Monday, October 20, 2014

Review of "Aida" - Fiddlehead Theatre Company Embraces A Nubian Notion





Ta’Nika Gibson as “Aida” (left), 
Christiana Rodi as “Amneris” 
and Gene Dante as “Radames” 
in Fiddlehead Theatre’s 
AIDA
Photo by Matt McKee
Courtesy of
Fiddlehead Theatre



I am about to share with you my review of Fiddlehead Theatre Company's production of "Aida," which is playing at the historic Strand Theatre in Dorchester's Upham's Corner neighborhood.  But before I discuss "Aida," allow me to take you with me on a brief stroll along the Emerald Necklace. Most residents of Boston ara familiar with the visionary plan by Frederick Law Olmsted to carve out green space extending from Boston Common out through the Esplanade, Fenway, Jamaicaway and Riverway.  I submit that a parallel Theatrical Emerald Necklace also exists, with theater companies of professional quality producing plays not only in the expected places like the formal Theater District and Harvard Square, but in pockets of artistic beauty that radiate from the center of town and include theater companies in the South End, Back Bay, Roxbury, Davis Square, Central Square, Charlestown, Chelsea, Stoneham, Watertown, Waltham, Needham, Somerville, Norwell and beyond.  One gem in that theatrical necklace is the Fiddlehead Theatre Company that is in residence in Dorchester at the wonderfully refurbished Strand Theatre.  We are all richer when the stream of artistic creativity flows into dis-tributaries in our residential and commercial neighborhoods.

The story of the star-crossed love between Nubian Princess, Aida, and her Egyptian captor, Radames, was first set to music by Giuseppe Verdi.  Since its premiere performance in Cairo in 1871, it has been a staple of the operatic stage.  Elton John and Tim Rice collaborated on a pop music version of the story that opened on Broadway in 2000 and played for over 1,800 performances.  The book is a bit thinner than the libretto that Verdi employed, so that the show feels like a cross between a musical review with dancing and a modicum of acting and an Elton John concert.  Each of the songs has Elton John's characteristic musical fingerprints, and when sung by Gene Dante as Radames, feels and sounds as if Elton John himself had slipped into the Strand incognito.

The Fiddlehead Theatre Company's production is lush and pleasing.  Beginning with the wonderful set designed by Anthony Phelps and enhanced by the lighting by Winston G. Limauge, as well as the vibrant costumes of Stacey Stephens, the audience sitting in the Strand is made to feel that we have been transported from Dorchester to the Delta of the Nile.  Co-Directors Meg Fofonoff and James Tallach clearly were looking for powerful voices and agile dancers when they assembled this strong cast.  The visual effects and rich vocal sounds are stunningly beautiful.  Choreographer Kira Cowan and Music Director Balint Varga have given the cast strong foundations upon which to build their dancing and singing as they tell this heart-breaking story of forbidden love.

While the entire production is a delight, the real highlights come when the individual cast members and the ensemble are allowed to cut loose vocally and balleticly.  The rousing "The Gods Love Nubia" felt like we had been invited to an old-fashioned Gospel revival.  Some of the individual cast members who stood out are:

Christiana Rodi plays the spurned Princess Amneris, heir to the throne of Egypt and running out of patience after waiting 9 years for Radames to put a ring on it!  She portrays this royal Kadashian as sometimes saucy, sometimes spiteful and sometimes sultry.  Her powerful voice shines in "Every Story Is A Love Story" and the trio "A Step Too Far."

That trio also features the blended voices of Mr. Dante as Radames and Ta'nika Gibson as Aida.  It is one of the highlights of this production.  Another highlight is the familiar "Written In The Stars," a song recorded by Elton John and LeAnn Rimes.  The rendition of the song sung by Mr. Dante and Ms. Gibson filled the auditorium to the rafters and sent chills down my spine.  Ms. Gibson shows the full range of her powerful solo voice "The Past Is Another Land" and "Easy As Life."

