Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Gloucester Stage Company Presents "The Last Schwartz" by Deborah Zoe Laufer - Last Week of Performances - Do Not Miss It!


Gloucester Stage Company is building a nice rapport with the work of Deborah Zoe Laufer.  Last season, their production of her play "Out of Sterno" was a huge hit.  This season, Gloucester Stage is presenting the New England Premiere of "The Last Schwartz," a beautifully written play about a family coming together on the anniversary of the death of their father. Under the masterful direction of Paula Plum, a gifted ensemble cast plumb the depths of familial affections and dysfunctions.

Among the themes that Ms. Laufer tackles in this play is the interplay between knowledge that should be kept private, but is somehow revealed and made public.  There is also a fascinating examination of the question of what we see, with a telescope reminding us of that theme throughout the play. In how many different ways can one be blind? There is also the question of what it means to respond to a perceived loss of control.  The set by Jon Savage is a stark reminder of some of these themes.  The family homestead is depicted with a living room downstage, and upstage bedrooms can be seen through the slats of wood that should be plastered over, but have either never been finished or are in the process of being dismantled.  At any rate - the slats serve as a brilliant metaphor for some of the actions that take place during the play - some family secrets will no longer be plastered over! We are able to peer into bedrooms that should be private.  Lighting by Russ Swift and Sound by Andrew Duncan Will enhance the desired effects, as well as the costumes by Elisabetta Polito.

Andrea Goodman as Kia
Brianne Beatrice as Bonnie
Gabriel Kuttner as Herb
"The Last Schwartz"
by Deborah Zoe Laufer
Gloucester Stage Company
Through July 30th
The members of this motley family are:
  • Norma - The oldest sister who has lost her husband and teenage son because of her rigidity and rectitude.  She compensates for her loss by trying to control everyone and everything. Veronica Anastasio Wiseman is chillingly brilliant in portraying the depth of Norma's desperation to be in total control.
  • Herb - The oldest brother who is married to Bonnie, a woman who converted to Judaism to join the Schwartz family, but feels left out in many ways.  Gabriel Kuttner presents Herb as a financially successful but emotionally troubled man who struggles with standing up to Norma and her controlling machinations.  His claim on the coffee table is a powerful scene.
  • Simon - The middle brother is a brilliant astronomer with severe Autism.  He is going blind, and spends much of the play downstage left staring into a telescope, replaying from memory star patterns that he remembers from his earlier days. Paul Melendy offers one of the most memorable performances of the season in this complex role.  His twitches and tics and eyebrow gyrations establish the character.  His response to Zia's attempted seduction of him punctuates the end of the first act. Simon is clothed in white, suggestive either of a mummified body or a Billy Budd-like embodiment of innocence. In a nod to Chekhov and "The Cherry Orchard," he is left alone at the end of the play, free to perform his moon walk in which he envisions himself leaping on the surface of the moon.  A golden image of a full moon floats behind him in the background.  It is a visually stunning end to a remarkable play.
  • Gene - The youngest brother is a smarmy and randy TV director who has brought along his latest starlet bimbo, Kia, to the festivities. Glen Moore as Gene tries to keep Kia and her unfiltered comments and unfiltered joints under wraps, but fails to squelch her primal energies. He also has to juggle the complexities of his prior relationship with his sister-in-law, Bonnie.
  • Kia - She is played magnificently by Andrea Goldman, Kia functions almost as a Shakespearean fool. Her obtuseness ironically brings to light truths that have been lurking under the surface.
  • Bonnie - Brianne Beatrice oozes pain from every pore.  She is in a perpetual state of mourning over her multiple miscarriages and still birth of their son. She used to be svelte and attractive like Kia, but she has let herself go. Her revelation of how she was treated by her departed father-in-law is one of the bombshells that explodes during the action of the play.
This play is both challenging and moving.  There are many moments of laughter and other moments of sober reflection.  The playwright has an ear for realistic dialogue and interplay.  A sequence of lines that got an enthusiastic and immediate response from Sunday's audience involved an exchange between Norma and Herb. She is frustrated with all of the messy aspects of their family constellation -  the arguments, the tensions, the secrets.

Norma: "Why aren't we a real family?"

Herb: "This is what a real family is, Norma!"

It is because of these kinds of pithy insights that demonstrate that Ms. Laufer has written a play that transcends the struggles of a Jewish family, and offers a universal examination of the constellations of relationships and complications that light up the sky of every family.

Paul Melendy as Simon
"The Last Schwartz"

by Deborah Zoe Laufer
Gloucester Stage Company
Through July 30th
This is the last week that this production will run in East Gloucester.  Do not miss it!

Gloucester Stage Website

Enjoy!

Al

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Mini-Review of "The Last September" by Nina de Gramont - A Riveting Debut Novel



Nina de Gramont's debut novel, "The Last September," is a triumph.  I could not put it down.  She manages to weave together a murder mystery that contains threads of Emily Dickinson's poetry, an examination of what it means to live with a schizophrenic in the family, and the vicissitudes of  a less than perfect marriage.

