REVIEW:  Greater Boston Stage Company’s well-timed ‘Incident at Our Lady of Perpetual Help’ a comical trip down memory lane

Greater Boston Stage Company chose the perfect time to debut Incident at Our Lady of Perpetual Help.  Nestled right through St. Patrick’s Day during Lent (for Catholics), this engaging family comedy delves into the lives of the quirky lower middle class Irish-Catholic O’Shea family during a chaotic and pivotal week in their lives in the 1970s.  It’s a memory play…with a few amusing twists.

From L to R: Vin Vega as Becky, Maureen Keiller as Theresa “Terri” Carmichael, Amy Barker as Jo O’Shea, and Autumn Blazon-Brown as Linda O’Shea Photo courtesy of Greater Boston Stage Company

A semi-autobiographical play written by Katie Forgette and directed by Weylin Symes, Greater Boston Stage Company presents Incident at Our Lady of Perpetual Help virtually and at Greater Boston Stage Company in Stoneham, Massachusetts through March 20.  The show is 1 hour and 45 minutes with intermission and recommended for children ages 13 and up.  Click here for more information and tickets.

It is fascinating how memories work when they are retold, recalled, and recollected.  A fuzzy little detail here and a little change there may make a big difference.  Some of the production’s characters are a bit over the top, but so was the 70s.  Every detail of this show rewinds the clock to a simpler time before the internet, cell phones, and other technological distractions took over.  Deirdre Gerrard pulls together a wonderfully nostalgic and mismatched array of 70s attire from corduroy to bold patterns to star-studded bellbottoms. 

From L to R: Vin Vega as Becky, Autumn Blazon-Brown as Linda, Amy Barker as Jo O’Shea, and Maureen Keiller as Theresa “Terri” Carmichael Photo courtesy of Greater Boston Stage Company

Incident at Our Lady of Perpetual Help is full of candidness, warmth, and quick pacing much due to the cast’s authentic and believable chemistry as a relatable, flawed, and dysfunctional family.  Tempers flare, judgments are passed often, and the O’Shea family is set in their routines within a meticulously-detailed and functioning wood paneled kitchen plucked straight out of the 70s.  From an afghan blanket on a chair to knickknacks on shelves to photos and notes smattered on a corkboard to greenery gathering in a kitchen window, set designer Shelley Barish’s remarkable blast from the past kitchen lies in the details.

A bossy grandmother, a cheapskate father that works too hard, an exhausted but nurturing mother, a shoot-from-the-hip aunt, and an impressionable daughter all vie for the spotlight breaking the 4th wall and well aware they are in the play.  It flows more like a slice-of-life documentary with most characters eager to speak to the “camera.”

Vin Vega as Becky and Autumn Blazon-Brown as Linda O’Shea Photo courtesy of Greater Boston Stage Company

At the center of this play is somewhat reliable narrator Autumn Blazon-Brown as adorably spunky women’s-lib teenager Linda O’Shea.  Smart yet adventurous, Blazon-Brown shows charming charisma as Linda who, in a moment of frustration, is obnoxious to her impressionable sister Becky to the chagrin of those around her including intimidating Fr. Lovett portrayed with self-righteous glee by Barlow Adamson.  Chaos ensues.   

Amy Barker as Jo O’Shea and Autumn Blazon-Brown as Linda O’Shea Photo courtesy of Greater Boston Stage Company

Adamson is an apt comedian with a wealth of opportunities to show off his dynamic skills during this production.  Vin Vega portrays film-obsessed and imaginative Becky who seems the most sensible among this amiable cast and often along for the ride within the O’Shea high jinx.  Amy Barker portrays a relatable every mom as exhausted but nurturing matriarch Jo O’Shea, but Maureen Keiller, a familiar face having delivered solid past performances in Boston such as in Between Riverside and Crazy, Admissions and The Women, is a gem as Theresa “Terri” Carmichael.  Wisecracking, bold, and often blunt, Keiller shows under Terri’s complicated and tough façade is a loneliness and vulnerability with a fierce loyalty to her family.   A better aunt you will never find.

Greater Boston Stage Company presents Incident at Our Lady of Perpetual Help virtually and at Greater Boston Stage Company in Stoneham, Massachusetts through March 20.  The show is 1 hour and 45 minutes with intermission and recommended for children ages 13 and up.  Click here for more information and tickets.

REVIEW:  Dreams proceed with caution for Central Square Theater’s illuminating ‘Young Nerds of Color’

When I first witnessed the hit film Hidden Figures, I was absolutely amazed for a couple of reasons.  In the early 60’s, a team of phenomenal NASA mathematicians were so talented that some astronauts including Neil Armstrong refused to board the space shuttle without their astute calculations.  The other amazing and frustrating detail is that for all that these African-American women accomplished, I had never heard of them or worse, was never taught about them at school.  Hidden Figures stayed with me.  These genius mathematicians made such an indelible impact in the world and yet, I was learning about them for the first time in this film.