Terrell Foster-James as Nubian slave Mereb had his moments to let loose with his powerful presence and vocal prowess in "How I Know You" and "Not Me."

Another strong voice is that of Mathew Eamon Ryan as Radames' father, Zoser.  His voice pairs nicely with that of Mr. Dante and the Ministers in "Like Father Like Son."

Saturday evening's audience shared my delight with this show.  So, my advice is to go on line to secure your tickets for one of the final three performances taking place this coming Friday and Saturday at 8:00 and Sunday at 2:00.


Ta’Nika Gibson as “Aida” (left),
Christiana Rodi as “Amneris”
and Gene 
Dante as “Radames”
in Fiddlehead Theatre’s
AIDA
Photo by Matt McKee
Courtesy of
Fiddlehead Theatre
Enjoy!

Al


Fiddlehead Theatre Website

Ta’Nika Gibson (AIDA) A native of Springfield, MA, Ta’Nika Gibson is a highly versatile young artist. A student of classical voice and opera for the last four and a half years at NYU and at Eastman School of Music, Ta’Nika has recently decided to pursue a career in musical theater, her first love. In 2011, Ta’Nika performed at the Metropolitan Opera Guild in the world premier of the opera, 2Wice Upon a Birthday. In 2013, Ta’Nika was a regional finalist for the National Classical Singer Competition. This summer Ta’Nika is excited to perform in Better with a Band with the Hunterdon Hills Playhouse in Hampton, NJ.  www.tanikagibson.com
Gene Dante (RADAMES) Gene Dante recently appeared as Dionysus in The Bacchae at American Repertory Theater’s Oberon Nightclub.  Previously at A.R.T. Gene appeared in both The Lily’s Revenge andThe Rocky Horror Show (Brad Majors, Elliot Norton Award nomination).  He also was the title role in the recent critically acclaimed New England Tour of Hedwig and the Angry Inch. Previous roles include Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson (Andrew Jackson), The Fantasticks (El Gallo), and Disney’sBeauty and the Beast (The Beast).  Gene writes and performs original music with his band The Future Starlets. He is very stalkable. www.genedante.com
Christiana Rodi (AMNERIS) Residing in RI, Christiana has had the opportunity to travel the world performing with Cirque Dreams as their lead female vocalist, as well as in regional theaters around the country such as Goodspeed Musicals and Ocean State Theatre Company. She has played the role of Amneris once before and is so excited to now join Fiddlehead’s production of Aida! Christiana graduated from the Hartt School with a BFA in Musical Theatre-2011, and is a proud member of Actor’s Equity.www.christianarodi.com
Matthew Eamon Ryan (ZOSER) A proud New England native, Matthew is excited to make his Fiddlehead  Theatre debut! Some favorite roles include The Bishop of Digne in Les Miserables, Nicely Nicely in Guys&Dolls, Father in Children Of Eden, Judas in Jesus Christ Superstar, and Enoch Snow in CarouselMatthew has written two full length musicals including Benches-A Musical. Thanks to all the angels who keep me smiling! www.mattheweamonryan.com
Terrell Foster-James (MEREB) is a recent graduate of Berklee College of Music and is super-excited to be a part of Aida, his debut show with Fiddlehead Theatre Company! Some of his most memorable shows/roles include The Color Purple(Ensemble/Mister u/s), Rent (Tom Collins), Hair (Ensemble), andFootloose (Chuck Cranston) to name a few. Terrell will be applying this fall to obtain his Master’s Degree in Theatre Education, hopefully at NYU! He hope that you all enjoy the show, and feel free to say hi if you can; he’s very friendly!
Janett “Becky” Bass (NEHEBKA) from St. Croix in the US Virgin Islands, is delighted to perform for the first time with Fiddlehead Theatre Company. Tour: Yermedea (dir: Kym Moore). Favorite credits: Ophelia’s Cotillion (Gertrude), A Lady and A Woman (Miss Flora Devine), The Bluest Eye (Claudia). A 2013 graduate of Brown University in Theatre Arts & Performance Studies, Becky received Brown’s Weston Award for Excellence in Musical Theatre. She now performs with Lion Eye Music and Mystic Jammers as an award-winning, New England vocalist and steel pan artist. More at www.beckybass.com. She thanks her family and friends for their continued love and support.
