REVIEW: Merrimack’s Repertory Theatre’s ‘Maytag Virgin’ a captivating mix of sweetness and substance

Maytag Virgin has a charming way of airing out the laundry.

Loss and laundry is just the tip of the iceberg in Audrey Cefaly’s moving romantic comedy, Maytag Virgin.  Poignantly directed by Eleanor Holdridge and presented by Merrimack Repertory Theatre (MRT) Maytag Virgin continues through Sunday, February 2 at Liberty Hall in Lowell, Massachusetts.  This show is not suitable for young children.  Click here for more information and tickets.

Merrimack Repertory Theatre's 'Maytag Virgin' set

‘Maytag Virgin’s’ inviting set Photo courtesy of Jeanne Denizard

Though this romantic comedy may at first seem as fluffy as its laundry, Maytag Virgin is full of honesty, raw humor, and substance featuring just two cast members as seemingly enigmatic widowed neighbors with enough sassy chemistry and smart dialogue to keep the show on spin.  Sound designer Scott Stauffer’s upbeat, fiddle-laden score effectively enhances the show’s humorous and bittersweet story line.

Merrimack Repertory Theatre Brazda and Adkins in lights

Kati Brazda and David Adkins. Photo by Meghan Moore.

Set in Southern Alabama, Maytag Virgin focuses on next door neighbors who find common ground despite their vast differences.  Kati Brazda is engaging as outspoken, sensitive, and newly widowed Lizzie, a goldmine of chatter who suffers from the unfamiliarity of living alone.  In a messy updo, Brazda captures Lizzie’s awkward anxiousness and need to control her surroundings through her frank and excitable demeanor.  Having only lost her husband only a month ago, it is easy to see how her grief and loneliness is seeping into her everyday life.

David Adkins is amiable as stoic and good humored Jack, Lizzie’s new neighbor she politely calls Mr. Key.  He is quiet and more familiar with solitude.  They discuss everything from neighborhood gossip to religion to their sad stories.  Both are stubborn and guarded, dealing with their grief in different ways.  However, what makes these two fascinating is not so much in the things that they say to one another.  It is what they reveal about each other through slight and subtle actions that could easily go unnoticed, but Brazda and Adkins do well to reveal more about themselves in a glance or a long pause much more than in their insightful dialogue.

Kris Stone and Katie Scibelli’s memorably stylish scenic design puts its own spin on white picket fences featuring pristine transparent houses that add dimension and vastness to the surrounding southern Alabama neighborhood.  Gleaming props mixed with Karen Perlow’s beautiful lighting create some compelling landscapes.

Merrimack Repertory Theatre Brazda and Adkins Christmas

Kati Brazda and David Adkins. Photo by Meghan Moore/Merrimack Repertory Theatre

Lizzie has never used a dryer and Jack doesn’t know what to do without one.  It’s never to too late to start again.

Maytag Virgin’s opening night featured a pre-talk with author Audrey Cefaly and a post show reception featuring food by Mill City Barbeque as well as crackers, beverages, and various desserts.

Merrimack Repertory Theatre continues the romantic comedy ‘Maytag Virgin’ through Sunday, February 2 at Liberty Hall, 50 East Merrimack Street in Lowell, Massachusetts.  Click here for tickets and upcoming special performances during the show’s run.  Click here for more information on Merrimack Repertory Theatre’s 2019-2020 season.

 

 

 

Take a look at Company Theatre’s new logo as co-founder Zoe Bradford discusses the Company Theatre’s exciting future

The Company Theatre is kicking off 2020 with a new look.

Not only are they starting a fun-filled new season that includes The Who’s Tommy, Bring it On, Rock of Ages, and Fun Home, but they recently unveiled their new logo.  Click here to see their new logo.

Sleepless Critic had a chance to interview Zoe Bradford about the Company Theatre’s upcoming projects, their vision for the future, and even walked away with some good advice.  Click here for the full list the Company Theatre’s 2020 season.

Company Theatre co-founders Jordie Saucerman and Zoe Bradford

Company Theatre co-founders Jordie Saucerman and Zoe Bradford, courtesy of Company Theatre

Sleepless Critic:  Congratulations on Company Theatre’s recent 40th anniversary. So much has happened in the last few years from the upgraded, painted theatre with new seating to new, original productions.  Please tell me more about that.

