REVIEW:  Lyric Stage Company delves into musical genius Rachmaninoff’s chaotic mind in mesmerizing ‘Preludes’

Ever wondered if legendary musicians would still be who they are if they lacked any vices or instabilities?  Would they still achieve that same level of success or become even greater?

Some of the most extraordinary musicians also endured turmoil in their lives whether through external circumstances or within the depths of their very being.  Most come to the general consensus that the artist simply wouldn’t have that level of genius without everything that came with it.  For Russian composer, pianist, and conductor Sergei Rachmanioff, he endured quite a battle on his journey to greatness and his music continues to live on.

Dan Prior and Aimee Doherty in ‘Preludes’ Photo by Mark S. Howard

Directed profoundly by Courtney O’Connor, Lyric Stage Company presents Dan Malloy’s musical Preludes through Sunday, February 5 live and in person at Lyric Stage Company in Boston, Massachusetts.  The production is approximately 2 hours with a 15 min intermission.  Click here for more information and tickets.

Preludes references Rachmaninoff’s classic works, but the word itself describes what happens before an important event. It delves head first into Rachmanioff’s massive struggle to create which included fear of failure, Marfan syndrome, and mental instabilities that led to his historical writer’s block. Dan Rodriguez’s music direction combined with Andrew Dunkan Will’s complicated, vivid, and occasionally manic sound design illustrates the turmoil and genius of a musician on the brink of something bigger, but struggling to pull through.

Preludes boasts a fascinating cast including Will McGarrahan taking on multiple roles during the production.  Wringing his hands, frustrated, and utterly exhausted, Dan Prior embodies frazzled and despondent ‘Rach,’ his world seized by hesitation and regret delivered cleverly in the opening number Your Day.  Rachmaninoff battled life through music, but both can become blaringly stringent.  Battling all these limiting factors, Rach freezes.  Music Director Dan Rodriguez performs double duty depicting the mood setting musical side of pianist Rachmanioff with earnestness and peaks of humor and charm. Keyboardists Bethany Aiken and Mindy Cimini enhance this complex score that keeps up with the chaos of Rach’s mind and the reality surrounding it.

Prior’s subtle yet searing performance delves into a defeated man reaching for a lifeline through therapist Dahl, depicted skillfully by Aimee Doherty with a contemporary vibe in a Pink Floyd T-shirt, black glasses and edgy depth.  Doherty’s inquisitive and unorthodox methods may be the calm in the storm.  Kayla Shimizu is relatable as steadfast, optimistic, and maybe in over her head Natalya.  Shimizu brings a smooth and natural ease to the number Vocalize as well as a powerful and painfully honest rendition of Natalya as she struggles in her limited understanding of Rach’s condition.  Shimizu and Prior bring compelling chemistry and connection in their moving rendition of Not Alone

Dan Prior, Aimee Doherty, Dan Rodriguez and Anthony Pires Jr in ‘Preludes’ Photo by Mark S. Howard

Enhanced by Karen Perlow’s mind bending lighting, Preludes is at times trippy and often teetering between daydream and reality.  Highlighted by amazing and intricate choreography, Anthony Pires Jr as Chaliapin slides into an entrancing and catchy Loop with finesse and charisma while blending elegant vocals between jarring beats. It is a standout number that may ruminate long after the show is over. Taking on multiple roles and delivering inspiring and thought provoking pearls of wisdom is Will McGarrahan who portrays a number of dynamic historical figures. McGarrahan’s commanding voice, distinct characterizations, and dark comedic timing make him a treat to watch each time he appears onstage.

Kayla Shimizu, Anthony Pires Jr, Dan Prior, Will McGarrahan, and Dan Rodriguez in ‘Preludes’ Photo by Mark S. Howard

Scenic Designer Shelley Barish’s insightful circular staging moves fluidly with the performers with a piano set perfectly at center stage accented by lilacs, ordered blocks of vibrant colors, and an ever changing, mood-induced colored backdrop. The scalloped trim and soft lighting from various hung fixtures add an eclectic elegance as does the eye popping vintage couch and ottoman.

In some ways, Rachmaninoff’s struggles also made him distinctive. He had Marfan Syndrome which is a genetic disorder that affects the connective tissue of the body and organs. It is a very difficult way of life, but also gave him unusually long fingers. Much of his work is difficult to play because he could reach the piano keys more easily than the average person. This weakness was also a strength and part of what made him seem destined for greatness.

Lyric Stage Company presents Dan Malloy’s musical Preludes through Sunday, February 5 live and in person at Lyric Stage Company in Boston, Massachusetts.  The production is approximately 2 hours with a 15 min intermission.  Click here for more information and tickets.

