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.

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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.

REVIEW: Theatre@First delivers a compelling and haunting ‘Hamlet’

According to the Guinness Book of World Records, William Shakespeare’s work has garnered the most screen adaptations of any author in history in any language.  Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet boasts the most screen adaptations, but it’s hard to imagine Hamlet being far behind.

Shakespeare’s Hamlet has taken the stage and screen by storm from looser adaptations such as Disney’s stunning The Lion King in musical, animated, and live action form to Shakespeare on the Common to several films starring everyone from Laurence Olivier to Mel Gibson to Benedict Cumberbatch.  Why?  It’s a thrilling classic tale beloved by many about love, betrayal, and retribution with a haunting twist.

Theatre@FIrst Hamlet cast Johanna Bobrow

The cast of Theatre@First’s ‘Hamlet’ Photo courtesy of Johanna Bobrow/Theatre@First

Directed purposefully by Elizabeth Hunter, Theatre@First continues Shakespeare’s Hamlet through Saturday, November 23 at Unity Somerville in Somerville, Massachusetts.  Click here for more information and tickets.

Not a bad seat in the house as the audience gathered in Unity Somerville’s church basement for Theatre@First’s Hamlet.  The show is an immersive experience as the production expands beyond the stage and cast members can enter from anywhere in the venue.

Shakespeare’s Hamlet is about a Prince of Denmark who discovers his mother has married his uncle after his father has been murdered.  An urgent message inspires Hamlet to believe “something is rotten in the state of Denmark.”

Theatre@First’s Hamlet is a stylish, compelling drama that boasts some iridescent and impressive special effects as a translucent figure paces from a mysterious location.  It is not revealed which actor portrays that particular figure, but his moving and affecting presence is a highlight of the production.

Theatre@First Hamlet Laertes Nathan Phillip Andrew Harrington as Polonius and Evelyne Cardella Ophelia Johanna Bobrow

Clowning…. Nathan Phillip Johnson as Laertes, Andrew Harrington as Polonius and Evelyne Cardella as Ophelia Photo courtesy of Johanna Bobrow/Theatre@First

The show also blends the contemporary with the historical through its more casual tone and costume choices while Shakespeare’s alluring text and action sequences remain the same.  Carolyn Jones’s and Katie Caroll’s costume design nods to the late Middle Ages setting in Elsinore, Denmark while also boasting a contemporary flair.  For example, Hatem Adell portrays Hamlet wearing stone washed jeans and a crown on his t-shirt while Gertrude, depicted by Ron Lacey, wears a gown more faithful to the historical time period.  Makeup artists Meg Boeni, Mack Caroll, and their assistants did an extraordinary job transforming the cast into their respective roles.

Hamlet features a capable cast that occasionally engages the audience.  The dialogue can be a bit rushed at times in its conversational tone which lessens the gravitas of Shakespeare’s eloquent text.  Andrew Harrington is an unforgettable presence as Polonius.  Wearing a beard and a bow tie, Harrington has natural comic timing with a distinctive voice and lighthearted demeanor.  A bit of a scene stealer, he humorously engages the audience with his offhanded and frank observations while offering wisdom and insight to his children.

Theatre@First Hamlet Hatem Adell and Evelyne Cardella Ophelia Johanna Bobrow

Evelyne Cardella as Ophelia and Hatem Adell as Hamlet Photo courtesy of Johanna Bobrow/Theatre@First

Evelyn Cardella glows as Ophelia with a wide smile, bright eyed virtue, and complete infatuation with Hamlet.  Playful and charming, Cardella has a sweet chemistry with Nathan Phillip Johnson as her brother, Laertes and Andrew Harrington as their warm and wise father, Polonius.  Cardella navigates the character with vulnerability and heartfelt poignancy as her emotions turn on a dime.

Theatre@First Hamlet Nathan Philip Johnson as Laertes and Myra Hope Eskridge as Claudius Johanna Bobrow

Nathan Phillip Johnson as Laertes and Myra Hope Eskridge as Claudius Photo courtesy of Johanna Bobrow/Theatre@First

Hatem Adell certainly has exacted the alarming rage expected of Hamlet in the face of betrayal.  Adell delivers the famous “To Be or Not to Be” soliloquy with finesse.  He also excels at Hamlet’s darkly playful demeanor, especially in a powerful scene alone with Ophelia.  Nathan Phillip Johnson also gives a memorable performance as valiant and forthright Laertes, infusing a natural charisma in each scene.

Myra Hope Eskridge as Claudius delivers a suave poker face, but lacks the devious nature expected of the character.  Claudius is a calculating character and leaves little room for sympathy.  A brief exchange with Laertes later in the production showed just a glimpse of Claudius’s true nature.

