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.

REVIEW: Hub Theatre Company of Boston makes virtual ‘Much Ado about Nothing’ something special

It was love in the time of Covid.

Hub Theatre Company of Boston puts a 2020 twist on Shakespearean romantic-comedy classic, Much Ado About Nothing.  This lighthearted production not only battles the perils of love, but a modern-day pandemic. 

Shakespeare was no stranger to the times we are living in today.  He watched theatres close during the Great Plague of London in the 1600s and used his time wisely, writing King Lear, MacBeth, and Antony and Cleopatra during that time of isolation.  Tailoring this romantic comedy into 2020 isn’t too far of a stretch, especially in the humorous and clever manner in which Hub Theatre approaches these changes, not taking themselves too seriously.

Hub Theatre Company of Boston offered live streamed performances of Shakespeare’s Much Ado about Nothing until November 21 on a pay-what-you-can basis.  Astutely directed and adopted by Bryn Boice, the virtual performance is still available to watch on Hub Theatre Company of Boston’s Facebook page.  Click here to learn more about Hub Theatre Company of Boston and their future productions.

It is difficult to put together a show in the best of circumstances so Hub Theatre of Boston smartly steered into the skid by presenting this classic production, developing what theatre would have considered obstacles into strengths using the power of Zoom.  Romantic partners kiss (offstage), couples and groups schedule rendezvous in breakaway rooms, and masks are weaved right into the story varying from silly animals to refined Venetian costume masks.

Part of what keeps Much Ado about Nothing a relevant, insightful, and easily modern piece is its foundations inspired endless inspiration for contemporary rom-coms.  Adding tech talk and Covid-speak such as ‘turn off the cameras,’ ‘swipe right,’ ‘privacy issues,’ ‘your mic is on,’ and ‘venmo to payment’ does not seem too out of place onstage or on a laptop.  Its exuberant and mischievous tone steeped in romance, gossip, tricks, and trappings have universal and timeless appeal. 

This lively cast zealously adapts the production’s modern charm as they deliver wit, humor, and ripening drama in equal measure.  As Hero (Micheline Wu) is getting ready to marry Claudius (Jaime Hernandez), mutual friends decide to do some matchmaking of their own with sworn singles Benedick (Jon Vallente) and Beatrice (Lauren Elias). 

Wu is natural, charming, and sympathetic as blushing Hero and she shares sweet chemistry with Hernandez who delivers a robust performance as lofty and serious Claudio.  Sarcasm, wit, and banter are not lost on outspoken, headstrong, and stubborn Elias and Vallente, who exhibit crackling chemistry as Beatrice and Benedick.  One favorite line Hub Theatre gloriously did not change was when Benedick asks Beatrice, “You take pleasure then in the message?”  Beatrice replies, ‘Yea, just so much as you may take upon a knife’s point.’  Their bickering is as biting as ever.

Nettie Pickering brings gravitas to her portrayal as Don Pedro and providing contemporary comic relief are the hackers or in traditional terms the Watchmen led by officer Dogberry (John Kinsman) boasting a Boston accent.  Kinsman’s conceited and controlling Dogberry is amusing on his own, but shines in scenes with his watchman, portrayed with streetwise sass by Borachio (Lorraine Kanyike) and Conrade (Jessica Golden).   

Chelsea Kerl’s dynamic, edgy costumes and Justin Lahue’s bold digital design keep the show bright and buoyant even in its darkest moments…and there are a few.  Michael John Ciszewski has a flair for portraying dastardly characters and his elitist, tyrannical depiction of Don John is no exception.

The revelations hold up and pay off in Hub Theatre Company of Boston’s modern adaptation of Much Ado about Nothing.  A recorded version is still available on Hub Theatre Company of Boston’s Facebook page.  The production is on a pay-what-you-can basis.  Click here for more information on Hub Theatre Company of Boston and their eighth season.

REVIEW: Theatre KAPOW shows they have perfect timing with Peter Josephson’s ‘A Tempest Prayer’

It is no surprise that Theatre KAPOW added Peter Josephson’s A Tempest Prayer, based on Shakespeare’s The Tempest, to their 13th season entitled, ‘We Can Get through This.’  Having lived through the Great Plague of London, Shakespeare was sadly familiar with the anguish of isolation and solemnity that encapsulates a person during a pandemic and the closing of theatres.  It is a perfect choice for this indelible year.

