Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

December 11, 2023

REVIEW: Hartford Symphony Orchestra, "Beethoven 5+5"

The Bushnell, Hartford, CT
December 8-10, 2023
by Michael J. Moran

For the fourth “Masterworks” weekend of their 80th anniversary season, guest conductor Gerard Schwarz led the HSO in two classic Beethoven fifths from 1808/09– his last concerto for piano and orchestra, nicknamed the “Emperor;” and perhaps the most famous symphony ever written.

HSO opened its program with the 2022 “Four Hymns Without Words” for trumpet and orchestra by African-American composer Adolphus Hailstork. He notes that “each begins with melody and harmony that sound like a hymn tune” and calls his music “tonal, lyrical, and very rhythmic.” The clarion tone of soloist John Charles Thomas, HSO assistant principal trumpet, and lively support from his colleagues and Schwarz revealed many colors in this stirring 10-minute suite.

Orion Weiss
Hailstork’s conservative modernism actually highlighted Beethoven’s radicalism two centuries earlier. At 40-minutes, his “Emperor” concerto was the longest written to date, and it started the now standard composer practice of writing all the notes formerly improvised in solo passages. Nationally acclaimed Ohio-born pianist Orion Weiss was a powerful and eloquent soloist, easily meeting Beethoven’s every technical challenge and the shifting emotional demands of a majestic opening “Allegro” movement, a sublime “Adagio un poco mosso,” and a rollicking “Rondo: Allegro” finale. Schwarz and the HSO were robust partners.

In complete contrast, Weiss responded to a rousing ovation with a ravishing encore of the hushed “Nocturne” from Grieg’s “Lyric Suite” that held the audience’s rapt attention for nearly five minutes.

The concert closed with an electrifying account of Beethoven’s fifth symphony that made this musical warhorse sound new again. From the familiar opening four-note motif of a tempestuous “Allegro con brio,” a flowing “Andante con moto,” and a stormy “Allegro” transition to a triumphant grandest of all grand “Allegro” finales, Schwarz had the HSO playing with white-hot intensity. Now Music Director of the Palm Beach Symphony, with previous experience leading the Seattle Symphony, the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra, and New York’s Mostly Mozart Festival, his professional skill and engaging stage presence were much appreciated in Hartford.

The HSO’s next Masterworks program (February 9-11), “Enduring Love Stories,” will feature Music Director Carolyn Kuan and guest husband-and-wife duo Rupert Boyd on guitar and Laura Metcalf on cello in a world premiere titled "Girl Meets Boyd" by Clarice Assad, with music by Tchaikovsky, Wagner, and Offenbach.

December 9, 2023

REVIEW: TheaterWorks Hartford, "Christmas on the Rocks"

TheaterWorks Hartford, Hartford CT
through December 23, 2023
by Jarice Hanson
Jen Cody as "Karen"
From the moment you enter the theater and see the set flanked by two video screens running scenes from favorite childhood classic television shows and hear pre-show Christmas carols at bar-level volume, you know this show will be something a little different. The references to childhood icons and contemporary music trigger memories of Christmases past—the good—the bad—and the weird. For 95-minutes the audience becomes a family of strangers who are united by the collective popular culture that surrounds the Holiday Season.
“Christmas on the Rocks” was originally conceived of and directed by Rob Ruggiero in 2013, and Ruggiero has continued to direct all 11 iterations of the show since then. The concept is simple, but beautifully set up: the set is a seedy bar on Christmas Eve, with various characters from old TV programs popping in for a scene with the bartender. This year, the bartender, “Larry,” is played by the wonderful Richard Kline, known to many in the audience from the old television show, “Three’s Company” where he also played a character named “Larry." And the audience loves him.
Two actors, Harry Bouvy and Jen Cody have returned this year to alternate in the 8 scenes written by 7 different playwrights: John Cariani, Judy Gold, Jenn Harris, Jeffrey Hatcher, Jacques Lamarre, Edwin Sanchez, and Matthew Wilkas. One of this year’s new offerings, “A Smidge of Midge” by Edwin Sanchez and Jacques Lamarre, capitalizes on this year’s big hit, “Barbie,” but the show wraps up with an old favorite, “Merry Christmas, Blockhead” by Lamarre that is funny, poignant, and just the right note on which to tie the bow on this Holiday gift to the audience. 
It's clear that this show has become a favorite for many families (those with older children because of the adult situations and language) and groups of friends, because some people in the audience couldn’t help but laugh out loud or mutter something like “I love this one” when they saw Bouvy or Cody enter as characters they loved. Familiarity, whether it is with the actors, the characters, or the situations, fits the intimate space of TheaterWorks Hartford and makes this a Holiday celebration even the most holiday-weary audience member can enjoy. 
Kline, Cody, and Bouvy obviously love working together and their chemistry on stage is palpable. They seem to be having a wonderful time, and the audience apparently agrees. “Christmas on the Rocks” is a marker of our culture—especially for those of us who grew up with television as a part of our holiday, and a celebration of our collective past. It’s nice to see characters we recognize, even though they’ve grown up and have grown-up problems.  And yes, as the program professes, it is a little bit naughty.

Review: Goodspeed Musicals, “Dreamgirls”

Goodspeed Opera House, Haddem, CT
through December 30, 2023
by R. Smith

Photo by Diane Sobolewski
“Dreamgirls” is a veiled variation on the turbulent story of Diana Ross and the Supremes, Berry Gordy and Motown Records. Perceived as a more “recent” show (it premiered in 1981) it is probably one that newer theatergoers have heard of but never seen. Even the Hollywood adaptation came out 17 years ago. Although having a large cast, and being ostensibly about group dynamics and family, it is individual elements that stand out in Goodspeed’s latest revival. 

When the ensemble works, it is in the group musical numbers that lovingly recreate the Motown sound, especially in the first part of the first act which is a rapid-fire musical journey through the mid/late 1960s. The title song, for instance, is spot-on “girl group.” There’s also some doo-wop, smooth R&B and even a little disco.

Then there’s the star making “(And I am Telling You) I’m Not Going” which belongs to the character of Effie. Even though the character is not immediately sympathetic, by the time this showstopper comes along, she’s earned the right to her pain. Director Lili-Anne Brown’s notes indicate that the first priority was to cast actors who happen to also sing and dance well and this Trejah Bostic, as Effie, certainly does. The powerhouse number succeeds because it is driven by emotion as much as vocal prowess and Bostic delivers both.

Mykal Kilgore’s character Jimmy (a James Brown surrogate) has just as many trials and tribulations as the title characters, and may actually have made for a pretty solid show just on his own. Jimmy is a lot of “id” and that requires comedy, pathos, manic energy and sheer personality to make the audience love him as they do. Kilgore’s facial expressions, line delivery and other-worldly singing voice exudes the force and depth of his talent. The energy level of the show is elevated each time he is on stage.

