REVIEW: SpeakEasy Stage’s award-winning drama ‘Between Riverside and Crazy’, a powerful, darkly comical look at a family gone awry

“Eat vegetables.  Fiber is your best friend.  Potassium combats blood pressure.”  This sage, conventional advice was delivered in a humorous moment by Pops in an earnest attempt to be an average, conventional dad.  Though wise in his own way, Walter “Pops” Washington is anything but conventional as an alcoholic widow, father, and head of a wildly dysfunctional household in the Pulitzer Prize-winning drama Between Riverside and Crazy that recently completed its run at the SpeakEasy stage at the Calderwood Pavilion in Boston, Massachusetts.  This production is not meant for children.  Click here for more information on the SpeakEasy Stage, winner of the 2018 Boston’s Best by the Improper Bostonian, and its upcoming productions.

Directed by Tiffany Nichole Greene and written by Stephen Adly Guirgis, Between Riverside and Crazy takes an edgy, at times controversial look at a struggling family who is losing their connection to each other while trying to survive by any means necessary.  With darkly humorous moments that delve into issues of racism, privilege, and deception, this message-driven production grows every bit as crazy as the title suggests.  However, things are certainly not all that they seem and the show is all the better for it.  The Washington family has a great deal of underlying heart and blunt honesty, but it takes some digging to get there.

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Lewis D. Wheeler, Maureen Keiller, Stewart Evan Smith, Tyrees Allen, and Octavia Chavez-Richmond in SpeakEasy Stage’s production of BETWEEN RIVERSIDE AND CRAZY. Photo by Nile Scott Studios.

The real strength in Between Riverside and Crazy is in its energetic, complex performances.  With a gravelly voice, more than his fair share of obstinacy, and traces of Red Foxx from Sanford and Son, Tyrees Allen slips smoothly into Walter’s tough skin with an inner turmoil that is always brimming to the surface, at the brink of revealing itself.   Every snarl, agitation, and sorrow flows eloquently, delivering a powerful punch to a performance that should not be missed.   It is easy to spot his outspokenness brashness in his son Junior, portrayed with a tough exterior, but with charm and secretiveness by Stewart Evan Smith.  Their exchanges, like most of the show, are quick paced and snappy, and if it wasn’t for the darker nature of this show, shows earmarks of any relatable American family.

Completing this family is Alejandro Simoes who delivers a quiet and sympathetic performance as Walter’s adopted son Oswaldo.  A bit naïve and with a secret of his own, Simoes delivers a clever and at times shocking performance of a troubled individual who is not all that he seems.

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Octavia Chavez-Richmond and Stewart Evan Smith in SpeakEasy Stage’s production of BETWEEN RIVERSIDE AND CRAZY. Photo by Nile Scott Studios.

With over-sized gold earrings, a tiny outfit and a Puerto Rican accent, Octavia Chavez-Richmond portrays the mysterious and often humorous Lulu.  Chavez-Richmond delves into this juicy, darkly comical role with gusto every time she takes the stage.  She is particularly funny during an exchange with Junior about their future and during a subtle, fascinating scene with Oswaldo and Junior discussing Ring Dings, bologna, and grape soda.

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Octavia Chavez-Richmond, Tyrees Allen, Lewis D. Wheeler, and Maureen Keiller in SpeakEasy Stage’s production of BETWEEN RIVERSIDE AND CRAZY. Photo by Nile Scott Studios.

Maureen Keiller as warm, but complicated Detective O’Connor and Lewis D. Wheeler as brown nosing Lieutenant Caro are outspoken New York police officers who have a history with Walter.  Some of the most memorable scenes of the show are between Keiller, Allen, and Wheeler, each exchange between them like a fascinating game of poker.  Although brief, Celeste Oliva offers a bold, pivotal, and controversial performance as Church lady.

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Celeste Oliva and Tyrees Allen in SpeakEasy’s production of BETWEEN RIVERSIDE AND CRAZY. Photo by Nile Scott Studios.

As a lit Christmas tree sits in the corner and what looks like a functioning kitchen, Eric D. Diaz and Wooden Kiwi do a wonderful job to portray a warm and inviting apartment equipped with a built in brick terrace, a set that is consistent throughout the entire show.  The staging is also strong as simultaneous scenes play out throughout the household, not a moment of it distracting.

