REVIEW: Liars and Believers’ inventive ‘Beyond a Winter’s Day’ aims to chase away pandemic blues

It has been said, ‘Happiness is good food and good company.’

For those who miss hugs and some good company, Liars and Believers (LAB) in Cambridge, MA may have a cure for that with their interactive, virtual, and family-friendly production of Beyond a Winter’s Day continuing through Saturday, March 27.  This production is offered on a pay-what-you-can basis.  Click here for more information and for tickets.  These are live streaming zoom performances that are scheduled at specific times.

Jason Garlick as Stanislav and Glen Moore as Fergus Photo credit to Liars and Believers

Directed shrewdly by Jason Slavick with video editing by Sam Powell, Beyond a Winter’s Day is more an experience than simply a theatrical production.  What makes this experience rather unique is how cleverly it is put together.  Not only does Beyond a Winter’s Day deliver a selection of insightful, creatively dynamic stories including an open-ended tale that ticket holders are encouraged to finish, but takes it one step further. 

Before watching, ticket holders are offered three recipes that could be considered hearty comfort food for a winter’s day to be prepared prior to the production.  The food is cleverly woven into the storyline and cast members enjoy the food with the audience during key points in the production, creating a multi-sensory experience. 

Rachel Weise as Isabel Photo credit to Liars and Believers

Though a portion of the production is set in space, Beyond a Winter’s Day attempts to evoke the comfort you might feel sitting in front of a campfire while eating, conversing, and sharing stories.  The colorful cast, portrayed by Rachel Wiese as Isabel, Rebecca Lehrhoff as Mishka, Glen Moore as Fergus, and Jesse Garlick as Stanislav, address the audience on occasion and the audience can respond via messaging.  A marginally self-aware piece, each nuanced character that introduces the tales all react differently to being separated from their other cast mates and gradually learn how best to capture that light and feeling of togetherness once again. 

Each tale is produced with varying creative styles and conveys a strong message about the underdog, judging a book by its cover, a campfire fable with unexpected attendees, and an open-ended story for you to finish. 

Vasalise the Blessed Photo credit to Liars and Believers

Each tale possesses its own strengths, but Vasalise the Blessed, an original work written by Rachel Wiese, was a particular highlight.  Its rich shadow puppetry boasts a passing resemblance to The Tale of Three Brothers in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part I film.  The haunting, detailed quality of this work is evident right down to the lattice pattern in Vasalise’s dress and the poignant story seems to come out of a set of dark fairy tales.

Jesse Garlick’s Malka and the Bahema is a fascinating Yiddish morality tale that involves a variety of puppetry including hand and finger puppets as Malka embarks on a harrowing journey to prove an entire town wrong and Kendra Bell’s mischievous and expressive costumes for a bedtime fable look like they walked right out of storybook.

Beyond a Winter’s Day also features its own version of musical storytelling in the live, upbeat, and relaxing acoustic rhythms from singer-songwriters Carlos Odria and singer Mali

Liars and Believers present innovative Beyond a Winter’s Day through Saturday, March 27.  This show is on a pay-as-you-like basis and streams live at scheduled times.  Click here for more information and tickets.

REVIEW: Boston Ballet’s immersive and uplifting ‘BB@yourhome: Look Back Focus Forward’ offers rare performances and more

The Boston Ballet launched their first virtual production of the year with an optimistic look at 2021 featuring a selection of rarely performed past performances, an exclusive look back at the Boston Ballet on tour, and where they go from here with a sneak peek into a new project scheduled for April 2021.

Boston Ballet’s virtual program, BB@yourhome: Look Back Focus Forward continues through Sunday, January 31.  Click here for more information and how to access this lighthearted and immersive program.

Derek Dunn in Leonid Yakobson’s Vestris Photo by Rachel Neville Photography; courtesy of Boston Ballet

Opening the program is Derek Dunn, who has a history of wonderful performances including The Nutcracker, Helen Pickett’s Petal and Genius at Play.   After an insightful introduction from Boston Ballet’s Artistic Director Mikko Nissenen and Executive Director Max Hodges, He took on a monumental solo dance demonstrating humor, tension, and a wide range of emotions as Auguste in Leonid Yakobson’s rarely performed Vestris.  In a powered wig and meticulously-detailed Founders garment by Robert Perdziola, Dunn is madcap and witty to a rousing applause, taking on a dance that Mikhail Baryshnikov immortalized.  A particular highlight was a moment of subtle humor as Dunn leans forward and hesitates like a novice dancer, just learning his steps. 

