldham, Iron & Wine, David Gray and Calexico.

Micah P. Hinson and the Musicians of the Apocalypse's most recent album When I Shoot At You With Arrows, I Will Shoot To Destroy You was recorded in 24-hours. There are many in this world that do not believe in The Apocalypse. There are many in this world that do believe in The Apocalypse. Yet, even with this, many would easily agree that life is made up of many starts and stops, many deaths, many rebirths -- physically and spiritually. Hinson focuses on this concept in his vision of the inevitable way of the human condition.

Preview: Chester Theatre, "Birds of North America"

Chester Theatre, Chester, MA
July 7 - 17, 2022

Binoculars. Birds. A Baltimore backyard. Over the course of a decade, a father and daughter navigate the changes in the climate and in their relationship as the world around them shifts in ways both towering and minute.

Actress Micheline Wu and Director Alex Keegan make their Chester Theatre Company debuts. Christopher Patrick Mullen, last seen on the Town Hall Stage in 2004's The Pavilion, returns as the dad in this beautifully touching daughter-father play.

MDTheatreGuide says Birds of North America is "beautifully crafted" and "should be on your must-see list."

Box office phones are open Tuesday - Friday from 11am - 3pm. Tickets can be purchased online 24/7. Remember Covid policies.

July 5, 2022

Preview: Ko Festival, "EZELL: Ballad of a Land Man"

Ko Festival, Hampshire College, Amherst, MA
July 29 - 31, 2022

Photo by Erica Fladeland
The final summer season of the Ko Festival of Performance closes with “EZELL: Ballad of a
Land Man” to be performed outdoors on the Hampshire College campus, July 29-31. An environmental, cultural, and spiritual parable of domination and resilience, “Ezell” explores the complexities of climate change, indigenous erasure, and environmental extraction (fracking). Ezell’s choices, traumas, and ancestors intersect with themes of domination and resilience as he seeks to take advantage of an anticipated fracking boom and the opportunity to reconnect with the people and land of his raising.
“Ezell” is in part a study of domination in the wide range of its prominent and more subtle forms — domination between a man and the land, between a man and other people, between a man and himself. It is in part a story about how climate change, the extractive resource industry and intergenerational trauma impact the choices and decisions of a man and the land he would like to call home. It is in part a ceremony that calls to our desire for connection and belonging, that reveres nature and binds us intimately within her, that invokes the resilience, love and lessons of our ancestors and generations yet to come.
Carrie Brunk, “Ezell” producer and ensemble artist says, “The development and sharing of this theatrical work is an attempt to make plain and disrupt domination: to reveal the patterns of domination behavior within this character Ezell, within his relationship to others and the land, within his livelihoods and his ways of being, within his ancestry and his belief system. It is meant for everyone who witnesses it as a motivation to continue — or an invitation to begin — the work of discovering and disrupting domination within and around themselves and to do so as an act of love and liberation.”
This immersive experience features a guided walk through the woods to the performance site on land, with live music before the play. The performance site will have folding chairs and risers, with some ground seating available. The play will be presented rain or shine. After the show, attendees are invited to join the artistic team and a panel of local experts in the air-conditioned Mainstage Theater in Emily Dickinson Hall, for a post-show discussion on the issues raised by the play, and their local ramifications.
Further information and tickets are available at The Box Office Phone line (413) 559-5351 opens July 18.

Review: Berkshire Theatre Group, "B.R.O.K.E.N Code B.I.R.D Switching"

Berkshire Theatre Group, Stockbridge, MA
through July 9, 2022
by Shera Cohen

The Berkshires is a mecca of world premiere plays. As Berkshire Theatre Group soon approaches its 100th Anniversary, there have been many that have seen the light of day right here, pre-Broadway. The most recent premiere is "B.R.O.K.E.N Code B.I.R.D Switching" written by Tara L. Wilson Noth.

Contemporary news-breaking topics account for the crux of the story, yet almost divided equallyl in intensity between Act I and Act II. Racial injustice, profiling, poverty, class and color distinctions are at the forefront. Equally, yet seemingly disconnected to the horrors of our country in the 21st century, are the life defining moments which many individuals and families oftentimes face; i.e. death of a child, protection of each other.

Without exception, the play features a cast of superior actors with DeAnna Supplee in the lead role as a pro bono attorney, reluctant and feeling ill-qualified to take on a murder trial. Her characterization of Olivia Bennett is intelligent, raw, and emotional. She is the link that holds every scene together; even scenes in which she does not appear. Supplee is surely a talent whose name should be watched in the future.