‘Young Nerds of Color’ cast and creative team Photo credit to Nile Scott Studios

Directed remarkably by Dawn M. Simmons, Underground Railway at Central Square Theater presents Young Nerds of Color arranged by Melinda Lopez live in person through March 20 at Central Square Theater in Cambridge, MA and virtually through April 3.  The show is approximately 75 minutes with no intermission.    Click here for more information, tickets, and COVID-19 guidelines.

The night before reviewing Young Nerds of Color, I attended an astronomy group meeting that featured a documentary about a rarely predictable phenomenon.  A professor claimed he knew when the next supernova would occur.  A supernova is when a star explodes and disperses its matter into the galaxy.   It turns out the professor made a tragic miscalculation and the supernova never occurred in the documentary.  However, Young Nerds of Color depicts two beautiful ones thanks to Andrea Sofia Sala’s innovative lighting while also symbolically illuminating some big and impactful ideas such as the discovery that matter from a supernova is directly connected to eyesight. 

Lindsey McWhorter as Portia Long, Daniel Rios Jr as Reinaldo Herrera and DJ Lopez, and Alison Yueming Qu As Chloe Chen Photo credit to Nile Scott Studios

An educational and unconventional play full of discoveries, Young Nerds of Color translates like a flowing and collaborative academic dialogue among geniuses with performances so subtle and convincing that I had to glance back at the program to make sure they were actors and not the actual professionals they are depicting.  A show gathered from 60 interviews with real life scientists, cast members deliver their point of view in their own unique style as they discuss the journey to make their ambitions come to life. 

Ricardo Engermann as Jim Gates, DJ Thomas, Reinaldo Herrera and DJ Lopez Photo credit to Nile Scott Studios

Sponsored in part by MIT, Young Nerds of Color examines the lives of renowned scientists and engineers from diverse backgrounds whose career dreams were more difficult to achieve than they ever expected even before they discovered that dream.   Living in pre-segregated Boston, racism and economic struggles was just a portion of the challenges they faced for being “young nerds of color.”  They all collaboratively take on the role of scientist and educator as they share with the audience and usher in the next generation to proceed toward their dreams with cautious optimism.

Lindsey McWhorter as Portia Long and Karina Beleno Carney as Dr Maria Hernandez Photo credit to Nile Scott Studios

Shelley Barish’s straightforward and illuminated set features two double helixes that might also symbolize that long career ladder and periodic table while Nona Hendryx creates memorable compositions with catchy and cosmic-sounding rhythms and original music.

Some of the cast depicts multiple roles and have engaging chemistry as they portray the journey from childhood experiments fueled by curiosity to those dangerous discoveries that can change the world all while presenting themselves in a way that society might accept so they too might thrive.   I should have learned about this astounding group before now.

Hidden Figures stayed with me and Young Nerds of Color sure does too.

Underground Railway at Central Square Theater presents Young Nerds of Color arranged by Melinda Lopez live in person through March 20 at Central Square Theater in Cambridge, MA and virtually through April 3.  The show is approximately 75 minutes with no intermission.    Click here for more information, tickets, and COVID-19 guidelines.

REVIEW:  Merrimack Repertory Theatre’s insightful ‘Erma Bombeck: At Wit’s End’ will delight more than the domestic housewife

At long last, it is here and I can’t help being thrilled.

When Merrimack Repertory Theatre (MRT) first announced that Erma Bombeck: At Wit’s End would be part of MRT’s upcoming season, my heart leapt.  Having taken great joy in reading Bombeck’s comical works such as The Grass is Always Greener over the Septic Tank and If Life is a Bowl of Cherries, What Am I Doing in the Pits, I had high expectations for this production that ended up being delayed a few times due to Covid. 

Karen MacDonald in ‘Erma Bombeck: At Wit’s End’ Photo credit to Megpix/Meghan Moore

Sponsored in part by WBUR and intuitively directed by Terry Berliner, Merrimack Repertory Theatre presents Erma Bombeck: At Wit’s End virtually and live in-person at the Merrimack Repertory Theatre in Lowell, MA through March 13. The show is just over one hour with no intermission.  Click here for more information and tickets.

Erma Bombeck’s column about life as a housewife made her a household name.  She became the most distributed column in America and it is easy to see why.  Before I ever grasped the concept of being a housewife, I loved reading Erma Bombeck.  As an adult and still not a housewife, I still revel in her sharp and timeless humor.  She never misses a beat relating to women everywhere and though her advice dates back as early as the 60s, most of it remains relevant today.

