Friday, October 31, 2014
I first became aware of Jeremy Jordan and his extraordinary talents when I saw him in the short-lived Broadway musical "Bonnie and Clyde," in which he originated the role of Clyde. I next saw him in "Newsies," as he played the role of Jack Kelly. He went on to star in the second season of the TV show "Smash," and most recently played the role of J.M. Barrie in the American Repertory Theater's pre-Broadway production of "Finding Neverland." I also saw him perform along with Bernadette Peters and Norm Lewis in a Sondheim mash-up entitled "A Bed and A Chair" at the New York City Center.
When Mr. Jordan took the stage at the 54 Below cabaret, he was taking a risk he had never taken before: performing solo as himself and not as a scripted character. Hence the title of his show: "Breaking Character." Once he broke through that barrier of fear, he continued "Smashing" through several more layers of protection, sharing personal reflections of a troubled childhood, the fear of never being "good enough," and performing for the first time some songs that he has written. In fact one of those songs, "Good Enough," tells of his pilgrimage from feeling inadequate to do what he was doing on the stage to arriving at a point of realizing that he was indeed good enough to command a place like 54 Below and to send audience members home feeling as if their money had been well spent. Another song he has written and that he performed is the humorous "Chipotle" inspired by a tune from "Avenue Q."
While the audience was applauding one of the early numbers in the set, I turned to my left and realized that sitting at the next table was Jeremy's wife, Ashley Spencer, whom I had met when Jeremy was in residence in Cambridge this summer and fall. Sitting with Ashley was Jeanna de Waal, who played J.M. Barrie's wife, Mary, in "Finding Neverland." Ms. de Waal is currently appearing in "Kinky Boots." Also sitting at the same ringside table was Keke Palmer, who is currently appearing in the title role in Broadway's "Cinderella." Ashley joined her husband on stage in a medley of "Heaven," "More Than Words" and "To Be With You." She later returned to join Jeremy in a medley of songs from "Smash." Keke then joined Jeremy in a duet version of "Maybe I'm Amazed."
Two of the highlights of the evening were Mr. Jordan's rendering of "Broadway, Here I Come!" and "Santa Fe." He introduced the song "Broadway, Here I Come!" with some transparent comments about how tough it can be to ride the emotional roller coaster of show business, including the disappointment of seeing a project like "Smash" close after its second season. At the end of this song, as he sustained the word "come," the note hung in the air and resonated with a purity that is seldom heard on any stage. It was a magical moment. The final song of his set came from his role as Jack Kelly. He talked about being a fan of the Disney film as a young man and dreaming of some day being someone as courageous a leader as the rough hewn New Yorker. So, his being cast in the Broadway version of the show was in many ways a dream come true. His rendition of the song combines the two versions from the show. The first occurs early in Act I and the second - and more pathos-filled - closes Act I as Kelly, beaten down and discouraged seeks to find a refuge to which he can flee and hide after his efforts at leading a strike had ended in utter failure. I can never hear Mr. Jordan sing that song without experiencing chills and tears. It was a fitting ending to remarkable evening. The encore of "Over The Rainbow" and "Home" was icing on the cake.
In this solo concert, Jeremy Jordan took some enormous emotional risks, and it was clear that allowing the audience to gain a degree of access to the man behind the actor was a gamble worth taking. The audience was warmly enthusiastic in the ovation that followed the encore.
There are still several opportunities through November 13 to catch "Breaking Character." You won't regret it.
54 Below Website
Thursday, October 30, 2014
Company One Does It Again - An Astounding New England Premiere of "The Displaced Hindu Gods Trilogy" by Aditi Brennan Kapil
I have learned to trust the artistic judgment of the folks at the helm of Company One. Each time I see an announcement of an upcoming show, my first reaction is to say to myself, "That does not seem like my kind of show, but I will go to see it because it is being done by Company One." And, without fail, it turns out to be something new and exciting and very much "my kind of show"! I have Company One to thank for consistently stretching my artistic sensibilities and broadening my theatrical horizons.
