Thursday, September 14, 2017

"Gully Dirt" by Robert Coram - On Exposing the Klan, Raising a Hog, and Escaping the South


Robert Coram has written a memoir that is very much in the spirit of "Hillbilly Elegy" by J.D. Vance, another excellent book about growing up in poverty south of the Mason Dixon Line.

White Rhino Report Review of "HillBilly Elegy"

The subtitle of "Gully Dirt" lays out much of the author's intent and agenda: "On Exposing the Klan, Raising a Hog, and Escaping the South." The title phrase, "gully dirt" is what Coram's father would often call him to indicate that he saw his as good for nothing and beyond redemption..

The book recounts how Coram grew up dirt poor in southwest Georgia in the 1950s, and encountered all manner of abuse and neglect. Yet his resilience allowed him not only to survive these humble beginnings, but to escape to Atlanta to become a successful novelist and biographer. He is unflinching in his descriptions of the obstacles that had to be overcome.We learn intimate and amusing details about the way - and venue where - he surrendered his virginity. Jock itch is almost a living character in this book; it played a strong role in the ethos of the athletic teams that Coam joined.

The author evokes and reveals many of the scars that he bears from his years in Edison. Yet in his young mind, a lightbulb went on, and he was able to see a clear path to escape through writing. This is ultimately a story, not only of survival, but of resilience and hope in the face of formidable obstacles.

Enjoy!

Al

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

The Huntington Theatre Presents A Rare Sondheim Gem - "Merrily We Roll Along" - A MUST SEE Soaring Production


Boston area fans of the work of Stephen Sondheim are doubly blessed right now. The Lyric Stage Company of Boston is currently presenting "Gypsy," with additional lyrics by Sondheim.

White Rhino Report Review of "Gypsy"

The Huntington Theatre has just unveiled its much anticipated production of the rarely performed "Merrily We Roll Along." The history of this show is deserving of its own Blog piece, but in short, it has had a checkered past. The show, Directed by Hal Prince with Music and Lyrics by Sondheim, initially ran on Broadway in 1981 after only 52 previews and 16 performances. Audiences had a hard time relating to the method of telling the story of three friends, working backward from the end of their friendships to the beginning. Over the next several decades, several additional productions have been staged with changes aimed at solving the problems with the book. Recently, this musical has been very much on the mind of the theater world. Encores! staged a concert version at New York City Center in 2012 that was well received. Earlier this year, original cast member Lonny Price directed a fabulous documentary about the show entitled "Best Worst Thing That Ever Could Have Happened." And now the Huntington picks up the gauntlet and offers us this engaging new production, based on a revision by Maria Friedman, who directed a revival in London in 2012. Ms. Friedman herself directs this production, bringing along from London Mark Umbers as Frank and Damian Humbley as Charley. They are joined by Eden Espinosa (Elphaba in "Wicked" on Broadway) as Mary Flynn.

The London production played to critical and audience acclaim, transforming this Sondheim musical from a cult favorite to one now appreciated by a broad audience. Sondheim himself praised the London production effusively, saying that "the whole was greater than the sum of its parts." That is high praise from a man who was the creator of many of those parts. I would expect a Broadway run to follow in the future. This version of "Merrily We Roll Along" won the Olivier Award for Best Musical, and I can see why. This is a brilliantly conceived version of the show, directed with love and care, and featuring a cast that represents the best of London, New York and Boston talent.

Eden Espinosa, Mark Umbers, and Damian Humbley
Merrily We Roll Along
Directed by Maria Friedman
Huntington Theatre Company
September 8 - October 15, 2017
Avenue of the Arts / Huntington Avenue Theatre
© Photo: T. Charles Erickson.

This is a show you do not want to miss. As Mr. Sondheim said, "the whole is greater than the sum of its parts," but the parts, in and of themselves, are pretty spectacular. The score features some of Sondheim's most beautiful and haunting melodies, harmonies, and syncopated rhythms. The staging is spectacular, the direction innovative, and the casting inspired. Let's begin with the troika of actors who lead this production.

  • Eden Espinosa as Mary Flynn is a force of nature. Watching her become unhinged at Frank's Hollywood party in the opening scene, and then observing her rewind her dipsomaniacal life back to the innocence of watching for Sputnik in the New York sky of 1957 is a study in character development. Her strong singing voice blends wonderfully with those of Mr. Umbers and Mr. Humbley, especially in "Our Time," "Old Friends," and "It's A Hit."
  • Mark Umbers takes his Frank on a similar backward journey from jaded to wide-eyed and hopeful. His chemistry with Ms. Espinosa and Mr. Humbley is one of the highlights of this production, allowing us to watch the carefully knit fabric of their threeway friendship unravel year by year. Mr. Umbers' rendition of "Good Thing Going" is a memorable moment in the show.
  • Damian Humbley offers a version of Charley that will become the gold standard against which every other performance of this role will be measured. He stopped the show with his interpretation of the complex and difficult number, "Franklin Shepard, Inc." This is the pivotal moment in the story when Frank and Charley experience a rupture in their friendship from which they cannot recover. And it happens on live television. Our hearts break as we watch the wheels come off of the friendship as Charley explodes like a volcano that has been pent up for too long. The applause in appreciation of Mr. Humbley's performance of this song lasted for several minutes.


Damian Humbley, Mark Umbers, and Rebecca Gibel
Merrily We Roll Along
Directed by Maria Friedman
Huntington Theatre Company
September 8 - October 15, 2017
Avenue of the Arts / Huntington Avenue Theatre
© Photo: T. Charles Erickson


These three superb artists are supported by a strong cast of musical theater actors. Boston audiences are familiar with several of the following:
  • Aimee Doherty is powerful as Gussie, Broadway diva and Frank's second wife. She wears the gowns designed by Soutra Gilmour with a grace and seductiveness that is a wonder to behold. We get to hear a bit of Ms. Doherty's lustrous voice when she reprises "Good Thing Going"as the 11 O'clock number in the show that Frank and Charley wrote as a star vehicle for her.
Mark Umbers and Aimee Doherty
Merrily We Roll Along
Directed by Maria Friedman
Huntington Theatre Company
September 8 - October 15, 2017
Avenue of the Arts / Huntington Avenue Theatre
© Photo: T. Charles Erickson

  • Another veteran of Boston stages is the fabulous Jennifer Ellis, who plays Frank's first wife, Beth. One of the most poignant highlights of this musical is the contrast between the two versions of "Not A Day Goes By," that Beth sings. The life settings are dramatically different - bitter ending on the one hand and blushing bridal hope on the other hand: "Something old and something new." I almost needed a second handkerchief after the journey that Ms. Ellis took us on with these two versions of the song.
Jennifer Ellis and Mark Umbers
Merrily We Roll Along

