Friday, June 24, 2016

Fiddlehead Theatre Company Sails Into Its New Home At The Shubert Theatre Aboard "Show Boat" - The Maiden Voyage Is A Success



Fiddlehead Theatre Company and Citi Shubert Theatre embarked on a new phase of their partnership as the current Fiddlehead production of "Show Boat" marks their first show to call the Shubert Theatre home.  Based on the enthusiastic response from last night's audience, it is going to be smooth sailing for this theatre company in their new home in the Theater District.

Co-Directors Meg Fofonoff and Stacey Stephens have chosen to present this classic musical as a sumptuous visual spectacle and an aural delight, with a 28-piece orchestra, led by Music Director Charles Peltz, that shows off the Jerome Kern music in a marvelous way.  The perfect blend of the orchestra with the expressive voices of the ensemble represents one of the delights of this production. The impressive Scenic Design of Paul Tate dePoo III gives us the feel of being aboard the river boat Cotton Blossom that plied the waters of the Mississippi offering entertainment to the riverfront towns of Kentucky, Illinois and Missouri - and beyond.

River Boat "Cotton Blossom"
"Show Boat"

Fiddlehead Theatre Company
Citi Shubert Theatre
Through July 3rd
Photo by Eric Antoniou
Gorgeous costumes by Stacey Stephens define the era in which each scene takes place, covering the period from 1887 to 1927. The feel of being on the river is enhanced by the Lighting Design of Zach Blane, Sound Design of Brian McCoy and Projection Design of Kevan Loney. Choreography by Wendy Hall also serves to anchor the dances in the periods covered during the arc of the story, culminating in a Chicago Roaring 20s Flapper era Charleston.

Based on a novel by Edna Ferber, the story tackles themes of racism and enduring love.  Kern's memorable music is matched by the lyrics and book by Oscar Hammerstein II.  The show contains many familiar melodies, including the timeless "Ol' Man River."

The telling of the story is artfully done in this production.  The opening scene features a bare stage that contains only an old steamer trunk. Kim, an old woman played marvelously by Kathy St. George, reaches into the trunk and pulls out a well worn scrapbook. She begins to leaf through the pages of the book as the orchestra plays the Overture.  At the same time, characters in the story that is about to unfold make brief cameo appearances around Kim. We are seeing, in essence, a Visual Overture to match the one emanating from the spacious orchestra pit of the Shubert. Kim then retires to a corner - downstage right - and remains there throughout the rest of the show.  As she absorbs the pictures and clippings in the scrapbook, we see her react with a host of emotions to the memories that are being evoked, while the actions that spark these emotions are being played out in the center of the stage.  In a sense, we are experiencing the 40-year story arc as seen through Kim's eyes.  Ms. St. George functions as a gifted silent film actress, conveying a broad spectrum of emotions with a Norma Desmond-like "just one look"! It is a brilliant concept flawlessly executed. In a sense, Kim serves as one bank that contains the river of actions that flow during the two acts of this musical.

Kathy St. George as Kim with her scrapbook
"Show Boat"
Fiddlehead Theatre Company
Citi Shubert Theatre
Through July 3rd
Photo by Eric Antoniou
The opposite bank of that river is the constant presence of Joe, the burly stevedore, played wonderfully by the amazing Brian Kinnard.  At several key junctures during the play, he steps forward to offer a version of "Ol' Man River," each time reminding the characters and the audience that the river of time flows relentlessly forward. "He jus' keep rollin' along"!

Brian Kinnard as Joe
"Show Boat"
Fiddlehead Theatre Company
Citi Shubert Theatre
Through July 3rd
Photo by Eric Antoniou

The narrative of "Show Boat" is centered on Magnolia Hawks (Kim Corbett) - her family of origin, her marriage, her career, and her daughter Kim. She was raised as the daughter of Cap'n Andy (John Davin), owner of the Cotton Blossom, and his harridan of a wife, Pathy Ann Hawks (Dawn Tucker). Magnolia fell in love with and married river boat gambler Gaylord Ravenal (Jeremiah James), with whom she had her beloved daughter, Kim (Addie Swan as Kim in 1899 and Megan Yates as Kim in 1927).

