REVIEW: Fueled by a nostalgic rock soundtrack and a charismatic storyteller, Merrimack Repertory Theatre’s ‘Wild Horses’ a lively and momentous tale

Nothing brings back memories quite like a song.

The power of music is in full force in Merrimack Repertory Theatre’s (MRT) production of Alison Gregory’s Wild Horses streaming on demand through Sunday, October 17.  Merrimack Repertory Theatre previously offered the production in person from September 15 through October 3 at Western Avenue Studios in Lowell, Massachusetts.  The show contains mature language and some adult themes. Click here for more information and tickets to this virtual performance.

Directed with heart and humor by Courtney Sale, Wild Horses delves into the life of the mother of a teenage daughter, portrayed with a blend of lively charm and excitable nervousness by Leenya Rideout, as she gets wrapped up recalling her story of a special California summer during her 13th year in the 70s while onstage at an open mic night.  Rideout evokes a sense of adventure during this musically-fueled Moth Radio Hour featuring lyrics from 70s greats Rolling Stones, Heart, Van Morrison, America, and more.

Having delivered a likable performance in the 2020 indie film, Love, Repeat, Rideout further showcases her dynamic range in this meatier Wild Horses role with a humorous, heartfelt and sometimes raunchy performance.  See what Sleepless Critic had to say about Rideout in Love, Repeat here

With a love for music almost as much as horses, Rideout sings, strums an acoustic guitar, and proves an energetic and engaging storyteller sharing her experiences from a studious perfectionist to a teenager not afraid to break a few rules with the encouragement from her daring friends.   With no shortage of excitement, scandal, humor, and heartache, Rideout’s onstage demeanor switches from responsible mother in need of a night out to wide eyed, youthful innocent with all the angst that goes with it.  She blends what she remembers with her current wisdom, dwelling in the sacredness of youth. Ranging from teenage pranks to rites of passage, Rideout recalls these stories with wistfulness and passion, interacting with the audience like old friends.

Costume designer A. Lee Viliesis has Rideout ready to rock in an animal print scarf, Fender T Shirt, and ripped jeans and accompanied by guitarist Rafael Molina, she slips right into this adolescent spirit longing to be wild and free.  All that is necessary is a little courage.

Here’s to the ‘freedom takers’ with Merrimack Repertory’s production of Wild Horses continues streaming through Sunday, October 17.  Click here for more information and to get a closer look on MRT’s new season.

Company Theatre’s Director of Development Michael Hammond discusses returning to indoor theatre and the power of positivity to conquer your next audition

Michael Hammond may change the way you look at life.  Are you afraid of the audition?  He’ll show you a way to succeed.  Having a bad day?  He’ll show you a way to lift your spirits.  As the new Director of Development at the Company Theatre, a role he calls a lifelong dream, his positivity may help others the way Company Theatre has helped him since childhood. 

The Company Theatre, located at 30 Accord Park Drive in Norwell, Massachusetts, joyously held their first indoor production since their absorbing musical, Fun Home early last year.  Rock of Ages was an edgy and energetic rock jukebox musical that took place last month.  See Rock of Ages review here and click here for Sleepless Critic’s full podcast.

Sleepless Critic:  Please tell me what it was like to be back in the indoor setting for Rock of Ages

Michael Hammond: It’s so fantastic.  It’s emotional, exciting, and the energy in the air was just electric.  You were there.  You saw it.  People were cheering and screaming.

The show starts with Sally Forrest’s voice doing her standard announcement which we are all accustomed to hearing.  It was such a welcome back and to hear her voice and I think people cheered over her entire announcement.  Just to be back inside, hear that familiar voice, and to know we’re about to see a really fun and exciting show was just great.

SC:  I know this was the opening weekend for indoor theatre, but you did have some outdoor theatre experiences like Avenue Q before this show. 

MH:  Avenue Q was incredible.  The kids were so talented.  Their commitment to what they were doing and their characters were dynamic.  It was Broadway-type quality coming out of these kids on the outdoor stage of the Company Theatre out back.  We have had other things like Divas with a Twist and Donny Norton’s band, The New Band there.  That’s been a really nice addition to the Company Theatre as well as now being back inside.

SC:  So getting back to Rock of Ages, you had your opening weekend and you felt like everything went as smooth as can be?

MH:  Absolutely!  So many new people in this show and as is typical of the Company Theatre, they are already saying this is my new home.  It’s this overwhelming feeling that you’re home and you found your family at the Company Theatre even if you did one show and you never come back, it still feels that way.  I’ve been involved since I was 19 years old. 

Shane Hennessey as Stacee Jaxx Photo courtesy of Zoe Bradford/Company Theatre

SC:  I was going to say that you are familiar with that feeling.

MH:  I’m very familiar with that feeling.  I don’t know what my life would have been like without Company Theatre.  I would have taken a completely different path. 

SC:  It’s hard to replicate the kind of friendly and welcoming atmosphere you have when you’re in theatre.

MH:  Absolutely!  Such a nice group of people too that do theatre especially the teens.  They just stay out of trouble.  They have a common goal they are working towards and they enjoy each other’s company and make lifelong friendships.  I can’t say enough about it.

I’ve just seen so many kids, even this summer just come through the doors and they leave just completely changed and confident and more themselves.  It’s just a beautiful thing to witness.

