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.

REVIEW: With flawless artistic wizardry, Disney’s ‘The Lion King’ musical, presented by Lexus Broadway in Boston, remains a magnificent theatrical experience

Over the years as a critic, taking notes during the show has been a ritual and now pretty much a reflex these days.  When Disney’s The Lion King musical amazed audiences over 20 years ago on Broadway at the Nederlander Theatre, it was a larger than life spectacle that was as impressive to the eyes as it was to the heartstrings.   Seeing it for the first time back then, it was probably one of the most glorious theatre experiences in memory.

One would think that as time passed, the technology and the sheer artistry of the show would become a bit dated.  However, it hasn’t aged a bit unveiling richer interpretations of songs from the film such as I Just Can’t Wait to Be King and The Circle of Life and including additional songs such as Shadowland and They Live in You not included in the film. It is also the one show that was too enthralling to take notes.

Directed by Julie Taymor, Lexus Broadway in Boston presents Disney’s Tony award-winning musical, The Lion King through Sunday, October 27 at Citizens Bank Opera House in Boston, Massachusetts.  Click here for more information and tickets and click here to see where the show is touring next.

The Lion King is based on Disney’s 1994 Academy award-winning film of the same name which is also an adaptation of Shakespeare’s Hamlet.  It is about a cub prince named Simba who must grow up fast after being exiled from his home by his scheming uncle.  Bursting with color, comedy, jaw dropping special effects, a classic soundtrack by Elton John and Tim Rice with important lessons about growing up, it puts an entirely new spin and depth into in this extraordinary tale, giving this musical new dimension and heart.

With scenic design by Richard Hudson, lighting by Donald Holder, and Steve Canyon Kennedy on sound, it brilliantly navigates Citizens Bank Opera House’s space to stage some of the film’s vast landscapes which includes the breathtaking and encompassing opening sequence.  The show manipulates movement and height with strategically placed moving props and the Julie Taymor and Michael Curry’s mask and puppet design representing members of the animal kingdom are visionary marvels.

The entire cast is as impressive as their visually stunning surroundings.  Bursting with color, I Just Can’t Wait to be King is a celebration with zany, eye popping color and wild shapes combined with Walter Russell the III’s enthusiastic vocals as Young Simba.  Buyi Zama is intense and hilarious as the wise Rafiki, her mesmerizing interactions with the cast unpredictable and endlessly amusing while delivering the emotional impact that the part entails.  She stands out in the stirring number, Nao Tse Tsa and every scene at Rafiki’s Tree.  Gerald Ramsey has a commanding, yet nurturing presence as Mufasa as he interacts with energetic and adorable Walter Russell III.

Spencer Plachy is a masterful, manipulative Scar the likes of the original Scar voiced by Jeremy Irons, haunting in the number, Be Prepared and with kooky and creepy performances by Keith Bennett as Banzai, Martina Sykes as Shenzi, and Robbie Swift as Ed, they form a group more menacing than in the film.

Adding a wealth of comic relief is Nick Cordileone as Timon, his compelling puppetry bringing the character to life in a new way.  With Ben Lipitz as a wild haired Pumbaa whose expressions channel John Belushi, the two make a sidesplitting pair as they deliver the catchy classic, Hakuna Matata.  Greg Jackson is impressive as he navigates Zazu’s jittery angst in a sprawling bird.

Lexus Broadway in Boston presents The Lion King musical through Sunday, October 27 at Citizens Bank Opera House, 539 Washington Street in Boston, Massachusetts.  Click here for tickets and here to see where The Lion King will perform next on their national tour.  This mesmerizing hit musical continues to reign on Broadway at the Minskoff Theatre in New York City.

Lexus Broadway in Boston has an amazing lineup in store as they continue their 2019-2020 season which includes Disney’s Anastasia, Mean Girls, and their next musical, Come From Away.  Click here for their entire lineup and follow them on Facebook for updates and much more.

 

 

 

 

REVIEW: Hingham Civic Music Theatre’s ‘Seussical the Musical’ is groovy, dazzling, and endlessly imaginative

What a time to know Dr. Seuss.  Not only was Dr. Seuss’s new book, Horse Museum, recently released from some of Seuss’s old manuscripts, but this month marked the Canadian debut of an immersive, interactive touring exhibition based on his legacy.  “Dr. Seuss Experience” is expected to arrive in Boston later this year.  After all this time, we are still celebrating Theodor Seuss Geisel who would have been 115 years old this year.

