REVIEW:  Central Square Theater and Front Porch Collective’s ‘Ain’t Misbehavin’ The Fats Waller Musical’ dazzling, engaging, and sensational fun

Whether it was a wink, a smile, Anthony Pires Jr’s mischievous laugh, the crackling chemistry and snappy asides among this multi-talented, finely adorned cast or Central Square Theater’s transformation into a vivid vintage Harlem nightclub, Ain’t Misbehavin’ certainly knows how to throw a roaring party.

Innovatively directed with stellar choreography by Maurice Emmanuel Parent and Ilyse Robbins with musical arrangements by Luther Henderson, Central Square Theater and The Front Porch Arts Collective continues sensational Ain’t Misbehavin:  The Fats Waller Musical live and in person at Central Square Theater in Cambridge, MA through Sunday, May 29.  Click here for more information and tickets.

Jackson Jirard and Christina Jones in Central Square Theater’s ‘Ain’t Misbehavin” Photo credit to Nile Scott Studios

With festive lighting by Jeff Adelberg, red cocktail tables and lamps lining a gold-embroidered stage that frames the intimate, big band orchestra while eye-catching portraits hang on each side of the stage, Jon Savage’s alluring set design immediately sets the mood for an interactive, carefree, spontaneous, and humorous concert event fueled by Fats Waller’s tremendous talent.

The cast of ‘Ain’t Misbehavin’ The Fats Waller Musical’ Photo credit to Nile Scott Studios

Accented by Elizabetta Polito’s distinctive costumes from furs to glimmering garments to slick pinstripe suits and bowler hats, Ain’t Misbehavin’ seamlessly rewinds the clock to the roaring 20s where Harlem nightclubs and speakeasies sprung up for a boisterous night of revelry during the Prohibition era.  Kicking off the show with a recording from Fats Waller himself, Ain’t Misbehavin’ reveals Waller’s catchy musical repertoire ranging  from exuberant romance to humorous irreverence to playful flirtation while also addressing significant and sobering issues of the era that remain rife today.  This incredible cast depicts it all with clever and mesmerizing swagger as well as some measure of illuminating heartache.

Led and enhanced by conductor Dan Rodriguez’s swift and extraordinary piano work especially for the thrilling stride piano number, Handful of Keys, this fiery, six-piece orchestra masters every brass-tinged and drum-laden beat with finesse. 

The cast of Central Square Theater and Front Porch Arts Collective’s ‘Ain’t Misbehavin’ The Fats Waller Musical’ Photo credit to Nile Scott Studios

With an vocal aptitude for exciting, big band numbers as well as ardent crooning, a few of this show’s many highlights include Lovely Hoffman’s clever and moving Mean to Me and the sheer energy and vibrant vocals in Yacht Club Swing and The Joint is Jumpin.’ 

Ain’t Misbehavin’s  crackling chemistry is well demonstrated between Lovely Hoffman and Anthony Pires Jr as they deliver a playful duet for the light and amorous number, Honeysuckle RoseChristina Jones and Jackson Jirard take the stage for a sweet version of I Can’t Give You Anything But Love and Sheree Marcelle and Anthony Pires Jr deliver an equally charming duet for I’m Gonna Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter.  Accented by Jirard’s limber movements and amazing choreography through hazy lighting, the show takes on a captivating, psychedelic turn as Jirard sings The Viper’s Drag.  Anthony Pires Jr shows off big personality and comedic sass for Your Feets too Big before the cast gathers for a heartrending Black and Blue.

The cast of Central Square Theater and Front Porch Collective’s ‘Ain’t Misbehavin’ The Fats Waller Musical’ Photo credit to Nile Scott Studios

The only thing more exciting than the music are the side smirks, irritated looks and onstage antics clearly hinting of the juicy drama happening between cast members behind the scenes, though it is all part of a show that thrives on the audience’s enthusiasm and interaction.   Ain’t Misbehavin’ is a riveting musical celebration for a multi-talented musician clearly ahead of his time.

Central Square Theater and The Front Porch Arts Collective continues sensational Ain’t Misbehavin’  The Fats Waller Musical‘ live and in person at Central Square Theater in Cambridge, MA through Sunday, May 29.  Click here for more information and tickets.

REVIEW:  NPR storyteller Kevin Kling reflects on the wonders of childhood in Merrimack Repertory Theatre’s lively and humorous ‘Best Summer Ever’

How can a childhood fib possibly be part of the best summer ever?

Amid Carter Miller’s vivid and dynamic lighting against a cloud covered sky as multi-instrumentalist and sound effect aficionado Robertson Witmer stands over a grill in an apron and sunny yellow sneakers ready to serve a hot dog, Merrimack Repertory Theatre’s Best Summer Ever might give you the urge for summer to arrive a little sooner.  Rowan Doyle’s breezy set design is not the alone in setting up the carefree days of summer.  In a button down shirt, dark pants and striking red and white sneakers relaxed in a lawn chair, popular storyteller and NPR contributor Kevin Kling is an open book ready to share an engaging, wild, and moving account of incredible hijinks during the life changing and unforgettable summer he experienced at 9 years old.

