Friday, May 30, 2014

Cirque de Soleil's "Amaluna" Opens In Boston - Diane Paulus Runs Away With The Circus

Among the storied islands of Boston Harbor, a new and mysterious island has appeared on our shore by the name of "Amaluna" - the latest spectacular show mounted by Cirque de Soleil.  The Montreal-based circus company is celebrating its 30th anniversary.  To help to make the celebration a memorable one, they called upon our own Diane Paulus, Artistic Director of Harvard's American Repertory Theater, to create a new show.

This Cirque production is quite different from other shows I have seen, but it is in no way less entertaining or satisfying.  Last night's audience at the Boston Premiere were enraptured, enchanted and enthused.  This show has Ms. Paulus' fingerprints all over it.  She was recently named by Time Magazine among the 100 most influence persons in the world.  Her strong and original influence on the world of theater has been broadly noted; she now exerts that same strong and nuanced influence on the world of circus, and we are all richer as a result of her innovations.

There are two dynamics that stand out about this show and distinguish it from all of its predecessors in the Cirque de Soleil treasure chest of circus shows.  First, there is a much stronger narrative thread than normal, tying together the various acrobatic acts into a flowing story that is a "Coming of Age" tale for Miranda, daughter of the goddess figure, Prospera.  Secondly,  this is a show that tells a story about the power of women to control their own destinies.  Based loosely on Shakespeare's "The Tempest," the narrative of "Amaluna" also draws from mythology, "Romeo and Juliet," and several other sources.  Reversing the normal demographic of a typical Cirque de Soleil cast, 70% of the performers in this show are female, including a stunningly effect all female band led by Julie McInnes, who plays violincello and sax and also portrays Miranda's mother, Prospera.

The usual astonishing feats of athleticism and grace are on display throughout this show, all serving to contribute in some way to highlight the saga of Miranda coming of age and overcoming obstacles to unite with the Romeo figure.  Played by Ukrainian acrobat, Iuliia Mykhailova, Miranda performs  a not-to-be-believed act on and inside of a huge water bowl.  The contortions through which she puts her body are beyond description, and must be seen to be believed.

Water Bowl
Iuliia Mykhailova

I would like to concentrate my thoughts about this show on two acts that to me encapsulate everything that is wondrous about "Amaluna."  In an act entitled "Balance Goddess," the remarkably graceful and gracious Lili Chao performs a feat of construction and balance unlike anything I have ever seen before.  She begins in the center of a stage strewn with a pile of palm ribs of various sizes.  Beginning with the smallest, she constructs a precariously balanced mobile one piece at a time. What she builds looks like a rib cage.  As her creation grows, it seems to float and to hover, almost longing to take flight.  Upstage observing this act of creation is Miranda sitting in rapt attention at what is unfolding at her feet. Lilli Chao is miked, so we are able to hear her gentle breathing during this sequence in which each audience member is holding her breath, wondering how long this fragile construction can hold together.  Finally, the Goddess completes the construction, which now balances on the largest rib that has been established vertically as a pivot point and anchor point for the huge mobile that seems to live.  She then removes the smallest piece of the skeleton, upsetting the delicate balance, and the whole thing gently collapses in a pile, devolving from order back into the primordial chaos from which is had been pulled.

My brain is wired to find metaphor, so here is what I took away from this deeply moving and impressive display.  I saw the act in part as a re-ordering and re-telling of the traditional biblical creation account, this time with a Goddess using what looked lie a rib to create a new living being, which seemed to float and to breathe.  That being could represent mankind, it could represent our fragile ecosystem and cosmos and it could represent the abstract concept of love.  In each case, the secret for keeping every component together as a functional whole - a person, an ecosystem or a love relationship - is a delicate dance involving balance among the component parts and just the right amount of friction.  The Goddess was tacitly saying to Miranda: "Watch carefully.  This is how you must build your life, your world, your love relationship with Romeo." She was silently preaching to us in the audience, as well.  And we were stunned and smitten by the subtlety and grace of her act of creation.  This is not the usual stuff of which a Cirque de Soleil acts is constructed, and that made it all the more poignant.

Lili Chao is The Goddes
CIuliia Mykhailova as Mirandra

Miranda was then abducted by the forces that would seek to keep her from Romeo, and she is taken to a place seemingly inaccessible n the sky.  Romeo, played by Evgeny Kurkin, uses a huge Chinese pole to try to ascend to the heavens and claim his lost lover.  His journey up and down the pole was a stunning display of raw power and determination and reckless risk-taking in the name of love.  One particularly dramatic head-first descent from the top of the pole to a spot just inches above the floor I will have to call his "To Be Or Not To Be" moment - Romeo channeling Hamlet's plunge into existential despair.  Miranda, cloaked and perched in darkness on a remote balcony, observes her suitor's pilgrimage.

The juxtaposition of the feminine delicacy of the Goddess and the pure masculine raw power of Mr. Kurkin's journey up and down the pole showed the "polar" extremes of Ms. Paulus' view of the world she has created on the island of Amaluna.

Evgeny Kurkin as Romeo

The overall visual effect of the show is breathtakingly beautiful.  In her own act of creation, Diane Paulus as Director has been joined by Guy Laliberte and Fernand Rainville as Diretors of Creation, Scott Pask on Set and Props, Meredith Caron as Costume Designer, Bob & Bill as composers of original atmospheric music, Jacques Boucher as Sound Designer, Matthieu Larrivee as Lighting Designer, Karole Armitage as Choreographer, Rob Bolliger as Acrobatic Performance Designer, Debra Brown and Caitlan Maggs as Acrobatic Choreographers, Fred Gerard as Rigging Designer and a whole army of other artists and technicians.