Though it is not a show for everyone, its underlying themes, powerful performances, and meaty, twist-filled story delivers its award-winning appeal.  Between Riverside and Crazy kicked off Speakeasy Stage’s 28th season.  Next for the SpeakEasy Stage is the contemporary, Tony award-winning musical Fun Home, continuing through November 24.  Click here for more information of their current season which includes the the Tony award-winning musical Once and The View Upstairs.

REVIEW: Lexus Broadway in Boston’s ‘On Your Feet’ a riveting, musical sensation

Leave it to music trailblazers Gloria and Emilio Estefan to make even folding laundry an exhilarating event.  A glimmering purple curtain provided just a hint of the radiance behind it as Lexus Broadway in Boston presented On Your Feet through Sunday, April 29 at the Boston Opera House at 529 Washington Street in Boston, Massachusetts.  Direct from Broadway and featuring five of the original members of Gloria Estefan’s band, Miami Sound Machine, On Your Feet is currently on a national tour.  Click here to find out where they will take the stage next.

BIB On Your Feet Gloria Estefan and National Tour

Christie Prades as Gloria Estefan and the company of the national tour of ‘On Your Feet’.

From its first few powerful notes and flowing, multicolored club lights, On Your Feet is a party from the start.  After real life superstar couple, Gloria and Emilio Estefan playfully introduce the show, Cuban dancers emerge pounding drums as a full, onstage band, Miami Sound Machine, flood the stage and greet the audience.  Award-winning Sergio Trujillo’s thrilling choreography frames every aspect of this international, true story with flair and gusto.  It has an equal share of wild, quick, and intense music with complex, fancy foot work as well as poignant, inspiring moments within a few of Gloria Estefan’s famous ballads.   Gloria and Emilio Estefan are behind the Latin rhythms, touching original compositions, and the orchestrations of some of Gloria Estefan’s biggest hits.  This captivating production not only showcases Latin culture and a peek into its history, but Gloria and Emilio’s tenacious struggle to fit it into American music scene.

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The company of the national tour of ‘On Your Feet’.

Costume designer Emilio Sosa skillfully replicated Gloria’s sparkling, iconic outfits featured in her memorable concert appearances, the Estefan’s worldwide travel, brought together the colorful styles of the 60s, 80s, and 90s from casual, colorful floral summer wear of Cuba and Miami to elegant, nightclub attire.  David Rockwell’s often romantic scenic design and dim lighting depict Miami’s palm tree silhouettes as well as the particular vibe in their worldwide travels.

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Christie Prades as Gloria Estefan, Adriel Flete and the company of the national tour of ‘On Your Feet’.

On Your Feet not only explores Gloria and Emilio’s budding romance and their mutual dreams, but their aspirations to pursue music as Latin performers.  What is most fascinating about the show is Mauricio Martinez as Emilio and Christine Prades as Gloria’s sheer dogged determination to thrive.  Martinez offers a charming, yet serious performance as Emilio, business minded and determined with smooth and angelic vocals.  He delivers a touching rendition of Gloria Estefan’s hit, Don’t Want to Lose You Now and original song written by Gloria Estefan’s daughter, If I Never Got To Tell You, a duet with Nancy Ticotin as Gloria Estefan’s mother, Gloria Fajardo.  Martinez is intense, charismatic, and always planning one step ahead.

BIB On Your Feet Gloria Emilio and Company

Christie Prades as Gloria Estefan, Mauricio Martinez as Emilio Estefan, and the company of the national tour of ‘On Your Feet.’

It is easy to see why Christine Prades as Gloria has such natural, crackling chemistry with Martinez.  Prades as Gloria complements Emilio’s drive through her vibrant, shy, and creative personality.  Curly haired and slim with inflections of Gloria Estefan’s distinctive voice, it is hard to imagine another person portraying the award-winning singer-songwriter.  She engages the audience with her glowing, infectious smile while skillfully handling the quick pacing and complex choreography of this production, often breaking out into song and dance on a dime.   From a ‘can’t-help-but-sing’ child doing chores in Cuba, portrayed sweetly by Ana-Sofia Rodriguez, to a timid woman taking the stage, Gloria’s charismatic stage presence in undeniable. Together, Gloria and Emilio are a force to be reckoned with in their uphill battle to become a music sensation.  The tender song, Here We Are is a particular highlight, showing off their sweet chemistry.