Kevin Kling and Multi-instrumentalist Roberson Witmer in Merrimack Repertory Theatre’s ‘Best Summer Ever’ Photo by Megpix/Meghan Moore.jpg

With compelling direction by Steven Dietz, Merrimack Repertory Theatre presents the east coast premiere of Best Summer Ever through Sunday, May 22 live and in person at Merrimack Repertory Theatre in Lowell, MA.  There will be no virtual show available and the show runs 70 minutes with no intermission.  Click here for more information and for tickets.

Kevin Kling knows how to tell a great story.  Full of liveliness and spontaneity, what sets Best Summer Ever apart from other productions is Kling’s unique and distinctive touch.  He shares personal anecdotes with plenty of asides, quirky details, and having experienced the show on Mother Day, it is easy to tell each tailored performance is fueled by the interaction and enthusiasm in the audience.  He has a great rapport with Rob who dives head first into some of the production’s sillier moments of Vikings, a purple snow cone gone awry, and chilling ghost stories.  Both seem a kid at heart and they work succinctly as Rob provides the soundtrack and dynamic mood-setting sound effects at a sometimes thrilling pace. 

MRT’s Best Summer Ever – Kevin Kling Photo by Megpix/Meghan Moore

Kling strikes a clever balance of adult reflection and falling right back into his childhood mindset of growing up in Minnesota.  He uses the phrase, ‘unstructured time’ and equating that with ‘boredom’ or in speaking about his farming grandparents, Kling exclaims, “If Grandpa could cut it off, Grandma could pickle it.”

The show also has its share of heartwarming family moments and explores the wonder and imagination of childhood that just might take you back too.

Silly moments with Kevin Kling and Roberson Witmer in MRT’s ‘Best Summer-Ever’ Photos by Megpix/Meghan Moore

Merrimack Repertory Theatre presents the east coast premiere of Best Summer Ever through Sunday, May 22 live and in person at Merrimack Repertory Theatre in Lowell, MA.  There will be no virtual show available and the show runs 70 minutes with no intermission.  Thursday, May 19 will be a Q and A Ask the Artists night.  Click here for more information and for tickets.

REVIEW: Fueled by Go-Gos pop-punk nostalgia, The Umbrella Stage Company’s ‘Head Over Heels’ a frothy farce with a unique beat

The expression, ‘Out with the old, in with the new’ takes on new meaning for Umbrella Stage Company’s dynamic musical, Head Over Heels, a gender-bending jukebox musical comedy which includes a case of mistaken identity that integrates the renaissance with contemporary themes and the 80s in Arcadia, a land that thrives on a beat.  If that seems like a lot, it’s because this ambitious show tackles a lot in its approximately 2-hour time frame. 

The cast of ‘Head over Heels’ Photo courtesy of Gillian Mariner Gordon/Umbrella Arts

With resourceful direction by Brian Boruta, The Umbrella Stage Company presents Head Over Heels the Musical live and in person at the beautifully-renovated Umbrella Arts Center, 40 Stow Street in Concord, MA through Sunday, May 8.  This show may not be appropriate for young children.  Click here for more information at for tickets.

Who else to handle a beat but the Go-Gos!  Following a string of jukebox musicals such as Jersey Boys, Mamma Mia! (featuring music from Abba), Movin’ Out (featuring music from Billy Joel), Good Vibrations (featuring music from the Beach Boys), Moulin Rouge and Priscilla, Queen of the Desert (both which deliver covers of contemporary pop songs), 80s pop princesses the Go-Gos handle this production’s unique beat.  This lighthearted show highlights many of the Go-Gos snappy, feel-good numbers such as Vacation, Our Lips are Sealed, Head Over Heels, and We Got the Beat along with some lesser known tracks that don’t land as well.

Kai Clifton as Pythio and cast Photo courtesy of Gillian Mariner Gordon/Umbrella Arts

Head Over Heels is lively and cheerful in presentation from overhead neon lights, versatile surrounding white columns, and a live band veiled behind translucent curtains onstage by set designer Janie Howland to bold and bright period costumes in pink, green, and yellow weaving 80s glam with a rock-n-roll edge by Brian Simon and Johnny Cagno to the rollicking, up-tempo choreography by Lara Finn Banister.

Temma Boudreau as Philoclea and John Breen as Musidorus Photo courtesy of Gillian Mariner Gordon/Umbrella Arts

Based loosely on Sir Phillip Sidney’s The Arcadia, Head Over Heels is a farce that follows a few Arcadian love stories with one taking a cue from Shakespeare as love struck shepherd Musidorus, portrayed by John Breen, must disguise himself in order to gain approval to marry Princess Pilocleas, portrayed by Temma Beaudrea.  Beaudrea and Breen have a brimming, awkward, and excitable chemistry as they fight not only the royal rules, but the predictions from a mysterious oracle that ultimately sees the kingdom’s demise unless things change.  Meanwhile, Philocleas’s sister, Pamela, portrayed with humorous narcissism by Bri Ryder, is proclaimed fairest in the land, but a groom might not be what she has her sights on after all.

