REVIEW: Bridgewater State University’s Family Performing Arts Center’s lighter ‘The Wizard of Oz’ inventive fun for the whole family

A group of Nelson Mandela Fellows and visitors from China we among the enthusiastic audience attending Bridgewater State University’s (BSU) Family Performing Arts Center’s ‘The Wizard of Oz.’  Featuring full versions of ‘The Wizard of Oz’s’ beloved soundtrack such as Somewhere over the Rainbow and If I Only Had a Brain, this ‘Wizard of Oz’ is a bright, inventive look at a sweet Kansas farm girl and her dog who find themselves in a strange land with no idea how to get home and a witch suddenly in their wake.

Family Performing Arts Center presents ‘The Wizard of Oz’ through Sunday, July 28 at Bridgewater State University’s Rondileau Campus Center Auditorium in Bridgewater, Massachusetts.  Click here for more information and for tickets.  Click here for a closer look at the production.  Save 10% when you use the code ‘BRAIN’ at online checkout.  This show is suitable for all ages.

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Mary Kate McDonald as Dorothy Gale and her dog Toto Costumes by Mary Hurd and Photo credit to Deidre Confrare/BSU’s Family Performing Arts Center

From the moment Mary Kate McDonald as Dorothy, in braids and blue gingham overalls, vocally glides through the full version of Harold Arlen’s Somewhere Over the Rainbow which includes the song’s lesser known introduction, it was clear this show was going to be something special.  A beautiful soprano, McDonald is adorable as spunky Dorothy, depicting her with curiosity and a determined spirit, but careful not to let her impulsiveness get the better of her.  Her interaction with Toto, portrayed and operated by an ensemble character, gives Toto dimension.  Though at first it was disappointing Toto wasn’t a live dog, it ended up being a clever touch.  The human expressions and movements make Toto that much more endearing.

Featuring a couple of songs and a few characters not included in the 1939 film and a subtle twist ending, BSU’s Family Performing Arts Center keeps this production with its share of freshness and surprises.  With orchestration by Larry Wilcox and Peter Howard and background music by Herbert Stothart, ‘The Wizard of Oz’s’ enchanting soundtrack is no joke, as rarely heard and welcome introductions are weaved into each familiar number.  Conducted by Eli Bigelow, the orchestra impressively sets the mood to each comical and exciting scene.  Though the Jitterbug number is not included in the 1939 film and seems a bit dated and silly, the kids will certainly enjoy the darkly comedic piece.

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A Kansas landscape Costumes by Mary Hurd and Photo credit to Deidre Confrare/ BSU’s Family Performing Arts Center

‘The Wizard of Oz’ also boasts unique choreography, rich lighting, and picturesque sets.  For example, the yellow brick road is cleverly demonstrated more through props and choreography than a literal road.  Another notable moment is the intriguing choreography used during the poppies scene enhanced by bright, hand painted sets by Maia Hay and Michael Duarte.  Christopher Scully’s brilliant lighting and Michael Duarte’s sets portray rich silhouettes of the Kansas landscape and Oz which can dazzling or frightening.

This production has a few more comical moments to keep the show a bit lighter, but does not take away from the show’s poignancy and excitement.  It was a surprise to discover Haley McKenney as Glinda and Aunt Em.  McKenney could not have portrayed the two characters more differently.  Decked out in a feathered stole and shimmering tiara, McKenney’s vivacious Glinda is a high energy diva, chipper-voiced and almost maniacally giggly while the plainly stoic Aunt Em is a practical, but the nonetheless a compassionate soul.

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In a winged black hat, Katia Greene’s unpredictable Wicked Witch has her wicked moments, but portrayed a bit more comically with a spin on the character that I’ve never considered.  Greene clearly relishes the role, delivering an energetic and intimidating performance.  Neha Groves captures the mysterious, well meaning, but somewhat bombastic Professor Marvel.

However, Christopher Starr is an expert tumbler and his pliable body and good-natured demeanor make him a wonderful Scarecrow.  Steven Sawan as Tinman and Jim Quinn as Cowardly Lion both give endearing, comical performances.  Quinn’s baritone and quick wit make the number, If I Were King of the Forest a lot of fun.  With McDonald as Dorothy, they develop a lasting, captivating camaraderie that ring especially true during the numbers We’re Off to See the Wizard, The Merry Old Land of Oz, and Lions and Tigers and Bears.

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Christopher Starr as Scarecrow, Steven Sawan as Tinman, Mary Kate McDonald as Dorothy, and Jim Quinn as Cowardly Lion. Costumes by Mary Hurd and Photo credits to Deidre Confrare/BSU’s Family Performing Arts Center

Take a trip down the yellow brick road with BSU’s Family Performing Arts Center’s production of ‘The Wizard of Oz’ continuing through July 28 at Rondileau Campus Center Auditorium, 19 Park Avenue in Bridgewater, Massachusetts.  Click here for more information and for tickets.  Save 10% when you use the code ‘BRAIN’ at online checkout.   Follow BSU’s Family Performing Arts Center on Facebook for future events and more.