Dan Zimmerman’s intriguing multi-level and colorful set is a relic of a 1960’s house equipped with period kitchen cabinets, dated upholstery, an old phone, and retro household appliances.  Joel Shier’s lighting is subtly appealing alongside Scott Stauffer’s charming and well-timed sound effects.  Though MacDonald is only present onstage, a supporting cast can be heard that lends to the pacing and a larger sense of realism to the production.

Karen MacDonald in ‘Erma Bombeck: At Wit’s End’ Photo credit to Megpix/Meghan Moore

In classic pearls and a blue floral dress, Karen MacDonald as Erma looks the quintessential housewife as she takes the audience from 1962 through 1996.  Bombeck longed to be a foreign correspondent and instead became a suburban housewife residing in Cherrywood Acres in Dayton, Ohio.  She quipped, ‘I blazed a trail all the way from the laundry room to the sink.’ 

Allison and Margaret Engel’s screenplay is chock full of clever anecdotes and MacDonald’s warm and inviting presence gradually feels like visiting with an old friend.  The quick, peppy, and semi-interactive screenplay is peppered with Bombeck’s astute observations as she shares her remarkable journey to becoming a writer, her zany family life, and gathering her sense of self over the years.   

Much like Julia Child of the same generation, Bombeck is self-deprecating in her imperfections and prides herself on honesty.  MacDonald slips into Bombeck’s natural and relatable tone comfortably brimming with advice, but never in a ‘know-it-all’ sort of way.   A few of her marvelous observational gems include ‘Why take pride in cooking when they don’t take pride in eating?’ or ‘My idea of housework is to sweep the room with a glance’ or ‘What doesn’t kill you now, comes back a few days later to try again.’

Karen MacDonald in ‘Erma Bombeck: At Wit’s End’ Photo credit to Megpix/Meghan Moore

That last piece of advice also resonates with the darker side of Bombeck’s humor.  Surprisingly, Erma Bombeck had her share of haters and struggles.  However, she proves herself a source of strength and fortitude.  Even her most serious reflections and recollections are met with a jovial and contemplative quip.  Though the production is considered mostly lighthearted, MacDonald as Erma manages to find humor in pain which is a rare quality indeed.       

Merrimack Repertory Theatre presents Erma Bombeck’s ‘At Wit’s End’ virtually and live in-person at the Merrimack Repertory Theatre in Lowell, MA through March 13.  Click here for more information and tickets.

REVIEW:  SpeakEasy Stage Company’s searing and immersive ‘People, Places & Things’ makes an indelible impact

Nina is in a nightmare.

Perhaps rock bottom is an unimaginable state until you learn how much further you can sink. People, Places & Things is a jarring and astounding portrait of a spiraling woman who must face that this nightmare she’s in can be stopped.

Masterfully directed  by David R. Gammons, SpeakEasy Stage Company presents Duncan Macmillan’s People, Places, & Things live and in person at the Calderwood Pavilion in Boston, Massachusetts through Saturday, March 5.  This show contains mature themes.  Click here for more information and tickets.

People, Places, and Things is immediately gripping as it thrusts the audience into Nina’s (or whatever she calls herself at the moment) apparent breakdown onstage.  Nina, brilliantly depicted by Marianna Bassham, is a struggling actress who has more than just forgotten her lines during a pivotal moment in a sophisticated play.  The harried and frantic nature of Nina’s life emanates from the stage and you are engulfed in the deep chasm of an addict.

Kadahj Bennett and Marianna Bassham in People, Places & Things. Photo by Nile Scott Studios.

While People, Places & Things has its share of harrowing moments, it is not without its doses of dark humor. It is a realistic depiction of an addict’s complex journey with its own share of twists, turns, and shocking revelations.  Bassham is enigmatic and at times dreadfully unlikable in the way a guarded person who thinks they have all the answers might be.  Her sporadic tics, vacant expression, shaking, low talking, and absent pauses are shocking yet enthralling to witness.  Bassham’s disillusionment of the world gives the impression that she feels she is not in the chaos of her circumstances, but standing outside of them in her own judgment.  With alarm, rage, and confusion flickering in her eyes, Bassham is absolutely riveting.

Adrianne Krstansky and Marianna Bassham in People, Places & Things. Photo by Anabel Rios Photography.

 The show depicts a mix of lucid moments and unhinged visions manifested in part by the efforts of Jeff Adelberg’s transient lighting varying from creepy to downright alarming. Whether it is to demonstrate time freezing, time progression or revealing trauma with occasional strobe lights, Adelberg captures the striking and vivid chaos within and outside this woman.

Marianna Bassham and the cast of People, Places & Things. Photo by Nile Scott Studios.

Jeff Petersen’s open staging is a bold and clever choice where nothing is hidden from the front of the stage right through to what seems like dressing rooms.  This quick-paced production makes some swift transitions meticulously done with purpose and meaning.  The transparency lends a great deal to the piece as each character struggles with what they are hiding.

Marianna Bassham and Nael Nacer in People, Places & Things. Photo by Nile Scott Studios.