REVIEW: Embrace SpeakEasy Stage Company’s illuminating ‘English’

Learning a new language brings all kinds of emotions to the surface.   One is swept out of one’s own element and that can be as exciting as it is daunting. It can also become a long and awkward struggle to capture the essence of a new culture while steeped in a new language. Though one is gaining something new, one might also be losing a bit of themselves.

Thoughtfully directed by Melory Mirashrafi, Speakeasy Stage Company continues Sanaz Toossi’s English at Calderwood Pavilion in Boston, Massachusetts live and in person through Saturday, November 19.  The performance reviewed was audio described and one hour and 45 minutes with no intermission. Click here for more information and tickets.

The company of English. From left: Deniz Khateri, Josephine Moshiri Elwood, Lily Gilan James, Zaven Ovian, and Leyla Modirzadeh. Photo by Nile Scott Studios.

One of the most fascinating messages in SpeakEasy Stage Company’s English is the realization that one can learn many languages, but can only know one. That one native language is the foundation for all the rest.  In learning to speak a new language, it can reshape what comes naturally.

English delves into the lives of four students living in Iran who are learning the English language for TOEFL, a standardized test that stands for Test of English as a Foreign Language. The production is mostly in the English language with no subtitles.  It takes a moment to catch on, but Mirashrafi cleverly depicts when characters are speaking in their native tongue.

Leyla Modirzadeh as Roya in SpeakEasy’s production of English. Photo by Nile Scott Studios.

This multi-generational cast has various and deep seated reasons for learning English and this production resonates universal truths of having to learn a new language whether by choice or necessity. English does explore the political climate of learning English in Iran, but what is most memorable are the hardships, victories, competitiveness, and the often flustered frustration of learning a peculiar new facet of life.  Each individual demonstrates a different degree of longing to belong. It is not difficult to relate to this small and dynamic cast in their obstacles, earnestness, but most importantly, in the strength in who they are.  Deniz Khateri depicts complicated Marjan, who seems to firmly place herself in the world of the language she teaches. In a multi-layered performance, Khateri as Marjan is engaging and encouraging, but also firm and mysteriously guarded.  She lends to the show’s tension and subtle humor and has unique chemistry with each student. Lily Gilan James portrays wide-
eyed and optimistic Goli with effervescent candor. She stands on her own mistakes while earnestly articulating the nature of her wishes. 

The company of English. From left: Deniz Khateri, Josephine Moshiri Elwood, Lily Gilan James, Zaven Ovian, and Leyla Modirzadeh. Photo by Nile Scott Studios.

Leyla Modirzedeh as wise and headstrong Roya is strongly urged to learn English to communicate with new members of her long distance family.  A sympathetic character, Modirzedeh powerfully evokes Roya’s sincerity and her struggle between her heritage and this new way of communicating.   Zaven Ovian depicts Omid with easygoing charm and he shares some compelling scenes with Khateri as Marjan and with witty, outspoken and understandably frustrated Elham, a standout performance by Josephine Moshiri Elwood.  Elham is a complex individual who is as compassionate as she is bold and is often hardest on herself.

Josephine Moshiri Elwood as Elham in SpeakEasy’s production of English. Photo by Nile Scott Studios.

Nina Vartanian’s culturally sound and vivid costumes pop in Janie E Howland’s realistic classroom staging and enhanced by an elegant, multicolored portrait in teal, orange, red, brown, and beige.   

English is an honest, straightforward, warmly funny, and universally relatable journey of discovering a new language and in all of its difficulties, deciding whether or how to embrace it.  See English and embrace its life lessons. 

Deniz Khateri (left) and Zaven Ovian in SpeakEasy’s production of English. Photo by Nile Scott Studios.

SpeakEasy Stage Company presents Sanaz Toossi’s English live and in person at the Calderwood Pavilion in Boston, MA through Saturday, November 19.  Click here for more information and for tickets.

REVIEW: SpeakEasy Stage Company and Front Porch Arts Collective delivers a no holds barred, twist-filled ‘Pass Over’

The setting could be anywhere.  However, that feeling of impending doom cannot be shaken as SpeakEasy Stage Company and Front Porch Arts Collective presents the twist-filled, semi-interactive, and award-winning Pass Over by Antoinette Nwandu continuing through Sunday, February 2 at the Calderwood Pavilion in Boston, Massachusetts.  This show is not appropriate for young children for explicit language and adult themes.  Pass Over is an hour and a half with no intermission.  Click here for more information and tickets.