Leonid Yakobson’s Pas de Quatre takes on a lighthearted and fanciful tone as Ji Young Chae, Ekaterine Chubinidze, Maria Baranova, and Nina Matiashvili unite as one in a circular dance adorned in flower crowns and flowing, pristine and romantic tutus.  This is another rarely performed piece that demonstrates a sisterhood between this quartet.  To a poignant score featuring selections from Norma and picturesque staging by Vera Solovyeva and Nikolay Levitsky, the dancers each showcase their own unique talents and much of it is lively, elegant, and charming. 

Corina Gill and Issac Akiba in Leonid Yakobson’s Rodin; photo by Rachel Neville Photography; courtesy of Boston Ballet

Love takes many shapes in Leonid Yakobson’s Rodin in three parts.  It explores each stage of love from first glimpse to passion and it is captivating to see each part come to life.  Sun Woo Lee and Abigail Merlis have playful chemistry as they lean into each other and Abigail smiles as he attempts a kiss.  To Debussy’s classic score, Clair de Lune, Maria Alvarez and Alec Roberts depict the sweet joy and rapture of love as they move in unison in shyness and jubilance. Another highlight was Emily Entingh as she leans back into Michael Ryan and he lifts her up in admiration.

Look Back Focus Forward also reveals exclusive touring footage and Boston Ballet Artistic Director Mikko Nissenen and principal dancer Lia Cirio share in depth the Boston Ballet’s most exciting and extraordinary experiences on tour and the significance in touring once again.  One of their favorite experiences was premiering Jiri Kylian’s controversial Bella Figura at Lincoln Center in New York City for the Boston Ballet’s 50th anniversary.  Bella Figura is best witnessed to fully take in its daring, haunting, and mysterious subtlety.

Rie Ichikawa in Jiri Kylian’s Bella Figura; photo by Gene Schiavone; courtesy of Boston Ballet

The Boston Ballet also offers a sneak peek into an entirely new and innovative virtual production helmed by renowned international choreographer Ken Ossola that will soon premiere in April 15-25 2021.

BB@yourhome’s Look Back Focus Forward continues streaming through Sunday, January 31.  Click here for more information and tickets.  The Boston Ballet celebrates the work of Jorma Elo in February.  Click here to see the BB@yourhome’s entire virtual schedule.

REVIEW: Boston Children’s Chorus’ free MLK tribute concert ‘Born on the Water’ a stirring and hopeful virtual journey

Although the Boston Children’s Chorus (BCC) could not physically be together this year for their annual concert, they certainly spiritually united in harmony through innovative zoom technology that helped make this remarkable concert a visual spectacle.  Featuring renowned special guests in music and in the arts, The Boston Children’s Chorus composed a stirring, gripping, and hopeful collection of works including music and poetry honoring Martin Luther King’s historic day.

The 18th Annual Boston Children’s Chorus concert tribute to Martin Luther’s King, Born on the Water was livestreamed on their website and Facebook on Sunday, January 17 at 4 p.m. The virtual concert is still available on their Facebook page and YouTube channel.  Click here for more information on how to support the Boston Children’s Chorus, their upcoming events, programs, digital offerings, and how to join.

Boston Children’s Chorus’s 17th annual MLK Tribute concert Photo Credit to A Priori Photography/Boston Children’s Chorus

In under an hour, the free virtual tribute concert offered a selection of hymns, protest songs, and hopeful melodies.  Broadway actor-vocalist Roman Banks delivered an incredible opening number with the Boston Children’s Chorus in a gripping rendition of the African American folk song, Been in the Storm as Banks exclaimed, ‘Give me Time to Pray.’

Broadway vocalist Roman Banks performed with the Boston Children’s Chorus for this year’s virtual concert, ‘Born on the Water’ Photo courtesy of Boston Children’s Chorus

African American Folksong Joy in my Heart, arranged and introduced by Dr. Rollo Dilworth of Temple University, was a beautiful and hopeful song made more enchanting by the visually-engaging technology and the heart shaped graphics that framed the adorable and angelic-sounding Children’s Chorus.

Boston Children’s Museum’s President Carole Charnow introduced the moving classic African American Spiritual Let Me Fly with Edith Mae’s poem written during for the Civil Rights Movement, Fight on Little Children in memory of Emmett Til.

BCC’s 16th Annual Martin Luther King’s Tribute concert, ‘She Persisted’ Photo credit to A Priori Photography/Boston Children’s Chorus

Other highlights included Nina Simone’s protest song, Mississippi Goddam introduced by KingBoston’s Executive Director Paris Jeffries.  It was a fast paced, quick witted, impactful song mastered by the Boston Children’s Chorus and enhanced by clever, visually-engaging technology.

