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.

REVIEW: ‘Rock of Ages,’ Company Theatre’s grand return to the stage, is packed with big dreams, spectacle, and wry rock nostalgia

If you decide to visit Hollywood, California, stop by the Bourbon Room, a real bar and nightclub inspired by the legendary fictional bar and nightclub in jukebox musical Rock of Ages.  The Bourbon Room opened last year in honor of the show’s 20th anniversary and if it contains half the wild antics of this edgy musical, it will be worth the trip.

The excitement was tangible as the Company Theatre prepared for their return to its signature indoor stage for the debut of Rock of Ages on Saturday, August 7.  The crowd was pumped for an uproarious good time as the booming sounds of 80s hits enlivened the stage and nostalgia took over not only for hair bands and jelly bracelets, but for a live show in person and in glorious color.

Caitlin Ford as Justice and Janis Hudson as Denise Dupree Photo courtesy of Zoe Bradford/Company Theatre

Directed by Zoe Bradford, musically directed by Steve Bass, and choreographed by Sally Ashton Forrest, The Company Theatre presents Rock of Ages without an intermission through Sunday, August 22 at The Company Theatre, 30 Accord Park Drive in Norwell, Massachusetts. This show is not for young kids. Please note this show run has some rotating cast members.  Click here for more information and for tickets.

Packed with colorful characters doused with a mix of rock raunchiness and self aware humor, Rock of Ages holds a mirror up to the era of excess and distinct self expression.  Steering this club is Brad Reinking as Lonny, the Bourbon’s impulsive no-holds-barred co-owner, resident storyteller, and narrator.  According to Company Theatre’s Director of Development Michael Hammond, Reinking improvised a portion of the dialogue with local references and contemporary quips the audience and not even the cast saw coming.   Reinking shines as Lonny, his strong voice and penchant for dark humor work well in a script that never takes itself too seriously.

Part love story, part rebellion, and mostly musical, Rock of Ages is set in the 80s on the Sunset Strip where idealistic Sherrie (Emily Lambert) and guitar strumming dreamer Drew (Braden Misiaszek) long for stardom and are not sure where to start.  They set their sights inside the fledgling Bourbon Room, an aging nightclub and bar in danger of being shut down unless someone takes action.

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

Performed by an intimate group of musicians led by Steve Bass, Rock of Ages is fueled by a wide range of 80’s hits that are clearly a trip down memory lane for some including Journey, Bon Jovi, REO Speedwagon, and Foreigner enhanced by Forrest’s intense choreography.   Emily Lambert boasts powerful vocals as wide-eyed yet determined Sherrie and does a terrific job teaming up with Caitlin Ford as complex yet confident Justice in a powerful medley of Quarterflash’s Harden My Heart and Pat Benatar’s Shadows of the Night.  Lambert also shines in a sweet yet intense rendition with Misiaszek for Extreme’s More than Words, Bad English’s To Be with You, and Warrant’s Heaven medley.   Melissa Carubia as spunky and resourceful renegade Regina is all spirit and heart for Twisted Sister’s We’re Not Gonna Take it and light and amusing rendition of Starship’s We Built this City and Styx’s Too Much Time on My Hands

Shane Hennessey makes a big entrance as mysterious Stacy Jaxx (in a nod to another famous 80s rocker) to Bon Jovi’s Dead or AliveRyan Barrow’s vibrant set design is on point especially one scene in a nightclub bathroom.  It is easy to feel the grime watching that signature nightclub bathroom from the audience.  Janis Hudson portrays compelling Denise Dupree with a tough façade, dry humor, and a Joan Jett vibe while Christopher Spencer offers some refreshing and sometimes goofy comic relief as Franz.

The Rock of Ages cast Photo courtesy of Zoe Bradford/Company Theatre

That is just a taste of the wide range of rock numbers in store.  A jukebox rock musical, Rock of Ages is best enjoyed as an extended MTV music video at a time when music was mainly performed on MTV. The rock medleys have cheek and sass and in the real world oozing with serious drama (where to start) Rock of Ages is meant as pure entertainment and each fun loving character a representation of a lighter time. You may find yourself bobbing your head, singing along, or both to the catchy tunes you may or may not have lived through, but nonetheless have stood the test of time in their own vibrant way.

Prior to the Rock of Ages musical on opening night, Company Theatre offered a VIP pre-show that featured plenty of 80s nostalgia and delicious treats including Pop Rocks, shrimp cocktail, cheese and crackers, vintage-style cupcakes, and a special Ecto Cooler cocktail.

The Company Theatre presents Rock of Ages without an intermission through Sunday, August 22 at The Company Theatre, 30 Accord Park Drive in Norwell, Massachusetts.   Click here for more information, upcoming events, and tickets.

Director Matt Silva and ‘Waist Watchers the Musical’s’ cast talks improvising, exercise, and girl’s night out

Since April, Alan Jacobson’s Waist Watchers the Musical, a musical comedy from the production team responsible for You Say Tomato, I Say Shut Up, My Mother’s Italian, My Father’s Jewish, and I’m in Therapy, and Menopause The Musical, has been taking a frank and lighthearted look at four women’s struggle with dieting, body image issues, exercise, and much more.  Perfect for a date night or a girl’s night out, this musical comedy continues through Sunday, June 25 at the Regent Theatre in Arlington, Massachusetts.  Click here for the full schedule and for tickets.

