Exploring theatre, nature, space and more, Boston Landmarks Orchestra’s Christopher Wilkins talks depth and diversity in free summer concert series

From exploring live theatre and music to nature to science to space as well as taking on racism, climate change, and many more important topics all involving a vast array of community members, organizations, and performers, Boston Landmarks Orchestra is so much more than a beautiful free Wednesday night concert outing at the Esplanade.  Boston Landmarks Orchestra Gala will celebrate 90 years of free concerts on the Esplanade in October.

WCRB is a media partner for the Boston Landmarks free concert series.  Click here for Boston Landmarks Orchestra’s complete summer schedule at Boston’s renowned Hatch Shell and here for further details on the upcoming Gala.

It was an honor to speak with Christopher Wilkins, Boston Landmarks Orchestra’s conductor and Music Director, who took time out of his busy schedule to discuss the highlights of the Boston Landmarks Orchestra’s summer season and what is coming up.

The Sleepless Critic:  The season kicked off on July 10 with the second annual “Season Tune-Up” party.  What was that like?

Christopher Wilkins:  It was a gorgeous night with a great turn out.  Lots of children attended and we introduced our audience to many of our partner organizations which include musical organizations, music educational schools, and partners like the New England Aquarium and the Museum of Science.  The “Season Tune-Up” Party featured fun games, a performance from the Everett High School band, and our Maestro Zone where kids can step up at the podium, wave the baton, look at a score, and get a conducting lesson.  We offer Maestro Zone at our regular concerts as well.

Boston Landmarks Orchestra Maestro Zone Assistant Conductor Shuang Fan

The Maestro Zone with Maestro Zone Assistant Conductor Shuang Fan

SC:  We’ve been blessed with some beautiful nights this summer.  You have been the Music Director and conductor for the Boston Landmarks Orchestra since 2011.  What has it been like for you collaborating with different theatres and new works each year?

CW:  Our mission is to engage as many Bostonians as possible from all walks of life and one of our strategies is to develop partnerships.  They feature an array of organizations to get their fans, their folks, and their constituency excited to come to a concert and work with us.

One of our best strategies is to create composer residencies in different neighborhoods around Boston so people who might not ever encounter an orchestra can develop some way of making music or dancing or some other performing art that they can bring to our stage and perform with the orchestra. We have a lot of inexperienced young performers throughout the summer and some who have never been onstage before.   We do all that along with an eclectic lineup of Dvorak, Broadway, symphonies, and a great choral repertoire.

SC:  It must be an incredible experience to see how everybody interacts with each other and how it turns out onstage.

CW:  It’s wonderful to perform it in the Hatch Shell because it is an iconic venue, people associate it with orchestral music, and it is in the heart of the city.  The Hatch Shell is also quite enormous. We can fit 5,000 people or more at our concerts and that is typically what we draw when the weather is nice.

SC:  Such depth in a free event.

CW:  It’s important to many people that can’t afford to come otherwise.  It’s also a powerful emblem of the idea of universal access.  Everybody is welcome.

We just think about access barriers, which are not only economic.  Cultural assumptions in a community can cause people to stay away.  At Landmarks, we think deeply about what those barriers are and do what we can to get rid of them.

SC:  Yes, and you have held many events so far this season.  For example, you recently celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Moon Landing with Symphonic Space Odyssey.  How did you pay tribute to this historic event?

CW:  We performed that in Jordan Hall because it was a stormy night.  Jordan Hall is one of the most beautiful venues in America and the sound indoors just rattles your bones.  We didn’t have to change the program at all, just the venue.

The Moon Landing is one of the most amazing achievements in the history of mankind.  It was an awesome night and we celebrated it with the Museum of Science which was perfect because they have had an exhibition ever since the moon landing occurred.  The Museum of Science prepared fabulous video footage relating to the moon landing, space travel, rockets, and deep space taken from materials produced in house at the Hayden Planetarium for their full dome experience.

SC:  What are you most looking forward to this season?

CW:  Each week is so over the top that it’s hard to pick a favorite.  We have a wonderful collaboration on August 14 with the New England Aquarium featuring some remarkable video material that will be synchronized live to the orchestra.

