REVIEW:  Whimsical and festive, Celebrity Series of Boston at Home extends the holiday season with Jason Palmer Quintet’s distinct and upbeat free digital concert

We all just wanted the holiday season to last just a bit longer.

With the uncertainty and bitter temperatures in this New Year just weeks into 2022, it is difficult to part from the bustling excitement of last year’s holiday season.  Musicals, plays, concerts, and more burst onto the stage cautiously but assuredly to deliver holiday cheer, some escapism, and to offer new and hopeful insight into what we have all been going through.

Trumpeter Jason Palmer, tenor saxophonist Noah Preminger, pianist Kevin Harris, bassist Max Ridley and drummer Lee Fish continues digital stream for two more months. Photo courtesy of Celebrity Series of Boston

In December, The Jason Palmer Quintet lit up the Arlington Street Church in Boston live and in person amid festively adorned green and gold wreaths while sharing some new music twists to a few beloved Christmas carols.  Don’t expect to hear these traditional Christmas carols without some clever and spirited flair.

Celebrity Series of Boston at Home is extending the spirit of the season with their free pre-recorded digital concert, part of the Neighborhood Arts, Jazz and Contemporary Music Series, The Jason Palmer Quintet.  This warmhearted concert is accessible for two more months and runs under 90 minutes with no intermission.  Click here for more information and additional selections from Jason Palmer and his quintet.

Trumpeter Jason Palmer, tenor saxophonist Noah Preminger, bassist Max Ridley and drummer Lee Fish Photo courtesy of Celebrity Series of Boston

Infusing music dynamos Duke Ellington and brothers Elvin and Thad Jones into eloquent compositions, The Jason Palmer Quintet arranges what trumpeter Jason Palmer affectionately calls ‘derangements.’ These derangements weave unique and lighthearted spins into traditional carols while each performer has their own chance to shine. 

Bassist Max Ridley and drummer Lee Fish caught on camera! Photo courtesy of Celebrity Series of Boston

Some of the concert highlights include an extended and impressive trumpet solo to open the show in the smooth and mid-tempo Sunset and Mockingbird/Christmas Song and Lee Fish’s playful drum solo during Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer as the drum beat imitates hooves on a rooftop.  It’s a sweeping, quiet build to Rudolph’s catchy chorus.  Trumpeter Jason Palmer, tenor saxophonist Noah Preminger, pianist Kevin Harris, bassist Max Ridley and drummer Lee Fish are all so well in sync and it is fascinating to watch them pair off as the instruments ‘chat,’ jam, and gradually build before circling back to that familiar tune with an unexpected flair and flourish.

ChristmasTime is Here is an expressive, rumbling, and fast-paced imagining of Vince Guaraldi’s easygoing classic number.  With more hustle, the musicians glide and veer into their own peaks and valleys highlighted by dynamic pianist Kevin Harris tickling the keys under a church sign that reads ‘To the Glory of God.’

Pianist Kevin Harris in action Photo courtesy of Celebrity Series of Boston

What is certain about this quintet is if the viewer listens carefully to their clever compositions, one may detect an extra carol or two within their potent rhythms.  For example, stray lyrics to Sleigh Ride can be heard within an eclectic medley of Silver Bells/A Child is Born and Santa Claus in Coming to Town emerges from a rolling and upbeat Greensleeves medley.  They certainly kept this enthusiastic audience on their toes.

Celebrity Series at Home is extending the mistletoe and holly with free digital concert, The Jason Palmer Quintet for two more months.  Click here to view the concert, more information, and additional selections from Jason Palmer and his quintet.

REVIEW:  GBH’s ‘A Christmas Celtic Sojourn’ full of gratitude, wistfulness, and holiday cheer

As the world shut down last year and domestic and international performers could not take the stage on A Christmas Celtic Sojourn’s usual tour around Massachusetts, GBH decided to bring the audience virtually to them in 2020.  From stunning Sligo Cathedral in Ireland to Scotland to Canada and various parts of Massachusetts, viewers could see a mix of Christmas traditions and scenery on location right from their own living room as well as experience traditional and contemporary harmonies performed simultaneously internationally through brilliant technology.  What hadn’t changed was A Christmas Celtic Sojourn’s master of ceremonies, Brian O’Donovan who delivered a mix of humor, melancholy, and warm reflections through engaging storytelling and fond tidings.  

From L to R: Windborne, Brian O’Donovan and Moira Smiley Photo credit to Matthew Muise

This year should seem more familiar.  Host Brian O’ Donovan and a mix of renowned performers from around the world returned to the stage for A Christmas Celtic Sojourn to deliver glad and wistful tidings through uplifting Celtic step dancing, musings, music, and storytelling while making stops in Rockport and Boston. 

Brian O’Donovan and the Christmas Celtic ensemble Photo credit to Matthew Muise

Directed with a mix of festiveness and reflection by Jenna Worden, the live and in person tour included a sold-out show at Shalin Liu Performance Center in Rockport, Massachusetts on December 14 and at the Cutler Majestic Theatre from December 17 through 19 in Boston, Massachusetts.  The show is 90 minutes with no intermission.

GBH’s virtual A Christmas Celtic Sojourn is still available.  Click here for more information and to enjoy the show on-demand through December 26.  A Christmas Celtic Sojourn would also like to hear what you thought of the program by visiting their Facebook page.