Brett and Charlie are married and living near the home of Emily Dickinson in Western Massachusetts.  Charlie's brother, Eli, has devolved from being a promising pre-med student to being a chronic schizophrenic living from one enforced hospitalization to another. Brett's world falls apart when Charlie is murdered while visiting the family home on Cape Cod, and it looks as if his brother may have been the murderer.  Ms. de Gamony has created memorable and sometimes quirky characters who grab the reader's attention and sympathy. This is a promising beginning to what I hope will be a long literary career for this gifted author.

Enjoy!

Al

Company One Presents The New England Premiere of "The T Party" - A Play Created & Directed By Natsu Onoda Power - A Tantalizing Treatment of a Timely Topic


The current Company One production of "The T Party" by Natsu Onoda Power is a play, a party, a series of vignettes, and a happening - all centered on the topic of non-binary gender expression, especially aspects of the transgender conversations that are happening in our nation.  The audience members walk into the theater while a high school Senior Prom is happening, and are encouraged to join in the dancing and fastivities.

Playwright and Director Power began work on this play almost ten years ago, during a time when the level of knowledge and conversation about transgender issues was in its infancy compared to the level of discourse in 2016.  She sets the play in 2007, when it was very controversial for someone to bring a same sex or transgender date to a high school prom.  The opening sequence hints at some of the bullying and awkwardness that would have taken place at one of those proms.

Cast and Audience members party
"The T Party"
Company One
Boston Center for the Arts
Through August 13th
Photo by Paul Fox
Ms. Power has worked with Company One in the past.  Her play, "Astro Boy & The God Of Comics" was a favorite of critics and audiences two summers ago. She has assembled a diverse and gifted ensemble to help her to throw this Party: Kadahj Bennett, David J. Castillo, Matthew Dray, Alex Jacobs, Mal Malme, Jade Sylvan, Alyssandra Taylor, and Gigi Watson.  Most of the players take on more than one role as the vignettes unfold and the Party progresses. One of the most dramatic transformations is that of David J. Castillo.  During the Prom, he is a bundle of nervous and frenetic energy, flitting everywhere with nervous tics and facial features that make one think of a young person suffering from Asperger's Syndrome. Later in the play, he assumes the role of a very self-assured trans woman holding her own in a challenging conversation.

Jade Sylvan, David J. Castillo, Alex Jacobs
"The T Party"
Company One
Boston Center for the Arts
Through August 13th
Photo by Paul Fox
The creative team help to set the right tone for this T Party: Lighting by Justin Pace, Costumes by Tyler Kinney, Sound and Original Song by Lee Schuna, Choreography by Eileen Herman -Hasse and Raul Nieves, Video and Projection by Madie Hays.

The topic of transgender identity and struggles is as timely as today's weather report.  The NBA has entered the fray by pulling the All Star Game from North Carolina in response to that state passing restrictive legislation limiting trans rights.  The topic became personally timely for me this week when I watched a Facebook video posted by a friend of mine who is a NYC-based actor. My friend was standing in line at a Midtown Manhattan McDonald's behind a trans woman,  As they waited for their sandwiches to be delivered, my friend observed the woman being harassed by several young men who were seated at a nearby table. Sensing that a physical confrontation might be brewing, my friend shared his fear and his inner thoughts about what he should do - if anything.  He summoned his courage and confronted the men who were bothering this woman who wanted nothing more than to collect her sandwich and get on with her day. The bigots eventually backed down, and the woman thanked my friend for his support.  In microcosm, this is a picture of what our trans brothers and sisters face each day.  "The T Party," with its disco ball and glittering tiaras, sheds some light on the struggles, and is a worthy catalyst for further discussion and action to ensure safety and fairness for all who struggle with issues of living out their lives hassle free.

Kadahj Bennett, Tori Clay, Mal Malme
"The T Party"
Company One
Boston Center for the Arts
Through August 13th
Photo by Paul Fox
"The T Party" will continue at Boston Center for the Arts through August 13th. Come and join the celebration and the conversation.

Company One Website

Enjoy!

Al


Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Apollinaire Theatre Company Presents Apollinaire In The Park 2016 - "Hamlet" - A Fascinating Production!


For much of its  existence, Apollinaire Theatre Company has offered outdoor free bi-lingual theater productions as a gift to their Chelsea neighbors and the rest of Boston's theater-loving community. This summer's offering is once again set in the picturesque PORT Park next to the very formidable salt piles of the Eastern Salt Company on the waterfront in Chelsea.  As a matter of fact, Director Danielle Fauteux Jacques has brilliantly incorporated the salt piles into the action of the play.

"Hamlet" is presented in Promenade fashion, with many scenes being presented to an audience that is seated (bring your own folding chair!), but then as the action shifts to another section of the park, the audience members are escorted to the new venue and they stand to watch the action of the play continue to unfold.  This gambit works to stunning effect on the two occasions when the aforementioned salt piles come into play.  The brilliant Brooks Reeves as Hamlet delivers the iconic "To be or not to be" soliloquy from atop a salt pile.  The effect is that he seems in danger of hurling himself into oblivion if his choice is indeed "not to be." It is a powerful image and a memorable moment. Later in the play, as Ophelia is to be buried, the graveyard scene is staged at another portion of the salt pile, with the gravediggers standing below ground in the hollowed out grave.  I have seen many productions of "Hamlet," and this was the most gripping and imaginative staging of this scene I have ever seen.