 The dynamic cast includes members that take on dual or even multiple roles that are vastly different throughout the production. Kadahj Bennett’s direct, compassionate, and occasionally amusing turn as Foster is as harsh on Bassham as he has probably been on himself.  Bennett, Bassam, and barely stable and complicated Nael Nacer as Mark share some significant and transcending moments as their outlooks on life make for some compelling dialogue.   Nacer and Bassham also share some intriguing chemistry.  At one point, Naser refers to Bassam as a ‘human hand grenade.’  Adrienne Krstansky and John Kuntz make some brilliant transitions in their multiple roles and it is easy to become invested in each of these unpredictable characters.

Nael Nacer, John Kuntz, and Marianna Bassham in People, Places & Things. Photo by Nile Scott Studios.

SpeakEasy Stage Company presents Duncan Macmillan’s People, Places, & Things live and in person at the Calderwood Pavilion in Boston, Massachusetts through Saturday, March 5.  This show contains mature themes.  Click here for more information, tickets, and upcoming productions.

REVIEW: Overcoming an important theme in NYC’s Indie Theatre Film Festival’s dynamic ‘Coming of Age’ short films

A spontaneous escape, an evil queen, finding inspiration and discovering super strength is just the tip of the iceberg for New York City’s Indie Theatre Film Festival’s Coming of Age Shorts Screening.  These shorts explore overcoming troubles, fears, and heartache in remarkable ways including a sense of humor as demonstrated in Dianne Diep’s Cloud Gazing.  Peals of laughter can remedy almost any situation.

The New York City Indie Theatre Film Festival continues streaming through Sunday, February 20.  Click here for more information and how to stream a variety of dynamic films including animation and documentary works.

Photo credit to the NYC Indie Film Festival

In the face of chaos, there is strength.  Overcoming is such a prevalent theme in these coming of age shorts and none quite faces it like Jonah Beres as Sam Wheeler in Balloon, a boy who is relentlessly bullied at school. Who can Sam really turn to? Beres’s sympathetic eyes and careful demeanor resemble a young Dane DeHaan.  DeHaan has a knack for portraying characters with pent up emotion just on the brink of letting go.  Directors Jeremy Merrifield and Dave Testa capture a captivating burst of emotions and the awkwardness of childhood through nature, at home, and symbolically in a popping balloon. 

Jonah Beres as Sam Wheeler ‘Balloon’ Photo credit to NYC Indie Theatre Film Festival

Directed and produced by Dianne Diep, Cloud Gazing is a lighthearted take upon a common rite of passage in New York City.  It is the epitome of looking at the bright side as Dianne Diep as Mia makes the best of her latest apartment in the Big City.  The silly and imaginative dialogue, cinematography, and the peals of laughter from Shannon Whelan as Dylan and Dianne Diep as Mia could leave the most serious heart uplifted.  Click here for more on Cloud Gazing and Dianne Diep can also be seen in upcoming Mia:  Unraveling Series.

Photo credit to NYC Indie Theatre Film Festival

Profound life advice is hard to come by.  For example, ‘Life is better than a movie…buy cookies and cream’ is a notable and memorable quote from Tom’s Bench.  Directed by Richard H. Pluim, it’s a heartwarming short film taking place on a special Astoria Park bench in New York.  Most notable is the soothing and fitting Simon and Garfunkel-style closing song Come and Go by the Timber Choir

Adam Patterson and Kyle Stockburger on ‘Tom’s Bench’ Photo credit to NYC Indie Theatre Film Festival

Starting a new day holds new meaning for an unhappy wife in Expectations directed by Vic Dominguez.  It is also directed, written, and starring Kaitlin Gould.  This short would benefit with a longer screen time because Gould’s actions only bring up more questions. 

Photo credit to NYC Indie Theatre Film Festival

Overcoming has several meanings for a discouraged artist longing for inspiration and she may find it in a most unconventional way in You and I written directed and produced by Yiqing Zhao.  It is a quirky, colorful, and sweet film about overcoming doubt for the dream in your heart. 

To the sounds of Gymnopedie No 1, Fair is a stinging, deeply relatable, and inventive short film infusing fairy tale with stark reality as a woman, portrayed by Marissa Molnar, must overcome her current circumstances.  It is a clever and fascinating piece that has moments of charm and humor in its brief time frame. 

Marissa Molnar is ‘Fair’ Photo credit to NYC Indie Theatre Film Festival

School life isn’t easy for Angella Cao as Jessa in Pippi, a nod to the famous children’s book character, Pippi Longstocking.  Most notable is the moving and poignant interactions between the adorable Cao and Karoline Xu as her mom. 

Angella Cao as Jessa in ‘Pippi’ Photo credit to NYC Indie Theatre Film Festival

A woman is on a mysterious voyage in Goat.  This short film has beautiful cinematography and its share of odd humor.  Ben Lewis as Simon is an especially intriguing character.