Peter Josephson’s  A Tempest Prayer, a solo retelling of William Shakespere’s The Tempest also starring Peter Josephson, was live streamed at various times from Theatre KAPOW’s studio in Manchester, NH from November 13 through November 15.  Click here for more information on season 13 and how to support them on Giving Tuesday on December 1.

Theatre KAPOW company member and award-winning actor Peter Josephson takes on quite a lot capturing the essence of a Shakespearean classic while displaying a full range of emotions not only as Prospero, but as other mystical figures.  It is a harrowing journey within a man’s psyche stranded with his daughter on a mystical Mediterranean island imprisoned by his thoughts.  He knows there is a way to escape, but must come to terms with himself in order to find freedom.   If the show’s surroundings and lead actor’s struggles do not seem a bit familiar in this odd year of 2020, maybe you’re adjusting better than you might expect.

Though A Tempest Prayer is a solo retelling, Josephson portrays other mystical characters on the island in innovative ways while simultaneously making him look that much more unhinged.  He uses marionettes for the illusion of interaction and Prospero’s daughter Miranda looks lifelike in a moving CGI portrait.  Multiple camera angles, the dark and ominous island setting, and stirring sound effects by Matt Cahoon, Tavya Young, and Jake Hodgins all contribute to Peter’s captivating torment.

Josephson gives a fierce and gripping performance as Prospero expressing his inner turmoil as he struggles to forgive, the weight of his ills threatening to drive him mad unless he can let go.  He’s menacing, fearful, shrewd, and human.  It is easy to witness this turmoil and have empathy while he is wracked by loneliness and confinement.  He paces and ponders the insignificance of life as he attempts to propel himself into a brave new world and appreciate what he does have.

Perhaps you are your own worst enemy.  Perhaps more than anyone surrounding you, the unbearable truth is that the biggest struggles are the ones you endure within yourself.  Letting go is the key to making things better if only it were that easy.

Sleepless Critic had the honor of interviewing Peter Josephson on a past production he performed with Theatre KAPOW. Click here for the interview.

Theatre KAPOW’s 13th season is underway.  Click here for more information about Theatre KAPOW, their mission, and how you can support them on Giving Tuesday on December 1.

REVIEW: Moliere in the Park’s ‘The School for Wives’ a twist-filled comedy of scheming proportions

What truly makes one person love another? 

Moliere in the Park begs this question while addressing gender stereotypes and takes an at times tongue in cheek look at what makes a good wife in The School for Wives, a classic comedy by French playwright Moliere first making its stage debut in 1662.  Translated by Pulitzer Prize-winner Richard Wilbur with French subtitles, this virtual romantic comedy in five acts has plenty of twists and turns on the road to love and made its live streaming debut on October 24 with the recording available through October 28 on Moliere in the Park’s YouTube channel. 

The cast of Moliere in the Park’s ‘The School for Wives’ Photo courtesy of Moliere in the Park

Moliere in the Park is dedicated to inclusive, just, and free theatre.  Click here for more information.

Set in Brooklyn, NY, Moliere in the Park’s The School for Wives uses its creative technical wizardry to meet Covid-19 standards with enhanced, virtual sets by Lina Younes transporting actors from a regal city garden to a carefully-detailed bedroom to an inviting cafe.  At one point, it also gives the illusion that the characters are all together.  Ari Fulton’s colorful costumes stay faithful to the time period while providing a certain modern edge.   

Kaliswa Brewster (Horace), Mirirai Sithole (Agnes) Photo courtesy of Moliere in the Park

Directed insightfully by Lucie Tiberghien, ‘The School of Wives’ is punctuated by its intriguing and catchy dialogue as well as its flipped gender roles.  Older and wealthy Arnolphe (Tonya Pinkins) thought he has his love life figured out until Horace (Kaliswa Brewster) makes him rethink his road to love with sweet and virtuous Agnes (Mirirai Sithole).  Each character is well developed, but what truly shines is the fleshed out philosophies and misconceptions of what makes a good woman and a good wife while exemplifying what truly makes a good man and husband.   