Hingham Civic Music Theatre (HCMT) found many reasons to celebrate Dr. Seuss with their family-friendly, brightly imaginative, and insightful Seussical the Musical continuing through Sunday, October 27 at Hingham Town Hall in Hingham, Massachusetts.  Click here for more information and tickets.

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The cast of Seussical Photo courtesy of Kerry Tondorf/Hingham Civic Music Theatre

From the introspective yearnings of Solla Sollew to the wise, multi-tiered significance of the number, How Lucky You Are, Seussical runs the gamut of silly, sorrowful, and thoughtful musical moments. The catchy, distinct, and clever soundtrack resonated through the live orchestra, newly situated onstage above all the action.

Directed by Victoria Kirichok-Pratt, Seussical is a musical adventure that strings together a few of Dr. Seuss’s most popular works while cleverly weaving in valuable life lessons along the way.  What makes it such a wonderful musical is beneath its comical, brightly-lit fun lie universal truths for the young and old.  Zany, imaginative tales unveil insights about vanity, war, sticking to one’s convictions, and just plain coping with life’s inevitable difficulties.  Even the darker topics remain family-friendly as audiences delve deeper into Dr. Seuss’s vast and unique universe.

HCMT Seussical Jojo and the Whos

Paul Antico as Mayor, Jean Lyon as Mrs. Mayor and Marcus Myers as JoJo Photo courtesy of Kerry Tondorf/Hingham Civic Music Theatre

At the center of this universe is adorable, inquisitive, and charming JoJo Who, portrayed by Marcus Myers.  With wide eyes and a sweet smile, JoJo is starting to learn that life is much more complicated and unpredictable than he ever thought possible.

Much like Dr. Seuss, this wildly dynamic cast is much more than meets the eye and with award-winning costume designer Kathryn Ridder, each character’s outward appearance certainly shines.  The catchy opening number, Oh The Things You Can Think, reveals the brilliant and beautiful costumes which include some that look like they walked right off Seuss’s innovative books.  Bursting with color, mismatched, madcap patterns and edgy, impossible hemlines deliver that peculiar Seuss quality.  One character was even decked out as a Christmas tree.  Bird girls shimmer, Wickershams strut in sunshades and fringe, and the Whos revel in vintage flair.  There’s fine detail in each costume, like a hint of red glimmering under the tails of the Cat in the Hat’s black jacket.

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Wearing his signature top hat and “tails,” Michael Warner mischievously portrays The Cat and the Hat as part Master of Ceremonies, adviser, narrator, and occasional troublemaker.  Warner bounces and glides along the stage, popping in to depict a variety of characters and reveling in the occasional chaos such as Egg, Nest and Tree and It’s Possible.

Justin Grankewicz delivers a sweet and sympathetic performance as ceaselessly faithful and compassionate Horton, who hears a mysterious sound from a speck of dust.    Grankewicz’s earnest face and charming demeanor with JoJo, Gertrude, and the community make him easy to root for.  Myers and JoJo deliver a heartfelt rendition of Alone in the Universe and Jessica DePalo brings unassuming, awkward charm to Gertrude who shines as an avid, amusing storyteller in All for You and Notice Me Horton.

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With a Cheshire grin, Carole Shannon struts and shimmers as self-involved Mayzie, showing great comic timing and chemistry among her girl birds and Gertrude.  Sour Kangaroo, portrayed with a wealth of sass and quite the set of pipes by Katia Green, has plenty to say accompanied by her equally streetwise young sidekick Natalia Tsourides.  They make quite the charismatic pair.  In a robe and festive pajamas, Bruno Barbudo’s bearded Grinch is a creature of few words, but his priceless morose scowl makes a statement all its own.

Hingham Civic Music Theatre continues Seussical the Musical through Sunday, October 27 at Hingham Town Hall, 210 Central Street in Hingham, Massachusetts.  Click here for more information and tickets and follow HCMT on Facebook for upcoming events and more.