Another act of note involved a team of femal acrobats performing magnificently on Uneven Bars.  A group of male acrobats has washed up on shore at Amaluna after a shipwreck caused by a Prospera-induced tempest,  These sailors attempt to perform the same athletic feats, but are quickly laughed off the stage by the balletic and athletic goddesses.  During Intermission, I had a chance to chat with Diane Paulus and have a brief conversation about Act I.

"What did you think of the Goddesses on the Uneven Bars?"  

"Well, I would say that the Amazons defeated the Boy Band."  

She laughed and said: "You get it!"

neven Bars

If you want an evening of fun - a date, a family outing, a girls' night out - that will both entertain and challenge you - you cannot do better than to head to the ephemeral island of Amaula.  It will remain here in Boston through July 6.  An evening under the iconic Big Top may take you back to your childhood and propel you forward into a more enlightened future.



Amaluna Website

Monday, May 26, 2014

U.S. Army Colonel Everett Spain Shares His Thoughts On Memorial Day

The Boston Marathon's finish-line approach, on April 15th, 2013.  
Everett Spain is near the base of the US flagpole.

I am honored and pleased to be able to share with readers of The White Rhino Report this special Memorial Day message from my good friend, Colonel Everett Spain.

My name is Everett Spain, and I am a Soldier.  Several friends asked me to share these comments, and I agreed to do so as part of our nation's ongoing commitment to remember those who have been given the ultimate sacrifice while defending the cause of freedom for others, including several personal friends.  As I have reflected on this Memorial Day weekend, I have been encouraged to extend the scope of my remembrance to include – not only those who have died in our nation's wars – but also those who have perished, or were wounded in incidents like the Boston Marathon bombings one year ago.  For reasons that I do not understand, God saw it fit to have me placed at the site of the first bomb detonation.  Following are the remarks I offered a few weeks ago at a ceremony at Harvard University, which has lost over 1,350 of its sons and daughters in military uniform since the Revolutionary War, and which has 18 Medal of Honor recipients, many of them posthumously.  I offer these thoughts with humility and the deepest respect, gratitude, and admiration for those who have fallen and whom we remember this Memorial Day.  I am proud such men and women lived.

For context, this recent online article details much of the story: 


Soldiers' Medal Ceremony Comments
Everett S. P. Spain, Colonel, US Army
Friday, April 18th, 2014
U.S. Flagpole, Baker Lawn, Harvard Business School
3:30 PM

About a year ago, as Steve and I approached the finish line, it was overcast, and I was actually a little cold.  Today reminds me of that day. 

General (Bill) Rapp, thank you for those undeservedly kind comments.  Thank you to my true friend Major Carl Oborski those few others who knew what happened and documented and submitted this recognition on my behalf.  Also, thank you to all in attendance for coming, especially those of you who came many miles to join our families. 

I did not intend to speak today, but some dear friends told me I had to.  So please forgive me if the words don't come out right.

First, I'm no hero.  I'm just a work in progress trying to be a decent husband, father, classmate, colleague, citizen, SOLDIER and friend, while often falling short.  No one knows this more than I, except maybe my love Julia.  I'm simply undeserving of special recognition.  But today I stand among heroes.  There are several families of the fallen and survivor families here today.  We marvel at your resilience, your courage.  You inspire us.  We love how you persevere, day after day, and how you aren't letting anything stop you as you heal and take care of others along the way.  You are the true heroes and we all salute you (salute them).  
No, I am no hero- but I am a Soldier.  And I know that every service member who has served, or who will serve in the uniform of our nation, as well as their family members, would have done the same thing I did on that day, or more.   It is just what we do.  Also, numerous others from all walks of life would have done the same, and many did. 
Though I am undeserving of this award, I reluctantly accept it, but only on behalf of the survivor families, the many other first responders, and my own family.  Did you know that every service-member's uniform tells a story?  Mine is no different, so this is now a part of my story.  If you look closely at the colored ribbon of this medal, it has six vertical crimson stripes.  We read in the book of Isaiah: "And with His stripes we are healed."  These six healing crimson stripes represent the courage and dignity of all of the survivor families affected that day, but especially to the six families here today.  You will always be with me and my family wherever we go.  The Campbell Family, Crimson Stripe.  The Brassard Family, Crimson Stripe.  The Valverde-Perez Family, Crimson Stripe.  The Kensky-Downes Family, Crimson Stripe.  The Epstein-Reny Family, Crimson Stripe.  The Sabra Family, Crimson Stripe.   

In addition to the distinguished families sitting in the front, there are countless other individuals here today who place the needs of others before their own needs daily.  They are also Heroes.  Indeed, I stand among heroes this afternoon.  And it inspires me to be in your individual and collective company.

As Steve Sabra (visually impaired runner) and I were running the last 7 miles of the race, my favorite thing was to run close to the guardrails, where there was almost always a big crowd, and I would hold Steve's hand out to the right and he would high five literarily dozens of runners every few seconds.  I would move his hand up and down to connect with the cheering Bostonians as we ran by, and it was good.

Second, I wish I could go back in time and change what happened that day, but I can't.  
So over the past year I have thought a lot about what it means to be a true friend, to love and to be loved, and to be a part of a family.  

