Thursday, December 22, 2016

"No Place To Pray" by James Carpenter - A Southern Gothic Tale of Racism, Alcoholism and Oppression


Wharton professor James Carpenter has penned a novel that describes a world that is far removed from the University of Pennsylvania campus. This dark tale treats issues of class, race, alcoholism and the nature of friendship.Leroy and Harmon met while they were locked up together, and forged a friendship that bridged racial divides. Harmon is white and Leoy is bi-racial. Like Huck and Jim, they end up on a river that leads them to a new life, struggling to earn their livelihood in an oppressive mill.

The setting and the action of this story takes the reader through a journey of the underbelly of America, where alcohol, lies and and half-truths obscure the true nature of the world for both protagonists. They both end up befriending and bedding a rich widow by the name of Edna, and this menage a trois does to end well.

The novel is a Southern gothic tale, evoking echoes of both Faulkner and Cormac McCarthy's "The Road." While Harmon and LeRoy live hard lives, made harder by some of the choices they made, their moments of joy and true friendship serve as grace notes to a tale otherwise told in a minor key.

Enjoy!

Al

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

"The Coaching Habit" by Michael Bungay Stanier - Coaching Distilled Down To Seven Key Questions


In "The Coaching Habit," Michael Bungay Stanier has distilled the art of coaching down into seven key and clear questions and the principles that undergird each question.


  1. The Kickstart Question
  2. The AWE Question
  3. The Focus Question
  4. The Foundation Question
  5. The Lazy Question
  6. The Strategic Question
  7. The Learning Question

Executive Coaching and Life Coaching is experiencing a rapid growth in America. I see it in my own coaching practice, with more and more of my clients referring to me colleagues who want what they have observed in their friends in terms of growth and passion. More and more professionals are seeing the need to adopt a wellness model in growing their leadership skills and are turning to coaches to hold them accountable for implementing this growth mindset. Author Stanier shares from his own extensive coaching experience in offering coaches a temi for keeping coaching conversation effective and on track.

The lessons offered in this book are easy to comprehend and to implement. I have found them useful in my own coaching. I recommend it to anyone who wants to "Say Less, Ask More & Change The Way You Lead Forever."

Enjoy!

Al

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

"The Brooklyn Nobody Knows" by William B. Helmreich - A Treasure Trove of Information and Insights


"The Brooklyn Nobody Knows" by William B. Helmreich is the first of five planned books - one for each borough of New York City. Mr. Helmreich is Distinguished Professor of Sociology at City College of New York, and he brings a sociologist's set of lenses to his examination of the disparate neighborhoods of Brooklyn. The result of his research and writing is a treasure trove of information and insights!

He has walked all of the blocks of all five boroughs of NYC, and has made note of features that most visitors to New York would not normally be aware of. This hefty volume is a godsend to anyone who aspires to delve deeply into the hidden treasures of Brooklyn. For each of the 44 discrete Brooklyn neighborhoods, he follows a similar pattern. After describing the widely agreed upon boundaries of the neighborhood, he offers up a history of the ethnic and socio-economic and religious groups that have called this neighborhood home over the changing decades and generations.  He often comments upon the pluses and minuses of the process of gentrification that is creeping across the Brooklyn landscape block by block

I am eager to continue sharing what I have learned about Brooklyn with my many friends who inhabit Brooklyn and call one of its neighborhoods their home turf. This book holds equal value and delight for those who feel they already know this borough well, as well as those beginning their exploration of its wonders and idiosyncrasies.

If you love learning a city by walking it, this volume will be an invaluable guide and companion.

Enjoy!

Al

"Inspire Me!" by Paul and Lizzie Ayoub - An Inspiring Gem of a Book - Quotations That Bring Healing


I had high expectations for this book, "Inspire Me!" ever since I learned about the father-daughter project that inspired its writing. My expectations were exceeded. This is quite simply a terrific little gem of a book. I have already forwarded many of the pithy quotations to clients, family members, and friends, and am recommending this book to anyone who will listen.

Attorney Paul Ayoub serves as Chairman of the Board for St. Jude's Children's Research Hospital - one of the world's preeminent centers for research into cancer in children. He inherited that role from his father, "Big Joe" Ayoub, who had met St. Jude's founder and visionary, Danny Thomas, many years ago. Actor/comedian Thomas had envisioned creating a place where children with cancer and their families could come for treatment without having to worry about the costs. Big Joe shared with Mr. Thomas not only Lebanese heritage, but a passion for reaching out to those less fortunate. So they raised funds and built St. Jude's. When Danny Thomas died, his daughter, actress Marlo Thomas, picked up the torch and continues to tell the world the St. Jude's story. So it is wonderfully fitting that the father-daughter team of Paul and Lizzie Ayoub should follow in the footsteps of Danny and Marlo Thomas in using their creative abilities to create a book that inspires and amplifies the St. Jude's story. It is important to know that all profits from the sale of this book are being donated to St. Jude's

This book of quotations is organized into twelve thematic sections, with each chapter introduced by a gorgeous black and white photo by Boston photographer, Mitch Weiss. The photos address the topic at hand by using shadow and light. Publisher Michael Winston and Designer Kate Terrado have put together a stunningly beautiful volume that makes for a wonderful gift, or as something to place in your office waiting area or your coffee table at home.

Allow me to offer a small sampling of the wonderful quotations that make up the substance of this inspiring book.

"The greatest weapon against stress is our ability to choose one thought over another." William James

"The beautiful thing about fear is, when you run to it, it runs away." Robin S. Sharma

"I not only use all the brains I have, but all I can borrow." Woodrow Wilson

"The secret of a man who is universally interesting is that he is universally interested." William Dean Howells

"Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail." Ralph Waldo Emerson

"Some people see things as they are and say 'Why?' I see things that never were and say 'Why not?'" George Bernard Shaw (often quoted by Robert F. Kennedy)

"Motivation is the art of getting people to do what you want them to do because they want to do it." Dwight David Eisenhower

"A friend is someone who knows the song in your heart and can sing it back to you when you have forgotten the words." C.S. Lewis

"When you are paralyzed by fear, invite curiosity in, they can't live in your brain at the same time."  Ruth Gaviria

"Worry does not empty tomorrow of its sorrow, it empties today of its strength." Corrie Ten Boom

If you enjoyed this appetizer, then I encourage you to buy the book and ingest a full meal of these quotations.  They will not only fill and heal your soul, they will help to bring healing to the children at St. Jude's.



Enjoy!

Al

"Aaron and Alexander - The Most Famous Duel In American History" by Don Brown


The Pulitzer Prize winning Broadway hit "Hamilton" has focused a spotlight on the ancient rivalry between Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr. In this beautifully illustrated children's book, author Don Brown lays out the basics of how their relationship developed, devolved and eventually led to the duel that ended Hamilton's life and cut short Burr's political career.