REVIEW: Magic, mischief, and classic romantic comedy rule Company Theatre’s wondrous ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’

It is not difficult to see why A Midsummer Night’s Dream is one of Shakespeare’s most performed and beloved plays.  It is everything but tragic.  It features magic, mischief, romantic comedy, action, and under a harvest moon, a haunting twist perfect for October and Halloween.

This particular play holds historical significance to the Company Theatre because it was the first show they ever produced 40 years ago when they were working with very little money.  Company Theatre’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream is an opportunity to transform the production into what they have always hoped it to be and what a dream it is.

Cleverly directed by Steve Dooner, Company Theatre’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream continues through Sunday, October 20 at the Company Theatre in Norwell, Massachusetts.  Click here for a closer look at show and here for more information and tickets.

Company Theatres A Midsummer Nights Dream set and cast

Samantha McMahon as Queen Titania and fairies Photo courtesy of the Company Theatre

Under a gigantic moon, Ryan Barrow’s enchanting set design and Zoe Bradford’s beautiful art design unleash a picturesque, woodland world full of frolicking fairies, sword fights, romance, and more surrounded by a moving and glittering landscape.  The show’s fanciful Ravel and Mendelssohn-infused soundtrack, some high flying special effects, Paula Ninestein and Anna Splitz’s authentic costumes with a bit of a contemporary edge, and Ethan R. Jones’s stirring lighting design seamlessly combine to enhance this captivating work.

Company Theatre A Midsummer Nights Dream Theseus and Hippolyta

Dan Kelly as Theseus and Sarah Dewey as Hippolyta Photo courtesy of the Company Theatre

A Midsummer Night’s Dream has multiple story lines, but the cast translates Shakespeare’s work with gravitas and humor.   For those hesitant about understanding Shakespeare’s work, this production is lively, lighthearted, and manageable to follow.

Part play within a play, part intrigue, part comedy, and part mystery, A Midsummer Night’s Dream essentially explores love in all of its forms from unrequited to true love to romantic comedy to love potions.  This production is the source of some of Shakespeare’s most famous reflections on love such as “True love does not see with the eyes, but the mind,” and “The course of true love never did run smooth.”  The show’s witty dialogue is a wonderful reminder that Shakespeare’s story lines are timeless and can translate into any contemporary story line.

Though A Midsummer Night’s Dream boasts a dignified and dynamic cast, it also excels at improvisation, hilarity, and absurdity.  Dan Kelly is a regal and charismatic Theseus and Sarah Dewey a radiant Hippolyta.  They glide onstage like today’s royal family.  Declan Dunn delivers a remarkable performance as wild, mischievous, and mighty Puck and his conspiring moments with Jermaine Murray as King Oberon make for a clever and cunning pair.

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The women in this production are strong, beautiful, and fierce.  Ariel Wigfall portrays sympathetic, yet courageous Hermia while raven-haired Joan Raube-Wilson is virtuous and stunning as Helena.  Samantha McMahon is as glamorous as she is amusing as Queen Titania.

‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ also has a wealth of wonderful, improvisational moments.  Suraj Ranhbhat as headstrong Demetrius, Bryant Marshall as Lysander, and especially Marco Zenelli as the energetic, bombastic, yet benevolent Nick Bottom along with his group of madcap, merry Mechanicals all demonstrate some excellent physical humor, improvisation, and zany comic relief.  Where would today’s humor be without these classic comedic moments which stand as the foundation of what we are all laughing about today.

Company Theatre A Midsummer Nights Dream Mechanicals

From L to R: Marco Zanelli as Nick Bottom, Declan Dunn as Puck and Caroline Kautsire as Peter Quince

Company Theatre’s classic A Midsummer Night’s Dream continues through Sunday, October 20 at the Company Theatre, 30 Accord Park Drive in Norwell, Massachusetts.  Click here for more information, tickets, and how to support Company Theatre’s future.  Also follow Company Theatre on FacebookInstagram and Twitter to learn all about their upcoming events.