Emily Edstrom as Horatio
Yorick as himself
Brooks Reeves as Hamlet
Julee Antonellis as Gravedigger
"Hamlet"
Apollinaire In The Park
PORT Park, Chelsea
Through July 31st

The stellar performance of Mr. Reeves is well supported by a solid ensemble cast.  Among those whose performances stood out are:
  • Joe Reynolds as Francisco, Player Queen and Gravedigger.  His comic turn as the hairy chested Queen in the play-within-the-play is a highlight.
  • Julee Antonellis shows great versatility in a variety of roles, including Bernardo, The Player, and the Gravedigger who exhumes the skull of "poor Yorick."
  • David Alejandro Quiroz portrays Marcellus, Lucianus, Messenger, and Gentleman.
  • Emily Edstrom is solid as Hamlet's companion, Horatio.
  • Tony Dangerfield is properly sepulchral as the Ghost.
  • Robert Cope plays Claudius, pretender to the throne of Denmark, with regal authority.
  • Mariela Lopez-Ponce is equally regal and haunted as Queen Gertrude, and is robed beautifully by Costume Designer Susan Paino.
  • Cora Della Katz gets things rolling in offering the Prologue to the play, as well as portraying Cornelia and Osric.
  • Zachary Rice as Laertes develops a nice arc to his character, moving from bosom friend to Hamlet to deadly foe.  The sword play between Laertes and Hamlet is well staged and convincingly performed.
  • Floyd Richardson is perfect as the unhinged Chamberlain Polonius.
  • Deniz Khateri is a heart-breaking Ophelia, whose descent into madness and suicide is palpable and believable.
  • Gwendolyn Squires portrays Reynalda and 2nd Player Queen.
  • Meredith Saran is Rosencrantz and Julian Sky Aldana-Tejada is Guildenstern, the two companions of Hamlet who are co-opted by Claudius to spy upon the troubled Prince.
Brooks Reeves as Hamlet
Zachary Rice as Laertes
"Hamlet"
Apollinaire In The Park
PORT Park, Chelsea
Through July 31st
Music Director David Reiffel has composed some original music that accompanies much of the action, with several cast members doubling as musicians.  Director Jacques' vision for this production is enhanced by effective lighting by Chris Bocchiaro.

The play runs  Wednesday through Sunday evenings at 8:00 through July 31st.  The play is free, but each patron is encouraged to give what they can to support this worthy effort.  Whether you have memorized many of Shakespeare's lines from this play, or you are seeing this tragedy for the first time, you will find much to enjoy in this excellent production.

Patrons are encouraged to bring chairs and blankets, even a picnic meal. Free parking is available at the park, and a food truck is present before each performance.

Be aware that a special Spanish language version of "Hamlet" will be performed by young Apollinaire artists on July 30th and 31st.


Apollinaire Theatre Website

Enjoy!

Al

Monday, July 18, 2016

Happy Medium Theatre Presents "Brendan" by Ronan Noone - A Hauntingly Well Told Tale


Playwright Ronan Noone has written a gripping play that perfectly captures the struggles of a young Irish immigrant who has been sent by his mother to America to escape family disgrace at home, and to try to make a new name for himself in the U.S.  The story contains many familiar elements: enmeshment between an Irish mother and her only son, the struggle to find true love, homesickness, fitting in as a new America without totally abandoning the heritage of The Old Sod. It comes as no surprise that alcohol and Irish pubs play important roles in Brendan's journey.

Under the direction of Victor Shopov and Brett Mark, this Happy Medium Theatre cast tells the story in a way that is moving and very timely.  A key element of Brendan's journey is his desire to obtain both his driver's license and his U.S. citizenship.  The scene in which he is among a group of new citizen's being sworn in is poignant indeed, and stands in sharp contradistinction to the rhetoric coming out of the Trump campaign.  I wanted to stand and shout: "Take that, Mr. Trump.  This is what makes America great!"

The ensemble cast is terrific, mastering various versions of an Irish brogue with alacrity. As the title character, Brendan, Avery Bargar is very convincing as the survivor of a failed suicide attempt back home in Ireland. He is forced into exile by a strong mother who wants him to make good in his second chance at life. During his time in America, he receives three letters from his mother, which he does not answer.  Finally, a fourth letter arrives from his sister, informing him that their mother has died and has been buried.  It was the mother's wish that he not be told about the funeral until it was over, so that he would not be tempted to return to Ireland. He his haunted by his mother's voice and interference for most of the play.  The mother is played by Kiki Samko in a performance that is one of the best of the season. It is hauntingly effective.