Much credit must be given to the performers and director for overcoming some inherent weakness in the book, which doesn’t give the characters much depth but rather relies on archetype. Ta-Tynisa Wilson, as Deena, especially, does all she can to give a very passive character some life, with her body language and presence. Never given her own true solo moment, Wilson still makes you take notice when she gets to step up and sing.

The show is full of visual excitement as well, evidenced by Samantha C. Jones costume design that spans almost 2 decades. Even the proscenium of the stage is bedecked in a shimmering fringe.

It is fitting that Goodpseed, with its mission of preserving and reviving American musicals, has staged this production and thoughtfully engaged an artistic team that brings a unique and appropriate authenticity to the production. While not an all-out, non-stop blockbuster, “Dreamgirls” has amazing moments of musical theatre greatness that should be seen by any devotee of the genre.

November 24, 2023

REVIEW: The Bushnell, "Moulin Rouge! The Musical!"

The Bushnell, Hartford, CT
Through November 26, 2023
By Jarice Hanson
Photo by Matthew Murphy
The Bushnell has stepped up its game this year with touring companies that are better than ever. In the current production, a cast of 38 talented singers and dancers accompanied by an exceptionally tight 10-piece band bring the Broadway spectacle "Moulin Rouge! The Musical!" to enthusiastic audiences in a sexy, suggestive treat for the eyes and ears.
The plot is thin, but the story is secondary to this experience for the senses.  Scene designer Derek McLane has created a beautiful, appealing cavalcade of sets to simulate the original club, the Moulin Rouge, which opened in the Montmartre area of Paris in 1889 and where the cancan was born.

Seamlessly, the sets morph from the club to the streets of Paris, celebrating the bohemian life, and the elegance of the wealthy. McLane's work is complimented by Justin Townsend’s spectacular lighting design and Catherine Zuber’s risqué, gender-bending costumes. Choreographer Sonya Tayeh won a Tony, Drama Desk, and Outer Critics Circle Award for her innovative dance and movement, and this cast delivers the intention of the choreography with energy and style.
When Baz Luhrmann created the original movie, "Moulin Rouge!," he used popular music as the soundtrack. In this staged production of the film, some of the music has been updated to include musical artists like Lady Gaga, for example, but the songs are all tunes the audience would know from other musical artists. There are no original songs written for the stage production, but those songs seem to take on a different meaning when interwoven into the sketchy story.
Gabrielle McClinton is a lovely leading lady who is the titular star of the Moulin Rouge, and Christian Douglas is the young American suitor with whom she falls in love. Both have wonderful voices that express great range and ability to interpret the songs. Robert Petkoff as the MC of the club delivers the comedy and Parisian smarmy quality expected in this type of spectacle; and Andrew Brewer is the sexy, evil Duke.  
The show is long – 2 hours and 45 minutes including intermission, and the two acts are somewhat uneven in action and pace, but that is not the point of "Moulin Rouge! The Musical!"
Audiences desiring a memorable story may be disappointed, but anyone who is familiar with the Baz Luhrmann film with be thrilled with the experience of being drawn into the environment of Moulin Rouge! the place, the experience, and the spectacle. The show is pure fun and fantasy, and very well done.

November 14, 2023

REVIEW: South Windsor Cultural Arts, "Xiaohui Yang"

Evergreen Crossings, South Windsor, CT
November 12, 2023
by Michael J. Moran

The third concert of SWCA’s 41st season featured Chinese pianist Xiaohui Yang – a winner of the 2017 Naumburg International Piano Competition, and a Curtis, Juilliard, and Peabody graduate - in a richly varied program of challenging repertoire, which she introduced with brief, informative, and touchingly personal comments.

She opened with a supple account of Mozart’s 1782 “Twelve Variations on “Ah, vous dirai-je maman,” better known to Americans as “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star.” It must have delighted her seven-week-old daughter Maya, who she said was her rehearsal audience for this performance.

Next came sensitive readings of two Nocturnes by Faure. Placing the more “sorrowful” No. 7 in C-sharp minor (1898) before the sunnier No. 6 in D-sharp major (1894), Yang faithfully captured the full emotional turmoil of both pieces. To illustrate their “contrast” with the contemporary “Four Pieces for Piano,” Op. 119 (1893) by Brahms, she played these three Intermezzos and closing Rhapsody with a more classical restraint.  

Introducing the “Six Little Piano Pieces,” Op. 19 by Schoenberg, Yang was almost apologetic for the music’s atonal style. But her prediction that it would be surprisingly listenable proved accurate, as her crystalline keyboard touch teased out hints of melody in these sparkling miniatures.

Commissioned by the Naumburg Foundation for Yang’s Carnegie Hall premiere, Israeli American composer Shulamit Ran’s 2019 “Ballade” alternates declamatory with reflective passages. Yang said Ran told her to “have fun and run with it;” her exuberant approach to the work in South Windsor exuded that spirit.    

Crediting her husband for suggesting that she end the concert, as she began it, with a set of variations, she closed the afternoon with an electrifying rendition of Chopin’s 1827 “Variations on La ci darem la mano,” a flirtatious duet in Mozart’s 1787 opera “Don Giovanni.” In this showpiece Yang demonstrated the combination of technical finesse and interpretive depth that suggest a long and brilliant career ahead for this engaging young artist.

All concerts in this free series take place on Sundays at 2:00 pm, and seating on a first-come, first-served basis begins a half-hour prior. Next up SWCA will present violinist Irina Muresanu and pianist Daniel Del Pino on January 21, 2024.

REVIEW: Hartford Symphony Orchestra, "Ravel & Debussy"

The Bushnell,  Hartford, CT
November 10-12, 2023
by Michael J. Moran

As she did on the first two “Masterworks” weekends of their 80th anniversary season, HSO Music Director Carolyn Kuan surrounded two HSO premieres of recent rarities on the third program with two popular masterpieces from the standard repertory.

The concert opened with Claude Debussy’s 1894 Prelude to “The Afternoon of a Faun,” based on a poem of that name by Debussy’s friend Stephane Mallarme. In a spoken introduction, Kuan called it “the birth of modern music” and “full of ambiguity,” and the vibrant performance she led by the HSO captured both qualities, with special kudos to principal flutist Dominique Kim and harpists Susan Knapp Thomas and Mae Cooke.   

This was followed by fiery renditions of Chinese-born Huang Ruo’s colorfully scored four 2012 “Folk Songs for Orchestra,” which the composer hoped “to preserve and…transform…into new pieces of art.” Outstanding HSO soloists were concertmaster Leonid Sigal in “Little Blue Flower” and hyperactive percussionists Doug Perry and David West throughout.