Directed cleverly by Monica White Ndounou, Pass Over is part absurdist drama that tackles a number of social issues including racism and police brutality and weaves them together into a culturally meaningful narrative. Its theatre-in-the-round and semi-interactive setting helps pull the audience into the drama and never lets go.

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Hubens “Bobby” Cius and Kadahj Bennett in SpeakEasy Stage’s production of ‘Pass Over’ Photo by Nile Scott Studios

Alternating swiftly from humorous to harrowing,  Pass Over mixes the real with the seemingly imagined, often leaving you wondering whether what you are seeing onstage is actually happening.  Kathy A. Perkins’s lighting and pulsing sound by Anna Drummond seamlessly navigates the distinct, intense mood of this piece.

This suspenseful tale comes with simple staging by Baron E. Pugh and Wooden Kiwi Productions with only a nondescript lamp post and chain link fencing.  Anything more than that would be distracting.  Costume designer Chelsea Kerl keeps Kitch and Moses local with Red Sox caps and Celtics gear.

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Hubens “Bobby” Cius and Kadahj Bennett in SpeakEasy Stage’s production of ‘Pass Over’ Photo by Nile Scott Studios

The joint charisma of the two main characters is what hinges on the show’s credibility and they have that in spades.  The magnetic camaraderie, natural rhythm, and gift for physical humor between pensive Moses, portrayed by Kadahj Bennett, and funny, fast-talking Kitch, portrayed by Hubens “Bobby” Cius, gives this show its intriguing vibe as they joke, dream, plot, and wait on a deserted street corner.  They keep each other strong as they dream of rising up to their full potential and escape what is holding them back.  “Pass Over” means freedom.

Lewis D. Wheeler’s over-the-top performance enhances the palpable tension in this production.  As Mister, he plays an intricate part and takes on more than one role in this thought provoking tale.  In a beige suit and panama hat while carrying a wicker basket, Mister’s back story faintly resembles little red riding hood as he creates an impossible situation.

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Lewis D. Wheeler in SpeakEasy Stage’s ‘Pass Over’  Photo by Nile Scott Studios

Without being preachy, Pass Over delivers a powerful message while exploring some of the darker, hypocritical sides of human nature and treats its serious themes with sensitivity.

SpeakEasy Stage Company and the Front Porch Arts Collective present Pass Over through Sunday, February 2 at the Calderwood Pavilion at the Boston Center for the Arts, 527 Tremont Street in the South End of Boston, Massachusetts.  Click here for more information and tickets and here to learn more about the Front Porch Arts Collective. The Children and Bright Star still coming up as part of SpeakEasy Stage Company’s 2020 season.

After a night out, enjoy MET Bar and Grill’s ‘Boston Hot Chocolate Experience’

The holidays may be over, but any time during the winter is a good time for hot chocolate.  The MET Grill and Bar brings back their popular refreshment, ‘Boston Hot Chocolate Experience’ through Valentine’s Day.  With a wide variety of hot chocolate available in ‘adult versions’ topped with extra large marshmallows, whipped cream, and more, it is a special treat at the end of a concert or a great night out.

‘Boston Hot Chocolate Experience’ is offered at MET Bar and Grill locations in Natick and Back Bay in Boston, Massachusetts.  Click here for more information.

Hot chocolate options include Classic Hot Chocolate featuring vanilla chocolate and whipped cream, Spiced Mexican with chili and grated Mexican chocolate, Dolce De Leche with marshmallows and salted caramel, and Peppermint White Hot Chocolate featuring candy cane flavors and whipped cream.  Each treat can be enhanced with Peppermint Liquor, Caramel Vodka, Bailey’s, and more.

Enjoy them as ‘A Flight of Four’ experience featuring four miniature glasses or attendees can order one flavor as ‘One Big One’ presentation.

Visit MET Back Bay in Boston and in Natick, Massachusetts.  MET offers breakfast, lunch, and dinner as well as Saturday and Sunday Brunch. They also are available for private events and gift cards are available online for the perfect gift.

REVIEW: Unpredictable, humorous, and insightful, Lyric Stage Company’s ‘The Roommate’ not your average odd couple

Don’t underestimate Lyric Stage Company’s The Roommate as a frothy chick lit piece about middle aged women.  The innocent splash of coffee on the promotional poster does not begin to describe this thrilling drama.  With unexpected twists and two exceptional leads, Jen Silverman’s The Roommate is so much more than that.  The Lyric Stage took the audience from an Argentinean prison in Kiss of the Spider Woman in September to the welcoming setting of a rural kitchen in Iowa for The Roommate, but both settings have their share of dark secrets.  The Roommate features an odd coupling of one woman who is overwhelmed by life and the other who wants to change hers completely.