Boston Children’s Chorus dedicated Alicia Keys’s catchy, meaningful song Underdog to Frontline Workers and everyone who is risking their lives during the pandemic.  The BCC delivered seamless harmonies accentuated by a beautiful montage of Boston.

Actress and vocalist E. Faye Butler performed with the Boston Children’s Chorus for this year’s MLK virtual tribute concert, ‘Born on the Water’ Photo credit to Boston Children’s Chorus

Adorned in an elegant dress, actress and soloist E. Faye Butler joined the Boston Children’s Chorus in a performance of Stevie Wonder’s poignant, yet uplifting rendition of Love’s in Need of Love Today.  It was easy to hear the enthusiasm in Butler’s warm and soaring vocals as she sang, ‘Don’t delay/Send yours right away’ as the group offered a sorely needed message with such relevance today and so in tune with MLK’s continuing mission.

BCC’s Born on the Water is still available to stream on their Facebook page and YouTube channel. Click here to learn more about the Boston Children’s Chorus, their upcoming events, digital offerings, how to join, and how to support their mission.

REVIEW: ‘Love, Repeat’ gets love right

Viewing Warwick Film’s unconventional and heartwarming romantic comedy Love, Repeat makes this city lover long to return to New York City.  Steeped in New York City’s pinnacle, snow-covered beauty and featuring some of the city’s most iconic landmarks in muted enchantment brings on a wistful feeling.  New York City not only provides this film’s idyllic ambiance, but is portrayed as its own active character in James, an auspicious person who feels like he lucked out in love to his wife Barbara until they suddenly divorce.  James feels much like Manhattan, a lonely island.

Bill Connington as James in idyllic New York City in ‘Love, Repeat’ Photo courtesy of DARR Publicity/Love, Repeat

Whether you are still feeling the holiday spirit as any Hallmark movie fan would be or looking for a lighthearted tale of love and loss, Love, Repeat delivers.  January is also nestled between the close of the holiday season and the anticipation of Valentine’s Day.  Warwick Film’s Love, Repeat is available to stream and on DVD.  Click here for more information on the film and how to watch Love, Repeat.

MaxwellPurushothaman as Chris and Bill Connington as James in ‘Love, Repeat’ Photo courtesy of DARR Publicity/Love, Repeat

Written, executive produced, and starring Bill Connington as James, Love, Repeat largely portrays the difficult part of love.  It explores the kind of love that is tested after things go right, but done in a way that is optimistic, humorous, and never bereft of hope.

Marcus Ho as Chad, Maxwell Purushothaman as Chris, Stu Richel as Philip, and Bill Connington as James Photo courtesy of DARR Publicity/Love, Repeat

The setting may be idyllic, but this is not a tale of beautiful people with beautiful problems that are easily solved.  Love, Repeat boasts a dynamic, strong, and quirky cast helmed by Bill Connington as earnest, stoic and quietly romantic James Anderson.  Connington endearingly depicts James’s tension and hesitation as he wades into this unexpected period in his life while his artistic ex-wife Barbara, amiably portrayed by Leenya Rideout, seems ready to move on.  The pair possess a sweet and familiar chemistry.  There is nothing quite like getting romantic advice from your son and Maxwell Purushothanan as their bright, albeit blunt son Chris receives the lion’s share of the laughs.  Stu Richel as Phillip, James’s football-loving father resembles that “shoot-from-the-hip” charisma portrayed in Martin Crane from the hit TV show Frasier

Marcus Ho as Chad and Nandita Shenoy as Lavanya Photo courtesy of DARR Publicity/Love, Repeat

Marcus Ho as Chad and Nandita Shenoy as Lavanya are James’s chic and wildly dramatic friends as they amusingly swing from passionate to cynical at times in the very same scene.  The film also has its share of good naturedly silly moments including a spontaneous dance sequence and Vivia Font who deems a noteworthy portrayal as increasingly obsessive and comically driven Camilla.

The story is a bit rushed at times and it would have been nice to get more insight into Barbara’s character, but the characters are relatable enough to stay invested while delivering an authentic message about love, risk, acceptance, and relationships while taking in those marvelous city views.

Bill Connington as James at the MET Photo courtesy of DARR Publicity/Love, Repeat

Warwick Film’s Love, Repeat is available to stream and on DVD.  Click here for more information on the film and how to watch Love, Repeat.

Amid peerless Castle Hill and candlelight, Boston Lyric Opera delivers exquisite ‘Winter’s Evening’ on Operabox

One this is for sure, Boston Lyric Opera can achieve elegance anywhere.