The latest stretching exercise is the New England Premiere of the stunning "The Displaced Hindu Gods Trilogy" by the bold and poetic playwright Aditi Brennan Kapil. Ms. Kapi is herself an oft-displaced person, so she writes from the deep well of personal experience in addressing the plight of the Indian diaspora. She is an Indian woman born in Bulgaria, raised in Sweden, and now residing in Minneapolis. Her over-arching theme in these three pieces centers on the lingering effects and unintended consequences of Imperialism and Colonialism and the many layers of struggle for a displaced person to find a place for herself in a new world. The three pieces stand alone, but are woven together by a thread that cuts deeply - like the kite string in "Shiv" that is embedded with fine bits of broken glass.
The conceit of this trilogy is that each of the pieces reflects one of the three main Hindu gods who appears in the form of a modern woman in two cases, and in the third case as "B," a person of ambiguous gender, a "hijra." If you are not conversant with the pantheon of Hindu gods, allow me to offer a quick summary of the three gods who appear in human form in this trinity of pieces.
- Shiv is the god of destruction for the purpose of rebirth
- Vishnu is the sustainer and protector god
- Brahmin is the creator god
The concept of the cosmic sea is important in Hindu cosmology. In a sense, that cosmic sea is the ocean upon which this trilogy floats, with each piece serving as a different kind of vessel and art form.
The play "Shiv" is clearly the most autobiographical of the three, telling the story of a displaced young Indian woman who is living with her father, a struggling most-modern Punjabi poet having trouble being published in the U.S. This is also the piece in which Ms. Kapil's animus against the ravages of colonialism is most pronounced. Here are a few bullet points that stood out for me in this play directed by Summer L. Williams.
- Shiv and her father are watching TV, a Star Trek-like drama which Shiv's father, Bapu, describes as about "well-meaning Imperialists."
- Shiv is a kleptomaniac attracted to stealing shiny objects without paying for them and without regard to whom they first belonged. . Imperialists and Colonialists could be construed as stealing the shiny objects they desired - the lands they coveted for their tea, silk, cotton, oil or slaves.
- There is a scene in which Bapu and Shiv's kite with the glass-embedded string morphs into a clothes line on which Shiv hangs laundry. This play could be viewed as an "airing of Colonialism's dirty laundry."
- A retired publisher who had previously spurned Bapu's poetry is now Shiv's absentee boss. When he finally makes his appearance, it is clear that he is the very embodiment of Colonialism run amok. In making an off-handed remark about the birth of a free India, Shiv retorts: "We are still in labor."
- His retreat and publishing office sits on a lake - part of the cosmic sea in which Shiv pretends to fish for constellations.
- The publisher, Mr. Everett, has as his logo a representation of Mt. Everest with India as its shadow. In Ms. Kapil's cosmology, India continues to languish in the looming shadow cast by the monolith that was the British Raj.
Michael Dwan Singh (Bapu)
Payal Sharma (Shiv)
(Photo by Craig Bailey/Perspective Photo)
Payal Sharma as Shiv is a riveting presence. Her deeply resonant voice is a commanding force, whether confronting her philandering father who has taken as his girlfriend a "shiny object"in a blonde American woman, or facing down her employers. Playing Bapu, the father, is Michael Dwan Singh, whose performance is steady and convincing. Portraying the imperious publisher, Mr. Everett, Jeffrey Phillips is right out of central casting as the colonial bearer of the White Man's Burden. His nephew, Gerard, is Shiv's lover and her "shiny object," until the shimmer fades. Casey Preston portrays him in an appropriately understated and distant manner.
"The Chronicles of Kalki" tells the story of Vishnu come to earth to help two hapless teenage girls who are struggling with finding their place in the world. Water again appears as a necessary element, for Kalki brings a steady rain that persists until she leaves. The trinity of young women actors make this play an engaging event to watch. Directed by M. Bevin O'Gara, Ally Dawson as Kalki is an irresistible force who never encounters an object that she find immovable. The two girls she comes to help are portrayed convincingly by Stephanie Recio and Pearl Shin. The police detective who is investigating the disappearance of Kalki is Brandon Green, whose "good cop" shtick is a nice counterpoint to the confusion of the two girls who are being interrogated about Kalki's sudden vanishing act. Overarching themes in this piece are the blurry line between reality and imagination and the ponderous weight of loneliness.