I have learned being a true friend means "I will carry your sorrows and joys on my shoulders".  

I have learned true love asks "where do I end and you begin?"  

I have learned that being a part of a family means when one is in need, they will rush to your side, and when the dust settles, they will remain unconditionally.

Yes, let's carry each other's sorrows and joys on our shoulders.  Let's love so we don't know where we end and they begin.   Let's remain steadfast by our friends and family in need.  And we are all in need.

This run happens on Patriots day, which is the anniversary of when our forefathers, a bunch of farmers had the courage to stand up to the occupiers and demand freedom- this happened at the Old North Bridge in Concord, about 15 from here- it is one of  my favorite places in the world.  "By the rude bridge that arched the flood, their flag to April's breeze unfurled, once here the embattled farmers stood, and fired the shot heard round the world."  Can you imagine that courage? 

Third, several people have asked me why I ran towards the smoke.  That is a difficult question to answer.   What I do know is that I have been blessed by the investment others have made into my character develop throughout my lifetime.

The Spain Family ran towards the smoke- as a boy, my parents role modeled how to be an upstander, a person who deliberately stands up for people who are unable to stand up for themselves.

The Boy Scouts ran towards the smoke- they taught me to help others daily

The Church ran towards the smoke - they taught me to be willing to lay down my life for another

West Point ran towards the smoke- they taught me selfless service and Duty

Harvard University ran towards the smoke- they expected me to be a leader who makes a difference in this world

The US Military ran towards the smoke- they taught me to never leave a fallen comrade

The American spirit ran towards the smoke.   I once heard a young man summarize this American spirit when he said, "There are evil people in the world who want to hurt others or take others' freedoms away.  But if they try it, first they are going to have to deal with me".

No, I can say with perfect honestly that it wasn't me who ran towards the smoke.   But the values deliberately imprinted on me by my faith, my family, my friends, my mentors, and many character-building institutions over time, and our American spirit, those values ran towards the smoke that day.

Finally, I'd like to close with a few observations.

Darkness- I am not sure exactly what that is, but I know it is overcome by light.

Fear- I am not sure exactly what that is, but I know it is overcome by hope.

Anger- I am not sure exactly what that is, but I know it is overcome by forgiveness.

Inadequacy- I am not sure exactly what that is, but I know it is overcome by Grace

Hate- I am not sure exactly what that is, but I know it is overcome by Love.

Ben Johnston is a young West Point graduate who now lives in Boston,  and he recently wrote a song we are about to play to honor those affected by last year's events.  He is a veteran of two combat tours leading Soldiers, and was a kidney donor to a stranger in need.  He is one of the many heroes among us I described earlier.  As you listen to the song Ben wrote for all us, and I think the words may be in your programs, I ask you lift the families affected by this incident up in your thoughts and prayers, for their continued strength and healing, and for good to continue to prevail in this world.  Today, as always, I am reminded of what survivor Patrick Downes, who is here today, said this week on behalf of many of the survivors and their families:  "We chose to love, and that has made all the difference".
[the following links to the song:]

Thank you again for coming today, and may God bless you all.

(The views expressed herein are those of the author and do not reflect the position of the United States Military Academy, the Department of the Army, or the Department of Defense.)

The above graphic was drawn by Colonel Ryan Janovic, a dear friend of Everett's who attended the ceremony (and who currently serves in the Department of the Army Staff, Pentagon). 

SpeakEasy Circus Is In Residence at the A.R.T.'s Oberon - Return to the Roaring 20s

SpeakEasy Circus is now in residence on selected Friday nights through August at the A.R.T.'s Oberon at 2 Arrow Street in Harvard Square.  Produced by Boston Circus Guild, SpeakEasy Circus recreates the look and feel of a Roarin' 20s boite, serving up several different flavors of hooch and a variety of acts - from high flying aerialists to low comedy and vaudeville acts.

I was delighted at the diversity and quality of talent on display.  I was not aware that the local Boston circus talent was as accomplished and numerous as appears to be the case based on what I observed last weekend at Oberon. The evening is a pastiche of circus arts on display stitched together with a Mafia Maven from Revere - Perlie Dentemacchia - and her Henchmen, who turn out to be four very accomplished jugglers.

Live music was provided for some of the acts and before and after the show by the Oberon Rhythm Kings, led by Dutch Brewster (Chuck Lechien, Jr.).  Acts presented this past Friday included:
  • An opening dance number by the Oberon Socialites - a.k.a Vadalna Tribal Dance Company
  • Gina DeFreitas, aerialist
  • Benjamin Reynolds - Balancing Glass Balls with aplomb
  • Rocoo Lapaire & Ryan Freeze with remarkable feats of strength and paired balancing and tumbling.  Rocco returned in the second act with some solo feats of strength and balancing using a stationary Chinese pole.
  • Margot Price (Ellen Waylonis) - aerialist
  • Perlie's Henchman juggling in complex combinations of two, three and four persons - a.k.a A Different Spin
  • Marv Hackman, (Dale Stones), Gladys Stickleback (Dewie Decimator) and Edith Topplebottom (Busty Keaton) added some unexpected spice with some classic burlesque 
  • Bella Belle (Lolli Hoops) - burlesque hooping
Benjamin Reynolds
Photo by
Molly Tomlinson

This is not exactly a typical evening at the theater, at the circus, at a burlesque show,  at a night club, at a dance club, or at a Speak Easy - but it contains elements of all of these forms of entertainment  The directors have the performers using every possible inch of the Oberon performance space - stage, walk-ways, balcony, ceiling.