Music Director Jamie Kirsch talks Chorus pro Musica’s concert version of comedy musical, ‘Of Thee I Sing’

A spectacular evening of comedy, romance, and award-winning music is in store with Chorus pro Musica’s concert version of Gershwin Of Thee I Sing on Saturday, May 13 at Robbins Memorial Town Hall in Arlington, Massachusetts at 8 p.m.  In the spirit of the show, concert attendees are encouraged to dress in 30s-inspired attire for a costume contest.  Click here for full details and tickets.

Jamie Kirsch is in his fourth year as Music Director of Chorus pro Musica and loves his work.  He offers a closer look into Of Thee I Sing, his incredible work with Chorus pro Musica, and more.

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Chorus pro Musica’s Music Director Jamie Kirsch in action Photo courtesy of Alonso Nichols/Tufts University

Jeanne Denizard:  What I absolutely love about Gershwin Of Thee I Sing is it is part concert and part theatrical production.  It has comedy and romance as well.

Jamie Kirsch:  Yeah, writers definitely have called it a work.  It is a unified single where there’s no instantly recognizable tune in this show in the way one would recognize other Gershwin’s most famous songs from musicals that can be extracted and don’t have anything necessarily to do with the plot.  They don’t appear in the best of Gershwin albums because for the most part, everything is tied to that story.  There might be one or two songs that someone might recognize such as the title song of Of Thee I Sing and certainly people have recorded the song, Who Cares, but no song that would be on people’s top ten list of pieces they know because they bought a greatest hits album or a Michael Feinstein album.  They are wonderful songs, but they are all tied to the book.

JD:  I also understand that this is the first musical to win a Pulitzer Prize.

JK:  It did win the Pulitzer Prize in 1932.  Everyone won the Pulitzer except for George Gershwin because there was no Music Pulitzer at the time.  Ira, Kaufman, and Ryskind got it.  I think actually it was awarded to George posthumously where there finally was a music Pulitzer.

JD:  Of Thee I Sing surrounds the election of John P. Wintergreen and deals with politics in a humorous and lighthearted way.  I understand you really were excited about this particular piece to add to the season more for the music than for its political statement though we had a heated election just recently.

JK:  Yes, it doesn’t make a political statement one way or another.  There is no political party mentioned, making fun of both sides equally.  We also picked the piece well over a year ago.  The current players in the real world were still in the primaries and no one had any inkling of what was to transpire and how unexpected it would be.

Numerous colleges and universities did the show right around the election.  It is remarkable how many across the entire country, even major schools of music.  The University of Michigan did it in October and November knowing what was going on.  We had the same idea, hoping it would be a relevant topic but we didn’t plan for any outcome either way.  Separate from the political stuff, it happens to be a musical dominated by choruses and it made perfect sense to do it with our chorus.

JD:  Now, are you going to be performing a lot of scenes from the show?

JK:  Yes, it is a concert version.  We’re doing most of it, just without the staging.

JD:  I understand it has some comedy and a bit of romance as well.

JK:  Absolutely, there are elements common to musical theatre.  People talk about how different it is from anything else Gershwin wrote, but the other side of that coin is a love triangle.  Certainly plenty of musicals have love triangles and also present is an element of the exotic where a French ambassador arrives in the second act and that happens throughout many other musicals.  It’s new, but it has ties to the standard, more traditional musical theatre.

JD:  It sounds like there will be lots of surprises.

JK:  Yes, there will be musical surprises.  It has a Gershwin, jazzy sound and Gershwin rhythms and syncopation, but it is really unique.  There are scenes that go on and on and mostly music for a good ten minutes.  It’s kind of like Gilbert and Sullivan in that way.  That is an example of a piece of music that cannot be extracted.  You are not going to perform that at a musical theatre cabaret as you would with another Gershwin tune.

JD:  You will have featured artists such as Margot Rood, Christina English, and David McFerrin.

JK:  They are three of the best singers around town and the city and I have worked with a couple of them before.  They are just wonderful, so flexible, and able to handle this repertoire and style as easily as they are able to handle early and baroque music.  They are so incredibly versatile, talented, and wonderful actors.  Having them on board for this production is very special.

JD:  You are also the sixth Music Director of Chorus pro Musica.  The chorus has existed close to 70 years.  What is it like to conduct this chorus?

JK:  It’s a joy.  The musicians are incredibly hard working, love challenging themselves, conquering major works, and striving for excellence.  They are so supportive of each other, collegial, and just wonderful people.  They care so much about the product and each other, the chorus, and its history.

