Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

September 22, 2022

PREVIEW: Shakespeare & Company, "Golden Leaf Ragtime Blues"

Shakespeare & Company, Lenox, MA
September 26 - October 30, 2022

"Golden Leaf" Cast and Crew
With a script that’s been revisited and deepened by the playwright 30 years after it was first published, Shakespeare & Company presents Golden Leaf Ragtime Blues by Charles Smith. Directed by Raz Golden, the play takes place over the course of one afternoon in the early 1990's, post-LA Riots, and explores the unusual connection between a Black teenager and an aging Jewish vaudevillian through comedy and music.

It was originally written in 1992, developed by the American Blues Theatre Company of Chicago, and the HBO New Writers Workshop. However, Smith has reworked the script just this year, and Golden Leaf Ragtime Blues will be presented in its current form for the first time at Shakespeare & Company.

A Distinguished Professor of Theatre at Ohio University, Smith said he began to treat himself like his own pupil. “I’ve worked with a number of young writers, so I gave myself the notes I would give to a young writer. The result is something I’m delighted with – and what I consider a new play.”

Golden agreed, calling the production “more of an ensemble piece.”
“There is more reflection on the psyche, and more examination of how the political world can affect how we connect with others,” he said. “In the background is the political reality of that time, but purposefully foregrounded are the smaller scale experiences of four people.”

Among the cast is Kevin G. Coleman, a founding member of Shakespeare & Company and its Director of Education. He works in the Performance and Training departments as an actor, teacher, and director, 

In 2016, he was Runner-up for the Tony Award for Excellence in Theatre Education. Along with Patrick Toole, Coleman recently produced the film Speak What We Feel, documenting the Fall Festival of Shakespeare.

September 14, 2022

REVIEW: South Mountain Concerts, "Calidore String Quartet"

South Mountain Concerts, Pittsfield, MA 
September 11, 2022 
by Michael J. Moran 

Changeable Berkshire weather couldn’t dampen the spirits of the enthusiastic audience that welcomed the Calidore String Quartet – violinists Jeffrey Myers and Ryan Meehan, violist Jeremy Berry, and cellist Estelle Choi – to their triumphant fourth appearance at this storied venue. Formed in 2010 at the Colburn School in Los Angeles and named after the “golden state” of their roots (“dore” is French for “golden”), the ensemble has since won worldwide acclaim. 

Their program began with Mozart’s 17th quartet, in B-flat Major, K. 458. Written in 1784 as the fourth of six quartets that Mozart dedicated to Haydn, it was nicknamed “The Hunt” because its fanfare-like start reminded early listeners of a hunting call. The Calidore’s lively account featured an energetic opening “Allegro vivace assai,” a stately “Menuetto: Moderato,” a ravishing “Adagio,” and a thrilling “Allegro assai” finale. 

In a spoken introduction to Bartok’s 1909 first string quartet, Meehan described it as the
composer “finding his voice,” from the early influence of Richard Strauss to his mature mix of modernism with the folk music of his native Hungary. The foursome played this technically demanding score with awesome intensity, capturing the mournful angst of the opening “Lento” movement (which Bartok called a “funeral dirge” for his unrequited love of Hungarian violinist Stefi Geyer), the more playful mood of the following “Allegretto,” and the fast and furious humor of the folk-flavored closing “Allegro vivace.” 

These high spirits continued in the program’s closing work, the 1876 third string quartet by Brahms, who cheerfully called it a “useless trifle,” especially when compared to his contemporaneous first symphony. In the same B-flat Major key as Mozart’s “Hunt” quartet, its opening “Vivace” movement also begins with a hunting call, which the Calidores played with exuberant gusto. This was followed by a somber “Andante,” a tender “Agitato (Allegretto non troppo),” with a lovely solo turn by violist Berry, and a kaleidoscopic final “Poco Allegretto con Variazione,” in which Brahms recalls themes from earlier movements with typically resourceful bravado.

South Mountain requires masking inside the concert hall. The venerable 2022 Sunday afternoon concert series of chamber music performed by world-class musicians runs through October 9, with upcoming performances by the Emerson and St. Lawrence String Quartets.

September 12, 2022

REVIEW: Majestic Theater, "Mamma Mia!"

Majestic Theater, West Springfield, MA
through Oct. 16, 2022 (run extended, call to check)
by Shera Cohen

I doubt if there is anyone who could leave the 
production of "Mamma Mia!" at The Majestic Theater without singing or humming one of the many songs aloud, or at least has an ear- worm stuck in their head. "Dancing Queen," "Gimme, Gimme, Gimme", and the musical's title "Mamma Mia!" instantly come to mind. All of the music are ABBA hits wrapped around a sweet, mundane story line. Some songs fit the plot quite well, others do not. But who cares? 

For those who have not seen MM on a stage or at the movies: Set on a Greek island, 20-year-old Sophie is about to marry cute guy Sky. Sophie wants her dad to walk her down the aisle, but she doesn't know which of mom's 3 past boyfriends was the sperm donor. All are nice guys who want to step up. Mom has loyal but somewhat whacko lady friends for additional comic relief. All works out, although not quite as expected.

The "serious" relationship, which calls for serious acting is that of Donna, our heroine (Cate Damon) and Sam, the assumed father (Ben Ashley). Each has acted numerous times on The Majestic's stage and each are proven entities in their vocal ability, acting skills, and nuances, which are so important in making a character a real human. The full cast numbers 20. They know who they are, and the space for all those names to credit goes beyond this review. I'll just say, that except for two actors who didn't sing in unison, I find no flaws.

The Majestic and its founder Danny Eaton celebrate the theatre's 25th Anniversary with a literal bang as resident music director Mitch Chakour conducts his five-piece band (only 5?) to perform the prelude compilation of hits. Eaton's director's note states his hope to make this take on MM somehow unique to all of the thousands of MMs throughout the world. That's a tough challenge. Eaton especially credits the backstage crew in making this Greek island a place of freedom, joy, and separation from any mainland worries.

There are also too many names on the list of people who shine backstage: designers of lights, sound, set, costumes, and all those who the audience never sees. The Majestic's program book, as opposed to all other programs that I have seen in local and regional theatre, gives headshots and written bio credit to all these talented individuals. If adding the cast and crew together, the bottom line is that the Majestic's season opener is BIG.

I have never seen a full house at a Sunday matinee. I have also never seen such an enthusiastic audience. Not to worry, masks are required. A helpful side benefit, at least for me, is to muffle the audience members who insist on singing along. Sure, I'd like to join them, but don't. However, the end of MM is a surprise to newbies, when singing is definitely encouraged.

Special kudos to Russell Garrett who did double duty as one of the potential dads, but more importantly as choreographer. Two show-stopping numbers with all onstage, coupled with the musical's ancillary finale, prompt audience members to bounce up to give a deserved standing ovation.