SC:  When you said you had been with Company Theatre pretty much your whole life, you said it was a lifelong dream to do something like this as the Director of Development now.  I’m really excited for you.

MH:  Thank you!  Like a lot of people during the pandemic, you start to question ‘Am I doing what I want with my life?  Is this fulfilling and rewarding?’  Like many people, I came to the conclusion that what I was doing was not for me anymore. 

It had run its course and I needed something new and Jordie Saucerman, one of the founding partners of the Company Theatre, had passed away and that really accelerated my thought process because her wake was attended by so many people.  I thought ‘Look at all the lives that she touched.’  The impact that Jordie had on people is immeasurable.  Even if I make just a little sliver of that impact on people, I would feel great about my life.  That set the wheels turning. 

I approached Zoe one day and said, ‘I will be your janitor.  I basically don’t care what you have me do, if there is a spot for me here, I am coming.’  That seed was planted awhile ago and it sort of blossomed into Director of Development.  I’m so excited to try new things and just give back what I got from this theatre. 

SC:  Not only that, but you have a similar positive way about you like Jordie had.  Where do you get your positive outlook from?  Where do you draw it from considering I’ve also seen videos of you on social media?

I’m not attempting to fill Jordie’s shoes in any way.  That’s not a task that anyone could accomplish.  She is a unique individual who I feel is still around in the atmosphere and in the joy of the theatre.  If I’m upset or have a bad day, it makes me feel better to brighten someone else’s day.  That is such a nice feeling to buy someone in line a coffee or just compliment someone or encourage someone to do something they didn’t think they could do.  I live off of that.  If I am having the worst day of my life and I do something nice for somebody, I instantly feel recharged.  I think that’s how I basically go through life.

SC:  I hear that from a lot of comedians as well.  It makes them feel better to make someone else laugh even if they are upset or having issues.

MH:  I tried standup comedy once.  I did it more for the writing aspect, but I did perform.  It was an interesting experience because you come out onstage and you look at a sea of faces who want you to succeed because if you succeed, they have a fantastic time.  You have an overwhelming amount of support that you just want to hold onto and it was an incredible feeling.

SC:  What did you did before this that you wanted to walk away from and join the Company Theatre?

MH:  I was the station manager at a local cable television station.  I was so grateful because it was also a non-profit.  I probably learned so many skills that I could apply to this job I didn’t necessarily have before.  Just the behind the scenes stuff, the QuickBooks, the budgets, and managing a non-profit was extremely helpful and then also applying my video experience to the job as well.  Filming and creating events and learning special effects. 

So all of that which at the time was a perfect job for me, but nine years later I felt like I needed a change and so I am going to apply what I learned there and bring it to the Company Theatre.  We can offer acting for camera classes and improv for camera classes. 

I’ve been on auditions and in commercials.  We want to provide those skills to kids who like to act and be on camera.  We want them to be able to go into an audition and know how to slay what they are going to be asked to do and be prepared for anything.

I actually started with a class over the summer.  Some of the kids were auditioning so they got immediate training for those auditions. When they came back, they would tell the other students that they did just what Michael showed us.  I asked if they felt more prepared.  Did you do a better job with the audition?  Their faces lit up and they said, ‘Absolutely!’  That was a nice thing.

We want to get in touch with the local casting agencies which we already have a good relationship.  We want to create a talent database where you can see video auditions and we can send those out so we kind of want to be a bridge between the local movie and theatre scene.  We’ll provide students with the training.  They’ll have the skills to go out and nail professional auditions and maybe get cast in movies and commercials.  We just really want everyone to have new and exciting opportunities to excel in a career in film and theatre if that is something that they are interested in. 

‘Ragtime’ (L to R) Barbara Baumgarten, Cristian Sack, Hilary Goodnow, Brenna Kenney, Finn Clougherty, Jillian Griffin, with Hannah Dwyer as Little Girl and Michael Hammond as Tateh Photo courtesy of Zoe Bradford/Company Theatre

SC:  Let’s face it – the audition process is the most nerve-wracking and hardest part I think to convey right off the bat because in your head, you are saying,’ I know what I can do for you’ but then you get up there and it is not exactly what you picture. 

MH:  Having directed before, people come in and they are nervous. The reality is the casting company is nervous and they have roles to fill.  So, the second you come in, put them at ease, and they know they have options, they feel better.  I always say in my mind when I got into an audition, ‘Here I am!  You can relax.  I am going to be that person you need.’  I think it’s an interesting way to keep yourself calm to think I am exactly what you need instead of I hope I’m what you need.

SC:  I never really thought of it like that.

MH:  Think about it.  You have a reputation.  You have a project.  You want to cast the right people because that makes you look good as well.  If you find the right people not only are you confident about the project, but it brings excitement. 

When I direct a show, I’m not very excited about it until I know who is in it and then I can tailor their performances to their talents. It is such a thrill to watch people blossom. 

Please tell me about the projects you are working on now and upcoming projects.

I don’t think I’ll be directing anything for a little bit.  I’ll probably take on some projects here and there.  I definitely can’t leave that part behind.  I’m really going to focus on the video classes.  I’ll be working with Christie Reading.  She is extremely talented with anything video related.  So, I will be teaming up with her teaching improv for camera, acting for camera, and getting people ready for auditions. 

I think it will be really exciting if we get someone cast in a major motion picture which has happened at Company Theatre.  Andrew Mackin was in Mystic River, Jonathan Togo is on CSI, Michael Morlani is the casting director for Disney.  There are a lot of success stories that come out of this theatre. 

