REVIEW:  Umbrella Arts Stage Company unveils riveting musical, ‘The Color Purple’

How does one find faith when everything falls apart?

Based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by Alice Walker, The Color Purple is a powerful and thought provoking historical drama that examines life’s true meaning, redemption, transformation, and the search for faith and love when all seems lost.

With stirring direction by BW Gonzalez, Nathanael Wilkerson’s lively music direction, and instinctively choreographed by Najee A. Brown, Umbrella Arts Company continues the Tony award-winning musical, The Color Purple by Marsha Norman through Sunday, June 4 live and in person at the Umbrella Arts Center in Concord, MA.  The show has two acts with one intermission and contains some mature themes.  Some package shows also offer walking tours.  Click here for more information and tickets.

Shy’Kira Allen as Celie and cast Photo by Jim Sabitus

Umbrella Arts Company could not have chosen a better time to bring this particular musical to the stage this year.  The Color Purple celebrated the 40th anniversary of the acclaimed novel last year and the 1985 film directed by Steven Spielberg featured an all star cast including Whoopi Goldberg, Danny Glover and Oprah Winfrey.  It garnered several Oscar nominations including Best Picture. This December, a musical film adaptation of The Color Purple will premiere featuring a multitalented cast including Taraji P. Henson, Halle Bailey, Fantasia Barrino, and H.E.R.

Having never read the book or seen the film, The Color Purple was an eye opening experience.  It holds turmoil, peril, and cruelty, but it is also an extraordinary tale of miracles, transformation, humor, and unyielding hope exclaimed by a mesmerizing cast of powerful voices each with their own challenges to overcome.  Walker’s dynamic characters possess a wealth of depth and complexity that deliver some astonishing twists and turns.  The Color Purple features a powerful and Grammy award-winning score that infuses gospel, ragtime, jazz, and blues. The uplifting Our Prayer is gripping right from the start and the tapestry of moving numbers that follow makes the musical all the more enthralling.

'Our Prayer' from The Color Purple Photo by Jim Sabitus

SeifAllah Salotto-Crisobal’s impactful lighting design meticulously sets the tone in creative and multicolored pastels transforming Janie E. Howland’s modest wooden set equipped with whips and a silver barrel.  Covering a 40 year range, costume designer Danielle Dominigue Sumi navigates various eras with finesse including culturally appropriate attire from muted to kaleidoscopic colors.

Shy’Kira Allen as Celie and Kayla Leacock as Nettie Photo by Jim Sabitus

In 1909 rural Georgia, Celie at 14 is about to give birth.  She finds solace in her buoyant and discerning sister Nettie in a beautiful depiction by Kayla Leacock.  Their genuine camaraderie is sheer joy to witness as Celie navigates her own unmerited suffering.  Nettie is one of many spiritually strong and often challenged women surrounding inquisitive, naïve, obedient, and shy Celie depicted remarkably by Shy’kira Allen, that teach her about resilience and fortitude.  Kai Clifton is a powerful force as daring Sofia with a trailblazing attitude and demeanor rare of a woman in the early 1900’s as demonstrated in a sage and commanding rendition of Hell No!  Chystin Gilmore holds her own power as captivating and liberated performer Shug Avery who breezes into Georgia on a whim bringing excitement, scandal, and humor to the town as demonstrated in an alluring rendition of Push the Button.  However, Gilmore truly shines in quieter moments with her tender rendition of Too Beautiful for Words as well as the show’s heartfelt title track.

Crystin Gilmore as Shug Avery and cast Photo by Jim Sabitus

Shy’Kira Allen rises to the challenge as complicated Celie and though Allen has many memorable scenes with the cast, her most powerful scenes are the ones she must stand on her own such as in Lily of the Field, Dear God, and a brilliant rendition of I’m HereBrian Demar Jones is impressive and deceptively charismatic as short sighted and egocentric Mister while Jordan Aaron Hall is likable as compassionate yet impressionable Harpo.  Rural Georgia is an area not without its gossip and keeping the mood light in the midst of the show’s most difficult moments are the humorous and ever knowing Church Ladies, their clever vocal styling slick for Shug Avery Coming to Town and Uh Oh.

Kai Clifton as Sofia and cast Photo by Jim Sabitus

Umbrella Arts Company delivers Alice Walker’s message with such collective fervor, make time to witness this Color Purple

Umbrella Arts Company continues the Tony award-winning musical, The Color Purple though Sunday, June 4 live and in person at the Umbrella Arts Center in Concord, MA.  The show has two acts with one intermission and contains some mature themes.  Click here for more information and tickets.