Nearing its 20 year-anniversary, what this annual production and concert certainly masters is the quiet and stirring.  That is just how the show begins as A Christmas Celtic Sojourn welcomed the audience with crisp, a cappella harmonies led by singer-songwriter Moira Smiley accompanied by returning folk singers Windborne.  Weaving in contemporary songs with God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen, their chiming vocals brought distinctive warmth so prevalent to the production.

In front of a painted mural of a serene Irish countryside transforming from dawn to dusk by innovative light designer Dan Jentzen, remarkable Christmas carol compositions, stirring remembrances, lively Celtic step dancing, and rousing jam sessions or  Celtic ‘round robins’ brought beauty, celebration, and stillness into the season. 

Speaking of ‘round robins,’ the Christmas Celtic ensemble composed of co-music director and multi-instrumentalist Seamus Egan, Celtic Harpist, pianist and co-music director Maeve Gilchrist, multi-instrumentalists Owen Marshall and Yann Falquet, Fiddler Jenna Moynihan, Kate McNally and Neil Pearlman on Fiddle and Piano, and Chico Huff on Bass, dedicated an uplifting and freestyle number to Paddy Moloney of The Chieftains who passed away in October.  It was fascinating to see how pianist Neil Perlman keeps the lively beat playing as his feet danced along. 

By candlelight and Christmas tree, host Brian O’Donovan recalls childhood memories in Ireland where Protestants and Catholics were brought together singing Christmas carols and the lingering smell of bacon wafted through his home weaving in anecdotes from Welch poet Dylan Thomas.  Brian also shared historical musings and performed a humorous rendition of Miss Fogarty’s Christmas cake

Singer-songwriter Moira Smiley Photo credit to Matthew Muise

Singer-songwriter Moira Smiley also delivered a mix of reflective and ruminating lyrics with Days of War about hard times as well as the rich folk lullaby Johanna Dreams on banjo.  Smiley’s remarkable, round, and velvety vocals enrich each verse.  She also shares the stage with Windborne and Brian O’Donovan in a stirring and gorgeous rendition Silent Night, O Holy Night and with the entire cast joined in for a treasured and traditional Auld Lang Syne and Here We Come A-Wassailing.

Entire Company of ‘A Christmas Celtic Sojourn’ Photo credit to Matthew Muise

However, most memorable is a vivid gathering as the stage transforms into a warm and inviting living room with the atmosphere of family and friends singing around the piano sharing various Christmas carols such as Joy to the World.  The stage is bright and festive as Celtic step dancers join in this familiar picture of the spirit of the season joyfully leaping in velvet attire and bejeweled shoes led by Ashley Smith-Wallace.  It is a picture treasured for the Christmas season and reflective of what is soon to come. 

GBH’s virtual A Christmas Celtic Sojourn is still available.  Click here for more information and to enjoy the show on-demand through December 26.  A Christmas Celtic Sojourn would also like to hear what you thought of the program by visiting their Facebook page.

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REVIEW:  Greater Boston Stage Company’s ‘All is Calm:  The Christmas Truce of 1914’ moving and miraculous

Witnessing a phenomenon is a rare and precious thing.  It was nothing short of miraculous watching Greater Boston Company’s All is Calm:  The Christmas Truce of 1914 which details that short period in history where enemies united briefly during the depths of War War I on Christmas Eve 1914.  Disillusioned and missing their loved ones, soldiers demonstrated compassion and the mercy of the human spirit as both sides sang carols, exchanged goods, and mutually wished for the war to end.

In the Greater Boston Stage Company’s lobby. Authentic combat uniform and gear from the Veteran Association of the First Corps of Cadets and Museum Photo courtesy of Greater Boston Stage Company

Directed poignantly by Ilyse Robbins and compellingly written by Peter Rothstein, Greater Boston Stage Company presents the award-winning documentary musical,  All is Calm:  The Christmas Truce of 1914 through December 23 as a digital performance and live in person at Greater Boston Stage Company, 395 Main Street in Stoneham, Massachusetts.  The show is approximately 70 minutes with no intermission.  Click here for more information and tickets.

It is surprising that The Christmas Truce of 1914 is not more widely known.  Joyeux Noel, The Christmas Truce, various documentaries, and this show are a few of the ways that this short historical period is recorded.  It should be an annual tradition like How the Grinch Stole Christmas, Frosty, Rudolph or A Charlie Brown Christmas.  It stands as a significant reminder of a Christmas Eve miracle that occurred only once during War World I’s long and grueling four year time span.  Most soldiers first joined thinking the war would end by Christmas. 

The cast of ‘All is Calm: The Christmas Truce of 1914’ Photo credit to Nile Scott Studios/Greater Boston Stage Company

A dimly lit, bare stage is all that is revealed at the start of All is Calm, but what transpires as the show progresses is a rich landscape of moonlight, song, and memories.  Though this show features musical interludes, it is not a traditional musical.  It is more like a documentary that features stunning music and carols inviting the audience into the warmth, spirit, sacrifice, and the true meaning of the season.

Comprised of ten cast members who take on several identities during the production as they recollect that time period, All is Calm boasts powerful and silvery harmonies chiming into the wintry night sung a cappella without a band.  Music Director Matthew Stern does a sensational job with Erick Lichte and Timothy Takach’s vocal arrangements which includes popular carols such as Silent Night, O Holy Night, We Wish You a Merry Christmas, Angels We Have Heard on High, and Auld Lang Syne.

Michael Jennings Mahoney and the cast of ‘All is Calm’ Photo credit to Nile Scott Studios/Greater Boston Stage Company

 All is Calm is a beautiful ensemble piece and each cast member rises to the occasion, but when a renowned German tenor leads a stirring rendition of Franz Gruber’s Stille Nacht in No Man’s Land, it is difficult to pinpoint a more memorable moment. 