We want to nurture and encourage that.  That is kind of my goal.  It’s to really push people to excel in any way that they can.

SC: You can’t forget about Boston Casting.  How convenient is that!  There are all kinds of films going on in the state.

MH: Exactly and literally a mile down the road they are making motion pictures.  So how can we not be a part of that?  They are working on the new Jon Hamm movie in Cohasset.  I know Angela at Boston Casting who is an incredible woman and I don’t know how she does everything she does, but with all those films going on, eventually they will run out of actors. 

We get casting notices all the time and I’m forwarding them off to everybody I know that I think fits.  For example, I sent a buddy of mine a notice yesterday.  They were looking for an actual butcher with acting experience and I happen to know a butcher with acting experience.  I’m thinking he might get it.

SC: I know. Some of the requirements are so wild.

MH: It’s so specific, but every once in a while I’ll say, ‘Wait a minute, that is me.’ 

Company Theatre is offering theatre classes in the fall. Click here for the full schedule and upcoming events.

REVIEW: Michael John Ciszewski’s ‘The Sun is Sleeping’ dwells in dreamlike introspection in 2020

To some, the sun is an adversary.  To fast-living insomniac Simon, portrayed by Michael John Ciszewski, the sun is sleeping just when he is waking up.  Michael John Ciszewski’s second solo project, The Sun is Sleeping, is a personal, contemplative piece though Simon wants to be anything but contemplative.  He’d rather escape than be alone in his thoughts and his isolation, always looking for a quick fix as he dreams, loves, and parties big.

Having seen Ciszewski in other projects such as Lyric Stage Company of Boston’s The Little Foxes and his latest Hub Theatre Company of Boston’s virtual Much Ado about Nothing, Ciszewski has a strength for portraying intense, multi-faceted characters and Simon is no exception.  Steeped in city views, sunsets, and the crack of dawn, The Sun is Sleeping is a beautifully shot, relatable journey during these difficult times. 

Michael John Ciszewski in ‘The Sun is Sleeping’ Photo credit to Michael John Ciszewski

Click here for more information and how to watch The Sun is Sleeping, a one hour avant-garde film.

The Sun is Sleeping is part confessional, part introspection, and part escape, featuring a myriad of mixed emotions as Simon and other characters face a pandemic.  As Simon fantasies about an eternally happy existence and doubt seeps in, the audience is privy to each character’s meandering perspectives in their sheer yearning to bond with other people in any way they can.

For the actors themselves facing an arts ‘intermission’ of this magnitude, it’s the thrill of the audience, lack of that type of expression, and entire way of life turned upside down that contributes to their unsettling uncertainty.  Pier Lamia Porter as Sam and Rachel Belleman as Caroline unite in a wistful zoom call that could speak to anyone right now.  It’s the longing and joy of being together.  Some of the show has a sense of humor, but much more of it is reflection showing we all have too much time on our hands and yet the sun still shines.

REVIEW: Reagle Music Theatre of Greater Boston captures virtual musical magic with ‘Entr’acte’

Like many of us, I miss theatre.

When not working on the next house project, the last few months have brought many opportunities as an avid television and film fan to stream from home.  From Knives Out to the Netflix hit, To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, settling into the living room has been convenient and strongly advised.

However, theatre belongs in a separate category.  It’s not only the buzz of anticipation from an exhilarated crowd as the lights dim, but live theatre begins a journey into a different world upon a unique and dynamic stage as I let the new setting settle into my psyche.   Whatever may come of theatre over the next months or year, a live venue and the slow murmur as the curtain goes up has become more valuable to me than it ever has before.

Theatre has survived everything in history from World Wars to disasters to pandemics.  It has transformed and overcome every obstacle it has faced.  This time will be no different.  Ah, but that glorious feeling.

In the meantime, virtual streaming broadcasts have made their way to center screen.  New content seems to be popping up every day from theatre to music groups that are hoping to keep things afloat and longing to perform for an audience – even if it is one they cannot hear or see.   Some are short, some are interactive, and some don’t translate well.  Virtual award shows have also popped up in the last few months.

Perhaps I’m feeling more nostalgic than usual because each summer, Reagle Music Theatre of Greater Boston sets the stage for a trio of summer musicals ranging from classic to contemporary.  This time last year, Sleepless Critic reviewed Reagle Music Theatre of Greater Boston’s musical classic, The Sound of Music.  It was a glorious production flanked with sprawling sets and an enchanting cast that left you humming the timeless soundtrack long after the show’s moving finale.  Click here for the full review.

Reagle Music Theatre The Sound of Music So Long, Farewell

Mark Linehan as Captain von Trapp, Aimee Doherty as Maria and the Von Trapp children

A few of The Sound of Music’s promising talent lent their voices to Reagle Music Theatre of Greater Boston’s live, theatrical fundraiser Entr’acte that premiered on Sunday, June 28 and is still available on Reagle’s website.   Hosted by Reagle veterans JT Turner and Mark Linehan and directed by Marisa Diamond, Reagle Music Theatre of Greater Boston lifted the virtual curtain and offered a glimpse of summer musical magic featuring a showcase of musical favorites, familiar local and renowned talent,  and some interactive fun while delving into Reagle’s rich history.