The New York City Indie Theatre Film Festival continues streaming through Sunday, February 20.  Click here for more information and how to stream a variety of films.

REVIEW:  Company Theatre’s regal ‘The Audience’ delivers lessons from a queen

So much can transpire in a certain room.

Though I’m not a fan of The Crown, the intriguing Oscar-nominated Spencer is new on Hulu and I was too curious about the polarizing acting abilities of Kristen Stewart to miss this film.  Not only does the film focus on the tension, the princess’s fragility, and her deteriorating marriage, but  what is deemed a fable of a tragedy taught me a bit about the monarchy’s strict regime before heading out to see the Company Theatre’s production of The Audience.

Directed by Steve Dooner and the inspiration behind the Netflix’s hit drama The Crown, Company Theatre presents Peter Morgan’s The Audience through Sunday, February 20 at Company Theatre, 30 Accord Park Drive in Norwell, Massachusetts.  The show is 2 hours and 15 minutes including an intermission.  Click here for more information and tickets.

Carol Laing Stearns as Queen Elizabeth II with Pembroke Welch Corgis Gregory and Laci Photo courtesy of Zoe Bradford/Company Theatre

The Audience is named after an important room inside Buckingham Palace where Queen Elizabeth II discusses a wide range of topics with various Prime Ministers over the Years.  As Queen, she must live up to certain standards to have these meetings on a certain day for a certain length of time and keeping discussions strictly to Cabinet, Parliament, and Current Affairs.  Needless to say, conversations often take a turn in unexpected directions.  The show delivers light and subtle humor throughout the production, but this is mostly a historical drama.

Carol Laing Stearns portrays the sharp and coolheaded English monarch with sophistication, grace, and underlying prowess (with her royal corgis in tow).  She dryly describes herself as “a postage stamp with a pulse,” but we all know better.  Stearns has a natural and likable presence, but also stoic and headstrong.  She rarely lets her emotions get the better of her, even when she is commenting on it.  It is interesting to see the quirks and tenacity, navigating her age progression well.  However in a rare moment, thanks to the keen lighting design of Dean Palmer. Jr, the spotlight shines on Stearns in a moment of vulnerability, and it is difficult not be entirely moved by it.

Carol Laing Stearns as Queen Elizabeth II Photo courtesy of Zoe Bradford/Company Theatre

Ryan Barrow’s elegant set is flanked with wall-to-wall gold trim, historical portraits, and a sparkling chandelier shining overhead.  Charismatic Rama Rodriguez as Equerry acts as half narrator and half historian, sharing the relevance of this special room and its astute history.  From a tartan skirt to the dapper suits on each Prime Minister to the very replica of Queen Elizabeth II’s white dress and royal sash symbolizing her position as the Dame Grand Cross of the Royal Victorian Order, costume designer Elizabeth Cole Sheehan has a meticulous eye for historically-accurate regal flair.

The depiction of Elizabeth II’s flashes of childhood is handled in a unique and insightful way though at first it can be a little confusing.  Young Elizabeth, portrayed as a precocious and inquisitive old soul by Samantha LeBretton, struggles with her destiny and the separation of her public and private figure.  Although she is unsure of her place exactly, she feigns surefootedness, but not without questions. 

Chris DiOrio as Harold Wilson is the most sympathetic among the Prime Ministers while Julie Dennis as Iron Lady Margaret Thatcher comes in like a lion and remains one.  The tension between Stearns and Dennis as a compelling Thatcher is quite thrilling to witness as two people with much in common can barely agree.  DiOrio as Wilson thrives in the role, his strong Northern accent only accentuates his likability. 

Among the many political, social, and personal topics addressed, the clash between royal rituals and traditions with modernization and talk of the end of the monarchy is always looming.  However, The Audience presents a bigger picture and depicts just why Queen Elizabeth II’s, who just celebrated her Platinum Jubilee this month and is the longest reigning English monarch in history,  secret to her longevity reaches far beyond her wit.

Company Theatre’s ‘The Audience’ is the inspiration behind Netflix’s ‘The Crown’ Photo courtesy of Zoe Bradford/Company Theatre

Company Theatre presents Peter Morgan’s The Audience through Sunday, February 20 at Company Theatre, 30 Accord Park Drive in Norwell, Massachusetts.  The show is 2 hours and 15 minutes including an intermission.  Click here for more information and tickets.

REVIEW:   NYC Indie Theatre Film Festival’s drama ‘Get it Together’ cleverly subverts expectations

College students Mary Hewitt (Andie Lerner) and Harold Kruger (Eric Bermudez) decide to meet upstairs at a house party in a small town in Pennsylvania.  At first glance one can form a few assumptions about this scenario, but Get it Together’s clever dialogue and building tension only keeps the viewer guessing on what could possibly be next in its approximately 45 minute timeframe.