Since the names of Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr are on the tongues of many people these days - both young and old - this book is timely in helping young readers to capture an appreciation of this important period in our young nation's history. This story may also provide a sense of perspective that the animus we have seen between political rivals in 2016 is not just a 21st Century phenomenon, but has its roots in the early days of the republic.

Enjoy!

Al

Monday, December 19, 2016

"Influencer" by Joseph Grenny et al. - One of The Most Impactful Books I Have Read This Year


"Influencer - The New Science of Leading Change" is one of the most impactful books I have read this year.  I have already recommended it to dozens of clients, colleagues and friends. Authors Joseph Grenny, Kerry Patterson, David Maxfield, Ron McMillan, and Al Switzler have drawn from extensive well of global experience of advising companies and leaders in Change Leadership.

The book is a beautifully crafted weaving together of researched principles regarding Influence and Change, highlighted with gripping vignettes that show examples of how these principles have been applied successful, or misapplied unsuccessfully. The stories make this book breathe.

One of the first and best examples is the story of how an employee at Danny Meyer's Gramercy Tavern in New York City noticed that a female patron was distraught as she entered the restaurant. She had inadvertently left her cell phone and purse in the a. She was in a panic. She did not know whom she was supposed to meet, how she would pay for her meal, or how to retrieve her lost belongings. The host immediately went into superhero mode, helping her to find the group she was to join, assuring her that paying for the meal was the least of his concern. He then asked her for her cell phone number, found someone to man the host desk, and went into problem-solving mode. He spent over 30 minutes calling the woman's cell phone, finally reaching the cab driver, who by this time was far away in the Bronx. The Gramercy employee offered to take a cab uptown to meet the driver half way. He did so, retrieved the lost purse and cell phone, and returned to the restaurant before the 
woman and her group had finished their meals.

Throughout subsequent chapters, the authors point out specific steps that Mr. Meyer had taken along the way to create an ethos and culture in which this kind of extraordinary customer service is expected to be offered by every employee. This book is not only valuable for business leaders and owners, it also contains many examples of how individuals have applied the principles of influence within families and personal relationships.

I look forward to continuing to learn to apply these principles in my own career and life, and look forward to continue recommending this gem to others.

Enjoy!

Al

Thursday, December 15, 2016

"Fingersmith" Finishes Off The 2016 A.R.T. Year With A Flourish - A Gothic Victorian Tale With Many Plot Twists


The A.R.T. is finishing up the calendar year of 2016 with a flourish with the intriguing and dark drama "Fingersmith" by Alexa Junge. Based on a novel by Sarah Waters, this play is a gothic Victorian tale of forbidden love, betrayal and redemption. There are many tortuous plot twists along the way, so I will be offering scant comments about the plot to ensure that no surprises are spoiled.

Sue Trinder, a.k.a. Fingersmith (Tracee Chimo) is a trained and gifted pickpocket, raised by the Fagin-like Mrs. Sucksby (Kristine Nielsen). Together with Richard "Gentleman" Rivers (Josiah Bania) they hatch a plot to rob Maud Lily (Christina Bennett Lind) of her inheritance. To say that complications ensue would be to drastically understate the case. The action features hangings, murders, kidnappings, forced incarcerations in a lunatic asylum, and many other shady dealings. In a world dominated by men, Sue, Maud, and Mrs. Sucksby emerge as powerful women, giving this Victorian tale a strong feminist undercurrent.

Tracee Chimo as Sue
Christina Bennett Lind as Maud
"Fingersmith" by Alexa Junge
American Repertory Theater
Through January 8th, 2017
Photo by Evgenia Eliseeva 

Themes of class and gender divides are explored in creative ways, as is the role of sexuality in a repressed era. The playwright uses gravity as a uniting motif throughout the play. The telling of this complex and intriguing story is enhanced by a superb cast and brilliant team of creatives. Christopher Acebo's set is a marvel - with rotating turntable that allows for rapid movement from library to a rowboat to a carriage ride through the countryside. The multiple levels and staircases allow for movement of the actors throughout the performance space. Costume Design by Deborah Dryden paints a vivid picture of class differences. Lighting by Jen Schriever sets just the right moods as actions shift among times and places. Composition and Sound Design by Andre Pluess sounds just the right eerie notes. Projections by Shawn Sagady bring us to the gallows.

Director Bill Rauch brings this production from his home at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. continuing a collaboration with A.R.T. that began with "All The Way." He has assembled a stellar cast, and he leads them with a steady hand. Standing out are the aforementioned Kristine Nielsen as Mrs. Sucksby, Tracee Chimo as Sue, Christina Bennett Lind as Maud, and Josiah Bania as Richard. Other standouts include Luke Marinkovich as John Vroom, Patrick Kerr as Huss, Jo Mei in multiple roles, Kate Levy in multiple roles, Kingsley Leggs as Dr. Christie et al., Lauren Modica as Cook and Nurse, Zachary Infante as Charles, T. Ryder Smith as Christopher Lily, Maud's eccentric uncle, Lenne Klingaman as Marianne. Morgan Jamie Benard and Giana Ribeiro alternate in the roles of Young Sue and Young Maud.

Cast
"Fingersmith" by Alexa Junge
American Repertory Theater
Through January 8th, 2017
Photo by Evgenia Eliseeva 
If you go, which you should plan to do, you will be challenged to keep up with the rapidly developing and lurching plot, but it is well worth the effort. The play will run through January 8th, 2017.  Get your ticket's quickly. Last night's performance was completely sold out. Don't be left hanging!

Cast
"Fingersmith" by Alexa Junge
American Repertory Theater
Through January 8th, 2017
Photo by Evgenia Eliseeva 
American Repertory Theater Website

Enjoy!

Al

Revisiting "Natasha, Pierre . . . " - Josh Groban Shines Like A Bright Comet!


A few weeks ago I saw and reviewed "Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812." The performance that I witnessed featured a very fine performance by Scott Strangland in the role of Pierre, since Josh Groban was out with an illness.

Original White Rhino Report Review of "Natasha . . . "

I wanted to return to see Mr. Groban in the role of Pierre, and I did so on Tuesday evening. I must admit that when I first learned that Josh Groban had been cast in the challenging role of Pierre, I wondered if this acclaimed singer, whose voice I adore, would have the acting chops to carry a show like this one. I need not have worried. He is astonishing. I am aware that Mr. Groban put himself through the equivalent of a boot camp to prepare for this daunting Broadway debut. He spent months preparing himself for this role, working with a coach to "dirty up" his gorgeous singing voice to fit the dipsomaniacal Pierre who is slowly drinking himself to death. He bought an accordion and took it with him on the road, teaching himself to play the instrument.  He even practiced putting the instrument on and taking it off - something that Pierre is called upon to do several times during each performance. No detail of preparation was too trivial.