REVIEW: Plenty of glitz, humor, and charm in SpeakEasy Stage’s ‘The Prom’

It’s just so nice to be invited back to a Prom and not be the one in a frilly dress.

Though costume designer Miranda Kau Giurleo does bring all the glitz, glitter and glamour to this satirical blend of inspired true story and over the top musical comedy set in New York as well as in Edgewater, Indiana.  SpeakEasy Stage Company’s The Prom delivers plenty of humor ranging from silly to parody to satirical not without its political ribbings with a sincere and underlying message about helping others.

Mary Callanan and Johnny Kuntz. Photo credit to Nile Scott Studios

Featuring stellar and intricate choreography by Taavon Gamble and lightheartedly directed by Paul Daigneault, SpeakEasy Stage Company continues musical comedy The Prom through June 10 live and in person at the Calderwood Pavilion in Boston Massachusetts.  The show is two hours and 25 minutes with one 15 minute intermission.  Click here for more information and tickets.

The Prom should sound a least a little familiar since its 2020 Netflix film adaptation debut with an abundance of its own star shine including Meryl Streep as Dee Dee and James Corden as Barry.  Inspired by a true story, anxious Emma, depicted with self effacing and quiet optimism by Liesie Kelly, invites a date to the Prom with none other than Abriel Coleman as Alyssa, the daughter of the head of the Parent Teacher Association.  Once a group of egocentric Broadway celebrities gets wind of this human interest story, they decide to make a difference in this small Indiana town.

Abriel Coleman (left) and Liesie Kelly. Photo credit to Nile Scott Studios

Lit with soft and cheerful pastels by Karen Perlow, The Prom features a flashy and dynamic set design including checkered red carpet doubling for any high school setting.  One of the stage highlights is a chameleon-like, glittering backdrop complete with shimmering disco ball and an onstage orchestra hidden behind a sports scoreboard.

From left: Lisa Yuen, Mary Callanan, Johnny Kuntz, and Jared Troilo. Photo credit to Nile Scott Studios

The Prom is helmed by a strong and exuberant cast with exceptional comedic timing.  Dynamite duo Barry Glickman and Dee Dee, portrayed with pizzazz by Johnny Kuntz and Mary Callanan, deliver lots of laughs as seemingly shallow thespians, but their real charm is exposed by the people they meet in this fish out of water production.  Their wild antics and Callanan’s fantastic belt are on spectacular display for fist pumping and humorous Changing Lives.  Adorned with glamorous red hair, Callanan shines in the commanding and infectious solo It’s Not About Me and has lively and fun loving chemistry with Anthony Pires Jr as compassionate and forthright Mr. Hawkins.  Pires Jr adds a shy charisma to the role and his scenes with Emma and Dee Dee are touching and memorable especially for the sweet solo, We Look to You.

From left: Amy Barker, Anthony Pires Jr., and Mary Callanan. Photo credit to Nile Scott Studios

Meagan Lewis-Michelson as no nonsense PR rep Sheldon Saperstein and inspirational Lisa Yuen as Angie Dickenson both have their great comedic moments, but Jared Troilo is a bit of a scene stealer hatching outrageous theatrical schemes to unique pronunciations as aspiring actor Trent Oliver.  Troilo’s character could have easily become obnoxious as the show progressed, but Troilo’s Trent remained endearing at every turn.  Though Troilo is wonderful in every number, perhaps the cheeky Love Thy Neighbor is the most noteworthy fueled by surprising musical accompaniment and gospel influences.

The Prom deals with some serious topics including betrayal, but balances it well with the show’s overall optimistic tone.   It is positive throughout, even in the face of Emma’s most difficult challenges.  Liesie Kelly’s lovely Just Breathe mixes dry wit with Kelly’s mellifluous vocals and smiling eyes.  Emma’s high school classmates are painted as shallow and insensitive and as far as storytelling, it might have been nice to have at least one of them sympathetic to Emma’s plight from the start.

Tori Heinlein (center) and the company. Photo credit to Nile Scott Studios

Boasting amazing choreography that not only is reminiscent of popular musicals Footloose and Hairspray, but The Prom contains a wealth of welcome, inside Broadway references.  From a clapping and celebratory champagne dance to  the Fosse-inspired choreography of Zazz to the intricate chorography of  It’s Time to Dance, Gamble with Paul S. Katz’s music direction creates a complex yet sparkling escape to fun and frivolity if only temporarily from the realities of life.   

SpeakEasy Stage Company continues musical comedy The Prom through June 10 live and in person at the Calderwood Pavilion in Boston Massachusetts.  Click here for more information and tickets.

REVIEW:  Apollinaire Theatre Company’s ‘Dance Nation’ starts funny, then at times loses its footing

Dance can be a cutthroat sport.  This is especially true for a group of prepubescent, adolescent, and rambunctious preteens in a dance competition who are told the results will change their lives.