In terms of the overall impression of the evening, it was a fun time.  I found myself appreciating the circus acts in their purity, and could have done with less of the fluff and low humor that stitched together the acts.  But I also understand that this approach replicates to some degree the level of entertainment that was characteristic of the Roarin' 20s.

We have a lot of circus talent resident in the Boston area.  You have a chance to see them perform next at Oberon on June 27.



Book Review: "The Fortune Hunter" by Daisy Goodwin

I do not often choose to read romance novels; they are simply not "my thing."  But this historical romance novel by New York Times Bestselling Author Daisy Goodwin was listed under "Literature and Fiction," so I ordered it.  I enjoyed the book, in part because the writing style is indeed quite "literary," and in part because the writing is so cinematic.  Ms. Goodwin attended Columbia University's film school, and her love for imagery is prominently on display in her writing here.

Based on assiduous historical research, this novel paints the picture of an unhappy Empress, "Sisi," wife of Austrian Emperor Franz Joseph.  In many ways she was a 19th century Princess Di, uncomfortable with the strictly limited role she was expected to play as wife of a boring and traditional husband she did not love and who really did not know the true woman he had chosen as his wife.  The novel revolves around a complex set of relationships at the center of which is a love triangle - Empress Sisi, Charlotte Baird, a rich heiress, and Captain Bay Middleton.  The historical figures actually existed; the drama that emerges in this novel was imagined by the author.  Both Sisi and Charlotte are non-traditional women.  Sisi hunts and is the finest horsewoman in Europe.  Charlotte is an accomplished photographer in the era when that art form was just being "developed."  Captain Middleton loves both women, manages to offend both women, and struggles to figure out what to do.

The action is fast-paced.  The novel is full of rich detail about life among Victorian aristocracy.  The characters are well developed and of interest.  I read the book quickly because I was curious to see how the many complications would be resolved.  I found "The Fortune Hunter"  to be an excellent read.



A Modest Proposal For the 2014 Red Sox - Use This Moment of Humiliation As A Turning Point

On July 24, 2004, the Boston Red Sox were not playing very good baseball.  They trailed the dreaded Yankees by 9 1/2 games, and were losing 0-3 at Fenway Park when A-Rod came to the plate and was plunked by a Bronson Arroyo pitch.  Words were exchanged, and then this iconic encounter took place.  It was the defining moment of the 2004 regular season, and set the stage for the greatest comeback in baseball history when the Sox overcame a three game deficit to beat the Yankees and eventually win the World Series.

In essence, Varitek, the team Captain, was saying: "No mas!"  The team at that moment reached deep down into their collective soul, found a level of pride and competitiveness that had been missing and turned around their season, and gave Red Sox fans the thrill of a lifetime.

Last night at the House or Horrors known as Tropicana Field, the scene pictured above took place.  The Red Sox took umbrage when Yunel Escobar waltzed to third base with a 5 run lead late in a game that would turn out to be the Red Sox 10th straight loss.  Jonny Gomes, heart and soul of the 2013 Red Sox Championship team, rushed in from his post in left field to instigate a philosophical discussion with Escobar about the efficacy of showing up one's opponent.  Benches cleared, punches were thrown, Gomes and Escobar were ejected.

So far in this 2014 season, the Red Sox have been playing baseball at an abysmal level.  Because of my work as a volunteer at Fenway Park's Autograph Alley, I am able to see quite a few Red Sox games.  It has not been pleasant.  Pitching, hitting, defense, base running have all been far below the level we have come to expect from major league ball players, much less defending World Series Champions. I cringe each time the Red Sox line-up is announced: "And here are your Defending World Series Champion Boston Red Sox."  It is embarrassing.  It feels as one might feel if Miss America were continuing to make public appearances after gaining 50 pounds.  If you are going to wear the crown, you had better still fit into the gown!  Just sayin'!

There is still a lot of baseball to be played in 2014.  I am hopeful that this year's version of the Red Sox may steal a page from the 2004 team, and use what happened last night in St. Petersburg as the impetus to discover a new depth of collective character.  Kevin Millar used to talk about the need to "Cowboy Up."  It is time for these Sox to "Man Up"!

Go Sox!


Sunday, May 25, 2014

Boston Audience's Love Affair With Hershey Felder Continues - "ArtsEmerson Presents "Abe Lincoln's Piano" at the Cutler Majestic Theater

Hershey Felder as Dr. Charles Leale
Phpto by:
Eighty Eight LLC
Over the year's accomplished musician, actor and story teller, Hershey Felder, has presented to Boston audiences evenings at the theater that have introduced us to Gershwin, Chopin, Beethoven and Bernstein.  In this present production, he gives us a fresh and indirect look at Lincoln.

The conceit is that we have been invited into the attic of the Chicago Museum that houses many artifacts related to the life and death of Abraham Lincoln: his piano, the blood-stained cloth upon which his wounded head lay, a civil war officer's uniform.  Our host, the museum's curator, begins to tell stories, tying the piano and the other artifacts to incidents in Lincoln's life. After some preliminary silliness that recounts an evening at the White House that involved some spiritualist mumbo jumbo and the piano levitating, we get to the real emotional heart of the evening's presentation.