|"THE CHRONICLES OF KALKI" |
Pearl Shin (Girl 2)
Ally Dawson (Kalki)
Stephanie Recio (Girl 1)
(Photo by Paul Fox)
"Brahman/I" is billed as a "one hirja stand-up comedy show." In this piece, issues of gender and finding one's place in the world are explored through the lens of stand-up comedy. Aila Peck is Brahman/I who was born with genitalia of both sexes, and who must choose one of 12 ways - later revised to 13 ways - of living with this sexually ambiguous identity. Along the way, she discusses life as lived as a boy and then as a girl. She is joined on stage by "J," who plays bass riffs while "B" takes refreshment from a glass of water set upstate left. Again, water is a constant in these pieces. It turns out that "J," played by Casey Preston, is more than just a musical hanger-on; he plays a significant role in "B's" formative years. Some of the most arresting parts of this routine, scripted very carefully by Kapil, revolve around an overweight and hard-drinking Auntie who habitually offers unsolicited advice of dubious efficacy. Ms. Peck is effective in capturing and maintaining the attention of the audience through a very prolonged routine.
|"BRAHMAN/I: A ONE HIJA STAND-UP COMEDY SHOW" |
Casey Preston (J)
Aila Peck (B)
(Photo by Paul Fox)
These three pieces that comprise "The Displaced Hindu Gods Trilogy" can be seen separately or in a weekend marathon format through November 22 at the Boston Center for the Arts. The buzz is strong, so tickets will be going fast. I urge you to click on the link below to secure your tickets before some not-so-well-intentioned Imperialist corners the market and sells them at a premium on Stub Hub!
Review of "The Language of Angels" by Naomi Iizuka - Happy Medium Theatre Sings A Haunting Swan Song To the Factory Theatre
The current show at The Factory Theatre is "Language of Angels" by Naomi Iizuka, presented by the Happy Medium Theatre Company. The choice of this particular play is doubly relevant to this time. In keeping with the spirit of the Halloween season, it is a hauntingly macabre dive into some deep caves of the subconscious and of disturbing memories surrounding the inexplicable disappearance of a teenage girl. At another level, the play serves as a metaphor for the immanent closing of the Factory Theatre as a performance space, so the ghosts that inhabit the show also serve to highlight the fact that the ghosts of countless past performances hang in the air in this performance space as a miasma.
"Language of Angels" is beautifully staged by Lizette M. Morris as Director and Scenic Designer. The lighting design of Greg Jutkiewiz is spectacularly effective, with subtle shifts in mood and dramatic arc being signaled by nuanced lighting effects that were mesmerizing.
The ensemble cast did what the name implies: they cast a spell over the space and over the audience.
Worthy of particular mention in this excellent cast are:
- Nick Miller as Seth
- Alexis Scheer as Celie, the girl whose sudden disappearance is the keystone of the story
- Jackie Theoharis as Kendra
- Mike Budway as JB
- David D'andrea as Michael/Tommy
- Michelle Rubich as Allison
- Lesley Anne Moreau as Danielle
- Matthew Fagerberg as Billy. I had not seen Mr. Fagerberg perform before. There is enough of a hint of James Dean in his acting that makes him worthy of watching closely as he takes his place as a regular on Boston stages.
|"Language of Angels"|
Happy Medium Theatre
Characters in the play laid to rest
in the performance space of
The Factory Theatre
that is being laid to rest!
You have multiple reasons to head to the South End to take in one of the final performances of "Language of Angels" and of the Factory Theatre as a performance space. The play runs through November 1, so get your tickets now to see a memorable show by an award-winning theatre company.
Sunday, October 26, 2014
A week ago the Clemson Tigers came here to Boston to play the Boston College Eagles football team. Wearing #83 on his orange Clemson jersey was wide receiver Daniel Rodriguez. Rodriquez, with the able assistance of Joe Layden, tells his story of transition from the battlefield to the football field in "Rise - A Soldier, A Dream, and A Promise Kept."