However, the twist here is these teens are not actually portrayed by age appropriate preteens, but by a wide age range.  Therein lays comedy and the rub for the rest of this story.

Audrey Johnson as Amina, Schanaya Barrows as Ashlee, Katie Pickett as Zuzu (additional image below) Photos: Danielle Fauteux Jacques

Fervently directed by Danielle Fauteux Jacques with lively choreography by Audrey Johnson,  Apollinaire Theatre Company presents Clare Barron’s Dance Nation live and in person at Apollinaire Theatre Company in Chelsea, Massachusetts through May 14.  Dance Nation has mature themes.  The show is 100 minutes with no intermission.  Click here for more information and for tickets.

A lot is at stake at Liverpool Dance Works in Liverpool, Ohio.  From dance moms to competing with a best friend, Dance Nation delves into the pressure of perfection and the discoveries of coming of age including and certainly not limited to the magic of black coffee.  It starts out with some amusing moments and it excels in depicting some of the angst, uncertainty, heartache and anguish associated with growing up.  It personifies the travesties in a young girl’s life, her changing body, the all or nothing attitude in just about everything, and the sensitivity of a young heart.  Everything is a victory or an absolute disaster.

Schanaya Barrows as Ashlee (front), Alison Butts as Sofia, Paola Ferrer as Vanessa, Erik P. Kraft as Luke Photo by Danielle Fauteux Jacques

Joseph Lark-Riley boasts a heart thumping, catchy and memorable sound design.  Elizabeth Rocha’s dynamic costumes range from delicate tutus to casual wear and Nathan Lee and Jennea Pillay’s realistic scenic design create an everyday teen dance studio complete with hanging coats, multilevel compartments for shoes and dance bags as well as metal trophies displayed like a pillar of excellence for every student to strive for. 

Dance Nation is highlighted with some fascinating performances.  Katie Pickett delicately portrays self conscious and sensitive Zuzu with a tangible anxiousness and discomfort in her own skin.  Dev Luthra portrays occasionally testy, sketchy, manipulative and yet inspiring Dance Teacher Pat.  Luthra’s rapport with the students is complicated, especially with Audrey Johnson’s complex and conflicted perfectionist Amina.  Paola Ferrer impressively juggles not only depicting a dancer, but the supportive, not quite in touch, and competitive dance mom whose child should always be the star.   Imagination sweetly runs wild with Ann Carpenter as Maeve while Schanaya Barrows savagely depicts a mix of ego, vanity and complicated uncertainty as Ashlee.

Audrey Johnson as Amina, Schanaya Barrows as Ashlee, Katie Pickett as Zuzu (additional image below) Photos: Danielle Fauteux Jacques

Then somehow, it starts to lose its way.  Dance Nation was funny until it becomes what some might call “fierce.”   Teens do speak like little adults which is part of the humor of the show, but they are not adults and the show contains some unnecessarily dark and absurd scenarios that become more frequent as the show progresses.  It can be anguish and cringe worthy to be a preteen, but some avenues in which this show takes do not resemble the average teen and it becomes too farfetched and graphic.  Perhaps the crazy scenarios are to show the kids building their wild natures and confidence, but there are several other ways to depict that without the shock value that does not lend to the progression of the story. 

With that being said, Claire Barron’s Dance Nation has its share of powerful and sound moments that resonate on a child’s tumultuous journey into adulthood with humor, sweetness, and poignancy…but beware the cringe.

Apollinaire Theatre Company presents Clare Barron’s Dance Nation live and in person at Apollinaire Theatre Company in Chelsea, Massachusetts through May 14.  Dance Nation has mature themes.  Click here for more information and for tickets.

REVIEW:  Rejoice in Lyric Stage Company’s ‘Sister Act’

Let the choirs sing!  This Sister Act is one heavenly show stopper.

A lot of films have been cut, shaped and squeezed into the genre of musical, but Sister Act, based on the hit 1992 comedy film starring Whoopi Goldberg, has always been a natural fit.  Featuring a variety of songs re-imagined by a group of amateur nuns, Sister Act is a thriller, musical, and comedy rolled up into one exciting and uproarious package.  

Directed warmly by Leigh Barrett and judiciously choreographed by Dan Sullivan, Lyric Stage Company presents Sister Act live and in person at Lyric Stage Company in Boston, Massachusetts through May 14.  This show is two and a half hours with one 15 minute intermission.  Click here for more information and for tickets.