Huntington Theatre Company
September 8 - October 15, 2017
Avenue of the Arts / Huntington Avenue Theatre
© Photo: T. Charles Erickson

  • Christopher Chew plays Joe, Broadway producer and Gussie's third husband. Mr. Chew is someone I have seen on stage many times, yet he so completely submerges himself into the character of Joe that I did not recognize him until someone pointed out to me at Intermission that it was Mr. Chew in the role. We see him go from pathetic beggar to braggadocious blowhard as the story lurches backward. It is a strong performance.
  • The role of young Frank alternates between Camerone Levesque and Brendan Cole O'Brien.
  • Patrick Varner is wonderful as the vainglorious yacht owner who sweeps Frank away after his bitter divorce from Beth. In his other ensemble roles, he gets to wear some fun and outlandish costumes.
  • Amy Barker is Beth's mother, and Robert Saoud is her father. They are appropriately off-putting in their dismissal of Frank's chances at success. Ceit Zwell is Charley's wife, Evelyn.
  • Maurice Emmanuel Parent is memorable as the afro bedecked newscaster. He is joined on camera by Rebecca Gibel.
  • Other members of the excellent ensemble as Jessica Kundla, Pablo Torres, Craig Walezkao, Morgan Kirner, Caleb Damschroder, Bransen Gates, and Carla Martinez.

The Huntington Theatre has made a commitment to stage all 15 Sondheim musicals over the course of several seasons. "Merrily We Roll Along" is the third in this series. I hope I will be around to enjoy all twelve that are in the pipeline. What a delicious treat for Boston audiences to anticipate. That promise alone should be enough to prompt you to subscribe to a season at the Huntington.

All of the individuals and organizations responsible for bringing this stunning production to life in Boston can proudly proclaim, "It's Our Time"!

Huntington Theatre Website

Enjoy!

Al


Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Underground Railway Theater Presents The Brilliant "Constellations" by Nick Payne - Theater At Its Best


As part of the ongoing Catalyst Collaboration @ MIT, Underground Railway Theater opens its season with the groundbreaking two-hander play "Constellations" by Nick Payne. What makes this an extraordinary evening at the Central Square Theater is the seamless integration of a multitude of theatrical arts - writing, set design, lighting design, sound design, costume design, directing, acting, and dramaturgy. Director Scott Edmiston has assembled a remarkable team of artists and technical magicians to tell this enigmatic story of love in the multiverse. Susan Zeeman Rogers' Scenic Design is hauntingly beautiful, using lights, mirrors, and angular surfaces to give the two actors a galaxy within which to tell their story/stories. Complementing this set and lighting is Original Music and Sound Design by Dewey Dellay that is otherworldly and mesmerizing. Costume Designer Charles Schoonmaker places the two actors in simple white clothes that drape comfortably, appearing almost sterile and clinical, creating an effect that is a virtual tabula rasa - a blank slate upon which the actors can limn the various shades of their characters. Amelia Broome provides important dialect coaching, and Sabrina Dennis provides ASL consulting that adds an important dimension to the storytelling late in the play.

Marianna Bassham and Nael Nacer take this sandbox full of raw materials and craft it into a magical world that contains Marianne and Roland and an infinite universe of possibilities of choices made - or not made. For in this play, playwright Nick Payne explores the intersection of science - cosmology, quantum physics, relativity, string theory, alternate levels of reality - with the intimate realm of love. The confluence of these forces makes for an unforgettable night of theater.

Nael Nacer as Roland
Marianna Bassham as Marianne
"Constellations" by Nick Payne
A Catalyst Collaborative @ MIT Production
Central Square Theater
Through October 8th

Marianne is a cosmologist whose world view includes the belief that physics seems to be discovering that we inhabit a multiverse where several lives, several persons, several sets of decisions can simultaneously exist alongside one another. To show this mystery, Mr. Payne has the actors repeat scenes three or four or more times, each time with slight alterations in emphasis, word choice, affect. This is not traditional linear storytelling, and it takes a while to get into the rhythm, but it is an effective theatrical device. This device also requires that the actors be of consummate skill in making quick changes that are believable to the audience. Ms. Bassham and Mr. Nacer are simply brilliant, reinforcing their already stellar reputations as among the best actors working in Greater Boston.

In contradistinction to Marianne's work that encompasses limitless possibilities, Roland works as a beekeeper. There are only three kinds of bees in his hive - in his limited universe - worker bees, drones, and the queen bee. The contrast between their worlds is stunning and leads to dramatic tension.

Changes in mood, in alternate levels of reality, are signaled beautifully by dramatic alterations in the lighting scheme and in the soundscape. The effect is a play that causes the audience to work hard to figure out what is happening. Will a chance meeting lead to a date or not? Will Marianne and Roland develop a deep relationship? Will they marry? What will be the results of a biopsy? Will it be necessary to consider assisted suicide? To be or not to be? To bee or not to bee? Or all of the above?

Marianna Bassham as Marianne
Nael Nacer as Roland
"Constellations" by Nick Payne
A Catalyst Collaborative @ MIT Production
Central Square Theater
Through October 8th


One cannot ask much more from an evening at the theater that what is offered by the infinite possibilities contained within "Constellations." You do not want to miss seeing this production. It will run until October 8th with a fascinating assortment of post-show talkbacks. Knowledgeable theater people will be talking about this production and these performances for years to come - in this and in alternate realities. Make sure that you can be an informed part of those conversations by ordering your tickets now.

Central Square Theater Website

Enjoy!

Al

ArtsEmerson Opens Its 2017-2018 Season With The Spectacular "The 7 Fingers - Reversible"


I first became aware of Les 7 Doigts de la Main when one of the Founders, Gypsy Snider partnered with Diane Paulus to create the circus elements that are now an integral part of "Pippin," the Tony Award winning Broadway musical.  Part of the vision of Gypsy and her six co-founders of Les 7 Doigts de la Main was to present urban circus on a human scale.  The show currently being presented by ArtsEmerson at the Cutler Majestic Theater is "Reversible," conceived and directed by Ms. Snider, with considerable input from the eight cast members. This opening production of the ArtsEmerson 2017-2018 season is an American Premiere.

In conceiving this show, Gypsy Snider gave each of the prospective cast members the assignment of going back home to their families of origin to learn stories about how their grandparents and great-grandparents lived. Many of those stories, often involving struggle and immigration, have been woven into the fabric of each of the acts in "Reversible." The set by Ana Cappelluto consists of several moveable and reversible walls with doors and windows. Initially, the presentation is of exterior walls, but they are often reversed to show interior spaces. The stories that the artists tell through their circus arts relate to who they are - and who we are - as human beings  - on the outside and on the inside. The result of these creative and athletic efforts is a realization of Gypsy's original dream: theater on a human scale.