Reagle Music Theatre of Greater Boston La Cage aux Folles J.T. Turner as Georges

J.T. Turner as Georges Photo courtesy of Reagle Music Theatre of Greater Boston

Among the many highlights were Jennifer Ellis who reprised her award-winning role in My Fair Lady with a soaring, blissful rendition of I Could Have Danced All Night.  The Von Trapp children from The Sound of Music delivered their own number and youth performer Kimora Yancey delivered a powerful rendition of I Know Where I’ve Been from Hairspray. Pier Lamia Porter, who has been doing her own wonderful charity work for Covid 19, also shared her flourishing vocals for If I Loved You from Carousel, Reagle’s premiere musical in 1969.  Scott Wahle brought his usual charisma for Music Man’s 76 Trombones, Leigh Barrett reprised her role for It’s Today from Mame, and Dwayne Mitchell sang, I am What I Am from last year’s La Cage Aux Folles.  Found Robert Eagle also shared some of Reagle’s vivid history.

Reagle Music Theatre Entracte performers

Reagle Music Theatre of Greater Boston’s ‘Entr’acte’ performers Photo courtesy of Reagle Music Theatre of Greater Boston

Beloved musical duo Sarah Pfisterer and Rick Hilsabeck were among the many presenters that popped up during the musical benefit.

Reagle's Rick and Sarah

Rick Hilsabeck and Sarah Pfisterer Photo courtesy of Reagle Music Theatre of Greater Boston

Reagle Music Theatre recently celebrated its 50th season and Sleepless Critic has cheered their outstanding work for musicals over the years such as Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, La Cage Aux Folles, Wonderful Town, Me and My Girl, and their annual show, ChristmasTime, which has become a traditional favorite.  Without these musical productions though the summer season and the live shows they put on throughout the year, Reagle needs support in order to keep going.

Virtually, they are all singing to that man, woman, or child behind the computer screen, phone, or on television.  While this is flattering, it also makes me a bit sad.  I miss hearing them sing while I quietly sing along, upstaging my performance in every way.  How I have missed most steps in the dance…but can’t see their feet.

From the heart thumping 42nd Street to the cool cats in Guys and Dolls to Singin’ in the Rain to their annual, stunning production of ChristmasTime, their shows must simply go on and spark another 50 years.

Click here for more on Reagle Music Theatre of Greater Boston located at 617 Lexington Street in Waltham, Massachusetts.  Their virtual youth theatre workshops are happening now and their second workshop session will start on July 20.

 

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

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

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

Witches Bitches and Divas Oberon Cambridge

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

REVIEW: Multi-talented Hugh Jackman wows at the TD Garden

Is multi-talented Hugh Jackman better on film or onstage?

Is it worth seeing him when he comes back to Boston?  Is he the Greatest Showman?

One thing is certain – Hugh Jackman is the genuine article.

Some actors who decide to go on tour put on self-indulgent shows of their history in show business and share their general musings about life to promote their next album or film.  They might even sing a song or two.  However, outside the studio, they can’t really sing or dance.   People cheer, even if the show isn’t what they were expecting, but they remember that guy in that film or show who was so great in those roles, and that is enough.

Hugh is one talented guy.  He is a Tony, Emmy, and Grammy award-winner as well as a Golden Globe and Academy Award-nominee.  He has also been on the other side of acting as host of the Academy and Tony Awards.  For his 50th birthday, he wished to go on a world-wide tour.

Hugh Jackman’s ‘The Man. The Music.  The Show’ will continue through October 20, 2019. Click here for show dates.  He’ll also return to Boston’s TD Garden for one more performance on Tuesday, October 1.

Hugh Jackman the Tour

Photo credit to Hugh Jackman The Show

The morning of Hugh’s appearance on Thursday, June 27 at the TD Garden, Hugh Jackman made a surprise appearance serving coffee from a coffee truck in Boston to promote his charity work with ‘The Laughing Man Cafe and Foundation.’  A loyal Bruins fan, he called performing in Boston one of his big dreams.

As superhero Wolverine (in which he demonstrated an onstage pose or two), he showed his dynamic range.  Decked out at first in a white tux, he ran the gamut of styles from flashy costumes to more casual attire with no ringleader costume in sight.  Though he reminisced about his career with a realistic look at his dogged pursuit to find success as an actor, he seemed like a humble, funny, and approachable guy.

A family friendly show, he kept the crowd moving with a broad range of music.  From reaching into an old school vibe with selections such as I’ve Got Rhythm and Mac the Knife to tap dancing to AC/DC to performing a vast selection of musical theatre including lighting up the stage with selections from ‘The Greatest Showman,’ the show had a universal appeal though especially tailored for the theatre buff.  He joined Kaley McKnight onstage to perform a stunning, powerful rendition of This is Me and a sweeping ‘Les Miserables‘ medley.  He also joined members of the Boston Children’s Chorus for a stirring rendition of You Will Be Found from the hit musical, ‘Dear Evan Hansen.’

Hugh Jackman stage

Hugh Jackman at TD Garden in Boston, Massachusetts Photo courtesy of Jeanne Denizard

The second half of the show did not outdo the first, but he demonstrated his range further in the second.  It actually became a bit trippy during his ode to his Australian idol, Peter Allen in which Hugh won a Tony Award for his portrayal as Peter in ‘The Boy From Oz.’  Peter was not only known for songs such as Don’t Cry Out Loud and Arthur’s Theme, but for his over-the-top stage performances.  He also welcomed the audience into his native Australia by recreating the outback, claiming it as one of his most out-of-this-world experiences he has ever had.