The Cast of ‘Sister Act’ Photo by Mark S. Howard

What makes Sister Act an ideal fit for a musical is not only does the musical deliver all the hijinks, danger, and the inherent message of the film, but it also expands on its characters through some welcome additional songs.  The music, by Alan Menken, is well suited with the terrain of this already entertaining tale and numbers like It’s Good to Be a Nun, Lady in the Long Black Dress, and I Could Be that Guy particularly enhance the hilarity of each of its extraordinary characters.  The original film inspired Sister Act 2:  Back in the Habit before becoming a musical and there is even talk of a possible Sister Act 3 coming soon to Disney Plus.

Set in 1978 Philadelphia, Deloris Van Cartier, a sparkling depiction by Yewande Odetoyinbo, thinks it is only a matter of time until she is a star.  However, after she witnesses a murder, the police decide the convent is the only place she will be safe.  With blunt and practical Mother Superior at the helm, Deloris has a long road ahead of her.

Cast of Sister Act Photo by Mark S. Howard

Sister Act does a wonderful job rewinding the clock to that era with choreographer Dan Sullivan and Music Director David F. Coleman’s seamless infusion of classic 60s and 70s inspired dance moves to funky, smooth, and uplifting rhythms.   Sparkling body suits, tiger prints, velvet pants, and knee high purple boots are just some of the era trends captured by Kelly BakerJenna McFarland Lord creatively handled Sister Act’s somewhat tricky staging making the most of the space with a versatile two floor set including glimmering disco ball and stained glass columns, though at times the blocking seemed a bit tight. 

This dynamite cast matches and even excels over the original cast.  It is difficult not to compare if one has seen the original film, but not only does Yewande Odetoyimbo’s bright smile resemble Goldberg’s, but the fun-loving and vibrant Fabulous Baby, Raise Your Voice, and Take Me to Heaven depict Deloris’s surefire attitude and superior vocals in this fish out of water story.  The stunning surprise and angst Deloris endures over the course of the musical is a highlight of the show as Cheryl McMahon as Mother Superior looks on.

Cheryl McMahon and Yewande Odetoyinbo in ‘Sister Act.’ Photo by Mark S. Howard

Stepping into actress Maggie Smith’s role as Mother Superior is Cheryl McMahon.  Smith portrayed Mrs. McGonagall in the Harry Potter film series which is one character among many of her stern and practical roles.  Filling Smith’s shoes is no small feat, but McMahon’s comic wit has been proven in various past roles such as in Admissions, Miss Holmes Returns, Steel Magnolias and Grease, and is fabulous herself as wise and unyielding Mother Superior.

McMahon’s Here Within These Walls is a solemn call for tradition, discipline and sensibility which proves Mother Superior will not be easily swayed, but her stellar comic timing is best in I Haven’t Got a Prayer.  Her dour expressions to Yewande’s carefree and aberrant nature are some of the show’s funniest moments.

Kathy St. George and the cast of ‘Sister Act’ Photo by Mark S. Howard

Led by Joelle Lurie as impressive Sister Mary Patrick who oozes the excitement of gleeful Kathy Najimy, the nuns showcase their immediate solidarity and camaraderie with the welcome and borderline sarcastic (even for nuns) It’s Good to Be a Nun.  It’s a hilarious number that brings to light the dynamic and spirited group including Kathy St. George as scene stealing and sarcastic Sister Mary Lazarus and Kira Troilo as young and introverted Sister Mary Robert.  Troilo particularly shines in the soaring and reflective number, The Life I Never Led.  The group’s collective and sweet chemistry is the heart of the show and they bring it in spades.

Kara Troilo and Carolyn Saxon, Amie Lytle, Kathy St. George, Yewande Odetoyinbo, Beth Gotha, Meghan Rose, Kara Chu Nelson, and Joelle Lurie Photo by Mark S. Howard

 Davron S. Monroe is amazing as Eddie, delivering a suave, charming and incredible rendition including a mix of 70s inspired choreography and a few surprises for I Could Be That Guy

Meghan Rose, Carolyn Saxon, Davron S. Monroe and Todd Yard. Photo by Mark S. Howard

Balancing both solemnity and heartwarming charm is Todd Yard as Monsignor O’Hara.  He and the nuns let loose for Sunday Morning Fever.  Yard has handled some serious roles in the past, and it is great to see his wonderful talents as a heartwarming figure.

Beth Gotha, Kathy St. George, Amie Lytle, Meghan Rose, Todd Yard, Kara Chu Nelson, Yewande Odetoyinbo, Carolyn Saxon, Kira Troilo, Joelle Lurie, and Cheryl McMahon Photo by Mark S. Howard

Damon Singletary slays as commanding and menacing Curtis as he stealthily moves across the stage.  With wild hair and mischievous smirk, Jackson Jirard has proven his charm and sleek dance moves in shows like Aint Misbehavin is also a bit of a scene stealer as TJ among the bumbling mobsters which include Cristhian Mancinas-Garcia as Pablo and James Turner as Joey.  Mancinas-Garcia, Turner, and Jirard show off their spot on comic timing, game, and vocals for Lady in the Long Black Dress with each member having their chance in the spotlight.    