Zoe Bradford:  Now that the theatre is beautiful, we’re envisioning the potential of our outdoor property.  We’ve done a lot with Academy of the Company Theatre (A.C.T.) with an expanded outdoor stage and new pavilion.  We have a growing summer program that has been at full capacity.   Not only do we need more space and with everybody addicted to their screens, I believe in getting kids outside.  We have a path to the pond front and we’ve held classes there for water coloring and creative writing.

ACT summer program

A group of past A.C.T. students Photo courtesy of The Company Theatre

Freedom for creative expression has been the key for me, so I know it is the key for them.  It’s why I desperately wanted my own theatre and thank God it happened.  It’s not stimulating to work in the confines of another person’s building or organization.  That’s one of the draws here.

SC:  You once said you chose popular shows that sell, but in the last few years, The Company Theatre has been delving into uncharted waters a bit with musicals such as Carrie the Musical, Lizzie Borden, and American Idiot.

ZB:  It’s financially difficult to do that, but we are trying to give the young people what they want.  Lizzie Borden went well because people love local history and some said they have been to her house.  It’s a gruesome tale, but it was also a nice psychological thriller.

We changed how we choose our shows a little, but we still have to please our general audience and offer something for the family, something mature, and our team knows their demographic well and what will be successful.

I’m passionate about big musicals and there’s nothing like the thrill of a live orchestra.  People in the professional theatre world, mentors, and colleagues say they will put eight pieces in here and do a lot of synthetic and prerecord.  You can make a lot of money that way, but we can’t do that.  Michael Joseph said that is standard while he was here and we’ve maintained it.

SC:  What shows do you still dream of doing?

ZB:  I’d love to do WickedThe Hunchback of Notre Dame, and I’m also waiting to do Mamma Mia!  We’ll get to it.  It’s all about rights and I’m sure there are new shows coming out that I’d love to get my hands on.

As a non-profit, whatever comes in has to support what we are doing and help us be self-sustaining.  Grants, gifts, and tax deductible donations are the key.  We have better opportunities for community support such as new packages for corporate sponsorship due to having higher end computer capabilities, a better website, and a ticketing service that allows people who wish to support us to advertise.

SC:  What has been your most challenging musical?

ZB:  The Wizard of Oz because the movie is a masterpiece and any derivation from the film would be a disappointment for those who truly love it.  People would fight me on that, but if you take on The Wiz, you can do what you want because no one has a preset notion of it.

The Company Theatre The Wiz auditions

Company Theatre’s ‘The Wiz’ auditions will be held on January 22. Photo courtesy of the Company Theatre

SC: The Wiz is also part of Company Theatre’s 2020 season.  What advice would you give someone taking on a business in theatre or similar?

ZB:  It’s highly competitive.  Know your vision, don’t give up, and try to think of something that someone else hasn’t already thought of.  Be fresh and original when you can and make sure people know of your existence without being obnoxious about it.  We still struggle with it.  Some people say they didn’t know a theatre is here.

SC:  What do you envision for the Company Theatre’s future?

ZB:  We have to keep growing and we set up the Legacy Fund.  Our money rolls in and out with the tide as any non-profit would, but we’re actively fundraising to ensure another 40 years and beyond.

For over ten years, I’ve wanted to design a new logo.  I remember sitting at a little drafting table back in the 70s and hand drew it when we didn’t have any money or resources.

With art being cut in classrooms and attending theatre in Boston can be so expensive, we’re looking to keep this going so it’s accessible for everyone and expand.  I can see us taking on more property and A.C.T. quadrupling over the next ten years.  We’re not a community theatre anymore, but a year round professional and we’ll evolve again.  We provide many jobs for people, but the other part of my vision is to create more jobs for artisans in the area.  The more people that are working and inspiring people, the better.

Company Theatre's The Who's Tommy

Photo courtesy of the Company Theatre

The Company Theatre kicks off their 2020 season with A.C.T’s The Who’s Tommy from January 17 through January 26.  Click here for tickets and here for more on Company Theatre’s 2020 season.  You can also get tickets by calling the box office at 781-871-2787.  Located at 30 Accord Park Drive in Norwell, Massachusetts, click here for how to support the Company Theatre and be sure to follow them on FacebookTwitter, and Instagram.