Next came a real novelty: British-American musical polymath Michael Spivakovsky’s 1951
Cy Leo

Harmonica Concerto. Written in the light classical style of Leroy Anderson, its three tuneful movements demand the utmost virtuosity from the soloist. Hong Kong-born Cy Leo didn’t disappoint, tossing off its many challenges with kinetic and crowd-pleasing flair. Kuan and the HSO were committed accompanists.

But Leo’s encore - a jazz-inflected romp through the traditional Irish chestnut “Danny Boy” – was even more astonishing, from soulful interludes to audience handclapping, foot-stomping, and singalong. No more persuasive advocate for the harmonica in classical music can be imagined than this charismatic rising star.  

While the 15-minute suite is relatively familiar, the concert ended with Maurice Ravel’s seldom heard complete half-hour ballet “Mother Goose.” This 1911 score depicts four tales – Sleeping Beauty, Tom Thumb, Beauty and the Beast, and the Empress of the Pagodas – in music of great delicacy and charm. Kuan drew a dazzling account from all sections of the orchestra, and the lush “Fairy Garden” epilogue brought the full ensemble together for an exhilarating happily-ever-after ending.   

At the HSO’s next program (December 8-10), “Beethoven 5+5,” guest conductor Gerard Schwarz will precede that composer’s fifth piano concerto (the “Emperor”), featuring pianist Orion Weiss, and fifth symphony with a new piece by African American Adolphus Hailstork.

November 7, 2023

REVIEW: South Mountain Concerts, "Dover String Quartet"

South Mountain Concert Hall, Pittsfield, MA
October 15, 2023
by Michael J. Moran

Formed at Philadelphia’s Curtis Institute of Music in 2008, ensemble-in-residence there since 2020, and named after “Dover Beach,” a 1931 song by Curtis graduate Samuel Barber, the Dover String Quartet – violinists Joel Link and Bryan Lee; violist Julianne Lee, a member only since last month; and cellist Camden Shaw – brought a diverse selection of quartets from three centuries to an appreciative South Mountain audience.

Technical cohesion and interpretive maturity, even at their start as a foursome, was immediately evident in Franz Joseph Haydn’s 1793 Quartet in G Minor, Op. 74/3. The taut, galloping rhythms of both the opening “Allegro” movement and the “Allegro con brio” finale fully embraced the work’s nickname, the “Rider” quartet. The middle movements – a heartfelt slow “Largo assai” and a gently flowing “Menuetto: Allegretto” – were played with equal conviction.

Introducing Florence Price’s Quartet No. 1 in G Major, Shaw noted that like much of the pioneering African-American composer’s instrumental music, it was rediscovered only in 2009, over fifty years after her death, in the attic of her former home near Chicago. Likely written in the 1920s, its two surviving movements – a graceful “Allegro” and a folk-flavored “Andante Moderato-Allegretto” – were giving sumptuous, affectionate treatment by this ensemble.

The program – and the 2023 South Mountain season - closed with a dramatic reading of Franz Schubert’s 1824 Quartet No. 14 in D Minor. Its nickname, “Death and the Maiden,” derives from the composer’s 1817 song of that title, quoted in the second movement, which may reflect a premonition of his death four years later at the age of only thirty-one. The Dovers heightened this mood with a tumultuous “Allegro,” a haunting “Andante con moto,” including five starkly delineated variations on the song’s opening melody, a demonic “Scherzo. Allegro molto-Trio,” and a frenzied closing “Presto.”

“It’s about being part of something larger than yourself while not losing your individuality. It’s completely personal but also greater than you. It’s the ultimate form of making music.” This comment about chamber music by Dover first violinist Joel Link in a recent interview may help explain not only the many critical accolades that his ensemble has received but the enduring success of this century-old chamber music festival held in Pittsfield every September and October.

November 6, 2023

Review: Springfield Symphony Orchestra, "Heavenly"

Symphony Hall, Springfield, MA
November 4, 2023
by Beverly Dane

This SSO concert, titled "Heavenly," brought guest conductor Nicholas Hersh as guest to the podium. At first, it seemed unusual that there was no featured guest soloist, it  became apparent that the “guest soloists” were the stunningly beautiful pictures provided by the Springfield Science Museum to accompany and accentuate the musical pieces.

The opening number, "Helios Overture" by Carl Nielsen was inspired by the Greek God who drove the chariot of the sun across the sky each day. The quiet opening notes portrayed sunrise, built to a crescendo for mid-day, before returning to the quiet peacefulness of sunset. A full horn section trumpeted the day.

Hersh and SSO were magnificent, matched by the stunning pictures of our sun on the big screen behind the orchestra. Maestro Hersh noted the connection of the photographs and music, saying, "The music gets a little weird, like Stanley Kubrick "2001"weird.”  Ethereal voices floated out and down from the upper balcony as Nikki Stoia directed the unseen Treble Singers of the Springfield Symphony Chorus in an eerie, haunting melody.  Audience members certainly felt the music, in a sense, flying over the sun, with the Northern Lights casting out to light the path.
The second piece played in four movements was Mozart’s "Symphony No.41," commonly known as the "Jupiter Symphony" for the sheer scale and complexity of the work. SSO was up to the challenge.

Excitement for the third piece was palpable as one could not help but notice the large array of percussion that were, up to this point, unmanned. Like unopened Christmas presents waiting to be played, drums, bells, tambourines, cymbals as well as two harps would take part in Gustav Holst’s “The Planets”.

The opening “Mars, the Bringer of War” brought to mind John Williams’ cinematic score "The Imperial March" (Darth Vader’s theme) with powerful brass fanfare and marching rhythm sounding the opening. “Venus, the Bringer of Peace" was more serene featuring flutes and violin. The harps, and violin flew through Mercury, “The Winged Messenger,” which brought us to “Jupiter, the Bringer of Jollity” and “Saturn, the Bringer of Old Age”.

These movements were accompanied on the big screen behind the musicians by astounding pictures of the planets from the Webb telescope.  Maestro Hersh previewed the Outer Planets by saying in his pre-concert talk, “Then the music gets a little weird, like Stanley Kubrick's '2001' weird." Ethereal voices floated out & down from the upper balcony as Nikki Stoia directed the unseen Treble Singers of the Springfield Symphony Chorus in an eerie, haunting melody.

This is the first of two matinees this season for SSO. The Symphony is hoping to attract families that may be able to attend a matinee instead of an evening performance. From the sound of the applause during Paul Lambert’s introduction, it hit a home run in attracting older patrons that enjoy the Symphony but do not like to drive home in the dark. The next matinee is on Saturday March 9, 2024 when the orchestra presents "Fantasias" at 2:30pm. 

