REVIEW:  Company Theatre’s rock musical ‘Hair’ a meaningful trip

Before cell phones, the internet, and alternate forms of digital communication invited people to text and talk on a computer screen as an alternative to seeing someone in person, Hair highlights the value of in person camaraderie, especially when things seem to be falling apart.  Set in war torn 1968 and focusing on a tribe of hippies that could possibly be drafted, emotionally and physically holding onto each other helps them cope in a world gone mad.

Company Theatre’s ‘Hair’ Shane Cunniff-of Quincy and Gilbert Dabaddy of Rockland Photo courtesy of Zoe Bradford/Company Theatre

Directed astutely by Zoe Bradford with bold musical direction by Robert McDonough, Company Theatre continues the 1960’s rock musical Hair through August 21 live and in person at the Company Theatre, 130 Accord Park Drive in Norwell, Massachusetts.  This show has mature themes and not appropriate for children.  Click here for more information and for tickets.

What is so prevalent in Company Theatre’s production of Hair is the natural camaraderie between cast members tackling a work that requires the cast to engage so closely and without reservations.  Hair is at times an immersive experience with some interaction with the audience and cast members occasionally marching down the aisles.   An entire cast warmly together onstage is uplifting albeit still a tad bit strange to witness.  It provides an escape from the world today with social distancing still not quite a thing of the past.

Company Theatre’s ‘Hair’ Julia Violet of Hanover Janaysia Gethers of Weymouth Elizabeth Nunnery of Hanover Shane Cunniff of Quincy and Tim Bevens of Hingham Photo courtesy of Zoe Bradford/Company Theatre.jpeg

Though the musical took place almost 55 years ago, there are clearly some parallels with contemporary society.  In a world with increasing protests, questions on gender, environmental concerns, women’s lib, the realities of war, racism, social injustice and societal division, Hair addresses many of these issues through song, humor, activism, and somberness.  It also features some silly and sometimes unnecessary content, but the intrinsic nature of its most popular songs give it a poignancy and relevance that the musical isn’t always given enough credit for.

Hair takes place, as the famous song proclaims, in the Age of Aquarius where one is destined for either greatness or madness.  With all the turmoil in the world, Hair seems to be embracing a bit of both. From Aquarius to Easy to Be Hard to Good Morning Starshine to Let the Sunshine In to its memorable title track, Hair delivers an energetic and steady stream of versatile music almost from beginning to end. 

Company-Theatre-Hair-Peter-Kirby-of-Norwell portrays Claude and Julia Violet of Norwell as Sheila the protest leader Photo courtesy of Zoe Bradford/Company Theatre

Not only does this young cast have strong vocals, but they also fit naturally into this era having done meticulous research with Bradford on the time period.  Some historical footage is sporadically shared during the production.  Charismatic Nolan Donato as Berger, the Tribe’s outspoken leader, is an engaging storyteller for the catchy song Donna.  Fun-loving Peter Kirby as mysterious Claude delivers a humorous rendition of Manchester, England, but Claude’s inner turmoil is what truly brings out Kirby’s dynamic performance.  Kirby also shines with the Tribe for I’ve Got Life.  Julia Violet is wonderful as the free spirited Sheila and offers a moving rendition of Easy to Be Hard.  Wearing slick 60s sunglasses, Jeff John-Phillipe as Hud candidly leads the Tribe in an affecting Colored Spade and later alone for Abie, Baby.  Shawn Verrier gets a lot of laughs as historical and controversial Margaret Mead.

The-Company-Theatre’s ‘Hair’ Jeff Jean Phillipe as Hud Peter Kirby as Claude and Shawn Verrier as Margaret Mead Photo courtesy of Zoe Bradford/Company Theatre

Love triangles are rampant and depicted quite humorously featuring Julia Violet as Sheila, Olivia Valianti, Emma Bergman, Amelia Kirshon, and Cate Healey in I Believe Love.  He’s in love with her and she’s in love with him and he’s in love with someone else.  Sally Aston Forrest’s funky and flowing choreography is at its best for the psychedelic Walking in Space enhanced by Dean Palmer Jr’s florescent lighting.

From beads to fringe to bell bottoms to slick 60s sunglasses to multi-pattered and flowing garments, costume designer Hannah Schuurman with set designer Ryan Barrow creates that groovy 60’s vibe featuring an embellished 60s theme truck, beaded passageways, and oriental rugs lining the stage.

Company Theatre’s rock musical Hair shows an era where people are anxious about the future and wondering where their destiny lies.  It does not stray too far from today’s struggles, but peace, love, and happiness are not a thing of the past.  Depicted by this young cast in a powerful, emotionally-charged rendition of Let the Sunshine In, perhaps the most important thing is holding onto each other.