Audrey Lynn Sylvia plays Maria, a prostitute with a heart of gold who befriends Brendan and teaches him to drive.   Costume designer Cara Pacifico has provided a rich array of outfits that enable Ms. Sylvia to establish a very credible character. Hers is another strong performance. Lesley Anne Moreau is Rose, a neighbor with a very prominent Port wine stain on her face.  Rose and Brendan follow a rocky path between friendship and romance, with unsolicited input from Rose's policeman brother, played by Mr. Shopov in the performance I attended. Mikey DiLoreto is particularly strong in his dual roles as judges, and Michael Underhill juggles several key roles with his usual aplomb.  Jay Street handles the roles of Fred, Cop, and Bum and Melody Martin plays both Daisy and Ashling.

Avery Bargar as Brendan, Kiki Samko as Mother
Michael Underhill as SteveO
"Brendan"
Happy Medium Theatre
Boston Center for the Arts
Through July 30th
Photo: Josephine Anes
Scenic Design is by Marc Ewart, Lighting by Connor S. Van Ness and Sound by Vincent Morreale. The structure of the play is very effective.  The play begins with the voice of  Brendan's sister speaking the content of the letter that announces their mother's death. Throughout the play, the voice of the mother frequently alludes to Brendan's failure to answer her letters.  Near the end of the play, Brendan pens a letter to his sister, filling her in on all that has happened to him in America.  In a sense, the previous scenes are placed in context as dramatizations of the news that he writes in the long-awaited letter.

This is a production you do not want to miss. I was deeply moved.  The play will run at the Boston Center for the Arts through July 30th.

Link to purchase tickets

Enjoy!

Al


Review of "TED Talks" by Chris Anderson - Discussing Presentation Literacy


Author Chris Anderson is head of TED.  He serves as curator of the TED conferences and TED talks.  In this vitally important book, "TED Talks - The Official Guide To Public Speaking," he covers the broad topic of what he calls "presentation literacy." The book is organized to offer a series of tools that allow a presenter to draw from the best practices of TED speakers whose talks have been viewed millions of times on YouTube.

In each chapter, Anderson gives several examples of speakers who struggled to overcome obstacles of preparation and presentation, as well as examples of speakers who hit it out of the ballpark and really connected with their audiences.

One overarching principle that is frequently reinforced throughout the book is the importance of having a single important idea that runs as a consistent thread throughout the presentation.  Another important point is that the length of TED Talks has evolved over the years to the present standard of 18 minutes.  It is clear that a good communicator can say a lot in those 18 minutes.

In the final Reflection section of the book, Mr. Anderson reflects on his decision to purchase the TED enterprise.  He credits author David Deutsch and his book "The Fabric of Reality" with helping him to make the final decision to acquire TED:

"Deutsch argued convincingly that we must distinguish knowledge from understanding.  Yes, knowledge of specific facts inevitably became specialized. But understanding? No. Not at all.

To understand something, he said, we had to move in the opposite direction.  We had to pursue the unification of knowledge." (pp. 231-232)

As a Renaissance Man, I agree wholeheartedly with Anderson and Deutsch.  And the TED talks represent an excellent way of helping sentient individuals move toward a unification of knowledge.
With the tools offered in this book, each one of us can become a contributor to this ongoing process of turning specific knowledge into broader understanding.

Enjoy!

Al

Saturday, July 16, 2016

"Embrace The Fire" by Stephen England - Continuing the Shadow Warrior Series


Author Stephen England has me hooked with his Shadow Warrior series.  The adventures and misadventures of former CIA operative Harry Nichols cover most of the political and military hotspots around the globe.  In this installment of the series, Harry Nichols has been fired from the CIA for a series of indiscretions.  But he is intent on finding and killing the terrorist who gunned down his beloved Carol, who died in Harry's arms in Las Vegas.

In this volume, "Embrace The Fire," Nichols' search for Tarik Abdul Muhammad leads him to England, where a potential race riot is simmering.  Right wing factions attempt to partner with the Pakistani terrorists to pull off a bold assassination of the Royal Family as they vacation in Balmoral. Harry, operating without sanction, uses past connections to stay on top of things. He finds himself in the middle of the action - weapons shipments, suicide bombings, assassination attempts.

Former Northern Ireland IRA leaders figure in this complex plot.  From page to page, it is difficult to discern which lies are being told to protect the good guys, or are they meant to further the nefarious plans of the bad guys.  Who are the good guys and the bad guys?  The lines often blur in this fast-paced tale.

The author dedicates this book to the late Tom Clancy and Vince Flynn, titans of the thriller genre that Mr. England has joined as a fellow teller of complex and thrilling tales.

Enjoy!

Al

ArtsEmerson and Les 7 Doigts de la Main Present "Cuisine & Confessions" - Food For The Soul and Body!

"Cuisine & Confessions"
Les 7 Doigts de la Main
ArtsEmerson
at The Cutler Majestic Theatre
Through August 7th
Thank God for ArtsEmerson - The World On Stage!  Without the innovative programming that ArtsEmerson brings to its stages each season, Boston audiences might never know about many of the unique acts that entertain us and push the envelope of our understanding of the place of art in this world.  "Cuisine & Confessions" is the latest morsel served up by this wonderful series. Montreal-based circus troupe, Les 7 Doigts de la Main, created this intriguing show in 2014, and in the past two years they have presented it to audiences around the globe. They serve it up for the next three weeks to Boston audiences. This show is a co-presentation by ArtsEmerson and Jonathan Reinis Productions.