Boston Landmarks Orchestra New England Aquarium

Boston Landmarks Orchestra partners with the New England Aquarium for a free concert on August 14 Photo courtesy of Boston Landmarks Orchestra/New England Aquarium

The subject is climate change and we’re performing Vaughan Williams Symphonia Antarctica which is originally a film score, but now set to a more recent film made by Natural History New Zealand featuring all shots from Antarctica.

Then we have a beautiful photographic sequence put together by Boston Globe writer David Arnold called “Above and Below.”  He’s taken Brad Washburn’s iconic aerial photographs of glaciers and coral reefs mostly from the 1930’s and then taking the same shots today.  Of course what you see is a devastating record of loss set to Adagio for Strings.  The program also includes optimistic shots from Boston Harbor and other places from then and now which shows tremendous improvement environmentally and send the message that we can do something about climate change.

We did an extremely interesting panel discussion recently which has some caused useful and in depth panel conversation called “Who Should Sing Ol’ Man River?” around race and the portrayal of racial themes at WBUR CitySpace.  Our moderator was Emmett G Price III, a celebrity in Boston and a wonderful musician, historian, pastor, and radio personality.  It was a wonderfully experienced and informed panel who weighed in on a lot of these questions and shaped how we put together the following week’s concert.

Boston Landmarks Orchestra Alvy Powell

Bass Bariton Alvy Powell Photo courtesy of Boston Landmarks Orchestra

SC:  Ol’ Man River from Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “Showboat” is such an amazing song and I’ve seen it done is so many different ways.

CW:  It’s a showstopper.  Our base Alvy Powell has sung Ol’ Man River in the White House for the last six sitting Presidents in a row.  He sang it at George H.W. Bush’s funeral at President Bush and his wife Barbara’s request.  He also sang it at Gerald Ford’s funeral.  If anyone should sing Ol’ Man River, it’s Alvy Powell and he performed it that night.

SC:  What kind of conversation sprung from that panel?

CW:  That’s a good question.  We got into questions of language, dialect, the history of black music, and cultural appropriation.  Quite an interesting segment was when we were looking at where we go from here.  One of our panelists was Ashleigh Gordon, founder of an organization that has attracted a lot of praise and attention called Castle of Our Skins.  It celebrates African American composers and performers.  She’s done an amazing job furthering the discussion and coming up with creative ways of producing eye catching programming.

They are opening a permanent set of offices at the Boston Center for the Arts.  We are collaborating with Ashleigh, Castle of Our Skins and Anthony Green, a composer she works with frequently on the Esplanade on August 21 for our Landmarks Dance Night.  The project surrounds the music and dance of Haiti because we are also including the Jean Appolon Expressions Dance Company.

Boston Landmarks Orchestra Jennifer Ellis Matthew DiBattista, Maesto Wilkins, and One City Choir

Christopher Wilkins with Jennifer Ellis Matthew DiBattista, Maesto Wilkins, and One City Choir Photo courtesy of Boston Landmarks Orchestra

It’s often our best vehicle for showcasing the diversity of traditions and types of cultural expression.  I grew up here, but the city is infinitely more diverse now than it was when I grew up.

SC:  Absolutely.  What have you liked most over your time with the Boston Landmarks Orchestra?

CW:  We’ve had lots of great moments over the last eight or nine years.  My first concert was conducting Beethoven’s 9th at Fenway Park so that is pretty hard to top.  We did an amazing night celebrating the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s I Have a Dream Speech with Governor Deval Patrick as our narrator and featuring a lot of video and photographic imagery.

We did a memorable collaboration with the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum when their director, Peggy Fogelman, first arrived in Boston.  Another highlight was a series of programs with Commonwealth Shakespeare Company.  We performed full productions of musicals or a Shakespeare play such as “Midsummer Night’s Dream” with Mendelssohn.

The musicians learn something they know so well and are able to put it into the context of the play while the actors now can play off a symphony.  Now how often does that happen?   It is amazing for the performers and the audience.

SC:  You’ve performed all over the United States.  What do you like best about your time with the Boston Landmarks Orchestra?