Dallyn Vail Bayles (PHARAOH) Broadway Tours: Phantom of the Opera (Phantom/Raoul u/s), Les Misérables (Enjolras, 3rd National) (Feuilly, China premiere w/ Colm Wilkinson). NYC: Children of Eden (Adam, industry reading w/ Stephen Schwartz). Regional: Weaver of Raveloe (Godfrey Cass, A.R.T.’s Oberon Stage – world premiere), Ragtime (Father), South Pacific (Emile), Secret Garden (Archibald), Phantom (Chandon). Boston Conservatory: Assassins (Booth), Oklahoma (Jud). Concerts: Music from Stage and Screen (featured soloist, with Utah Symphony and Mormon Tabernacle Choir – upcoming), Golden Days (soloist, w/ Rebecca Luker and MTC), Music and the Spoken Word (guest soloist, national broadcast w/ MTC). Three solo albums. MFA in Musical Theatre candidate at Boston Conservatory. BFA in Music Dance Theatre from BYU. Actors’ Equity member. www.dallynvailbayles.com
David J. Curtis (AMONASRO) Stage credits include A Soldier’s Play, To Hell with this Village, Brokeology, The Last Days of Judas Iscariot, Ascension, Mama, I Want to Sing, A Streetcar Named Desire, 12 Angry Jurors, and The Crucible. David’s film and television credits include principal roles in Bad Brain Cells, Gloveless, R.I.P.D., 4 Cambridge Center, Stories for Dinner, The Maiden Heist, Under The Hood, Edge of Darkness, How to Make it in America, Clear History, and The Makeover. He has also been featured in many regional and national television commercials, voiceovers and industrial/educational videos. In addition to acting, David is also an accomplished percussionist/drummer, producer, engineer and composer. Mr. Curtis is also a proud member of the SAG/AFTRA union. For the future, David sees himself writing and directing a few screenplays because of his love of storytelling. www.davidjcurtis.com
Gabriela Carrillo (ENSEMBLE) is thrilled to be a part of the ensemble in AIDA. She has always been fascinated by African history and wished she could’ve lived in Ancient Egypt, so this is a dream come true! She’s a Chicago native and a sixth-semester at Berklee College of Music in Boston with a major in Professional Music. She focuses her studies on performance, songwriting and music business. Gabriela and has been involved in theater since the age of 8. She truly grew up in the theater, beginning in roles such as: Mary in “The Secret Garden,” Tina in “Ruthless,” Annie in “Annie” and later moving to adult roles like Maria in “West Side Story,” Nelly Forbush in “South Pacific,” and Sheila in “Hair.”
Jocelyn Duford (ENSEMBLE) is delighted to be making her debut with Fiddlehead!  Recent credits include Hermia (A Midsummer Night’s Dream), Kate Monster (Avenue Q), and Candy (Zombie Prom). She is also a featured vocalist in the ongoing concert series Something Wonderful I Missed with Not Your Mom’s Musical Theater. She has a B.A. in Theater from Dartmouth College with a concentration in Acting and Sound Design. During the day, she works as a Mad Scientist in New Hampshire, leading science enrichment programs, special events, and birthday parties for elementary age kids.
Christina Jimenez (ENSEMBLE) is excited to debut with Fiddlehead Theatre Company as well as be a part of the wonderful cast of Aida! She has earned her BM in Church Music at Furman University and her MFA in Theatre at The Boston Conservatory. Some of her favorite roles include Winifred in Once Upon a Mattress, Jeanine in the Boston premiere of Shelter: A New Musical, and her autobiographical cabaret From Sea to Shining Sea. She would like to thank her friends, family, and God for their support and guidance.
Ryoko Seta (ENSEMBLE) is a native of Yokohama, Japan and an accomplished singer, actor, and dancer. She is a graduate of Berklee College of Music with a bachelor’s degree in music business and management.