Written and directed by Michael Quinn, Get it Together is a drama film in the New York City Indie Theatre Film Festival (NYCITFF) which continues streaming online through Sunday, February 20. This film contains some mature themes.  Click here for more information and how to get access to a wide range of short and full length films in a variety of genres.

From having fun to sharing secrets to betrayal to creepy and back again, Mary and Harold have a bit of a history.  Deep thinking Scarlett and secretive Horan have peculiar and evolving chemistry and it is interesting to see the way the tone of the film changes at the drop of a hat. 

The push and pull of the dialogue constantly ambushes expectations.  Are these two people adversaries, acquaintances, friends, lovers?  Each carefully selected line of dialogue will leave the viewer constantly guessing about what these two mean to each other.  It is an encounter that will possibly simmer in your mind long after the film is over.

Get it Together, part of the New York City Indie Theatre Film Festival (NYCTIFF) continues streaming online through Sunday, February 20.  Click here for more information and how to get access to a wide range of short and full length films in a variety of genres.

REVIEW:  Creativity runs wild in Andrew Garfield’s Oscar-nominated portrayal as Jonathan Larson in Netflix’s ‘tick, tick…BOOM!’

Though at times he has traveled under the radar from stage to screen aside from his turn as our friendly neighborhood Spiderman, Andrew Garfield has most deservedly been on the map lately.  Though he was sadly overlooked by the Academy as the emotional center of David Fincher and Aaron Sorkin’s 2010 acclaimed drama, The Social Network, Garfield has finally scored an Academy Award-nomination for the musical hit, tick tick…BOOM! available on Netflix.  Garfield has a knack for dynamic performances and though everyone is looking at Jessica Chastain as Tammy Faye Bakker in The Eyes of Tammy Faye, Garfield also brought a wealth of humor, quirkiness, and manipulative prowess to his portrayal of TV Evangelist Jim Bakker.

Once an Off-Broadway play, tick, tick…BOOM’s film adaptation is available now on Netflix and directed by Lin-Manuel Miranda.  The film is currently Oscar-nominated for Best Actor for Andrew Garfield and Best Film Editing and Garfield has a Screen Actors Guild nomination for Best Actor in a Leading Role.

As Lin-Manuel Miranda was once a struggling writer himself, it is not surprising he is the director of the Academy Award-nominated musical tick, tick…BOOM!, a fascinating semi-autobiographical story about Jonathan Larson, a struggling writer living in New York City years before he created his hit rock musical, RENT.  A writer writes about what one knows and so much of this story offers glimpses into Larson’s inspiration for that wildly-successful musical.

However, this is about the struggle and this musical film is brimming with it.  The painstaking work of creativity and all that could go wrong illuminates tick, tick…BOOM! as Larson struggles to keep it all together to achieve what at times seems impossible, especially in New York City.  tick, tick…BOOM! is not only about Jonathan Larson’s frantic life, but it is also an ode to the writer and the struggle to live that extraordinarily competitive dream while just skirting out and skimming by trying to get a chance.

At its center is narrator and lead Andrew Garfield who brings a driving intensity and delivers an electrifying performance as the frenetic Larson on the eve of Larson’s 30th birthday.  The unconventional, deeply creative, and quick-thinking Larson divides his time between writing and working at the Moondance Diner.  Look for Lin-Manuel Miranda as a short order cook.  However, music and writing naturally pours out of Larson’s soul and he is often consumed by it at the expense of everything else.  For forward-thinking Larson, turning 30 is a looming chasm that soaks up every ounce of his time until that odious deadline as he demonstrates in the catchy and memorable number, 30/90.  Thirty is not old, but maybe Larson always felt like he was running out of time.

The musical features a dynamic, infectious, and multi-dimensional soundtrack about living in your 20s in New York City and how life changes.   RENT’s influence is unmistakably evident in the lighthearted and humorous numbers, Boho Days and No More.  It is also easy to recognize the roots that will develop Larson’s future work.  Inside the Moondance Diner, Sunday features beautiful harmonies that include some of Broadway’s biggest stars.  Therapy is a fantastic and humorous number about the miscommunication of love.  The rap-infused Play Game depicts the struggle between living out the uncertainty of your dream or entering the corporate world which is a prevalent theme throughout the film.

tick, tick BOOM! explores the little victories, the bigger victories, and the gut-wrenching defeats in Larson’s personal and professional world.  However, what is genuinely important becomes painfully clear and what truly inspires his work changes as the film progresses.

tick, tick BOOM! is currently streaming on Netflix. Click here for more information on RENT’s 25th Anniversary Farewell Tour.