Tony Pinkins skillfully depicts the well-spoken and arrogant Arnolphe as a myriad of emotions cross Pinkins face in a single scene.  From a biting temper to soft chuckling to a Cheshire smile, Pinkins seamlessly illustrates Arnolphe’s constant inner conflict.   Ever the focused manipulator, Arnolphe’s vibrant scene-stealing gravitas keeps you engaged no matter how complicated his situation becomes.

Kaliswa Brewster (Horace), Tonya Pinkins (Arnolphe) Photo courtesy of Moliere in the Park

Kaliswa Brewster’s thousand-watt smile brings glowing charisma to young Horace, his youth shining through his outspoken candidness and confidence.  Pinkins and Brewster are best as they hide their veiled intentions from each other, carefully holding all their cards at bay.

Virtue takes form in Mirirai Sithole as Agnes, a wide-eyed, sympathetic creature who hides a secret.   Sithole’s carefully delivered dialogue and angelic, learned mannerisms keeps her fascinating and complicated in a demure pink headpiece and dress.

Tonya Pinkins (Arnolphe), Mirirai Sithole (Agnes) Photo courtesy of Moliere in the Park

Peasants Georgette (Tamara Sevunts) and Alain (Corey Tazmania) offer comic relief as frenzied servants of Arnolphe.  Anxious, obedient, and scrambling to meet Arnolphe’s demands, they are a fanatical and sympathetic pair whose often bewildered expressions makes one think they may have just ended up in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Tamara Sevunts (Georgette), Tonya Pinkins (Arnolphe) and Corey Tazania (Alain) Photo courtesy of Moliere in the Park

Moliere in the Park’s The School for Wives takes an enlightened look at love while the play unquestionably sets the foundation for today’s romantic comedy tropes.  Its rich, inherent message never lacks humor or sincerity when it comes to the unpredictable path to true love. 

REVIEW: PTP/NYC presents enthralling family mystery, ‘The House in Scarsdale’

Dan has a complicated relationship with his estranged family.

Director Christian Parker of ‘The House in Scarsdale’ Photo courtesy of PTC/NYC

Directed by Christian Parker and written by playwright and actor Dan O’Brien, Dan embarks on more than just a spiritual journey in The House in Scarsdale: a memoir for the stageThe House in Scarsdale is the third play within Potomac Theatre Project(PTP/NYC’s) virtual series that has been running each weekend from September 24 through Sunday, October 18.

 Dan O’Brien’s The House in Scarsdale streamed from Thursday, October 8 through Sunday, October 11 and Caryl Churchill’s Far Away continues through Sunday, October 18 on PTC/NYC’s YouTube channel.   Viewings are free, but donations are welcome to support PTC/NYC with ten percent of the proceeds supporting The National Black Theatre.  Click here for the complete list of productions in PTP/NYC’s virtual series.

 In what can be described as a play within a prospective play, The House in Scarsdale visits the darkest of dysfunction as Dan, a journalist, visits various family members and others to learn more about his family’s past for his upcoming autobiographical play.  Audiences travel alongside Dan on his journey from the Garden State Parkway to as far as Europe as he investigates a possible family secret. What makes this show unique is not only is it a mystery, but as the details unfold, how much of the truth do you really want to know about your family?  Every family has their problems, but some secrets cannot be fathomed. 

The House in Scarsdale stars the show’s own playwright Dan O’Brien as Dan and Alex Draper portrays several dynamic characters throughout the production.  Draper seamlessly sinks right into each role, navigating an assortment of colorful characters from Dan’s resentful grandmother to his eccentric uncle.  Draper is expressive and spirited, clearly enjoying each transition.  His conversations with O’Brien have moments of dark humor, relatable family banter, and a good dose of stark, stirring honesty. 

The show is figuratively and literally on a journey to learn more about Dan’s troubled family, a family so dysfunctional that poor Dan has been cast out of his family circle hence its ironic opening quote by John Cheever, ‘Come back, come back, my wretched, feeble and unwanted child.’ Dan understandably wants to know why. As Dan’s extended family recall his family’s wild tendencies and various psychoses, Dan’s low key and unassuming demeanor makes one think that perhaps he has been through much more than he lets on. 