Damon Singletary as Basilius Photo courtesy of Gillian Mariner Gordon/Umbrella Arts

Damon Singletary as King Basilius brings gravitas and humor to the king’s bombastic nature while Kate Pickett’s flirty and dry sarcasm makes Gynecia a scene stealer.  Robert Saoud as Dametas portrays the sympathetic and seemingly sole voice of reason.   While the majority of the characters are so fixated on what each of them wants, Dametas and Kai Clifton, a commanding presence as Pythio, may be the only ones capable of seeing the bigger picture.  Singletary and Saoud deliver some amusing scenes together as they share differing outlooks on this kingdom’s shaky ground. 

The humor ranges from irreverent to absurd to charming.  Head over Heels makes some deliberate and clever points in its storytelling, but can get more fixated on what each character stands for rather than giving the characters more depth.  However, If you enjoy a frivolous farce dipped in 80s nostalgia, this “trifle” as Sir Phillip Sidney has called his prose, this one may be for you.

The Umbrella Stage Company presents Head Over Heels the Musical live and in person at the beautifully-renovated Umbrella Arts Center, 40 Stow Street in Concord, MA through Sunday, May 8.  This show may not appropriate for young children.  Click here for more information at for tickets.

REVIEW:  True Repertory Theatre’s ‘Ellen’s Boys’ a heartwarming and heartrending family tale

Family life can get complicated and for the large Irish Catholic Flaherty family, complicated is an understatement.   Though Ellen’s Boys are a big part of this dramedy, the real center of this production lies in Ellen, the stubborn, pushy, and interfering Flaherty matriarch in a powerful performance by Victoria Bond.  Emotions run high with some typical family arguments and some not so typical, but the show shines a light on the hypocrisies (even the innocent ones) set by family that almost anyone can relate to.   

True Repertory Theatre’s ‘Ellen’s Boys’ logo Logo courtesy of Jim Sullivan/True Repertory Theatre

Partnering in part by GLSEN and directed insightfully by Donald Sheehan, True Repertory Theatre presented Jim Sullivan’s original dramedy, Ellen’s Boys, live and in person at the Beal House, 222 Main Street in Kingston, Massachusetts through March 27.  The show is approximately 2 hours with one intermission.  Click here for more information, upcoming auditions, and more. 

The ‘Ellen’s Boys’ set Photo courtesy of Jim Sullivan/True Repertory Theatre

The Ellen Boys’ set takes up a significant space at the Beal House so there’s not a bad seat for the audience.  As a photo of John F. Kennedy hangs on the wall, a tube television and vintage radio stand in the living room, and Andes mints sit in a crystal bowl on a doily, Ellen’s Boys successfully rewinds the clock back to December of 1965.  Based on playwright Jim Sullivan’s own vision of his grandmother’s house, the Beal House is home to a functional space with full kitchen off a retro-furnished living room as sacramental Catholic objects hang on the walls with framed portraits of family memories on a piano.  The show also sets a prominent Irish tone whether through the Celtic music between scenes, the Irish teapot on the dining room table, or through Flaherty sisters Ellen and Bridget’s rich Irish accents. 

Each character longs to break free in one’s own unique way and Ellen’s Boys has its share of heartwarming and heartrending moments within this animated family dynamic.  It seems the only one against evolution is Ellen Flaherty.   Victoria Bond could have easily depicted Ellen as a caricature of the classic pushy Irish mother in a house dress and apron who manipulates her way through grief and guilt, but as Bond breathes life into the character with finesse and humor, it is difficult to stay frustrated with Ellen for long. 

Lisa Caron Driscoll’s remarkable portrayal as Ellen’s fun loving, spontaneous and equally quick-tempered sister Bridget makes for some high drama between sisters displaying some tempestuous sibling rivalry.  They are alike in the ways that matter, though neither will admit it.

Donald Sheehan took both the director’s seat and a role as Ellen’s lonely and devoted son Gil.  Noonan strikes a delicate balance between sweet and exasperated as he holds onto the past in fear of the ramifications of his future.  Seemingly the opposite is Cammerron Baits as spontaneous and hard-partying Nathan.  In a multi-layered performance, Baits emotes fragility and earnestness under that impulsive façade.

Paul Noonan has a palpably eerie way of portraying the seemingly peaceful, helpful, yet enigmatic John Flaherty, Ellen’s son, while Oliver Henry Bellman is sweet and sympathetic as Patrick Walsh.  Noonan’s scenes with Julie Butler, in a bittersweet performance as dutiful and sensible sister Kathleen Doherty, made for some tough realizations as Kathleen pushes to break past John’s stoic nature.