Cast
"Reversible"
7 Fingers of the Hand
ArtsEmerson
Cutler Majestic Theatre
Through September 24th
"Reversible represents the best of contemporary circus by shining a spotlight on the poetry of the human form and linking every ending to a new beginning. Through an electrifying mix of theatre, illusion, dance, music and acrobatics, Reversible is dedicated to past generations whose stories might hold the key to a better tomorrow."

One of the stories that resonated with me was that of Emi Vauthey's grandmother. Emi learned that her grandmother had fled Japan and an impending arranged marriage to elope with a Swiss man. She was the first  person from outside of Switzerland to settle in their small village. Emi presents an act, using her skills as a contortionist, in which a bride struggles mightily in an oversized bridal gown to get her bearings and get her feet on the ground. I saw the piece as a very moving metaphor to suggest the kinds of struggles her Japanese grandmother must have faced in trying to fit into a culture of a very different size and fabric.

The eight artists come from five different countries and speak different languages. The fact that they are able to overcome obstacles of language and culture to form a seamless team that rely on one another in performing death-defying acts offers hope in this season of political and social upheaval that our differences can be healed and our chasms can be bridged.

The eight performers are:
  • Maria Del Mar Reyes (Spain)       Disciplines - Hand balancing, Chinese pole, Dance.
  • Vincent Jutras (Canada)                Disciplines - HoopSkate, Korean plank, Dance.
  • Jeremi Levesque (Canada)            Disciplines -Korean plank, Hoopdiving.
"Reversible"
7 Fingers of the Hand
ArtsEmerson
Cutler Majestic Theatre
Through September 24th
  • Natasha Patterson (USA)             Disciplines - Juggling, Contortion, Dance.
  • Hugo Ragetly (France)                  Disciplines - Juggling, Chinese pole.
  • Emilie Silliau (France)                  Disciplines - Aerial rope, Trapeze, Aerial silk, Chinese pole
"Reversible"
7 Fingers of the Hand
ArtsEmerson
Cutler Majestic Theatre
Through September 24th

  • Julien Silliau (France)                   Disciplines - German wheel, Juggling, Chinese pole, Whip
  • Emi Vauthey (Switzerland)            Disciplines - Contortion, Aerial silk, Hula hoop, Dance.
The overall effect of this show is to inspire awe, wonder, and hope. The acts are visually stunning as well as thought-provoking. The final act, shown above, is gorgeous and enigmatic. Are the performers surfing in water, floating on clouds? Most of the audience left the Cutler Majestic Theatre floating - musing on what we had just seen and heard and experienced together as an instant community.

The show runs through September 24th. Get your tickets now. Any delay on your part will not be reversible!

Monday, September 11, 2017

Stoneham Theatre Launches A New Season and A New Name (Greater Boston Stage Company) With A Fun-Filled "Dames At Sea"


In a move to better reflect the broad regional base of their audience, Stoneham Theatre has renamed and rebranded themselves as Greater Boston Stage Company. They continue to call the Stoneham Theatre their home port, so it is fitting that the launch of the new season and the new name should be the wonderfully entertaining "Dames At Sea." This light hearted musical, with Book and Lyrics by George Haimsohn and Robin Miller and Music by Jim Wise, lovingly pokes fun at the 1930s era Busby Berkeley musicals and "42nd Street," in sort of a "Forbidden Broadway" light approach to parody. On a weekend when concerns about Hurricane Irma, the disappointing start to the Patriots' season, and continuing nausea caused by the miasma emanating from the swamp in D.C. had many of us feeling a bit down, this musical was a tonic for the soul.

Cast
"Dames At Sea"
Greater Boston Stage Company
at Stoneham Theatre
Through September 24th
Photo by Nile Hawver/Nile Scott Shots


This is a show driven by tap dance, so it is fitting that the Captain of this ship is Ilyse Robbins as Director and Choreographer. Her fingerprints and signature footprints are all over this delightful production. She has cast a wonderful crew of six to tell the story with their voices and with their feet. This sexy sextet pair off into three interesting couples - each couple emitting sparks of chemistry and sensuality. They are:

  • Ephie Aardema is Ruby, recently off the bus from Utah to find stardom on Broadway. Her suitcase contains a single pair of tap shoes. In a nod to "42nd Street," just before giving up on her dream, she fills in for the seasick leading lady and becomes an overnight sensation. Ms. Aardema is a veteran of Broadway ("Bridges of Madison County"), and brings a believable innocence to the role of Ruby as she taps her way into our heart. She gets to show off her vocal chops in the duet "It's You," "The Sailor of My Dreams," and "It's Raining In My Heart." 
  • Her own heart is won by the sailor, Dick (a very impressive Tavon Gamble). When he is not swabbing decks and swooning over Ruby, Dick writes catchy songs. Mr. Gamble shines in "Broadway Baby" and in his duet with Ruby, "There's Something About You."
Ephie Aardema as Ruby
Tavon Gamble as Dick
"Dames At Sea"
Greater Boston Stage Company
at Stoneham Theatre
Through September 24th
Photo by Nile Hawver/Nile Scott Shots
  • The multiple IRNE Award winner Shana Dirik is fabulous as Mona. She is in full diva mode as she tries to dismiss Ruby, seduce Dick, and reignite the spark with an old flame, Captain Courageous. (I told you it was a parody!) She kicks off the fun with her rendition of "Wall Street," and teams up with the Captain for "The Beguine." 
  • Russell Garrett is a wonderful foil to Mona as the Captain, as well as in his role as Hennesey. He gets to strut his stuff in a reprise of "Broadway Baby" as well as in the aforementioned duet "The Beguine."
Russell Garrett as Captain
Shana Dirik as Mona
"Dames At Sea"
Greater Boston Stage Company
at Stoneham Theatre
Through September 24th
Photo by Nile Hawver/Nile Scott Shots

  • Sara Coombs stands tall as the jaded Broadway veteran hoofer, Joan, who takes Ruby under her wing - or perhaps I should say her buck and wing! She encourages the rube Ruby to stick with it, despite the rough seas generated by Hurricane Mona. As Ruby is falling for Dick, Joan falls for Dick's shipmate, Lucky. They throw off sparks with their duet "Choo-choo Honeymoon."
  • As Lucky, Michael Seltzer is winsome and charming. This recent graduate of Boston Conservatory at Berklee acquits himself well alongside his more seasoned shipmates. We hear his strong tenor voice in the "Honeymoon" duet, and see his tap dance virtuosity throughout the show.
Michael Seltzer as Lucky
Sara Coombs as Joan
"Dames At Sea"
Greater Boston Stage Company
at Stoneham Theatre
Through September 24th
Photo by Nile Hawver/Nile Scott Shots


I cannot say enough about the tap dancing. Whether in solo sequences, duets, or full ensemble numbers, the tapping was precise and impassioned and always fully synchronized. The dancers were kept in synch by the wonderful twin pianists, Steven Ladd Jones, Music Director, and Bethany Aiken. Eric Levenson's Scenic Design brought us aboard a battleship docked at a pier in New York City. Costumes by Emily Taradash beautifully fit the nautical theme of the show, and Lighting by Chris Fournier and Sound by John Stone buttressed the efforts of the cast.