Mr. Felder walks downstage left and slowly and deliberately dons the tunic and sash of a Union Army officer, 23 year-old Dr. Charles Leale.  Through a complex series of circumstances, Dr. Leale found himself at Ford's Theater on the evening of April 14, 1865.  After shots rang out, the cry soon followed: "Is there a doctor in the house?"  Thus was young doctor Leale thrust into the center of one of history's most tragic and poignant moments.  Using recollections that Dr. Leale shared many years later along with music from the Civil War era, Felder spins a series of vignettes that invite the audience to experience Lincoln's last hours from a different perspective that we usually view that signal moment in our nation's history.

I found particularly moving the recollection of Dr. Leale trying to comfort the hysterical Mrs. Lincoln by singing the line from a popular Stephen Foster tune: "Weep no more my lady."  The telling of the story was gently enhanced by sumptuous draperies that line the stage, and by the projections that were superimposed upon those draperies, the piano and Mr. Felder.

Because the focus of this presentation was an indirect telling of the story of Lincoln's death, the audience has to work harder to enter the spirit of the piece than was the case in the more straight forward presentations of famous composers whom Mr. Felder has depicted.  But I found that it was worth doing that work to be transported to a place from which I could consider in a new way that moment when our fractured nation was plunged into mourning and Lincoln was consigned "to the ages."

If you are already a fan of Hershey Felder's musicianship and story telling acumen, you will not want to miss "Abe Lincoln's Piano."  If you are unfamiliar with Mr. Felder's unique talents, this production will serve as a fitting introduction.



ArtsEmerson Website

Music by Stephen Foster, Hershey Felder and others
Book by Hershey Felder
Produced by Eighty‐Eight Entertainment





Steinway piano provided by M. Steinert & Sons

Remaining Performances:

Sunday, May 25, 2PM
Wednesday, May 28, 7:30PM
Thursday, May 29, 7:30PM
Friday, May 30, 8PM
Saturday, May 31, 4PM
Saturday, May 31, 8PM

Thursday, May 22, 2014

An Excellent Novel That Looks At Special Forces in Afghanistan On Horseback - "Wynne's War" by Aaron Gwyn

With "Wynne's War," author Aaron Gwyn combines the best of a Zane Grey novel with a tale as fresh as the latest deployment to Afghanistan by our Special Forces.  This novel has been meticulously researched, so in reading it, I felt I was on horseback with Elijah Russel and his cohort in searching for potential prisoners of war being held by the Taliban somewhere in the mountains on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border.

The "Wynne" in the title is Captain Wynne, a charismatic Special Forces leader who has literally come back from the dead to lead this rogue group in a mission that may or may not be on the books.  Russell is placed in a position in which he has to decide if he will obey an order from the Captain or return to attend to his closest friend, who has been wounded by enemy fire.  It does not help that the Captain's actions have been strange enough to cause Corporal Russell to question where the Captain's true loyalties may lie.

This novel, full of gripping action, also raises questions that many of our warriors have to face.  How do you continue following questionable orders when you are not sure if you believe in the mission nor do you trust the man who is issuing the orders?  Tough questions - and a very good read..



Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Lyric Stage Company of Boston Has Extended The Run of "Into The Woods" Through June 29.

The Cast
Photo by
Marl S. Howard

Apparently, I am not the only critic and theater lover who went crazy over the current production of "Into The Woods" at the Lyric Stage Company of Boston.  I am pleased to pass on the news that due to overwhelming acclaim by audiences and reviewers alike, the run of the show has been extended through June 29 to accommodate as many people as possible seeing this Stupendous production. (Details below)

Get your tickets now.  There cannot be a further extension of the run.


Due to unanimous critical and audience acclaim, INTO THE WOODS has been extended through June 29, with performances Wednesdays & Thursdays at 7:30pm, Fridays at 8pm, Saturdays at 3pm & 8pm, Sundays at 3pm.

This is the FINAL possible extension due to the start of our summer teen program, Lyric First Stage.

The Lyric Stage Company of Boston presents

Music and Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim
Book by James Lapine
Directed & Staged by Spiro Veloudos
Music Director, Catherine Stornetta

In Sondheim & Lapine's delightful fractured fairy tale musical, a Baker and his Wife embark into the woods on a quest to reverse a curse laid on them by the Witch next door.  Along the way they encounter an ambivalent Cinderella, an aggressive Red Riding Hood, a rebellious Rapunzel, a too-trusting Jack, and a couple of not-so-princely Princes.  But when everyone’s wishes are granted, the consequences of their self-centered actions come to haunt them.   Eventually they learn a moving life lesson about working together, the stories we tell our children, and the real meaning of “happily ever after.”
“Everything you learn there will help when you return there.” – from Into the Woods


Will McGarrahan*                                         Narrator/Mysterious Man
Erica Spyres*                                                  Cinderella
Gregory Balla                                                  Jack
Beth Gotha*                                                   Jack’s Mother
John Ambrosino*                                          Baker
Lisa Yuen*                                                       Baker’s Wife
Maureen Keiller*                                           Cinderella’s Stepmother
Christina English                                            Florinda
Elise Arsenault                                 Lucinda
Arthur Waldstein                                           Cinderella’s Father
Maritza Bostic                                                 Little Red Ridinghood
Aimee Doherty*                                             Witch
Maurice Emmanuel Parent*                       Wolf/Cinderella’s Prince
Teresa Winner Blume                                   Granny/Cinderella’s Mother
Amanda Spinella                                           Rapunzel
Sam Simahk*                                                  Rapunzel’s Prince
Jeff Mahoney                                                 Steward

Scenic Design, David Towlun
Costume Design, Elisabetta Polito
Lighting Design Scott Clyve**
Sound Design, Andrew Duncan Will
Projection Design, Johnathan Carr

*Member of Actors’ Equity Association (AEA)
**United Scenic Artists (USA-Local 829)

WHEN:        Now thru June 29
Wednesdays, Thursdays – 7:30pm
Wednesday matinees – 2pm, May 14 and June 4, 2pm
Fridays – 8pm
Saturdays – 3pm & 8pm
Sundays – 3pm
WHERE:      The Lyric Stage, 140 Clarendon Street, Copley Square, Boston, MA  02116

TICKETS:   Start at $25
Seniors – $10 off regular price. 
Student rush – $10.
Group rates available.