Company Theatre’s ‘Hair’ Berger leader of the Tribe portrayed by Nolan Donato of Scituate and Sheila the protest leader portrayed by Julia Violet of Norwell Photo courtesy of Zoe Bradford/Company Theatre.jpeg

Company Theatre continues the 1960’s rock musical Hair through August 21 live and in person at the Company Theatre, 130 Accord Park Drive in Norwell, Massachusetts.  This show has mature themes and not appropriate for children.  Click here for more information and for tickets.

REVIEW: Boston Lyric Opera’s boxing opera ‘Champion’ a triumph in jazz

The brutal world of boxing punctuated with the complex harmonies of jazz set to simmering opera?  This premise might seem outlandish, but Terence Blanchard’s Champion An Opera in Jazz cleverly weaves these three elements together into an absorbing true story and cautionary tale of a welterweight boxer and a symbolic shoe that gains more significance than anything that takes place in the ring.

Boston Lyric Opera presented ‘Champion An Opera in Jazz’ Photo courtesy of Boston Lyric Opera

Boston Lyric Opera (BLO) presented their final show of the season, Terence Blanchard’s Champion An Opera in Jazz, for one weekend only through Sunday, May 22 at the elegant Emerson Cutler Majestic Theatre in Boston, Massachusetts.  It is a shame this captivating production was limited to two exclusive concert-style performances in Boston, but it could not be helped due to COVID.   Champion An Opera in Jazz has adult themes with one intermission.  Click here for more information about the Boston Lyric Opera, upcoming events, and for details on BLO’s recently announced upcoming season. 

Boston Lyric Opera 2022-23 season Photo credit to Boston Lyric Opera

As the chorus took up the boxes in the balcony to produce a resonant, semi-surround sound quality led by Brett Hodgdon, the orchestra warmed up and played onstage for the duration of the performance.  With creatively engaging stage direction by Timothy Douglas, the intense drama and interaction within the strong cast far exceeded my expectations as concert versions of a work often focus more on music than plot.  In a packed house, Blanchard leaves much to unpack in this show’s more than two hour time frame. 

Brian Major as Emile Griffith Photo by David Angus/BLO

This introspective tale explores the complex relationships, trauma, abuse, neglect, and harrowing circumstances in welterweight boxer Emile Griffith’s life.  However, what really affected me the most was just as Emilie Griffith discovers who he is and who he wants to become, he endures constant pressure and insistence from others to be the version they see in him.  Griffith had the talent and ambition to craft his own vision, but his destiny ultimately takes a detour.

Musically-directed by David Angus, Champion is helmed by an insightful and fierce cast that eloquently evoke Michael Cristofer’s multi-layered libretto.  Champion has plenty of heart and heartache, but also has a redemptive quality and joy in life’s smaller victories.  Three versions of Emile Griffith portrayed by Brian Major as older Griffith, Markel Reed as younger Griffith, and Jonathan Harris as Little Emile Griffith each deliver a fresh perspective at pivotal points in Griffith’s life.  With uplifting and humorous commentary at times to lighten the production’s darker moments, ring announcer Matthew Arnold serves fittingly as a semi-narrator of this work.

MARKEL REED, TERRENCE CHIN-LOY, AND BRIAN MAJOR IN BLO’S 2022 PRODUCTION OF CHAMPION: AN OPERA IN JAZZ Photo by David Angus/BLO

A profound and engaging baritone, Major is heartrending and charismatic as he delves deep into Emile Griffith’s continuing and complex struggles.  Griffith has a lot to handle and it is touching to watch his sweet scenes with tenor Jesus Garcia as patient and grounded Luis.

Markel Reed delivers an exceptional portrayal as Young Emile Griffith.  Reed’s dynamic vocals blended with the sheer mastery of Griffith’s physical and psychological transformation from a wide-eyed, idealistic, and determined young man to an adult with eyes wide open to his future is a marvel to watch.  Jonathan Harris as adorable Little Emile Griffith makes a brief, yet significant mark in this story as well. 

Stylishly adorned in a floral dress and matching hat, Tichina Vaughn strikes a delicate balance of playfulness, detachment, and mournfulness as mysterious and headstrong Emelda Griffith.  This brilliant mezzo-soprano accomplishes a degree of sympathy for Emelda which is difficult to muster as Emelda struggles with her aching discontent, heartache, and constant need for greener pastures.

TICHINA VAUGHN AND CHABRELLE D. WILLIAMS IN BLO’S 2022 PRODUCTION OF CHAMPION: AN OPERA IN JAZZ Photo by David Angus/BLO

In a crisp blue suit, Wayne Tigges also brings some sympathy to tough-talking Howie Albert who has a skewed vision of Griffith, setting Griffith on an uncertain path.  Wayne’s multi-layered, rage-inducing aria of Killer Instinct is prevalent throughout the show and Wayne’s rendition particularly makes it memorable.  Tenor Terrance Chin-Loy as Benny ‘Kid’ Paret and soprano Chabrelle D. Williams as Sadie Donastrog Griffith both demonstrate their remarkable range in contrasting dual roles.