This assiduous attention to detailed preparation has paid off, for his performance in this role is stellar and exquisitely satisfying. Groban takes Pierre through an arc that goes from cynical nihilism to unexpected hope. He had been living in a loveless marriage to a self-proclaimed slut and then finds himself suddenly alive emotionally when he offers forgiveness and friendship to the disgraced Natasha. His emotional reawakening reminded me of one of C.S. Lewis' titles: "Surprised By Joy."
His modulated vocals are shown to their greatest effect in the prolonged song that he sings as he is recovering from a duel: "Dust and Ashes." In this song, he asks the existential question "Is This How I Die?" He is backed up by the majestic sound of the ensemble. The audience roared its approbation and appreciation of this vocal tour de force. As the play comes to its climax, he addresses with wonder the Great Comet of 1812, wondering what it may portend, as the strains of the finale rise and fall and the extraordinary lighting matches Pierre's mood.

Josh Groban as Pierre
Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812
Imperial Theatre
Mr. Groban acts through his singing, and silences any who may have doubted his ability to take his protean talents to a new kind of stage. Do not miss seeing him in this role.  He has committed to staying in the role of Pierre until July 2, 2017.

Enjoy!

Al

Sunday, December 11, 2016

"A Christmas Carol" at North Shore Music Theatre - It Never Gets Old! - Through December 23rd


Thank God for Charles Dickens and his ability to weave a timeless tale that captures for all generations the spirit of Christmas celebration. Every year around this time I turn back into a little boy feeling like it is the night before Christmas. The occasion is my waiting for the Press Opening of the annual North Shore Music Theatre production of the musical adaptation of Dickens' moving tale of Scrooge, Marley, the Cratchits and the trio of Ghosts. There is no better interpretation of this story than the one that is extant at NSMT.

Treat yourself to an early Christmas present and head to North Shore Music Theatre.  If you know me at all, you know that I am a huge fan of anything written by Charles Dickens.  His classic story, "A Christmas Carol," has enchanted me since I was a boy.  Over the decades that I have trod the earth, I have seen many adaptations and presentations of this tale dramatized on stage and screen.  I have never seen any better presentation of this story than the one presently on stage at NSMT. Everything about this production makes it worthy of investing your entertainment dollar.  It is visually stunning, theatrically mesmerizing, emotionally gripping, and spiritual uplifting, Under the inspired direction of Artistic Director Kevin P. Hill, all of the elements - staging, choreography, lighting, sound, music, acting, singing, flying, pyrotechnics - all coalesce into a pleasing whole that had me vacillating among a Christmas punch bowl of emotions - joy, wonder, amazement, sympathy, empathy, pity, hope and finally - deep satisfaction.  And isn't that the essence of the Christmas experience?

  • David Coffee has inhabited the role of Ebenezer Scrooge lo these many seasons (23 to be exact), and there is no one better in portraying the dizzying arc of Scrooge's journey through time and turmoil. Mr. Coffee brews an even more satisfying cup of Christmas cheer with each new annual production of this play.  His facial expressions and grunting of "Humbug!" are along worth the price of admission. But he also has a wondrous supporting cast backing him up.
  • Andrew Tighe is the young and erstwhile romantic Ebenezer, in love with life and with Belle (Brittney Morello).  Their chemistry is palpable, and it is heart-rending to watch Belle's heart break as Ebenezer's heart hardens, and she is replaced in his affections by gold and his relentless pursuit of lucre.
  • In adapting this novella to the stage, writer Jon Kimbell has deftly employed the role of the Narrator to create a context and explication for much of the action.  Tommy Labanaris is perfect in this role.  In a wonderful plot twist in the final moments of the show, we learn why the Narrator has been leaning upon a cane throughout the proceedings.  It is a nice touch.
  • The Cratchit Family - This struggling little family is at the emotional heart of this narrative, and as portrayed by these gifted actors, we feel their affection and concern for one another. Russell Garrett is Bob Cratchit, pater familias and also beleaguered clerk to Ebenezer Scrooge.  Leigh Barrett is a warm mother and very opinionated in her resentment of the parsimonious Mr. Scrooge.  Ms. Barrett also doubles as the Ghost of Christmas Past, in which role she is also marvelous. Jillian Furber is Martha Cratchit, Cameron Perrin is Peter Cratchit, Haven Pereira is Belinda Cratchit and Joshua Gillespie is the universally beloved Tiny Tim.
Scrooge Observes The Cratchit Family At Table
"A Christmas Carol"
North Shore Music Theatre
Through December 23rd
Photo by Paul Lyden

  •  The Spirits - In addition to the versatile Ms. Barrett as The Ghost of Christmas Past, Peter S. Adams presents an imposing figure as The Ghost of Christmas Present. berobed and bedecked in traditional holiday colors.  The aforementioned Andrew Tighe doubles as the Ghost Of Christmas Yet To Come, and is a haunting spectre. He is accompanied by Ignorance (Joseph Flynn) and Want (Jay Turner). The writer has cleverly created two sprites called The Pearlies who energetically tumble and dance and generally cavort around the stage. Their presence indicates to the audience that we are about to experience the appearance of a spirit from another realm.  The first such visit is that of the Ghost of Jacob Marley (Will Ray) as he flies in (flying effects by ZFX, Inc.) to warn Scrooge that it is not too late to stop forging the kinds of ponderous chains that envelop the spectral former business partner and fellow miser.  The Pearlies are played by the enormously talented Brady Miller and Brad Trump.  Their presence in each scene serves as a sort of theatrical amuse-bouche for the audience, preparing our palates for the more substantial ghostly offerings to come on the bill of fare.
David Coffee as Scrooge
Will Ray as Marley's Ghost
"A Christmas Carol"
North Shore Music Theatre
Through December 23rd
Photo by Paul Lyden

  • The Scrooge Family - In addition to those already mentioned above, Scrooge's extended family includes Jake Ryan Flynn as the boy Ebenezer, Bronson Norris Murphy as the irrepressible and ever joyful nephew Fred, Brittney Morello as Fred's bride, Meg and Sophia Wulsin as Ebenezer's sister Fan.
  • The Fezziwigs - J.T. Turner as Mr. Fezziwig and Cheryl McMahon as Mrs. Fezziwig anchor the luminous memories of the young clerk Ebenezer being treated with great affection by his first employer.  This joyous couple knew how to throw a party!
  • Revelers, Townsfolk and Others - Brian Padgett as Old Joe, Charlie Barror and Thomas Surpitski as London boys, Tim McShea as Dick Wilkins, and Lauren Parker, Lorin Zackular, Brendan Callahan, Zehava Younger, Jamie Zeidman as residents of London.
Adding to the overall effect are spectacular pyrotechnics by Atlas Fireworks, superb Lighting by Jack Mehler, Sound by Leon Rothenberg, Costumes by Paula Peasley-Ninestein, Hair and Wigs by Gerard Kelly and Scenic Design by Howard C. Jones.  On the music front, original music was composed and arranged by Alby Potts and James Woodland.  Music Director Milton Granger leads a multi-talented group of musicians and singers who perform in every corner of the theatre.