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Nancy Ticotin as Gloria Fajardo and the company of the national tour of On Your Feet.

Nancy Ticotin delivers a powerful performance as Gloria Fajardo, Gloria’s mother.  Ticotin portrayed strong willed Fajardo with a passion and a powerful voice, especially portrayed with the flirtatious number Mi Tierra, sung in a Havana nightclub.  Ticotin is stubborn and hard on Gloria, but with a giving spirit toward Jason Martinez as Gloria’s loving war veteran father, Jose.

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Christie Prades as Gloria Estefan, Kevin Tellez, Mauricio Martinez as Emilio Estefan and the company of the national tour of ‘On Your Feet’.

On Your Feet not only quite literally encourages the audience to dance with some of Gloria’s most riveting songs such as 1-2-3, Rhythm is Gonna Get You, Conga and Dr. Beat, but also depicts the journey and sorrows of following a dream.  It has its share of humorous moments in Debra Cardona as Gloria’s charming grandmother, Consuelo, in her unwavering support of her granddaughter and delivering a few sharp one liners.  Carlos Carreras as Jeremy wows as an enthusiastic Gloria Estefan fan that can’t help but dance.  In such an uplifting, spectacular musical celebration, it is easy to understand why.

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The company of the national tour of ‘On Your Feet.’

On Your Feet is currently on a national tour.  Click here to find out where they will take the stage next.  Click here for more of Lexus Broadway in Boston’s upcoming performances and follow them on Facebook.

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An avid fan of all things Disney, Sarah Kelly discusses being cast as Disney princess Ariel in Company Theatre’s ‘The Little Mermaid’

To Sarah Kelly, award-winning Company Theatre actress, Plymouth State University student, and ardent fan of anything Disney, becoming a Disney princess is another dream come true.  Sarah spent last summer on the Company Theatre stage as sunny Elle Woods in the frothy musical, Legally Blonde the Musical, calling it the best summer of her life.  She spends this summer under the sea as Disney Princess Ariel in Company Theatre’s production of Disney’s The Little Mermaid from July 28 to August 20 at The Company Theatre in Norwell, Massachusetts.  Whether portraying California fashionista turned Harvard law student or a love struck, fish out of water fork enthusiast, what Sarah shares with all of them is her ceaseless optimism.

Sarah Kelly talks about her returning to the Company Theatre, her new sidekicks, future plans, and her unconventional audition.  Click here for further information and for tickets to Disney’s The Little Mermaid.

Sleepless Critic:  You seem to fit right into your role of Ariel in The Little Mermaid just a smoothly as you did as Elle in Company Theatre’s Legally Blonde last summer, a role you won an award for.  What it was like to win for your first lead role?

Sarah Kelly:  Whenever I talk about being a part of Legally Blonde with Company Theatre, I always say it was the gift that kept on giving. It gave me the opportunity to experience leading a show as Elle Woods, work with some of the most incredible and genuine people I’ve ever met, and yes, so blessed to receive ‘Best Actress in a Musical’ from Broadway World Boston.  Receiving this award was an absolute cherry on top of the best summer of my life because I didn’t expect to be nominated at all. To be considered was prize enough and winning is one of the most amazing things that has ever happened to me.  That official validation meant so much to me.

SC:  What interested you in returning to the Company Theatre as Ariel this summer?

SK:  Last year in our interview for Legally Blonde, I talked about how Company Theatre’s family vibe and atmosphere immediately stole my heart. I saw a couple of different shows that were put up this past school year.  When I returned, I was welcomed back with open arms and felt so at home again. Company Theatre is so much fun and I treasure each day.  When I heard they were doing The Little Mermaid, I had to audition because it’s one of my favorite Disney movies and I adore Alan Menken’s work.

SC:  How was the audition process for Ariel different from last year’s and how did you prepare?