The precision of the dancing speaks to great training on the part of each cast member, and meticulous choreography and direction by Ms. Robbins. The show will run through September 24th. Dames - and Gents - I encourage you to book passage on the good ship "Dames At Sea." You will find it to be a pleasure cruise.


Enjoy! And smooth sailing!

Al

Lyric Stage Presents A Scintillating "Gypsy" - A Great Start To The New Season


"Gypsy" is one of those beloved chestnuts of the American musical stage that must be curated with care. There have been iconic performances by Ethel Merman and Patty LuPone, so any actress willing to tackle the role of Mama Rose cannot be a shrinking violet. The immensely talented Leigh Barrett has taken on the challenge; she rose to the occasion in the best performance of her career. From her first entrance until her final bow, she commands the stage and commands our attention. She brings the character of the original stage mother on an arc within which we can see the petals fall off of the rose as one by one her dreams devolve into nightmares. She fantasizes that her daughters, Louise and June, will always remain little girls and will always need her to run their lives and careers. Reality crashes in on her like a storm surge from Hurricane Irma. Her interpretations of "Some People," "Everything's Coming Up Roses," and "Roses's Turn" reinforce the reality that Ms. Barrett has made this role her own - with no need to compare her performance to any other that may have come before.

Leigh Barrett as Rose
Kirsten Salpini as Louise
"Gypsy"
Lyric Stage of Boston
Through October 8th
Photo by Mark S. Howard

Ms. Barrett is well supported in telling this heart-rending story. Director and Choreography Rachel Bertone is on a winning run of her own in terms of helming successful productions. Here, she has assembled a creative team and cast for this Lyric Stage production of "Gypsy" that excels in every facet of the show. Scenic Designer Janie E. Howland has conceived a simple and elegant set that features a golden proscenium, with large fans bracketing the sides of the stage. These fans serve to suggest the career of Gypsy Rose Lee as a famed stripper. The fans open and close as the action dictates - now concealing - now revealing, just like Gypsy Rose Lee's teasing act of a seductive ecdysiast.

The Costumes designed by Rafael Jaen beautifully enhance the definition of each character. The Lighting Design by Franklin Meissner, Jr. highlights the shifting moods of the piece, as does the Sound Design of Andrew Duncan Will. Music Director Dan Rodriquez leads a six piece orchestra that brings to life the familiar riffs and tunes of this beloved show.

The rest of the cast are universally effective in their roles.
  • Steven Barkhimer is wonderfully dyspeptic as the longsuffering Herbie, ready to marry Rose whenever she consents. In the meantime, he goes along serving as manager for the tawdry act that they offer to a Vaudeville that is on it last legs, succumbing to the irresistible force of moving pictures. His duet with Rose, "Small World," is moving, as is the trio with Rose and Louise, "Together, Wherever We Go."
  • Kirsten Salpini as Louise, aka Gypsy Rose Lee, also takes her character on a dramatic arc. Louise spends much of her life playing second fiddle to the more talented June, about whose stardom Rose has had many dreams. When June elopes with Tulsa, Rose is forced to try to create an act with the less talented younger daughter. The struggle for Louise to stand on her own feet and to set the trajectory for her own career is at the heart of this drama. Her duet with June, "If Mama Was Married," is a highlight, as is her sultry "Let Me Entertain You."
  • Kira Troilo is excellent as June, gamely singing the same old songs in the lame old act that Rose keeps trying to foist on the Vaudeville circuit. She and Ms. Salpini blend beautifully in the aforementioned "If Mama Was Married."
  • Brady Miller is charming as Tulsa, biding is time in the act as he quietly prepares for a career and life on his own with June. He shines in "All I Need Is The Girl."
  • The three strippers who initiate Louise into the world of striptease almost steal the show in "You Gotta Get A Gimmick." Jordan Clark is an electrifying Electra. Shannon Lee Jones metamorphoses into the Monarch Butterfly Tessie Tura. Kathy St. George is the indescribable Mazeppa. This is the best depiction of a "mature" performer bumping and grinding since Andrea Martin won the Tony for her portrayal of Bertha in "Pippin." I could not stop laughing, howling, and applauding. This number alone is worth the price of admission.
Kirsten Salpini as Louise
Jordan Clark as Electra
Kathy St. George as Mazeppa
Shannon Lee Jones as Tessie Tura
"Gypsy"
Lyric Stage of Boston
Through October 8th
Photo by Mark S. Howard
  • The young performers portraying Baby June (Margot Anderson-Song), Young Louise (Cate Galante), Balloon Girl (Jessica Quaranto) and Clarence (Ben Choi-Harris) are impressive.  Their challenge is that they must be talented enough to portray young performers with minimal talent. They pull it off well in the number "Baby June And Her Newsboys."
  • The rest of this excellent cast includes David Alea as Yonkers, Todd Yard as Uncle Jocko, Remo Airaldi as Pop, Anna Chensny as Agnes, and Davron S. Monroe as Goldstone.
Cast
"Gypsy"
Lyric Stage of Boston
Through October 8th
Photo by Mark S. Howard

"Gypsy" is based on memoirs by Gypsy Rose Lee, with Book and Lyrics by Arthur Laurents, Music by Jule Styne, and Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim.

"Gypsy" will run through October 8th. Tickets are going fast, so order yours now to keep from getting shut out of this excellent opening show of the 2017-2018 Lyric season.


Enjoy!

Al

Friday, September 08, 2017

"Passages" by Anne Hamre - An Epic Journey of a Family from Wales to Australia to British Columbia


I love this book, "Passages," because I felt as if author Anne Hamre took me on a journey, following the fictionalized version of her ancestors. From the initial meeting between Anne Roberts and Frank Evans, we are privy to the development of their relationship - from friendship, to courtship, to marriage.