Tickets to this production are always in great demand, so do not delay, and do not disappoint by waiting too long.  You will have a Dickens of a time explaining to your family why you did not bring them to this year's production of NSMT's timeless "A Christmas Carol."

God bless us, everyone!

Enjoy!

Al







Saturday, December 10, 2016

"The Invisible Front" by Yochi Dreazen - Love and Loss In An Era of Endless War - Confronting The Epidemic of Veteran Suicide


As I sit down to send off this Blog post, it is halftime at the Army-Navy Game - one of the great traditions in our nation. The Cadets of West Point and the Midshipmen of the Naval Academy are facing off as rivals today, but they stand together as brothers in fighting a common enemy - the epidemic of suicide among military veterans and active duty warriors.

I can think of no better time than now to repost the review below that I first offered in the White Rhino Report two years ago. The epidemic and the stigma of suicide continues to be a problem that we must confront - on a policy level and on a personal level.


I cannot say enough about the impact of "The Invisible Front."  Retired Army Major General Mark Graham and his wife Carol lost two sons in battle. Jeff was killed by an IED in Iraq.  Kevin succumbed to the wounds of chronic depression by taking his own life shortly before he was to be commissioned as an Army second lieutenant after completing the ROTC program at his beloved University of Kentucky.

The stark difference in the ways that friends and the public reacted to the deaths of Jeff and Kevin have caused the Graham family to take a deep look at how our military and how our society treat those with PTSD and depression and who may threaten or commit suicide.  During the final years of his Army career, General Graham was zealous about doing all that he could to make changes from the inside of the military bureaucracy.  This book unblinkingly examines the successes, frustrations and failures in his attempts and those of Mrs. Graham to bring about significant changes.  Those efforts continue unabated now that he has retired from the Army.

This story is so moving and so disturbing that at several points in my reading I had to stop and wipe the tears from my eyes so that I could continue.  Yet the book is not just an emotional grenade; it is a call to action for anyone who shares the Graham's frustration with the inadequacy of our present approach to treating PTSD and depression.

Near the end of the book I read about the man that the Graham's daughter, Melanie, would marry.  What a surprise when I put two and two together to discover that her husband is a young West Point graduate I know well.  My next step in responding to this book is to reach out to the Graham family through my friend Joe to offer my help and that of my network in the campaign to give meaning to the deaths of Jeff and Kevin Graham.

This is a book to be read and then shared.  I challenge you not be be moved to action by the power of its message and the courageous testimony of the Graham family.

Al

Mainely Burgers In Central Square, Cambridge - Sharing & Caring - A Great Way To Give Twice


Boston area residents are aware that a week ago today, a devastating 10-alarm fire swept through an area of Cambridge just west of my office in Kendall Square. Scores of families have been left homeless - just before the holidays. The Mayor of Cambridge has set up a special relief fund, which is now well over half a million dollars and growing.

Cambridge Mayor's Fire Relief Fund

New to the Cambridge community are Jack and Max Barber, brothers who opened Mainely Burgers on Massachusetts Avenue in Central Square this past August.  These new neighbors have stepped up to the plate by offering to donate 10% of all proceeds from Gift Cards sold this holiday season to the relief fund. I just stopped by for lunch - my usual 'Shroom and Swiss Burger. I also purchased four Gift Cards.

I invite you to follow my lead.  Stop by for a great meal - the best burgers I have found in Boston (they also accommodate vegetarian palates) - and join the thousands of other good neighbors who are reaching out to the victims of last weekend's fire.

704 Massachusetts Avenue
Central Square
Cambridge, MA
God bless us, every one!

Al

Tuesday, December 06, 2016

"My Living Will - A Father's Story of Loss & Hope" by John Trautwein


John Trautwein's book is one of the most impactful books I have read in a long while. It deals with increasing the will to live among troubled teens. "My Living Will - A Father's Story of Loss & Hope" tells the heart-rending story of how the Trautwein family lost their 15 year-old son, Will, to suicide in 2010 and the remarkable events that have ensued. It is a book that took me longer than usual to read because I kept having to stop reading to wipe the tears from my eyes.  And yet, ultimately, it is a tremendously uplifting account of how victory can be forged from the ashes of unspeakable tragedy and loss.

I became aware of this book, and the Will To Live Foundation that it supports, because I have met the author, former Red Sox pitcher John Trautwein. Many readers are aware that I help to run a program at Fenway Park called "Autograph Alley." Each home game, a former Red Sox player returns to sign free autographs. John comes up from Atlanta at least once each season to sign, and to disseminate the foundation's message of suicide warning and of hope.

What makes this book such a treasure is that it is not only extraordinarily well written, but it comes from John's heart, which is simultaneously broken and hopeful. His chronicling of the family's despair in the wake of Will's suicide is vivid in its intensity and descriptiveness. I felt as if I were there with them in their Georgia home the morning that Susie Trautwein walked into her son's room to find him suspended by his belt from his closet door. But just as vivid are the stories that emerged of how the family and their amazing network of supportive family and friends and neighbors were able to find ways to make Will's tragic death redemptive.

The book should be a must read for all teenagers, their parents, teachers, and coaches. John is very clear and transparent in sharing things that he and others did well, as well as discussing things that could have been done differently. He also paints a clear picture of the actions and words that were most helpful in the wake of the family tragedy. If you have ever wondered what you should do or say to a family that has suffered a grievous loss, this book with by eye-opening. If you have ever wondered how to talk to your teenager about suicide, this book offers clear guidance.

The foundation that was created from the funds that were given in memory of Will has been a beacon that has allowed Will's light to continue to shine. The focus is on teaching teenagers to be "life teammates" for one another, and how to detect signs that someone is struggling and may be considering suicide.  It provides scholarships for student athletes that have shown a passion for reaching out to mentor those coming after them. And the foundation supports other organizations that proliferate suicide education to youngsters and adults.

Suicide has a stigma. We do not like to think about it or talk about it. Yet it is an epidemic that can only be eradicated if we shine the light of hope and love into the dark corners of the minds and hearts of those who may be suffering with depression - often while presenting the mask of a smiling face to the outside world. This book and John Trautwein's wise words offer some excellent coaching on how to be proactive in increasing the will to live among those who might otherwise despair.