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Chorus pro Musica group shot Photo courtesy of Eric Antoniou

I’m very grateful to be able to do the things that we do with Chorus pro Musica.  In this season alone, we have done maybe the greatest work by Beethoven and some of the greatest works by Mahler.  Then we move on to Gershwin.  We are dealing with pretty amazing people.  I’ve written some amazing music and this chorus is up for the challenge to perform these pieces at an extremely high level while also keeping a good balance of fun while we do it.

JD:  This is your fourth year with Chorus pro Musica, but I understand that you are involved in a lot of projects.  You’re a busy man in music.

JK:  Yes, I am fortunate enough to be on the music faculty at Tufts as my main job and finishing my seventh year there.  It’s a wonderful job and I work with amazing colleagues who are at the tops of their field and teaching theory and musicology.  I teach in a beautiful building with supportive faculty and administration and wonderful students.  We recently did the Mozart C Minor mass.  Yes, between Chorus pro Musica and Tufts, I’m a pretty lucky person.

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Family Holiday Concert 2014 Boston City Singers Photo courtesy of Chorus pro Musica

JD:  Do you have a favorite piece of music you like to conduct or a piece you are hoping to conduct with Chorus pro Musica?

JK:  One of the great things about the Chorus is that they are able to handle everything from a candlelight Christmas concert to Beethoven’s greatest works to Gershwin to new, modern pieces.  One of our strong suits is commissioning new works so we are commissioning brand new works by new composers.  They are able to handle any style, genre, and that is what I like to do.  It keeps things interesting for me and for the singers to switch gears from month to month.  Just to be able to be flexible in that way so the chorus matches my strength and my wanting to keep exploring, pushing, challenging, finding new, undiscovered music, create new music, commission new music, so I think in that way, it’s a very good match.

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Chorus pro Musica with the New England Philharmonic and the Providence Singers, performing Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem, March 14, 2012 in Boston’s Cathedral of the Holy Cross.

JD:  You’ve also worked with a few Boston organizations and collaborated with them in the past.

JK:  We collaborated with the Boston Philharmonic a number of times and we will continue to do so.  We have a wonderful relationship with Ben Zander and the Boston Philharmonic Orchestra and with Richard Pittman and the New England Philharmonic.  We did a number of wonderful collaborations with Richard Pittman.  We are always seeking out new collaborations because they are always great fun, enhance the groups, and work out well for everybody.

Click here for tickets to Gershwin Of Thee I Sing on May 13 at 8 p.m.  It will be an exciting evening that includes a post-concert reception.  Click here for more on Chorus Pro Musica and how to support their mission.

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

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

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

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

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

Illuminated by candlelight, Saint Anselm College celebrates the season with their 18th annual DecemberSong

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Photo courtesy of Keri McAndrews For more of her work, visit photosbykeri.com. Nativity scene set up at Saint Anselm College.

 

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Photo courtesy of Keri McAndrews For more of her work, visit photosbykeri.com. Photo of Saint Anselm College Alumni Hall.

 

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Photo courtesy of Keri McAndrews For more of her work, visit photosbykeri.com. Cross situated over the altar inside the Abbey Church.

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Photo courtesy of Keri McAndrews For more of her work, visit photosbykeri.com. The domed acoustic ceiling inside the Abbey Church.

A vast, gorgeous, brightly lit Christmas tree sits at Davison Hall, signaling the start of one of Saint Anselm College’s one of the most highly anticipated times of the year. In a whirlwind of seasonal events such as their charitable program, Christmas Giving Tree Project to their annual Gingerbread Decorating Contest, it is no wonder that collegemagazine.com hailed Saint Anselm College as the top college with Christmas spirit. Adorned in Christmas wreaths and a variety of festive decorations strewn up by students and staff alike, Saint Anselm College revels in this exciting and joyful season. Click here for more on Saint Anselm College located in Manchester, New Hampshire and follow them on Facebook.

Also a time of contemplation and community in the Benedictine tradition, the community, students, colleagues, and alumni cherish gathering each year at The Abbey Church to celebrate DecemberSong, a free event by candlelight, at the start of the advent season. Featuring the Saint Anselm Abbey Choir, this year’s DecemberSong service took place on a peaceful, clear, and chilly Saturday evening on December 3 at Saint Anselm Abbey Church, 100 Saint Anselm College Drive in Manchester, Massachusetts at 7:30 p.m.

Brick laden and adorned with an amber jeweled cross floating aloft the altar, the Abbey Church offers a warmth and subtlety in its surroundings. Overhead is a domed, carefully detailed acoustic ceiling that gathers light and reverberates sound.   A full house greeted the Saint Anselm Abbey Choir when they entered the church dressed in black in white, each carrying a single lit candle. Their voices lift and resonate, greeting the church with Bach’s Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme.   What followed was an evening of well known advent songs such as O Come, O Come, Emmanuel and Ave Maria, traditional Christmas songs such as The First Noel and Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus, and in between inspirational readings, prayer, and sacred scriptures shared by candlelight. Readings included A Christmas Hymn by Martin Luther, advent hymns, and Susan Cherwien meditations. Led by Director of Liturgical music Eric J. Bermani and accompanied by Brother Andrew Thornton, DecemberSong published the words and music of the evening’s songs to encourage audience participation.