REVIEW: Poignant yet hopeful, Renee Zellweger’s star rises as ‘Judy’

Renee Zellweger has some experience as the underdog.  Before she portrayed Bridget Jones, the iconic character from the beloved Helen Fielding book, Bridget Jones’s Diaryreaders didn’t think she was the right fit for the film.  Renee isn’t British and she’s more glamorous than people imagined Bridget to be in the books.  Kate Winslet, Minnie Driver, and Rachel Weisz were among the British actresses considered for the role.

However, Renee Zellweger embodied Bridget Jones and although she ultimately won an Oscar for Ruby in the indie film Cold Mountain, Bridget became her most recognized role and she continues her role as Bridget in two film sequels.

I hadn’t established an opinion over whether she could portray Bridget Jones, having not read the books until after seeing the film.  However, I was among the doubters she could pull off Judy Garland in Judy, now playing in theatres.  Click here for more information and show times.

After seeing Judy Davis portray Judy Garland in the 2001 television mini-series, Life of Judy Garland: Me and My Shadows in which Judy Davis handily won an Emmy, it was difficult to imagine anyone else doing Judy that much justice.  However, Renee takes on Judy with surprising depth as a fading superstar who needs the prowess to gain back her former success.

Directed by Rupert Goold, Judy is a snapshot into the latter part of Judy Garland’s life.  She’s a woman hitting rock bottom as her dwindling finances make it difficult to support her children with an ex-husband weary of her less than stable lifestyle.  She is also an incomparable talent reaching for her former glory, despite the demons that have haunted her since childhood.

Judy Garland is also a bit of an underdog.  Legendary MGM studio producer Louis B. Mayer told Judy that there are prettier girls, thinner girls, and more glamorous girls, but Judy’s distinctive vocals set her apart from everyone else.

Renee is not unrecognizable as Judy as certain inflections still hint of Renee.  It is not a Judy Garland impression, though the makeup artists do a wonderful job of pouring Renee into Judy’s distinctive look.  Renee delivers a powerful, multi-faceted performance, singing every song in the film without lip syncing, especially in a lighter performance of Come Rain or Come Shine.  Her vocals may not be as extraordinary as Judy Garland’s, but she does capture her voice is a different way.   Renee depicts her prideful desperation with cynical humor, charm, and the loneliness Judy must have felt during this tumultuous time.

The film can be a little slow at times, but Renee is the reason for seeing this film.  Judy also has its poignant, tragic moments, but it is a loving tribute to a woman and her eternal search for happiness, despite the odds.

REVIEW: The 35th Boston Film Festival brought comic wit and moving narratives to Shorts Program I

Sponsored in part by Starz and supported by The Hollywood Reporter, The 35th Boston Film Festival had a lot to offer on this landmark year.  Though it took place on a gorgeous fall weekend, audiences gathered to attend the four-day festival that included world premiere shows and films (Whaling, American Tragedy and She’s in Portland), a wide variety of short films, and clever independent films from Thursday, September 19 through Sunday, September 22.

Some of the highlights included the US Premiere of JoJo Rabbit, the East coast premiere of Once Upon A River and A Hidden Life, and special event screenings such as NBC’s Bluff City Law and The Dog Doc.  The festival also featured powerful documentaries such as The Last Harvest:  You Can’t Grow Without Change and The Wild.  Click here for a closer look at the full schedule.

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The Boston Film Festival presented US Premiere of indie film, ‘JoJo Rabbit’ Photo credit to Fox Serachlight Pictures

The Boston Film Festival took place for the most part 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

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

The Shorts Program I took place on day three of the festival on Saturday, September 21 and featured a dynamic group of films that ranged from heartrending to hilarious to the macabre.  It was a selection likely to appeal to everyone.

Boston Film Festival 'Class of 84'

Alex Salsburg as Mom and Harley Harrison as Mike Photo credit to the Boston Film Festival and Class of 84

Directed by Alex Salsburg and Joe Andrade, Class of 84 is a narrated animated short film that offers an amusing and clever angle on helicopter parenting.  Dr. Katz’s Jonathan Katz is involved in the project.  Through clean, colorful, and two dimensional animation, Class of 84 delves into the life of a teenager living with his constantly hovering, overprotective mother.  From eating raw cookie dough to crossing the street, Class of 84 has its share of silly moments, but overall a fun and interesting look at the virtues of listening to your mother.