What makes this book a compelling read is how transparent Rodriguez is in telling the good, the bad and the ugly of his life. Library shelves are groaning under the weight of the hundreds of memoirs that have been written in the past few years by warriors returning from deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan. To gain mind share in an overcrowded market, it takes something unique. This book qualifies on several levels. How many former enlisted Army infantryman have returned to play Division I while tipping the scales at 175 pounds and standing 5' 8"? And in the telling of their story, how many authors have been so forthcoming about their high school academic failures, experimentation with drugs and alcohol, and running a black market operation in smuggled booze in Iraq?
A particularly riveting section of the book describes a battle in which the remote outpost where Rodriguez and his friends patrolled in Afghanistan was over-run by hundreds of Taliban in an unusually well coordinated attack. He lost close friends that day, and his promise to one of those fallen friends was part of what helped Rodriguez to push through the darkest days after returning home to Virginia, deciding not to commit suicide, and getting himself in shape to be able to walk onto the football team at Clemson. The author gives lavish praise and thanks to his Army comrades, and coaches, mentors and role models that have helped make him the man that he is today.
The book is an inspiration to anyone battling demons that would seek to destroy. Mr. Rodriguez scores a touchdown with this memoir.
Review of "Mayor For A New America" by Thomas M. Menino and Jack Beatty - a Timely Memoir and Valedictory
I found this book, "Mayor For A New America," to be surprisingly inspiring and informative. Over the years, my opinion of Mayor Thomas M. Menino has been on a steady upward trajectory. Initially, I was bothered by his notorious inarticulate speech patterns and malapropisms. I remember opining to many of my friends: "I cannot believe that a world class city like Boston keeps electing such an unimpressive public figure as its Mayor." A few years ago I was a guest at a luncheon hosted by Red Sox legend David Ortiz - our beloved Big Papi. In a moment of private conversation with Papi, I said: "I am not sure you really appreciate how popular you are in this town. You could easily run for Mayor, and you already speak better English than our current Mayor."
Tom Menino's actions spoke much more loudly and clearly than his verbal pronouncements. In this valedictory memoir, co-written with Jack Beatty, who had earlier written a biography of former Boston Mayor James Michael Curley, Menino does not shy away from addressing his reputation as "Mayor Mumbles." He quotes his mentor, Tip O,Neill, "If you have a deficiency, hang a lantern on it." And that is exactly what he does in this memoir, written clearly and plainly. In telling his story, he goes back to his Italian roots, his father's work as a laborer, and his experiences growing up in the close-knit Boston neighborhood of Hyde Park.
He tells his side of the story of what things were like on the day of the Boston Marathon bombings, when he checked himself out of the hospital in order to participate in a news conference to try to salve the frayed nerves of Boston residents. He tells the stories of the school busing crisis and Boston's richly deserved reputation for being a racist city. He talks about how the Convention Center and the Innovation Districts were conceived and built. He chronicles the struggle to make Boston's schools places where the next generation could learn without fear of failure or violence.
He talks glowingly of his mentors, political partners and staff and openly about his enemies.
As my time living and working in the Boston area grew, I began to notice the incremental changes and improvements appearing in neighborhoods throughout the city. Roslindale Square is once again a thriving village. Dudley Square has become a place where people are no longer afraid to travel. Menino's beloved Grove Hall neighborhood of Roxbury was re-furbished, the zoo brought back up to a high standard. He truly was "The Pothole Mayor' with meticulous attention to detail; I also got to meet him on several occasions and experience his personal warmth and genuineness.
As I write this review, Boston has just learned that former Mayor Menino has suspended his book tour and his cancer treatments, and has returned to his home to spend time with his family. The message seems to be that his time is short. He brought a great deal of himself to the task of rebuilding Boston. He deserves a rest and the thanks of a grateful city.
This book is a well written and well presented encapsulation of the Mayor and the Man.
Thursday, October 23, 2014
ArtsEmerson Presents Isango Ensemble's "Mozart's Magic Flute - Opera With A Distinctly South African Flavor
| Paulene Malfane. as Queen of the Night|
Isango Ensemble's "Mozart's Magic Flute"
Photo by Keith Pattison.