Cristhian Mancinas-Garcia,Jackson Jirard, Damon Singletary, and James Turner Photo by Mark S. Howard

Lyric Stage Company presents Sister Act live and in person at Lyric Stage Company in Boston, Massachusetts through May 14.  Click here for more information and for tickets.

REVIEW: Celebrity Series of Boston brought vintage effervescence to Boston with renowned touring group Paul Taylor Dance Company

Forget those troubles and get happy with the lively, comedic, and exciting Paul Taylor Dance Company.

Infusing classical, big band, and swing with a modern twist, The Paul Taylor Dance Company zealously delivered comedy, athleticism, romance, drama as well as some reflective moments wrapped in vibrant costumes by Marc Eric and Santo Loquasto with Donald Martiny’s exuberant set design.

Celebrity Series of Boston presented renowned national touring group, Paul Taylor Dance Company for a limited engagement from April 14-16 live and in person at the Boch Center Shubert Theatre.  The show was two hours including two intermissions.  Click here to see where Paul Taylor Dance Company will perform next and here for a look into Celebrity Series of Boston’s upcoming events.

Somewhere in the Middle by Amy Hall Garner Madelyn Ho w L-R Devon Louis Lee Duveneck Austin Kelly John Harnage Photo by Ron Thiele

Bright colors gleam over a black landscape as Count Basie’s booming, horn-infused rhythms measure carefree spins and leaps in Somewhere in the Middle.  Effervescent and gleeful in bursting lime, coral, teal, and mustard by Mark Eric, Madelyn Ho, Lee Duveneck, Devon Lewis, John Harnage, Maria Ambrose, Lisa Borres, Jada Pearman, and Austin Kelly delivered childlike wonder and an uplifting glow tumbling in somersaults and breezy lifts to heart thumping rhythms by Sarah Vaughan, Count Basie, Duke Ellington, and Bill Evans.  This joyful, upbeat spectacle, with captivating choreography by Amy Hall Garner, was only outdone by the subtle and spontaneous moments prevalent throughout the production.  A cheerful shout, an impulsive wave, a kiss on the cheek, a snap of the fingers, or a swift tap on the shoulder brought unique distinction to the performances, making it all the more thrilling.

Brandenburgs Full Cast photo by Ron Thiele

Brandenburgs, featuring music by Bach and his Brandenberg concertos, is an athletic, sophisticated, and romantic foray into classical ballet.  Featuring piano and fiddle-laden rhythms, dancers John Harnage, Eran Bugge, Madelyn Ho, Lee Duveneck, Alex Clayton, Devon Louis, Maria Ambrose, Shawn Lesniak, and Jake Vincent strut and promenade across the floor in regal stances which are at times, untamed, open, but always seamless by Paul Taylor.  Devon Lewis and Maria Ambrose deliver a romantic and moving Pas de deux which is the first of two reflective pieces within this production. 

Somewhere in the Middle by Amy Hall Garner Maria Ambrose Devon Louis Photo by Ron Thiele

Brandenburgs is a vigorous, rich, and robust performance that continues this compelling celebration, the second in a three part production.   Adorned in gold trimmed and flowing garments in various shades of green, the group’s impressive linear and synchronized movements depict elegance and grace ending their dance as it began. 

Company B Full Cast photo by Ron Thiele

The Paul Taylor Company saved the best for last with Company B, a salute to the famous Andrew Sisters.  Featuring the full cast that includes Christina Lynch Markham, Madelyn Ho, Kristin Draucker, Lee Duveneck, Alex Clayton, John Harnage, Maria Ambrose, Lisa Borres, Jada Pearman, Devon Louis, Jake Vincent, Jessica Ferretti, and Austin Kelly, the ten song tribute features enough liveliness and humor to lift anyone’s spirits.  Accessorized with flowers and simply dressed in flowing skirts and pants, white shirts, and accented red belts faithful to the late 30s and early 40s, Paul Taylor’s timely choreography infuses some popular dances of the era including the jitterbug, swing, the twist, and the polka in a mix of spontaneity, poignant reflections, and comic wit. 