It was once difficult to imagine jazz as a boxing opera, but having heard the smooth, unpredictable, thrilling, and moody undertones as the music builds tension and urgency, I cannot imagine Champion An Opera in Jazz any other way.  Champion’s unconventional and stirring delivery is just what makes the show’s ubiquitous message ring true.

Champion An Opera in Jazz was Boston Lyric Opera’s final production of the season.  Click here for more information about the Boston Lyric Opera, upcoming events, and for details on BLO’s recently announced upcoming season. 

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: 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: With a double dose of vintage flair, Lyric Stage’s ‘Little Shop of Horrors’ will make audiences thirsty for more

This sad little flower shop on Skid Rowe holds a secret.

Tattered, lesser known movie posters such as ‘Mothra,’ ‘Planet of the Vampires,’ and ‘Attack of the Puppet People’ strewn fervently on brick, graffiti-covered walls provide just a hint of the zany, B-movie glory that opens Lyric Stage Company of Boston’s 45th season with retro sci-fi musical comedy, ‘Little Shop of Horrors’ continuing through Sunday, October 6 at Lyric Stage in Boston, Massachusetts.  Click here for more information and tickets.

From the inventive special effects to the fascinating, ‘blooming’ set,’ Lyric Stage makes two things abundantly clear:  Don’t feed the plants and everyone’s life should be narrated by a streetwise, Greek chorus.

‘Little Shop of Horrors,’ based on Jack Cullier’s 1932 story Green Thoughts, went on to become a cult classic, featuring actors such as Jack Nicholson, Bill Murray, Rick Moranis, Steve Martin, and John Candy stepping into its various film adaptations.  A remake is in the works as it marks its 60th anniversary in 2020.

It’s a seemingly simple tale about young love on Skid Rowe in a fledgling flower shop that houses a curious, unique breed of plant.  Some critics have compared it to the daring tone of the cult classic, ‘Rocky Horror Picture Show,’ but ‘Little Shop of Horrors’ offers a more subtle brand of campy charm.

Lyric Stage's Little Shop of Horrors Trio

From L to R: Pier Lamia Porter as Chiffon, Carla Martinez as Ronnette, and Lovely Hoffman as Crystal Photo credit to Mark S. Howard/Lyric Stage Company of Boston

Janie E Howland’s vivid, transformative set is remarkable right down to its carefully timed shop bell.  Not only does it pay homage to vintage films of its time, but ‘Little Shop of Horrors’ is packed with 50s and 60s references such as ‘I Love Lucy,’ Howdy Doody, Donna Reed, and Betty Crocker.

Before going any further, let’s start with that Greek Chorus.  With few exceptions, the music, with lyrics by award-winning composer Alan Menken, have a catchy, rock n roll vibe including tunes that pay tribute to 60s girl groups.  From casual street garments to flashy glam, these three electrifying vocalists certainly know how to make an entrance.  Pier Lamia Porter as Chiffon, Lovely Hoffman as Crystal and Carla Martinez as Ronnette are a tough, humorous, and street-smart trio who unveil the real ins and outs of Skid Rowe through harmony, kicking it off with the catchy signature track, Little Shop of Horrors.

Lyric Stage Little Shop Remo Airaldi Dan Prior Katrina Z Pavao and Jeff Marcus

L to R: Remo Airaldi as Mr. Mushnik, Dan Prior as Seymour, Katrina Z Pavao as Audrey, and Jeff Marcus as a customer Photo credit to Mark S. Howard/Lyric Stage Company of Boston

The show has a gift for funny, ironic contrasts with a cast that has increasingly complicated motives.  Wearing black-rimmed glasses, a baseball cap, and fervently wiping his brow, Dan Prior gives real heart to Seymour, a sympathetic, yet conflicted botanist.  With an anxious demeanor and a light city accent, Prior emphasizes Seymour’s inherent, inescapable loneliness as he struggles to remain forthright and honest as the show progresses.  He shines in the darkly tender number Grow for Me and in his awkward adoration for trusting and frequently unlucky Audrey, portrayed wonderfully with plucky charm by Katrina Z Pavao.  In a particularly comical moment, Seymour hopes to take Audrey to “a fancy dinner at Howard Johnson’s.”

Pavao’s lovely soprano vocals carry a lullaby or a soulful belt with equal skill.  She shares her simple, 50s domestic dreams in a funny and tender rendition of Somewhere That’s Green and with Seymour in a powerful rendition of Suddenly Seymour.

Lyric Stage 'Little Shop of Horrors' Dan Prior as Seymour and Remo Airaldi as Mr Mushnik

Dan Prior as Seymour and Remo Airaldi as Mr. Mushnik Photo credit to Mark S. Howard/Lyric Stage Company of Boston

Disheveled and desperate in an old cardigan, Remo Airaldi takes on the role of frustrated flower shop owner, Mr. Mushnik.  Having delivered a deliciously dark comedic turn as Ben in Lyric Stage’s ‘The Little Foxes,’ Airaldi once again delivers a dark and memorable performance.  He is especially clever with Dan Prior as Seymour for the manipulative and comical number, Mushnik and Son.