I encourage you to check out the Foundation's website. Will To Live Foundation:

Will To Live Website

God bless.

Al

New Rep Presents "Fiddler On The Roof" - Anatevka Comes To Watertown - Through January 1st


I have long adored "Fiddler On The Roof." Over the years, I have seen many versions and productions of the beloved musical. So, I was thrilled to learn that New Rep would be including this classic in its 2016-2017 season with the theme "What's Past Is Prologue." Opening night of this production did not disappoint.  It is a wonderful adaptation of the classic Sholem Aleichem tale of the impoverished milkman, Tevye.

The set utilizes an open concept on the large Arsenal Charles Mosesian Theater stage, with a design by Stephen Dobay that features a backdrop reminiscent of a Ukrainian forest. Lighting is by Keith Parham, Costumes by Kathleen Doyle, Choreography by Kelli Edwards and Musical Direction by F. Wade Russo.

Director Austin Pendleton brings a rich history with him to this production, for he played Motel the Tailor in the original Broadway version. He has assembled an excellent ensemble and cast of principals.
  • Every production of "Fiddler" rises and falls on the quality of its Tevye. Jeremiah Kissel comes to the role with a strong track record, and he certainly has the singing and acting chops to nail this role. For the most part he does that, although I must admit that it took me a little while to warm to his interpretation. I found his Tevye to be more hard-edged than most Tevyes I have come to identify with. He also seems to rely on gratuitous gesticulation, using some gestures to excess. But these are minor quibbles, for he presents a very credible beleaguered and impoverished milkman. The highlights of his performance include the dream sequence, his poignant lament over losing his daughter Chava, and his duet with Golde, "Do You Love Me?"
Jeremiah Kissel as Tevye
"Fiddler On The Roof"
New Rep
Charles Mosesian Theater
Through January 1st
Photo by Andrew Brilliant/Brilliant Pictures
  • Amelia Broom as Golde is a wonderful yin to Kissel's yang. She is a tough taskmaster to her five daughters and longsuffering companion to Tevye: "You could die from such a man!" She shines in the aforementioned duet, the dream sequence, "Sunrise, Sunset," and "Sabbath Prayer."
Dashiell Evett as Fiddler
Amelia Broome as Golde
Bobbie Steinbach as Yente
"Fiddler On The Roof"
New Rep
Charles Mosesian Theater
Through January 1st
Photo by Andrew Brilliant/Brilliant Pictures
  • Bobbie Steinbach is a Yente for the ages. She embodies the forces in Anatevka determined to hang onto tradition at all costs. Her quips are always comical and poignant, and she leads the way in the music number "The Rumor." This versatile actor was born to play this role. Right? Of course right!
  • Abby Goldfarb is eldest daughter Tzeitel. She is wonderful in "Matchmaker, Matchmaker," along with Sarah Oakes Muirhead as Hodel and Victoria Britt as Chava. This song is always a highlight, and these three women nailed it. This song was one of many high point in this production.
Abby Goldfarb as Tzeitel
Sarah Oakes Muirhead as Hodel
Victoria Britt as Chava
"Fiddler On The Roof"
New Rep
Charles Mosesian Theater
Through January 1st
Photo by Andrew Brilliant/Brilliant Pictures
  • Patrick Varner plays Motel the Tailor, whose marriage to Tzeitel begins the insidious process of unraveling traditions in the shtetl. It is clear that Director Pendleton must have spent a great deal of time imparting deep knowledge about Motel to Mr. Varner, for his grasp of this role is the best I have ever witnessed among the many dozens of "Fiddler On The Roof" performances I have attended or performed in. I do not recall ever before being moved to tears during the singing of "Miracle of Miracles," but the tears flowed last evening. Varner's potrayal of the arc of Motel's character from nebish to courageous and self-confident mensch is palpable and impressive.
  • Ryan Mardesich is wonderful as Perchik, the revolutionary and self-assured student from Kiev who woos and wins the hand of Hodel. He shines when he proposes to Hodel discussing the "political question of marriage," and then launches into an impressive rendition of "Now I Have Everything."
  • Dan Prior brings his accustomed excellence to the role of the Russian soldier Fyedka. He convinces Chava to marry outside of her faith, and Tevye's biggest crisis ensues. Mr. Prior gets to show off his soaring tenor voice during the rollicking ensemble number "To Life."
  • David Wohl is perfectly cast as Lazar Wolf, the rich butcher whose arranged marriage to Tzeitel is scuttled by the young woman's refusal to marry without love. He and Mr. Kissel lead the charge is the rousing "To Life."
  • Special note must be given to the excellent Bottle Dancers from the wedding reception scene. They are Adam Lokken Barrameda, Leo Galletto, Ricardo D. Holguin, and Ben Salus.
  • The Russian Dancers were also excellent in the "To Life" scene: Jared Reinfeldt and Dylan C. Wack. 
  • Also of note are Gabriela Ettinger as Shprintze, Carly Williams as Bielke, Dashiell Evett as the Fiddler, Gabriel Graetz as Mordcha the Innkeeper, Bo Krucik as Nachum the beggar, Robert Orzalli as the Rabbi, Eli Raskin as the Constable, Alyssa Rae Surrette as Fruma-Sarah, and Jocelyn Weiss as Grandma Tzeitel.
  • Additional ensemble members are Seamus Doyle and Samuel L. Warton.
Cast
"Fiddler On The Roof"
New Rep
Charles Mosesian Theater
Through January 1st
Photo by Andrew Brilliant/Brilliant Pictures

If I have any fault to find with this fine production, it would be with the final scene in Act One. When the Constable and his minions crash Tzeitel and Motel's wedding reception, the usual sense of fear, hatred and violence that needs to characterize this scene was missing. There was no passion in the turning over of tables and the smashing of wedding gifts. There were no goose feathers flying. So when Tevye rallies the troops with the line "Let's clean up," there was not much chaos to be undone. But like the Good Book says: "That is a minor flaw in an otherwise excellent production."

"Fiddler On The Roof" will run through January 1st. Many performances are already sold out, so I suggest you get your tickets ASAP.

New Rep Website

Enjoy!

Al

Sunday, December 04, 2016

Stoneham Theatre Enchants With "Mame"- We Need A Little Christmas!


I have long loved the story of Auntie Mame - in the classic Rosalind Russell film version, and in the musical version, "Mame," that first lit up the Broadway sky in 1966. With hummable tunes and memorable lyrics by Jerry Herman and an uplifting story line by Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee (no - not that Robert E. Lee), the play is perfect for elevating our spirits in the post-election doldrums many of us have been experiencing.