Hamlet is not complete without the appearance of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, portrayed with fresh humor by Chantelle Marshall and Julia Kennedy respectively.  They make a seeming pair of jolly, dimwitted bookends as Hamlet’s childhood friends, dressed identically and interchangeably.  However, they are more than meets the eye.

Theatre@First Hamlet Hatem Adell Rosencrantz Chantelle Marshall and Guildenstern Julia Kennedy Johanna Bobrow

Hatem Adell as Hamlet joined by Chantelle Marshall as Rosencrantz and Julia Kennedy as Guildenstern Photo courtesy of Johanna Bobrow/Theatre@First

Get thee to Theatre@First’s final performances of Hamlet through Saturday, November 23 at Unity Somerville, 6 William Street in Somerville, Massachusetts.  Click here for more information, tickets, and how to support Theatre@First.

REVIEW: Take a seat for SpeakEasy Stage Company’s clever and thought-provoking comedy, ‘Admissions’

Admissions is not a mystery, but this clever comedy is as tense and thought-provoking  as any mystery could be and takes an unexpected turn that keeps the audience guessing until the very end.  Partly taking place at Hillcrest, a New Hampshire boarding school, award-winning play Admissions tackles many tough and occasionally uncomfortable topics such as white privilege, diversity, and more.  It has a dark sense of humor and nonetheless hilarious, but may leave you at times wondering whether laughing is the right thing to do, inviting the audience to skew their outlook on the world.

Speakeasy Stage Admissions Family-Toast-146

Nathan Malin, Maureen Keiller, and Michael Kay in SpeakEasy Stage’s ‘Admissions’ Photo courtesy of Maggie Hall Photography/SpeakEasy Stage Company

With fascinating direction by Paul Daigneault, SpeakEasy Stage Company continues Admissions by Joshua Harmon through Saturday, November 30.  Click here for more information and tickets.

With a well constructed wooden staircase, an island kitchen, and a well-furnished and fold out set, Props Master Matthew Robert and Wooden Kiwi Productions create an inviting household and faculty office which alternate throughout the show.

Nathan Malin delivers an intense, witty, and complex performance as Charlie Luthur Mason, a Hillcrest student distraught and frustrated over his deferment to Yale despite his stellar grades and dedicated work ethic.  Hillcrest’s Headmaster Bill, portrayed by Michael Kaye and Dean of Admissions Sherri, depicted by Maureen Keiller, are Charlie’s parents.  Charlie believes there are other forces at work.

This intriguing show features a small and mighty cast, leaving the audience plenty of time to get acquainted with these multi-faceted characters.  Each character represents a different perspective and offers a carefully balanced view of the show’s topics while the show may leaves you wondering which side it represents.

Speakeasy Stage Admissions Roberta and Sherri

Cheryl McMahon and Maureen Keiller in SpeakEasy Stage’s ‘Admissions’ Photo courtesy of Maggie Hall Photography/SpeakEasy Stage Company

Admissions is quick-witted and funny right from the start as Roberta, portrayed by Cheryl McMahon, shares a humorous story on her plans for Christmas break.  McMahon is candid, animated, and glorious as Roberta, a staff member at Hillcrest eager to please, but marginally on her own terms.  McMahon’s chatty demeanor and sharp comic timing with Maureen Keiller as Sherri make for some eye opening and captivating moments.

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Marianna Bassham and Maureen Keiller in SpeakEasy Stage’s ‘Admissions’ Photo courtesy of Maggie Hall Photography/SpeakEasy Stage Company

Maureen Keiller, who was also impressive in SpeakEasy Stage’s Riverside and Crazy, delivers another excellent performance as Sherri.  Sherri juggles her life as a wife, mother, and a frustrated but proud Dean of Admissions.  She strives to be inclusive and politically correct, but her confidence is waning lately as she is forced to look at her work from a different angle.  The show examines some signs of helicopter parenting as Sherri is overwhelmingly concerned with Charlie’s emotional state and fixing it any way she can.  However, she also demonstrates reason and compassion as she faces some intense moments with Charlie, Michael Kaye as her patient and accomplished husband Bill, and Marianna Bassham as Sherri’s open and honest best friend, Ginnie.  Kaye and Bassham also hold their own in compelling performances.

What makes this show so intriguing is each character struggle to understand each other while each are convinced they are right.  One of the production’s most memorable scenes involves Nathan Malin’s Charlie as he delivers a powerful, effective, and perplexing diatribe on how he sees the world.  The speech is as amusing as it is controversial and Malin gives it all the gusto it deserves.