Danielle Wrenn (ENSEMBLE) is overjoyed to be joining this incredible production of Aida. Dani is originally from Alexandria, Louisiana and is currently living in Boston and pursuing a B.F.A. in Musical Theatre from The Boston Conservatory. Many thanks to the entire cast, crew, and creative team for this amazing experience. Thanks always to my loving parents and entire family who have always supported me and without whom I would not be able to do what I love.
Dwaine Devonish-Daye (ENSEMBLE) Making his third appearance in a Fiddlehead production, he’s thrilled to be back for another season. Other credits include CJ Memphis in A Soldiers Play (Roxbury Repertory Theater), for which the ensemble won a local IRNE for best performance; Tom Collins in Rent (Lexington Players); Scarecrow (Lexington Players); and Booker T. Washington in Ragtime (Marblehead Little Theater).
Brian Cedric Jones (ENSEMBLE) is an international touring artist originally from Texas and happy to call New York home. He has studied, taught, and performed all over the world with American Voices including the Beijing School of Dance, Cairo and Beirut’s American Universities, and Chulalongkorn University of Bangkok, Thailand. Regionally, Brian has danced with Buglisi, H.T.Chen, Novomisle, & Clare Cook Dance companies and is a company member of the NY based international companies CircuitDebris,  and Blue Muse Dance. He is excited to join the cast of Aida and perform for the first time in Boston.
Jay Kelley (ENSEMBLE)  Music lover/Appreciator/Enthusiast is 6’2 (species unknown). Kelley has had the opportunity to play lead roles in groundbreaking musicals such as Hair (Hud),Hairspray (Seeweed J. Stubbs), and Godspell (Jesus).
“Doing Aida with such a great theater company will be an exhilarating and profound experience….I’m excited…Aren’t you?”
Andrew Norlen (ENSEMBLE) is thrilled to make his Fiddlehead debut with this beautiful cast! Originally from Portland, Oregon- he is here studying Musical Theatre in his junior year at The Boston Conservatory, working to gain his BFA. Many thanks to Meg, James, Kira, Balint & Elizabeth for this opportunity! Also to James, Michelle and his BOCO family! Professional website:www.andrewnorlen.com. All my love to Mom, Dad & K and everyone in Oregon for supporting this crazy journey. Thanks be always to God: Deuteronomy 31:6. For me this is a way of life; it’s what I do! “Your gift is not a gift until you give it away.”
Eric Rehm (ENSEMBLE) is happy to be a part of his first Fiddlehead production.  Eric has a B.A. in both Theater and English from Umass Amherst and works as an arts and activities teacher at a middle school extended day program.  Since moving to Boston Eric has been a part of ImprovBostons GoreFest and T: The Musical, in addition to acting with Flatearth and F.U.D.G.E. theater companies.  Favorite past roles include Bobby Strong (Urinetown), the Emcee (Cabaret), Che (Evita), The Wolf/CInderella Prince (Into the Woods), Frederick (Pirates of Penzance) and Stine (City of Angels).  When Eric is not acting he is singing with his Band “The One & Onlys” who you can see at various bars and venues around town. 
Meg Fofonoff (Co-Director/Producing Artistic Director)
James Tallach (Co-Director)
Matthew Romero (Assistant Producer)
Balint Varga (Resident Music Director)
Kira Cowan (Choreographer)
Anthony J. Phelps (Resident Scenic Designer)
Winston G. Limauge (Resident Lighting Designer)
Mark DeLuzio (Sound Designer)
Stacey Stephens (Costume Designer)
Elizabeth Soh (Stage Manager)
Taylor Vaughn (Assistant Stage Manager)
Sarah Karten (Wardrobe Supervisor)
Moira Shea (Sound Board Operator)
Megan Kinneen (Properties Master)
Desire Reggiannini (Hair and Makeup)
Julie Silva (Hair and Makeup)