Award-winning Director and Choreographer Ilyse Robbins has assembled a marvelous cast, anchored by the irrepressible Kathy St. George in the title role of Mame. She is joined by fellow Broadway veteran Mary Callahan in the role of Mame's best friend, Vera. These two ladies and the rest of the terrific cast are well supported by the craftsmanship and musicianship of the following: Musical Direction by Matthew Stern, an impressive set designed by Kathryn Monthei, incredible costumes by Tyler Kinney, effective Lighting by Jeff Adelberg and well modulated Sound by John Stone. Kudos to the hard working backstage crew for facilitating dozens of rapid costume changes throughout the show.

Cast
"Mame"
Stoneham Theatre
Through December 23rd
Photo by Nile Hawker/Nile Scott Shots
This production of "Mame" is a total delight, with great singing, dancing, and some memorable acting performances. Ms. St. George is not only irrepressible, she is irresistible in this role.  She had the audience eating out of her bejewelled hand from her first entrance. Her renditions of "Open A New Window," "My Best Girl" sung with Patrick (understudy Asher Navisky in the performance I attended), and her duet with Vera, "Bosom Buddies," are all highlights. Best of all is her rendering of the poignant "If He Walked Into My Life."

Other principal cast members add their own secret sauce to their richly drawn characters.
  • Ceit Zweil is outstanding in the juicy role of Agnes Gooch, Mame's secretary. Heeding Mame's advice to go out into the world and live, she returns to Beekman Place as a bachelor girl who is great with child. Her belting out "Gooch's Song" is a show stopper.
  • The incredibly versatile Robert Saoud plays Tanner, Mame's superannuated butler. His physical comedy is a treat, especially when he mimics Gooch's third trimester waddle as the two of them ascend the center staircase. This bit of hamming it up elicited an enthusiastic round of applause from the full house.
  • Will McGarrahan is wonderfully solicitous of Mame as the Southern plantation owner, Beauregard Jackson Pickett Burnside. She wins his heart and his hand, and eventually his fortune after Beau's unfortunate encounter with a too steep Alp. The actor also doubles as Mr. Upson.
  • Margaret Ann Brady is the formidable mother of Beau, Mrs. Burnside. She is initially vehemently opposed to the Yankee Mame, but after Mame pulls a surprise coup in re-inventing the fox hunt, Mrs. Burnside relents. She figuratively embraces Mame, clasping the Northerner to her more than ample dowager's bosom, and approving of the match with her son. Ms. Brady does double duty as Mrs. Upson, snooty mother of Patrick's fiancee, Gloria.
  • Sarah Kawalek is the dim-witted and spoiled socialite, Gloria Upson. She and her parents almost succeed in enticing Patrick's affections and values away from those of Mame, but Auntie Mame has a few tricks up her sleeve to right the listing ship.
  • Katie Anne Clark is Sally Cato, Beau's longstanding intended bride and Southern belle par excellence. But she is no match for the charms of Mame, who wins the verbal and tactical cat fight without suffering a scratch.
  • Matty Rickard brings a fine voice to the role of Older Patrick, and he shines in the reprises of "My Best Girl."
The Cast perform the title song
"Mame"
Stoneham Theatre
Through December 23rd
Photo by Nile Hawker/Nile Scott Shots
  • Sarah Mass plays Pegeen Ryan, a decorator who is part of Mame's plot to stifle the Upsons. Patrick eventually marries Pegeen instead of Gloria.
  • John O'Neil is M. Lindsay Woolsey, publisher of Mame's memoir and her longtime confidant.
  • Sean McGuirk plays the irksome banker and trustee of Patrick's affairs, Dwight Babcock. He is full of self-importance and rectitude.
  • His son, Junior, is played by Rhys Scheibe. He and Patrick become roommates at school.
  • Other ensemble members, who add excellent dancing and singing to the production numbers are Serge Clivio, Meryl Galaid, Brian Pereira, Izzy Richards, and Hannah Shihdanian.
Cameron Levesque as Young Patrick
Kathy St. George as Mame
Robert Saoud as Tanner
Ceit Zweil as Gooch
"Mame"
Stoneham Theatre
Through December 23rd
Photo by Nile Hawker/Nile Scott Shots

It is no secret that we all "Need A Little Christmas" - even before the calendar tells us that it is time to open the presents. So give yourself an early stocking stuffer and head to Stoneham for this wonderful, charming and inspiring musical. "Life is a banquet . . . " quoth Mame and Patrick. There is no reason for any of us to starve ourselves. Click below, and "Open A New Window" on your computer screen and order tickets.

Through December 23rd.


Enjoy!

Al


Thursday, December 01, 2016

Lyric Stage Company Presents "Murder for Two" - Through December 24th


Lyric Stage Company of Boston continues its season with the madcap two-hander musical "Murder for Two." Book and Music are by Joe Kinosian and Book and Lyrics by Kellen Blair. This production is Directed by A. Nora Long, with Musical Direction by Bethany Aiken and Choreography by David Connolly. Scenic Design is by Shelley Barish, Costumes by Tobi Rinaldi, Lighting by Heather Crocker, and Sound by Andrew Duncan Will.

The play is a spoof on murder mysteries, with a dizzying array of characters played by only two actors. The always entertaining Jared Troilo plays Marcus Moscowitz, a policeman who is hoping that solving the murder that has just taken place will earn him his coveted promotion to Detective. Kirsten Salpini plays all of the suspects, in an assignment that compels her to switch identities in a split-second. Some of her characters are more believable than others.

Despite hard and praiseworthy work on the part of Mr. Troilo and Ms. Salpini, the concept of the show did not work well for me. I found the writing to be often silly and sophomoric, missing the mark of clever parody. The musical seems to aim at the same target that worked well for the movie "Clue." That movie was one of the inspirations that prompted A. Nora Long to direct this production. Unfortunately, the weight of the hackneyed plot is too much for two actors to bear.

Jared Trilo as The Detective
Kirsten Salpini as Suspect
"Murder for Two"
Lyric Stage Company of Boston
Through December 24th
Photo by Mark S. Howard

The play will run through December 24th, and could provide light diversion from the rigors of Christmas shopping if you enjoyed "Clue."

Lyric Stage Website

Enjoy!

Al

"The Nix" by Nathan Hill - A Provocative and Entertaining Novel


"The Nix" by Nathan Hill is a tour de force novel that takes the reader on a fantastic voyage that reaches back to the violent 1968 Chicago Democratic Convention police riots. Since  I was studying in the Chicago area during those years, I found the telling of this story to be fascinating and provocative, and to have accurately captured the spirit of the time.