The stage of the Cutler Majestic Theatre is set with a huge working kitchen positioned upstage. The concept of this show is that while the performers execute thrilling acrobatic moves, they will tell stories from their lives and their families - often centering on experiences of shared meals in their families of origin in Russia, Argentina, Finland, Sweden, Canada, and Rhode Island.  Before the formal start of the show, audience members were invited onto the stage to help with preparation of some of the ingredients that would be used to prepare a meal of banana bread and pasta. And while the cast members are telling their stories, others are adding pasta to the boiling water putting the bread in the oven and inviting the audience members to set timers on our cell phones to signal when the bread should come out of the oven.

"Cuisine & Confessions"
Les 7 Doigts de la Main
ArtsEmerson
at The Cutler Majestic Theatre
Through August 7th
I realize as I try to recapture this unique evening in words, that I am missing the mark.  I can't recreate the smells or suggest the ambience of warm vulnerability and instant community that the gifted cast members whipped up.  It was appropriate that at the end of the performance, the cast invited audience members to come to the apron of the stage to be fed. For our souls had already been sated by the combination of physical agility and emotional vulnerability that they had dished up during the show.  Particularly moving was Melvin Diggs sharing his story of being left alone with only his mother to share a special holiday meal, for all of his siblings had been invited to be with their fathers, but his own father was not in the picture. That special meal with his mother constituted a vital memory for him.  Likewise, Matias Plaul shared the jarring and heartbreaking account of his father being captured and eventually murdered in his native Argentina during a time of political upheaval. In the midst of this this harrowing tale, Matias executed a death-defying drop from the top of the Chinese Pole to the stage below. The juxtaposition of the story with the physical manifestation of danger was profoundly moving.

Cast
"Cuisine & Confessions"
Les 7 Doigts de la Main
ArtsEmerson
at The Cutler Majestic Theatre
Through August 7th

The cast are: Heloise Bourgeois, Melvin Diggs, Mishannock Ferrero, Sidney Iking Bateman, Anna Kichtchenka, Nella Niva, Emile Pineault, Matias Paul, and Pablo Pramparo. They are directed by Shana Carroll.

The whole of this performance was far greater than the sum of its parts, and must be seen and heard and tasted to be fully appreciated.  "Cuisine & Confessions" poignantly reminds us that if we choose to participate, we are all citizens of a global village.  I encourage you to come, to taste, and to see. This show leaves a very satisfying aftertaste that lingers on the tongue and on the soul.

Through August 7th.

ArtsEmerson Website

Enjoy!

Al

"The 20-Minute Networking Meeting" - A Welcome Additional To The Job Seeker's Tool Box


A client of mine recently recommended this book to me.  It was a felicitous recommendation.  This small handbook, written by Dr. Marcia Ballinger and Nathan A. Perez should be considered an essential tool for anyone wanting to expand their network.  "The 20-Minute Networking Meeting" is geared primarily to those who need to network in order to find their next job, but the principles outlined here can be broadly applied to any networking situation.

The major takeaway from the lessons shared by the authors is that all too often, we waste the time of those who have been gracious enough to grant us a networking meeting.  The book offers very specific steps to structure a meeting that will be productive and will take only 20 minutes out of the busy life of the person you have asked to meet with.  It is no accident that this 20-minute time frame is very close to the optimal length (18 minutes) of a TED Talk that has evolved over the past decade. With proper planning, discipline, and execution, we can accomplish a great deal in less than half an hour.

The co-authors have worked both sides of the job placement business.  Dr. Ballinger founded her own executive search practice, and Mr. Perez is a consultant who works with candidates looking to make a move into a new job.  Their combined vision and wisdom provides a nice balance in terms of seeing the world of networking through the eyes of the candidate and through the eyes of the persons the candidate is hoping to network with.

I have already recommended those book to  a number of friends and professional colleagues.  It is a welcome addition to the job seeker's tool box. I am pleased to recommend it to you.

Enjoy!

Al

Friday, July 15, 2016

North Shore Music Theatre Presents "Mary Poppins" - Practically Perfect In Every Way!


The current North Shore Music Theatre production of "Mary Poppins" carries all of the emotional punch of the original Disney film.  This show is a delight for children of all ages. It is artfully directed by Kevin P. Hill, with excellent Musical Direction by Milton Granger. The scenic design by Bert Scott beautifully recreates the skyline and rooftops of London, as well as the home and bank where the Banks family play out their daily dramas. Lighting by Martin E. Vreeland is magical, as are the flying effects by ZFX, Inc.

Kerry Conte is "practically perfect" as Mary Poppins, from her first aerial entrance with umbrella unfurled to her curtain call. Her blend of strict discipline and whimsy is alluring and irresistible - to the previously irascible and spoiled Banks children, as well as to every member of the audience. Her shimmering voice shines in the familiar tunes "Feed The Birds," "Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious," and "A Spoonful of Sugar."