Boston Lyric Opera (BLO) had two remarkable debuts for their virtual concert, A Winter’s Evening.  Directed sublimely by Nathan Troop, Boston Lyric Opera’s ‘A Winter’s Evening’ not only made its virtual debut on Operabox, but soprano Gabriella Reyes also made her effervescent debut with the Boston Lyric Opera, an event which she calls “a dream come true.”

BLO’s ‘A Winter’s Evening’ continues streaming through Sunday, January 10.  Click here for more information.  Boston Lyric Health Task Force helped coordinate the virtual performance to meet safety standards.

Surrounded by the gorgeous grounds at Castle Hill at the Crane Estate in Ipswich, Massachusetts, Miss Massachusetts 2020 Sabrina Victor, adorned in black fur over a glittering white gown, hosted this lovely evening with warmth and poise.

Boston Lyric Opera’s ‘A Winter’s Evening’ continues streaming on Operabox through Sunday, January 10. Photo credit to Boston Lyric Opera

Boston Lyric Opera also weaved in elements of hearth and home blending classic opera and festive classic songs as Gabriella Reyes and Sabrina Victor shared personal remembrances of holidays past.  The show is the height of elegance, not only in the couture, but inside the Crane Estate’s majestic ballroom embellished with candlelight and Christmas trees. 

Impressively accompanied by pianist Brett Hodgdon, Reyes, adorned in a black gown, showcased her broad range with a dynamic selection of songs that included a serene, bi-lingual version of Silent Night/Nochede Paz, passionate Quando M’en Vo from Puccini’s La Boheme, stirring Nana by Manuel De Falla, a dreamy and heartfelt When You Wish Upon a Star with lyrics by Ned Washington and music by Leigh Harline, and the inspirational classic Harold Arlen song, Over the Rainbow featuring its rarely sung introduction.  Reyes masters the operatic selections, her light and powerful vocals make it all look easy.

Guitarist Zaira Meneses accompanied Reyes for a portion of the evening with a selection of songs that are meaningful to both of them including Grever’s Alma Mia and Sandoval’s Gracias a la Vita.  Meneses’s vibrancy and flair, putting her entire body into her music with Reyes’s eloquence made for a stirring pair.

BLO’s ‘A Winter’s Evening’ continues on Operabox through Sunday, January 10.  Click here for more information and how to subscribe to Boston Lyric Opera’s current season.

REVIEW: Christmas Revels 50th virtual anniversary delivers mirth, merriment, and reflection

For what marks its 50th year, Christmas Revels has been entertaining audiences by delving into vast cultures and recreating historical moments and holiday traditions with drama, dance, humor, and song.  Christmas Revels made its debut in 1971 and though it is limited to the screen this year, this engaging production brought a mix of new material while glimpsing some of their best performances in their long history. 

Father Christmas makes an appearance in The Christmas Revels annual “Mummers Play” Photo courtesy of Revels

Having never seen Christmas Revels before, it was a lot to take in and quite a feat to encapsulate the best moments in such a broad time frame.  Catching glimpses of some of their special guests, returning favorites, and new faces was an innovative way to recap a half century of productions, but it also had me longing to see more, especially as I glimpsed some of their best, most enduring performances.

Christmas Revels is still available to stream on-demand through Thursday, December 31.  Click here for more information and how to support future Revels productions.  The 50th Anniversary of Christmas Revels is also available as a 2-CD set.  Click here for more information.

Statues: Paula Plum as James Otis and Richard Snee as Josiah Quincy Photo courtesy of Revels

Harvard University’s Sanders Theatre is as majestic and welcoming as ever even as it fills for a virtual audience.  The dark, wooden stage is softly-lit with two stately, marble Greek statues sitting on each end as a grand, dimly-lit bronze chandelier floats overhead.  Hosted by acting dynamos Paula Plum and Richard Snee as James Otis and Josiah Quincy who were immortalized as those legendary statues on the Harvard University stage and the only souls who have seen every Revels performance and then some, Christmas Revels blends humor, stirring moments, and a wistful trip down memory lane to witness some of Revels’ earliest performances as it gradually became what it is today.  

From humorous moments to joyful carols such as 1984’s Yorkshire Here We Come A Wassailing, Go Tell it On the Mountain with Janice Allen and Joy to the World featuring choruses from Christmas past and virtual Christmas present, and a serene Dona Nobis Pacem featuring renowned cellist Yo-Yo Ma, Christmas Revels does not predictably explore its past in sequence, but in clever moments such as merging a past and more recent performance of a song  by various performers, setting a different tone to its enduring meaning.