Protagonist Stephen Andresen-Anderson is a college professor who faces many difficult challenges. A one time rising literary star based on a hit first novel, he has struggled to follow up that meteoric success with any additional novels. He faces serious struggles with his college administration and with a  plagiarizing student who is the very epitome of an entitled generation of Millennials. Through these and other characters, Mr. Hill is commenting wryly on many things he sees going off the rails in 21st century America.

Stephen's world is turned upside down when his mother, who had abandoned the family many years ago, suddenly surfaces as a notorious criminal. She threw rocks at a Presidential candidate and is in jail awaiting trial. Stephen is coerced into trying to help her, and the rest of the novel is devoted to his search for the secret to her black hole of a past. His journey of discovery and self-discovery takes him all the way back to an ancestral home in rural Norway. There are surprises and revelations at every turn.

The story is intriguing, beautifully written, and thought-provoking.

Enjoy!

Al

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Moonbox Productions Presents "Amadeus" by Peter Shaffer - Through December 17th


There are two compelling reasons to take a trip to the Plaza Theatre at Boston Center for the Arts to see the current Moonbox Productions' presentation of "Amadeus" by the recently deceased Peter Shaffer. The first is the timeless writing of Peter Shaffer, whose insights into the human condition are both broad and deep. The second reason is to breathe in the extraordinary artistry of Matthew Zahnzinger in the pivotal role of Antonio Salieri, rival and bête noire to Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. In the opening scene, we behold Salieri confined to a wheelchair and wheezing out barely discernible phrases about Mozart, who had died 32 years earlier. Did he kill Mozart? That is the overarching question of the play. Salieri, recognizing the superior genius of Mozart's music over his own pedestrian compositions, cries out to God and eventually challenges God to strike him down as he plots to destroy the naive Mozart. The young composer sees Salieri as a friend and protector. Mr. Zahnzinger takes his Salieri through an impressive arc from piety to impiety, from rage to resignation.

Matthew Zahnzinger as Salieri
"Amadeus" by Peter Shaffer
Moonbox Productions
Plaza Theatre at the BCA
Through December 17th
Photo by Earl Christie

Mr. Shaffer uses the rivalry between Salieri and Mozart to examine the nature of musical genius, the irony of God's bestowing greatness on an apparently unworthy recipient, and the tragedy of God seeming to turn His back on one who had vowed to serve him through music.

This production is Directed by Allison Olivia Choat, with Music Direction by Dan Rodriguez, Set by Cameron McEachern, Lighting by Jeffrey Salzberg, Sound by David Wilson, Costumes by David Lucy and Wigs by Peter Mill.

  • Cody Sloan plays young Mozart as the petulant manchild that Shaffer envisioned, uttering profanities with his potty mouth while producing divine sounds with his fingers - on the manuscript pages and on the keyboard.
Matthew Zahnzinger as Salieri
Cody Sloan as Mozart
"Amadeus" by Peter Shaffer
Moonbox Productions
Plaza Theatre at the BCA
Through December 17th
Photo by Earl Christie
  • Caroline Keeler is Mozart's wife, Constanze. Her character initially plays along with Amadeus' childish pranks and buffoonery, but soon suffers from her husband's lack of practical sense or social grace.
  • Sarah Leary and Nick Osborne are excellent as Venticellia and Venticello, providing a constant presence as spies for Salieri and as commentators on the action taking place on and off the stage.
  • Other cast members include Matt Arnold as Salieri's valet, Callin Doran as Salieri's cook, Adam Manacher as Leopold Mozart and others, J. Deschene as Teresa Salieri, Katie O'Reilly as Katherina Cavalieri, Arthur Gomez as Count Orsini-Rosenberg, Ray O'Hare as Emperor Joseph II, Ed Peed as Count von Strack, and Andrew Winson as Baron van Sweiten.
"Amadeus" will be performed through December 17th.

Moonbox Productions Website

Enjoy!

Al


Produced by Sharman Altshuler and directed by Allison Olivia Choat, Amadeus is an extraordinary meditation on art, love and the human condition.  The year is 1781, and the place is Vienna.  Joseph II is Emperor of Austria, and Vienna's world of music is ruled by the precise and pedantic composer Antonio Salieri.  Then the famous Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart arrives, throwing Salieri's predictable court life into chaos.  At first, Mozart's genius fills Salieri with awe, but that awe quickly turns to a poisonous jealousy.  Salieri must decide how far he will go to protect the world he has created, and to destroy the man who is a constant reminder of the artist he will never be.

"A Winter of Wolves" by Marc Rainer - A Jeff Trask Crime Drama


"A Winter of Wolves" is the fourth volume in a series of Marc Rainer novels that he calls "A Jeff Trask Crime Drama." The story line of this novel is one that kept me on the edge of my seat. Would the good guys intervene in time to prevent the detonation of a dirty bomb that would cripple much of the Northeast megalopolis? Police officers from a variety of agencies in the Washington, D.C. area have been targeted for assassination. The authorities need to figure out - amidst typical interagency rivalries - if this is part of a larger terrorist plot by radical Muslim elements bent on destroying America? Trask chooses to take risks that could end his career - or his life - if things turn out badly.

The author is a graduate of the Air Force Academy, and has worked both as a JAG prosecutor and a federal prosecutor, so the action in seen through the eyes of protagonist Jeff Trask, an Assistant U.S. Attorney. The author is transparent about airing his conservative political views through this fictional tale. In an Author's Note at the end of the book, he reveals that issues raised in the novel are based on real situations with which he disagrees: early release of dangerous criminals, and the politicalization of the office of the Attorney General are chief among them.

The book is a good read, and makes me want to go back and read the first three volumes in this series.

Enjoy!

Al

Bill Bryson Strikes Again with "Down Under" - An Antipodean Delight



I recently have been on a reading jag involving inhaling as many of Bill Bryson's books as possible. The latest milestone is his tour de force of Australia entitled "Down Under." Any travel writer - and Bryson is far more than a "mere" travel writer - who is able to make me want to book the next flight on Qantas is someone worth reading. As he does in all of his books, Bryson uses his travels through Australia to feed the reader delicious and gritty morsels of history, culture and human interest. I was particularly motivated to read this book because I have many friends and clients in Australia, and hope to visit there in 2017.

The reviewer for the New York Times said it perfectly: "If there is one book with which to get oriented before departure or en route to Australia, this is it.

Allow me to share a brief excerpt from this work to give you a small taste of Bryson's style as he reacts to the antipodian continent and culture:

Driving in a remote part of the Outback, Bryson found that the only radio station whose signal he could now receive was broadcasting an interminable cricket match. The author's send-up of the commentator's dialogue had me howling with delight.

"'Pritchard begins his long run in from short stump. He bowls and . . .oh, he's out! Yes, he's got him. Longwilley is caught leg-before in middle slops by Grattan. Well, now, what do you make of that, Neville?'