For Performing Arts news, interviews, reviews, and much more in Boston and beyond, follow us on Facebook @sleeplesscritic and subscribe.

 

REVIEW: Mikko Nissinen’s ‘The Nutcracker’ remains a visually-stunning journey for all ages

With enchanting special effects and performances that would endear any holiday pessimist, Mikko Nissinen’s The Nutcracker once again returns with an entire world seeped in the fondest of daydreams for adults and children alike. With the enhancement of internationally-renowned Finnish lighting designer Mikki Kunttu and Tchaikovsky’s classic score conducted by Misha Santora, The Nutcracker is as picturesque as ever, emphasizing its mark as an annual holiday institution.

Boston Ballet The Nutcracker cast Photo by Liza Voll

The 150 dancers making up ‘The Nutcracker’s’ spectacular cast. Photo credit to Liza Voll/Boston Ballet

The castle on a cloud is only the prelude to an enchanting journey as Mikko Nissinen’s The Nutcracker returns to the Citizens Bank Opera House with new surprises.  An elegant party, a valiant battle, and a variety of spectacular toys springing to life is just part of Clara’s exquisite journey when she is gifted an intriguing Nutcracker for Christmas.

The Boston Ballet takes the stage for Mikko Nissinen’s The Nutcracker continuing through Sunday, December 29.  The Boston Ballet features discount youth pricing. Click here for more information and for tickets.

The Boston Ballet The Nutcracker

Stage view Photo courtesy of Jeanne Denizard

Robert Perdziola’s meticulously-detailed set and costume design not only create an inviting atmosphere whether inside a fire lit, multi-dimensional living room with a towering, emerald-lit Christmas tree or surrounding an outdoor fire pit where locals can keep warm, but also creates a pristine wintry wonderland where you can almost feel the chill.  The ornate period costumes are gorgeous as women are adorned in velvet, silk, and ribbons and the men are dressed to the nines. Sweet, sophisticated, yet playful Clara, portrayed impressively by Emma Blake, is lovely in her pale blue coat, bonnet hat, and fur hand warmers.

Boston Ballet The Nutcracker Party Scene by Liza Voll

Party scene. Photo credit to Liza Voll/Boston Ballet

Christmas Eve is a magical time, especially for children.  Paulo Arrais unveils some of that magic as charismatic and confident showman, Drosselmeier.  Mustachioed Arrais is a grand presence as he delivers visions sprung from the imagination, showing children anything is possible.

Boston Ballet Nutcracker Ricardo Santos and Ji Young Chae by Rosalie O Connor

Harlequin Doll and Ballerina Doll. Photo credit to Rosalie O’Connor/Boston Ballet

Among the most memorable moments is a Soo-bin Lee’s convincing portrayal as a Ballerina Doll, her rigid movements out of the box a fascinating sight.  Tyson Clark’s Harlequin Doll and Sun Woo Lee’s life size, exotic bear are exuberant, playful, and among the most highly- anticipated scenes in this production.

The appearance of the Nutcracker Prince, depicted by a chivalrous and gallant Derek Dunn, is extraordinary surrounded by bright, multicolored, shimmering ornaments in a magnificent tree.  His appearance highlights one of the most spectacular and exciting special effects of the production that will not be revealed here.  His encounter with Alec Roberts’s bold and at times humorous Mouse King is thrilling and partially what makes The Nutcracker a children’s classic.

Boston Ballet 'The Nutcracker' Mouse King and Wooden Soldiers by Liza Voll

Alec Roberts as the Mouse King and a valiant battle Photo credit to Liza Voll/Boston Ballet

Seo Hye Han and Tigran Mkrtchyan are visions as The Snow Queen and King on a sparkling silver sleigh as surrounding dancers joyfully flock and frolic in a glorious scene.  Seo Hye Han and Tigran Mikrtchyan have a sweet chemistry as they join together in a captivating dance.

Boston Ballet The Nutcracker Snow fairies by Liza Voll

An enchanted winter wonderland. Photo credit to Liza Voll/Boston Ballet

Under glimmering chandeliers is a group of remarkable, electric performances which is less story progression and more showcase driven presented by the iconic and sparkling Sugar Plum Fairy, portrayed with finesse by Chisako Oga.  Two pairs of Spanish dancers portrayed by Ekaterine Chubinidze, Haley Schwan, Daniel Cooper, and Benji Pearson, sway and twirl in a dazzling spectacle.  Chyrstyn Fentroy and Paul Craig receive a rousing applause as a pair of exotic and athletic Arabian dancers while Desean Taber, Daniel Durrett, and Fuze Sun show off their flexibility and athletic prowess as a trio of leaping Russian dancers.