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Michael Kaye, Maureen Keiller, and Michael Kaye in SpeakEasy Stage’s ‘Admissions’ Photo courtesy of Maggie Hall Photography/SpeakEasy Stage Company

Admissions is as uncomfortable as it is riveting, cleverly and uniquely addressing some tough topics while delivering more than its fair share of humorous moments.  It harbors an important message about genuinely striving to make a difference in the world while acknowledging that looks can be deceiving.

Joshua Harmon’s Admissions continues through Saturday, November 30.  Click here for more information and tickets.  SpeakEasy Stage Company’s current season also features upcoming performances of Passover, The Children, and Bright Star.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

REVIEW: Juggling is more than an act in TCAN’s madcap British comedy, ‘One Man, Two Guvnors’

One man seems to have his work cut out for him.

The last time TCAN Players delved into a comedy seeped in mistaken identities, a twist-filled plot, and a wealth of physical humor was for romantic farce, First Things First.  In TCAN’s One Man, Two Guvnors, things get wilder, semi-interactive, and injected with unmistakable British flair.

Directed insightfully by Kevin Groppe, TCAN Players present the 60s madcap British comedy, One Man Two Guvnors by Richard Bean through Sunday, November 17 at The Center for the Arts in Natick, Massachusetts.  This show contains adult humor and innuendo not suitable for kids.  Click here for more information and for tickets.

TCAN Players One Man Two Guvnors dance scene

A 60s dance party Photo courtesy of TCAN Players

A quirky romp defined by British humor, TCAN’s One Man Two Guvnors was derived from the 1743 Italian comedy, A Servant and Two Masters.  Actor, comedian, and television host James Corden also won a Tony Award for his role as fumbling and scheming Francis.  Set in 1963 Brighton and featuring popular Beatles songs that enhance the plot, Francis, a meaty, comedic role portrayed by Nicholas Magray, stumbles upon an opportunity to serve two bosses and potentially reap twice the profit.  However, he is in for a lot more than he bargained for.

TCAN Players One Man Two Guvnors Nicholas Magrey as Francis

Nicholas Magrey as Francis Photo courtesy of TCAN Players

Peter Watson and Tom Powers’s sliding, transforming set manages to combine elements from the Italian comedy and British adaptation by demonstrating a retro feel from colorful, double diamond walls flanked with British flags and a portrait of the queen while two popular characters from Italian comedy look on.  Dustin Todd Rennells skillfully combines a smorgasbord of 60s designs featuring colorful ties, florals, and plaids faithful to that celebrated era in Britain while reflecting each character’s distinctive style.

With mystery, romance, and more than its fair share of silliness, One Man Two Guvnors is fueled by a dynamic cast who will do just about anything for a laugh as they take on a wealth of improvisation and timely, physical humor.  It’s a madcap, jazzy, feel-good sort of show that does not consistently stay with the plot, but not to worry, Francis will redirect the audience momentarily.

The one man that leads this comedic charge is Nicholas Magrey’s turn as Francis, a calculating, advantageous, and constantly hungry individual who not only juggles his veritable tasks onstage, but also acts as a part time narrator.  It is easy to see James Corden in this role, but Magrey’s performance is no imitation.  With lively blue eyes and sharp comic timing, Magrey rises to the occasion at every erratic turn.

One Man Two Guvnors Sonya Richards as Pauline and Robert Slotnick as Alan

Sonya Richards as Pauline an Robert Slotnick as Alan Photo courtesy of TCAN Players

Just a few highlights from the cast include hilarious pair Sonya Richards as dim-witted and spoiled Pauline and Robert Slotnick as aspiring actor Alan.  Slotnick’s over dramatic Alan embraces every exaggerated pose to the hilt and it is equally amusing to watch Sonya as ditzy Pauline who takes a moment longer to catch on.

TCAN Players AJ Masiello as Alfie and Nicholas Magrey as Francis

AJ Masiello as Alfie and Nicholas Magrey as Francis Photo courtesy of TCAN Players

Quinton Kappel goes to great comedic lengths as stern yet sensitive Stanley, one of Francis’s bosses.  A.J. Masiello also goes above and beyond in his role as elderly trainee Alfie.  Kappel as Stanley and Magrey as Francis have a few humorous scenes as they trade places depicting the straight man in each scene.   Danielle Wehner shows off her comedic chops with a couple of roles that will not be revealed here.  Kim MacCormack is wonderful as flirtatious and cheeky Dolly, swaggering across the stage with a knowing smile.