Dressed in muted military uniforms and kilts faithful to the era’s period and culture by Bethany Mullins, the collaborative cast demonstrates heartwarming chemistry and yet simultaneously depicts each soldier’s growing isolation in sorrow, fear, turmoil, and anguish as they progressively experience war’s cruel reality.  Integrating direct quotes from soldiers, narration, and uplifting carols such as Wassail as well as exceptional and heartrending songs such as I Want to Go Home, many times moved me beyond words. 

Though the extraordinary harmonies are a large part of the production, the production’s real mastery also resides in its stillness.  That brief interlude during a harrowing time where friendships were forged and sweet peace was nestled in the silence of enemies who joined together in the joy of the season and the sadness in their hearts for what was in store.

Greater Boston Stage Company presents the award-winning documentary musical, All is Calm:  The Truce of 1914 through December 23 as a digital performance and live in person at Greater Boston Stage Company in Stoneham, Massachusetts.  The show is approximately 70 minutes with no intermission.  Click here for more information, tickets, and a look at their upcoming events.

Amid peerless Castle Hill and candlelight, Boston Lyric Opera delivers exquisite ‘Winter’s Evening’ on Operabox

One this is for sure, Boston Lyric Opera can achieve elegance anywhere.

Boston Lyric Opera (BLO) had two remarkable debuts for their virtual concert, A Winter’s Evening.  Directed sublimely by Nathan Troop, Boston Lyric Opera’s ‘A Winter’s Evening’ not only made its virtual debut on Operabox, but soprano Gabriella Reyes also made her effervescent debut with the Boston Lyric Opera, an event which she calls “a dream come true.”

BLO’s ‘A Winter’s Evening’ continues streaming through Sunday, January 10.  Click here for more information.  Boston Lyric Health Task Force helped coordinate the virtual performance to meet safety standards.

Surrounded by the gorgeous grounds at Castle Hill at the Crane Estate in Ipswich, Massachusetts, Miss Massachusetts 2020 Sabrina Victor, adorned in black fur over a glittering white gown, hosted this lovely evening with warmth and poise.

Boston Lyric Opera’s ‘A Winter’s Evening’ continues streaming on Operabox through Sunday, January 10. Photo credit to Boston Lyric Opera

Boston Lyric Opera also weaved in elements of hearth and home blending classic opera and festive classic songs as Gabriella Reyes and Sabrina Victor shared personal remembrances of holidays past.  The show is the height of elegance, not only in the couture, but inside the Crane Estate’s majestic ballroom embellished with candlelight and Christmas trees. 

Impressively accompanied by pianist Brett Hodgdon, Reyes, adorned in a black gown, showcased her broad range with a dynamic selection of songs that included a serene, bi-lingual version of Silent Night/Nochede Paz, passionate Quando M’en Vo from Puccini’s La Boheme, stirring Nana by Manuel De Falla, a dreamy and heartfelt When You Wish Upon a Star with lyrics by Ned Washington and music by Leigh Harline, and the inspirational classic Harold Arlen song, Over the Rainbow featuring its rarely sung introduction.  Reyes masters the operatic selections, her light and powerful vocals make it all look easy.

Guitarist Zaira Meneses accompanied Reyes for a portion of the evening with a selection of songs that are meaningful to both of them including Grever’s Alma Mia and Sandoval’s Gracias a la Vita.  Meneses’s vibrancy and flair, putting her entire body into her music with Reyes’s eloquence made for a stirring pair.

BLO’s ‘A Winter’s Evening’ continues on Operabox through Sunday, January 10.  Click here for more information and how to subscribe to Boston Lyric Opera’s current season.

REVIEW: Christmas Revels 50th virtual anniversary delivers mirth, merriment, and reflection

For what marks its 50th year, Christmas Revels has been entertaining audiences by delving into vast cultures and recreating historical moments and holiday traditions with drama, dance, humor, and song.  Christmas Revels made its debut in 1971 and though it is limited to the screen this year, this engaging production brought a mix of new material while glimpsing some of their best performances in their long history. 

Father Christmas makes an appearance in The Christmas Revels annual “Mummers Play” Photo courtesy of Revels

Having never seen Christmas Revels before, it was a lot to take in and quite a feat to encapsulate the best moments in such a broad time frame.  Catching glimpses of some of their special guests, returning favorites, and new faces was an innovative way to recap a half century of productions, but it also had me longing to see more, especially as I glimpsed some of their best, most enduring performances.

Christmas Revels is still available to stream on-demand through Thursday, December 31.  Click here for more information and how to support future Revels productions.  The 50th Anniversary of Christmas Revels is also available as a 2-CD set.  Click here for more information.

Statues: Paula Plum as James Otis and Richard Snee as Josiah Quincy Photo courtesy of Revels

Harvard University’s Sanders Theatre is as majestic and welcoming as ever even as it fills for a virtual audience.  The dark, wooden stage is softly-lit with two stately, marble Greek statues sitting on each end as a grand, dimly-lit bronze chandelier floats overhead.  Hosted by acting dynamos Paula Plum and Richard Snee as James Otis and Josiah Quincy who were immortalized as those legendary statues on the Harvard University stage and the only souls who have seen every Revels performance and then some, Christmas Revels blends humor, stirring moments, and a wistful trip down memory lane to witness some of Revels’ earliest performances as it gradually became what it is today.  