One of the many highlights included a humorous spin to the Andrews’ upbeat and horn-infused rhythms of Oh Johnny, Oh Johnny Oh!  Featuring Lee Duveneck as a skipping Johnny in horned rimmed glasses and a gleeful smile, it is an unconventional, carefree and refreshing swing number about a guy who unwittingly attracts all the girls.  As the Andrew Sisters’ frank vocals state ‘You’re Not Handsome, it’s true’ the catchy song boasts more than its share of amusing, spontaneous, and sweet moments. 

Company B Lee Duveneck w cast Photo by Ron Thiele

Rum and Coca Cola features the art of the gaze as the tables are turned with Madelyn Ho under the captive eye of a spellbound group of men.  In a flowing, red trimmed skirt, Madelyn’s hip shaking, and high kicks as she flirtatious fans herself knock the boys off their feet.

Though the production is mostly spirited and joyous, Company B does make references to the poignancy of wartime with I Can Dream, Can I featuring Christina Lynch Markham’s beautiful solo dance recalling a faraway soldier.  The urgent Joseph! Joseph! depicts women, uncertain of the future, pleading to build a future with their boyfriends before they are shipped off to war.  Maria Ambrose and Devon Louis reunite for another duet for There will Never Be Another You, a bittersweet and symbolic number as memories of men pass by in haunting shadow by Jennifer Tipton

Paul Taylor Dance Company had a limited engagement in Boston, but they are still touring.  Click here to see where the Paul Taylor Dance Company will perform next and here for more of Celebrity Series of Boston’s dynamic, upcoming performances this season.

REVIEW:  ‘The Secret Garden’ blossoms at the Company Theatre

In the midst of darkness, hope may be as tucked away as a garden.

Packed with secrets that reach far beyond the hallowed walls of the Misselthwaite Manor, The Company Theatre scheduled the perfect time of year to deliver a musical about finding light in loss, growth in darkness, and the best way to plant roots in Marsha Norman’s family-friendly The Secret Garden which continues live and in person at the Company Theatre in Norwell, Massachusetts through Sunday, April 2.  The show is two hours and 20 minutes including one intermission.  Click here for more information and for tickets.

Logo courtesy of Zoe Bradford/Company Theatre

Set in Colonial India and then North Yorkshire, England in 1906 based on the 1911 Frances Hodgson Burnett’s beloved novel of the same name, The Secret Garden focuses on Mary Lennox, portrayed with wise beyond her years fortitude and a mischievous streak by Diana Lee, an orphan girl who arrives at mysterious Misselthwaite Manor after tragedy strikes to live with her widowed Uncle Archibald, depicted with melancholy and seeming detachment by Peter S. Adams.  On Mary’s first night at the manor, Mary starts to hear strange noises and the only thing left to do is investigate. 

Dru Daniels as Lily in ‘The Secret Garden’ Photo courtesy of Zoe Bradford/Company Theatre

Fueled by gorgeous harmony, what stood out the most in this multilayered production was its enchanting score.  Though the musical delves into grief, it also has its share of comical and heartwarming moments.  With music by Lucy Simon, musically directed mellifluously by conductor Robert McDonough and with illustrative choreography and staging by Sally Ashton Forrest, The Secret Garden is well cast with divine and powerful voices, especially from Dru Daniels as discerning and strong willed Lily and Peter S. Adams as Archibald.  Adams has a deeply emotive quality to his vocals and blended with Daniels’s beautiful and operatic tones, songs such as How Could I Ever Know are simply stunning.  Adams movingly delivers both a tender and soaring A Bit of Earth and bittersweet Race You to the Top of the MorningJames Fernandes carries his own as practical and scrupulous Dr. Neville Craven in a powerful rendition of Disappear and with Adams in an awe-inspiring version of Lily’s Eyes.

James Fernandes as Dr. Neville Craven and Peter S. Adams as Archibald Craven Photo courtesy of Zoe Bradford/Company Theatre

Diana Lee shares the role of Mary Lennox with Francesca Miele on alternating performances.  Lee’s angelic soprano vocals shine for A Girl I Mean to Be and she shares some fiery and amusing scenes with Lilly George as domineering and sheltered Colin who shares the role with Jackson Lynch.

Jennifer Beth Glick, delightful in Company Theatre’s previous family musical, Matilda, brings her bright smile and sweet demeanor to the role of Martha.  Playful and nurturing, Glick delivers an exuberant rendition of the imaginative A Fine White Horse and charming chemistry with serious Lee.  Glick also demonstrates Martha’s profound side with a soaring and memorable Hold On.  Glick also shares her role with Emily Lambert on alternating performances.   Another breath of fresh air is Tim Bevens as Martha’s brother Dickon who coaxes Mary to observe the world around her accompanied by a few well behaved, but also with a bit of hankering for mischief live animals that will have to be seen to be believed.  Dickon’s adventurous and breezy demeanor makes him a treat among the musical’s heavier content in his wondrous rendition of Winters on the Wing and with Lee for Wick.