Give it a go and have a good laugh with TCAN Players production of One Man Two Guvnors continuing through Sunday, November 17 at the Center for the Arts in Natick, 14 Summer Street in Natick, Massachusetts.  Click here for more information, tickets, and upcoming productions.

 

REVIEW: Greater Boston Stage Company and Front Porch Arts Collective’s ‘Marie and Rosetta’ showcase one dynamite duo

From the first musical number This Train, it was easy to see that Greater Boston Stage Company and Front Porch Arts Collective’s Marie and Rosetta was going to be something special.  Lovely Hoffman and Pier Lamia Porter easily stood out as two of the three powerhouse voices that fueled the Ronettes in Lyric Stage’s recent eye-popping production of Little Shop of Horrors.  As impressive as they were in that show, they are a musical force to be reckoned with in Marie and Rosetta.

Directed beautifully by Pascale Florestal with musical direction by Erica Telisnor, Greater Boston Stage Company once again collaborates with Front Porch Arts Collective for the inspiring musical, Marie and Rosetta continuing through Sunday, November 10 at Greater Boston Stage Company in Stoneham, Massachusetts.  Marie and Rosetta is part of Greater Boston Stage Company’s 20th anniversary year.  Click here for more information and for tickets and here to learn more about the Front Porch Arts Collective.

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Pier Lamia Porter as Maria (on piano) and Lovely Hoffman as Rosetta (on guitar) Photo courtesy of Nile Scott Studios/Greater Boston Stage Company

Taking place in the 1940’s, Marie and Rosetta is about a captivating musician and her first encounter with a young fan.  However, this meeting is so much more than it seems.  Nicknamed The Godmother of Rock and Roll, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, portrayed magnificently by Lovely Hoffman in a silvery gown, not only had an incredible talent that inspired everyone from Little Richard to Elvis Presley to Karen Carpenter, but also had a lot to say about the world.

Full of humor, tenacity, and set in her convictions, Lovely Hoffman’s Rosetta is a charismatic free spirit.  This role has more than a few dark edges, but Hoffman is an avid, lighthearted storyteller wise beyond her years.  Confident and outspoken, Hoffman has sweet and amusing chemistry with Pier Lamia Porter as shy, traditional, and sweet-natured Marie.  It is fascinating to watch them together as Marie’s nervous chatter is diffused by Rosetta’s sage advice.

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Lovely Hoffman as Rosetta and Pier Lamia Porter as Marie Photo courtesy of Nile Scott Studios/Greater Boston Stage Company

During one of the shows lighter moments, Hoffman as Rosetta attempts to ease Marie’s nerves by assuring her blush brings what is on the inside out.  It is Hoffman’s frank optimism and electrifying, groundbreaking vocal style that make her such an appealing persona, especially through the soulful number Rock Me to the playful Sit Down to the insightful Gospel song, I Looked Down the Line.  

In a pink chiffon dress and ballet flats, Pier Lamia Porter delivers a brilliant turn as Marie and the perfect foil for Rosetta.  Marie takes on the soul stirring number, Were You There in a rich, traditional vibrato and always playing by life and music’s rules while Rosetta’s soaring soprano takes a more spontaneous turn.  Pier Lamia Porter also delivers a gorgeous, moving rendition of Peace in the Valley not to be missed.  There is a lot more to Marie than she lets on leaving plenty of room for the two of them to learn from one another.

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From L to R: Pier Lamia Porter as Marie and Lovely Hoffman as Rosetta Photo courtesy of Nile Scott Studios/Greater Boston Stage Company

While the two have little in common, they make a dynamite duet for rock gospel song, Didn’t it Rain and a powerful, rousing rendition of Up Above My Head as this powerful musical moves into high gear.

Greater Boston Stage Company and Front Porch Arts Collective continue Marie and Rosetta through Sunday, November 10 at Greater Boston Stage Company located at 395 Main Street in Stoneham, Massachusetts. Click here for more information and here to learn more about the Front Porch Arts Collective.

REVIEW: Seeped in silvery, eclectic rhythms, Celebrity Series of Boston presented a joyous, sold out Sergio Mendes and Bebel Gilberto concert for Bossa Nova’s 60th anniversary

Catchy, invigorating rhythms have never had a better reception than at Grammy award-winning Brazilian great Sergio Mendes and popular Brazilian singer Bebel Gilberto’s sold out concert to celebrate 60 years of Bossa Nova on Friday, October 18 at the Berklee Performance Center in Boston.  Presented by Celebrity Series of Boston, an enthusiastic crowd rejoiced in the exhilarating, eclectic rhythms that surely left them humming a tune or two long after the show was over.

Click here to find out where Sergio Mendes and Bebel Gilberto will perform next on their tour.  Click here for more about Celebrity Series of Boston and all of their upcoming events.