Dan is a quiet, inquisitive soul and depicts his emotional detachment with a skilled subtlety.  His conflicted nature between trepidation and yearning is fascinating as he ventures deeper into his family history becoming so invested and anxious about what he might find, he even visits a psychic.  Some of his family recollections are universal and lighthearted and every family has a degree of unhealthy dysfunction, but other memories are dreadfully concerning. 

So, as some answers come to light and more questions arise, how much is Dan like his family and how much of the story can be trusted?  The House in Scarsdale lures you in and leaves you engrossed in its outcome, hoping for a light at the end of this tunnel.

Potomac Theatre Project or PTC/NYC is located at 330 West 16th Street in New York City. Click here for more information and how to support PTP/NYC’s current and upcoming productions.

REVIEW: Boston Film Festival’s US Premiere of ‘The Girl Who Wore Freedom’ a moving tribute through generations

The 36th annual Boston Film Festival featured the debut of shorts, feature films, and some fascinating documentaries such as the world premiere of This Hits Home, Me The People, Beyond Zero, and ‘25’ Tony Conigliaro The Documentary, the US Premiere of Memory of Water, as well as the East Coast premieres of Knots:  A Forced Marriage Story, Stro:  The Michael D’Saro Story, and After the Rain on September 24 through September 27.  The festival offered virtual options and live screen opportunities at the Showcase Icon Boston at the Seaport in Boston, MA.   Q and A panels were held with actors, directors, and foremost experts.  Click here for the full schedule.

Showplace Icon Theatre, located at Boston Seaport. Photo courtesy of Jeanne Denizard

Director, executive producer, writer, and narrator Christian Taylor explores the complicated road to forgiveness in her moving D-Day documentary, The Girl Who Wore Freedom which made its US Premiere at the Boston Film Festival.  This extraordinary film provides a unique perspective on D-Day on June 6, 1944 through the eyes of a variety of groups associated with D-Day including citizens of Normandy who were children when the bombs dropped.  20,000 French civilians were killed on D-Day.  Taylor narrates this film as an awed spectator and tourist as she invites D-Day survivors to recall their experiences while she demonstrates the paradoxical ways veterans are treated in Normandy than they are in the United States.

Flo Boucherie, pictured, co-producer of ‘The Girl Who Wore Freedom’ Photo credit to ‘The Girl Who Wore Freedom’

The Girl Who Wore Freedom’s co-producer Flo Boucherie is the symbolic Normandy girl that inspired the film’s title.  She has a particular tie to D-Day partly because her parents were D-Day survivors when they were children.  Her mother worked with the veterans, made Flo’s dress, and participated in the D-Day ceremonies. 

Citizens of Normandy, historical representatives, medics, and veterans describe the impact and the dynamic experiences they had from a Normand child’s encounter with an American veteran who inspired him to never start smoking to trading shoes for eggs to harrowing stories of a civilian who got shot and the museum that resulted from it.  It also recalls some of the significant and surprising events that occurred after D-Day and how perspective changes over the years as generations look back. 

Despite its serious material, the film is not without its lighthearted moments. It is about trauma, heartache, and harrowing loss, but also about liberation, love, friendship, and compassion.  What unfolds is a testament to the power of healing and forgiveness, not lost on anyone who has been at war. 

Watching this film is an eye-opening experience of one of the most harrowing events in world history.  Its emotional complexity may leave some conflicted of what should come out of the atrocities of war. 

Tom Rice, an American veteran who was in the March on Carentan Photo credit to ‘The Girl Who Wore Freedom’

The Girl Who Wore Freedom has been released at a pivotal time in the United States and the world with a sorely needed, universal, and thought-provoking message.  It encourages you to reflect inwardly and empathize with one another’s struggles.  The Girl Who Wore Freedom will unexpectedly move you to tears and make you grateful for the experience.

D-Day Parade Photo courtesy of ‘The Girl Who Wore Freedom’

The Girl Who Wore Freedom is currently touring the film festival circuit nationwide.  Click here to see where The Girl Who Wore Freedom will be shown next and here for more about this year’s Boston Film Festival and future updates.

REVIEW: Compassion and tension drive compelling feature film ‘Paper Spiders’ at the Boston Film Festival

Sponsored in part by NBC Universal, Boston Magazine, and Maydaze Films, The 36th annual Boston Film Festival took place virtually this year due to Covid-19 with the option to attend live screenings in Boston, Massachusetts from Thursday, September 24 through Sunday, September 27. 