From humorous moments to joyful carols such as 1984’s Yorkshire Here We Come A Wassailing, Go Tell it On the Mountain with Janice Allen and Joy to the World featuring choruses from Christmas past and virtual Christmas present, and a serene Dona Nobis Pacem featuring renowned cellist Yo-Yo Ma, Christmas Revels does not predictably explore its past in sequence, but in clever moments such as merging a past and more recent performance of a song  by various performers, setting a different tone to its enduring meaning.

Yo-Yo Ma with Audience: Cellist Yo-Yo Ma performs the peace round “Dona Nobis Pacem” with members of the Revels Virtual Audience Photo courtesy of Revels

One of the best and most exciting examples of this was in 1997’s and 2015’s Lord of the Dance featuring David Coffin, Neena Gulati, and Patrick Swanson as they explored eastern and western Hindu traditions.  Audience members were on their feet as enthusiastic performers led audience members to spill out into the Sanders Theatre’s lobby singing along.  1993’s Kukko dance featuring the Karelian Folk Ensemble stood out as one of the more exotic cultures while 1997’s Niska Banja featuring the Revels Women, New England Romanian Ensemble, and Cambridge Symphonic Brass Ensemble revealed beautiful and distinctive garb.  2007’s Shopsko, choreographed by Petre Petrov with Mladost Folk Ensemble, The Village Band, and Cambridge Symphonic Brass Ensemble offered memorable upbeat and bustling Bulgarian dance. 

Johnny Nichols, Jr. and Carolyn Saxon perform the spiritual “Hold On” in a segment linked to Maya Angelou’s poem “Still I Rise”, exploring the ongoing journey towards justice and equality Photo courtesy of Revels

 Janice Allen and the Silver Leaf Gospel Singers took the stage in 2000 for a stunning, acapella version of Amazing Grace while 1986’s impressive Appalachian Clogging with Ira Bernstein and the Big Gap String Band and Jean Ritchie delivered a captivating Kentucky folk carol, Christ Was Born in Bethlehem.  Another indelible moment rested in a powerful medley of 2000’s Underground Railroad featuring Sheila Kay Adams and Janice Allen, Jordan Ashwood, and Cyrus Brooks, Silver Leaf Gospel Singers, Roaring Gap Chorus, Rocky River Children, Carolyn Saxon, and Johnny Nichols, Jr.

Christmas Revels’ ever changing repertoire is too numerous to mention every highlight, but there are plenty of surprises.

The detailed, rustic sets and the meaningful, meticulous costumes ranged from festive to humorous to haunting.  It was marvelous to witness the virtual technology that was such a big part of this production.  The virtual choir delivered moving, crisp carols and seeing the creators including founder John Langstaff and Revels Directors Patrick Swanson and George Emlen united in present time without actually being onstage provided some comfort that technology can still make some things possible. 

Christmas Revels is still available to stream on-demand through Thursday, December 31.  Click here for more information and how to support future Revels productions.  Click here for more information on The 50th Anniversary of Christmas Revels available as a 2-CD set. 

REVIEW: Mikko Nissinen’s ‘The Nutcracker’ remains a visually-stunning journey for all ages

With enchanting special effects and performances that would endear any holiday pessimist, Mikko Nissinen’s The Nutcracker once again returns with an entire world seeped in the fondest of daydreams for adults and children alike. With the enhancement of internationally-renowned Finnish lighting designer Mikki Kunttu and Tchaikovsky’s classic score conducted by Misha Santora, The Nutcracker is as picturesque as ever, emphasizing its mark as an annual holiday institution.

Boston Ballet The Nutcracker cast Photo by Liza Voll

The 150 dancers making up ‘The Nutcracker’s’ spectacular cast. Photo credit to Liza Voll/Boston Ballet

The castle on a cloud is only the prelude to an enchanting journey as Mikko Nissinen’s The Nutcracker returns to the Citizens Bank Opera House with new surprises.  An elegant party, a valiant battle, and a variety of spectacular toys springing to life is just part of Clara’s exquisite journey when she is gifted an intriguing Nutcracker for Christmas.

The Boston Ballet takes the stage for Mikko Nissinen’s The Nutcracker continuing through Sunday, December 29.  The Boston Ballet features discount youth pricing. Click here for more information and for tickets.

The Boston Ballet The Nutcracker

Stage view Photo courtesy of Jeanne Denizard

Robert Perdziola’s meticulously-detailed set and costume design not only create an inviting atmosphere whether inside a fire lit, multi-dimensional living room with a towering, emerald-lit Christmas tree or surrounding an outdoor fire pit where locals can keep warm, but also creates a pristine wintry wonderland where you can almost feel the chill.  The ornate period costumes are gorgeous as women are adorned in velvet, silk, and ribbons and the men are dressed to the nines. Sweet, sophisticated, yet playful Clara, portrayed impressively by Emma Blake, is lovely in her pale blue coat, bonnet hat, and fur hand warmers.

Boston Ballet The Nutcracker Party Scene by Liza Voll

Party scene. Photo credit to Liza Voll/Boston Ballet

Christmas Eve is a magical time, especially for children.  Paulo Arrais unveils some of that magic as charismatic and confident showman, Drosselmeier.  Mustachioed Arrais is a grand presence as he delivers visions sprung from the imagination, showing children anything is possible.