Ellen’s Boys’ more lighthearted moments come in part from Sara McNulty as young and beautiful Tina Toccio whose self consciousness in front of Ellen and their various exchanges make for some dynamic comedy and also tense moments as they butt heads in their mutual stubbornness. With Cody Savoy as Ellen’s son, Michael, McNulty and Savoy also deliver some lighter moments and heartwarming chemistry together.

Though Ellen’s Boys runs a little long, through all of the drama, the complications, the heartache, and family outbursts because you simply can’t hold your tongue another second longer at the dinner table, what a relief to finally be understood.

REVIEW: Boasting a strong cast, Company Theatre’s ‘Something Rotten’ a fresh and clever musical comedy

Amid set designer Ryan Barrow’s quaint, warmly-lit, Tudor-inspired cottages of 1595 London is a Renaissance rock star…and the ones he left behind.   Company Theatre’s Something Rotten has something new to say about something olde and what it truly takes to be remembered.

Slickly directed by Zoe Bradford with zealous musical direction by Steve Bass, Company Theatre presents lighthearted musical comedy Something Rotten through April 3 live and in person at the Company Theatre, 30 Accord Park Drive in Norwell, Massachusetts. The show is not recommended for young children and runs approximately two hours with a brief intermission.  Click here for more information and tickets.

Director Zoe Bradford and the cast of ‘Something Rotten’ Photo courtesy of Zoe Bradford/Company Theatre

The phrase, Something Rotten, calls to mind a number of references, but primarily this alludes to the one and only William Shakespeare, London’s resident celebrity.  While music was prevalent in 1595, writers were the real stars of their time and Shakespeare, charismatically portrayed with plenty of ego, prowess, and smirking, flamboyant charm by Brad Reinking, was a legend.  Surrounded by Shakespeare’s Bard Boys (watch their expressions as he speaks), Reinking’s stage presence is an eclectic cross between Prince and Elvis.

Christopher Spencer as Nigel Bottom, Brad Reinking as Shakespeare, and Donny Norton as Nick Bottom Photo courtesy of Zoe Bradford/Company Theatre

In the glow of stardom, there must be a few naysayers and no one does it better than Donnie Norton as cynical and struggling writer Nick Bottom who once worked with that famous Bard.  Nick’s level of griping is prevalent in the catchy number, God, I Hate Shakespeare, but what makes the song particularly interesting it is also embodies relevant reasons some people do not care for Shakespeare’s writing.  Norton as Nick Bottom is so good at the role that payoff is big when he finally shows a trace of optimism.  Christopher Spencer also shines as idealistic, impressionable, and head-in-the-clouds Nigel, Nick’s little brother and fellow writer.  Spencer’s best moments as Nigel is when he shows reason and aptitude, though his giddy chemistry with Emily Lambert as wide-eyed yet steadfast Portia is also wonderful to watch.

Emily Lambert as Portia and Christopher Spencer as Nigel Bottom Photo courtesy of Zoe Bradford/Company Theatre

Something Rotten is often self aware and its irreverent brand of humor brought to mind the classic comedy of Mel Brooks in musicals such as in the Tony award-winning The Producers or Young FrankensteinSally Ashton Forrest’s notable choreography boasts some splashy and humorous dance sequences including tap dancing and even a glorious kick line. 

Elizabeth Cole Sheehan’s gleaming, colorful, and historically-faithful costumes cross the pond between regal classical to edgy contemporary adorned in gold-embroidered velvet, puffed sleeves, and leather. 

Welcome to the Renaissance Photo courtesy of Zoe Bradford/Company Theatre

Something Rotten features some powerhouse vocals, especially from these forward-thinking leading ladies in jolly ol’ England.  Emily Lambert as Portia lifted her soaring soprano vocals for the gospel-inspired, We See the Light and the sweet and cheeky duet, I Love the Way with Spencer’s Nigel.  Melissa Carubia as spunky, confident, and loyal to a fault Bea is also ahead of her time, her dynamic vocal range on display for the groundbreaking number, Right Hand Man.  With quirky comedic charms fueled by a mix of Catherine Tate and Jennifer Saunders, Janis Hudson is perfectly smashing as royally-dressed Lady Clapham. 

Janis Hudson as Lady Clapham Photo courtesy of Zoe Bradford/Company Theatre

With bright, inquisitive eyes and a mischievous and knowing grin, Christopher Hagberg is a scene stealer as Thomas Nostradamus who leads with Norton in the funniest and most brilliant number of the show, A Musical tailor-made for literary and musical lovers everywhere. 

Donnie Norton as Nick Bottom and Christopher Hagberg as Thomas Nostradamas Photo courtesy of Zoe Bradford/Company Theatre

Company Theatre presents lighthearted musical comedy Something Rotten through April 3 live and in person at the Company Theatre, 30 Accord Park Drive in Norwell, Massachusetts.  The show runs approximately two hours with a brief intermission.  Click here for more information and tickets.