REVIEW:  Gorgeously filmed, Boston Lyric Opera and Opera Philadelphia’s ethereal ‘Svadba’ a vivid and dreamy celebration of treasured moments before a wedding

As Atlantic Ocean waves lap along the shore, renowned vocalists Chabrelle D. Williams, Brianna J. Robinson, Maggie Finnegan, Vera Savage, and Hannah Ludwig provide an intense and inspired a cappella chorus for an idyllic beachside cottage as a bride, what appears to be the mother of the bride, and bridesmaids prepare for a beautiful wedding.  A wedding can stir up a myriad of powerful emotions from bitter sweet to pure joy as a couple starts a new life together and in a way, leaves the former one behind.  Filled with rich traditions, rituals, and cultural customs, the days leading up to a wedding can provide life’s most unforgettable moments.

JUST BEFORE HER WEDDING CEREMONY BEGINS, MILICA (VICTORIA L. AWKWARD) SHARES A GRATEFUL MOMENT WITH LENA (JACKIE DAVIS) IN “SVADBA.” Photo courtesy of Boston Lyric Opera

Gorgeously filmed, seamlessly conducted by Daniela Candillari, and insightfully directed by Shura Baryshnikov (the daughter of legendary dancer and choreographer Mikhail Baryshnikov),  Boston Lyric Opera presents in collaboration with Opera Philadelphia Channel, Svadba by Ana Sokolovic streaming now on Operabox.tv.  The film is just under an hour.  Click here for streaming access and more information.

(L.-R.) VICTORIA L. AWKWARD AS MILICA AND JACKIE DAVIS AS LENA IN “SVADBA.” Photo courtesy Boston Lyric Opera

Svadba, which is Serbian for ‘wedding,’ contains all the anticipation and beauty of the days building up to the big day.   It is a pivotal time in a couple’s life, especially these times when family and friends gathering can be a hesitant and tricky venture.  The glow of the bride-to-be is resplendent in Victoria Awkward as Milica, the loving stares of love and pride shine in Jackie Davis’s eyes as Lena and the beautiful bridesmaids excitedly bonding create a dreamy and ethereal presence in this picturesque setting.

What also makes Svadba so alluring is the intimacy among the group.  From Victoria Awkward as bride Milica and Jackie Davis as Lena’s first encounter, it is easy to see the precious nature of a mother and daughter relationship, though the film does not specify the connection between them.  Davis treats Awkward delicately, taking her hand and getting her ready while presenting to her family and cultural customs and heirlooms leading up to this big day.  The sunlight peers into the cottage, illuminating the treasure trove of precious objects.  There is a quiet outpouring of love between the two of them as Davis prepares Awkward for the future.

Costume designer Albulena’s Borovci’s dynamic costumes vary from traditional and intriguing to unconventional with fantasy and flair.  Sparkling, translucent, and understated gowns adorn bridesmaids Sasha Peterson as Maid of Honor Ljubica, Emily Jerant-Hendrickson, Sarah Pacheco as Zora, and Jay Breen as Danica.  The pale green and coral complements the serene beachside landscape while a bride’s vivid daydream unleashes brighter and bolder attire.

JAY BREEN (AS DANICA, L.) AND VICTORIA L. AWKWARD (AS MILICA, IN WHITE) DANCE AS OTHER BRIDESMAID’S LOOK ON IN “SVADBA.” Photo courtesy of Boston Lyric Opera

Much of this opera symbolizes togetherness, the progression of growing up and finding where a woman fits in the world from the bride’s whirlwind feelings to family and friends perspectives.  The choreography at times feels so intense that the dancers look like they are being taken over by the chorus’s powerful vocal harmony.  From spontaneous frolicking to wild and intense dance rituals set to heavenly, trilling, and rhythmic vocals that narrate, navigate, and reveal the complicated feelings when one weds, Svadba is a spirited snapshot to this tumultuous and extraordinary rite of passage and a beautiful celebration of the future.

MILICA (VICTORIA L. AWKWARD, CENTER) AND HER BRIDESMAIDS RETURN TO THE COTTAGE AFTER GATHERING DECORATIVE FLORA IN “SVADBA.” Photo courtesy of Boston Lyric Opera

Boston Lyric Opera presents in collaboration with Opera Philadelphia Channel, Svadba streaming now on Operabox.tv.  The film is just under an hour.  Click here for streaming access and more information.

REVIEW:  Academy of the Company Theatre’s ‘Les Miserables School Edition’ cast Turning, Turning Wise Beyond their Years

Having read Victor Hugo’s epic novel Les Miserables, witnessed three film adaptations including a 1998 mediocre version starring Claire Danes as Cosette and Liam Neesen as Jean Valjean (without an Eponine), GBH’s 10th and 25th anniversary of Les Miserables in Concert as well as Les Miserables live onstage from Broadway to Lexus Broadway in Boston to right here a few years ago at the Company Theatre, the Academy of the Company Theatre’s Les Miserables School Edition features the youngest cast I’ve ever witnessed onstage.  Les Miserables is a masterful show and a paramount redemption tale, but it does deal in underlying mature themes such as criminal injustices, swindling, prostitution, and war.