Boston Ballet Nutcracker Ricardo Santos and Ji Young Chae by Rosalie O Connor

Harlequin Doll and Ballerina Doll. Photo credit to Rosalie O’Connor/Boston Ballet

Among the most memorable moments is a Soo-bin Lee’s convincing portrayal as a Ballerina Doll, her rigid movements out of the box a fascinating sight.  Tyson Clark’s Harlequin Doll and Sun Woo Lee’s life size, exotic bear are exuberant, playful, and among the most highly- anticipated scenes in this production.

The appearance of the Nutcracker Prince, depicted by a chivalrous and gallant Derek Dunn, is extraordinary surrounded by bright, multicolored, shimmering ornaments in a magnificent tree.  His appearance highlights one of the most spectacular and exciting special effects of the production that will not be revealed here.  His encounter with Alec Roberts’s bold and at times humorous Mouse King is thrilling and partially what makes The Nutcracker a children’s classic.

Boston Ballet 'The Nutcracker' Mouse King and Wooden Soldiers by Liza Voll

Alec Roberts as the Mouse King and a valiant battle Photo credit to Liza Voll/Boston Ballet

Seo Hye Han and Tigran Mkrtchyan are visions as The Snow Queen and King on a sparkling silver sleigh as surrounding dancers joyfully flock and frolic in a glorious scene.  Seo Hye Han and Tigran Mikrtchyan have a sweet chemistry as they join together in a captivating dance.

Boston Ballet The Nutcracker Snow fairies by Liza Voll

An enchanted winter wonderland. Photo credit to Liza Voll/Boston Ballet

Under glimmering chandeliers is a group of remarkable, electric performances which is less story progression and more showcase driven presented by the iconic and sparkling Sugar Plum Fairy, portrayed with finesse by Chisako Oga.  Two pairs of Spanish dancers portrayed by Ekaterine Chubinidze, Haley Schwan, Daniel Cooper, and Benji Pearson, sway and twirl in a dazzling spectacle.  Chyrstyn Fentroy and Paul Craig receive a rousing applause as a pair of exotic and athletic Arabian dancers while Desean Taber, Daniel Durrett, and Fuze Sun show off their flexibility and athletic prowess as a trio of leaping Russian dancers.

Among the most humorous scenes is an adorable appearance by Bo Peep accompanied by a mischievous black sheep and Graham Johns as towering and surprising Mother Ginger.

Boston Ballet The Nutcracker By Liza Voll

Clara, portrayed by Mia Steedle, Nutcracker Prince portrayed by Tigran Mkrtchyan, and reindeer by students of Boston Ballet School Photo credit to Liza Voll/Boston Ballet  

Whether seeing Mikko Nissinen’s The Nutcracker for the first time or returning to enjoy it all over again, The Boston Ballet is as elegant and magical as you remember with enough refreshing additions to endure as a splendid holiday treat for the entire family.

The Boston Ballet takes the stage for Mikko Nissinen’s The Nutcracker continuing through Sunday, December 29 at the Citizen Bank Opera House, 539 Washington Street in Boston, Massachusetts.  These performances feature group rates and discount youth pricing.  Click here for tickets and for more information on Boston Ballet’s 2020 season.

 

 

REVIEW: Greater Boston Stage Company’s classic ‘Miracle on 34th Street’ delivers a gentle nudge of holiday cheer

Miracle on 34th Street is a simple tale with a big message.

During this time of year, faith is a predominant theme within many holiday productions such as faith in humanity, in God, and in a “right jolly old elf.”  From Twas the Night Before Christmas to A Christmas Carol, the holiday spirit shines through, a temporary feeling that really should last all year long.

Directed with charm by Ilyse Robbins, based on the book by Valentine Davies, and adapted by Mountain Community Theatre, Greater Boston Stage Company’s Miracle on 34th Street continues through Sunday, December 22 at Greater Boston Stage Company in Stoneham, Massachusetts.  Click here for more information and tickets.

Set in New York City, Miracle on 34th Street is about a mysterious man who becomes a last minute replacement for Santa Claus at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.  He befriends Susie Walker, a precocious little girl portrayed with grace and charm by Addison McWayne, who is far too sensible for childish things including believing in Santa Claus.  Natalie Wood rose to fame in her role as Susie Walker with Maureen O’Hara as Doris Walker in the beloved 1947 film.

Greater Boston Stage Company Miracle on 34th Street cast

Jon Savage’s vibrant set design includes a lovely, towering, and whimsical Christmas tree that contributes its own unique part in the tale.  The famous parade is just one of the events that take place in the aisles during this semi-immersive production.

Though this production of Miracle of 34th Street is not considered a musical, it does have its share of musical moments.  From gift wrapping to sweeping the store shelves, the store workers do more than whistle while they work, swaying and lifting their voices in a variety of spontaneous Christmas carols such as The 12 Days of Christmas, Sleigh Ride, and The Nutcracker Suite led by the mirthful vocal stylings of David Jiles Jr. as Mr. Adams.

Packed with a likeable cast of characters including a lively and noteworthy performance by Gary Thomas NG as Alfred, Miracle on 34th Street shows it is sometimes better to see with the heart rather than the head.  Gary Thomas NG is captivating as Alfred, a humble and gleeful janitor full of holiday cheer.  NG depicts Alfred with a song in his heart as he spontaneously leaps for joy across the stage.  His comic scenes with William Gardiner as gentle, jovial and unfailingly forthright Kris Kringle are a particular highlight as they compete in board games and engage in candid conversations.  With warm charisma and that signature twinkle, William Gardiner fills Kris Kringle’s red suspenders with finesse and of the many iconic conversations he has with McWayne’s Susie, their playful dialogue about imagination is just wonderful.