Lyric Stage's 'Little Shop of Horrors' Carla Martinez Pier Lamia Porter Lovely Hoffman and Jeff Marcus

From L to R: Carla Martinez as Ronnette, Pier Lamia Porter as Chiffon, Lovely Hoffman as Crystal, and Jeff Marcus as Orin Photo credit to Mark S. Howard/Lyric Stage Company of Boston

Jeff Marcus brings out his campy, satiric best in several roles including a no-holds-barred performance as Orin, a belligerent, narcissistic biker dentist punctuated with a howling, maniacal laugh.  Marcus and Prior are particularly fun to watch, playing well off each other in the number, Now (It’s Just the Gas). 

Lyric Stage's 'Little Shop of Horrors' Dan Prior as Seymour and Audrey II

Dan Prior as Seymour and Yewande Odetoyinbo as Audrey II Photo credit to Mark S. Howard/Lyric Stage Company of Boston

However, the real spectacle is  Audrey II, the sly, soulful plant that changes everything.  With versatile and grimly wise vocals by Yewande Odetoyinbo, inventively manipulated by Tim Hoover, and skillfully designed by Cameron McEachern, Audrey II is a comical, extraordinary specimen right down to her bright colors and shiny, dangling teeth.  Audrey II is handled in such an innovative, natural, and majestic way, the results are truly mesmerizing.

Directed and choreographed by Rachel Bertone, Lyric Stage’s ‘Little Shop of Horrors’ continues through October 6 at the Lyric Stage Company of Boston, 140 Clarendon Street in Boston, Massachusetts.  Click here for more information and tickets and here for what is coming up during Lyric Stage’s 45th season.

REVIEW: Hingham Civic Music Theatre’s ‘Sweet Charity’ has fun, laughs, and the right moves

She’s just a girl in love with love.  Swipe right for the Tony award-winning, romantic musical dramedy instilled with a dose of cynicism, Sweet Charity.  Unforeseen high jinks and adventures find Charity as she makes her way through what can be a harsh reality.  Before Julia Roberts stepped onto the L.A. streets in the popular film, Pretty Woman, Charity wondered Central Park.  Both have a heart of gold.

With music by Cy Coleman, lyrics by Dorothy Fields, book by Neil Simon, and directed by Nathan Fogg, Hingham Civic Music Theatre (HCMT) continues Sweet Charity through Sunday, May 5 at the Sanborn Auditorium in Hingham, Massachusetts.  This show is for mature audiences and not for young children.  Click here for more information and tickets.

HCMT's 'Sweet Charity' - tap dance

Emilee Leahy as Charity Photo courtesy of Hingham Civic Music Theatre

Sweet Charity is one of those rare opportunities to witness a collaboration featuring theatrical icons playwright Neil Simon and director and choreographer Bob Fosse.  Oh yes, and Fosse’s then wife, muse, and dance dynamo Gwen Verdon starred in the musical’s stage debut in the 60s.

Bob Fosse and Gwen Verdon’s influence is still as lively as ever as FX continues Fosse/Verdon, a biographical miniseries starring Sam Rockwell as Bob Fosse and Michelle Williams as Gwen Verdon.  Coincidentally, Fosse/Verdon also covers in part the making of Sweet Charity.  Fosse Fever has certainly been evident on the South Shore of Massachusetts as two adaptations of Chicago recently took the stage in close succession.

Perhaps it’s the Neil Simon influence, but Sweet Charity seems to tread on the lighter side of Fosse’s popular works.  It has its edgy moments and not for everyone, but Sweet Charity depends much more on humor than darkness.  Though Pretty Woman might be a beloved, yet formulaic tale, Sweet Charity is less predictable and not a by-the-numbers romantic comedy.  The costumes, by Kathryn Ridder and company, are fitted and flashy and the dialogue is snappy and at times, charming.  At one point, Emilee Leahy as Charity sings, “You’re so strong, you have muscles you don’t need.”

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After portraying resourceful criminal Velma Kelly in Massasoit Theatre Company’s production of Chicago,  Emilee Leahy delivers a breezier performance as coy yet sweet, aware and yet sometimes naïve, hopeful and pensive Charity Hope Valentine.  Charity can be a poor judge of character, but Leahy’s Charity proves to be worth rooting for.  She has a pliable vocal range and is certainly light on her feet as she slips into a spontaneous tap routine featuring the famous number, If They Could See Me Now, decked out with a signature Fosse top hat and cane.

Speaking of dance, Sweet Charity offers an array of Fosse-inspired dance sequences, tinged with retro flair.  Choreographer Samantha-Brior Jones, Music Director Sandee Brayton, and Dance Captain Mary Donahue turn up the heat with sharp and distinctive choreography as the Fan-dango Ballroom dancers perform a fierce, steamy, and hip shaking Hey Big Spender.  The sweeping, sophisticated, 60s-inspired Rich Man’s Frug featuring Pompeii Club dancers in all-black has a classic vibe to it while Rhythm of Life is an outrageous, seemingly spiritual journey.