Tim Bevens as Dickon Photo courtesy of Zoe Bradford/Company Theatre

Managing a wild thunderous storm, a blanket of stars, and deep shadows on the manor walls is lighting designer Dean Palmer Jr. with Ryan Barrow’s dynamic and moving set design from the lofty bookcases of a vintage Victorian mansion to the stone walled, vine covered vitality of the outdoors inspired by the Victorian Era.  Costume designer Cathy Torrey completes the look with frock coats, lorgnettes, cravats, and flowing frocks in muted colors faithful to the era.

The Secret Garden has plenty of discoveries in store continuing live and in person at the Company Theatre in Norwell, Massachusetts through Sunday, April 2.  Click here for more information, tickets, and for Company Theatre’s upcoming events.

REVIEW:  Hosted by Jordan Rich, renowned Broadcast Hall of Fame recipient, author, veteran, and Boston radio legend Ron Della Chiesa celebrated his 85th birthday with a marvelous bash

Ron Della Chiesa still spends his life doing the very thing that he loves best.  When he is not sharing his extensive music knowledge on the air on Strictly Sinatra and Music America Sundays on Easy 99.1 FM or announcing for the Boston Symphony Orchestra or for Tanglewood under a warm summer sun, one of his biggest loves is opera.  A frequent visitor to the MET,  Ron’s father was an opera singer and Ron could passionately talk about opera from Giacomo Puccini to Marcello Giordani, two opera dynamos who are also the names of Ron and his wife Joyce’s beloved cats.  Ron knows so much about opera that during the night of his 85th birthday, he shared a little known fact about a famous opera singer and how the Phantom of the Opera musical really got its roots.

To the swinging sounds of Rico Barr and his Jump and Jive Band and hosted by Jordan Rich, Ron Della Chiesa’s 85th birthday took place to a full house at Raffaels in Hingham, Massachusetts on Friday, February 17, the night before his real birthday.

Host Jordan Rich and Ron Della Chiesa Photo by Louise Lori Patricia

It seemed not so long ago that Ron was turning 70 and didn’t feel a bit like it.  Still happily working in Broadcasting at 85, he still makes guest appearances to talk about Broadcast history, his popular book with bestselling author Erica Ferencik called Radio My Way and will be quick to tell anyone what still makes him fond of radio after all these years.  Always good natured and positive, the theme of his birthday  bash was ‘The Best is Yet to Come,’ not only named after a Sinatra song but the personal slogan of his amazing life.

Surprise appearance by Cha-Chi Loprete Photo by Jeanne Denizard

Tenor Matthew DiBattista sang the National Anthem to open this special evening.  With guests invited to dress in red, people took to the dance floor to swing to an extensive list of American Standards performed by Rico’s band.  The elegant evening even included a couple of songs Ron sang from Sinatra’s classic tunes. 

Tenor Matthew DiBattista sings the National Anthem From L to R Ron Della Chisa Matthew DiBattista and Jordan-Rich Photo credit to Louise Lori Patricia

Music Director for the Boston Symphony Orchestra Andris Nelsons, renowned Boston Pops conductor Keith Lockhart, and popular jazz musicians Bo and Bill Winiker were among the special guests that sent their birthday wishes via phone.  Popular DJ and close friend Cha-Chi Loprete surprised Ron with his presence.  Born in Quincy, MA, Quincy Mayor Koch proclaimed February 18 as Ron Della Chiesa Day among many of Ron’s generous gifts.  The evening also included birthday cake, cocktails, table seating, and countless guests reminiscing with Ron about his blessed life.   Ron called it a magical evening he won’t soon forget!

Visit Strictly Sinatra and Music-America’s Facebook fan page for more photos of this celebrated evening. Ron’s Della Chiesa’s Strictly Sinatra and Music America offer occasional dance parties at Raffaels in Hingham, Massachusetts. The next event will be Ron Della Chiesa Strictly Sinatra Tribute Dance on November 3. Email, visit or call Executive Producer Paul Schlosberg at 617-633-5100. To learn more about Ron, click here and listen to him on Easy 99.1 FM on Sunday night on Music America and Strictly Sinatra. Be sure to check out his memoir Radio My Way by Ron Della Chiesa and Erica Ferencik.

REVIEW:  Vocals soar as Academy of the Company Theatre presents Andrew Lloyd Webber’s ‘Phantom of the Opera’

It may seem like a small detail, but The Phantom of the Opera’s iconic chandelier plays a pivotal role in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s The Phantom of the Opera.  It opens the show in its sheer majesty and the Phantom is actually found hiding in the glittering and monstrous powerhouse of a special effect at one point during the Broadway production.  In fact, it is what fascinates the audience at the beginning of the musical in glorious rhythm with the thunderous and foreboding sound of a pipe organ blaring in the distance and what later crashes to makes the cast run in terror.