Directed by Jon Bloch, Waiting Game takes a darker turn exploring a tough and complicated relationship between constantly worried and well meaning Kenny, portrayed by John Patrick Amedori and his ailing, frustrated father, portrayed by Bruce McGill as Mel.  It doesn’t take long for this meaningful short film to cause a lump in one’s throat.

Boston Film Festival 'Waiting Game'

‘Waiting Game’ Photo credit to Boston Film Festival and ‘Waiting Game’

Waiting Game is a relatable tale about how family can have the best of intentions and those intentions can end up getting misconstrued in the worst way.  John Patrick Amedori Bruce McGill deliver powerful and moving performances that can sometimes be painful to watch as they build a fragile, tension-filled chasm between them.  Waiting Game balances a few lighter moments between Kenny and sweet waitress Alyssa, portrayed by Dilshad Vadsaria.

On a lighter note, director Barbara Elbinger directs You Need Help, a heartfelt look at a retired married couple.  Featuring a fitting soundtrack, Fred, portrayed by Edmund Dehn, is a depressed husband who longs to put vitality and fun back into his life with his all too practical wife, Doreen, portrayed by Eileen Nicholas.   These two have a wonderful chemistry even when they do not see eye to eye and there is much more to these two than they seem.  To witness Fred’s unconventional antics in recapturing the joy in their marriage is worth the price of the ticket.

The Boston Film Festival The Seal

Shahana Goswami as Sheetal in ‘The Seal’ Photo credit to Boston Film Festival and The Seal

Directed by Richa Rudola, The Seal takes a look at Shahana Goswami as Sheetal, a woman haunted by her past when she receives a mysterious, sealed package.  Though the story is fictional, Director Richa Rudola was inspired to create this tale based on events she witnessed and experienced as a woman growing up in India.

The Seal delves into the struggles that keep people stuck in their pain, unable to move on with their lives.  As the haunting phrase, ‘Remember what Mama used to Say’ permeates Sheetal’s thoughts, she seeks comfort in caring, but shady Daquane Cherry as Ruben.  However, some of The Seal’s best scenes are in the unspoken moments, allowing the audience to draw their own conclusions.

Boston Film Festival 'Boy Eats Girl: A Zombie Love Story'

Photo credit to the Boston Film Festival and ‘Boy Eats Girl: A Zombie Love Story’

Director Sarah Gurfield puts a little love in a zombie’s heart in Boy Eats Girl:  A Zombie Love Story.  Zombies seem to be all the rage and a love struck zombie picking flowers can be humorous, but found these seven short minutes all too dark and grisly to muster adoration.

The Bigonia Garden, directed by Ron Goldin and based on Goldin’s own experiences, is a foreign short film that explores an unexpected connection between neighbors in war torn Ashdod in Tel Aviv.  As missiles are launched over their heads, Sound Producer Adam and neighbor Bar retreat to the stairwell in their building, the safest place during a crisis.  It is a snapshot into the lives of people who have no choice but live in the moment during a tumultuous time.

It is a beautiful, personal film and loner Adam, portrayed by Adam Hirsch and Bar, portrayed by Bar Ackerman, have compelling chemistry with an unpredictable conclusion.

Directed by Joel Marsh, A Valley explores a couple of adventure-seeking risk takers as they go on a camping excursion together.  It is based on a short story called The Marsh.  They make each other laugh, wax philosophical, and the film gives the impression that all they have is each other.  The film was a bit ambiguous and would have liked to have delved more into their relationship to give the film more emotional weight.

Boston Film Festival’s Shorts Program I also featured American Life and Heirloom, but were not reviewed.  Click here for more about this year’s festival and future updates.

 

 

 

 

 

REVIEW: Chocolate promises and shattered dreams as Arlekin Players turn over a bizarre ‘Stone’

It is a show unlike anything the Sleepless Critic has ever seen before.  Arlekin Players is currently celebrating their 10th anniversary season as they present Marius von Mayenburg’s avant-garde production, ‘The Stone‘ (remount in English) through Sunday, September 29 in Needham, Massachusetts.  Click here for more information and tickets.    Click here for an interview done last year with director Igor Golyak.