Among the most humorous scenes is an adorable appearance by Bo Peep accompanied by a mischievous black sheep and Graham Johns as towering and surprising Mother Ginger.

Boston Ballet The Nutcracker By Liza Voll

Clara, portrayed by Mia Steedle, Nutcracker Prince portrayed by Tigran Mkrtchyan, and reindeer by students of Boston Ballet School Photo credit to Liza Voll/Boston Ballet  

Whether seeing Mikko Nissinen’s The Nutcracker for the first time or returning to enjoy it all over again, The Boston Ballet is as elegant and magical as you remember with enough refreshing additions to endure as a splendid holiday treat for the entire family.

The Boston Ballet takes the stage for Mikko Nissinen’s The Nutcracker continuing through Sunday, December 29 at the Citizen Bank Opera House, 539 Washington Street in Boston, Massachusetts.  These performances feature group rates and discount youth pricing.  Click here for tickets and for more information on Boston Ballet’s 2020 season.

 

 

REVIEW: Greater Boston Stage Company’s classic ‘Miracle on 34th Street’ delivers a gentle nudge of holiday cheer

Miracle on 34th Street is a simple tale with a big message.

During this time of year, faith is a predominant theme within many holiday productions such as faith in humanity, in God, and in a “right jolly old elf.”  From Twas the Night Before Christmas to A Christmas Carol, the holiday spirit shines through, a temporary feeling that really should last all year long.

Directed with charm by Ilyse Robbins, based on the book by Valentine Davies, and adapted by Mountain Community Theatre, Greater Boston Stage Company’s Miracle on 34th Street continues through Sunday, December 22 at Greater Boston Stage Company in Stoneham, Massachusetts.  Click here for more information and tickets.

Set in New York City, Miracle on 34th Street is about a mysterious man who becomes a last minute replacement for Santa Claus at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.  He befriends Susie Walker, a precocious little girl portrayed with grace and charm by Addison McWayne, who is far too sensible for childish things including believing in Santa Claus.  Natalie Wood rose to fame in her role as Susie Walker with Maureen O’Hara as Doris Walker in the beloved 1947 film.

Greater Boston Stage Company Miracle on 34th Street cast

Jon Savage’s vibrant set design includes a lovely, towering, and whimsical Christmas tree that contributes its own unique part in the tale.  The famous parade is just one of the events that take place in the aisles during this semi-immersive production.

Though this production of Miracle of 34th Street is not considered a musical, it does have its share of musical moments.  From gift wrapping to sweeping the store shelves, the store workers do more than whistle while they work, swaying and lifting their voices in a variety of spontaneous Christmas carols such as The 12 Days of Christmas, Sleigh Ride, and The Nutcracker Suite led by the mirthful vocal stylings of David Jiles Jr. as Mr. Adams.

Packed with a likeable cast of characters including a lively and noteworthy performance by Gary Thomas NG as Alfred, Miracle on 34th Street shows it is sometimes better to see with the heart rather than the head.  Gary Thomas NG is captivating as Alfred, a humble and gleeful janitor full of holiday cheer.  NG depicts Alfred with a song in his heart as he spontaneously leaps for joy across the stage.  His comic scenes with William Gardiner as gentle, jovial and unfailingly forthright Kris Kringle are a particular highlight as they compete in board games and engage in candid conversations.  With warm charisma and that signature twinkle, William Gardiner fills Kris Kringle’s red suspenders with finesse and of the many iconic conversations he has with McWayne’s Susie, their playful dialogue about imagination is just wonderful.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

In a red coat and distinctive 50s red lipstick, Sara Coombs portrays Doris Walker, an astute and shrewd businesswoman.  It is amusing to watch Walker and her “mini-me” daughter Susie as they inadvertently duplicate each other’s mannerisms.  Susie is seemingly as mature, confident, and shrewd as her elegant mother.  Showing a great rapport with each cast member, Michael Jennings Mahoney is refreshing as fun loving and laid back Fred.  Barlow Adamson exacts Macy store manager Mr. Shellhammer’s nervous and priceless tense expressions prevalent during the holiday season.