Although the audiences misses Maestro Rhodes, we have been lucky to have so many talented and inspiring conductors to watch this last and current season, with Maestro Hersh certainly included in that talented group.  

October 27, 2023

PREVIEW: Majestic Theater, "Moonglow"

Majestic Theater, West Springfield, MA
October 26 - December 3, 2023

The Majestic Theater will present an original work by Massachusetts playwright Jack Neary, Moonglow, as the second show of its 2022-2023 Season. Neary, also a director and actor, will direct his play.

Moonglow is set in Lowell, MA and tells the story of Ray Healy, a middle-aged music teacher and Catholic school band director whose personal life is “a big question mark.” When his secretary finally admits her romantic aspirations for their relationship, secrets about Ray’s past are revealed. Moonglow combines fresh dialogue, interesting characters, and a bit of good old Catholic guilt. 

Photo by Katie Rankins
“Jack Neary’s plays have been favorites at this theater over the years," stated Danny Eaton,
producing director for the Majestic. “We’ve presented Jerry Finnegan’s Sister, First Night and The Porch to enthusiastic audiences and we’re happy to bring another of his romantic comedies to our stage. Jack’s plays often portray elements of life in New England while presenting endearingly realistic characters facing relatable circumstances.” 

Eaton continues, "This clever and warm story has some surprises, wit, and heart."
The cast includes Brian Argotsinger (Ray), Stephanie Carlson (Arlene), Rand Foerster (Father Hackett), Nora Streeter (Dorothy), Stephanie Craven (Clancy) and Margaret Reilly Streeter (Linda).  Sue Dziura is associate producing director. Production stage manager is Stephen Petit, and Aurora Ferraro is associate production manager. Dan Rist takes on the job of lighting and scenic designer. Costume designer is Dawn McKay, and scenic artist is Braith Dicker. 

The wearing of face masks in the theater is optional for each of the Majestic's plays this season.

Doors to the theater will open one hour before the start of a show, which is also when the café opens.  For more information, visit or call the box office at 413-747-7797.

October 23, 2023

REVIEW: Hartford Symphony Orchestra,"Dvorak & Price"

The Bushnell, Hartford, CT 
October 20-22, 2023 
by Michael J. Moran 

For the second weekend of their 2023-2024 “Masterworks” series, HSO’s Music Director,
Carolyn Kuan, bracketed an HSO premiere of a recent rediscovery with two established masterworks of the high Romantic era. 

The concert opened with a highly charged reading of Johannes Brahms’ “Tragic Overture.” Written in 1880, alongside his more upbeat “Academic Festival Overture,” the composer noted that while “one overture laughs, the other weeps.” From two forceful opening chords, through a somber main theme, a tender contrasting lyrical theme, a turbulent development section, and a powerful close, Kuan and her musicians fully honored what Brahms called his “melancholy nature.” 

Melissa White
Next came the sleeper hit of the program, Florence Price’s first violin concerto. Dating from 1939 but unperformed in public until 2019, ten years after it was found among her lost manuscripts, this appealing piece is quickly gaining its rightful place in the repertory. No finer performance could be imagined than that of HSO 2023-2024 Joyce C. Willis Artist in Residence, violinist Melissa White. Her silken tone and technical finesse captured the charm and drama of the opening “Tempo moderato,” the blues-inflected African-American flavor of the “Andante,” and the fiery excitement of the closing “Allegro.” Kuan and the HSO were robust partners. 

A standing ovation brought White back for a ravishing encore account of the hushed “Adagio” from Johann Sebastian Bach’s third sonata for solo violin, in which she held the rapt audience in the palms of her hands. 

The concert ended with a blazing rendition of Antonin Dvorak’s 1884 seventh symphony. Though less popular with the public than his later “New World” symphony, Dvorak is known to have called the seventh his greatest symphony. Reflecting his grief at the death of his mother a year earlier, the piece opens on a dark, brooding note, but this is soon offset by glimpses of Dvorak’s typically sunny disposition. Kuan and the orchestra brought driving urgency to these shifting moods in a sweeping “Allegro maestoso,” a radiant “Poco adagio,” a lilting Czech-infused “Scherzo: Vivace,” and a heroic “Finale: Allegro.” 

The HSO’s next program (November 10-12) will pair new-ish works by Huang Ruo and Michael Spivakovsky with familiar classics by Debussy and Ravel and will feature a rare (in classical music) harmonica soloist, Cy Leo.

October 22, 2023

Review: Hartford Stage “Pride and Prejudice"

Hartford Stage, Hartford, CT
October 12-November 5, 2023
by Shera Cohen

Photo by T. Charles Erickson
The opening play of Hartford Stage’s 60th Anniversary cannot have been more befitting than “Pride and Prejudice”. So many of HS’s production elements over the decades are here; primarily “the old chestnut” coupled with slick and hip twists. This is P&P for new and current theatre folk, with a tip of the hat to Jane Austen’s novel.

Lately, it seems the norm for one actor to portray numerous and even simultaneous roles. This device doesn’t always work; however, it adds even more humor to the comedies than the original script ever intended. Austin would be pleased, as does the audience.

Director Tatyana-Marie Carlo moves her impeccably costumed characters bounding here and there on the exquisite, often rotating 19th century set. Using the theatre aisles adds a welcome closeness to the audience.

Carlo has elected to first go for fun and schtick, and then story. Both works fine together. Although, the former adds about a half-hour to the play’s time. Several dialogue snips, less repetitive prop movement, and omitted dummies would make P&P perfect.

The plot is the grueling task of Mrs. Bennett to marry off her four daughters. While actress Lana Young could attempt subtlety, she opts for slapstick to outright throwing potential mates together to see if a rich hubby becomes her future son-in-law. 

Balancing her mission is the low-key Mr. Bennet, played by Anne Scurria. The character sits in his comfy chair and reads the newspaper, just like a retired man should. Mr. B’s few lines of indifference toward his offsprings’ future are successfully played for laughs. 

The girls depend on mom’s strategies. Then, there’s Lizzie, our straight-man (woman) heroine, in this family of crazies. Determined to be a spinster, Renata Eastlick shows Lizzie as assertive and principled, yet charming with a slow willingness to change.

María Gabriela González as Jane, plays her role of weakness well, although a little too well, to the point that she is hardly noticed. Perhaps as the play continues its run, Gonzalez will put a little backbone into her role.

The younger sisters, Lydia and Mary, Zoë Kim and Madeline Barker, respectively, bring on the biggest laughs. While Kim is hysterical, volume doesn’t necessarily make for humor. She needs a little toning down. Barker doesn’t have much dialogue, yet her grunts, lunges, squeals, and  pantomime-like gestures create an amazingly bizarre and funny Mary.