REVIEW:  ‘Freestyle Love Supreme’ an astounding good time

A roaring crowd greeted hip-hop comedic dynamos, Freestyle Love Supreme opening night at the Emerson Colonial Theatre in Boston on Friday, March 18.  Packed with plenty of self-proclaimed Freestyle Love Supreme super fans, witnessing this unique, interactive, Tony award-winning production feels more like attending a rock concert.  The anticipation leading up to it was palpable and I immediately got the sense I was in for a truly remarkable experience.    

Before In The Heights or Hamilton, there was Lin Manuel Miranda’s Freestyle Love Supreme which continues live and in person at the Emerson Colonial Theatre, 106 Boylston Street in Boston, MA through April 2.  The show is approximately 90 minutes with no intermission. Click here for more information and tickets.

L to R: Lin-Manuel Miranda, Kaila Mullady AKA Kaiser Roze, Anthony Veneziale AKA Two Touch and Aneesa Folds AKA Young Nees Photo credit to Joan Marcus

No wonder Freestyle Love Supreme is beloved seeing that the show still features some of the founding cast members since the group started in 2004 and went on to be featured in the self-titled Hulu documentary and on Broadway.  Founding member Chris Sullivan AKA Shockwave wows with phenomenal hip hop beats (and seemingly impossible) sound effects, Aneesa Folds AKA Young Nees can perform powerful vocal gymnastics to anything that is thrown Young Nees’s way, and founding member Anthony Veneziale AKA Two Touch is a great and welcoming host.  Not only can every cast member deliver clever quips at the drop of a hat, but the show is friendly, interactive, and inclusive.

From L to R: Chris Sullivan AKA Shockwave, Richard Baskin Jr AKA Rich Medway, Anthony Veneziale AKA Two Touch and Aneesa Folds AKA Young Nees Photo credit to Joan Marcus.

Is Freestyle Love Supreme a big party?  A resounding yes, but every performance is unique so it is best enjoyed just knowing the basics.  Don’t feel pressure to participate, but the more enthusiasm and participation, the better the show.  Trust me.  Even in masks which Freestyle Love Supreme deems ‘consonant killers,’ the audience is invited to demonstrate what they are saying in creative and amusing ways.  It is fun, has heart, and there wasn’t a dull moment.

The show is tailor made for the locals boasting a slew of signature Boston and pop culture references.  Listen closely for the inventive and masterful delivery of these brilliant, high-speed rappers.  The possibilities are endless.  They also aren’t shy about what they say onstage.  This may sound a bit like Whose Line is it Anyway and Wayne Brady was part of the cast at one point, but accompanied by an intimate live band, Freestyle Love Supreme is just on another level.  For example, one audience member suggested the word, ‘Yankees’ and it was amazing to see how just many ways that one word was demonstrated led by the vocal styling of hilarious Jay C. Ellis AKA Jellis J.

The cast of ‘Freestyle Love Supreme’ Photo credit to Joan Marcus

Freestyle Love Supreme is hilarious, relatable and brilliantly fast-paced, but what makes the show most endearing was not so much the spectacle, but how much the cast does not hesitate to share their personal experiences as each show is shaped into a carefully tailored crowd pleaser. To think for the first time ever, the show’s full set was not delivered by opening night!  I can’t imagine having a better time.

Freestyle Love Supreme continues live and in person at the Emerson Colonial Theatre in Boston, MA through April 2.  Click here for more information and tickets.

REVIEW:  Greater Boston Stage Company’s well-timed ‘Incident at Our Lady of Perpetual Help’ a comical trip down memory lane

Greater Boston Stage Company chose the perfect time to debut Incident at Our Lady of Perpetual Help.  Nestled right through St. Patrick’s Day during Lent (for Catholics), this engaging family comedy delves into the lives of the quirky lower middle class Irish-Catholic O’Shea family during a chaotic and pivotal week in their lives in the 1970s.  It’s a memory play…with a few amusing twists.

From L to R: Vin Vega as Becky, Maureen Keiller as Theresa “Terri” Carmichael, Amy Barker as Jo O’Shea, and Autumn Blazon-Brown as Linda O’Shea Photo courtesy of Greater Boston Stage Company

A semi-autobiographical play written by Katie Forgette and directed by Weylin Symes, Greater Boston Stage Company presents Incident at Our Lady of Perpetual Help virtually and at Greater Boston Stage Company in Stoneham, Massachusetts through March 20.  The show is 1 hour and 45 minutes with intermission and recommended for children ages 13 and up.  Click here for more information and tickets.

It is fascinating how memories work when they are retold, recalled, and recollected.  A fuzzy little detail here and a little change there may make a big difference.  Some of the production’s characters are a bit over the top, but so was the 70s.  Every detail of this show rewinds the clock to a simpler time before the internet, cell phones, and other technological distractions took over.  Deirdre Gerrard pulls together a wonderfully nostalgic and mismatched array of 70s attire from corduroy to bold patterns to star-studded bellbottoms. 