CW:  I love our mission.  It’s readily understandable to most people in the community which I think is why we are receiving increasing levels of support from all quarters from individuals and foundations and from political reps because we are using great music with its level of complexity, depth, and emotional appeal and a first class professional orchestra as a means to gather community together.

I don’t know another orchestra that has a mission defined in this way.  I learn a lot and meet all kinds of interesting people doing interesting work.  We get to come together in a musical setting and it’s almost guaranteed everybody has a wonderful time.

Sit back and enjoy the Boston Landmarks Orchestra free every Wednesday night.  Click here for the full schedule and how to support future concerts.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Renowned conductor Charles Floyd talks Boston Pops’ annual Gospel Night and how his career began

For 27 years, the Boston Pops have made Gospel Night a highly-anticipated tradition.  A glorious, enthusiastic audience which includes newcomers and returning fans greet conductor, pianist, and composer Charles Floyd, the Boston Pops Gospel Choir, and a selection of guest artists.  This year, award-winning Gospel singer Dottie Peoples headlines this year’s concert for one night only on Saturday, June 15 at Symphony Hall in Boston, Massachusetts.  Click here for more information and for tickets to this beloved annual event.

Renowned conductor, pianist, and composer Charles Floyd talks about his longtime role with Gospel Night, its evolution, and having dreams he never imagined would come true.

Charles Floyd leading the Boston Pops (Stu Rosner)

Renowned conductor, pianist, and composer Charles Floyd leading the Boston Pops Photo courtesy of Stu Rosner/Boston Pops

Sleepless Critic:  The Boston Pops Gospel Night is an incredible event each year.  The last time I went, it seemed like a nonstop celebration, joyfully continuing long after the concert was over.

Charles Floyd:  Everybody looks forward to that part of the program because it is probably the most energetic.  The music can be very exciting and uplifting.  We like to feature something that the gospel choir performs without the orchestra.

The orchestra wants to go into overtime and that gets into an issue, but if the building is still open, there’s no reason why the choir can’t stay to do a couple more numbers if they enjoy singing and the audience is going to stick around.  When the formalities are done, it’s a nice moment when people can just let their hair down.

SC:  The concert is so uplifting, you don’t want to leave.  You have been with Gospel Night for 25 years, almost since its start.

CF:   I appeared the second year.  I was called because the conductor the first year could not do it the second year.  I had to take a year away back in 2004, so this is my 25th and it’s their 27th, but I am celebrating 27 years just like they are.

SC:   It must be amazing to see how it has evolved over the years.

CF:   It’s been an honor to be a part of it.  I was working with Miss Natalie Cole for close to 14 years.  We had done a few concerts with the Boston Pops, and at the time, Maestro Lockhart and I were in the running in some capacity to step in.  Keith got the gig and I was very happy for him.  It was great for the community and I was somewhat new, and so they called and asked if I had done that sort of thing.  I said I have and only had about 6 weeks’ notice to prepare.

It was a little bit nerve-wracking to put together an entire program, write orchestration that didn’t exist, and then learn the classics and light classics on top of having to cater to guests artists.  We balanced out the program with Keith conducting the first part of the program and I conducted the third part of the program, Rhapsody in Blue.

Keith had to be at Tanglewood and other places as the date of Gospel Night moved around.  That’s kind of how it happened.  When the door opens, you walk through or the door might not open again and here we are.

Dottie Peoples Headshot 1

Award-winning gospel singer Dottie Peoples Photo courtesy of Boston Symphony Orchestra

SC:   Some of the best things happen spontaneously.  This year, Dottie Peoples will be the featured artist on Saturday, June 15.  Do you have a hand in who performs each year?

CF:   I am involved in the process.  I don’t always have control over who the artist will be because a certain artist I may want to work with may not be available, but they are nice enough at the Pops office to ask who they could look into.  They come up with their own ideas too.   We all put our cards on the table and explore the possibilities.

SC:  You have been part of the Gospel Night tradition for so many years and you have performed all over the world.  Music has been a part of your life since you were 4.

CF:  I used to bang on cables and pretend like I was playing.  Everybody thought it was cute.  By the time I got to a piano, I was 4 and I was already taking out melodies and ordering things by year.  It was another six months before I started taking formal lessons, but yeah, music has been a part of my entire life.