Box Office:  617-585-5678   


instagram: @lyricstageboston

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

The Boston Theater Community Honors Its Own - The 2014 Elliot Norton Awards

I have often written in this space about how lucky we are in Boston to boast such a vibrant live theater scene.  Last evening, the Boston area theater community gathered for the annual Elliot Norton Awards, hosted by the remarkable Joyce Kulhawik, President of the Boston Theater Critics Association.

It was a wonderful evening of celebration and remembrance.  Olympia Dukakis was honored for a lifetime of contribution to the world of theater.  Her cousin, former Governor Michael Dukakis was eloquent in introducing her.  I had an opportunity before the start of the program to speak with both Governor Dukakis and with Olympia.  They were both gracious, as you might expect.  The Governor and I had spoken in the past about issues of rail travel (an area of passion for him and for me)  We both bemoaned the fact that high speed rail travel is not what it should be in the U.S., especially compared to the wonderful service available in Europe and Asia.

I would like to offer my personal congratulations to all of the winners, nominees and the scores of people responsible for making last evening such a wonderful celebration of the Boston theater world.

Elliot Norton Award Winners 2014

See below for a list of Norton Award Recipients from last evening:
Emceed by BTCA President Joyce Kulhawik, the evening featured three live performances by the nominated musicals which include Stoneham Theatre’s Thoroughly Modern Millie, Gold Dust Orphans’ It’s A Horrible Life,  and the Wheelock Family Theatre’s Hairspray. 
With remarks by Mayor Martin Walsh and former Governor Michael Dukakis (her cousin) the stage was set for the presentation of the 2014 Elliot Norton Lifetime Achievement Award to Academy Award-winner and theater veteran Olympia Dukakis. 
The BTCA presented select awards in memory of longtime ART company member Jeremy Geidt, the legendary Julie Harris and the Huntington Theatre Company’s former Artistic Director Nicholas Martin
To close the evening, SpeakEasy Stage Company’s Paul Daigneault accepted The 2013 Elliot Norton Prize For Sustained Excellence. 

The 32nd Annual Elliot Norton Awards

Elliot Norton Lifetime Achievement Award:  Olympia Dukakis
Elliot Norton Prize for Sustained Excellence: Paul Daigneault
Outstanding Visiting Production:
Mies Julie,  Baxter Theatre Centre; presented by ArtsEmerson 
Outstanding Production by a Large Resident Theater:
All the Way,  American Repertory Theater
Outstanding Production by a Midsize Theater:
Tribes,  SpeakEasy Stage Company
Outstanding Production by a Small Theater:
The Flick, Company One; co-presented by Suffolk University
Outstanding Production by a Fringe Theater:
Punk Rock,  Zeitgeist Stage Company
Outstanding Design, Large Theater:
The Heart of Robin Hood, American Repertory Theater
Set design by Börkur Jónsson, Costumes by Emma Ryott, Lighting by Björn Helgason, Sound by Jonathan Deans.
Outstanding Design, Midsize, Small or Fringe Theater:
The Flick, Company One; co-presented by Suffolk University
Scenic design by Cristina Todesco, Lighting by Jen Rock, Costumes by Amanda Maciel Antunes, Sound by Edward Young, Props Master Anita Shriver. 
Outstanding Musical Production by a Large Theater:
The Jungle Book, Huntington Theatre Company
Outstanding Musical Production by a Midsize, Small or Fringe Company:
Hairspray, Wheelock Family Theatre
Outstanding Musical Performance by an Actor:
Francis Jue, Miss Saigon, North Shore Music Theatre
Outstanding Musical Performance by an Actress:
Aimee Doherty, On the Town (Lyric Stage Company of Boston) and Hairspray (Wheelock Family Theatre)
Outstanding New Script:
Windowmen by Steven Barkhimer, Boston Playwrights’ Theatre
Outstanding Director, Large Theater:
Gisli Örn Gardarsson, The Heart of Robin Hood American Repertory Theater
Outstanding Director, Midsize Theater:
Ilyse Robbins, Thoroughly Modern Millie, Stoneham Theatre
Outstanding Director, Small or Fringe Theater:
David J. Miller, Punk Rock and The Normal Heart, Zeitgeist Stage Company
Outstanding Actor, Large Theater:
Bryan Cranston, All the Way, American Repertory Theater
Outstanding Actress, Large Theater: 
Andrea Syglowski, Venus in Fur, Huntington Theatre Company
Outstanding Actor, Midsize Theater:
Jeremiah Kissel, Imagining Madoff, New Repertory Theatre
Outstanding Actress, Midsize Theater:
Erica Spyres, Tribes, SpeakEasy Stage Company
Outstanding Actor, Small or Fringe Theater:
Alex Pollock, This Is Our Youth (Gloucester Stage Company), Windowmen (Boston Playwrights’ Theatre), and The Flick (Company One; co-presented by Suffolk University)
Outstanding Actress, Small or Fringe Theater:
Maureen Adduci, The Normal Heart  Zeitgeist Stage Company
Outstanding Ensemble, Large Theater:
The Seagull, Huntington Theatre Company
Outstanding Ensemble, Midsize, Small or Fringe Theater
Hairspray, Wheelock Family Theatre