Lyric Stage Company of Boston Presents "Dear Elizabeth" by Sarah Ruhl - A Letter Perfect Production




A friend of mine was in town for the weekend, primarily for the Head of the Charles Regatta.  This friend is a West Point graduate, veteran of the Iraqi Freedom campaign, and recipient of the Bronze Star. He is also a leader in the fight to help fellow veterans in dealing with issues of PTSD.  On Friday, my friend asked me, "What are you doing on Sunday afternoon?"  I responded, "I am reviewing a play called 'Dear Elizabeth'. Want to join me?" I was not sure how he would respond.  "I have not been to a play in a long while; let's do it."  So, off we went to Clarendon Street for the Press Opening of Sarah Ruhl's play about the friendship and correspondence between Pulitzer Prize winning poets Robert Lowell and Elizabeth Bishop.

At the end of the play, my friend was unashamedly wiping tears from his eyes.  I asked him, "What are you feeling?"  His reply was immediate. "I just experienced two of the most significant hours in my life.  I will need some time to process what I just saw and experienced."

What was it that moved my battle-hardened friend?  Simply stated, it was the overwhelming and irresistible power of art to cut to the heart of the human condition.  In her play entitled "Dear Elizabeth - A Play In Letters From Elizabeth Bishop To Robert Lowell And Back Again," local playwright Sarah Ruhl has extracted from the more than 400 letters shared between these two poets the nectar of their troubled and complex relationship.  The author has woven together excerpts from the letters interspersed with fragments of poems written by both Bishop and Lowell to create a dramatic narrative that highlights many of the nuances and complexities of a loving friendship between two deeply flawed human beings.  This play is no static reading of dead letters, but a living and breathing dramatizing of two lives - sometimes colliding and often just missing one another.  The two poets shared a deep respect, friendship and love for one another that could perhaps have resulted in marriage if they had succeeded in learning one another's emotional forwarding addresses.

This production of the play is helped enormously by the brilliantly versatile set designed by Shelley Barish, the lighting by Karen Perlow, the costumes of Emily Woods Hogue, the sound by Andrew Duncan Will and the artful direction by A. Nora Long.  The production also includes some wonderfully inventive projections that allow the audience to travel with Lowell and Bishop to some of their favorite places.

Ed Hoopman as Robert Lowell
Laura Latreille as Elizabeth Bishop
Lyric Stage Company
of Boston
""Dear Elizabeth"
by
Sarah Ruhl
Ms. Long's steady hand in blocking the movements of the two actors upon the stage highlights the extremes of their occasional emotional intimacy and their frequent distance from one another - sometimes continents apart.  Ed Hoopman evokes the spirit of Robert Lowell, who in his lifetime battled bipolar disorder and seemed to be a frequent commuter between the campuses of BU and Maclean Hospital.  Laura Latreille channels the spirit of Elizabeth Bishop whose own grappling with alcohol led to frequent bouts of melancholy, loneliness and writer's block.  The relationship between Lowell and Bishop, and their correspondence serves as a screen onto which are projected characters who do not appear on stage yet who play a significant roles in the two poet's lives - two of Lowell's three wives, Bishop's longtime Brazilian companion are chief among these ghostly characters.  Mr. Hoopman and Ms. Lateille are each letter perfect in using the text of the letters and poems of their respective characters as launching pads from which spring surprising flights of emotion and thoughtful reflection.

Ed Hoopman as Robert Lowell
Laura Latreille as Elizabeth Bishop
Lyric Stage Company 
of Boston
""Dear Elizabeth"
by
Sarah Ruhl
This is a play that deserves to be seen and shared.  I cannot guarantee that you will be as deeply moved as were my friend and I, but I can guarantee that if you find your way to the Lyric Stage Company of Boston between now and the final performance on November 9, you will not be disappointed.

Lyric Stage Website

Enjoy!

Al