SK:  My audition was extremely different for this role because I did a video audition as opposed to last year where I attended the actual audition at Company Theatre. Unfortunately, I was away at school and auditions for Plymouth State University’s fall season were the exact same days as The Little Mermaid’s auditions and callbacks. It’s easier to show your truest colors at an “in person” audition.  Showing what you have as a human being that will make that character you’re trying for special and real is the most important part of an audition.  However, I did my best, memorized the sides that were sent to me, and the song I was asked to sing for my callback.  I guess it really paid off.

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Colin SanGiacomo as Flounder with cast Photo courtesy of Zoe Bradford/Company Theatre

SC:  It sure did.  Rather than Bruiser from Legally Blonde, you now have a couple of new sidekicks in Flounder and Sebastian.  Please tell me what it is like to work on a Disney musical.  Is this your first one?  The Company Theatre recently completed The Lion King Jr earlier this year.

SK:  Yes, unfortunately, I wasn’t able to see their production of The Lion King Jr, but I heard wonderful things and saw some of the gorgeous costumes.  Aside from playing Kaa the Snake in The Jungle Book Jr in fourth grade, this is my first Disney show and I am living for it. I grew up purely on Disney movies and music, so to be a part of this kind of process and play a Disney princess is a dream come true. The show is so bright, alive, and magical and the direction this specific production is going does the show itself absolute justice.

SC:  I’m sure it must feel a little different to work with a cast who are playing animated characters and creatures.  Such a beautiful set!

SK:  Yes, we have some of the most passionate humans working on this show. The ever so dedicated James Valentin works extremely hard alongside our own personal superman, Ryan Barrow, who is also known as the hot UPS guy from Legally Blonde last summer.  They go above and beyond creating, building, and painting sets. Ryan is one of the many Disney fan girls in our little family and literally will not sleep until everything is perfect.   So many talented hands are helping to interpret the movie’s magic and that magic is right onstage.   It’s so beautiful.  I don’t know how they do it because these two guys are also a part of the cast.  I can’t forget the spectacular Bri Plummer, who brings her unique costume designs to life perfectly.

James Valentin with Flounder and Ariel

Colin SanGiacomo as Flounder, James Valentin as Grimsby, and Sarah Kelly as Ariel Photo courtesy of Zoe Bradford/Company Theatre

Our absolutely brilliant choreographer, Sally Forrest, has such an incredible vision for this show that people need to see to really understand. She wants the audience to believe they are watching the original Disney movie and trains us to think and be animated characters, which is a lot of fun.  The extremely specific motivation and movement direction she gives creates this beautiful and nostalgic picture both children and parents are going to be mesmerized by.

Company Theatre 'The Little Mermaid'

Ronald Vorce as Ursula Photo courtesy of Zoe Bradford/Company Theatre

SC:  Have there been any surprises in portraying Ariel?  Unexpected challenges?  It’s such a fun role.

SK:  Ariel is so much fun to portray. I don’t support all of her life choices considering she gives up her gift of a voice for a legs and a man, but that doesn’t mean she’s not a blast to play on stage. She’s sweet, spunky, lovely, and lively.  A challenge that I knew I was bound to run into with her is letting Elle from Legally Blonde pop in and out. With Elle, I had much more liberty in character choices and playing up my ‘Sarah-isms.’  Ariel is such an iconic animated figure, not to mention princess, so I really wanted to bring her to life in an organic way while staying true to the original cartoon.

Company Theatre Ariel's Royal Princess Celebration

Photo courtesy of Zoe Bradford/Company Theatre

SC:  You’ll be a part of the Company Theatre fundraiser, Ariel’s Royal Princess Celebration on Saturday, August 5 in full Disney princess mode.  I’m sure that will be exciting for you.

SK:  I’m very excited to be a part of the Princess Celebration!  I love working with kids as a day job.  Even when I was in the Hingham Parade on July 4, seeing those beautiful little faces looking up at me like I was an actual Disney princess, made me want it to last forever.  I look forward to creating some real magic for the kids right here in Norwell on August 5.

Company Theatre 'The Little Mermaid' Hingham Parade

Sarah Kelly as Ariel with Flounder at the Hingham Parade on Independence Day

SC:  What are your future plans?  Do you have new acting projects in the works after this?