Boston Film Festival offered live and virtual films during the 4-day festival Photo courtesy of the Boston Film Festival

Featuring the award-winning documentary, Jay Leno’s Garage, the four-day festival included the US premiere of feature films Small Town Wisconsin and Paper Spiders, a wide variety of short films, and powerful documentaries such as the world premiere of This Hits Home, Me The People, Beyond Zero, and ‘25’ Tony Conigliaro The Documentary,  the US Premiere of The Memory of Water, and The Girl Who Wore Freedom, as well as the East Coast premieres of Stro: The Michael D’Saro Story, Knots:  A Forced Marriage Story and After the Rain. Q and A sessions were held with actors, directors, and foremost experts.  Click here for the full schedule.

Your Virtual film selection the Boston Film Festival website Photo courtesy of the Boston Film Festival

The Boston Film Festival offered an option to see scheduled screenings of select films at the stellar Showplace Icon Theatre.  Located at the Boston Seaport and conveniently located at the Courthouse stop on the Silver Line, The Showplace Icon Theatre features state-of-the-art stadium seating with plush reclining chairs, a beverage holder, and a place for your popcorn.  Click here for a closer look at this amazing theatre and here for more information and tickets.

Showplace Icon Theatre, located at Boston Seaport. Photo courtesy of Jeanne Denizard

No matter what the circumstances, it is not easy dealing with mental illness, especially if it is a parent.  However, that is not the crux of the US Premiere of Paper Spiders, a coming-of-age tale about a teenager named Melanie portrayed with endearing maturity by Stefania LeVie Owen, and her relationship with her widowed mother Dawn, portrayed masterfully by Lili Taylor.  They are a fractured but seemingly happy family coming to terms with loss and attempting a new beginning. 

Set in Syracuse, NY, The film picks right up with relatable mother-daughter chatter at a pivotal time in Melanie’s life as they tour a college Melanie is interested in attending. Their sweet conversation makes it easy to see their close relationship, but later when their neighbor hits a tree in their front yard, what ensues is nothing Melanie could have ever imagined.   

‘Paper Spiders’ made its US premiere at the Boston Film Festival Photo courtesy of the Boston Film Festival

Each member of this compelling cast becomes more complex as the tale progresses, led by Lili Taylor as Melanie’s widowed and troubled mother, Dawn.  Taylor is no stranger to quirky characters and her usual odd charm shines through as Melanie’s talkative and anxious mother.  With a particular talent for exuding fear in her eyes, Taylor evokes sympathy and dismay as Dawn transforms from a concerned mother to living her life with one eye open, her vulnerability palpable as she struggles to see things clearly.

Stefania LeVie Owen is wonderful as responsible, cautious, and practical Melanie as she struggles to achieve a nearly impossible balance between being a teenager and handling her mother’s increasingly concerning episodes. What makes this struggle more poignant is the natural chemistry between Owen and Taylor who exude as much ease as they do strain.  This escalating tension mounts in quick paces as viewed through Owen’s innocent and alarmed perspective.

Peyton List, seen more recently as Tory in Netflix’s popular Cobra Kai series, is a welcome addition as Lacy, Melanie’s fun-loving and promiscuous best friend.  Serious and quiet, Melanie and Lacy’s contrasting personalities offer a break from the film’s serious nature.  Ian Nelson is charismatic as Melanie’s good humored, persistent, and wealthy classmate Daniel.  Nelson and Owen are charming together and also contribute to some of the film’s lighter moments until life inevitably gets more complicated.

Lili Taylor as Dawn in ‘Paper Spiders’ Photo courtesy of the Boston Film Festival

Director and writer Inon Shampanier and his wife and writer Natalie Shampanier create a beautiful blend of funny moments and engaging montages with a deeper look at Dawn and Melanie’s daunting reality.

After all, mental illness can become a roller coaster of emotions such as grief, anger, paranoia, loneliness, and anxiety, but the crux of Paper Spiders isn’t any of these things.  It’s about the struggle through this unpredictable journey with those you love with understanding, ever holding on to hope.  Paper Spiders never loses sight of that.

Paper Spiders is currently touring the film festival circuit nationwide.  Click here to see where Paper Spiders will be shown next and here for more about this year’s Boston Film Festival and future updates.