In his Program Notes for Isango Ensemble's "Mozart's Magic Flute," ArtsEmerson Director of Artistic Programs, David Dower, recounts his experience of flying to Munich to check out an Isango performance. Jet-lagged and a bit grumpy, he recalls saying to himself, "Why had I flown all this way to see a company from the townships around Cape Town perform Mozart's 'The Magic Flute' when I had seen this opera half a dozen times done by 'real' opera companies in 'real' opera houses?"
Fast forward to his reaction a few minutes into the performance: "Though I had come to my seat an informed theatregoer, I was now an ecstatic adventurer in the complex wilderness of an extreme, ebullient cultural mash up."
And such was the experience of hundreds of us gathered last evening in Emerson's Cutler Majestic Theatre. Expectation, ecstasy, exuberance, elation flowed in both directions from performers to audience and back again. It was - well - a magical and unforgettable evening.
The story line of Mozart's iconic opera bears striking resemblance to an African folk tale about an enchanted flute. That should not be so surprising, for many of our most cherished myths are shared by cultures widely divided in time and space, flowing from some primeval and ineffable common stream of universal truth. So it is not too much of a stretch to conceive of an opera first performed in German in Vienna to be presented in English - with some Zulu throw-away lines - by South Africans in Boston. And for the audience and performers to feel as if we are all part of the same family. What a wonderful world we inhabit!
The familiar strains of Mozart's glorious music were played by an orchestra of marimbas, supplemented by African drums and strategically placed trumpet flourishes and a bird whistle. The orchestra members, who rotate among the instruments and also double as singers and dancers, play without reference to written scores, having memorized the entire opera. The ensemble of 28 individuals not only perform together around the world, but many of them grew up together and trained together in the Cape Town townships.
The voices are pure and powerful, filling the performance space without electronic assistance. The solo voices could hold their own on opera stages from The Met to La Scala. The ensemble singing is sublime. The African drumming and dancing enhance Mozart's music and the traditional staging and infuse this production with a sense of vibrancy, wonder and pure joy that is infectious.
|Mhlekazi Andy Mosiea as Tamino|
Isango Ensemble's "Mozart's Magic Flute"
Photo by Keith Pattison
Mark Dornford-May, who directs this gifted ensemble, also adapted the show from the original. Pauline Malefane and Mandisi Dyantyis have arranged the music for the African instruments. Ms. Malefane also sings the role of Queen of the Night with precision, passion and aplomb. Mr. Dyantyis is a veritable human dynamo as conductor, marimbist and trumpeter extraordinaire.
|Mandisi Dyantyis |
Isango Ensemble's "Mozart's Magic Flute"
Photograph by Ruphin Coudyzer
For discerning lovers of innovative theater and world class music, it should become a habit to buy tickets to everything that ArtsEmerson books and brings to their Boston stages. They have already scoured the earth and done the treasure hunting, booking only the shiniest nuggets from artistic gold mines in all of the far flung continents.
"The Magic Flute" will play through this weekend, with the final Boston performance on October 26. Act now to book your tickets.
ERIC ABRAHAM AND ARTSEMERSON
PRESENT AN ISANGO ENSEMBLE
The Magic Flute
ADAPTED AND DIRECTED BY MARK DORNFORD-MAY
MUSIC ARRANGED BY PAULINE MALEFANE and MANDISI DYANTYIS
CHOREOGRAPHY LUNGELO NGAMLANA
COSTUMES LEIGH BISHOP
ORIGINAL LIGHTING MANNIE MANIM
PRODUCTION MANAGER JOHN PAGE
COMPANY MANAGER MARIS SHARP
STAGE MANAGEMENT SANDILE MGUGUNYEKA
STAGE MANAGEMENT VALENCIA MGUGUNYEKA
NOLUTHANDO BOQWANA, MANDISI DYANTYIS, THOBILE DYASI, AYANDA ELEKI,
ZAMILE GANTANA, NONTSUSA LOUW, SIFISO LUPUZI, PAULINE MALEFANE,
BONGIWE MAPASSA, ZANELE MBATHA, SIYASANGA MBUYAZWE,
SINETHEMBA MDENA, ZEBULON MMUSI, MHLEKAZI (WHAWHA) MOSIEA,
ZOLEKA MPOTSHA, SIYANDA NCOBO, CIKIZWA NDAMASE, BUSISIWE NGEJANE,
ZOLINA NGEJANE, SONWABO NTSHATA, TUKELA PEPETEKA, LUVO RASEMENI,
MASAKANE SOTAYISI, AYANDA TIKOLO
Isango Ensemble special thanks to
South African Airways – Africa’s Most Awarded Airline
Tour Direction: Columbia Artists Management LLC – Tim Fox / Alison Ahart Williams
5 Columbus Circle @ 1790 Broadway, New York, NY 10019
Major support for the 2014/15 ArtsEmerson Season has been generously provided by
Ted and Mary Wendell and The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.