Having last seen Juliet Bowler in an affecting performance at Flat Earth Theatre’s Not Medea, it is no surprise that Bowler show off her talents as insecure, strict and secretive Leslie Sawyer.  Her cold disdain and devious manipulations reach Grinch-like proportions.  Sara Gazdowicz also takes an amusing turn as a fast talking, accent-rich NYC cop.

Greater Boston Stage Company Miracle on 34th Street Leslie, Kris, and cast

Juliet Bowler as Mrs. Sawyer, Barlow Adamson as Mr. Shellhammer, Sara Coombs as Doris Walker, and William Gardiner as Kris Kringle Photo courtesy of Nile Scott Studios/Greater Boston Stage Company

While some performances demonstrate holiday spirit in pomp and spectacle, Greater Boston Stage Company delivers that feeling with a gentle nudge of heartwarming cheer.  Greater Boston Stage Company’s Miracle on 34th Street through Sunday, December 22.  Click here for more information and tickets.  Click here to learn more about Greater Boston Stage Company and their upcoming 2020 productions.

REVIEW: Company Theatre’s ‘A Christmas Carol’ immersive, haunting, and filled with holiday spirit

The Company Theatre’s haunting, immersive, and meaningful A Christmas Carol is a frequent holiday tradition with good reason.  So much more than the Charles Dickens classic, the Company Theatre calls on the holiday spirit through subtle nuances in story and song and the exceptional festivities only become more fervent each December it takes the stage.  Sure, the Company Theatre weaved in the holiday spirit in other December productions such as last year’s Charles Dickens classic, Oliver the Musical (featuring Matt O’Connor as Oliver who returns as adorable Scrooge as a young boy) but this thought-provoking tale of charity, compassion, and forgiveness is the pinnacle holiday treat.

Company Theatre A Christmas Carol

Company Theatre’s ‘A Christmas Carol’ is sold out! Photo courtesy of The Company Theatre

The Company Theatre presents the Charles Dickens classic A Christmas Carol now through Sunday, December 22 at the Company Theatre in Norwell, Massachusetts.  This show is sold out.  Click here for their recently announced 2020 theatre season and how to support The Company Theatre.

A Christmas Carol is the classic tale of Ebenezer Scrooge, a wealthy, penny-pinching old miser who has no use for Christmas until his past comes back to haunt him on Christmas Eve.

With LED lighting and cinematography, heightened special effects, singing Carolers flooding the aisles,  enviable costumes by Kathryn Ridder, and snow glimmering over that bright, familiar cobblestone street where Scrooge must face his worst fears, A Christmas Carol is certainly a feast for the eyes.  The uplifting overture, orchestrated by Steve Bass and arranged by Steve Rogers, is tinged in popular Christmas carols, a preview of the wealth of carols and additional songs added to this festive production.  Ding Dong Merrily on High, O Come O Ye Faithful, Hark the Harold Angels Sing, Joy to the World, and Noel are among the production’s musical highlights.

Company Theatre A Christmas Carol Owen George as Tiny Tim as Bill Carter as Bob Cratchit

Owen George as Tiny Tim and Bill Carter as Bob Cratchit Photo courtesy of Zoe Bradford/Company Theatre

Directed by Zoe Bradford and Jordie Saucerman, The Company Theatre’s production of A Christmas Carol also sets itself apart by weaving in the beauty of the season within the excitement of its joyous ensemble cast.  Each cobblestone street character is as enthralling as the immediate cast, each with their own individual story and holiday motivation within the context of this beautiful London setting.  The action is so immersive that it can hide the immediate cast a bit.  One of the most endearing moments is the return of a lively trio running around the London streets holding up mistletoe for kisses as well as the uplifting and rollicking period dance numbers choreographed with style by Sally Ashton Forrest.

This production boasts a lively cast led by Phillip Hebert as miserly Ebeneezer Scrooge.  Hebert exacts Scrooge’s deep, searing signature growl, his sterling vocals cutting into the soul.  Scrooge toils, scowls, and his dire sense of humor is not lost on his cheerful and generous nephew Fred, portrayed with a crisp accent and inviting demeanor by Christopher Spenser.  In spectacles and a sour huff, Hebert is best in his dark gruffness. However, his overall interpretation becomes jollier as the show progresses as his arms stubbornly swayto the music, offering a lighter, increasingly heartening Scrooge.