SK:  My university is putting on Merrily We Roll Along this fall and I was cast as ‘Gussie.’   I’m looking forward to it.  I love a good Sondheim show and I’m portraying a super awful character, but also fun and flirty. Gussie is definitely on the crazy side, which is always a blast!  It’s also directed by one of my favorite people, Beth Daily, and assistant directed by my best friend, Val Umbro, a dynamic duo for sure. I’m also grateful to be assistant directing The Trial with Paul Mroczka in the fall.  It’ll be such a great challenge and growing experience for me.

Click here to learn more about Ariel’s Royal Princess Celebration fundraiser on August 5.  Click here or call the box office at 781-871-2787 for tickets to Company Theatre’s production of Disney’s The Little Mermaid from Friday, July 28 through Sunday, August 20 at The Company Theatre, 30 Accord Park Drive in Norwell, Massachusetts.   Follow Company Theatre on FacebookTwitter, and Instagram for updates and more.

South South Conservatory’s annual, family summer outdoor concert series, ‘Wacky Wednesdays’ returns

South Shore Conservatory, known for offering fun, educational, and interactive classes and entertainment for all ages for the South Shore of Massachusetts and beyond, is proud to enliven Wednesday mornings once again.  Sponsored by The Harold and Avis Goldstein Trust with WATD as media partner, South Shore Conservatory’s Wacky Wednesdays has been delivering award-winning, educational, and interactive family entertainment for their 21st year every Wednesday mornings as part of their outdoor Summer Spotlight series.  Wednesday morning concerts also feature free lemonade and chocolate milk starting at 10 a.m.

Kicking off the season on Wednesday, July 5, singer-songwriter and Music Together teacher Vanessa Trien and the Jumping Monkeys return to the Jane Carr Amphitheater stage.  This family concert series includes humorous, high energy, and catchy family pop band Karen K and the Jitterbugs on July 12, multiple award-winning Roots musician, Alastair Moock and Friends on July 19, and imaginative, energetic, and interactive musical storytelling by Debbie and Friends on July 26.  Click here for a closer look at this enchanting series.

All concerts take place rain or shine at Jane Carr Amphitheater, One Conservatory Drive in Hingham, Massachusetts.  With funding from Massachusetts Cultural Facilities Fund, the Jane Carr Amphitheater has been updated entirely.  See the South Shore Conservatory’s summer spotlight concert series at affordable prices and no charge for children under three.  Discounted prices for groups are also available.  Click here for tickets and more information or call 1-781-749-7565, ext. 22.

 

Massasoit Theatre Company presents the insightful, award-winning play, ‘A Raisin in the Sun’

Sometimes waiting for a new life to start can be the most important thing in the world.  Massasoit Theatre Company proudly presents A Raisin in the Sun, an award-winning, insightful play, and chosen for its poignant themes that speak to today’s society.  Adapted into the 1961 film starring Sydney Poitier, a musical, a TV movie, and revived on Broadway in 2014, Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry has made a significant impact over the years since its Broadway debut in 1959.

Massasoit Theatre Company’s A Raisin in the Sun will take the stage for one weekend only from Thursday, March 9 through Saturday, March 11 at Buckley Performing Arts Center in Brockton, Massachusetts.  A talk back will take place after the performances on Saturdays.  Click here for more information and for tickets.

A Raisin in the Sun is hailed for its gripping insight on poverty, racism, and inner turmoil.  Directed by Corinne Mason and produced by Mark Rocheteau, ‘Raisin in the Sun’ focuses on the Youngers, an African-American family who are struggling to survive, but dreams of better things to come.  With the entire family living in a tiny apartment, Amber Smith as Ruth, Keion Lugay as Walter Lee, Kadisha Harris as Travis, and Arial Wigfall as Beneatha all have their own individual dreams of making a new start.  However, life has its unexpected turns.

See A Raisin in the Sun for four performances only on March 9, 10, and 11 at 8 p.m.  One Saturday matinee performance takes place on March 11 at 3 p.m.  All performances will be held at Buckley Performing Arts Center, One Massasoit Boulevard in Brockton, Massachusetts.  Discounted student, senior, and group rates are all available.  Call 508-427-1234 or click here for tickets and further information.  Follow Massasoit Theatre Company on Facebook for upcoming events and more.