Brad Bradley (Bert) and Kerry Conte (Mary Poppins)
Scarlett Keene-Connole (Jane Banks) and Jake Ryan Flynn (Michael Banks)
North Shore Music Theatre
MARY POPPINS
playing July 12 - July 31, 2016
Photo © Paul Lyden.
Ms. Conte's performance is supported by a strong cast of principals and an energetic ensemble of singers and dancers. Brad Bradley makes a very winsome Bert, excelling in "Jolly Holiday," and "Step In Time." As Mr. George Banks, James Andrew Walsh takes his character through a complex emotional arc, culminating in his rediscovering the little boy inside when he joins Jane and Michael in flying kites in the park.  His rendition of "A Man Has Dreams" is a highlight. Molly Garner is rock solid, opining in song what it means to be married to George in "Being Mrs. Banks." It is a plus in this production that the lovely Ms. Garner resembles a young Julie Andrews! The two Banks children are on stage most of the show, and show remarkable professionalism. Scarlett Keene-Connole is the older sister, Jane, and Jake Ryan Flynn plays the stubborn and almost incorrigible Michael. They join with Mary and Mrs. Banks in the charming "A Spoonful of Sugar."

Ellen Peterson does double duty as Mrs. Brill, the Banks' housekeeper and as the Bird Woman, whose plaintive "Feed The Birds" always brings a tear to my eye. Brad Trump has his moment to shine as Neleus the statue come to life to dance for Jane and Michael.



Molly Garner (Winifred Banks) and James Andrew Walsh (George Banks)
Scarlett Keene-Connole (Jane Banks) and Jake Ryan Flynn (Michael Banks)
North Shore Music Theatre's
MARY POPPINS
playing July 12 - July 31, 2016
Photo © Paul Lyden.

This is very much a multi-generational family show.  I saw many groupings that included children, parents and grandparents, all finding delight in the proceedings.  NSMT is offering half price tickets for children under 18.

NSMT Website

ORIGINAL MUSIC & LYRICS: Richard M. Sherman & Robert B. Sherman    
BOOK BY: Julian Fellowes    
NEW SONG & ADDITIONAL MUSIC & LYRICS BY: Anthony Drewe & George Stiles    
CO-CREATED BY: Cameron Mackintosh 
A Musical based on the stories of P.L. Travers & the Walt Disney Film

MARY POPPINS Is presented through special arrangement with Music Theatre International (MTI). All authorized performance materials are also supplied by MTI. www.MTIShows.com

RUNNING TIME:
Approximately 2 hrs 50 min (includes intermission)

The show runs through July 31st, and should be considered an essential mid-summer excursion.

Enjoy!

Al


Saturday, July 09, 2016

Cirque du Soleil Comes To Broadway - "Paramour" Soars


I love Broadway.  I love Cirque du Soleil.  I could not wait to see how these two very different worlds would collide in the new Cirque show and musical "Paramour." The good news is that they pair very well together at the Lyric Theatre, adding a narrative arc to the usual spectacular Cirque acrobatics.

Director Philippe Decoufle leads a cast that tell the story of a classic Hollywood love triangle. Jeremy Kushnier plays an aggressive movie director with his mind set on recreating some of the iconic love scenes in movie history.  He also has his heart set on wooing his latest starlet, played by Ruby Lewis.  The complication is that she is already in love with a struggling song writer, played by Ryan Vona.  The chemistry among the three throws off sparks that illuminate the stage. Ruby's character must make a difficult choice between her heart and her art.  She is, in effect, walking a tightrope without a net - like any good Cirque performer would do!


Ryan Vona, Ruby Lewis, Jeremy Kushnier
"Paramour"
A Cirque du Soleil Musical
Lyric Theatre
The show is a visual spectacular and a total delight.  Sometimes the acrobatic acts advance the story lines, and at other times they do not.  But it does not matter, for the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.  I walked into the theater expecting a Cirque show with slightly more story line than normal, and I was not disappointed.

One of the most thrilling aspects of the show is the original duo-strap aerial act performed by the Cirque veterans, The Atherton Twins.  Andrew and Kevin soar above the stage and above the audience looking like Greek gods ascending to heaven. It is a breathtaking moment of spectacular beauty and athleticism.

The Atherton Twins Soar
"Paramour"
A Cirque du Soleil Musical
Lyric Theatre
"Paramour" is entertainment in one of its purest forms, steeped in thousands of years of history of telling stories through theater and movement. I can recommend it as a worthy investment of your entertainment dollar. Kill two birds with one stone: come to New York AND run away with the circus!

Paramour on Broadway Website

Enjoy!

Al

"An American In Paris" - A Little Bit of Heaven On A Broadway Stage


George and Ira Gershwin have long been among my favorite song writers.  As a young piano student, I tackled the piano transcription of "Rhapsody In Blue" as a recital piece. And the street noises and rhythms of "An American In Paris" have always fascinated me. I loved the classic movie telling of the story. So it was preordained that I would enjoy the Broadway adaptation.  I had no idea just how much I would enjoy it.