Company Theatre A Christmas Carol Owen George as Tiny Tim and Philip Hebert as Scrooge

Owen George as Tiny Tim and Philip Hebert as Ebenezer Scrooge Photo courtesy of Zoe Bradford/Company Theatre

Bill Carter portrays humble, guarded, and sympathetic Bob Cratchit.  Hebert and Carter skillfully develop palpable tension as Carter, leery, speaks to Scrooge out of turn.  Kris Connolly portrays loyal and eternally patient Mrs. Cratchit.  Connolly and Carter deliver heartwarming scenes with their large, beautiful family including sweet Owen George as Tiny Tim as their voices lift for the bright and original song, Noel.

Adorned in a gorgeous lit crown and veil, Nicole Hall delivers warmth, yet a foreboding quality as the Ghost of Christmas Past.  Serene and gentle, she brings out the best in Scrooge’s curmudgeonly soul.  Majestic in a crown of holly and carrying a cornucopia, Dave Daly glides across the stage as charismatic, jolly and larger-than-life Ghost of Christmas Present and the equally endearing Mr. Fezziwig.  Lilly George and Brynn Hsu also shine as giggling Christmas sprites.  Covered in hazy light, Dan Kelly is remarkably ghoulish and crazed as Jacob Marley with some very impressive special effects.

Company Theatre’s A Christmas Carol pulls off a couple of surprises to this classic tale in the finale, and cannot leave out Megan Boutilier’s expressive and hilarious depiction of The Laundress.  She is marvelous.  If the holiday season is not spreading the joy that is should this year, Company Theatre’s A Christmas Carol will certainly encourage that heartwarming feeling, indeed.

The Company Theatre continues A Christmas Carol at the Company Theatre, 30 Accord Park Drive in Norwell, Massachusetts through December 22.  The show is sold out, but click here for their exciting 2020 season.

Artistic Director and founder Tony Williams describes how ‘Urban Nutcracker’ became a hit

What if the spirit of Boston as well as hip hop, tap, Mexican folk dance, flamenco, swing dancing and more were weaved into Tchaikovsky’s beloved holiday classic, The Nutcracker?  Celebrating its 19th anniversary, The City Ballet of Boston (CBB) presents Tony Williams’ family friendly Urban Nutcracker from Thursday, December 19 through Saturday, December 28 at the Boch Center Shubert Theatre in Boston, Massachusetts.  Click here for more information and tickets.  Click here for a sneak peek at the show.

Tony Williams, acclaimed choreographer, founder, and Artistic Director of the Urban Nutcracker and the Tony Williams Dance Center, talks about Urban Nutcracker’s humble beginnings and how it has evolved to become the hit it is today while every year featuring something new.

Urban Nutcracker Tony WIlliams

Founder and Artistic Director of Urban Nutcracker Tony Williams Photo courtesy of Tony Williams/City Ballet of Boston

Sleepless Critic:  What I love about Urban Nutcracker is while the traditional Nutcracker is rooted in fantasy, the heart of the Urban Nutcracker is in Boston and its history.  What inspired this concept?

Tony Williams:  I was raised in Boston and danced in the premiere of the first major professional production of Boston Ballet’s The Nutcracker conducted by famed conductor of the Boston Pops Arthur Fiedler in 1965.  I danced in the traditional Nutcracker for many years and when I stopped, I still performed large and smaller productions in and around Boston.

About 20 years ago, I started my dance school in Jamaica Plain.  I had two male African American dancers working for me teaching tap and hip hop.  In my school’s first year of enrollment, I had about 20 boys which is a huge amount of boys than in most dance schools.  I had the makings of a youth cast for a production and wanted to showcase the kids, but most of the boys came for tap and hip hop where I was teaching ballet.

I thought about putting on The Nutcracker and the parents can be involved and bring their kids.  With so many traditional Nutcrackers out there, maybe we can create an urban contemporary Nutcracker with hip hop, tap, and ballet incorporating our hip hop teacher Ricardo Foster and tap teacher Khalid Hill.