Yo-Yo Ma with Audience: Cellist Yo-Yo Ma performs the peace round “Dona Nobis Pacem” with members of the Revels Virtual Audience Photo courtesy of Revels

One of the best and most exciting examples of this was in 1997’s and 2015’s Lord of the Dance featuring David Coffin, Neena Gulati, and Patrick Swanson as they explored eastern and western Hindu traditions.  Audience members were on their feet as enthusiastic performers led audience members to spill out into the Sanders Theatre’s lobby singing along.  1993’s Kukko dance featuring the Karelian Folk Ensemble stood out as one of the more exotic cultures while 1997’s Niska Banja featuring the Revels Women, New England Romanian Ensemble, and Cambridge Symphonic Brass Ensemble revealed beautiful and distinctive garb.  2007’s Shopsko, choreographed by Petre Petrov with Mladost Folk Ensemble, The Village Band, and Cambridge Symphonic Brass Ensemble offered memorable upbeat and bustling Bulgarian dance. 

Johnny Nichols, Jr. and Carolyn Saxon perform the spiritual “Hold On” in a segment linked to Maya Angelou’s poem “Still I Rise”, exploring the ongoing journey towards justice and equality Photo courtesy of Revels

 Janice Allen and the Silver Leaf Gospel Singers took the stage in 2000 for a stunning, acapella version of Amazing Grace while 1986’s impressive Appalachian Clogging with Ira Bernstein and the Big Gap String Band and Jean Ritchie delivered a captivating Kentucky folk carol, Christ Was Born in Bethlehem.  Another indelible moment rested in a powerful medley of 2000’s Underground Railroad featuring Sheila Kay Adams and Janice Allen, Jordan Ashwood, and Cyrus Brooks, Silver Leaf Gospel Singers, Roaring Gap Chorus, Rocky River Children, Carolyn Saxon, and Johnny Nichols, Jr.

Christmas Revels’ ever changing repertoire is too numerous to mention every highlight, but there are plenty of surprises.

The detailed, rustic sets and the meaningful, meticulous costumes ranged from festive to humorous to haunting.  It was marvelous to witness the virtual technology that was such a big part of this production.  The virtual choir delivered moving, crisp carols and seeing the creators including founder John Langstaff and Revels Directors Patrick Swanson and George Emlen united in present time without actually being onstage provided some comfort that technology can still make some things possible. 

Christmas Revels is still available to stream on-demand through Thursday, December 31.  Click here for more information and how to support future Revels productions.  Click here for more information on The 50th Anniversary of Christmas Revels available as a 2-CD set. 

REVIEW: GBH’s inviting virtual ‘A Christmas Celtic Sojourn’ maintains warmth and tradition in 2020

2020 has been many things, but traditional is not one of them.  However, this year’s virtual A Christmas Celtic Sojourn brought back holiday traditions, beautiful performances, reflections, stirring carols, and dare I say a bit of normalcy to 2020.

With a selection of live performances and an option to watch on-demand, GBH’s A Christmas Celtic Sojourn was brought into your home in a warm, inviting, and spirited atmosphere.  From a majestic, candlelit cathedral in Ireland to a festive outdoor step dance in Ottawa, Canada, it unconventionally included all the elements of what is beloved about this annual New England show and somehow broadened its possibilities worldwide. 

Host Brian O’Donovan and fiddle player Jenna Moynihan at Rockport Music Photo credit to Dan Jentzen

Brilliantly directed by Jenna Worden, A Christmas Celtic Sojourn offered seven live streaming opportunities to watch virtually from your home Tuesday, December 15 at THE VETS in Providence, RI, Wednesday, December 15 at Hanover Theatre in Worcester, MA, Thursday, December 17 at The Zeiterion Performing Arts Center in New Bedford, MA, Friday, December 18 at Shalin Liu Performance Center in Rockport, MA, Saturday, December 19 at The Cutler Majestic Theatre in Boston, MA, and Sunday, December 20 in GBH Studios in Boston, MA  These locations are usually where A Christmas Celtic Sojourn tours annually.  A bonus encore presentation also occurred on Christmas Eve. 

GBH’s virtual A Christmas Celtic Sojourn is still available.  Click here for more information and to enjoy the show on-demand through January 2, 2021.  A Christmas Celtic Sojourn would also like to hear what you thought of the program by visiting their Facebook page.

Celtic harpist, pianist, and Assistant Music Director Maeve Gilchrist Photo credit to Dan Jentzen

Though a portion of the performers were at home, audiences were treated to harmonies created from multiple locations nationally and internationally while enjoying festive, international scenery.  For a person who has lacked the chance to travel the world this year, it was a more than welcome opportunity to take a glimpse and to share in some international traditions. 