To the men in “Pride and Prejudice, it is no spoiler that the uppity, proud, and prejudiced Darcy, played by Carman Lacivita, will pair with Lizzie. Lacivita is aloof in his role, although a suggestion would be to subtly speed up Darcy’s hidden genuine personality.

Back to actor Anne Scurria, Mr. Bennet, it is later in the story when he becomes a Mrs. Doubtfire-like neighbor lady, and it is a hoot.

Taking on lots of deserved stage-time is Sergio Mauritz Ang. Over-the-top is putting it gently when describing Ang’s immense talents. He switches characters, costumes, and hairdos in a heartbeat, each funnier than the last. 

Preview: MOSSO, Chamber Players Concert

Trinity Church, Springfield, MA
Saturday, November 18, 2023, 7:30pm

Springfield Chamber Players’ (formerly MOSSO) second concert of the fall will highlight the music of strings. Comprised of violinists Miho Matsuno and Robert Lawrence, violist Martha McAdams, and cellist Patricia Edens, the performance will include Mozart’s String Quartet No. 4, K. 157; Rachmaninoff’s String Quartet No. 1; the slow movement of Elgar’s String Quartet in E Minor, Op. 83; and Britten’s Simple Symphony Op. 4.
Miho Matsuno, a violinist with the Springfield Symphony Orchestra since 1992, has performed extensively throughout the U.S. and abroad. She has performed at major concert venues in and around New York City, including Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center, Merkin Hall, and Broadway theaters. Matsuno was a violin instructor and chamber music coach for 20 years at the Kaufman Music Center in New York City. She  received her Bachelor of Music and Master of Music degrees from the Juilliard School. She also attended Mount Holyoke College with a focus on English Literature. Matsuno is a native of Yokohama, Japan.
Robert Lawrence, violinist, has had a varied performing career, ranging from Karl Munchinger’s Stuttgart Chamber Orchestra to the acclaimed Broadway revival of Guys and Dolls, starring Nathan Lane. He studied at Yale University and the Accademia Chigiana in Italy. Lawrence is currently director of programming as well as violinist for the All Seasons Chamber Players (NJ), concertmaster of the New York Gilbert and Sullivan Players, and a longtime member of the first violin section of the Springfield Symphony Orchestra.
Martha “Peggy”  McAdams received a Bachelor of Music from Hartt College of Music and a Master of Music from Manhattan School of Music. Additional violin studies were with Itzhak Perlman and viola with William Lincer. McAdams has performed throughout the East Coast, Europe, and South America in numerous ensembles. McAdams is a longtime member of the Springfield Symphony Orchestra.

Patricia Edens, cellist, toured throughout the U.S. as principal cellist with the New York City Opera National Company. She has performed with such Broadway shows as Annie Get Your Gun, Annie, and West Side Story, as well as on tour with Andrea Bocelli. She was a featured cellist in performances with the Israeli folk singer Debbie Friedman at Carnegie Hall. She has also appeared with the Springfield Symphony Orchestra.

October 19, 2023

REVIEW: Springfield Symphony Orchestra, "80th Anniversary Concert"

Symphony Hall, Springfield, MA
October 14, 2023
by Beverly Dane

Opening night for the Springfield Symphony Orchestra was truly a Grand Celebration. 

At the top of the program, the audience was welcomed by Paul Lambert, President and CEO of the Symphony followed by remarks from the night's sponsor, Lyman & Leslie Woods. Lyman Woods praised all of those who had parts in making this important concert come to be. Woods continued, teasing the audience with a question as to whether they'd like to see Kevin Rhodes back as Maestro. The question was met with robust applause. 

This evening's program was a who's who for those onstage. Almost a dozen musicians were asked to stand to be lauded. The common denominator among these performers was their long tenure with SSO. Each started 40+ years ago. Amazing! Such experience and talent shined through every concert and especially this one. 

SSO began, as on every opening night, with a rousing rendition of "The National Anthem". Of course, the audience stood to attention. It felt warm and familiar to participate in an opening ritual. As with any tradition, it brought a smile for memories of seasons past and a sigh of relief for new memories yet to be made. 

This coming season promises both familiar old favorites and anticipation of new pieces. Trying something novel, SSO will present two matinees, one each on November 4, 2023 and March 9, 2024. This move from the evening performances are management's efforts to encourage new audience members to attend at 2:30pm in addition to the usual at 7:30pm. We will have to see if this is successful.

Our guest conductor Mei-Ann Chen brought energy and enthusiasm to the musicians, audience, and music. At times, I thought she would jump right off the podium in her excitement to push the orchestra to perfection during the aptly named "Festive Overture" by Dmitry Shostakovich. Chen was born in Taiwan and was the first New England Conservatory student to be awarded double master's degrees simultaneously in both violin and conducting. We were extremely fortunate to have Chen on the Symphony Hall stage. 

Guest soloist Amaryn Olmeda flowed onto the stage in a beautiful full-length dress with autumn colors. More importantly, her instrument's music seemed to flow during Max Bruch's "Violin Concerto No. 1" with equal beauty and grace. At the age of 15, Olmeda displayed a talent and confidence well beyond her years. She currently studies at Boston's New England Conservatory of Music. She has natural talent and has already made her Carnegie Hall solo debut. 

The evening concluded after intermission with Sergei Rachmaninoff's "Symphony No. 2".  Its four movements provided enough variation to spotlight the symphony's diverse talent. 

This special celebration concert ended for musicians and audience, alike, in the beautiful Mahogany Room with a champagne toast to both Mei-Ann Chen and Amaryn Olmeda. A wonderful start to a most auspicious anniversary for the Springfield Symphony Orchestra. 

REVIEW: South Mountain Concerts, "Dover String Quartet"

South Mountain Concerts, Pittsfield, MA 
October 15, 2023 
by Michael J. Moran 

Formed at Philadelphia’s Curtis Institute of Music in 2008, ensemble-in-residence there since 2020, and named after “Dover Beach,” a 1931 song by Curtis graduate Samuel Barber, the Dover String Quartet – violinists Joel Link and Bryan Lee; violist Julianne Lee, a member only since last month; and cellist Camden Shaw – brought a diverse selection of quartets from three centuries to an appreciative South Mountain audience. 

Technical cohesion and interpretive maturity, even at their start as a foursome, was immediately evident in Franz Joseph Haydn’s 1793 Quartet in G Minor, Op. 74/3. The taut, galloping rhythms of both the opening “Allegro” movement and the “Allegro con brio” finale fully embraced the work’s nickname, the “Rider” quartet. The middle movements – a heartfelt slow “Largo assai” and a gently flowing “Menuetto: Allegretto” – were played with equal conviction. 