Weston Hammond as Javert and Sal Garcia as Jean Valjean Photo credit to Dean Palmer Jr./Zoe Bradford

Set in 18th century France, Les Miserables is a brilliant tale about an escaped convict attempting to rebuild his life under the watchful eye of Inspector Javert.  Life experience suggests that adults might have a firmer grasp on the show’s complicated and mature themes, but with exceptional Sal Garcia starring as Jean Valjean and a wise beyond their years cast, it is not difficult to imagine.

Skillfully directed and staged by Sally Forrest and musically-directed by Melissa Carubia, Academy of the Company Theatre (ACT) presents Les Miserables School Edition continuing through Sunday, January 30 live and in person at the Company Theatre, 30 Accord Park Drive in Norwell, Massachusetts.  This musical is over two hours with one intermission.  The School Edition is a bit abbreviated, but only meticulous fans of the full length musical would notice.  Click here for more information and tickets. 

Will Moon as The Bishop of Digne and Sal Garcia as Jean Valjean Photo credit to Dean Palmer Jr/Company Theatre

With a thick beard and an imposing figure, it is not much of a stretch of the imagination that Sal Garcia could take on the reigns of Jean Valjean.  With a vocal range from a whispered lullaby to a powerful belt, Garcia’s vocal gymnastics take off from Soliloquy onward and especially for extraordinary solos, Bring Him Home and Who Am I.  At just 16 years old, it is amazing to think his voice will only become more powerful and pliable in the years to come.  Garcia as Valjean and Will Moon’s clear and distinct vocals as the Bishop of Digne combine for a moving performance in the musical’s most pivotal and iconic scene.  Valjean’s encounters with Weston Hammond as mysterious Inspector Javert work well together to fuel the mounting tension between them.  Hammond’s deep baritone and Garcia’s versatile vocals heighten each scene together.

Sal Garcia as Jean Valjean and Brianna Casey as Fantine Photo credit to Dean Palmer Jr./Company Theatre

Brianna Casey may look young, but her deep and rich vocals exude that maturity needed to take on Fantine’s complexities from a struggling mother to a woman haunted by visions of the past exhibited in the anguish of I Dreamed a Dream.

Elsa Hancock-Happ as Young Cosette is pitch perfect and adorable, but her distinct and reactive facial expressions with the Thenardiers are the most fun to watch.   Jack Baumrind is a little scene stealer as Garouche, his sweet smile and streetwise antics outsmarting most everyone he encounters.

Tessa Beshere and Jackson Parker as the manipulative and amusing Thenardiers only seem to get better as the show progresses.  With a cackling laugh, scheming Parker as Thenardier excels in the show’s darkest number, Dog Eat Dog with Garcia as Valjean and Dabady as Marius.  The Thenardiers’ playful, dynamic chemistry and physical humor is at its best as they become the life of the party for Beggars at the Feast.

Jackson Parker as Thenardier and Tessa Beshere as Madame Thenardier Photo courtesy of Zoe Bradford/Company Theatre

Usually I don’t care for the character of Cosette, but Katherine Dee changes my mind through her angelic, soaring soprano vocals and sweet chemistry with Gilbert Dabady as strong-willed and charming Marius.  Dabady exhibits playful chemistry with a lovely Isabelle Assaf as Eponine.  The trio creates beautiful harmonies for A Heart Full of Love and the collective cast’s harmonies are exceptional for One Day More.

Gilbert Gabady as Marius and Katherine Zee as Cosette ‘A Heart Full of Love’ Photo courtesy of Zoe Bradford/Company Theatre

Antoine Aoun is also memorable and charismatic as Enjolras, leader of a student revolution.  Aoun builds excitement for the future with ABC Café and The People’s Song.

Antoine Aoun as Enjolras with revolutionaries and the barricade Photo credit to Zoe Bradford/Company Theatre

From subtle cobblestone streets to the finely detailed and massive barricade, Ryan’s Barrow’s set design strikes the contrasting tone of the elite and the poverty-stricken parts of France accentuated by Martine Assaf’s aesthetically pleasing costumes faithful to the musical’s vision.  Dean Palmer Jr.’s impressive lighting is prominent throughout the production from an atmospheric glow to flickering street lamps to twinkling stars to illuminated lanterns most evident in a gorgeous display for Turning and the unique and stirring staging accentuates the resonating and timely number, Empty Chairs at Empty Tables led by Dabady who pays melancholic and poignant tribute to ghosts of the past.

Academy of the Company Theatre (ACT) presents Les Miserables School Edition continuing through Sunday, January 30 live and in person at the Company Theatre, 30 Accord Park Drive in Norwell, Massachusetts.  Click here for more information and tickets.