Anne's patience is sorely tried as Frank experiments with several plans to be able to start a dairy farm. Wales is not promising, so he tries Australia, and finally British Columbia. The author is a historian, so she combines meticulous research with the voice of a gifted story teller in crafting a novel around the bare facts she has unearthed about her adventurous ancestors. This book is informative and inspiring.

Enjoy!

Al

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Alley Cat Theater Presents "Plank" - A World Premiere at Boston Center for the Arts


Alley Cat Theater Founding Artistic Director John Greiner-Ferris has written a fascinating new play that is being premiered at Boston Center for the Arts Calderwood Pavilion. "Plank" is at its heart a thought-provoking allegory and morality play that strives to move the audience to care about a wide range of issues plaguing our nation and our planet. It is an impressive inaugural offering by this new company, named for Mr. Greiner-Ferris two daughters, Allison and Kathryn.

The action of the play takes place at sea, and then on land. Potpee (Poornima Kirby) has emerged as the only apparent survivor of a ship wreck, and she is staying afloat and alive by clinging to a plank. During her hours of paddling and trying to find land, she has much time for reflection and observation. She becomes aware that the ocean is a living thing. Theatrically, this concept is beautifully portrayed using the confluence of several artistic streams. Scenic Designer JiYoung Han has conceived a wondrous backdrop that allows the audience to suspend disbelief and imagine a surging ocean with many shades of blue and aquamarine. Lighting/Projections Designer Barbara Craig has created fascinating undulating patterns that make one feel as if the ocean is swelling, heaving, ebbing, and flowing. Sounds Design by Ned Singh and Original Music by Peter Warren and Matt Somalis add to the effect. Director Megan Schy Gleeson brilliantly uses the remaining cast members to evoke the feel of living elements within the briny deep. Liz Adams, Sydney Grant, Fray Cordero, and Adam Lokken tumble, cavort, somersault, roll, swim, crawl, and interact with the plank in a dizzying array of perpetual motion that is mesmerizing in its beauty. The extended sequence is beautifully choreographed and energetically and fluidly executed by the actors/dancers. The playwright is inviting Potpee - and the audience - to realize that we are one with nature and must respect its sanctity and life-giving essence.

Liz Adams as Chop
Adam Lokken as Fetch
Poornima Kirby as Potpee
Sydney Grant as Spume
"Plank"
by John Greiner-Ferris
Alley Cat Theater
Calderwood Pavilion

I will not reveal much more of the plot, for fear of spoiling some nice surprises, but Mr. Greiner-Ferris proceeds to address an ocean full of ecological and social issues as the play comes to full flood. Among the issues that wash up throughout the play are the use and abuse of cell phones and social media, the deteriorating nature of friendship, the use of the ocean as a garbage dump, the continued slaughter of whales, bureaucratic inanities on the part of ICE and Border Patrol officials, the coercive attempts by government to force conformity, the horrors of gay conversion therapy, the mindless exploitation of nature for mining, the nefarious agenda of the Alt-Right and Christian Right, the brainwashing of the next generation, and the turning of patriotism into jingoism. The role of evolution and devolution is a leitmotif that flows through the play.

Eventually, Potpee washes ashore, where she is met by Mercedes (a brilliantly officious Liz Adams bedecked in a red, white, and blue star spangled official uniform - Costumes by Elizabeth Rocha.) Mercedes clings tenaciously to her clipboard, containing checklists of rules and regulations with which to deny the alien Potpee entry to the country. She cradles that clipboard as if it were her own plank, keeping her afloat atop a sea of restrictive decrees and intrusive questions. Thimble (a very spritely Sydney Grant) is shadowing Mercedes and is torn between conforming to accepted norms, or buying into Potpee's world view more attuned to nature.

This is an ambitious project. At times it seems as if the playwright has bitten off more topics than he could chew on and develop. And there are moments when the tone seems polemical and preachy, but the overall effect is impressive and moving. Ms. Kirby and Ms. Adams carry much of the dialogue and soliloquizing. They are excellent, as are Ms. Grant, Mr. Cordero, and Mr. Lokken. Cordero and Lokken move wonderfully together in portraying a family of whales swimming in the ocean.

This is a play worth seeing and meditating on. It will continue through September 16th.

Enjoy!

Al

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Gloucester Stage Presents The New England Premiere of "Out of the Mouth of Babes" by Israel Horovitz - A Must See


Gloucester Stage is presenting a hilarious comedy by one of its own.  Israel Horovitz is a prolific playwright, and his latest offering, "Out Of The Mouth Of Babes," is one of his best. This production is the New England Premiere of the play that first appeared last year at Cherry Lane Theatre in NYC. His wit and humor and sardonic look at relationships are on full display in this four-handed comedy that feature the stunning cast of Paula Plum, Debra Wise, Sarah Hickler, and Obehi Janice.  Under the direction of Mr. Horovitz himself, 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.


Debra Wise as Evelyn
Paula Plum as Evvie
Sarah Hickler as Janice
Obehi Janice as Marie-Belle
"Out of the Mouth of Babes" by Israel Horovitz
Gloucester Stage Company
Through September 2nd
Photo by Gary Ng

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 exist 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 Evelyn, 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.

Jenna McFarland Lord has designed a gorgeous set that includes more than two dozen original works of art, many of which are available for purchase by audience members. Costumes are by Jane Alois Stein, Lighting by Russ Swift and Sound by David Remedios.

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 limited run of this play must end of September 2nd. 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 East Gloucester, and enjoy hearing Horovitz's inspired words as they cascade out of the mouths of these four talented babes! This is an ensemble piece of the first order, and this ensemble is "formidable - comme il faut"!

Paula Plum as EvvieDebra Wise as Evelyn
Playwright Israel Horovitz
Obehi Janice as Marie-Belle
Sarah Hickler as Janice
"Out of the Mouth of Babes" by Israel Horovitz
Gloucester Stage Company
Through September 2nd
Photo by Gary Ng

Gloucester Stage Website

Enjoy!

Al

The Oberon Rocks With The World Premiere Of "Burn All Night" - Partying At The End Of The World


Over the years, The A.R.T.'s second performance space, The Oberon at 0 Arrow Street in Harvard Square, has been the venue for some fascinating, boundary-pushing, rollicking works of art. The creative and artistic team at A.R.T., beginning with Artistic Director Diane Paulus, often program the use of this space to encourage the development of works by emerging artists. Such is the case with the sizzling "Burn All Night," that is enjoying its World Premiere through September 8th.