So, to answer those questions, I prefer Hugh in his epic films, but he is undeniably a wonderful performer.  The very best is a lot to ask, but his dynamic range is truly great and worth watching on tour or when he returns to Boston in October.  You will no doubt recognize the sheer talent that he has developed over decades of being a singer, a dancer, theater actor, movie star, and a hero.

Director Igor Golyak discusses the shocking and comical show, ‘Dead Man’s Diary: A Theatrical Novel’

Taking a rich, multidimensional look at love and the theatre, the Arlekin Players proudly presents Mikhail Bulgakov’s Dead Man’s Diary: A Theatrical Novel for two weekends from Saturday, March 17 through Sunday, April 1 at Paramount Center in Boston, Massachusetts.  Shocking and comical, Dead Man’s Diary:  A Theatrical Novel is written in Russian and performed by Russian actors with English audio translation, but was created in Needham, Massachusetts.  Click here for more information and for tickets.

Igor Golyak

Director Igor Golyak of ‘Dead Man’s Diary’ Photo courtesy of Igor Golyak Acting Studio

Dead Man’s Diary’s director and head of Igor Golyak Acting Studio, Igor Golyak, discusses this shocking and comical show’s fascinating background, developing the show’s unique style, and what it means to be successful.

Sleepless Critic:  What is it about this show that made you decide to take on this piece?

Igor Golyak:  I fell in love with the novel, a prose piece by Mikhail Bulgakov, which was not published until after his death as it was considered offensive to Stanislavsky and the Moscow Art Theatre. I wanted to adapt this unfinished novel for the stage because I saw it not only as satire on theatre, but as a vow of love to the theatre. Through this production, we wanted to express the conflicts and illusions around realizing oneself in the theatre through Bulgakov life’s work.

Arlekin Players Dead Mans Diary

‘Dead Man’s Diary: A Theatrical Novel’ Photo courtesy of the Arlekin Players

SC:  Arlekin Players is behind this production and they studied under the Igor Golyak Acting Studio.  Please tell me about your studio and teaching philosophy.  How can people join the Arlekin Players?

IG:  Right now, I mostly cast my students because we develop our own theatre vocabulary during the training period. This takes some time. It is a big advantage as I know the capabilities of the actors and how to challenge them. What’s most important in the theatre is the atmosphere of mutual respect and appreciation in the training and rehearsal process.  I aim to create this with the approach I take.  People can join the company by applying, coming to rehearsals, and possibly doing some scenes with company members.  Ultimately, if we mutually agree that the relationship can move forward, they join the company.  We have a family-type atmosphere in our theatre just like in life.  People get to know each other and some join the family.

SC:  This diary is written by a scorned lover.  How would you describe how the show depicts love or the lack thereof?

IG:  I am not sure if there is a better way to express the love for the theatre than through Bulgakov’s words.

The main character, Maksudov says:

‘I returned to the theater which had now become as necessary to me as morphine to an addict.” and “But more important was my love for the Independent Theatre; I was now pinned to it like a beetle to a piece of cork…’  

SC:  The show offers a new perspective on theatre and is at times shocking.  It also can be a bit haunting and bleak.  How did you develop the style of this show?

IG:  Each style of theatre for me is born out of the text, and the world of the author.

The main character says:

‘I started noticing that something colorful was emerging from the white pages.

The vision was not just a flat picture, but something three-dimensional.  As if peering into a little box, I could see the light gleaming and the figures from my novel moving about. Oh, what a fascinating game it was to observe these characters moving about the little room.’

Using this text, we decided to create a box that all the characters live in, and with them, Maksudov, the main character. What kind of box should it be?  Since the play depicts the Moscow Art Theatre in the 1920s, we decided that the shape of the walls of this box should depict the famous portrait foyer of the Moscow Art Theatre with portraits of the great artists of the time constantly staring at the author and characters inside the box.  We then decided that the audience members should portray these portraits, and thus, we have the audience seated around the box, in which characters come alive.  They are looking though their individual windows or portraits as if in a foyer of the legendary theatre.  Maksudov therefore, is forever stuck like Prometheus in the ‘magical box’ or the ‘portrait foyer’ that he loves more than anything in the world.

Arlekin Players Dead Man's Diary cast

A scene from Dead Man’s Diary: A Theatrical Novel Photo courtesy of Arlekin Players

SC:  This show also features its share of absurd comedy as well.

IG:  Correct.  In Maksudov’s eyes, the actors in the theatre hire him to write a play are from a different, exotic, and fascinating world.  It’s as if they are superhuman. The absurdity comes from the heightened level of passion of the characters and their incredible self-delusions, which at times are absurdly vulnerable and poetic, and at times absurdly cruel and self-absorbed. We recognize the faults of the human soul looking through Maskudov’s eyes as if though a looking glass, where the faults become exaggerated and ultimately comical.

SC:  It describes not only theatre, but the writer’s journey and touches upon what it really means to be successful.  What are your views on success?

IG:  My view of success is having a group of artists, a team of sorts, which is united and inspired by each other to produce a specific piece of text.  As a result, they are able to touch the souls of people in the audience.  When this happens, I feel truly successful.