Introducing Florence Price’s Quartet No. 1 in G Major, Shaw noted that like much of the pioneering African-American composer’s instrumental music, it was rediscovered only in 2009, over fifty years after her death, in the attic of her former home near Chicago. Likely written in the 1920s, its two surviving movements – a graceful “Allegro” and a folk-flavored “Andante Moderato-Allegretto” – were giving sumptuous, affectionate treatment by this ensemble. 

The program – and the 2023 South Mountain season - closed with a dramatic reading of Franz Schubert’s 1824 Quartet No. 14 in D Minor. Its nickname, “Death and the Maiden,” derives from the composer’s 1817 song of that title, quoted in the second movement, which may reflect a premonition of his death four years later at the age of only thirty-one. The Dovers heightened this mood with a tumultuous “Allegro,” a haunting “Andante con moto,” including five starkly delineated variations on the song’s opening melody, a demonic “Scherzo. Allegro molto-Trio,” and a frenzied closing “Presto.” 

“It’s about being part of something larger than yourself while not losing your individuality. It’s completely personal but also greater than you. It’s the ultimate form of making music.” This comment about chamber music by Dover first violinist Joel Link in a recent interview may help explain not only the many critical accolades that his ensemble has received but the enduring success of this century-old chamber music festival held in Pittsfield every September and October.

October 13, 2023

Preview: Mason Square Branch Library, "Frances Perkins: A Woman's Work"

Mason Square Branch Library, Springfield, MA
Wednesday, October 25, 2023

Photo Credit:
She was dubbed “The Mother of Social Security” -- quite a title! This was Frances Perkins.

A relatively famous photo taken in the late 1930’s was that of President FDR at his desk waving a pen above his head as he signed the Social Security Act into law. A woman in the background, wearing a drab dress, black hat, pearls, and no smile was Frances Perkins, the first female cabinet member in the U.S. as Secretary of Labor for 12 years, the creator of Social Security, and MA resident in her early adulthood.

On Wednesday, October 25, 2023 at 12:30pm actress Jarice Hanson will present the play “Frances Perkins: A Woman’s Work” at the Mason Square Branch Library, 765 State Street, Springfield, MA. 

Through a grant from the Springfield Cultural Council, an agency of the MA Cultural Council, this play was commissioned to be written and performed only in Springfield to recognize the important work of Perkins and what she created in the early 40’s that affects the US today. 

This is the second of three performances in different sections of the City. The initial location was the Springfield Armory NHS to standing room only audience. This show in Mason Square is the second, with the final production at Indian Orchard Citizens Council on Tuesday, November 14th at 7:00pm.

Perkins tackled social reform on many important topics, i.e. African-American workers, child labor laws, the 40-hour work week, women’s working conditions, and labor unions. This is not a lecture, but a one-act original play. The public is invited to be the audience, free of charge.

In the Spotlight, an arts organization in Springfield, is the producer of the play which will be immediately followed by Q&A to the actress remaining in character as Frances Perkins.

The site is wheelchair accessible, free parking at the rear of the library and on street, no tickets or reserved seating. 

For information: contact Mason Square Library at 413-263-6853 or check the Central Library website at

October 10, 2023

REVIEW: South Mountain Concert, "Wu Han & Friends"

South Mountain Concerts, Pittsfield, MA 
October 8, 2023 
by Michael J. Moran 

Taiwanese-American pianist Wu Han, Co-Artistic Director (with her husband, cellist David Finckel) of the NYC-based Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, was accompanied by Finckel, violinist Paul Huang, and violist Paul Neubauer for a varied program of three Romantic works in a concert dedicated to pianist Menahem Pressler (1923-2023), who appeared here over 50 times. 

Wu Han photo by LisaMarie Mazzucco
The program opened with an ebullient account of Beethoven’s eighth sonata for violin and piano. Though written when he was first becoming aware of his growing deafness in 1802, the music is among the composer’s sunniest pieces. Huang’s silken violin and Wu Han’s dynamic pianism yielded a joyful and vigorous “Allegro assai,” a gently ruminative “Tempo di Minuetto,” and a jubilant closing “Allegro vivace.”       

Next came a glowing performance by Huang, Wu Han, and Finckel (who is also the founding cellist of the Emerson String Quartet, heard here last month) of the seldom played first piano trio by Saint-Saens, written in 1864, when the precocious French master was approaching artistic maturity in his late 20s. A rustic “Allegro vivace,” a solemn “Andante,” a folklike “Scherzo. Presto,” and a glittering “Allegro” finale featured nimble technique by Huang, cascading finger work from Wu Han, and rich-toned expressiveness by Finckel. 

Neubauer’s viola added a dark and opulent color to the mellow sound of his three colleagues when he joined them to close the program with a brilliant reading of the second piano quartet by Brahms. Written simultaneously in 1861 with the more popular first piano quartet, the second is longer (45-50 minutes) and less showy than its sibling, but just as full of melodic invention. A spacious “Allegro non troppo,” a ravishing “Poco adagio,” a relaxed “Scherzo-Trio,” and a rhythmic, Hungarian-flavored “Finale. Allegro” all made for compelling listening. 

Pairing the 33-year-old Huang with three seasoned veterans several decades older brought an intergenerational spark to the afternoon’s music-making, with Huang’s youthful energy enriching the long experience of his seniors and the passion for teaching and mentoring younger musicians that all three have practiced throughout their careers. 

This venerable Sunday afternoon concert series of chamber music performed by world-class ensembles concludes its 2023 season on October 15 with a concert by the Dover String Quartet.

October 6, 2023

Review: Playhouse on Park, "The Complete Works of Jane Austin (Abridged)"

Playhouse on Park, West Hartford, CT
through October 22, 2023
by Shera Cohen

First, don’t let the title, “The Complete Works of Jane Austin (Abridged),” steer you away from a play about a writer whose books we have all read and loved. That’s an exaggeration. Admit it, we’ve seen the movie versions. Even me.

Second, the reasons to witness and be drawn into the more or less fictitious life of this author are many; tops being humor. The program book’s cover illustration depicts a cartoon-version of Jane winking at the reader.

Regular theatregoers realize that whenever a title includes the word “Abridged” that they will be spectators of a whirlwind mix of stories with a common thread which will be very funny. Playhouse on Park (POP) does not disappoint.

Three actors (two women and one man) each portray dozens of characters. Director Kathryn MacMillian moves her actors in and around a large living room set of early-19th century opulent England. It’s no wonder that no one bumps into each other especially when portraying two characters simultaneously.

MacMillan, doubling as one of the co-playwrights (plus Jessica Bedford, Charlotte Northeast, Meghan Winch), has already escalated POP’s reputation to a high level of audience expectations for the rest of its 15th year. Each season, the theatre mounts at least one period-piece, as well as one premier. “Jane” eagerly fills both categories. 