The three men in Olivia's life are as disperate as they come. Torsten Johnson, portraying the other half of the inter-racial couple, comes on solely as handsome and caring; his personality nil. Yet Johnson's demeanor, volume, and relationship with his now-divorced wife comes though as honestly as his character permits during Act II. Deshawn Payne is a young actor whose role as an inmate is at the core of the legal battle. The actor is intense physically and verbally. Whether guilty or innocent, doesn't matter until the end of the play toward a predictable conclusion. It is the pull and push between Olivia and Deshawn that gives "B.R.O.K.E.N..." its power and rage. Jahi Kearse's portrayal of photographer Olen Porter is, in a sense, a wise man whose preaching on the sense of self is what matters at the end of life. Director Kimille Howard pits Olivia v. Porter in a strong tirade in Act II in a war of words, each elegantly chosen by the playwright.

Special kudos to Projection Designer David Murkami whose hundreds of still photos juxtiposed in various sections against the back and sidewalls of the stage, creates exceptional devices; times, locations, people, depth perception. If a picture is said to be worth 1000 words, Murkami's photos literally fill in the gaps of the play with aplomb. It is also no coincidence that the key character of Porter, as somewhat of a soothsayer, works as a photographer.

A final comment relates to the play's title. Try as I may, I cannot understand it meaning or the relationship to this superb play.

Preview: Chesterwood, “Arts Alive”

Chesterwood, Stockbridge, MA
several dates in July & August, 2022

Arts Alive! is back at Chesterwood, Stockbridge, MA. Join us in the garden for a series of
afternoon one-hour programs that showcase talented artists in music, dance, and the literary arts.  Designed to be a community resource with a low-ticket price and free admission to those under 18. Tickets must be booked in advance. Arts Alive! is always free for young adults and children under 18. All performances are at 5:30pm.

Musicians of Ma'alwyck feature Ann-Marie Barker Schwartz on violin, Norman Thibodeau on flute, and Andre Laurent O'Neil on violincello will perform on July 7th.

Continuing the series on July 14 are Reading by Six Berkshire Poets followed on July 28th by Tableaux Vivant.

Check the website for the complete listing.

July 1, 2022

PREVIEW: Chester Theatre Company, "Birds of North America"

Chester Theatre Company, Chester, MA
July 7 through July 17, 2022

Chester Theatre Company (CTC) opens Birds of North America by Anna Ouyang Moench, “a beautiful look at a father and daughter who find in birding a surprising way to connect—to understand more about themselves, each other, and the changing world around them,” in the words of CTC Producing Artistic Director Daniel Elihu Kramer.

Director Alex Keegan makes her CTC debut. Christopher Patrick Mullen, last seen on the Town Hall Theatre stage in 2004’s The Pavilion, co-stars with Micheline Wu, making her first appearance in Chester.

Birds of North America is the company’s second of four productions in its 33rd season. Future productions include the play that reopened Broadway, Pass Over by Antoinette Nwandu, and the World Premiere of To the Moon and Back by Darcy Parker Bruce.

All performances of the productions named above will take place in the intimate setting of Chester's Historic Town Hall, or by phone at 413.354.7771. 
Founded by a former Artistic Director of Dublin’s Abbey Theatre, Vincent Dowling, Chester Theatre Company is an award-winning professional theatre company known for presenting high quality, contemporary productions with top-notch actors, directors, and designers from across the country since 1990.

REVIEW: Shakespeare & Company, "An Iliad"

Shakespeare & Company, Lenox, MA
through July 3, 2022
by L'Kuicha Parks

Many theatregoers aren't keen on one-actor plays. In the case of "An Iliad, an exception should be made.

It was my first visit to Shakespeare & Company for a beautiful evening in the Berkshires. An Iliad by Lisa Peterson and Denis O'Hare and directed by Jeffrey Mousseau takes place in the Packer Playhouse, named after the theatre troupe's founder Tina Packer.

The play is an adaptation of Robert Fagles' translation, written for the stage, of Homer's Iliad of the Trojan Wars. This story in particular covers a period of time in the war, which focuses on its two heroes, Hector and Achilles. Audience members need not be familiar with the ancient story, other than its roots are from Greek mythology. 

Amazingly, as mentioned above, the production was a one woman show; I initially had my doubts if one actor could carry off and entire war, so to speak. What I soon found out was that you don’t need to know anything about An Iliad or Homer's The Iliad for that matter, to enjoy it. The poetic narrative explains it all. As ancient as The Iliad is, this updated play of the historic story is easily applicable to today's world. 

I was pleasantly surprised and highly entertained by actress MaConnia Chesser in the role of the Poet. Her delivery is strong throughout. From the moment Chesser entered on stage the audience was captive. For the next 110 minutes she was the Griot taking us on a ride, smoothly moving from The Poet telling the story to portraying the many characters in numerous scenes. At several points, Chesser's Poet steps beyond the fourth wall in conversation with those seated in the theatre, yet the play continued seamlessly with Chesser always in character. 

Chesser bio lists her extensive theater background especially in the New England states.  

My suggestion is to get out and enjoy the Berkshires this week and this production of An Iliad which runs until July 3.