SC:  What do you like most about this show and what is the best reason someone should attend?

IG:  I think the acting, directing, set design, music composition, and collaborative imagination all work together to give this piece an unusual style. We are excited to bring what we believe is a unique contribution to the Boston Theatre Scene. Also, the piece was written in Russian and is performed by Russian actors but was adapted and created here. We are a local company making new work for the last 9 years. We have already had 20 performances of Dead Man’s Diary. For those who have seen and loved it, it has grown even more over time.  See the show and you will not leave untouched.

Click here for more information and for tickets to Dead Man’s Diary: A Theatrical Novel from Saturday, March 17 through Sunday, April 1 at the Paramount Theatre in Boston, Massachusetts.  Follow the Arlekin Players on Facebook and Twitter.

Peter Josephson discusses the apocalypse, The Simpsons, and more as theatre KAPOW debuts ‘Mr. Burns, a Post-Electric Play’

Making its debut in New Hampshire, Mr. Burns, a Post-Electric Play, written by Anne Washburn, is a powerful, wildly funny musical that may offer a whole new perspective on the beloved, long-running television series, The Simpsons, all while staying true to its characters.  Directed by Matt Cahoon, theatre KAPOW proudly presents Mr. Burns, a Post-Electric Play for one weekend only Friday, March 2 through Sunday, March 4 at Pinkerton Academy in Derry, New Hampshire.  Click here for more information and for tickets.

Award-winning actor and Saint Anselm College Politics Professor Peter Josephson shares details about working with theatre KAPOW, the fascination behind The Simpsons, and becoming Homer.

Sleepless Critic:  You work as a Professor of Politics, but you are also a director, you train and teach acting workshops, and have won quite a few New Hampshire Awards for your art. It’s safe to say theatre is your other love.

Peter Josephson:  That’s true. I performed quite a lot in school and in my 20s, but left when I went to graduate school.  For almost 20 years, I didn’t perform and got back into it again almost 10 years ago.  Since I was very rusty, I sought out training and still train as well as teach.  It’s been terrific to get back to it over the last decade.

SC:  What is it like to perform with theatre KAPOW again?  I understand you have taken the stage with them a few times.

PJ:  Quite a few times and I find it valuable to go to other groups.  I have friends there and learn a lot from them.  I hope I bring something to them, but theatre KAPOW is home base for me in terms of performance.  Since my first show in 2010, I’ve typically done 2 or 3 theatre KAPOW shows a year and help lead their trainings.

Matt and Carey are wonderful human beings and have built a theatre company that is always looking for the next exploration, the next way of learning how theatre works, and what we can do with it.  Matt curates the season so we are not just doing a series of shows.  We have an idea of how shows connect and build on one another.  Last year, we did our first musical and Mr. Burns is our second.

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Nicole Viau, Emily Karel, and Rich Hurley in theatre KAPOW’s production of Mr. Burns, a post-electric play by Anne Washburn, March 2 – 4, 2018. http://www.tkapow.com. Photo by Matthew Lomanno

SC:  Mr. Burns, a Post-Electric Play is a unique opportunity to do that.  The Simpsons have been part of the pop culture landscape for decades and have made commentary on politics, entertainment, science, and current events.  What do you think draws people to the Simpsons and as a professor of politics, do you think the Simpsons are insightful?

PJ:  When The Simpsons first started, a lot of controversy surrounded the show because it seemed to snub its nose at family values and traditional morality.  Some scholars take it very seriously as a contemporary text of America.  I have had colleagues at other schools write about it and find it as a way to talk to students about serious concerns in contemporary politics.  People wouldn’t watch it if the show weren’t crazy and funny.  It helps them see more clearly what is going on in their own lives.

SC:  Lately, The Simpsons have predicted a number of things that have come to fruition.

PJ:  Unfortunately, that’s true.  Hopefully the plot of the play doesn’t come true.

SC:  Mr. Burns, a Post-Electric Play has many layers to it.  It’s about surviving an apocalypse and using stories from The Simpsons as a means for survival.

Matt and Carey brought the script to me last spring and I was really struck by how funny it was.  It’s scary, shocking and underneath all of that, it’s an interesting story about how people use culture to work through their problems and how ideas of sacred truths develop culturally.  It’s fascinating and I think Anne Washburn and the actors she worked with when she was writing the script are brilliant.

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Rachael Chapin Longo, Rich Hurley, Nicole Viau, and Emily Karel in theatre KAPOW’s production of Mr. Burns, a post-electric play by Anne Washburn, March 2 – 4, 2018. http://www.tkapow.com. Photo by Matthew Lomanno.

SC:  You play dual roles as Gibson and Homer.  Setting up a cartoon onstage and portraying a cartoon must have been a new kind of challenge.

PJ:  Yes, it’s kind of weird and crazy.  I would expect just about everybody in the audience knows who Homer is and I’m supposed to do that in some way, which isn’t really possible.  I had to find a central trait about Homer, express that, and remind the audience who the character is.  I play Homer in Act 3 and he is put into a different, darker environment.  His response to that is what one would expect Homer’s response to be and that is everything is going to be wonderful.

SC:  Mr. Burns is Homer’s adversary.

PJ:  Yes, Rich plays Mr. Burns in Act 3 and Washburn’s script has taken the cartoon character, identified his corruption, and made that part the most essential thing.  I would guess that if a Simpsons fan sees the show and then watches The Simpsons on television, they are going to see Mr. Burns in a different way.