Monday, May 19, 2014

Theater Review - Happy Medium Theatre Presents "Lebensraum" by Israel Horovitz at The Factory Theatre

Happy Medium Theatre continues to present intriguing choices for the plays they produce at The Factory Theatre.  Those plays usually both delight and challenge audiences to think and to feel in new ways about familiar topics. The current production "LEBENSRAUM" by Israel Horovitz is no exception  Horovitz is a local Boston area treasure and a prolific playwright with a global reputation.  His plays always have a strong sense of place, anchoring the action and the characters in unique locations that themselves become an important part of the narrative.  In this case, the primary location is Bremerhaven, Germany a ship-building port city on the North Sea.   The secondary location is Gloucester, Massachusetts, the North Shore city from which an unlikely family of emigrants debarks for Germany.

The shocking premise of the play is that on the brink of the 21st Century, a new Chancellor in German announces an invitation for 6 million Jews to return home to Germany, where they will be offered full citizenship.  Horovitz has written often of themes that involve the Holocaust and its aftermath.  In this play, he artfully portrays a broad spectrum of reactions to this hypothetical invitation.  He manages to put himself inside the minds of 40 different characters - from Holocaust survivors to German neo-Nazis who are ready to fight to the death to prevent a reintroduction of a Jewish community in the newly re-unified  Germany.  The result is a very balanced portrayal of what could happen were such an invitation to be issued for Jews to return to Germany.

This play, directed by Brett Marks, is very much an actor-driven story.  The 40 characters are played by 3 very skilled actors.  R. Nelson Lacey, Audrey Lynn Sylvia and Michael Underhill do a very effective job of creating separate and differentiated characters, each with their own unique speech pattern and physical presence.  Credit must be shared with Dialect Coach Charles Linshaw for helping these actors to master a broad range of dialects and speaking styles.

Michael Underhill, Audrey Lynn Sylvia and /R. Nelson Lacey
The play is moving at an emotional level and thought-provoking at an intellectual level.  Horovitz dives deeply into explorations of questions that have no easy answers.  How can one forgive in the wake of such a travesty as the Holocaust?  How can one trust the professed positive intentions of a nation that in the past has shown a track record of hostility and genocide?  Should I be expected to make retribution for acts committed by my parents and grandparents?  Who is a Jew?

Over the past weekend, Mr. Horovitz attended a performance of this production and pronounced his blessing on the fine work being done by this team of actors and their crew.  This vote of affirmation alone should be enough to prompt you to put this play on your calendar for the coming week.  It will run through May 24.



Happy Medium Theatre Websie

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Review of "The Most Dangerous Book" by Kevin Birmingham - The Story of The Struggle to Get James Joyce's "Ulysses" Published

The writing of James Joyce has always been a bit off-putting and problematic to me.  As part of the accepted canon of Western literature, his works have always been books I felt I should be familiar with.  "Ulysses" has consistently baffled me.  Having read this new work, I am slightly less baffled by "Ulysses."  With this meticulously researched work, "The Most Dangerous Book,"author Kevin Birmingham sheds very helpful light on Joyce the man, Joyce the writer and Joyce the cause célèbre.

The main point of the book is the story of how the attempt to print "Ulysses" and to sell it in the U.S. and UK was a 20 year journey fraught with many difficulties and twists.  Along the way, we follow Joyce from his native Dublin to exile in Zurich and Paris.  We feel his deteriorating health and eyesight, his long-term relationship with his common law wife and muse, Nora Barnacle, who stuck to him like the creature that was her namesake.  We become intimately acquainted with those who stood by his side and those who fought to suppress his "obscenity."  The book is filled with a rich cast of characters from history - some very familiar - Gertrude Stein, Ernest Hemingway, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Bennett Cerf - and some obscure.

Fans of Joyce and of "Ulysses" can purchase Birmingham's book in time for this year's "Bloomsday" celebrations on June 16.  But one need not be a fan of Joyce to enjoy this book.  It sheds light on the history of publishing, the changing tastes in literature and in culture, and on the always timely topic of what topics are appropriate for public discourse.

The following short quotation sums up concisely the point of this book and of the struggle over the right to publish "Ulysses."

"Joyce's belated victory did less for him than it did for us.  The legalization of  'Ulysses' announced the transformation of a culture.  A book that the American and British governments burned en masse a few years earlier was now a modern classic, part of the heritage of Western civilization." (Page 335)



Friday, May 16, 2014

A Breathtaking Production of "The Tempest" at The A.R.T. - How Much Higher Can They Raise The Bar?

Nate Dendy as Ariel
Tom Nelis as Prospero
Charlotte Graham as Miranda
Photo: The Smith Center/Geri Kodey
Magic is happening yet again on the stage at A.R.T.  I am not just talking about the mystical illusions that are part of the fabric of the current groundbreaking production of Shakespeare's "The Tempest"  I am talking about the magical worm hole that seems to open every few months that transports fabulous A.R.T. productions directly from the Loeb Drama Center to one of the Broadway houses.  This "Tempest," adapted and directed by Aaron Posner and Teller, seems destined for a future that will see Prospero's island transported to the island of Manhattan.