Director and Choreographer Christopher Wheeldon has managed to cast and to mold into a seamless corps a stage full of triple threats - performers trained in classical ballet who can also sing and act. The result is a show that delights visually, as well as being a treat for the ear, as the iconic Gershwin melodies and lyrics enfold the story of the three men who all fall in love with the same woman.  That alluring lady is ballerina, Lise Dassin, played and danced magnificently by Leanne Cope.

Leanne Cope as Lise
Brandon Uranowitz as Adam
An American In Paris
Palace Theatre
Through January 1, 2017
A gifted and visionary team of creatives have conspired to recreate the world of Paris at the end of WWII. Lighting is by Natasha Katz, Sound by Jon Weston, Projections by 59 Productions, Set and Costumes by Bob Crowley.

The principals are superb, from the opening moment with Garen Scribner as Jerry Mulligan sitting at the piano on an otherwise bare stage, to the final bows, there is magic in the air. The other two men who fall under Lise's spell are Adam, played by a passionate and winsome Brandon Uranowitz and Henri, played with great understated elegance by Max von Essen. As Henri's mother, Mme. Baurel, Veanne Cox is every inch the picture of Gallic rectitude. Jill Paice is wonderfully haughty as the American patroness of the arts, Milo Davenport.

The story is told primarily in dance and song, with dialogue adding development and texture.  The overall composition tells the story in a way that is intriguing and deeply satisfying - both artistically and emotionally.  The highlight of the show is the Second Act prolonged pas de deux, set within the longer ballet sequence and danced to Gershwin's iconic "An American In Paris" score.

Cast
An American In Paris
Palace Theatre
Through January 1, 2017


The producers have announced that the last performance on Broadway will take place January 1, 2017.  Meanwhile, a National Tour is being mounted that will make its appearance in Boston at the Wang Theatre from October 25 through November 6, 2016.

An American In Paris Website

Enjoy!

Al

Tuesday, July 05, 2016

"Something Rotten" Still Going Strong After 500 Performances - Welcome To The Renaissance!


I had the opportunity to see "Something Rotten" during one of its preview performances.  Now that it has played on Broadway more than 500 times, I thought it was time to return and see how the Bottom Brothers were faring.  The good news is that the show is as delightful as ever.  There is no bad news!

With a book by Karey Kirkpatrick and John O'Farrell and music and lyrics by Wayne Kirkpatrick and Karey Kirkpatrick, "Something Rotten" is brilliantly conceived and written. In the space of two rollicking acts, they provide the ingredients that allow a cast of consummate professionals to whip up an omelet of dozens of allusions to musicals that have graced Broadway stages for the past fifty years. The Direction and Choreography of Casey Nicholaw keeps things moving so the audience barely has time to take a breath between laughs and cheers.

I very much enjoyed this musical the first time I saw it, but returning to it was an even greater delight, for I was able to pick up even more of the rapid-fire inside jokes from the world of musical theater. I challenge you to catch as many as you can.

Brad Oscar as Nostradamus
Rob McClure as Nick Bottom
"Something Rotten"
St. James Theatre
Rob McClure as Nick Bottom and John Cariani as Nigel Bottom anchor this superb cast.  As playwrights in the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, they can't catch a break. Their former acting troupe colleague, Will Shakespeare, is getting all of the publicity, patronage, and audiences.  Christian Borle is memorable, playing The Bard as Elvis - Renaissance Rock Star. His over-the-top number, "Hard To Be The Bard" is a highlight among many stellar moments in this show. Desperate to find an edge, Nick Bottom surreptitiously employs a relative of the famous soothsayer, Nostradamus, to predict the future of theater and of Shakespeare's greatest hit. Brad Oscar almost steals the show as the daft Nostradamus, almost getting his prognostications right, but just missing some key elements. His wild-eyed envisioning the future of theatre triggers the show-stopping ensemble piece "A Musical."

Rob McClure as Nick Bottom and Cast
"A Musical"
"Something Rotten"
St. James Theatre
Other standouts in the cast include David Beach as the preening Puritan, Brother Jeremiah, and Kate Reinders as his comely daughter, Portia, who falls for Nigel and his poetry.  Heidi Blickenstaff is strong as Nick's long suffering wife.  Edward Hibbert is properly arch as Lord Clapham and Master of the Justice.  Andre Ward opens things up as the singing Minstrel, and Gerry Vichi is a mensch as Shylock.

Christian Borle as Shakespeare
"Something Rotten"
St. James Theatre
Even if you are not a theater insider looking to catch all of the jokes, this is a show that will send you back out into the street with a smile on your face and a spring in your step.  It is a total delight. We have waited over 400 years for a show like this.  Don't miss it!

Boston based fans, see it in New York now, then enjoy it again when the touring cast comes to the Boston Opera House this coming January.

Something Rotten Website

Enjoy!

Al

Monday, July 04, 2016

Cherry Lane Theatre Presents "Out Of The Mouth Of Babes" by Israel Horovitz - A Must See In The West Village!


Israel Horovitz is a prolific playwright, and his latest offering, "Out Of The Mouth Of Babes," is one of his best. His wit and humor and sardonic look at relationships are on full display in this four-handed comedy that feature the stunning cast of Estelle Parsons, Judith Ivey, Francesca Choy-Kee, and Angelina Fiordellisi. Under the direction of Barnet Kellman, the sparks fly back and forth among these four women, all of whom have been romantically involved with a man whose funeral they have come to attend in Paris.