Dressed in a floral, black trimmed dress that delivered a certain sparkle with silver, sky high heels, Bebel Gilberto, who descends from a long line of Brazilian and jazz greats including her late father, Joao Gilberto, who wrote the Grammy award-winning tune, The Girl from Ipanena, kicked off the celebration.  Accompanied by renowned guitarist Guilherme Monteiro and drummer Leo Costa, Bebel swept onto the stage with catchy, low key rhythms.   Her smooth, slinky vocals opened with Wave written by Antonio Carlos Jobim and Frank Sinatra recorded this popular song in English in 1969.

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Bebel Gilberto Photo credit: Vicente de Paulo/Celebrity Series of Boston

Most of Bebel’s songs were in Portuguese, but as she engaged the crowd through song and personal reflections, she said she is Brazilian-American.  She dedicated a few songs to family members, stating family is everything.  Her set was a mix of jazz and serene rhythms as she whistled and scatted onstage.

Even if Portuguese is not a familiar language, the beats and rhythms linger in Bebel’s crisp, clear, and captivating vocals.  She invited the crowd to sing and clap along as she covered some of her father’s hit songs such as the humorous O Pato (The Duck), the upbeat rhythms of Saudade vem Correndo, and Udiu, a song that Bebel said mirrors how her father played guitar.

Warm and charismatic, Bebel delivered a lighthearted, invigorating version of her own hit, So Nice (Summer Samba) and performed a lighter, more upbeat version of Just One of those Things, dedicating the classic Cole Porter hit to her parents.  After playfully applying lipstick onstage, she ended her set with Samba Da Bencao, dedicating the mystical, romantic rhythms to Boston.

The celebration heated up as Grammy award-winning Sergio Mendes appeared onstage, greeted with a rousing applause.  Along with his vocalist wife Gracinha Leporace and Katie Hampton, Sergio promised the crowd a musical journey through 60 years of Bossa Nova music and he certainly delivered.

Referring to the renowned musicians onstage as “the best band he ever had” while simultaneously playing piano and conducting the band, Sergio was accompanied by drummer Leo Costa, guitarist Kleber Jorge Pimenta, bassist Andre De Santanna, keyboardist Scott Mayo, and percussionist Gibi.

Dressed in his signature white Cuban Hat and suit, Sergio delved into the history of Bossa Nova, opening with a rousing rendition of Magalenha as the crowd clapped wildly.  He followed it with the lighthearted and colorful tune, Waters of March, composed by Antonio Carlos Jobim as Katie Hampton and Gracinha Leporace swayed and effervescently sang, “It’s the end of the strain/It’s the joy in your heart.”

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Sergio Mendes Photo credit: Vincente De Paulo/Celebrity Series of Boston

Sergio kept the evening lively, sharing songs that ranged from romantic and stirring to breezy and joyous with drum-infused rhythms.  In a flowing sea green dress and charcoal leggings, Gracinha passionately sang O Que Sera by Chico Buarque.  Hip hop veteran and vocalist Harrell Harris (H2O) sang a lovely duet with Katie Hampton for Sergio’s 80s hit, Never Gonna Let You Go as guitarist Kleber Jorge Pimenta performed an amazing guitar solo.

One of the most thrilling parts of the evening was a freestyle jam session which included a berimbau and percussionist solo seeped in the rhythms of Rio de Janeiro. Many of the musicians are multi-instrumentalists and it was fascinating to watch the instruments seemingly “speak” to each other.

The concert featured unique spins on popular songs such as Gracinha and Katie’s spirited, piano-infused duet of the Beatles classic, Fool on the Hill.  Gracinha also lends her powerful vocals to an eclectic version of Dusty Springfield’s James Bond theme song, The Look of Love.

Sergio Mendes capped off the evening on a high note with two of his most popular songs.  H2O returned to the stage as the band performed Mas Que Nada, a 1966 hit song that became popular again when Sergio collaborated on the song with Will.i.am and The Black Eyed Peas.  H2O is an incredible talent, adding a boost to an already electric lineup.  Saving the best for last, Bebel returned to the stage with the entire ensemble for a sensational version of Sergio’s most popular song, Pais Tropical, enhanced with bright rhythms and Scott Mayo’s thrilling saxophone.  After 60 years, Bossa Nova still puts joy in the heart.

Click here to find out where Sergio Mendes and Bebel Gilberto are performing next.  Click here for Celebrity Series of Boston’s wonderful 2019-20 season and upcoming events.  For updates and more, follow Celebrity Series of Boston on FacebookTwitter, and Instagram.