In the second act, two actresses debate about what we do when we perform a play and whether the primary purpose is entertainment or to express some deeper meaning.  I think Washburn’s script accomplishes both.  Having worked on this play and going back and watching The Simpsons, I don’t look at Mr. Burns the same way anymore because I am aware of what Washburn saw in him and he’s deeper than I thought.

SC:  Bringing the cartoon to life onstage is its own challenge.  Some of the masks for the show are amazing.

Yes, they are wonderful.  We’ll be using masks in late June for an original show we are working on.  It’s an interesting acting challenge.  The masks’ design elements are goofy crazy and I think we have really captured the cartoon-ish quality of the characters and the challenge is to take that quality and put it into actual living human beings.

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Rachael Chapin Longo, Rich Hurley, and Emily Karel in theatre KAPOW’s production of Mr. Burns, a post-electric play by Anne Washburn, March 2 – 4, 2018. http://www.tkapow.com. Photo by Matthew Lomanno.

SC:  Regarding the musical element of the show, I understand it features popular songs from the last ten years.

PJ:  Lady Gaga, Britney Spears, Eminem, and Ricky Martin show up as well as some Gilbert and Sullivan.  There are three acts and in the second act, we’re following a traveling theatre troupe and part of the show features a commercial jingle that we sing and part of the show features six or seven pop hits the audience might remember from a time when we had electricity.  Act three is all singing in a peculiar operetta that is funny, crazy, and frightening.

SC:  What do you think is the best reason people will enjoy Mr. Burns, a Post-Electric Play?

PJ:  I think audiences will attach themselves to it because it speaks to something we are all looking for in wildly entertaining ways. It invites the audience in and makes them part of what is happening.  I’m confident the show will resonate deeply with the audience and keep them laughing.

Click here for more information and for tickets as theatre KAPOW presents Mr. Burns, a Post-Electric Play from Friday, March 2 through Sunday, March 4 at Shepard Auditorium at Pinkerton Academy in Derry, NH.  Follow theatre KAPOW on Facebook and Twitter for upcoming events and more.

A beloved, annual musical tradition, Reagle Music Theatre of Greater Boston presents ‘ChristmasTime’

Adorned in brightly lit snowflakes, sparkling, emerald Christmas trees and wreaths  around the Robinson Theatre stage and festively lined with wooden embroidered angels, Reagle Music Theatre of Greater Boston brings back their masterful, musical theatrical production of ChristmasTime for two weekends from Friday, December 2 through Sunday, December 10.  Click here for more information.

With an enormous cast of nearly 200 consisting of adults and children from Massachusetts representing two dozen regional towns, ChristmasTime is a musical revue accompanied by a live orchestra. The sets and costumes are adorned with festive flair and audiences will witness classic family favorites come to life such as ‘Teddy Bears Ballet’ Radio City Music Hall’s ‘The Parade of the Wooden Soldiers,’ and ‘The Living Nativity’ as well as captivating dance performances.  The show blossoms into a sweet dedication to the Christmas season.

This annual celebration has a strong following, so purchase tickets now.  Each show will be held at Reagle Music Theatre, 617 Lexington Street in Waltham, Massachusetts on Saturdays and Sundays December 2, 3, 9, and 10 at noon and 4 p.m.  One Friday evening performance will be held on December 8 at 7 p.m.

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‘Night Fever: An Evening of the Bee Gees’ January 14 Photo courtesy of Reagle Music Theatre of Greater Boston

Reagle Music Theatre of Greater Boston will kick off the New Year with Night Fever: An Evening With the Bee Gees for one day only on Sunday, January 14 at 2 p.m. Click here for more information and tickets or call 781-891-5600.  Tickets are also available at the theatre box office and Reagle gift cards make a great present for the holidays.  Make Christmastime a family holiday tradition.  Follow Reagle Music Theatre of Greater Boston on Twitter and Facebook for all their upcoming events.

NYC actress, writer, and filmmaker Stephanie Iscovitz talks film career and managing annual ‘New York New Works Theatre Festival’ in October

NYC actress, writer, filmmaker, and casting assistant Stephanie Iscovitz is no stranger to a competitive festival, having been on the winning end and a participant.  She is taking her expertise to a whole new level running the upcoming New York New Works Theatre Festival, kicking off Tuesday, October 3 and continuing through Saturday, Oct. 21 at New York City’s Duke Theatre with the final gala on Monday, Nov. 6 at Theatre 80.

With a wide spectrum of diverse, carefully chosen theatre productions from hundreds of submissions and created by Gene Fisch, Jr., the New York New Works Theatre Festival is a give back project to help the arts community.  It’s an exciting, annual event as award-winning representatives from Broadway and beyond judge the next generation’s promising talent.  Click here for the full theatre schedule, tickets, and here for panelist information.

Stephanie Iscovitz delves into her journey as a film festival participant, what to expect at the New York New Works Theatre Festival, and the message she hopes to convey through her work.  Click here for more on Stephanie and her upcoming projects.

Sleepless Critic:  Starting October 3, you are leading the management team at the New York New Works Theatre Festival.

Stephanie Iscovitz:  Yes, I’m managing the New York New Works Theater Showcase and am very passionate about including as many powerful, female and diverse voices as possible.