Tuesday, October 21, 2014
Wheelock Family Theatre has kicked off its 34th season with a new musical, "Alice," adapted from Lewis Carroll's books about the eponymous adventuresome young girl. The show, an original piece created by local artists Andrew Barbato and Lesley DeSantis, was workshopped at Stoneham Theatre and now experiences a fully staged version. Based on the reaction of audiences on Opening Night, I would say that this is a show to which you should plan to bring your young children. The book could use some work and not all of the songs are memorable, but I am quibbling here, because the families in attendance on Friday evening seemed to be having a wonderful time.
There are many things to praise about this production:
- Matthew T. Lazure's complex set gives plenty of room and opportunity for Alice and her friends and tormentors to race around and have a wide variety of adventures - on land and sea.
- Musical Director Robert L. Rucinski conducts an orchestra that presents the music of Mr. Barbato and Ms. DeSantis is just the right light, supporting the strong singing of a talented cast.
- The lighting design of Scott Clyve and sound design of Roger J. Moore help to create a magical and mystical world.
- The inventive costumes designed by Lisa Simpson are a strong part of this lush production.
- Mr. Barbato directs his cast with a steady hand, choreographing and blocking the movements of individuals and groups to show them to the audience to their best advantage.
- The young actors who portray the Flower Buds are clearly having a wonderful time on stage - and sometimes under the stage!
|Leigh Barrett as The Red Queen|
Noah Virgile as Tweedle Dum
Maritza Bostic as Alice
Stephen Benson as The White Rabbit
William Gardiner as Mouse
CWheelock Family Theatre
Photo by Gary Ng
- Many of the principal actors shine in their roles. Among those who stood out for me were:
- Leigh Barrett as Mother/Queen of Hearts - she does an excellent job of portraying the perfectionist mother and "off with their heads" mad queen with great gusto, showing her lustrous voice to good effect in the moving duet with Alice, "Paint The Roses Red."
- Stephen Benson is a non-stop frenetic presence as the White Rabbit - always late.
- Martitza Bostic as Alice is obviously the centerpiece of this show. Ms. Bostic came to the attention of Boston area critics in her recent portrayal of Little Red Riding Hood in the Lyric Stage Company production of "Into The Woods." As Alice, she brings a believable sense of innocence mixed with frustration at never knowing exactly what size she may be at any moment as she searches for the special Queen's garden that caught her eye.
- Dashiell Evett as Tweedle Dee and NoahVirgile as Tweedle Dum have a fun battle scene, and sing well together.
- William Gardiner is terrific as Mouse, guiding Alice gently wherever she wants to go on his sailboat. He and Alice sing a nice duet, "Sea As Our Guide."
- Russell Garrett is magnificent as The Mad Hatter presiding over the crazy tea party with madcap aplomb.
- Aubin Wise as the White Queen is a powerful vocal presence.
- The rest of the cast members fill in very ably. They all seem to have ingested the ethos of the piece and are clearly enjoying being part of this fantasy and Adventure in Wonderland.
This production will run through November 16. For tickets, click below.
Monday, October 20, 2014
Ta’Nika Gibson as “Aida” (left),
Christiana Rodi as “Amneris”
and Gene Dante as “Radames”
in Fiddlehead Theatre’s
Photo by Matt McKee
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
Photo by Matt McKee
Fiddlehead Theatre Website