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In a red coat and distinctive 50s red lipstick, Sara Coombs portrays Doris Walker, an astute and shrewd businesswoman.  It is amusing to watch Walker and her “mini-me” daughter Susie as they inadvertently duplicate each other’s mannerisms.  Susie is seemingly as mature, confident, and shrewd as her elegant mother.  Showing a great rapport with each cast member, Michael Jennings Mahoney is refreshing as fun loving and laid back Fred.  Barlow Adamson exacts Macy store manager Mr. Shellhammer’s nervous and priceless tense expressions prevalent during the holiday season.

Having last seen Juliet Bowler in an affecting performance at Flat Earth Theatre’s Not Medea, it is no surprise that Bowler show off her talents as insecure, strict and secretive Leslie Sawyer.  Her cold disdain and devious manipulations reach Grinch-like proportions.  Sara Gazdowicz also takes an amusing turn as a fast talking, accent-rich NYC cop.

Greater Boston Stage Company Miracle on 34th Street Leslie, Kris, and cast

Juliet Bowler as Mrs. Sawyer, Barlow Adamson as Mr. Shellhammer, Sara Coombs as Doris Walker, and William Gardiner as Kris Kringle Photo courtesy of Nile Scott Studios/Greater Boston Stage Company

While some performances demonstrate holiday spirit in pomp and spectacle, Greater Boston Stage Company delivers that feeling with a gentle nudge of heartwarming cheer.  Greater Boston Stage Company’s Miracle on 34th Street through Sunday, December 22.  Click here for more information and tickets.  Click here to learn more about Greater Boston Stage Company and their upcoming 2020 productions.

REVIEW: Company Theatre’s ‘A Christmas Carol’ immersive, haunting, and filled with holiday spirit

The Company Theatre’s haunting, immersive, and meaningful A Christmas Carol is a frequent holiday tradition with good reason.  So much more than the Charles Dickens classic, the Company Theatre calls on the holiday spirit through subtle nuances in story and song and the exceptional festivities only become more fervent each December it takes the stage.  Sure, the Company Theatre weaved in the holiday spirit in other December productions such as last year’s Charles Dickens classic, Oliver the Musical (featuring Matt O’Connor as Oliver who returns as adorable Scrooge as a young boy) but this thought-provoking tale of charity, compassion, and forgiveness is the pinnacle holiday treat.

Company Theatre A Christmas Carol

Company Theatre’s ‘A Christmas Carol’ is sold out! Photo courtesy of The Company Theatre

The Company Theatre presents the Charles Dickens classic A Christmas Carol now through Sunday, December 22 at the Company Theatre in Norwell, Massachusetts.  This show is sold out.  Click here for their recently announced 2020 theatre season and how to support The Company Theatre.

A Christmas Carol is the classic tale of Ebenezer Scrooge, a wealthy, penny-pinching old miser who has no use for Christmas until his past comes back to haunt him on Christmas Eve.

With LED lighting and cinematography, heightened special effects, singing Carolers flooding the aisles,  enviable costumes by Kathryn Ridder, and snow glimmering over that bright, familiar cobblestone street where Scrooge must face his worst fears, A Christmas Carol is certainly a feast for the eyes.  The uplifting overture, orchestrated by Steve Bass and arranged by Steve Rogers, is tinged in popular Christmas carols, a preview of the wealth of carols and additional songs added to this festive production.  Ding Dong Merrily on High, O Come O Ye Faithful, Hark the Harold Angels Sing, Joy to the World, and Noel are among the production’s musical highlights.

Company Theatre A Christmas Carol Owen George as Tiny Tim as Bill Carter as Bob Cratchit

Owen George as Tiny Tim and Bill Carter as Bob Cratchit Photo courtesy of Zoe Bradford/Company Theatre

Directed by Zoe Bradford and Jordie Saucerman, The Company Theatre’s production of A Christmas Carol also sets itself apart by weaving in the beauty of the season within the excitement of its joyous ensemble cast.  Each cobblestone street character is as enthralling as the immediate cast, each with their own individual story and holiday motivation within the context of this beautiful London setting.  The action is so immersive that it can hide the immediate cast a bit.  One of the most endearing moments is the return of a lively trio running around the London streets holding up mistletoe for kisses as well as the uplifting and rollicking period dance numbers choreographed with style by Sally Ashton Forrest.

This production boasts a lively cast led by Phillip Hebert as miserly Ebeneezer Scrooge.  Hebert exacts Scrooge’s deep, searing signature growl, his sterling vocals cutting into the soul.  Scrooge toils, scowls, and his dire sense of humor is not lost on his cheerful and generous nephew Fred, portrayed with a crisp accent and inviting demeanor by Christopher Spenser.  In spectacles and a sour huff, Hebert is best in his dark gruffness. However, his overall interpretation becomes jollier as the show progresses as his arms stubbornly swayto the music, offering a lighter, increasingly heartening Scrooge.

Company Theatre A Christmas Carol Owen George as Tiny Tim and Philip Hebert as Scrooge

Owen George as Tiny Tim and Philip Hebert as Ebenezer Scrooge Photo courtesy of Zoe Bradford/Company Theatre

Bill Carter portrays humble, guarded, and sympathetic Bob Cratchit.  Hebert and Carter skillfully develop palpable tension as Carter, leery, speaks to Scrooge out of turn.  Kris Connolly portrays loyal and eternally patient Mrs. Cratchit.  Connolly and Carter deliver heartwarming scenes with their large, beautiful family including sweet Owen George as Tiny Tim as their voices lift for the bright and original song, Noel.