Directed by Igor Golyak, ‘The Stone’ explores the history of a German house before and beyond World War II and its various owners which includes a Jewish family and their ancestors.  Quite a few revelations and family secrets are revealed through traumas and triumphs inside this haunting structure.

Arlekin Plays 'The Stone' with Viktoriya Kovalenko, Rimma Gluzman and Olga Sokolova

Viktoriya Kovalenko, Rimma Gluzman and Olga Sokolova in Arlekin Players ‘The Stone’ Photo courtesy of Irina Danilova/Arlekin Players

The Arlekin Players stage is an overwhelming experience told in the theatre round without a bad seat.  With vintage lighting by Jeff Adelberg,  ‘The Stone’ features very few props and unconventionally arranged set pieces which includes a partially buried piano, a vintage chandelier, and a chair hanging upside down from the ceiling.  As characters emerge and exit almost supernaturally from the floor in head-to toe-white with black paint splotches staining their pants, it quickly became clear that this would not be an orthodox production.

Arlekin Players 'The Stone'

Photo courtesy of Irina Danilova/Arlekin Players

With wild white hair, a pair of navigators called the conductors, portrayed with bizarre humor by Jenya Brodskaia and Misha Tyutyunik, are seemingly mad scientists that conduct and calculate time travel.  They take the audience through the history of the house before and beyond World War II, one of the most tumultuous times in history.  The time travel is a raging, jarring experience with special effects that may have been effective the first couple of times, but starts to distract from the tale as the show moves along.

The characters march strangely and unnaturally, sometimes under a plastic umbrella, an urgent tale with segments between the characters so brief, it is difficult to develop an attachment to them.  The cast is stoic for the most part, especially from Mieze, portrayed with a guarded, calculating air by Rimma Gluzman.  When Viktoriya Kovalenko as idealistic Heidrun discovers a small box in the house that she believes was her father’s, portrayed with complexity by David Gamarnik as Wolfgang, the moment Heidrun has with her mother Witha, portrayed by Darya Denisova, provides a touching moment in the production.

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I’m sure there is an audience for experimental theatre and the actual tale is powerful, but too unconventional and at times confusing for my taste.  It chooses to be different and complex when the story can be told in a straightforward way.  It is still art and it’s unforgettable.

Arlekin Players presents ‘The Stone’ through Sunday, September 29 at  368 Hillside Ave in Needham, Massachusetts.  Click here for more information and tickets and here for more information on the Igor Golyak Acting Studio.

REVIEW: Nothing small about Merrimack Repertory Theatre’s riveting ‘Tiny Beautiful Things’

Advice can be taken with a grain of salt (or sugar in this case), or it can change your entire life.  Open a window into the increasingly complex life of a busy advice columnist in Merrimack Repertory Theatre’s (MRT) ‘Tiny Beautiful Things’ adapted for the stage by Nia Vardalos of My Big Fat Greek Wedding fame.  Based on the book by Cheryl Strayed, tactfully directed by Jen Wineman, and sponsored in part by WBUR, Merrimack Repertory Theatre continues ‘Tiny Beautiful Things’ at the Merrimack Repertory Theatre in Lowell, Massachusetts through Sunday, October 6.

Click here for more information and tickets.  ‘Tiny Beautiful Things’ has adult content.

Tiny Beautiful Things cast

Shravan Amin as Letter Writer #3, Caroling Strang as Letter Writer #2, Lori Prince as Sugar, and Nael Nacer as Letter Writer #1 Photo credit to Merrimack Repertory Theatre

It is no revelation that everyone has their problems.  How they are handled makes all the difference. Sugar, portrayed with equal parts compassion and candor by Lori Prince, proves to be an insightful listener as she offers advice to captivating questions from the humorous to the harrowing.  Every issue presented is from real life letters from literary website, The Rumpus’s Dear Sugar and the Dear Sugars podcast exists on WBUR.

A captivating show from the start, ‘Tiny Beautiful Things’ maintains its quick-witted pace as Sugar’s life unfolds while she offers advice according to her own life experiences.  Packing an emotional punch, Sugar jumps smoothly from topic to topic while handling issues from infidelity to abortion to suicide.  It is not without its uncomfortable and intense moments which widely contributes to this impressive play’s innate realism.