From L to R: Vin Vega as Becky, Autumn Blazon-Brown as Linda, Amy Barker as Jo O’Shea, and Maureen Keiller as Theresa “Terri” Carmichael Photo courtesy of Greater Boston Stage Company

Incident at Our Lady of Perpetual Help is full of candidness, warmth, and quick pacing much due to the cast’s authentic and believable chemistry as a relatable, flawed, and dysfunctional family.  Tempers flare, judgments are passed often, and the O’Shea family is set in their routines within a meticulously-detailed and functioning wood paneled kitchen plucked straight out of the 70s.  From an afghan blanket on a chair to knickknacks on shelves to photos and notes smattered on a corkboard to greenery gathering in a kitchen window, set designer Shelley Barish’s remarkable blast from the past kitchen lies in the details.

A bossy grandmother, a cheapskate father that works too hard, an exhausted but nurturing mother, a shoot-from-the-hip aunt, and an impressionable daughter all vie for the spotlight breaking the 4th wall and well aware they are in the play.  It flows more like a slice-of-life documentary with most characters eager to speak to the “camera.”

Vin Vega as Becky and Autumn Blazon-Brown as Linda O’Shea Photo courtesy of Greater Boston Stage Company

At the center of this play is somewhat reliable narrator Autumn Blazon-Brown as adorably spunky women’s-lib teenager Linda O’Shea.  Smart yet adventurous, Blazon-Brown shows charming charisma as Linda who, in a moment of frustration, is obnoxious to her impressionable sister Becky to the chagrin of those around her including intimidating Fr. Lovett portrayed with self-righteous glee by Barlow Adamson.  Chaos ensues.   

Amy Barker as Jo O’Shea and Autumn Blazon-Brown as Linda O’Shea Photo courtesy of Greater Boston Stage Company

Adamson is an apt comedian with a wealth of opportunities to show off his dynamic skills during this production.  Vin Vega portrays film-obsessed and imaginative Becky who seems the most sensible among this amiable cast and often along for the ride within the O’Shea high jinx.  Amy Barker portrays a relatable every mom as exhausted but nurturing matriarch Jo O’Shea, but Maureen Keiller, a familiar face having delivered solid past performances in Boston such as in Between Riverside and Crazy, Admissions and The Women, is a gem as Theresa “Terri” Carmichael.  Wisecracking, bold, and often blunt, Keiller shows under Terri’s complicated and tough façade is a loneliness and vulnerability with a fierce loyalty to her family.   A better aunt you will never find.

Greater Boston Stage Company presents Incident at Our Lady of Perpetual Help virtually and at Greater Boston Stage Company in Stoneham, Massachusetts through March 20.  The show is 1 hour and 45 minutes with intermission and recommended for children ages 13 and up.  Click here for more information and tickets.

REVIEW:  Merrimack Repertory Theatre’s insightful ‘Erma Bombeck: At Wit’s End’ will delight more than the domestic housewife

At long last, it is here and I can’t help being thrilled.

When Merrimack Repertory Theatre (MRT) first announced that Erma Bombeck: At Wit’s End would be part of MRT’s upcoming season, my heart leapt.  Having taken great joy in reading Bombeck’s comical works such as The Grass is Always Greener over the Septic Tank and If Life is a Bowl of Cherries, What Am I Doing in the Pits, I had high expectations for this production that ended up being delayed a few times due to Covid. 

Karen MacDonald in ‘Erma Bombeck: At Wit’s End’ Photo credit to Megpix/Meghan Moore

Sponsored in part by WBUR and intuitively directed by Terry Berliner, Merrimack Repertory Theatre presents Erma Bombeck: At Wit’s End virtually and live in-person at the Merrimack Repertory Theatre in Lowell, MA through March 13. The show is just over one hour with no intermission.  Click here for more information and tickets.

Erma Bombeck’s column about life as a housewife made her a household name.  She became the most distributed column in America and it is easy to see why.  Before I ever grasped the concept of being a housewife, I loved reading Erma Bombeck.  As an adult and still not a housewife, I still revel in her sharp and timeless humor.  She never misses a beat relating to women everywhere and though her advice dates back as early as the 60s, most of it remains relevant today.

Dan Zimmerman’s intriguing multi-level and colorful set is a relic of a 1960’s house equipped with period kitchen cabinets, dated upholstery, an old phone, and retro household appliances.  Joel Shier’s lighting is subtly appealing alongside Scott Stauffer’s charming and well-timed sound effects.  Though MacDonald is only present onstage, a supporting cast can be heard that lends to the pacing and a larger sense of realism to the production.

Karen MacDonald in ‘Erma Bombeck: At Wit’s End’ Photo credit to Megpix/Meghan Moore

In classic pearls and a blue floral dress, Karen MacDonald as Erma looks the quintessential housewife as she takes the audience from 1962 through 1996.  Bombeck longed to be a foreign correspondent and instead became a suburban housewife residing in Cherrywood Acres in Dayton, Ohio.  She quipped, ‘I blazed a trail all the way from the laundry room to the sink.’ 