First envisioned by Director Emeritus of the Choir, Father Bede Camera O.S.B, this year marks DecemberSong’s 18th year and the Saint Anselm Abbey Choir will celebrate their 30th anniversary in 2017. Click here for further information about the Saint Anselm College Choir.

REVIEW: Massasoit Theatre Company’s “Miracle on 34th Street the Musical” a faithfully-festive, whimsical adventure

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The cast of Massasoit Theatre Company’s production of “Miracle on 34th Street the Musical.” Cast as the Rockettes and a train conductor.

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Photo courtesy of Jeanne Rocheteau. From L to R: Austin Archabal as Susan and Kelly Hines as Doris in Massasoit Theatre Company’s “Miracle on 34th Street the Musical”

It is easy to see why Massasoit Theatre Company selected “Miracle on 34th Street the Musical” as part of its 50th anniversary season. While holiday shows often delve into the true meaning of the Christmas season, “Miracle” also festively explores with heartwarming humor what makes one shun imagination and blind faith for solemn practicality. It also reminds the audience what makes faith in everything so precious. Directed by Nathan Fogg, produced by Mark Rocheteau, and choreographed by Samantha Brior Jones, Massasoit Theatre Company continues its run of “Miracle on 34th Street the Musical” through Sunday, December 18. Click here for more information and for tickets.

Set in New York City on Thanksgiving Day prior to an impressive depiction of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, Kelly Hines as Doris is in the midst of a crisis. The Santa Claus they hired for the parade is out of commission at the last minute. Enter Craig O’Connor as charismatic and whimsical Kris, who may be just what Macy’s is looking for. This family friendly, classic tale is further enhanced by its beautiful, uplifting score by Meredith Wilson, who co-penned another beloved musical classic, “The Music Man” with Franklin Lacey. Massasoit’s Theatre Company’s “Miracle on 34th Street the Musical” delves into familiar carols such as It’s Beginning to Look a Lot like Christmas as well as catchy, playful, original numbers such as She Hadda Go Back, a song reminiscent of Music Man’s memorable, comedic number, Trouble. Each number offers deeper, meaningful insight into each character and heightens the show’s inherent message without veering off course.

Kelly Hines portrays Doris’s irrepressibly determined nature right down to her poised chin. Protective and practical, Hines exudes a sweet chemistry with Austin Archabal as Doris’s precocious, but curious daughter Susan, especially evident during their harmonious number, Arm in Arm. Hines also shows a new, incalculable side to her when she meets Matt Torrance as personable, but disciplined Fred Gailey. Hines offers an impassioned performance, especially with the number, You Don’t Know.

Austin Archabal shines as Susan, demonstrating her mother’s spunk, but peppered with wide-eyed wonder. She has natural, touching chemistry with each cast member, but is most memorable with Craig O’Connor’s wise, whimsical, and with a certain twinkle portrayal of bearded, spectacled Kris, especially during the number, Expect Things to Happen.

With equal twinkle and charisma is Matt Torrance’s brilliant performance as Fred. With a smooth, silvery voice, natural tap skills, and personable nature, Torrance is captivating in each scene and takes the humorous numbers, She Hadda Go Back and Look, Little Girl to a new level.

In a three piece suit, glasses, and an often frenzied look, Alexander Hagerty adds a hefty dose of zany humor as enthusiastic, and at times, bumbling Macy’s store assistant Marvin Shellhammer. From his wild antics and outlandish jingles, Hagerty is a comedic scene stealer. Possessing a melodic alto, Athan Mantalos also delivers a forthright, commanding performance as R.H. Macy.

From the portrayal of iconic holiday figures such as the Rockettes and Raggedy Ann and Andy to name a few to extraordinary, imaginative characters, the entire cast embraces holiday cheer, setting a lively, ‘50s city tone enhanced by sets depicting colorful city skylines, bright, detailed Christmas decorations, and a wide variety of creative costumes by Jennifer Spagone. Above all, Massasoit’s Theatre Company’s “Miracle on 34th Street the Musical” depicts just what love and letting go will do.

Massasoit Theatre Company’s 50th anniversary season presents their holiday production of “Miracle on 34th Street the Musical” continuing through Sunday, December 18. All performances are held at Buckley Performing Arts Center, 1 Massasoit Boulevard in Brockton, MA.  Click here for tickets and for further details of their 50th season.  Follow them on Facebook for the latest updates.