In a fashion that is appropriate to the period in which the show is set, much of the acting is melodramatic, as is the plot.  This show has endured because the story touches raw emotional nerves, primarily through the memorable Kern and Hammerstein songs.
  • Among the highlights is the aforementioned "Ol' Man River," with Mr. Kinnard's basso profundo voice occasionally being augmented by the chorus. 
  • Magnolia and Ravenal sing the familiar duet "Only Make Believe," in a way that highlights the spectacular vocal talents of Ms. Corbett and Mr. James. 
  • "Can't Help Lovin' Dat Man" appears at several points in the show, each time with a different meaning and context. The first occasion features Julie (Sarah Hanlon), about to be exposed as a woman of mixed race.  She and Queenie (Lindsay Roberts) and Magnolia combine their voices and their life stories in a wonderfully soulful version of this haunting tune.
Kim Corbett as Magnolia
Lindsay Roberts as Queenie
Sarah Hanlon as Julie
"Show Boat"
Fiddlehead Theatre Company
Citi Shubert Theatre
Through July 3rd
Photo by Eric Antoniou
  • Among the performers on the Cotton Blossom are the comedic duo of Ellie (Lindsay Sutton) and Frank (Carl-Michael Ogle).  Ms. Sutton gets to shine in the sardonic "Life Upon The Wicked Stage," and the pair strut their stuff wonderfully in "Goodbye My Lady Love."
  • Mr. James and Ms. Corbett show off their vocal ranges and dramatic ranges in the love duets "You Are Love" and "Why Do I Love You."
The gifted ensemble of singers and dancers, too numerous to point out individually, are worthy of another mention.  Their vocal blend is stunning, as is the artistry and athleticism of their dancing and occasion acrobatics.

"Show Boat"
Fiddlehead Theatre Company
Citi Shubert Theatre
Through July 3rd
Photo by Eric Antoniou
"Show Boat" is not often presented as a fully staged production.  This is a rare opportunity to enjoy one of the enduring jewels in musical theater history. I encourage you to climb aboard.  The river is flowing, so get your tickets now and don't get left standing at the dock.

Jeremiah James as Gaylord Ravenal
Kim Corbett as Magnolia
"Show Boat"
Fiddlehead Theatre Company
Citi Shubert Theatre
Through July 3rd
Photo by Eric Antoniou
Fiddlehead Theatre Website

Enjoy!

Al


Thursday, June 23, 2016

Huntington Theatre Company Presents Craig Lucas' Ambitious New Play "I Was Most Alive With You" - Through June 26th


This is the theater season of inclusion.  We saw it in spades at the Tony Awards - the top four awards for acting in a musical went to actors of color. During the Tony broadcast, we saw a performance by the cast of "Spring Awakening" featuring actors communicating in ASL, as well as an actor singing from her wheelchair. In keeping with that spirit, the Huntington Theatre Company has mounted an ambitious production of Craig Lucas' new play "I Was Most Alive With You." Mr. Lucas also directs this production of his play.

The dilemma of a gay and deaf young man struggling to come to grips with life's many levels of challenge is certainly a topic worthy of our consideration. I applaud the deaf actor, Russell Harvard, for his heart felt portrayal of Knox. I applaud the playwright for being willing to tackle such a complex and timely series of topics.  And I applaud the Huntington for including this play in its current season.

Despite the many praiseworthy aspects of this play, I found this production a bit overly ambitious. There were simply too many story lines and social issues thrown at me for me to care about all of them. There is bullying, gay identity struggles, suicide, alcoholism, drug addiction, abuse, intergenerational friction, the complexities of sub-genres of the deaf community, religious differences, and family skeletons being exposed. Underlying much of the interaction was the lingering debate within the deaf community regarding lip reading, cochlear implants and ASL as communication tools. To further complicate matters, parts were played simultaneously by speaking actors and shadow actors communicating in ASL.  It slowed down the rhythm of the dialogue to the point where much of the spoken interaction felt stilted. I have no problem with the concept of deaf actors and speaking actors sharing the stage.  It worked beautifully in "Spring Awakening" and in "Tribes." It works less well in this production.

Despite my quibbles as noted above, this is an important play, featuring a hard working and talented cast and creative team.  In addition to the impressive Mr. Harvard, the cast includes:
  • Marianna Bassham as Astrid
  • Steven Goldstein as Ash
  • Dee Nelson as the inaptly named Pleasant
  • Tad Cooley as Farhad
  • Nancy E. Carroll as Carla
  • Gameela Wright as Mariama
The Shadow ASL Interpreters are:
  • Joey Caverly as Ash
  • Amelia Hensley as Pleasant and Mariama
  • Monique Holt as Astrid and Carla
  • Christopher Robinson as Farhad and Knox
Cast
"I Was Most Alive With You"
by Craig Lucas
Huntington Theatre Company
Calderwood Pavilion at the BCA
Through June 26th

As is always the case with any Huntington production, the scenic design by Dane Laffrey is beautiful and effective, allowing the space to be used to host a huge Thanksgiving dinner at the grandmother's home, as well as more intimate gatherings. The set includes a bathroom with a working bath tub.  Lighting by Mark Barton often served to signal the mood of a particular moment in the action of the play, as did the original music and sound design by Daniel Kluger.

The play runs through this weekend, June 26th at the Calderwood Pavilion at Boston Center for the Arts.

Huntington Theatre Website

Enjoy!

Al