Adorned in a gorgeous lit crown and veil, Nicole Hall delivers warmth, yet a foreboding quality as the Ghost of Christmas Past.  Serene and gentle, she brings out the best in Scrooge’s curmudgeonly soul.  Majestic in a crown of holly and carrying a cornucopia, Dave Daly glides across the stage as charismatic, jolly and larger-than-life Ghost of Christmas Present and the equally endearing Mr. Fezziwig.  Lilly George and Brynn Hsu also shine as giggling Christmas sprites.  Covered in hazy light, Dan Kelly is remarkably ghoulish and crazed as Jacob Marley with some very impressive special effects.

Company Theatre’s A Christmas Carol pulls off a couple of surprises to this classic tale in the finale, and cannot leave out Megan Boutilier’s expressive and hilarious depiction of The Laundress.  She is marvelous.  If the holiday season is not spreading the joy that is should this year, Company Theatre’s A Christmas Carol will certainly encourage that heartwarming feeling, indeed.

The Company Theatre continues A Christmas Carol at the Company Theatre, 30 Accord Park Drive in Norwell, Massachusetts through December 22.  The show is sold out, but click here for their exciting 2020 season.

Artistic Director and founder Tony Williams describes how ‘Urban Nutcracker’ became a hit

What if the spirit of Boston as well as hip hop, tap, Mexican folk dance, flamenco, swing dancing and more were weaved into Tchaikovsky’s beloved holiday classic, The Nutcracker?  Celebrating its 19th anniversary, The City Ballet of Boston (CBB) presents Tony Williams’ family friendly Urban Nutcracker from Thursday, December 19 through Saturday, December 28 at the Boch Center Shubert Theatre in Boston, Massachusetts.  Click here for more information and tickets.  Click here for a sneak peek at the show.

Tony Williams, acclaimed choreographer, founder, and Artistic Director of the Urban Nutcracker and the Tony Williams Dance Center, talks about Urban Nutcracker’s humble beginnings and how it has evolved to become the hit it is today while every year featuring something new.

Urban Nutcracker Tony WIlliams

Founder and Artistic Director of Urban Nutcracker Tony Williams Photo courtesy of Tony Williams/City Ballet of Boston

Sleepless Critic:  What I love about Urban Nutcracker is while the traditional Nutcracker is rooted in fantasy, the heart of the Urban Nutcracker is in Boston and its history.  What inspired this concept?

Tony Williams:  I was raised in Boston and danced in the premiere of the first major professional production of Boston Ballet’s The Nutcracker conducted by famed conductor of the Boston Pops Arthur Fiedler in 1965.  I danced in the traditional Nutcracker for many years and when I stopped, I still performed large and smaller productions in and around Boston.

About 20 years ago, I started my dance school in Jamaica Plain.  I had two male African American dancers working for me teaching tap and hip hop.  In my school’s first year of enrollment, I had about 20 boys which is a huge amount of boys than in most dance schools.  I had the makings of a youth cast for a production and wanted to showcase the kids, but most of the boys came for tap and hip hop where I was teaching ballet.

I thought about putting on The Nutcracker and the parents can be involved and bring their kids.  With so many traditional Nutcrackers out there, maybe we can create an urban contemporary Nutcracker with hip hop, tap, and ballet incorporating our hip hop teacher Ricardo Foster and tap teacher Khalid Hill.

Coincidentally around that time, I came across Duke Ellington’s jazzy, big band Nutcracker Suite.  I can use that and mix in the traditional Nutcracker like a soup and hope it turns out right.  A smaller dance troupe also performed a Nutcracker in New York City around that time.  Their background was in New York City and they based the show in Central Park.   I decided to freshen up this old classic chestnut, The Nutcracker, and put it in present day Boston.

Urban Nutcracker Boston Tree Lighting

Sneak Peek of the Urban Nutcracker at this year’s Boston Tree Lighting in the Boston Common Photo courtesy of Tony Williams/City Ballet of Boston

SC:  It has been very successful because I believe next year will be Urban Nutcracker’s 20th anniversary in 2020.

TW:  It’s amazing we’ve succeeded all of these years.  We evolve, tweak, and polish the show every year and it’s a challenge financially to pull it all together.  The first year we were on a shoestring budget.

People have supported the show all of these years and I feel fortunate it is still around.  Not so much for my personal ego, but for the opportunity to have it for the City of Boston.  You don’t have to know Boston in order to like the show but if you do, you will have more of a connection to it.

SC:  You feature some traditional and international roots in the Urban Nutcracker such as The Russian Dance.

TW:  We have the Russian Dance which we call Caviar Caper, the Arabian Dance we call Desert Chiffon, and the Chinese or Tea Dance which we call Ginseng Brise.  Brise is the French word for a dance step in ballet.

This year, we have a major addition to Act II and one of the divertissements will be based on the story, Make Way for Ducklings by Robert McCloskey from 1941.  We introduced ducks in the snow scene in the past and it didn’t quite fit.  This year we are calling it Mrs. Mallard and her Duckling Delights with a tap dancing policeman and Mother Duck will dance on Pointe.  The cute baby ducks have their own dance which the kids will love.

We’re doing a new Russian dance with two couples and many more surprises!

Urban Nutcracker Ballet with edge

Urban Nutcracker cast Photo courtesy of Tony Williams/City Ballet of Boston

SC:  How did this become a tradition?  The reception must have been extraordinary that first year.