You never know what life is going to hold when you are young.  Just because you start playing the piano no matter how good or bad you are at it, there is no guarantee of what the future will hold.  I took physics and journalism as a back up in high school, but once I got to college, I dedicated myself completely to music and didn’t try to be a master of all trades.

All through 10 years of conservatory and grad school, it was all piano.  I was not a conducting major and I found myself in a situation where a conductor was needed.  I was the only person who could step in at the time, so I got serious about conducting.  I started studying all kinds of things such as opera, had to go through all the symphonies and all the major works of all the major composers.

I learned so much about accompanying singers with the baton from listening and attending operas.  I played for singers my entire life, but to watch a conductor accompany a singer is something I don’t think a lot of people really appreciate at least the way that I did and what I learned from it.  It’s been fun and as long as the work keeps coming in, that’s the greatest thing.  Just to keep going.

SC:  What have been your career highlights?  I understand you also performed Howard Shore’s ‘The Lord of the Rings Symphony‘ at his request.  That must have been tremendous.

CF:  I was trying to explain it to my sister and family not long ago.  People talk about having their dreams come true.  My situation is a little backwards.  It’s not a question of my dreams not coming true, but most everything that has transpired in my career were things I never dreamed of in the first place.

If I had said when I was eight years old that I would be at Symphony Hall with the Boston Pops or working with an orchestra at Carnegie Hall with James Taylor and Sting or sitting at an event next to Harry Belafonte or conducting orchestras for Natalie Cole or playing the piano for somebody else.  These are usually once in a lifetime events and I’m grateful that they continue to happen.  New things are coming in all the time and I couldn’t be happier or more grateful.

Click here for Gospel Night tickets, call SymphonyCharge at 1-888-266-1200, or visit the Symphony Hall box office during business hours at 301 Massachusetts Ave in Boston, Massachusetts.  Follow The Boston Pops on Facebook and Twitter for updates.

REVIEW: Lyric Stage brings beauty and powerful perspective to Sondheim’s ‘Pacific Overtures’

Surrounded by wild pink cherry blossoms, Lyric Stage reveals a telling story with Stephen Sondheim’s stirring musical Pacific Overtures, a historical production set in 1853 when a mysterious ship drops anchor on Japan’s remote and tranquil island.  Told entirely from Japan’s perspective, it’s an important tale about conflict, betrayal, and the price of progress.

Skillfully directed by Spiro Veloudos, musically-directed by Jonathan Goldberg, and choreographed by Micheline Wu, Lyric Stage presents Stephen Sondheim’s Pacific Overtures through June 16 at 140 Clarendon Street in Boston, Massachusetts.  Click here for more information and tickets.

Lyric Stage Pacific Overtures Please Hello

Jeff Song and The cast of Pacific Overtures. Photo by Mark S. Howard.

The Lyric Stage has a knack for surprises.  They take on a variety of shows throughout the season, from contemporary to original productions to traditional musicals, but one thing they all have in common is it is hard to imagine how the show will play out onstage.  Though rarely performed, Sondheim’s Pacific Overtures is an unpredictable, multi-layered musical that delivers an unforgettable message about power and prosperity.

Between scenic designer Janie E Howland’s hand painted set, the sloping wild pink cherry blossoms, Gail Astrid Buckley’s rich and historically-accurate costumes, and Karen Perlow’s clever light design, Lyric Stage brings to life Japan’s beautiful and increasingly tumultuous landscape.  This show does an excellent job at depicting a sympathetic, humorous, and at times, haunting look of how Japan saw the outside world.

Choreographer Micheline Wu’s reflects Japan’s distinct culture in sharp choreography, integrating samurai tradition while carefully letting a bit of westernization seep in.  Kai Chao as relentless Commodore Perry struts into a patriotic, humorous, and cunning Lion Dance while Wu herself, who also depicts Tamate and other roles, captures Tamate’s raw vulnerability in a fan dance during the reflective number, There is No Other Way.