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‘Waist Watchers the Musical’ cast Photo courtesy of Playhouse Productions/Regent Theatre

The atmosphere was full of excitement and laughter as the cast and director of Waist Watchers the Musical, having just performed a weekday matinee, spoke about the unique preparation for this show, working with the choreographer of the acclaimed film, Silver Linings Playbook and Hairspray Live, and keeping the show fresh and more hilarious each and every night.  Director Matt Silva and cast members Kiley McDonald, Stephanie Genovese, and Krissy Johnson all agree they are having a blast.

Sleepless Critic:  Waist Watchers the Musical tackles a unique and sometimes sensitive subject.  How does this show balance comedy with working out?

Kiley:  We’ve talked about that a lot and how to approach the material knowing about body image and social media.  It really takes a toll on women and how they envision what’s perfect.  This show does a really good job of making light of everything and reminding us to laugh, accept, and love who you are.  Everyone has flaws and trouble with something.  That can’t hold you back and rule the choices you make in life.

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‘Waist Watchers the Musical’ cast at Cook’s Gym Photo courtesy of Playhouse Productions/Regent Theatre

SC:  Waist Watchers The Musical’s choreographer, Dani Tucci-Juraga, was behind the choreography for the acclaimed film, Silver Linings Playbook and Hairspray Live, which featured some amazing dance moves.  Did you find learning the dancing particularly challenging?

Stephanie:  Dani is fantastic.  She is the sweetest woman I’ve ever met, but she is tough.  She knows exactly what she wants and pushes you to become a better dancer, performer, and in this case, athlete.  There were times when we were sore and complaining and she told us to deal with it and try harder.

SC:  What attracted you to this show and these roles?

Matt:  I am the orchestrator for this company who had taken on the show.  It was out in Phoenix and I didn’t have anything to do with it.  I went to see the show and thought the material was cool, acceptable, and empowering for women.  The production itself wasn’t all that successful in terms of the talent, choreography, and the production value.  I was really excited to take the message, empowerment, and the women’s process and collaborate with them and make it fun.  I thought the production was lot of fun, but I thought the show I saw needed a little injection.

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‘Waist Watchers the Musical’ cast  Photo courtesy of Playhouse Productions/Regent Theatre

SC:  The cast has very unique roles to prepare for.  Aside from the dancing, what other preparation was involved?

Kiley:  We knew right away that we needed to condition our bodies for the show because it is non-stop, 90 minutes of cardio.  We would have to sing and dance without a lot of time to breathe.  We also don’t leave the stage very often.  It took us a little while to get our bodies moving, figure out where to breathe, and where to sing.  A lot mental preparation goes into it.

SC:  This show features all new and original music by Vince Di Mura.  Do you have any favorites that stand out for you?

Stephanie:  I love Lazy.

Kiley:  My top favorite is The Morning After.

Chrissy:  Eat it.

SC:  You have been performing this show since April and the final show will be on Sunday, June 25.  How does the show stay fresh each time you perform?  I understand the show involves a lot of improvisation.

Stephanie:  We try to make new discoveries each night.  Every audience is different and they react to different things, so every performance stays different and fresh.

SC:  You must encounter your share of surprises improvising and trying new things.  Any memorable moments that occurred onstage?

Krissy:  At this one performance, we had a new sound system.  It was the first time using this wireless microphone. The mic cracked and made a loud noise onstage right before one of my lines.  It frightened me so badly, I screamed!  From that moment to the end of that scene, I could not stop laughing or get my lines out.  It was quite amusing.

SC:  You all obviously have really snappy chemistry on and off-stage.

Kiley:  We are very fortunate to all get along and appreciate each other’s sense of humor.

SC:  What is the best reason to see Waist Watchers The Musical?

Stephanie:  It is definitely a girl’s night out and one hundred percent campy.  It’s a feel good show with lots of laughs.  Good clean fun, but definitely PG-13.

Presented by Playhouse Productions, Waist Watchers the Musical continues at the Regent Theatre until June 25.  After the Regent Theatre, the show continues its tour in Huntington Beach and Sacramento, California.  Click here for further details and for tickets or call 781-646-4849.  Group rates are also available at 888-264-1788.

Cohasset Youth Theatre proudly presents the romantic comedy, ‘Legally Blonde the Musical, Jr.’

From fashion extraordinaire to law student, Elle Woods strives to show Harvard she is so much more than a blond in pink heels.  Based on the hit romantic comedy that shot Reese Witherspoon to stardom, Cohasset Dramatic Club’s partner, Cohasset Youth Theatre, proudly presents Legally Blonde the Musical Jr. for two nights only on Friday, April 28 through Saturday, April 29.  All performances will take place at Cohasset Dramatic Club’s Town Hall Theatre in Cohasset, Massachusetts at 7:30 p.m.  Call 617-852-0091 for more information and for tickets.

Legally Blonde the Musical Jr. is sure to dazzle audiences through its engaging tale about a perky California sorority girl with an indomitable spirit who sets her sights on Harvard Law School to win back her high school boyfriend.  She makes some surprising friends along the way and learns she is much stronger than she ever expected. Legally Blonde the Musical Jr. has all the frothy magic of the original movie including the musical numbers Omigod, You GuysSerious, and Positive that will leave audiences with a happy heart.

Starring Halle Pratt as Elle Woods, catch Cohasset Youth Theatre’s Legally Blonde the Musical Jr. from Friday, April 28 through Saturday, April 29 at 7:30 p.m.  All performances take place at Cohasset Town Hall Theatre, 41 Highland Ave in Cohasset, Massachusetts. Call 617-852-0091 for further details and tickets.  Tickets are also available at the door and the show is suitable for all ages.  Follow Cohasset Dramatic Club on Facebook for updates and more information and details on their upcoming shows.