Allison and Margaret Engel’s screenplay is chock full of clever anecdotes and MacDonald’s warm and inviting presence gradually feels like visiting with an old friend.  The quick, peppy, and semi-interactive screenplay is peppered with Bombeck’s astute observations as she shares her remarkable journey to becoming a writer, her zany family life, and gathering her sense of self over the years.   

Much like Julia Child of the same generation, Bombeck is self-deprecating in her imperfections and prides herself on honesty.  MacDonald slips into Bombeck’s natural and relatable tone comfortably brimming with advice, but never in a ‘know-it-all’ sort of way.   A few of her marvelous observational gems include ‘Why take pride in cooking when they don’t take pride in eating?’ or ‘My idea of housework is to sweep the room with a glance’ or ‘What doesn’t kill you now, comes back a few days later to try again.’

Karen MacDonald in ‘Erma Bombeck: At Wit’s End’ Photo credit to Megpix/Meghan Moore

That last piece of advice also resonates with the darker side of Bombeck’s humor.  Surprisingly, Erma Bombeck had her share of haters and struggles.  However, she proves herself a source of strength and fortitude.  Even her most serious reflections and recollections are met with a jovial and contemplative quip.  Though the production is considered mostly lighthearted, MacDonald as Erma manages to find humor in pain which is a rare quality indeed.       

Merrimack Repertory Theatre presents Erma Bombeck’s ‘At Wit’s End’ virtually and live in-person at the Merrimack Repertory Theatre in Lowell, MA through March 13.  Click here for more information and tickets.

REVIEW: Overcoming an important theme in NYC’s Indie Theatre Film Festival’s dynamic ‘Coming of Age’ short films

A spontaneous escape, an evil queen, finding inspiration and discovering super strength is just the tip of the iceberg for New York City’s Indie Theatre Film Festival’s Coming of Age Shorts Screening.  These shorts explore overcoming troubles, fears, and heartache in remarkable ways including a sense of humor as demonstrated in Dianne Diep’s Cloud Gazing.  Peals of laughter can remedy almost any situation.

The New York City Indie Theatre Film Festival continues streaming through Sunday, February 20.  Click here for more information and how to stream a variety of dynamic films including animation and documentary works.

Photo credit to the NYC Indie Film Festival

In the face of chaos, there is strength.  Overcoming is such a prevalent theme in these coming of age shorts and none quite faces it like Jonah Beres as Sam Wheeler in Balloon, a boy who is relentlessly bullied at school. Who can Sam really turn to? Beres’s sympathetic eyes and careful demeanor resemble a young Dane DeHaan.  DeHaan has a knack for portraying characters with pent up emotion just on the brink of letting go.  Directors Jeremy Merrifield and Dave Testa capture a captivating burst of emotions and the awkwardness of childhood through nature, at home, and symbolically in a popping balloon. 

Jonah Beres as Sam Wheeler ‘Balloon’ Photo credit to NYC Indie Theatre Film Festival

Directed and produced by Dianne Diep, Cloud Gazing is a lighthearted take upon a common rite of passage in New York City.  It is the epitome of looking at the bright side as Dianne Diep as Mia makes the best of her latest apartment in the Big City.  The silly and imaginative dialogue, cinematography, and the peals of laughter from Shannon Whelan as Dylan and Dianne Diep as Mia could leave the most serious heart uplifted.  Click here for more on Cloud Gazing and Dianne Diep can also be seen in upcoming Mia:  Unraveling Series.

Photo credit to NYC Indie Theatre Film Festival

Profound life advice is hard to come by.  For example, ‘Life is better than a movie…buy cookies and cream’ is a notable and memorable quote from Tom’s Bench.  Directed by Richard H. Pluim, it’s a heartwarming short film taking place on a special Astoria Park bench in New York.  Most notable is the soothing and fitting Simon and Garfunkel-style closing song Come and Go by the Timber Choir

Adam Patterson and Kyle Stockburger on ‘Tom’s Bench’ Photo credit to NYC Indie Theatre Film Festival

Starting a new day holds new meaning for an unhappy wife in Expectations directed by Vic Dominguez.  It is also directed, written, and starring Kaitlin Gould.  This short would benefit with a longer screen time because Gould’s actions only bring up more questions. 

Photo credit to NYC Indie Theatre Film Festival

Overcoming has several meanings for a discouraged artist longing for inspiration and she may find it in a most unconventional way in You and I written directed and produced by Yiqing Zhao.  It is a quirky, colorful, and sweet film about overcoming doubt for the dream in your heart. 

To the sounds of Gymnopedie No 1, Fair is a stinging, deeply relatable, and inventive short film infusing fairy tale with stark reality as a woman, portrayed by Marissa Molnar, must overcome her current circumstances.  It is a clever and fascinating piece that has moments of charm and humor in its brief time frame. 