Lyric Stage Pacific Overtures cast

The cast of Lyric Stage’s ‘Pacific Overtures’ Photo by Mark S. Howard

Enthusiastically recited by Lisa Yuen, who was last seen on the Lyric Stage as the mesmerizing Spider Woman in Puig’s Kiss of the Spider Woman, Yuen delicately balances the tale she tells with a mix of humor and urgency, occasionally stepping into the story itself.  That could be an awkward transition, but it’s one that Yuen takes on with ease.

Carl Hsu portrays Kayama, a quietly conflicted fisherman thrust into the spotlight to solve a seemingly impossible issue.  Hsu’s wistful, soaring vocals reflect his alienation as western culture attempts to take hold in Bowler Hat.  Inquisitive and awestruck, he struggles to adjust to Japan’s seeming future.

Lyric Stage Pacific Overtures Carl Hsu and Sam Hamashima

Carl Hsu as Kayama and Sam Hamashima as Manjiro in ‘Pacific Overtures’ Photo by Mark S. Howard

Sam Hamashima portrays Massachusetts fisherman prisoner Manjiro, a man with mysterious intentions.  Hamasima and Hsu show low key camaraderie as they improvise together during the number PoemsGary Thomas Ng takes on several roles, but proves to be at his funniest as the Grandmother in the lighthearted number, Welcome to Kanagawa.

Lyric Stage Pacific Overtures Welcome to Kanagawa

Alexander Holden, Gary Thomas Ng, Karina Wen, and Kai Chao in Pacific Overtures. Photo by Mark S. Howard.

Change can be painful.  From a remote, peaceful, self-sufficient island to an economic powerhouse to the home of the 2020 Olympics, Japan has worn many faces and overcame many obstacles.  Pacific Overtures depicts the raw emotion and a sympathetic perspective on what that might have felt like along the way.

Lyric Stage continues Stephen Sondheim’s moving musical, Pacific Overtures through Sunday, June 16 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.

REVIEW: With author Margaret Atwood in attendance, Boston Lyric Opera creates a twist-filled, haunting ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’

She must have order.

First came the best-selling novel, then the 90s film starring Faye Dunaway, Elizabeth McGovern, Aidan Quinn, Robert Duvall, and Miranda Richardson, then the Hulu series already in Season 3, and now Boston Lyric Opera debuts Ruder’s The Handmaid’s Tale as an stirring opera with bestselling author Margaret Atwood in attendance on Sunday, May 5.

Boston Lyric Opera The Handmaids Tale May 5-12

Photo courtesy of Boston Lyric Opera

The Handmaid’s Tale has been adapted into different genres and it is not difficult to see why it stands the test of time and holds such relevance in today’s culture.  Yes, it’s harrowing and difficult to watch at times, but it also makes a statement about fanaticism, corruption, and a lack of privacy, serving as a warning to what our world will hopefully never become.  As Caroline Worra, who delivers an incomparable performance as Aunt Lydia, states, “Gilead is within you.”

The blurred lines of justice reign supreme in The Handmaid’s Tale, a meaty, remarkable story seamlessly transformed into an opera through Sunday, May 12 at Harvard University’s Ray Lavietes Pavilion in Cambridge, Massachusetts.  Click here for more information and tickets.  Click here for a clip of Boston Lyric Opera’s The Handmaid’s Tale.

When government has been destroyed, the army takes over and an unrelenting force rules society under the name of the Republic of Gilead.  Offred, portrayed passionately by mezzo-sopranos Jennifer Johnson Cano and Felicia Gavilanes, has been thrust into an oppressed, abusive world where she must face impossible decisions.

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The state-of-the-art Ray Lavietes Basketball Pavilion is an unexpected place to hold this dystopian classic, but the cold, open space and James Schuette’s minimal set bring out the stark, rich color contrasts and adds distinction to each character in a hard, futuristic New England society.  This combination escalates the tension while an incredible score by Poul Ruders, zealously performed by the spectacular Boston Lyric Opera orchestra conducted by David Angus, makes for a chilling and moving experience.