Beginning with a conceptual idea by Andy Mientus (TV's "Smash," Broadway's "Spring Awakening") the creative team began to form with the addition of musicians from the synth-pop band Teen Commandments, including Andy's friend, Van Hughes and his bandmates Brett Moses and Nicholas LaGrasta. They set out to tell a story about a bunch of young New Yorkers, anxious about a potential apocalypse, but partying and coupling in the shadow of impending doom. So, why not tell the story in the setting of a dance club, using the kind of music that the kids would dance to in such a club. The Teen Commandments guys wrote a couple of songs for Andy, to which he added lyrics, and the project was off and running. They added Director Jenny Koons ("Runaways" Encore production at Citi Center) and Choreographer Sam Pinkleton ("Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812," plus several previous Oberon productions).

Then they added a troupe of energetic and gifted actors, singers, and dancers:
  • Lincoln Clauss is Bobby, recently arrived in NYC with no plan except that of having escaped the micromanaging of his widowed Mom back in Pittsburg. Mr. Clauss is the perfect combination of naive, charming, scared, adventuresome, and resilient as he faces the concrete jungle knowing no one in the city. Serendipitously, within moments of stepping off the bus at the Port Authority, he encounters Holly, an old high school friend who had previously escaped the surly bonds of Pittsburgh to make her way as an artist in New York.
  • Krystina Alabado is Holly, who has shelved her artistic dreams to pay the bills in a corporate job. She invites Bobby to crash back at the apartment she shares with boyfriend, Zak. Ms. Alabado uses her singing and acting to create a character torn between her love for Zak, her support of Bobby, and her rekindled romance with Will.
  • Ken Clark as Zak is the very embodiment of a disaffected young artist. He had a hit two years ago that helps to pay the bills, but he is drilling in an artistic dry hole - nothing new that satisfies him has come to the surface for long while. Just as there are literal subterranean rumblings that shake the foundations of New York and foreshadow a major disaster, so there are rumblings in his relationship with Holly that tell of a possible relational apocalypse. The driving vocal power of Mr. Clark's opening rock number reminded me of Gavin Creel as Prometheus in "Prometheus Bound" in this same Oberon space.
  • Perry Sherman is Will, who shares with Bobby (and with Andy Mientus) the fact that they have lost their Dads at a young age. Will and Bobby make a pact to be each other's Dad. What does that mean? How will that relationship evolve? Mr. Sherman's impressive credentials include "Fun Home," "Spring Awakening," and the role of Marius in "Les Miserables." His Will exudes the confidence and cachet that comes from having the financial resources to host parties for Bobby and other friends, and to make a move on Holly, once he realizes that she is just about done with Zak. Mr. Sherman's performance is memorable.
Krystina Alabado as Holly
Lincoln Clauss as Bobby
Perry Sherman as Will
Ken Clark as Zak
"Burn All Night"
A.R.T. - Oberon
Through September 8th
Photo by Evgenia Eliseeva
  • MJ Rodriguez is no stranger to A.R.T., having appeared in last season's "Tran Scripts, Part 1: The Women." As Oona, MJ's electric dance moves and soaring vocals help to set the scene for the dance club ethos.
  • Jamar Williams graced the A.R.T. stage in "Witness Uganda/Invisible Thread." In this show, his joyful countenance and exuberance in dancing and singing provide a nice counterpart to the gloom that pervades much of the action as the characters contemplate the possible end of the world.
  • Ashley LaLonde as Kayla returns to A.R.T., having appeared in "Arrabal" and "Violet."
  • The remaining ensemble members, playing The Kids, are making their A.R.T. debut. They are Gabrielle Carrubba, Aurie Ceylon, Marquis Johnson, and AJ Rafael.
The Kids
"Burn All Night"
A.R.T. - Oberon
 Through September 8th
Photo by Evgenia Eliseeva

Scenic Design is by Sara Brown, Costumes by Evan Prizant, Lighting by Bradley King, and Sound by Jessica Paz. Cian McCarthy is Music Supervisor, and the band is led by Michael Mastroianni, with Maxime Cholley on drums, Maddie Jay on Bass, and Claudio Raino on guitar.

Director Koons keeps the pace lively throughout the show, using every inch of the flexible Oberon space to create a truly immersive experience, especially for those patrons who choose to stand on the floor in the middle of the action that often swirls and percolates around them. The overall musical impression that I was left with was a vibrant mix of elements that reminded me of "Spring Awakening," "Rent," and "Runaways." It is no wonder that the spirit of these earlier groundbreaking musicals has provided fodder for "Burn All Night," for members of this cast and creative team have been involved in productions of all three of these predecessor shows.

Myriad themes abound and are explored or hinted at: being lost and rootless, feeling alone in a crowd, worrying about the future of the planet and the future of one's young life, making immature mistakes that hurt others, not knowing who to love or how to love, and ultimately, how to find and to offer forgiveness for those mistakes.

Forgiveness is a strong theme that emerges. Bobby betrays some confidences that hurt both Holly and Will. Can those wounds be healed? Andy Mientus addresses the issue of forgiveness - including the ability to forgive ourselves for young mistakes - in his Playbill notes: "In its creation over many years, 'Burn All Night' has brought me inspiring friends and collaborators, newfound passion for what has always made this genre magical, and best of all, forgiveness and even affection for that younger, messier me. People make mistakes when they are scared. It's not the end of the world."

As Mr. Mientus points out, it has taken many years for this work of art to get to this stage of development. It is often the case that shows that are birthed at A.R.T. often undergo further refinement as they move on to their next iteration. It would be my hope that this will also be the case for this already praiseworthy show. I would like to see it lengthened a bit to allow for further development of the Dad theme that is left hanging. I would also love to see more exploration of the love triangle among Holly, Will, and Zak - perhaps a polyhedron if we add Bobby into the mix. Zak hints at a spark he observes between Bobby and Will.  It would be worthwhile to explore a nascent bromance between these two characters.

Krystina Alabado as Holly
Lincoln Clauss as Bobby
"Burn All Night"
A.R.T. - Oberon
Through September 8th
Photo by Evgenia Eliseeva

Even in its current state of completion, this is a show worth seeing and celebrating. I am told that many of the remaining performances are already sold out. so do not hesitate to go online and secure one or more of the remaining tickets - even if you have to burn the midnight oil to do so. Burn it all night if you must!

American Repertory Theater website

Enjoy!

Al

Sunday, August 20, 2017

"A Never-Ending Line - A Female Song Cycle" by Jaime Lozano - At Players Theatre, West Village


MacDougal Street in the West Village is the site of a thrilling song cycle entitled "A Never Ending Line," composed and directed by Jaime Lozano. Lin-Manuel Miranda has called Mr. Lozano "the next big thing on Broadway." He has collaborated with nine different lyricists in writing the seventeen songs that make up  this "female song cycle." Four gifted women sing the songs - as solos, trio, and quartets. The result is an intriguing evening of theater and music.
  • Emily Esposito was most impressive in the solo "If You Break My Sister's Heart."
  • Kat Blackwood had her best moments in "Diet or Die."
  • Florencia Cuenca was heartbreakingly effective in the haunting "Maybe In Florence."
  • Erica Wilpon, looking like a young Bernadette Peters, really sold "Hello Forty." 