From the stirring, candlelit opening of beloved carol, O Come Emmanuel sung in Latin by Cathy Jordan from gorgeous Sligo Cathedral in Ireland, A Christmas Celtic Sojourn transported audiences to Ireland and to other places around the world as they were unable to bring Ireland to the stage.  The show also boasted dueling harmonies simultaneously sung from Vermont, Scotland, and various parts of Massachusetts. 

Host Brian O’Donovan brought a mix of humor, melancholy, and wistful reflections toward this difficult year, engaging storytelling, and fond tidings.  Though this year has presented its challenges, A Christmas Celtic Sojourn still managed to keep the rituals and long-awaited music right at your fingertips delivering jubilant, soulful moments while still embracing winter’s dark and sacred stillness.

Music Director and multi-instrumentalist Seamus Egan with fiddlers Jenna Moynihan and Maura Shawn Scanlin Photo credit to Dan Jentzen

Thanks to Rockport Music, multi-instrumentalist and Music Director Seamus Egan, Assistant Music Director, Celtic harpist, and pianist Maeve Gilchrist, Bouzouki and Harmonium player Owen Marshall, guitarist Conor Hearn, and fiddle players Jenna Moynihan and Maura Shawn Scanlin returned to perform cheerful medleys and energetic jam sessions filmed in Rockport Music at Shalin Liu Performance Center in Rockport, Massachusetts.  Seamus Egan’s brilliance shone through as he reached for multiple instruments for separate songs and at one point reaching for a banjo for a joyful freestyle. 

Fiddle players Jenna Moynihan and Maura Shawn Scanlin with Bouzouki and Harmonium musician Owen Marshall Photo credit to Dan Jentzen

A traditional wassail in Edinburgh, Scotland, rollicking sing-along carols and dance from A Christmas Celtic Sojourn’s past, a peerless lullaby carol involving a newborn, original song and stirring new renditions of classic carols, a lighthearted percussive dance from Michigan by Nic Gareiss, and returning step dancer and choreographer Cara Butler reveling in her backyard to a jubilant tune in Ottawa, Canada are just some of the highlights of this carefully-executed, moving production.  There were plenty of welcome surprises not to be revealed here.

Spending an awful lot of time at home and not in the car, music is less of a tradition in my house.  GBH’s  A Christmas Celtic Sojourn created a haven of holiday comfort in song that though we are far apart, some rituals and traditions can still stay the same.

GBH’s virtual A Christmas Celtic Sojourn is still available.  Click here for more information and to enjoy the show on-demand through January 2, 2021

REVIEW: Michael John Ciszewski’s ‘The Sun is Sleeping’ dwells in dreamlike introspection in 2020

To some, the sun is an adversary.  To fast-living insomniac Simon, portrayed by Michael John Ciszewski, the sun is sleeping just when he is waking up.  Michael John Ciszewski’s second solo project, The Sun is Sleeping, is a personal, contemplative piece though Simon wants to be anything but contemplative.  He’d rather escape than be alone in his thoughts and his isolation, always looking for a quick fix as he dreams, loves, and parties big.

Having seen Ciszewski in other projects such as Lyric Stage Company of Boston’s The Little Foxes and his latest Hub Theatre Company of Boston’s virtual Much Ado about Nothing, Ciszewski has a strength for portraying intense, multi-faceted characters and Simon is no exception.  Steeped in city views, sunsets, and the crack of dawn, The Sun is Sleeping is a beautifully shot, relatable journey during these difficult times. 

Michael John Ciszewski in ‘The Sun is Sleeping’ Photo credit to Michael John Ciszewski

Click here for more information and how to watch The Sun is Sleeping, a one hour avant-garde film.

The Sun is Sleeping is part confessional, part introspection, and part escape, featuring a myriad of mixed emotions as Simon and other characters face a pandemic.  As Simon fantasies about an eternally happy existence and doubt seeps in, the audience is privy to each character’s meandering perspectives in their sheer yearning to bond with other people in any way they can.

For the actors themselves facing an arts ‘intermission’ of this magnitude, it’s the thrill of the audience, lack of that type of expression, and entire way of life turned upside down that contributes to their unsettling uncertainty.  Pier Lamia Porter as Sam and Rachel Belleman as Caroline unite in a wistful zoom call that could speak to anyone right now.  It’s the longing and joy of being together.  Some of the show has a sense of humor, but much more of it is reflection showing we all have too much time on our hands and yet the sun still shines.