Coincidentally around that time, I came across Duke Ellington’s jazzy, big band Nutcracker Suite.  I can use that and mix in the traditional Nutcracker like a soup and hope it turns out right.  A smaller dance troupe also performed a Nutcracker in New York City around that time.  Their background was in New York City and they based the show in Central Park.   I decided to freshen up this old classic chestnut, The Nutcracker, and put it in present day Boston.

Urban Nutcracker Boston Tree Lighting

Sneak Peek of the Urban Nutcracker at this year’s Boston Tree Lighting in the Boston Common Photo courtesy of Tony Williams/City Ballet of Boston

SC:  It has been very successful because I believe next year will be Urban Nutcracker’s 20th anniversary in 2020.

TW:  It’s amazing we’ve succeeded all of these years.  We evolve, tweak, and polish the show every year and it’s a challenge financially to pull it all together.  The first year we were on a shoestring budget.

People have supported the show all of these years and I feel fortunate it is still around.  Not so much for my personal ego, but for the opportunity to have it for the City of Boston.  You don’t have to know Boston in order to like the show but if you do, you will have more of a connection to it.

SC:  You feature some traditional and international roots in the Urban Nutcracker such as The Russian Dance.

TW:  We have the Russian Dance which we call Caviar Caper, the Arabian Dance we call Desert Chiffon, and the Chinese or Tea Dance which we call Ginseng Brise.  Brise is the French word for a dance step in ballet.

This year, we have a major addition to Act II and one of the divertissements will be based on the story, Make Way for Ducklings by Robert McCloskey from 1941.  We introduced ducks in the snow scene in the past and it didn’t quite fit.  This year we are calling it Mrs. Mallard and her Duckling Delights with a tap dancing policeman and Mother Duck will dance on Pointe.  The cute baby ducks have their own dance which the kids will love.

We’re doing a new Russian dance with two couples and many more surprises!

Urban Nutcracker Ballet with edge

Urban Nutcracker cast Photo courtesy of Tony Williams/City Ballet of Boston

SC:  How did this become a tradition?  The reception must have been extraordinary that first year.

TW:  The first year we were trying to introduce this new creation was right after 911 and the whole world was in a depression.  A friend of mine told me it wasn’t the time to do this kind of show and I thought about that.

I was sad about what had happened, but working with the young kids brought about a rebirth of hope and I continue the show because of them.  We did three sold out performances the first year at the Strand Theatre in Dorchester.

I was so nervous that first night and had no idea how it would be received.  We had no money or advertisements except a great story in the Globe.  From the opening dance in the prologue right before the story line began, the dancers and musicians in Downtown Crossing and Quincy Market danced outside with their hats out for donations.  The ovation was so loud and that’s when we knew we had something.

SC:  I understand that the show features The City Ballet of Boston.  Is that your troupe?

TW:  It used to be the Tony Williams Ballet Company, but last year it evolved into the non-profit City Ballet of Boston.  The core group is comprised of eight cohesive adult professional dancers that have been with me for the second year.  It is expected we have top notch professional dancers at the Shubert Theatre which is partly why I did that with the company.  I call it City Ballet of Boston because we are proud of Boston.  Hopefully, when I am no longer around, The CBB will be able to produce this show for generations to come.

A woman who happens to work at the Boch Center Shubert Theatre came for the first time last year and brought her three year old daughter while her husband was away on business.   Her parents were visiting from Chicago and the four of them came to the show.  She told me afterwards she really enjoyed the show, but was struck that her daughter, father, and mother were so raptly attentive to the show as well.   Each generation enjoyed it!

SC:  What are your future plans?

TW:  We have the family production, Peter and the Wolf from April 29 to May 2, 2020 at the Calderwood Pavilion.  We’ve been doing some classical and contemporary pieces and it will be something for everybody.

SC:  You tend to mix contemporary with traditional dance.

TW:  I do it because it is intriguing creatively, artistically, and it’s fun to work that way.

SC:  That way you can keep surprising people with your work.

TW:  I need to do something fresh not only for the audience and the dancers, but I get a charge out of that too.

Urban Nutcracker returns to the Boch Center Shubert Theatre, 265 Tremont Street in Boston, Massachusetts from Thursday, December 19 through Saturday, December 28.  Click here for more information, tickets, and learn more about Tony Williams and his work.

 

REVIEW: Boston Lyric Opera’s delivers sleek and searing ‘Fellow Travelers’

It is an affair that is anything but simple.