The loose thread that ties together the songs in this cycle are women and their struggles - with men, with body image, with weight, with looks, with relationships, with hope for the future.

These four gifted singers were backed up by Music Director, Geraldine Anello on piano, Karen Speyer on Harp, Melanie Mason on Cello. My only complaint was that the amplification of the piano sometimes drowned out the singers in the intimate space that is Players Theatre.

The Lyricists are Lindsay Erin Anderson, Neena Beber, Lauren Epsenhart, Sami Horneff, Victoria Kuhne, Lisa Mongillo, Marina Pires, Noemi de la Puente, and June Rachelson-Ospa.

Choreography is by Fernanda Aldaz.

The show runs through September 12.

Enjoy!

Al


Praxis Stage Presents "Julius Caesar" - Boston Loves The Bard And Shakespeare In The Park

The Assassination of Caesar
"Julius Caesar" by William Shakespeare
Praxis Stage
Through July 27th

Boston area audiences have been blessed with many opportunities to see Shakespeare this summer - outdoors as well as indoors. Praxis Stage is currently presenting "Julius Caesar" in two parks in Cambridge. Today at 3:00 you can catch a performance at Longfellow Park on Mt. Auburn Street. This coming week they return to lovely Danehy Park on Sherman Street with the following schedule: W, TH, F at 7:00, SA at 3:00 and 7:00, SU at 3:00. All performances are free, with donations gratefully accepted at the end of the show.

Praxis Stage has a growing reputation for mounting serious and very well presented productions. "Julius Caesar" builds upon that deserved reputation. The cast is excellent. I attended a performance in the gorgeous Danehy Park. Because of distances and ambient noise, there were a few times when I was not able to hear all of the lines spoken by all of the actors. So I turned my cell phone back on, Googled the script of the play, and followed along. Problem solved!

The cast of 20 are well used by Director Kim Carrell. The actors are uniformly excellent; those with the most lines who carry much of the action of the play are:
  • Michael Anderson as Julius Caesar
  • Shaoul Rick Chason as Brutus
  • Daniel Boudreau as Cassius
  • Sam Terry as Mark Anthony
  • Kevin Paquette as Casca
  • Grace Trapnell as Calphurnia
  • Dawn Davis as Portia
  • Slava Tchoul as Cinna the Poet
Sam Terry as Mark Anthony
Michael Anderson as Julius Caesar
Shaoul Rick Chason as Brutus
"Julius Caesar" by William Shakespeare
Praxis Stage
Through July 27th

Ensemble members playing multiple roles include Evan Turissini, Dominic Carter, Susannah Wilson, Leilani Ricardo, Danny Mourino, Angelina Raquel Morales, Kevin Kordis, Kelly Downes, Rachel Leigh Richter, Benjamin Finn, Sophia Koevary, Lisa Nguyen.

A Central Park production of this same play earlier in the summer drew much attention for its explicit parallels between Caesar and a certain POTUS 45. Praxis is less explicit in this production, but Shakespeare's timeless text prompts us to consider the cost of tyranny, naked ambition and disloyalty. We are left to draw our own conclusions - and our own daggers.

Enjoy this fine production - today at Longfellow Park or next week at Danehy Park.

Enjoy!

Al





Tuesday, August 15, 2017

"Fool Me Once" by Harlan Coben - Is Maya's Murdered Husband Alive Or Dead?


Harlan Coben never fails to delight and surprise me. In "Fool Me Once," we meet Maya, a former special-ops pilot who has returned from a deployment to find that her husband has been murdered. In the midst of her grief, she encounters an image that indicates he may still be alive. How could this be? Is she losing her mind? Is her deep grieving causing her to imagine things? As Maya seeks answers to these haunting questions, she learns a great deal about herself, about her departed husband, and about the life that they shared.

The setting is the territory that Coben knows well - suburban New Jersey, not far from the hustle and bustle of New York City. Maya's search takes her to some shady places where she meets a few equally shady characters. The answers she finds surprise her - as they did me. Coben strikes again.

Enjoy!

Al

"The Stranger" by Harlan Coben - How Well Do We Really Know Our Loved Ones?


This Harlan Coben novel, "The Stranger," is chilling. Several individuals are approached by a stranger who reveals to them a dark secret about an important person in their lives. In each case, the person who has been surprised by the stranger must decide how to act upon this new information. In a major plot thread, Adam must decide if he wife, Corinne, is who she appears to be, or if she is in fact hiding a secret. He confronts her, and she disappears? Adam is forced to conduct an extensive search, bringing his sons into the mystery of where Corinne may have gone - and why. The answer is not one that I had anticipated.

No matter how many of Coben's novels I read, he always manages to keep me guessing and engaged. After I finish a book, and I ready to dive into the next one.

Enjoy!

Al

"Home" - A Novel by Harlan Coben - Myron Bolitar and Win Reunite


I have been on a bit of a Harlan Coben binge lately, catching up with some titles that had previously escaped my attention. "Home" is one of those novels. This is a spine tingling tale of two boys who were kidnapped, and Myron Bolitar's attempt to find them in concert with his sidekick, Win. The action pivots between London and New Jersey. The plot twists are complex - the kind that I have come to expect from a Coben novel. The denouement is surprising and heartbreaking

It is good to have Win back in the picture, after he disappeared for awhile. One of the boys has been spotted in London and rescued - or has he? What about the other boy who was kidnapped at the same time? Where is he? Can he be found alive? Win and Myron follow a lot of rabbit trails before they uncover the truth. Coben always finds a way to weave in compelling social themes. In this case, he examines the sordid underbelly of human trafficking.

Enjoy!

Al

"The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O." - A Novel by Neal Stephenson and Nicole Galland


Neal Stephenson is my favorite science fiction author. In "The Rise of Fall of D.O.D.O." he has partnered with co-author Nicole Galland to produce an absolutely fascinating novel about time travel, based on theories from quantum mechanics. The fact that much of the action is set in my current neighborhood of Central Square, Cambridge made this book even more compelling for me. Central Square sits halfway between Harvard and MIT, and these two august institutions play a major role in the plot of this novel.

The government has decided that magic and witchcraft could be strategic tools if they could be resurrected, but they died out with the birth of photography - specifically the photographing of the solar eclipse that occurred in 1851, captured by the Prussian photographer Berkowski. The complex plot finds a motley crew of government officials, academics, scientists, witches, Vikings, Puritans, courtesans, and bankers embroiled in complex stratagems to reverse the effects of Berkowski's photograph.