Marissa Molnar is ‘Fair’ Photo credit to NYC Indie Theatre Film Festival

School life isn’t easy for Angella Cao as Jessa in Pippi, a nod to the famous children’s book character, Pippi Longstocking.  Most notable is the moving and poignant interactions between the adorable Cao and Karoline Xu as her mom. 

Angella Cao as Jessa in ‘Pippi’ Photo credit to NYC Indie Theatre Film Festival

A woman is on a mysterious voyage in Goat.  This short film has beautiful cinematography and its share of odd humor.  Ben Lewis as Simon is an especially intriguing character.

The New York City Indie Theatre Film Festival continues streaming through Sunday, February 20.  Click here for more information and how to stream a variety of films.

REVIEW:  Company Theatre’s regal ‘The Audience’ delivers lessons from a queen

So much can transpire in a certain room.

Though I’m not a fan of The Crown, the intriguing Oscar-nominated Spencer is new on Hulu and I was too curious about the polarizing acting abilities of Kristen Stewart to miss this film.  Not only does the film focus on the tension, the princess’s fragility, and her deteriorating marriage, but  what is deemed a fable of a tragedy taught me a bit about the monarchy’s strict regime before heading out to see the Company Theatre’s production of The Audience.

Directed by Steve Dooner and the inspiration behind the Netflix’s hit drama The Crown, Company Theatre presents Peter Morgan’s The Audience through Sunday, February 20 at Company Theatre, 30 Accord Park Drive in Norwell, Massachusetts.  The show is 2 hours and 15 minutes including an intermission.  Click here for more information and tickets.

Carol Laing Stearns as Queen Elizabeth II with Pembroke Welch Corgis Gregory and Laci Photo courtesy of Zoe Bradford/Company Theatre

The Audience is named after an important room inside Buckingham Palace where Queen Elizabeth II discusses a wide range of topics with various Prime Ministers over the Years.  As Queen, she must live up to certain standards to have these meetings on a certain day for a certain length of time and keeping discussions strictly to Cabinet, Parliament, and Current Affairs.  Needless to say, conversations often take a turn in unexpected directions.  The show delivers light and subtle humor throughout the production, but this is mostly a historical drama.

Carol Laing Stearns portrays the sharp and coolheaded English monarch with sophistication, grace, and underlying prowess (with her royal corgis in tow).  She dryly describes herself as “a postage stamp with a pulse,” but we all know better.  Stearns has a natural and likable presence, but also stoic and headstrong.  She rarely lets her emotions get the better of her, even when she is commenting on it.  It is interesting to see the quirks and tenacity, navigating her age progression well.  However in a rare moment, thanks to the keen lighting design of Dean Palmer. Jr, the spotlight shines on Stearns in a moment of vulnerability, and it is difficult not be entirely moved by it.

Carol Laing Stearns as Queen Elizabeth II Photo courtesy of Zoe Bradford/Company Theatre

Ryan Barrow’s elegant set is flanked with wall-to-wall gold trim, historical portraits, and a sparkling chandelier shining overhead.  Charismatic Rama Rodriguez as Equerry acts as half narrator and half historian, sharing the relevance of this special room and its astute history.  From a tartan skirt to the dapper suits on each Prime Minister to the very replica of Queen Elizabeth II’s white dress and royal sash symbolizing her position as the Dame Grand Cross of the Royal Victorian Order, costume designer Elizabeth Cole Sheehan has a meticulous eye for historically-accurate regal flair.

The depiction of Elizabeth II’s flashes of childhood is handled in a unique and insightful way though at first it can be a little confusing.  Young Elizabeth, portrayed as a precocious and inquisitive old soul by Samantha LeBretton, struggles with her destiny and the separation of her public and private figure.  Although she is unsure of her place exactly, she feigns surefootedness, but not without questions. 

Chris DiOrio as Harold Wilson is the most sympathetic among the Prime Ministers while Julie Dennis as Iron Lady Margaret Thatcher comes in like a lion and remains one.  The tension between Stearns and Dennis as a compelling Thatcher is quite thrilling to witness as two people with much in common can barely agree.  DiOrio as Wilson thrives in the role, his strong Northern accent only accentuates his likability. 

Among the many political, social, and personal topics addressed, the clash between royal rituals and traditions with modernization and talk of the end of the monarchy is always looming.  However, The Audience presents a bigger picture and depicts just why Queen Elizabeth II’s, who just celebrated her Platinum Jubilee this month and is the longest reigning English monarch in history,  secret to her longevity reaches far beyond her wit.

Company Theatre’s ‘The Audience’ is the inspiration behind Netflix’s ‘The Crown’ Photo courtesy of Zoe Bradford/Company Theatre

Company Theatre presents Peter Morgan’s The Audience through Sunday, February 20 at Company Theatre, 30 Accord Park Drive in Norwell, Massachusetts.  The show is 2 hours and 15 minutes including an intermission.  Click here for more information and tickets.