The Roommate poster

The Lyric Stage presents ‘The Roommate’ Photo courtesy of Lyric Stage Company

Directed by Spiro Veloudos and laden with funny, relatable moments, Jen Silverman’s The Roommate, a one act, 90 minute drama with no intermission, continues at 140 Clarendon Street in Boston, Massachusetts through November 18.  Click here for more information and for tickets.

Surrounded by a little too cheerful, inviting Iowa kitchen decorated in mismatched floral décor and what looks like a working island stove, the setting, cleverly designed by Jenna McFarland Lord, could be an extension of Paula Plum as frenzied, relentlessly upbeat Sharon.  Having never had a roommate before and in her mid 50s, it is easy to relate to her nervous twittering and chatter as she waits for her roommate to arrive.

The Roommate Adrianne Krystansky as Robyn as Paula Plum as Sharon at the table

Adrianne Krstansky as Robyn and Paula Plum as Sharon Photo courtesy of the Lyric Stage Company

Dressed in a floral blouse and apron, Sharon is the picture of country living, her hands always busy with an occasional nervous laugh masking melancholy and loneliness.  Paula Plum steps seamlessly into the role of this complicated woman enhanced by her gasps, her excited utterances of glee, and her flicker of self awareness that brings Sharon to exuberant life.

When collected, quiet, and artistic Robyn arrives, Sharon considers how different their worlds are.  The Roommate contains as many humorous moments as it does dark ones and a particularly amusing highlight surrounds the two women’s backgrounds.  Sharon brows rise when Robyn describes her Bronx background while Robyn becomes startled over potential Iowa tornadoes while Sharon brushes them off.  Their quirky, malleable chemistry has a life of its own and it evolves and transforms throughout the play.

The Roommate Paula Plum as Sharon and Adrianne Krystansky as Robyn smoking

Paula Plum as Sharon and Adrianne Krstansky as Robyn Photo courtesy of Lyric Stage Company

Dressed in dark colors and Doc Martins which match her black hair styled in a bob, Adrianne Krstansky portrays Robyn close to the chest, a mysterious, stealthy woman mature beyond her years where every personal detail is a painful revelation.  Krstansky gives an understated performance which simmers as the play progresses.  Each one of Krstansky and Plum’s conversations is a palpable tug of war, and one can’t help but hope that traditional, sheltered Sharon will somehow win.   However guarded Sharon and Robyn are, both are longing to relate to one another and the end result reveals more about themselves than they could have possibly imagined.

The Roommate Paula Plum standing as Sharon and Adrianne Krystansky as Robyn

Paula Plum as Sharon and Adrianne Krstansky as Robyn Courtesy of the Lyric Stage Company

The Lyric Stage Company proudly presents The Roommate continuing through Sunday, November 18 at 140 Clarendon Street in Boston, Massachusetts.  Click here for tickets and more information.  Subscriptions and dinner packages are also available.  Follow The Lyric Stage on Twitter and Facebook for their upcoming productions and more.

After a night out, MET Bar and Grill presents the return of ‘Boston Hot Chocolate Experience’

Sweeten the end of a concert or a night out at the theatre with rich chocolate.  Whether hot or cold, it is an undeniable treat throughout the year.  With the return of ‘Boston Hot Chocolate Experience’ starting Friday, November 25 and continuing through Valentine’s Day 2018 at three MET Bar and Grill locations in Massachusetts, chocolate has never tasted better.  Click here for more information.

Exclusively at MET Back Bay, customers can indulge in an interactive experience with Tableside Smores. They can toast extra-large marshmallows at their own table and add graham crackers, milk, white, or dark chocolate.  Hot chocolate options include Classic Hot Chocolate featuring vanilla chocolate, whipped cream, and mini-roasted marshmallows, Caramel Sea Salt with whipped cream and caramel drizzle, Espresso with Almond Biscotti, and White Chocolate Peppermint Hot Chocolate, featuring white chocolate, crushed peppermint stick, vanilla cream, and a candy cane.  Each treat can be enhanced with Peppermint Liquor, Caramel Vodka, Bailey’s, and more.

These holiday treats are presented as ‘A Flight of Four’ experience featuring four miniature glasses or attendees can order one flavor as ‘One Big One’ presentation.  Visit MET Back Bay in Boston and MET Bar and Grill in Dedham and Natick, Massachusetts.  MET offers breakfast, lunch, and dinner as well as Saturday and Sunday Brunch. They also are available for private events and gift cards are available online for the perfect gift.