'That's definitely one for the books, Bruce. I don't think I've seen offside medium-slow-fast-pace bowling to match it since Baden-Powell took Rangachangabanga for a maiden ovary at Bangalore in 1948.'

I had stumbled into the surreal and rewarding world of cricket on the radio.

After years of patient study (and with cricket there can be no other kind) I have decided that there is nothing wrong with the game that the introduction of golf carts wouldn't fix in a hurry. It is not true that the English invented cricket as a way of making all other human endeavors look interesting and lively, that was merely an unintended side effect. I do not wish to denigrate a sport that is enjoyed by millions, some of them awake and facing the right way, but it is an odd game. It is the only sport that incorporates meal breaks. It is the only sport that shares its name with an insect. It is the only sport in which spectators burn as many calories as players - more if they are moderately restless. It is the only competitive activity of any type, other than perhaps baking, in which you can dress in white from head to toe and be as clean at the end of the day as you were at the beginning." 

And so it goes for almost 400 rollicking pages. If you have not yet been exposed to the mind and pen of Bill Bryson, I invite you to take the plunge. Come on in; the water is fine. If you are already a fan, then add this to your long list of treasured Bryson titles.

Enjoy!

Al

"Hard To Die" by Andra Watkins - A Novel About Theodosia Burr, Daughter of Aaron Burr


Leveraging the acclaim accorded to Broadway phenomenon "Hamilton," author Andra Watkins has crafted a fascinating metaphysical novel exploring the death and possible after life of Aaron Burr's daughter, Theodosia. Ms. Burr disappeared at age 29 in a shipwreck as she was returning to see her father.

In this story, Teodosia returns to life in 1950 as an inhabitant of a Nowhere world - halfway between death and immortality. She and others in a similar situation are given up to 13 chances to redeem themselves by helping out an assigned target. In the case of Theodosia, she is assigned to help a West Point cadet who is being coerced to return to a life as a spy, needing to save the world from Soviet nuclear aggression. Both Theodosia and Cadet Richard Cox share a common enemy in a person who manifested himself both as George the spymaster and as a General who was a bitter rival of Aaron Burr.

The novel, "Hard To Die," contains scenes both of violent confrontation and of  tender coming together of Theodosia and Cadet Cox, whose character is based on an actual mystery of a West Point cadet who disappeared without a trace. The settings of the action at West Point, Garrison, the Hudson River islands, Grand Central Stations are all familiar to me, and are rendered very graphically and clearly. Ms. Watkins' writing is of such a nature that she caused me to care about the fate of these shadowy creatures inhabiting a mysterious dimension.

Enjoy!

Al


Handel + Haydn Society Presents Handel's "Messiah" at Symphony Hall - Hallelujah!


Boston can boast many holiday traditions. There is skating on the Frog Pond at Boston Common. There are the Christmas Revels. Of course there is the iconic Boston Ballet version of the beloved "Nutcracker." But the granddaddy of them all is the tradition of the Handel + Haydn Society singing Handel's "Messiah" backed by full orchestra playing period instruments. On December 25th, 1818, H+H gave the first performance of "Messiah" in America. In 1854, the Society began the annual holiday tradition of singing the oratorio at or near Christmas.

I have a personal history with H+H and "Messiah."  When I was around 10 years old - when dinosaurs still roamed the earth - I was taken by family members to hear H+H sing the annual offering of the famed work. A distant relative was singing in the chorus at the time, Ann White Adamson. I recall being enthralled, and this piece of transcendent music has been one of my favorites over the years - both to sing and to listen to. I had not heard the H+H perform for many years, so I was thrilled to have the opportunity to hear them on Friday evening.  I was not disappointed. Sometimes we as adults tend to over-hype childhood memories.  In this case, the present iteration of H+H exceeded my boyish memories.

The concert was superb. Harry Christophers' conducting was a master class in precision, passion, and subtlety. He led the orchestra and chorus in nuanced interpretations of tempos and dynamics, blending the voices and period instruments that filled the hall with heavenly sound befitting the subject matter of the piece. There was a perfect balance between the 30 voices in the chorus and a similar number of instrumentalists in the orchestra. Concertmaster Aisslinn Nosky led the string section with a steady hand. Principal Trumpeter Jesse Levine stood out in the soaring "The Trumpet Shall Sound."

The four soloists all came with worldwide reputations. They clearly know and love this Handel piece, treating it with respect and dignity.

Soprano Joelle Harvey was the very essence of professionalism. Her clear tones and nuanced interpretations of the text stood out. Each note was clearly articulated, and I was able to understand each carefully enunciated word. Her rendition of "I Know That My Redeemer Liveth" is one of the best I have heard. As she sang, she addressed herself to each section of the hall, as if to say, "I am telling an important story here; I do not want any of you to miss it."

Tenor Colin Balzer brought a mastery of dynamics that was impressive. With the opening notes of "Comfort Ye My People," I knew we were in good hands with this tenor. And "Every Valley Shall Be Exalted" was a revelation. Mr. Balzer showed great vocal control in the sustained notes in the phrase "And the rough places plain."

Baritone Sumner Thompson's rich voice filled the hall when the text called for power, and he decrescendoed to an audible whisper when appropriate, such as the phrase "And the Gentiles shall come to thy light." His voice soared in the aforementioned "The Trumpet Shall Sound."

Countertenor Robin Blaze has an impressive list of international achievements in his bio, yet I found his performance to be spotty on Friday evening. In "But Who May Abide The Day of His Coming?" he lacked the vocal power in the lower parts of his range to project his voice to all parts of Symphony Hall. I was sitting in an acoustically fortuitous part of the hall midway back in the Orchestra section, yet I had a difficult time hearing him over the orchestra. The melismatic sections seemed to melt into a muddy stream of sound, without a clear articulation of each rapid note. On the other hand, when the music called for him to use the upper reaches of his range, his voice was beautifully clear. This was especially true in the aria he shared with Ms. Harvey "He Shall Feed His Flock/Come Unto Him."

The chorus was simply magnificent throughout. They have clearly been well chosen, well trained and well directed. The blend of the voices in the ensemble sections was exquisite, and each section carried their part with clarity and beauty. The blend was most evident during the a capella sections of "Since By Man Came Death."


The audience responded enthusiastically both at the end of Part the First and at the conclusion of the concert. This is a tradition that continues to delight.  There is one more opportunity on Sunday afternoon to hear this year's version of "Messiah." There are also additional concert programs scheduled over the next few months.  If H+H is not already on your list of cultural and entertainment options, I encourage you to treat yourself to one of their performances. They are world class.

Handel and Haydn Website

Enjoy!

Al