HCMT Sweet Charity - The girls

Kristen Annese as Nickie and Pompeii Club dancers Photo courtesy of Hingham Civic Music Theatre

The characters that Charity encounter seem a bit melodramatic, showing it doesn’t take itself too seriously.  With great New York accents, Kristen Annese as Nickie and Lindsay Warwick as Helene are a plucky, street smart comedy duo.  Their rendition of Baby Dream Your Dream has a lot of reassuring sass and they share playful, if at times mildly-snarky camaraderie with Charity.

Leah Shiels as Ursula and Rob Buckel-Gillis as Vittorio make an exotic celebrity pair, decked out in shimmering attire.   Buckel-Gillis delivers a beautiful rendition of Too Many Tomorrows.  Tony Light is comical as Oscar, a panicked claustrophobic.   Shirtless and in suspenders, Rylan Vachon delivers a wildly energetic, off-the-wall performance as zany preacher Daddy Brubeck.  Mike Warner as Herman also delivers some laughs, but keep an eye on his T-shirts.  Trust me.

Hingham Civic Music Theatre offers two remaining performances of Sweet Charity on Saturday, May 4 and a Sunday matinee on May 5 at the Sanborn Auditorium in Hingham Town Hall, 210 Central Street in Hingham, Massachusetts.  Click here for more information and for tickets.  Tickets are also available at the door.  Be sure to follow Hingham Civic Music Theatre on Facebook and click here to learn how to support HCMT’s upcoming productions.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

REVIEW: Presented by Celebrity Series of Boston, Mark Morris Dance Group’s ‘Pepperland’ a psychedelic, humorous, and visually-compelling Beatles tribute

It was a packed house and a long line outside of the Boch Shubert Theatre in Boston on a cold Sunday afternoon on February 10 to witness Mark Morris Dance Group’s Pepperland, a humorous and visually-captivating tribute to the 50th anniversary of the Beatles lauded album, Sgt Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band.  Having made its debut in Liverpool in May 2017, Celebrity Series of Boston presented this distinct musical celebration for three performances only from February 8-10.  The show was approximately an hour with no intermission.  Click here to see where Pepperland will be next,  here for more information about the Celebrity Series of Boston and their upcoming performances, and here for more on the Mark Morris Dance Group.

From depicting the Beatles rampant popularity to a psychedelic journey to enlightenment to the lonely journey of finding love, Mark Morris Dance Group offered a fresh take of this beloved Beatles album through Ethan Iverson’s  original compositions.  Often instrumental, Pepperland is partially sung and narrated, highlighting some of the Beatles most popular and insightful lyrics.

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‘Pepperland’ performance in Seattle. Images by Mat Hayward/Celebrity Series of Boston

Renowned costume designer Elizabeth Kurtzman’s brilliant color schemes such as mesmerizing black and white checkered suits and kaleidoscopic pleated dresses seamlessly blend with the crystallized multi-color backdrop, thanks to set designer Johan Henckens and lighting designer Nick Kolin.  This mix created an alluring flair.

Within these original orchestrations lie hints of some of the Beatles most popular songs.  A particular highlight was the song, Magna Carta, where dancers bring some of the celebrities featured on the album cover, Sgt Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band to life, like Marilyn Monroe and Laurel and Hardy, just by their signature poses.  Mark Morris Dance Group performed a nostalgic version of With a Little Help from my Friends, punctuated by peace signs and a simple, yet memorable wave.

Pepper land dress rehearsal and press night. Images by Gareth Jones

Pepper land dress rehearsal and press night in Liverpool. Images by Gareth Jones/Celebrity Series of Boston

The dancers’ somewhat trippy and complicated moves personify the essence of the album while also providing a new vision.  Dancing in brightly colored socks, they performed a blend of classic and contemporary moves as they bent into a complex slant and defied gravity as they leaned back into each other.  In bright, bold colors, they formed clever dance combinations spinning in pairs, purposefully out of sync.

Their interpretive, ensemble dance of A Day in the Life was another particular standout, telling their own tale.  Couples flourished and dancers were lifted through the crowd.  Also weaved into the songs were energetic dance moves reminiscent of the era.  During the song, Within You Without You, dancers lapsed into moments of loneliness as the Beatles reflected, “We were talking about the space between us all and the people who hold thousands behind us all.”

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‘Pepperland’ performance in Seattle Images by Mat Hayward/Celebrity Series of Boston

Book ending the show was the iconic title track, Sgt Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band.  The psychedelic, signature beat punctuated by a captivating and unique march kicked off and ended a journey that featured moments of joy, beauty, and individuality as they paid tribute to one of the most brilliant bands of all time.