Tony Williams Dance Center’s ‘Urban Nutcracker’ an immersive heartfelt letter to Boston in 2020

2020 has made an indelible impact on our society affecting family life, schools, businesses, the arts, and the very nature in which we live.  When Urban Nutcracker returned for its 19th season in 2019 and took the stage at Boch Center’s Shubert Theatre, it delivered dazzling style, live, multi-genre music, and the thrill of a classic tale with a unique perspective.  It was one of the many inventive performances taking the stage at Shubert Theatre or at any venue in Boston during the holiday season.

Seeing it now evokes an air of wistfulness.  Being a lover of city life in Boston for decades, seeing it now makes me long for Boston’s exciting streets, sit in the Boston Common, walk through Faneuil Hall in its crowded, bustling glory, and watch people marvel at the lights and holiday spirit of the city.  Make Way for Ducklings, the Duck Boats, the Boston Harbor, live music at the Hatch Shell, and the crowds filing into Fenway Park are a memory this year.  Especially at this glorious time of year, the warmth of the holidays in phenomenal Boston fills this city-lover’s mind with nostalgia and an enduring fondness for its boundless energy and heart.  How it is missed.

Filmed in 2019 at the Boston’s Shubert Theatre and featuring the City Ballet of Boston, Tony Williams Dance Center’s Urban Nutcracker continues streaming for free for its 20th anniversary through Christmas Eve.  Click here to see the show and more information on Tony Williams Dance Center.

Nutcracker Prince portrayed by Tony Tucker battles Haissen Booth as the Rat King Photo credit to Peter Paradise Michaels/Urban Nutcracker

The dynamic orchestra is the first to set the show’s immersive tone as they greet the setting audience traveling through the aisles playing their horn-infused, big band sound on instruments stringed in colorful lights.   As the band settles inside a replica of the Hatch Shell above the stage amid Janie Howland’s amazing scenic design, identifiable landmarks such as the CITGO sign, Massachusetts State House, and Downtown Boston’s Custom House Clock Tower are set strategically on Boston’s city skyline.  The orchestra plays above the performers, delivering a robust sound in a plethora of music styles that match the cornucopia of festive costumes by Dustin Todd Rennels and Rebecca Cross as cultures from around the world unite onstage. 

Gianni Di Marco as Drosselmeyer and Juliet Brown as Ruby and the cast Photo credit to Peter Paradise Michaels/Urban Nutcracker

When Tchaikovsky, Duke Ellington, and David Berger combine for the eclectic score musically directed by Bill Whitney, it is a journey of unfettered entertainment.  Urban Nutcracker has a modern, relaxed, family-friendly vibe which is depicted in the show’s bright and jubilant colors, an urban-chic apartment with a distinctive tree, and the dance styles intonate a party that could happen anywhere in the city today especially as kids gather for a picture using a selfie stick.

Urban Nutcracker depicts all the classic scenes from Tchikovsky’s production with an inviting twist featuring a diverse, multi-talented cast.  In a magnificent coat and top hat, Gianni Di Marco is captivating as wise, charismatic and exuberant Drosselmeyer.  He not only wows adults and children alike with tricks and presents, but his sweet interactions with Ruby, portrayed by enchanting Juliet Brown and Stella Kotter, provide some of Urban Nutcracker’s most memorable moments.

Khalid Hill dazzles in multiple roles, but his tap dancing shines most on the city streets as dancers synchronize beats on trash cans.  Ronnie Thomas is excellent as a funky soldier doll bouncing and coasting around the stage.

The Snow Queen and King, portrayed by Ruth Whitney and Joe Gonzalez, is the picture of elegance surrounded by luminous snowflake dancers and a glittering view of the Boston Common.  Gonzalez also delivers a visually-rich and daring performance in a duet with Ruth Whitney as Arabian dancers.

Betsy  Boxberger Khalil stuns as the Sugar Plum Fairy not only in a beautiful, upbeat solo but in a later performance with Joe Gonzalez and Gianni Di Marco during a jazz-infused Nutcracker Suite.  The lifts themselves are spectacular.

Several fun performances included athletic hula hoop dancers featuring Kendra Frank, a high-energy performance featuring skilled, tap-dancing workmen, Urban Nutcracker’s amusing answer to Bo Peep, but Urban Nutcracker’s answer to Make Way for Duckling featuring Michael Oliver Slayton as a tap dancing cop and an adorable troupe of ducklings led by Simone Wolfhorst, is a favorite, an unforgettable and endearing performance.