Photo by Meredith Longo
Charlotte Northeast and Brittany Onukwugha introduce themselves as monologues to their
audience in order to present the play (the abridged novels) within the play. Northeast as the older and prim Jane as well as numerous other uses every nuance of her body and face to say more than the dialect. Onukwugha, younger and free-spirited, also embodies Jane at different points and, of course, the rest of the women. It is fun to watch her naivete and charm.

Literally stepping into the play after about 10 minutes is Shannon Michael Wamser as Mike, the substitute actor who walks onto the POP stage. Charlotte and Brittany quickly make him the male lead, as the ersatz actor reluctantly steps into the era 400 years earlier. It is a bit confusing, but you have to be there. Wamser portrays Darcy as arrogant and every male role as a bit dim-witted. Good job.

A suggestion. The running antic of Wamser segwaying from one character into another, literally at the drop of a hat, is overdone. Three hat tosses are enough, not 7 or 8.

Another suggestion must be coupled with the ultimate praise of “Jane,” is the text. Reviewers try to avoid critique of the scriptwriting because that is the given. The job is to focus on the production values. Given that “Jane” is a premier, I’ll take some liberties; the dialect and story are amazingly creative and flowing. Yet, the play could have ended at several points prior to the ultimate final curtain, so to speak, as there is no curtain. Editing out the last scene, which returns to the actors’ prologue to the audience, would better put closure to this delightfully acted and produced theatre piece.

REVIEW: The Bushnell, “Mrs. Doubtfire”

The Bushnell, Hartford, CT 
through October 8, 2023
by Michael J. Moran
Photo by Joan Marcus
Based on the 1993 film of the same name, this musical adaptation played on Broadway from
October 2021 to May 2022. The Bushnell is the second stop on its 10-month North American tour, in which Rob McClure reprises his Tony-nominated Broadway performance in the title role.   

The story follows Daniel, an unemployed but talented San Francisco voice actor, through the heartbreak of divorce from his ambitious fashion designer wife Miranda and separation from their three young children, Lydia, Christopher, and Natalie to their reunion when Miranda unwittingly hires Daniel (disguised as an elderly British nanny) as a housekeeper. A series of often hilarious misadventures leads to TV stardom for Daniel and a happily reconnected family.     

McClure brings a manic energy to the opening scene that rarely flags for the next two and a half hours. The enormous range of his talent for mimicry and physical comedy puts him in the rare company of Charlie Chaplin (whom he played on Broadway in 2012) and Robin Williams, unforgettable as Mrs. Doubtfire on film. Catchy music and clever lyrics by brothers Wayne and Karey Kilpatrick and a witty book by Karey Kilpatrick and John O’Farrell spread these high spirits throughout the cast. 

Maggie Lakis, McClure’s real-life wife, is a sympathetic Miranda, piercingly poignant in her big Act II solo, “Let Go.” Giselle Gutierrez is a wise-beyond-her-years Lydia in “Just Pretend,” her touching duet with Daniel. Axel Bernard Rimmele and Kennedy Pitney were endearing as her younger siblings. Aaron Kaburick as Daniel’s brother Frank, Nik Alexander as Frank’s spouse, Andre, Romelda Teron Benjamin as Daniel’s court-appointed overseer, Wanda Sellner, and Leo Roberts as Miranda’s suitor Stu are each distinctively over the top. The full company finale, “As Long as There Is Love,” is a heartwarming hymn to not-quite-traditional family values. 
Director Jerry Zaks and choreographer Lorin Latarro get special kudos for their intricate staging of several big production numbers featuring nonstop hijinks: “Easy Peasy,” Mrs. Doubtfire’s video cooking lesson brought to animated life; and “Welcome to La Rosa”/“He Lied to Me,” in which (spoiler alert) Daniel’s disguise is inadvertently revealed. Their effects are magnified by Catherine Zuber’s colorful costume design and lively musical direction by Mark Binns and his protean eleven-member band. 

Broadway fans of all ages will enjoy this entertaining and family-friendly show.

REVIEW: Hartford Symphony Orchestra, "Elgar’s Enigma"

The Bushnell, Hartford, CT 
September 29 - October 1, 2023
by Michael J. Moran 

The HSO Brass Quintet
For the first weekend of their 2023-2024 “Masterworks” series, the HSO’s Music Director,
Carolyn Kuan, framed two HSO premieres of contemporary works with two standard repertory favorites and spotlighted the talents of several orchestra members. 

After a vigorous traditional season-opening national anthem, they launched directly into Franz Schubert’s 1822 eighth symphony, which he inexplicably left “Unfinished” after completing only two movements. Kuan and the HSO offered a dramatic “Allegro moderato” and a radiant “Andante con moto.” 

Next came conductor-composer Gerard Schwarz’s 2012 arrangement for harpsichord, strings, and brass quintet of three movements from George Frideric Handel’s 1739 Concerto Grosso, Op. 6, No. 9. The HSO Brass Quintet – John Charles Thomas and Kenny Piatt, trumpets; Barbara Hill, horn; Brian Diehl, trombone; and Jarrod Briley, tuba – added a spiky modern edge to Handel’s familiar Baroque harmonies and met the work’s technical demands with ebullience. 

The Quintet was then joined by percussionist and sometime HSO player Doug Perry in a rollicking take on Ohio-based composer-educator Daniel McCarthy’s jazzy 1995 “American Dance Music, Concerto for Brass Quintet and Percussion with Orchestra.” 

All five dances in varied American rhythms were performed with virtuosic flair. Diehl’s sinuous trombone solo in “Serenade” and endearing tuba/xylophone duets by a nimble Briley and an agile Perry in “Unsquare Dance” and “Jazz” were especially entertaining. Jazz pianist Earl “Fatha” Hines’s “Rosetta” was a jaunty encore by the Quintet. 

The program closed with a thrilling account of Sir Edward Elgar’s 1899 Variations on an Original Theme, “Enigma,” which put the English master on the musical map. Highlights among the fourteen brilliantly played variations were: a warmly impassioned first, for Elgar’s wife; a whirlwind fourth, for an energetic friend; an intensely moving ninth, titled “Nimrod,” for Elgar’s publisher (often played separately as a memorial piece); an exuberant eleventh, for a neighbor and his bulldog; and the last and longest one, a grandiloquent self-portrait. 

A similar mix of more and less familiar pieces is on tap for the HSO’s next program (October 20-22), which surrounds Florence Price’s first violin concerto with popular works by Brahms and Dvorak and features the HSO’s 23-24 Joyce C. Willis Artist in Residence, violinist Melissa White.