REVIEW: Theatre Kapow delivers a clever and engaging ‘Feast’

You are part of this feast as an honored guest.

Megan Gogerty’s interactive and dynamic Feast makes you part of this production and it won’t be long until you get reeled into dinner conversation.  New Hampshire’s Theatre Kapow brings back theatre in a unique way all while delivering real dessert (and a little extra) and as a person starved for the arts, Megan Gogerty’s Feast will leave you full while remaining behind the computer. 

Directed by Matt Cahoon who offers an insightful introduction, Theatre Kapow presented Megan Gogerty’s Feast live with select performances from Friday, September 25 through Sunday, September 27.  This show contains mature content and has its own share of dark notes.  Click here to learn more about Theatre Kapow’s 13th season, We Can Get through This and much more.

Feast is an intriguing blend of the classic and contemporary featuring to-the-minute pop culture references while unraveling an ancient mystery.  Cleverly self-aware through its philosophies and contextual principles, Carey Cahoon is the hostess of this part conversation and part confessional one-woman show in 75 minutes – no small feat for one person.  Opening night had a few technical glitches, but Carey didn’t miss a beat, picking up the moment she left off.

Feast acts as much a warning as a mystery and does not shy away from raw and difficult topics, but Carey’s candor makes these subjects easier to swallow.  From government to grief, Feast is not preachy or “political” per se, but you’d be remiss if the conversation doesn’t cause you to look inward.

Carey Cahoon is refined, biting, powerful, but most of all compelling as Agathae, an upper-class socialite getting to know the company she is keeping.  She handles this complex personality with zeal through her gripping, slow-burn performance and combined with Megan Gogerty’s innovative script, keeps the tension rising as revelations are unveiled.

The show could have been one note and a bit long, but Matt Cahoon’s discerning staging and Tavya Young’s ominous lighting made interesting use of the limited space and various props, especially for an evocative scene involving a curtain.  Multi-faceted, shrewd, and on its own calculated mission, Feast also markedly holds onto the famous proverb, ‘Revenge is a dish best served cold.’

Theatre Kapow presents Lauren Gunderson’s ‘Natural Shocks’ from October 23-25 Photo courtesy of Matthew Lomanno Photography/Theatre Kapow

Theatre Kapow continues its 13th season with a live stream of Lauren Gunderson’s Natural Shocks from October 23 – 25.  Click here for more information and for tickets.

REVIEW: Boston Ballet’s sensational ‘Carmen’ program hails women as a force to be reckoned with

Some things are worth the wait.

Originally scheduled to take the stage at the Boston Opera House in March, Jorma Elo’s Carmen became a virtual digital experience that premiered on August 20 as a film due to the pandemic.  Ticket holders and donors had exclusive access to the director’s cut of the production which was filmed at the final dress rehearsal on March 11 at the Boston Opera House prior to Carmen’s original premiere date for a limited time.

Re-imagined from George Bizet’s classic opera of the same name, Jorma Elo’s Carmen delivers a sizzling, contemporary flair and alongside Helen Pickett’s vivacious Petal and fanciful Tsukiyo, this performance holds women up on a pedestal, nurturing their growth, unheralded beauty, and their sheer and striking enchantment.  Click here for more information on Boston Ballet’s upcoming season.

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Derek Dunn, Chisako Oga, and Lawrence Rines in Helen Pickett’s Petal; photo by Liza Voll; courtesy of Boston Ballet (Photos taken during Boston Ballet’s final dress rehearsal on March 20)

Steeped in vibrant colors and a sonic, violin-tinged score which evokes a soothing, building joy, Helen Pickett’s flourishing choreography make Petal an elegant and radiant journey.  Amid consistent and warm colors, the agile, jovial cast leaps and spins breezily to form into intriguing pairs.  Pickett’s scenic colors transform from brilliant yellow to a warm orange to a bold pink while allowing Nete Joseph’s pastel costumes to remain distinctive on each landscape. Maria Álvarez, Ji Young Chae, Chisaka Oga, and Haley Schwan seem to thrive with the athletic support of Derek Dunn, Daniel Durrett, John Lam, and Lawrence Rines.  Lifting them up and guiding them to the chiming and urgent rhythms of Phillips Glass, John Cocteau, Susan Marshall and Thomas Montgomery Newman’s Elizabeth Chooses a Career, each pair learns how to support each other in order to grow.  They float, tumble, sway, and spin as each female learns to soar.