Click here to see where Pepperland will be next.  Celebrity Series of Boston offers a dynamic roster featuring the annual Stave Sessions, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre, What Makes it Great with NPR’s Rob Kapilow, and much more.  Click here for more information and for tickets. Tickets can also be obtained at the Celebrity Series of Boston’s box office.  Follow Celebrity Series of Boston on FacebookTwitter, and Instagram.

 

 

 

 

 

 

REVIEW: Lexus Broadway in Boston’s ‘Beautiful: The Carole King Musical’ some kind of wonderful triumph

Triumph she does.  Carole King, one of the most successful songwriters of the latter part of the 20th century, had talent from the first time she walked in the studio at age 16.  This is not the average biopic where the protagonist has to overcome some sort of terrible tragedy or failure, but a woman on the move from the very start.

Boasting a library of hits before Carole even considers taking the stage to perform her own music, this show brings on the nostalgia of passing generations from the chic retro clothes to the distinctive music style.  It is a sweeping musical from a songwriter’s perspective with few low notes and anyway, why not pack a show with hits and a lighter story that just might leave you smiling?

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Sarah Bockel as Carole King Photo credit to Lexus Broadway in Boston

Lexus Broadway in Boston concluded Beautiful:  The Carole King Musical‘s run on Sunday, February 10.  Beautiful:  The Carole King Musical recently celebrated five years on Broadway.  Click here to see where this captivating show will be next.  Click here more on Broadway in Boston’s stellar season.

From the moment Carole makes contact with that baby grand piano for a lively rendition of I Feel the Earth Move, impressive, rolling sets transport her into her Brooklyn home where she first started writing.  Portrayed by Elise Vannerson throughout the show, Carole is introspective yet dreamy, seemingly more than ready for her life to take off.  Vannerson captures the essence of her ambition, shyness, and tenacity.  Her soaring vocals is an impressive tribute to Carole’s trademark voice.   Suzanne Grodner portrays Genie Klein, Carole King’s mother, with humorous, cynical sass and sensibility as she cuts Carole a deal.

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The Drifters: Darius Delk, Dimitri Joseph Moise, Deon Releford-Lee, and Nathan Andrew Riley Photo credit to Lexus Broadway in Boston

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The Shirelles:  Harper Miles, DeAnne Stewart, Danielle J. Summons, and Alexis Tidwell  Photo credit to Lexus Broadway in Boston

Dominating this tale is some of the most popular music of the 20th century and Beautiful offers a peek into how some of these songs hit the charts.  A rollicking mix of hits including There Goes My Baby and Yakety Yak encompasses the sensational 1650 Broadway Medley as a glittering display of guitars, scripts, music sheets, and sound systems hang in the background.  From shimmering gowns to some of the era’s most popular, colorful fashion trends, Allejo Vietti’s costume design blends perfectly with Joyce Chittick’s lively choreography, a compelling spectrum of classic dance moves and crazes of each era.  It’s an era so influenced by Carole King’s songwriting and that of her peers.

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From Left to right: James Clow as Don Kirshner, Dylan S. Wallach as Gerry Goffin, Sarah Bockel as Carole King, Jacob Heimer as Barry Mann, and Alison Whitehurst as Cythia Weil Photo credit to Lexus Broadway in Boston

Beautiful:  The Carole King Musical is full of moments of light humor and endearing chemistry among the cast.  With smooth, pliable vocals, Dylan S. Wallach portrays idealistic, sharp, and a bit macho Gerry Goffin.  He and Elise Vannerson as Carole have charming chemistry and moments of cute awkwardness.  They complement each other and their duets are particularly memorable.  Alison Whitehurst as confident and driven Cynthia Weil and Jacob Heimer as hypochondriac Barry Mann make a fascinating comic duo.   James Clow is also impressive as warm, inventive, and open minded Don Kirshner, who always knows talent when he sees it.

Click here to see where Beautiful:  The Carole King Musical will be next.  Lexus Broadway in Boston’s upcoming performances include A Bronx Tale, Hello Dolly, Dear Evan Hanson, as well as the return of The Illusionists, Miss Saigon, Les Miserables.  Click here for a closer look at their season and follow them on Facebook and Twitter.

 

 

 

Mark Morris Dance Group’s costume designer Elizabeth Kurtzman talks vibrant inspiration behind Beatles show, ‘Pepperland’

According to Rolling Stone, The Beatles hit album Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band ranked #1 of The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time in 2003.  Not only is this groundbreaking album visually compelling, but songs on the album such as Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds, With a Little Help from My Friends, Penny Lane, When I’m Sixty-Four, and the album’s popular title track are considered rock and roll classics.

What is it like to bring that album to life in vibrant color in its 50th anniversary year?  New York costume designer Elizabeth Kurtzman talks about what it was like to bring Mark Morris Group, Pepperland to the stage.  Celebrity Series of Boston presents Mark Morris Dance Group’s Pepperland, a tribute to Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, to the Boch Center Shubert Theatre in Boston February 8-10.  Click here for more information and for tickets.