TW:  The first year we were trying to introduce this new creation was right after 911 and the whole world was in a depression.  A friend of mine told me it wasn’t the time to do this kind of show and I thought about that.

I was sad about what had happened, but working with the young kids brought about a rebirth of hope and I continue the show because of them.  We did three sold out performances the first year at the Strand Theatre in Dorchester.

I was so nervous that first night and had no idea how it would be received.  We had no money or advertisements except a great story in the Globe.  From the opening dance in the prologue right before the story line began, the dancers and musicians in Downtown Crossing and Quincy Market danced outside with their hats out for donations.  The ovation was so loud and that’s when we knew we had something.

SC:  I understand that the show features The City Ballet of Boston.  Is that your troupe?

TW:  It used to be the Tony Williams Ballet Company, but last year it evolved into the non-profit City Ballet of Boston.  The core group is comprised of eight cohesive adult professional dancers that have been with me for the second year.  It is expected we have top notch professional dancers at the Shubert Theatre which is partly why I did that with the company.  I call it City Ballet of Boston because we are proud of Boston.  Hopefully, when I am no longer around, The CBB will be able to produce this show for generations to come.

A woman who happens to work at the Boch Center Shubert Theatre came for the first time last year and brought her three year old daughter while her husband was away on business.   Her parents were visiting from Chicago and the four of them came to the show.  She told me afterwards she really enjoyed the show, but was struck that her daughter, father, and mother were so raptly attentive to the show as well.   Each generation enjoyed it!

SC:  What are your future plans?

TW:  We have the family production, Peter and the Wolf from April 29 to May 2, 2020 at the Calderwood Pavilion.  We’ve been doing some classical and contemporary pieces and it will be something for everybody.

SC:  You tend to mix contemporary with traditional dance.

TW:  I do it because it is intriguing creatively, artistically, and it’s fun to work that way.

SC:  That way you can keep surprising people with your work.

TW:  I need to do something fresh not only for the audience and the dancers, but I get a charge out of that too.

Urban Nutcracker returns to the Boch Center Shubert Theatre, 265 Tremont Street in Boston, Massachusetts from Thursday, December 19 through Saturday, December 28.  Click here for more information, tickets, and learn more about Tony Williams and his work.

 

REVIEW: Featuring John Williams’s multi-faceted score, ‘Home Alone in Concert’ made a bustling, merry return to Symphony Hall

Kicking off with the familiar drumbeat of the 20th Century Fox fanfare performed live before the film’s opening credits, The Boston Pops presented Home Alone in Concert with style and a few surprises as this popular 1990 Christmas comedy film returned to Symphony Hall from December 29 and 30. Much like the Boston Pops’ ‘in concert’ predecessors featuring classic films such as West Side Story, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Nosferatu, Singin’ in the Rain, and Psycho, the Boston Pops enhances the unique tone of each film from score to sound effects, making it an unforgettable cinematic experience.  Led by Keith Lockhart, it doesn’t get much better than watching a feature film on the big screen alongside the Boston Pops’ clever orchestration.  Click here for more information on the Boston Pops.

It was a particular treat to be greeted by the Wellesley High School Keynote Singers and Rice Street Singers who performed a few lighthearted a capella holiday hits as the audience filed into the Symphony Hall lobby before the film started.  The anticipation of Home Alone in Concert was palpable, heightened by an uproarious applause as the film started and enthusiasm that continued throughout the performance.

A heartwarming film full of high jinks and relatable family humor, Home Alone features the McAllister family as they prepare to embark on a Christmas trip to Paris and through a series of unforeseeable circumstances, leave their youngest child, Kevin, portrayed by Macaulay Culkin, home alone.  Directed by Christopher Columbus, Home Alone features a hilarious cast that includes the late, great John Candy, Joe Pesci, Daniel Stern, Catherine O’Hara, and John Heard.

From heartwarming to hectic to haunting, Academy award-winning composer John Williams offers a bit of everything in Home Alone’s multi-faceted score.  Songs from the film’s soundtrack such as Run Run Rudolph by Chuck Berry and I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas by the Drifters are left to the original artists, but John Williams’s compelling score featuring the Academy Award-nominated song, Somewhere in My Memory were performed by the orchestra.

Home Alone writer John Hughes was gifted with the ability to capture the voice of a young generation and he does a remarkable job depicting the perspective of mischievous and utterly adorable Kevin McAllister as he attempts to fend for himself.  Though some of the movie is a bit far-fetched, it remains as enjoyable as it was close to 30 years ago before cell phones were a daily part of life.

Home Alone in Concert

Holiday Pops presents ‘Home Alone in Concert’ Photo courtesy of Jeanne Denizard

Not only is Home Alone on the verge of celebrating its 30th anniversary since its release, but Macauley Culkin is all grown up and has reemerged recently in a reenactment of pivotal scenes from the original film to demonstrate the magic of Google Assistant.  With the same twinkle in his eye, Culkin adds a new dimension to those film scenes while keeping the spirit of the original film intact.

Home Alone in Concert was produced by Film Concerts Live!  In August, Keith Lockhart will conduct the Boston Pops to perform Star Wars:  A New Hope in Concert at Tanglewood.  Click here for more information on the Boston Pops and upcoming Boston Symphony Orchestra events.

All performances take place at Boston Symphony Hall, 301 Massachusetts Ave in Boston, Massachusetts.  Click here for more information and tickets, through SymphonyCharge at 888-266-1200, and at the Symphony Hall Box Office, 301 Massachusetts Ave, Boston, Massachusetts.