 The New York New Works Theatre Showcase is a theatre competition that provides aspiring writers the opportunity to present their work in a top tier theatre while being mentored by a group of Broadway, television producers, and industry leaders. The distinguished panelists are Broadway producers, Tony Award-winners, Emmy Award-winners, or industry executives that volunteer their time to help aspiring writers.  Performances take place in the 199-seat Duke Theatre on 42nd and Broadway from Tuesday, October 3 through Saturday, October 21 with the final gala on Monday, November 6.

I’m eager to take all the wonderful parts of my film festival experience while bringing some great new ideas to the New York New Works Theatre Showcase. As an actor and writer, I know what kind of opportunities I would benefit from and am humbled and excited to provide that for the participants in this year’s showcase.

SC:  You bring a broad range of experience to the New York New Works Theatre Festival, including your training at the T. Schreiber Studio and Theatre, a studio that features Edward Norton, Peter Sarsgaard, and Maria Bello, just a few of their renowned alumni.  What was that experience like for you?

 SI:  With only eleven students in the conservatory, it was an extraordinary, life-changing experience.   When you’re part of an intense, raw, and emotionally-challenging program like that, the people you experience it with become your family.  I still study there as part of their on-going scene study program continually challenged with roles I’m afraid to do.  I was most recently working on a character affected with brain damage.

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T. Schreiber Studio and Theatre graduate Stephanie Iscovitz T. Schreiber Photo Credit: T. Schreiber Studio & Theatre

SC:  What do you think is the most important thing that T. Schreiber has taught you as an actress, filmmaker, writer, and producer?

SI:  Terry Schreiber notoriously says that you must give yourself the permission to let yourself happen, which has become my mantra. The first couple of short films I made as an actor, writer, and producer had potential, but they weren’t great.  However, I wouldn’t be where I am today or learned as much as I did had I not made those short films, which I consider beautiful stepping stones.  Give yourself permission to fall flat on your face and be patient with yourself on this creative journey because in this business, it’s more about the journey than the destination.

SC:  Having attended a number of festivals in your career, you have firsthand experience participating in what can be incredibly competitive festivals.  What was your first film festival you attended?

SI:  The first film festival I got into was for my first film, Ladies Night, presented at a great festival I return to annually, the 2014 Big Apple Film Festival.  It’s a comedy held in a karaoke bar and I’ve learned a lot after that first film, like avoid writing a film where music rights are imperative. To my surprise, it was very well received and screened alongside Jerry Stiller in the festival program.  I had no idea what I was doing at the festival and was so nervous during the Q&A I could feel my shortness of breath while I was speaking.  It’s a comforting thought that no one really knows what they’re doing and just trying to do the best they can with what they’ve got.

Big Apple Film Festival with Jerry Stiller

2014 Big Apple Film Festival – Stephanie won for her first film, which screened along Jerry Stiller. It was a comedy called ‘Ladies Night’ Photo Credit: Stephanie Iscovitz

SC:  Recently, you went to Long Beach Island for a film festival not long ago.  What is it like for you to attend a festival where your production is featured?

SILighthouse International was the best film festival I’ve attended. Each year, the festival champions a selection of new, often unrecognized films from the US and around the world to compete in the festival and for audience award categories, which screen alongside award-winning spotlight films from Sundance, Cannes, SXSW, Toronto and Tribeca. I saw pre-released films and met other NYC filmmakers, sparking collaboration for future projects.

After the screenings, there were Q&A’s with the filmmakers.  We had our world premiere of Bruce Loves You where the shorts programmer, Chip Parham, ran a stellar screening. It was wonderful to have a captive audience interested in knowing more about our film making process and about of course, Bruce the ghost.

'Bruce Loves You' cast at Lighthouse International film fest

‘Bruce Loves You’ team at the 2017 Lighthouse International Film Festival Photo courtesy of Darin Quan

SC:  As you attend these festivals, do you feel like you get better at the process or is every festival different?  What was it like to win at the festival?

SI:  Every festival is different. We’ve started to call it ‘Game of Festivals’ where you win or die and 99% of the time you die. It’s all so subjective and such a gamble, depending upon who’s watching your submission if your submission was actually watched, at what time of day, and what the viewer’s own personal values and tastes are.  When you are actually accepted out of thousands of submissions, it feels like a real lottery win.

I met one of my closest friends and collaborators at a film festival where our film, Catslaughter had been rejected. After speaking with her, it turned out we had the same exact film except hers was about a sweater and ours was about a cat. She had submitted early and was already accepted when we submitted late.  Timing is everything. A rejection doesn’t necessarily mean your film was bad.  There are a number of factors involved and in this case, they had already programmed a similar film. However, it turned out to be a huge blessing because she and I clicked creatively and have gone on to work together on multiple projects.

Stephanie Iscovitz with Cinder Chou

Filmmaker Cinder Chou at 2016 Big Apple Film Festival Photo courtesy of Stephanie Iscovitz

SC:  What is the message that you hope to deliver through your work?

SI:  I really want to drive social change through storytelling and that begins with representation on film, particularly through the female lens and experience.  I hope to enlighten while helping audiences feel a little less alone.

Tickets are still available to this year’s New York New Works Theatre Festival.  Click here for more information and tickets.  New York New Works Theatre Festival is also on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.  Click here for more on Stephanie Iscovitz and her upcoming projects.

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Stephanie Iscovitz’s new project Photo courtesy of Rutledge Customs