Buried in an era of high times, unyielding tradition, and a booming economy lay a secret struggle.  From the first few notes of the lingering, lovely, and progressive score which is equal parts bright notes and mounting doom, Boston Lyric Opera’s (BLO) Fellow Travelers is a resplendent journey rooted in the booming 1950s, where two travelers meet on a park bench and their lives are forever changed.

Based on the novel of the same name by Thomas Mallon, Gregory Spears and Greg Pierce’s Fellow Travelers made its Boston debut in a limited, one weekend engagement which concluded with a matinee performance that paid tribute to the late Boston Conservatory President Richard Ortner on Sunday, November 17 at the beautiful Emerson Paramount Center.  Click here for more information about the Boston Lyric Opera and future events.

Boston Lyric Opera Fellow Travelers Office Party Photo by Liza Voll

Michelle Trainor as Miss Lightfoot toasts the Christmas party. Also pictured is David McFerrin as Estonian Frank, Jesse Blumberg as Hawkins Fuller, Chelsea Basler as Mary Johnson, Brianna J. Robinson as Lucy, and Vincent Turregano as Tommy McIntyre Photo courtesy of Liza Voll/Boston Lyric Opera

Fellow Travelers is a fictional tale rooted in historical events during the Lavender Scare at the center of the nation’s capital.  It frankly explores the rigid outlook on men and women struggling under the harsh light of government and society’s expectations and the desperate lengths they will go to keep up appearances while pursuing their own vision of success.  This well paced production challenges love, faith, and humanity in an age of McCarthyism, communism, behind-the-scenes interrogations, misogyny, and American idealism.

Sara Brown’s symbolic and sweeping set, Liz Printz’s wigs and makeup, Trevor Bowen’s definitive costumes, and Mary Shabatrua’s opaque, emotionally-charged lighting combined to create a perfect vintage setting right out of Mad Men.  From the elegant, shimmering gowns, perfectly coiffed wigs, pearls, and dapper fedoras to the vintage set that included classic typewriters and towering marble columns, Fellow Travelers successfully rewound the clock to the roaring hustle of 1950’s Washington DC.  Vincent Turregano as wiseacre Tommy McIntyre winding a yo-yo was a nice touch.

Boston Lyric Opera Fellow Travelers Chelsea Basler as Mary Johnson and Michelle Trainor as Mrs. Lightfoot Photo by Liza Voll

Jesse Darden as Timothy McLaughlin, Chelsea Basler as Mary Johnson, and Michelle Trainor as Miss Lightfoot Photo courtesy of Liza Voll/Boston Lyric Opera

Greg Pierce’s libretto exacts the lingo, expressions, and the camaraderie of its time reflected in this compelling and brilliant cast.  Fellow Travelers follows the immediate attraction between quick-witted and charismatic Hawkins Fuller, portrayed by a suave Jesse Blumberg and timid and naive Catholic intern Timothy Laughlin, depicted with virtuous charm by Jesse Darden.  Baritone Blumberg and Tenor Darden have playful, impressive chemistry as Blumberg affectionately calls Darden “Skippy”  and their scene about Bermuda is a significant highlight.

Exceptional soprano Chelsea Basler breathed the part of compassionate, kind, and well-meaning Mary.  She reflects that sweet nature and performs vocal gymnastics in I Worry That’s All.  It is fascinating to watch her interact with nosy office gossip Miss Lightfoot, portrayed with humor and gusto by Michelle TrainorDavid McFerrin, Simon Dyer, and James Maddalena all seamlessly navigate through their multiple, dynamic and pivotal roles.  With silvery vocals, Brianna J. Robinson is picture perfect as idealistic Lucy, longing for that 1950’s American Dream complete with family, yard, and picket fence.  However, not all dreams are meant to be.

Boston Lyric Opera Jesse Blumberg as Hawkins Fuller and Brianne J. Robinson as Lucy Photo courtesy of Liza Voll

Jesse Blumberg as Hawkins Fuller and Brianna J. Robinson as Lucy Photo courtesy of Liza Voll/Boston Lyric Opera

Fellow Travelers, which followed a successful run of the classic Italian opera Pagliacci, is only part of what Boston Lyric Opera has in store this season.  Click here for BLO’s complete season and follow them on Facebook for all their latest updates.