But for now, those of us who live in striking distance of Harvard Square have a rare opportunity to see live theater that pushes the boundaries of what is possible technically and aesthetically on stage.  The Bard is alive and well on Brattle Street, and he speaks fluent Teller and sings in the voice of Tom Waits!

One of the definitions of a tempest is "Furious agitation, commotion, or tumult; an uproar."  That definition easily fits the tenor of the audience in attendance at last night's performance of this "Tempest."  As soon as Prospero had spoken his final lines, we were on our feet applauding:

But release me from my bands 
With the help of your good hands: 
Gentle breath of yours my sails 
Must fill, or else my project fails, 
Which was to please. 
Now I want Spirits to enforce, art to enchant, 
And my ending is despair,
Unless I be relieved by prayer, 
Which pierces so that it assaults 
Mercy itself and frees all faults. 
As you from crimes would pardon'd be, 
Let your indulgence set me free. 

As Prospero had requested, our hands were busy clapping enthusiastically to tell the artists and all of the creative forces behind this amazing show that Prospero's project had indeed succeeded beyond what anyone could have expected.  We will never know how all of the theatrical "magicians" pulled off the trick of enchanting us throughout a remarkable evening of theater, but I can describe some of what happened in plain sight.

First of all, the success of this show can be attributed to a unique and signal collaboration that transcends five centuries.  Shakespeare, who was born 450 years ago, wrote "The Tempest" as the capstone of his career.  He was at the height of his powers.  The fertile imagination of playwright Aaron Posner coalesced and collided with the creative genius of Teller to conceive of an adaptation of "The Tempest" that would use 21st century technologies to realize the magical effects that Shakespeare describes in the text of the play and in the staging notes.

"The Tempest," according to Posner and Teller, is a story about family and about Prospero using his magical powers to put on a show to enchant and manipulate those against whom he wanted to seek revenge.  At the end of the day, the most magical phenomenon of all is that Prospero himself is transformed and is able to forgive those who have wronged him.  The illusions that are meant to enchant characters in the play, also mesmerize the audience and advance the telling of Shakespeare's complex story.  The magic is not about gimmickry; it is endemic to the telling of the tale.  Into this rich admixture, throw in the haunting music of Tom Waits and Kathleen Brennan performed by a live band and you have the kind of performance that has theater lovers lining up to snatch the few remaining tickets to this show that will be acclaimed as a landmark in the history of the American stage.

The Set by Daniel Conway
Photo: The Smith Center/Geri Kodey

Daniel Conway's set is described as suggesting "the end of a pier at Coney Island."  It is dark, mysterious, multi-leveled, flexible and a visual delight.  Paloma Young has created costumes that are part of the magic of this show.  The challenge of lighting a production such as this one was handled with consummate skill by Christopher Akerline, and the task of balancing a variety of sounds was given to Darron L. West.  The literal magic - the illusions - were the result of collaboration among Teller, Johnny Thompson and Thom Rubino.  Musical direction and arrangements are done beautifully by Shaina Taub who leads the "Rough Magic" band of Miche Braden, Michael Brun and Nate Tucker.  Matt Kent of Pilobulus provides creative choreography.

As you might imagine, the cast is flawless in making the Elizabethan language of Shakespeare live and breathe and seem like ordinary speech.

The Cast:

Tom Nelis as Prospero
Louis Butelli as Antonio
Nate Dendy as Ariel
Dawn Didawick as Gonzala
Christopher Donohue as Alonso
Joby Earle as Ferdinand
Zach Eisenstat and Manelich Minniefee as Caliban
Charlotte Graham as Miranda
Eric Hissom as Stephano
Jonathan M. Kim as Trinculo
Edmund Lewis as Sebastian.
Jonathan M. Kim, as Trinculo
Zach Eisenstat and Manelich Minniefee as Caliban
Eric Hissom as Stephano
Photo: The Smith Center/Geri Kodey

They are all excellent.  Special attention must be drawn to Mr. Nelis as Prospero.  He commands the stage and the language as his character commands the elements with mastery and with magic.  The chemistry between Joby Earle as Ferdinand and Charlotte Graham as Miranda is a highlight of this production.  The role of Caliban is always difficult to stage well, but the conjoined efforts of Zach Eisenstat and Manelich Minniefee provide a brilliant solution to that problem.  Their acting and athleticism speak loudly.  Nate Dendy as Ariel is the first character the audience sees - even before the curtain rises.  From the moment when he flips playing cards into the audience to set the stage for the magic to come until the instant when he vanishes, it is hard to take one's eyes off of him and his ghostly presence.

There is so much more I could say about this show, but I do not want to spoil any of the anticipation and wonder and the magic that you will experience at the hands of the illusionists and artists.  I can guarantee a banquet of delights even more sumptuous than the magic table shown in this picture.

The Magic Banquet Table
Christopher Donahue as Alonso
Dawn Didawick as Gonzala
Louis Butelli as Antonio
Edmund Lewis as Sebastian
Photo: The Smith Center/ Geri Kodey
I trust that you will enjoy this banquet as much as I did.  I have used a lost of superlatives in my description.  Be assured that none of them are hyperbole.  The show is that good!



"The Tempest" will run through June 15.

American Repertory Theater Website