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‘Pepperland’ performance in Seattle. Images by Mat Hayward/Celebrity Series of Boston

Sleepless Critic:  It must be exciting to portray the essence of this classic Beatles album, Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band in its 50th anniversary year.  Please tell me what your initial thoughts were in taking on this project.

Elizabeth Kurtzman:  I read the email inviting me to work on a project that involved music by the Beatles. I thought I was dreaming and was really intrigued.  Mark Morris and the Beatles are two of my favorite things.  I could not imagine how it would all look and sound. I knew it would not be by-the-book –Beatles and it had to be turned around pretty quickly.

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‘Pepperland’ performance in Seattle. Images by Mat Hayward/Celebrity Series of Boston

The 60s brought rapidly changing style. There is a lot of information in the years the Beatles made all that music, so there were a lot of possibilities.

SC:  You have worked with the Mark Morris Dance Group numerous times.  How was this project a unique experience for you and what do you like most about working with them? I know it might have been a challenge to tie in a contemporary feel to such an iconic time period.

EK:  They look great in these clothes/costumes and wish the guys wore these suits all the time.  They are a dream and it isn’t easy to dance in layers made out of corduroy.

Some of Mark’s pieces require more research than others. I spent hours looking up fashion and color from 1960-69. Mark was not interested in dressing the dancers in satin and feathers a la the album cover. It was more about trying to send the message of the early sixties. Simple shapes, but those shapes looked new, fresh, and young. Colored tights were so futuristic and men’s suits got smaller and cuter. I was a kid mid-sixties, but was completely mesmerized by those clothes.

Color was just as important as shape. Colors were new, synthetic fabrics made bolder, brighter fabrics available. The color palette was loosely based on a photo of a mural painted on a corner on Carnaby Street in London.

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‘Pepperland’ performance in Seattle Images by Mat Hayward/Celebrity Series of Boston

SC:  Songs like With A Little Help From My Friends, When I’m Sixty-Four, and the title track are just a few of the songs portrayed visually onstage.  What was that process like and can you offer a hint of the vibe audiences can expect when they see the show?

EK:  I think the show is about the energy of the time which offers a lot of happiness with a little melancholy thrown in.

SC:  From what I have seen of your work, you seem to add a vibrant personality to the performers that take the stage.  The colors and designs really pop.

The dancers are so game and energetic, the color and design only enhance their skill.  I love working with fabric and color and am fortunate to be able to attend rehearsals, which is where I get to see the personality of the dance and how the dancers move.

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‘Pepperland’ performance in Seattle. Images by Mat Hayward/Celebrity Series of Boston

 SC:  What has been the most challenging work you have done in New York or otherwise?

EK:  I can’t say there is one thing I’ve worked on that stands out as most challenging. There are always a few little challenges, but always a way to overcome them. It is more challenging working with small theatre companies that have tiny budgets and lots of costume changes or working with opera singers who hate the way they look in any and everything.  The biggest challenge is sewing it myself.

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‘Pepperland’ performance in Liverpool Images by Robbie Jack/Celebrity Series of Boston

SC:  You also provide art and music for programs for children in New York City.  Please tell me more about that and how you got involved.

Several years ago, I was involved with the Children’s Museum of the Arts downtown. I was determined to get kids to design and repurpose their clothes. Most of the adults I know do not know how to sew on a button.

I helped put together a program for children on the autism spectrum and their families that provided a place for making great art and music.  I also spent many hours designing and making costumes for the theatre department at my daughter’s high school who graduated in 2017.

Celebrity Series of Boston presents Mark Morris Group, Pepperland, at the Boch Center Shubert Theatre in Boston from February 8-10.  Click here for more information and for tickets. Tickets can also be obtained at the Celebrity Series of Boston’s box office.  Follow Celebrity Series of Boston on FacebookTwitter, and Instagram.

Acclaimed producer Sue Gilad talks Tony nominations, girl power, and heartwarming musical, ‘A Taste of Things to Come’

From the award-winning Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812 to Angels in America, renowned theatre producer Suzanne Gilad has an eye for the next big show.  Boasting an array of memorable tunes, Sue’s current musical project, A Taste of Things to Come, has been described as Jersey Boys meets Betty Crocker meets the 60s feminist movement.  It takes the stage at Chicago’s Broadway Playhouse through April 29.

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Photo courtesy of Broadway in Chicago

Sue discusses getting Tony nominations, bringing A Taste of Things to Come to Chicago, and Turtle Wax.  Click here for more information and tickets to A Taste of Things to Come.

Sleepless Critic:  You are involved in a number of well known projects such as Angels in America, Madame Butterfly, Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812, and upcoming project, The Other Josh Cohen.  What first brought you into the theatre world?

Sue Gilad:  I was a performer a long time ago and then started doing voice overs, which took me down a completely separate and fun path.  A few years ago, a friend created a show and asked me if I would help shape it.  I discovered being a producer meant that I could be responsible and still have a life. We get to be creative in terms of what kinds of work we bring to the public to see and hopefully open their minds and hearts.  It made sense and there are still relatively few female producers in the business, although that is changing.  There is a lot of growth for that.