Urban Nutcracker offers something for everyone without being boxed into any particular music taste while also delivering a timeless message of the season.   It also pays unparallel tribute to Boston and if you are feeling nostalgic for the city, make sure to see this show.

Tony Williams Dance Center’s Urban Nutcracker continues streaming for free through Christmas Eve 2020.  Click here for more information, how to access the show, and how to support this organization.

REVIEW: Concord Players make ‘It’s a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play’ savvy, vintage entertainment

Before we tackle this vintage holiday favorite, I would be remiss not to mention the acclaimed founder of the Concord Players.  Fans of Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women know of the beloved drama club that was established in the book as well as the Pickwick Papers, the title a nod to Charles Dickens.  Beloved author Louisa May Alcott founded the Concord Players and Little Women has been staged annually as Concord Players reached their centennial year.  Perhaps the drama club in the book was part of her inspiration.

Speaking of Charles Dickens, A Dramatic Reading of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol read by Johnny Kinsman will be the next Concord Players streaming event on YouTube Friday, December 18th at 7 p.m. Click here for more information on the event and how to support The Concord Players.

Classic holiday entertainment resurfaces the way mistletoe suddenly hovers over unsuspecting lovebirds at just the right moment.  One of the holiday season’s most anticipated classics is Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life, a 1946 film about life’s joys and struggles culminating on Christmas Eve starring Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed.  It returns to the television screen every year with several opportunities to watch.

Directed commendably by John Pease, The Concord Players presented this beloved classic in November with a novel and nostalgic twist.  Rewinding the clock to Radio’s Golden Age in the 1940s on a dark, snowy night in Manhattan, NY, Concord Players streamed Joe Landry’s It’s a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play staged as a live radio broadcast on fictional station WCPR for a limited time on Broadway on Demand from Friday, November 20 through Sunday, November 22. 

The bright and festive studio stage was adorned in Christmas lights, garland, and a Christmas tree while a group of voiceover artists included Freddie Filmore as Announcer, Lana Sherwood, Sally Applewhite, Eileen Rivera, and Jake Laurette as George Bailey recreate the show on vintage sterling microphones, portraying a number of roles in the process.  Rachael Rabinovitz’s authentic and colorful costumes set a cheerful tone as performers dress in their festive Sunday best for the radio.

Optimistic George Bailey’s faith in life and humanity is challenged as he desperately struggles to figure out life’s meaning as a certain angel is vying for his very own set of wings.  Touching, poignant, and darker than one would expect, It’s a Wonderful Life is a timeless family production that reminds audiences what truly matters.  Foley artist and sound effect expert Elizabeth Havenor’s technical wizardry is a scene stealer as Concord Players bring new perspective to this classic tale.

The cast masters the tricky task of portraying 1940’s voiceover artists, while also embracing a number of beloved characters in the production.  Navigating between each individual character while voicing multiple characters young and old within the play take particular skill.  Craig Howard brings warmth and charm to wise, yet bumbling Clarence and it was fascinating to watch Howard change his voice to Sam Wainwright by placing a glass against his mouth.

It was refreshing to see Jay Newlon portraying dreamy George Bailey not with Jimmy Stewart directly in mind in a good natured, earnest, adventurous portrayal, though he needed a bit more fire during the show’s more climactic moments.  A particular highlight was witnessing the torment in George’s face as he struggled with leaving his hometown behind while also feeling obligated to stay.  His scenes with heartwarming and hopeful Rachael Rabinovitz as Mary Hatch and with Jenn Bubriski as Rose Bailey have beautiful candor.

John Alzapiedi delivered a versatile performance as a winning narrator, skillfully depicts Potter’s booming narcissism and menacing gravitas, and brings sympathetic Mr. Gower to life.

Sound designer Tim Powers was behind the show’s authentic vintage sound which included the organ-tinged, melodramatic music and jingles of old and a couple of engaging commercials “from our sponsor.”

Foley artist and sound effect coordinator Elizabeth Havenor seamlessly kept the show rolling as her busy hands maneuvered every sound seamlessly.  Allen and Anne Bantly must have brought new meaning to providing the appropriate props to keep Havenor up to speed.  She rang every bell, blew each whistle, and slammed every door while also creating an impeccably-timed ringing telephone to a wild storm to popping champagne.  It was amazing to see how all of it was done during radio’s golden age.  It’s a Wonderful Life is such a timeless show and yet translates so well into a live radio play that it never misses a beat.  

Concord Players will soon present A Dramatic Reading of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol read by Johnny Kinsman will be the next Concord Players streaming event on YouTube Friday, December 18th at 7 p.m. Click here for more information on the event and how to support The Concord Players.