There are extended scenes in which Vikings travel in time to a present day Walmart and pillage it as if it were un unprotected village in the Dark Ages. This scenario alone is worth the price of the book.

Along the way, the authors comment upon government inefficiency, ineptitude and bureaucratic inanities. The action encompasses many continents and centuries - including present day Cambridge and D.C., Cambridge in 1640, Antwerp in 1560, London in 1601, Constantinople in 1203, San Francisco in 1850, Normandy in 1045, and London in 1851.The Novel is a wonderful compendium of scientific research and literary imagination.

This is a must read for any fan of Stephenson, and of good science fiction.

Enjoy!

Al

Monday, August 14, 2017

"Found" by Harlan Coben - Book 3 in the Mickey Bolitar Series


Reading Harlan Coben novels is a guilty pleasure for me. I love his Myron Bolitar series. The concept of a former Celtics player turned sports agent turned detective is intriguing to me. The subsidiary series featuring Myron's disaffected nephew, Mickey, is equally engaging. This book, "Found," is the third in a series about Mickey's adventures and misadventures helping to rescue lost or abducted children and teenagers. Uncle Myron plays a role, as do Mickey's colorful partners in crime, Ema, Rachel, and Spoon.

I love the fact the Mr. Coben uses these nail biting tales to address relevant social issues. In this case, bullying, the hazards of online dating, hazing by sports teams, and abuse of steroids are all treated in depth. While Mickey is busy trying to find several lost souls, he finds himself while discovering a shocking secret about the death of his father, and the subsequent breakdown of his mother. It is a fast-paced and ultimately emotionally moving tale of a young man who will not give up on himself or on those he cares for.

Enjoy!

Al

"Jerry's Girls" - York Theatre Company Continues To Delight With Its Musicals In Mufti Series


York Theatre Company has a wonderful tradition of mounting concert versions of beloved musicals. They call the series "Musicals In Mufti - Musical Theatre Gems In Staged Concert Performance." This season's series has just come to a glorious conclusion with "Jerry's Girls," featuring more than 30 numbers taken from musicals written by the acclaimed composer and lyricist Jerry Herman.

This project began by reuniting Director Pamela Hunt and Music Director Eric Svejcar. They then cast three of the most versatile musical theater actresses working in New York - Stephanie Umoh, Stephanie D'Abruzzo, and Christine Pedi. The result was an uplifting show that highlights Herman songs from shows ranging from "Hello Dolly," "Mame," "Mack and Mabel," "Milk and Honey," "Dear World," "The Grand Tour," and "La Cage Aux Folles."

The flow of the show, broken up by a 15 minute Intermission, featured a nice blend of solos, duets, and ensemble pieces. Each of the women brought her unique signature style and versatility to this concert. Using only music stands on wheels as props (with an occasional feather boa or fan thrown in for fun), they created instant characters, acting each song rather than being content to merely sing them. They were backed up by the incomparable Mr. Svejcar at the piano, whose virtuosity at the keyboard is astounding. Each of the women had several moments to shine as solo artists.

  • Stephanie Umoh - I have had the opportunity to follow Ms. Umoh's stellar career beginning with her student days at Boston Conservatory. She created a strong and memorable Sarah in the final Broadway cast of "Ragtime," Her purity of tone lays a solid technical foundation for the work she does in interpreting songs, adding hypnotic eye engagement, nuanced gesticulation, and fluid body language that enables her to tell a convincing story with each song she sings. In this concert version of "Jerry's Girls," she was most engaging in "It Only Takes A Moment," "I Won't Send Roses," "and the rollicking "I Am What I Am," which caused the audience to go wild. She combined with Ms. D'Abruzzo in a wonderfully arch version of "Bosom Buddies" from "Mame."
  • Stephanie D'Abruzzo - This star of "Avenue Q" can be both comic and poignant, as demonstrated by her interpretations of "Wherever He Ain't," "So Long Dearie," "Before The Parade Passes By," and the heartbreaking "Time Heals Everything."
  • Christine Pedi - This Broadway veteran of "Chicago," and current Guest Diva in "Spamilton," knows how to sell a song with the best of them. She often uses self-deprecating humor to draw in her audience. This was the case in "Just Leave Everything To Me," "Two A Day," "Gooch's Song," and "Nelson." She was most moving in her haunting rendition of "If He Walked Into My Life" from "Mame."
Stephanie Umoh, Stephanie D'Abruzzo, and Christine Pedi
Eric Svejar
"Jerry's Girls"
"Musicals In Mufti"
The York Theatre Company

If you are not already a subscriber or fan of The York Theatre Company's "Musicals In Mufti" series, I suggest that you get on their mailing list so you will be one of the first to know about next season's offerings.

York Theatre Company Website

Enjoy!

Al


Thursday, August 10, 2017

"Influence Redefined" by Stacey Hanke - "Be the leader you were meant to be, Monday to Monday


With "Influence Redefined," author Stacey Hanke makes a significant contribution to the growing corpus of book that address the role of influence as a crucial leadership dynamic. I particularly appreciate her strong emphasis on communication as a foundation stone upon which all influence is built.

"More than three thousand managers surveyed by the Apollo Research Institute rated communication as the most important twenty-first century skill " (p. 43)

She breaks down the six essential characteristics of influential individuals:

  • Trustworthy
  • Credible
  • Confident
  • Knowledgeable
  • Authentic
  • Passionate (p. 49)


She ties together these two important dynamics: "I often describe the connection between influence and communication this way: Behind every influential individual sit the six influence characteristics, and behind these characteristics sit effective communication skills." (p. 51)

She makes the strong point in tying together the relationship between conversation and presentation: "A leader from a large pharmaceutical company had a big a-ha moment during one of our mentoring sessions: 'I get it! A presentation is really an extension of a conversation.'  He hit the nail on the head. How we show up for every conversation and interaction determines the level of influence we have, rather than simply turning on our 'A' game for presentations." (p. 95)

Mr. Hanke offer this important perspective on considering the needs of audience when prepare a presentation: "Need - What does your audience need to know in the amount of time you have with them in order to take the action you want them to take?" (p. 168)

Finally, she offers this perspective on using eye contact to exert influence while making a presentation: "Eye connection is the primary delivery skill that builds trust. Eye connection goes beyond eye contact. Eye connection is looking at an individual  in the eyes and being 100 percent focused on that person for a full sentence. . . . You only speak when you see eyes. No eyes, no talk." (p. 190)

Read this book and use its many insights to "be the leader you were meant to be, Monday to Monday."

Enjoy!

Al