I would jump Broadway projects as a co-producer and that is what is happening with the recently opened Angels in America.  People ask me if they can meet Andrew Garfield who delivers a tremendous and transformative performance in the show.  I’ve never seen him like that.

SC:  What was it like for you when Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812 got multiple Tony nominations?

SG:  It was such a big honor that the show received the most Tony nominations of any show last year.  The best part about getting the nominations was The Great Comet was a big creative risk.  I don’t think anyone thought it was going to be on Broadway with its tiny stage and cast.  When it was at the American Repertory Theatre (A.R.T) in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Diane Paulus wanted to take the show which was in the round and remount it into proscenium theatre.  She did to great acclaim and it became an immersive production, unlike anything Broadway has ever seen before.

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Libby Servais (Broadway: Wicked, Lysistrata Jones), Cortney Wolfson (Broadway: The Addams Family, Les Miserables) Broadway’s Linedy Genao (On Your Feet! Original Broadway Cast), Marissa Rosen (Off-Broadway’s The Marvelous Wonderettes) Photo courtesy of Broadway in Chicago

 

SC:  A Taste of Things to Come has an all female crew.  Was it planned that way?

SG:  Dare I say that the women were the most qualified for the job?  A Taste of Things to Come, written by Hollye Levin and Debra Barsha, is based on Hollye’s experience of her mom and a part of it tells the story of the life her mom had growing up.  Then director Lorin Latarro came onboard when the show debuted at Bucks County Playhouse in Pennsylvania.  Everybody loved her and she brings tremendous things to the show.

The show features four women that age from age 25 in 1957 to age 35 in 1967.  Everything blows open in the beginning of Act 2 when they are 10 years older and wiser with more opportunities for women and delicious secrets about race, religion, and sexuality which is not something you really talked about in the 1950s.  By the 1960s, there was a real space for it.  You get to see these women’s journeys during an incredible moment in history.

SC:  What was it about A Taste of Things to Come that grabbed your attention?

SG:  I saw a rehearsal or reading of this show and loved it.  It gave me the opportunity to articulate my gratitude to the generation before me that broke through so many glass ceilings I didn’t even know existed.

Women of that generation either didn’t work or they became teachers and nurses so my generation can become doctors and superintendents.  Then my kids’ generation can do whatever they want for work or nothing for work.  It’s just extraordinary and gave me a window into the past.  I can share it with my mom and, if I wanted to, bring my teenage daughters to it.  It’s a celebration of friendship, solidarity, and kind of interestingly timed with the advent of the ‘me too’ and ‘times up’ movement that women in their time also had to take a stance for things that were beyond their comfort zone or what was socially acceptable at the time.

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The cast of ‘A Taste of Things to Come’ Photo courtesy of Broadway in Chicago

SC:  The New York Times has described A Taste of Things to Come as ‘a recipe for catchy musical theatre.’  Please tell me a little about the music and your favorite songs.

SG:  Composer Debra Barsha worked on Jersey Boys on Broadway for ten years so it starts out with the popular tunes of the 1950s.  Ten years later, things become a lot groovier and it had a really distinctive 60s sound.  My favorite song has been shifting as I get to know it better, but today I love the song, Blessings in Disguise.  It’s a testament to the things we think will challenge us which are actually the things that make us stronger and give us unexpected gifts.  My other favorite song is In Time, the final song of the show.  The entire cast sings it and they look back at what they have been through together as individuals and as a group of friends.  The best things happen in time.

SC:  What has it been like putting the show together?

Since the show is set in Winnetka, A Taste of Things to Come is making its home in Chicago.  It’s been fun listening to the audio discs during previews because of the way the audience giggles with any Winnetka or Chicago reference.  We were very lucky to get New York Broadway actresses but we also have an understudy that can swing all four roles.  Madison Kauffman is a Chicago native who just graduated from college.  She came in for the first day of rehearsal completely off book for all four roles.  Her level of excitement and passion is so thrilling.

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The cast of ‘A Taste of Things to Come’ Photo courtesy of Broadway in Chicago

SC:  What kind of support is the show looking for?

SG:  We have a great sponsor based out of Chicago called Turtle Wax.  It is in the script because it was wax that men were using in 1957 for their cars.  We would be open for Chicago-based companies to sponsor the show because we do have a wonderful, primarily female, well-educated audience.

SC:  What is in store for the future of the show?

SG:  We have wonderful theatres interested in having the show at their theatre so we might take the show on tour.  Then we’re hoping to get it licensed so every school, regional theatre, community, and worldwide theatre can perform it and share the victories of womanhood.

A Taste of Things to Come continues at the Broadway Playhouse in Chicago through April 29.  Click here for more information and for tickets.  Follow A Taste of Things to Come on Facebook and Twitter.

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