Boston Lyric Opera’s The Handmaid’s Tale features a strong cast, each with their own complicated plight.  With beautiful, soaring vocals, Jennifer Johnson Cano is riveting as Offred, a mother and wife yanked into the Republic of Gilead.  Caroline Worra epitomizes the righteous and vigilant Aunt Lydia, her commanding stature and mesmerizing charisma apparent every time she steps onstage.  Kathryn Skemp Moran offers an empathetic performance as Ofwarren, a woman unable to let go of her past.  With deep, resonant vocals, David Cushing is convincing as the multi-faceted Commander who delivers a few surprises of his own along the way.

The Handmaids Tale Jennifer Johnson Cano as Offred and David Cushing as Commander

In the Commander’s office (David Cushing), Offred (Jennifer Johnson Cano) reads aloud from a beauty magazine published in the Time Before in Boston Lyric Opera’s production of “The Handmaid’s Tale,” running through May 12. BLO.org Photo courtesy of Liza Voll/Boston Lyric Opera

The Boston Lyric Opera seamlessly translates Margaret Atwood’s twist-filled dystopian classic, The Handmaid’s Tale, into an opera for four performances only at Harvard University’s Ray Lavietes Pavilion through Sunday, May 12.  Click here for more information and tickets.  Follow Boston Lyric Opera on Facebook for upcoming events and more.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

REVIEW SpeakEasy Stage’s ‘Once’ a celebration even within its quiet moments

Dancing fiddlers and a rollicking music celebration is only the beginning.  Directed by Paul Melone and adapted from the 2007 romantic musical film of the same name, The SpeakEasy Stage Company presents the Tony Award-winning musical, Once extended through Sunday, April 7 at the Calderwood Pavilion in Boston, Massachusetts.  Click here for more information and for tickets.

Welcoming early arrivals to the show is a lively, comical, pre-show band that is also part of the talented Once cast.  Each cast member is also a musician and they all get their moment to shine.  With naturally flowing choreography by Ilyse Robbins, stomping guitarists and dueling fiddlers joyfully romp in a freestyle dance with the drummer.  The band has such personality and the performance is a wonderful preface to a quietly beautiful love story about a pair of lonely musicians who long for their place in the world.

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Eric Levenson’s absorbing set design enhances the production’s soulful atmosphere, featuring instruments hanging around a brick arch while musicians pop up sporadically during the production.  Though Once is set in Dublin, takes a lot at Czech and Irish traditions.  Guy is a lonely, sensitive street performer from Northside Dublin.  Portrayed with tight lipped earnestness by Nile Scott Hawver, Guy expresses his raw emotion through his songwriting, immediately leaving an impact with his first number, Leave.

Guy meets Girl, a talkative Czech pianist portrayed with quirky charm by Mackenzie Lesser-Roy.  Their immediate, humorous chemistry and her heartening, compassionate demeanor toward him is a particular highlight only topped by their remarkable duets, heightened during the show’s signature song, Falling Slowly.

Hawver does an impressive job portraying Guy’s gradual vulnerability while showing off his comic chops, especially during the song Broken Hearted Hoover Fixer Sucker Guy, but it is Lesser-Roy who shines, her chiming voice delivering a stirring rendition of The Hill and If You Want Me.  She carries a longing and loneliness she recognizes in Guy and her plucky, irrepressible optimism leaves a mark on everyone she meets.

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Once also has its share of amusing moments.  Billy Butler is hilarious as hot blooded, macho music shop owner, Billy.  Jeff Song is a delight as Bank Manager in a wildly enthusiastic version of Abandoned in BandonJacob Brandt and Kathy St. George are charming as perpetual dreamer Andrej and as candid, strong-willed Girl’s mother Baruska respectively.

The songs on Once’s acoustic, fiddle-laden soundtrack contain timeless, contemplative messages and the ensemble certainly contributes to its playful moments, but Once’s greatest strength is its subtle nuances and the impalpable stillness within this simple tale, most evident in the ensemble’s lovely, a capella version of Gold.  Love can a simple, quiet declaration that lingers long after the show is over.

SpeakEasy Stage presents the Tony Award-winning musical, Once extended through Sunday, April 7 at the Calderwood Pavilion, 539 Tremont Street in Boston, Massachusetts.  Click here for more information and for tickets.  Click here for a closer look at the SpeakEasy Stage and its 2019 season.