It is amazing the profound advice that occurs over laundry.  From an island kitchen to an outdoor barbecue, ‘Tiny Beautiful Things’ features a layered, cheerful set by Tim Mackabee and Marie Yokoyama’s lighting provides a natural flow and warm atmosphere.  Combined with upbeat music between scenes, this production keeps the mood light despite some of its heavier, more thought-provoking content.

This tiny, stellar cast will reel you in and never let go, taking on a variety of roles with gusto and grace. Nael Nacer, Caroline Strang, and Shravan Amin all deliver mesmerizing, emotionally-charged moments.   The only identity that never changes is Sugar, portrayed with toughness and warmth by Lori Prince.  A woman who has a habit of accepting strange offers, Prince as Sugar is a discerning, yet mysterious soul.  Her gripping portrayal mixes lightheartedness, anguish, and humor into her raw, cynical, but nevertheless hopeful outlook at life.  Prince’s particular strength is her seamless ability to evoke a number of emotions in one line and her sound advice are words to live by.

MRT's 'Tiny Beautiful Things cast photo 2

From Left to Right on phones: Nael Nacer as Letter Writer #1, Caroline Strang as Letter Writer #2, Shravan Amin as Letter Writer #3 and Lori Prince on laptop Photo courtesy of Merrimack Repertory Theatre

Life is full of complicated dysfunction.  Let Sugar’s advice be yours.

Merrimack Repertory Theatre’s ‘Tiny Beautiful Things’ continues at the Merrimack Repertory Theatre at 50 East Merrimack Street in Lowell, Massachusetts through Sunday, October 6.  Click here for more information and tickets.  Follow MRT on Facebook for updates and more.

 

 

 

REVIEW: Soprano-actress Christina Pecce puts her own spin on a few famous faces in fabulous ‘Witches, Bitches, and Divas!’

In a white suit and glittering heels, soprano and actress Christina Pecce may have paid homage to Beyonce (her style reminiscent of Beyonce’s suit at the Superbowl 50 halftime show), but certainly stepped into quite a few famous shoes with ‘Witches, Bitches, and Divas,’ a one night only, one woman cabaret that took place at the American Repertory Theatre’s (A.R.T.) Oberon Theatre in Cambridge, Massachusetts on Sunday, September 8.  Click here for a closer look at ‘Witches, Bitches, and Divas!’ and here to see where Christina will perform next.

Don’t be deceived by the title.  No witches, bitches, or divas actually appear in the show unless you are referring to “every woman” Christina Pecce.  Her one woman show steps into all three categories to create a partly auto-biographical and comedic musical show covering the likes of Elphaba (Witch) from the Tony award-winning hit musical ‘Wicked,’ Miss Hannigan from the classic musical, ‘Annie‘ (Bitch, if left to interpretation), and diva Mariah Carey.  She also chooses zany selections about marriage and shows off her classically-trained vocal talents performing a soaring French opera and then a tonally-deaf singer with Flanders and Swann’s A Word to My Ear.  The bottom line is Christina Pecce can sing just about anything.

Witches Bitches and Divas Oberon Cambridge

The Oberon in Cambridge, Massachusetts Photo credit to Witches, Bitches and Divas

Accompanied by a trio of powerhouse musicians which included Music Director Steve Bass on piano, drummer George Darrah, and bassist Nick Francese, Christina brings humor and personal anecdotes while adding her own spin to various medleys.  She tackles subjects like nannies, drinking, and gravity and even sneaks in an amusing little drinking game too.

From Sondheim to Nat King Cole, Christina makes her time onstage an unpredictable, interactive treat as she occasionally wanders through the crowd, serenading a few audience members.  She also left a piece of her heart onstage in a stirring rendition of Sondheim’s ‘Being Alive.’  Pecce last appeared at the Oberon in February and from the glowing reception she received when she returned, it certainly will not be her last time.

American Repertory Theatre’s Oberon is an intimate and inviting night club without a bad seat in the house that welcomes a variety of shows throughout the year.  Located at 2 Arrow Street in Cambridge, Massachusetts, the Oberon is American Repertory Theatre’s second stage for theatre and nightlife.  Click here for upcoming events at the Oberon, here to learn more about Christina Pecce, and here for more about the American Repertory Theatre.