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Lawrence Rines, Chisako Oga, and Derek Dunn in Helen Pickett’s Petal; photo by Liza Voll; courtesy of Boston Ballet (Photos taken during Boston Ballet’s final dress rehearsal March 20)

An exquisite highlight occurs in Ji Young Chae and Derek Dunn’s stirring pas de deux as they glide together leaning and depending upon one another.  Their intimacy shines through as she elegantly slides her head under his arm and tilts her head to one side.

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My’Kal Stromile and Soo-bin Lee in Helen Pickett’s Tsukiyo; photo by Liza Voll; courtesy of Boston Ballet (Photos done in Boston Ballet’s final dress rehearsal on March 20)

Derived from a Japanese fable, Tsukiyo is a moving exploration of love at first sight.  An ethereal creature adorned in a translucent gown emerges through a sea of mist.  Languid and beautiful, My’Kal Stromile, dressed in a sleeveless shirt and casual dress, is transfixed by Soon-bin Lee’s delicate and unattainable beauty.  Soo-bin Lee and My’Kal Stromile display striking and immediate chemistry in Stromile’s adulation and his pursuit of this wondrous beauty.  Their innocent, sweet, and beguiling pas de deux depict a rare connection as Lee leans into Stromile to hear his beating heart or when Stromile bows to Lee sweetly.  Arvo Part’s Spiegel Im Spiegel’s tender violin and Charles Heightchew’s diverse and dreamlike costuming embellishes their captivating encounter.  Mikki Kuntuu’s evocative lighting adds mystery and enchantment to this extraordinary moonlit night as they gradually discover one another once in shadow and then in a joyful embrace.

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My’Kal Stromile and Soo-bin Lee in Helen Pickett’s Tsukiyo; photo by Liza Voll; courtesy of Boston Ballet (Photos done in Boston Ballet’s final dress rehearsal on March 20)

Jorma Elo’s Carmen is an exciting, memorizing tale of one woman whose fierce independence enchanted every man and commanded every room.  Originally an opera by George Bizet presented in Paris, it was adapted by the Boston Ballet and made its world premiere in 2006.

With Rodion Shchedrin’s exciting and often familiar classic score, Mikki Kuntuu’s transformative lighting, and Benjamin Phillips translucent and haunting set design make Lia Cirio as steely-eyed Carmen light every room.  From her first appearance among the captivated cast in bold colors, Cirio is an unpredictable whirlwind as gypsy Carmen.  Each fierce and charismatic movement holds some in awe and others in jealousy.

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Tigran Mkrtchyan and Lia Cirio in Jorma Elo’s Carmen; photo by Liza Voll; courtesy of Boston Ballet (Photos taken during Boston Ballet’s final dress rehearsal on March 20)

Jorma Elo’s sensational choreography particularly stands out when showcasing Carmen’s teasing and dominating spirit, especially during her pulsing and teasing dance with Tigran Mkrtchyan as conflicted and impressionable Don Jose and her passionate encounter with Lasha Khazashvili as Escamillo.  Tyson Clark, Daniel Cooper, Daniel Durrett, Graham Johns, Sun Woo Lee, Benji Pearson, Alec Roberts, Michael Ryan, Matthew Slattery, and Desean Taber all fall under Carmen’s spell as they gather in line so she can select her next suitor.  Dressed in detailed, matching costumes by Joke Visser, Visser may be offering insight into how Carmen sees her suitors.  Her defiant, sharp, and at times rigid movements toward them lend to the prison Carmen traps others in, depicted in the rotating steel walls that sporadically surround the stage.

Viktorina Kapitonova, who delivered a beautiful performance in Boston Ballet’s Cinderella last year, is effervescent in white and exudes a fresh faced purity as Mikaela.  Joyful and sweet, Mikaela’s playful pas de deux with Tigran Mkrtchyan as Don Jose provides a welcome lighthearted moment in this exhilarating production.

The Boston Ballet recently announced their very first virtual 2020-2021 season.  Click here for more information, tickets, and for future events and more, follow Boston Ballet on Facebook and Twitter.