CAEG’s ‘Princess Zhaojun’s’ Yang Donglin envisions how one woman united a nation

Continuing with the theme of International Women’s Day is a show about real life heroine.  During the Han Dynasty, an amazing, intelligent woman considered one of the four beauties of Ancient China left the world she knew to marry Huhanye in order to achieve peace on the Northern Border of China.

Princess Zhaojun, presented by China Arts and Entertainment Group (CAEG), is a compelling dance drama and features detailed, beautiful sets and costumes.  The Sleepless Critic interviewed accomplished costume designer Yang Donglin about his work and what is was like to visually bring the Han Dynasty and this story to life.

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China National Opera and Dance Drama Theatre present Princess Zhaojun for one weekend only at the Boch Shubert Theatre in Boston, MA March 16-17.  Its mission is to share traditional and contemporary Chinese performing arts around the world.  Click here for more information and tickets.

Yang Donglin

Accomplished costume designer Yang Donglin Photo courtesy of China Performing Arts Agency

Sleepless Critic:  Is this your first time working with the China Performing Arts Agency and what other shows have you worked on?

Yang Donglin:  For China Performing Arts Agency I was costume designer for the dance drama Confucius when it toured the US in 2017 and Dragon Boat Racing in 2016 and 2018.  I have also worked in dance drama for Du Fu, Chinese Orphan, Lotus and Li Bai and Opera for Jianzhen Crosses the Ocean to Japan, Turandot, The White-Haired Girl and Peasant Takes a Wife.

Princess Zhaojun. China National Opera & Dance Drama Theater. (20)

Princess Zhaojun. Photo courtesy of China National Opera & Dance Drama Theater

SC:  The China Performing Arts Agency has a reputation for featuring the most beautiful costumes and scenery I have ever seen and Princess Zhaojun is no different.  I saw the Soaring Wings production last January and it was stunning.  This show serves as a piece of Chinese history and Princess Zhaojun is a real person who lived during the Han Dynasty.  Please tell me about how you selected and put together the costumes for this show.

YD:  I added proper contemporary interpretation of the piece instead of simply copying and restoring what it looked like in history.  We need to constantly deny ourselves and make textured clothing that can keep abreast of the body language expression of our actors. Taking Zhaojun for example, we have tried to change at least 5-6 kinds of fabrics to make a sample, and the director has even personally tried it on for rehearsal action until the most satisfactory texture and effect comes out.

Artistic creation is neither restoring history nor making things up. We have incorporated more dramatic elements into the traditional Han dynasty clothing, and many of the costumes are inspired by the wooden terracotta figures, Han portrait stones, and bricks portraits in the ancient Han dynasty tombs. At the same time, costumes are endowed with different souls according to the personalities and fates of the characters. For example, the overall cool color of the Han dynasty palace and the warm orange color on the grassland have all indicated the change in the character of the protagonist.

Princess Zhaojun. China National Opera & Dance Drama Theater. (12)

Princess Zhaojun. Photo courtesy of China National Opera & Dance Drama Theater

SC:  What has been the most difficult part of putting this show together and what has been the best part?

The most difficult part is finding the balance between the communication of the main actors’ images and the restriction of their dance movements in single, double, or triple dance.  The most satisfying is the characteristics of each costume are exactly the same as the director’s ideas such as the leashed called dance, free Zigui dance, and bold pouring wax dance full of exotic flavors. Each has its own traits, but together they have a unified style to construct distinctive aesthetic style on the stage.

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SC:  What do you like best about being a costume designer?

YD:  I like the creativity.  I like the feeling of swimming freely in the ocean of creation.

Witness Yang Donglin’s exceptional costume design and experience China National Opera and Dance Drama Theatre’s Princess Zhaojun for one weekend only at the Boch Shubert Theatre at 265 Tremont Street in Boston, MA March 16-17.  Click here for more information and tickets.  Click here for more about China Arts and Entertainment Group and their future productions.

 

REVIEW: Avarice and deceit rule the day as Lyric Stage Company presents Lillian Hellman’s riveting ‘The Little Foxes’

They hunt, fight, and are particularly clever.  Foxes stalk their prey and can strike from dusk till dawn.  Once they pounce, they leave ruin in their wake.