REVIEW: Goodspeed Opera House, "The 12”

Goodspeed Opera House, East Haddam, CT
through October 29, 2023
by Bernadette Johnson

“What’s the buzz? Tell me what’s a-happening” … NOW. Think of the rock musical “The 12” as a sequel to “Jesus Christ, Superstar,” depicting a harrowing time in the lives of the most intimate followers of Christ. The story of Christianity didn’t end on Calvary, and this production is a unique approach to those days of uncertainty and turmoil, sketchily referenced in the Bible, that straddled the crucifixion and the resurrection.

Not intended as bona fide “Gospel truth” in every detail, playwright Robert Schenkkan’s creation takes a modern approach, stating, “Imagine what it would have looked like if it had happened in our day and age” approach to the biblical tale. Ann Hould-Ward’s costumes and director John Doyle’s set design accent the story's ageless relevance without distorting recorded history.

The 11 apostles, challenged by Mags (Adrienne Walker’s Mary Magdalene), cower in an abandoned garage, where barrels and ladders and a few other minor props provide the only staging. Commanding attention, however, is a huge stage-wide beam support that evokes the crucifixion.

Challenged by a script evocative of thought rather than action, Doyle uses tableau, skillfully enhanced by Japhy Weidman’s lighting design, to juxtapose the actors on stage. The technique meets the weight of the story, artistically enriching the depth of each character's internal struggle and their unavoidable dilemma occasioned by the dire circumstances – to flee from the Roman threat or stand firm in their newfound faith.

“The 12” is musically dynamic, delivered artfully at Goodspeed, upholding its well-earned reputation for New York-quality theater in a quiet Connecticut town. Rema Webb's delivery of the song “Rain” as the grief-shattered Mother Mary is a mid-show crescendo, in itself worth the trip.

Whether one’s cultural lens is Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Atheist or other is immaterial. “The 12” reaches beyond the Christian Bible to the crux of our shared human existence. At this apex are all the emotions that 11 of Jesus' apostles and Mary Magdalene, claiming the vacancy created by the traitorous Judas, thus rounding out “The 12,” portray on stage – fear, anger, grief, uncertainty, and utter isolation.

Through music and imagination, “The 12” brings its audience to realize that it's not what we feel but the choices we make toward love, compassion and care for others that finally deliver our greatest strength. Resilience.  

September 24, 2023

REVIEW: Shakespeare and Company, "Lunar Eclipse"

Shakespeare and Company, Lenox, MA.
through October 22, 2023
by Beverly Dane
Photo by Maggie Hall
In this 90-minute one-act play, two actors with enormous depth and honesty talk of the
relationship of George and Em, a long-married couple, somewhere in the mid-west on a summer night. A lunar eclipse is happening that night, and as the moon goes through various stages, so do the characters as they reflect on their losses, their hopes, and their lives together.
This is a world premiere of Donald Margulies’ most recent play, and Reed Birney as George, affects a perfect mid-western accent. His wife, Em, played by Karen Allen, is equally up to the challenge of keeping the dialogue crisp as the two reflect on their lives together and their two adopted children. The daughter is successful but lives far away.  The son, recently deceased by his own actions. The play goes back and forth from focusing on family to focusing on American culture from the eyes of these hard-working farmers. Themes of optimism and despair reflect contemporary America, but in Margulies’ clever dialog, the story evolves toward a wonderfully executed emotional state. 
Director James Warwick has staged the piece simply, to underscore the simplicity of their lives, and a voice-over tells us that the moon, like the characters, are entering a different phase of the eclipse. In a coda, we see these actors at another stage of their life, and suddenly, the shocks, the disappointments, and the joys, all become clearer.
Loss and mortality are themes that are presented in simple language, but the words are beautiful, as is the lighting by James McNamara. The simplicity of the costumes by Christina Beam help give us a sense of the economic status of these characters, and they become surrogates for ourselves as we share their disappointments and their grief.   George still can’t grieve for his son, though he’s surrounded by the graves of the dogs he loved throughout his life. Em never really got used to the farm life, having come from the city, but somehow, the juxtaposition of the themes and the actors’ honesty touches the audience deeply, and profoundly.
This is a beautiful story, convincingly executed by two phenomenal actors and a team of creative people who understand how deeply stories like these reach out and make us feel compassion. It may be one of Shakespeare and Company’s finest works this summer.

September 17, 2023

REVIEW: Majestic Theater, “Bright Star”

Majestic Theater, West Springfield, MA
through October 15, 2023
by R.E Smith
Casual observers wouldn’t think that the most wild and crazy comedian of the 1980’s and a
successful pop-chart act from that same time would come together and craft a sincerely old-fashion, nostalgic and affirming musical like “Bright Star”. But that’s what Steve Martin (music, book, story) and Edie Brickell (music lyrics, story) have done. Look deeper into their resumes though and one sees that he is an accomplished, award-winning banjo player and she has always worked in the folk genre.

So, with their common love of bluegrass music as the foundation, at its heart, “Bright Star” is a folk tale, brimming with good vs evil and Appalachian archetypes. It is also simultaneously a throwback to 1940’s musicals and movies, complete with an ahead of her time protagonist, snappy dialogue, an optimistic young soldier, and spunky comedic support.
There are two main protagonists with separate stories, and some fun comes from puzzling out how the disparate narratives will connect. Chelsie Nectow, as Alice Murphy plays the same character at two different ages, jumping back and forth in time. Sometimes steely modern magazine editor, other times clever, rebellious teenager, Nectow excels at both portrayals. Her powerful voice is especially well suited to the more traditional Broadway sounding “Way Back in the Day” and “At Long Last”. Michael Devito nicely embodies the big-dreaming Billy Cane, bright eyed and ready to take on the world. As often befits such an optimistic young man, he has a supportive admirers in good hometown girl, Margo (the delightful Emery Henderson) and worldly big-city gal Lucy (audience favorite Megan Mistretta).
The band, under the lively guidance of music director Elisabeth Weber, is vital to the proceedings, not quite fully visible on stage, but enough to reinforce the idea that the music is as much a character as any other performer on stage. Set designer Josiah Durham has crafted a versatile, intimate space that makes the audience feel comfortable and welcome upon entering the theater.
There is a surprising undercurrent of melancholy running through the proceedings that makes itself apparent from the first two songs, “If You Knew My Story” and “She’s Gone”. But those make the optimistic tone of the title tune that much more welcome. The book is not without some flaws, including a somewhat rushed conclusion, but by that time the audience is too heavily invested in the characters to pay much mind.
“Bright Star” had a fairly short run on Broadway, probably because it was too heartfelt and original for the big city crowd who is always searching for the next spectacle of a falling chandelier or a familiar story adapted from a Gen-X rom-com. But Producing Director Danny Eaton knows, especially these days, that his audience wants to be reassured (while their toes are tapping) that “The Sun is Going to Shine Again”.