The concept is that the deceased has died at the age of 100 after a full career of teaching at a Paris conservatory, collecting art, and collecting women.  Of the four women gathered in his loft, one was married to him at the time of his death, two are ex-wives, and one is an ex-lover. The skein of resentments that exists among the four would baffle a sociologist, for it turns out that in several cases, one woman had replaced another as the object of desire of this equal opportunity Lothario.  Of particular interest to me was the fact that three of the four women hail from Boston - one from the North End, one from South Boston, and one from Cambridge. His much younger last wife, Marie-Belle, is the lone exception. The playwright's Boston roots come through as the Evelyn and Evvie and Janice discuss Johnny Pesky, the recently deceased icon of the Boston Red Sox. Complications arise when Marie-Belle comes home and reveals that the spirit of the man they all loved is making frequent contact with her, even to the point of tickling her. It is the audience that is most tickled by the shenanigans that ensue.

Angelina Fiordellisi as Janice
Francesca Choy-Kee as Marie-Belle
Judith Ivey as Evvie
Estelle Parsons as Evelyn
"Out of the Mouth of Babes'
by Israel Horovitz
Cherry Lane Theatre
Through July 31st
Photo by Carol Rosegg

Neil Patel has designed a gorgeous set that includes more than two dozen original works of art, several of which have been created by names such as Rosie O'Donnell, Joel Grey, Billy Dee Williams, and Clive Barker. Costumes are by Joseph G. Aulisi, Lighting by Paul Miller and Sound by Leon Rothenberg.

The brilliance of this play lies primarily in the non-stop acerbic repartee that flies back and forth among these four rivals.  The lines have been crafted by a master wordsmith, and flawlessly delivered by a cast that sparkles. The original limited run of this play has been extended through July 31st. If I were a betting man, I would put my money on this show eventually finding a home in one of the intimate Broadway houses.  If the reaction of the audience on the night when I attended is any indication, this is a play that will resonate with many people.  I found it to be a total delight. It is a "Must See."  Get yourself to the West Village, and hear Horovitz's inspired words as they cascade out of the mouths of these four talented babes!



Cherry Lane Theatre Website

Enjoy!

Al

Cherry Lane Theatre Presents "Out Of The Mouth Of Babes" by Israel Horovitz - A Must See In The West Village!


Israel Horovitz is a prolific playwright, and his latest offering, "Out Of The Mouth Of Babes," is one of his best. His wit and humor and sardonic look at relationships are on full display in this four-handed comedy that feature the stunning cast of Estelle Parsons, Judith Ivey, Francesca Choy-Kee, and Angelina Fiordellisi. Under the direction of Barnet Kellman, the sparks fly back and forth among these four women, all of whom have been romantically involved with a man whose funeral they have come to attend in Paris.

The concept is that the deceased has died at the age of 100 after a full career of teaching at a Paris conservatory, collecting art, and collecting women.  Of the four women gathered in his loft, one was married to him at the time of his death, two are ex-wives, and one is an ex-lover. The skein of resentments that exists among the four would baffle a sociologist, for it turns out that in several cases, one woman had replaced another as the object of desire of this equal opportunity Lothario.  Of particular interest to me was the fact that three of the four women hail from Boston - one from the North End, one from South Boston, and one from Cambridge. His much younger last wife, Marie-Belle, is the lone exception. The playwright's Boston roots come through as the Evelyn and Evvie and Janice discuss Johnny Pesky, the recently deceased icon of the Boston Red Sox. Complications arise when Marie-Belle comes home and reveals that the spirit of the man they all loved is making frequent contact with her, even to the point of tickling her. It is the audience that is most tickled by the shenanigans that ensue.

Angelina Fiordellisi as Janice
Francesca Choy-Kee as Marie-Belle
Judith Ivey as Evvie
Estelle Parsons as Evelyn
"Out of the Mouth of Babes'
by Israel Horovitz
Cherry Lane Theatre
Through July 31st
Photo by Carol Rosegg

Neil Patel has designed a gorgeous set that includes more than two dozen original works of art, several of which have been created by names such as Rosie O'Donnell, Joel Grey, Billy Dee Williams, and Clive Barker. Costumes are by Joseph G. Aulisi, Lighting by Paul Miller and Sound by Leon Rothenberg.

The brilliance of this play lies primarily in the non-stop acerbic repartee that flies back and forth among these four rivals.  The lines have been crafted by a master wordsmith, and flawlessly delivered by a cast that sparkles. The original limited run of this play has been extended through July 31st. If I were a betting man, I would put my money on this show eventually finding a home in one of the intimate Broadway houses.  If the reaction of the audience on the night when I attended is any indication, this is a play that will resonate with many people.  I found it to be a total delight. It is a "Must See."  Get yourself to the West Village, and hear Horovitz's inspired words as they cascade out of the mouths of these four talented babes!



Cherry Lane Theatre Website

Enjoy!

Al