Lillian Hellman’s powerful play, The Little Foxes recently celebrated its 80th anniversary opening on Broadway and the 90th anniversary since the play was first published.  After seeing this production for the first time at the Lyric Stage Company, there is no question why this show possesses such longevity.  It’s an intense, intriguing drama where power is paramount and, given the right players as was done here, never a dull moment.

Directed by award-winning director Scott Edmiston, The Lyric Stage Company of Boston presents Lillian Hellman’s The Little Foxes through Sunday, March 17 at 140 Clarendon Street in Boston, Massachusetts.  The show is told in three riveting acts.  Click here for more information and for tickets.

The Little Foxes

Lyric Stage Company of Boston presents ‘The Little Foxes’ through March 17 Photo courtesy of The Lyric Stage Company

Taking place during the post-Civil War era at the turn of the century, The Little Foxes depicts a Southern family of means who are never satisfied.  They intend to strike a lucrative deal with Bill Mootos as affluent and distinguished William Marshall, a man who may hold the key to a big payoff.  However, can this family work together or is it every man for himself?

An ornate, brass chandelier, a grand staircase, and detailed glass doors are a just a few of the opulent features of Janie E. Howland’s exquisite set design.  Gail Astrid Buckley’s enthralling costume design boasts ladies adorned in elegant, detailed gowns faithful to the era as gentlemen dress to the nines in coat and tails.  Karen Perlow’s dramatic lighting combined with Scott Emiston’s skillful direction produce a simmering intensity while augmenting the show’s poignant moments.

The Little Foxes Cast

From L to R: Remo Airaldi as Ben, Michael John Ciszewski as Leo, Bill Mootos as William Marshall, Kinson Theodoris as Cal, Anne Gottlieb as Regina, Cheryl D. Singleton as Addie, Rosa Procaccino as Alexandra, and Amelia Broome as Birdie Photo courtesy of Lyric Stage Company

The Little Foxes features a stellar cast, headlined by Anne Gottlieb as sophisticated and aptly named Regina Giddens.  Her charm and shrewdness could give Scarlett O’Hara a run for her money.  Gottlieb’s visibly charming demeanor hides a smoldering callousness, a woman who will sacrifice anything for what she wants.  Her shifty eyes and perfect red lips wind in a smile as she calculates her next move.  Her astonishing scenes with Craig Mathers as wise, ailing Horace Giddens alone is worth the price of admission.

Amelia Broome delivers a moving performance as aristocrat Birdie Hubbard.  Flanked in pearls and ethereal, flowing gowns, Broome, her face taut and wide-eyed, depicts Birdie’s palpable anxiety, a compassionate soul who has seen too much and longs for the past.  She shares a sweet camaraderie with Rosa Procaccino as naïve Alexandra Giddens who Birdie sees so much of herself in her while Birdie’s encounters with Will McGarrahan as Oscar, her unpredictable husband, are gripping.

The Little Foxes Horace and Birdie

From L to R: Remo Airaldi as Ben, Michael John Ciszewski as Leo, Will McGarrahan as Oscar, Amelia Broome as Birdie, Craig Mathers as Horace, and Anne Gottlieb as Regina Photo courtesy of Lyric Stage Company

With a gleeful, audacious laugh, Remo Airaldi delivers a memorable, complex performance as Benjamin Hubbard.  His careful balance between humor and deceit make him intriguing, interacting with each character with ever-changing faces.

After portraying a swaggering, conceited Smee in Hub Theatre Company of Boston’s Peter and the Starcatcher last year, Michael Jon Ciszewski brings his quite fittingly scene-chewing charisma to the smarmy Leo Hubbard.  Cheryl D. Singleton as all-knowing Addie and Kinson Theodoris as Cal are wonderful, delivering some of the show’s most insightful and humorous moments.

What makes The Little Foxes such a fascinating work in the 90 years and counting since it was first presented onstage is its universal truths.  When is enough enough?  In a world of double crosses and scheming to get the lion’s share, when it is enough to be grateful for what you already have?  I guess for some families, the thrill is in the chase.

The Lyric Stage Company continues Lillian Hellman’s The Little Foxes through Sunday, February 3 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.