Directed insightfully by Sally Ashton Forrest with powerful music directed by Melissa Carubia, Academy of the Company Theatre’s Phantom of the Opera gets so many things right from Vickie Gerard-Culligan’s ornate costumes, the pitch perfect casting, its sinister lighting by Dean Palmer Jr., and its smaller scale replications of Phantom’s famous sets by Ryan Barrow, but the production’s chandelier may not quite meet some lofty expectations.

Academy of the Company Theatre (A.C.T.) presents Andrew Lloyd Webber’s The Phantom of the Opera live and in person at The Company Theatre, 130 Accord Park Drive in Norwell, Massachusetts through February 19.  The musical is sold out.  Click here for more information on the Company Theatre and its upcoming events.

Alexa Cohen as Madame Giry (right) with cast in ACT’s ‘Phantom of the Opera’ Photo courtesy of Zoe Bradford/Company Theatre

Set in the 1700’s, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Phantom of the Opera focuses on a mysterious presence that haunts the famous Palais Garnier Opera House in Paris, France.  New opera house co-owners Ben Cavallo-Smith as Monsieur Richard Firmin and Weston Hammond as Monsieur Giles Andre make a distinguished and at times humorous pair in vintage suits with tails as they start to realize things are not what they seem.

‘Masquerade’ ACT’s ‘Phantom of the Opera’ Photo courtesy of Zoe Bradford/Company Theatre

Phantom of the Opera boasts some enduring yet challenging music numbers and the cast may feature students up to 18 years of age, but their vocals are well beyond their years.  Jillian Pongonis as Christine and Catrina Riker as Carlotta hit some extraordinary notes for being so young and it was a joy to hear Riker’s Think of Me and Prima Donna as she prances around the stage in signature diva fashion, bold and comical as she shouts her demands.  Carlotta’s sophisticated gowns become more extravagant as the musical progresses and the cast hits its outrageous stylish stride for Masquerade.  Salvator Guillermo Garcia, whose past performances with ACT include Jean Val Jean in Les Miserables, has a supporting and memorable role as Ubaldo Piangi.  Garcia not only does a wonderful job vocally in Hannibal and Notes with the cast, but his occasional tenuous smirks and smiles enhance the musical’s humorous moments.  

Gilbert Dabady as The Phantom and Jillian Pongonis as Christine Daae Photo courtesy of Zoe Bradford/Company Theatre

Pongonis may be slight in stature, but her powerful vocals exceed her years as does Gilbert Dabady as The Phantom.  Dabady and Pongonis’s duet of The Point of No Return may seem a bit mature for their ages, but Angel of Music and  Music of the Night are beautifully performed and Pongonis’s stirring rendition of Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again is a must see.  Dabady is mysterious and threatening as the Phantom, his deep and resounding vocals all the more menacing offstage. Dabady and Pongonis are a complex and charismatic pair while Charlie Flaherty is well suited for the daring and charming Raoul.  Amid a pale blue rooftop, Christine and Raoul perform a sweet rendition of All I Ask of You

Charlie Flaherty as Raoul and Jillian Pongonis as Christine Daae in ACT’s ‘Phantom of the Opera’ Photo courtesy of Zoe Bradford/Company Theatre

Clever blocking and reigned in sets aptly accommodate the Company Theatre stage. Tints of haunting purple, vintage marble columns, nostalgic lighting, eerie skulls, an angelic stone statue, onstage gold lined opera box seats, a brass organ, monkey music box, and a candelabra lit lair on a misty lake help recreate iconic scenes and special effects that bring this somewhat opera within an opera to life.  As a big Phantom of the Opera fan, Academy of the Company Theatre’s Phantom of the Opera captures this moving and mystical musical best known for Andrew Lloyd Webber’s classic soundtrack and makes the magic of the longest running show on Broadway last a little longer in Norwell. 

Academy of the Company Theatre (A.C.T) presents Andrew Lloyd Webber’s The Phantom of the Opera live and in person at the Company Theatre, 130 Accord Park Drive in Norwell, Massachusetts through February 19.  The musical is sold out.  Click here for more information on the Company Theatre and its upcoming events.

REVIEW:  Lyric Stage Company delves into musical genius Rachmaninoff’s chaotic mind in mesmerizing ‘Preludes’

Ever wondered if legendary musicians would still be who they are if they lacked any vices or instabilities?  Would they still achieve that same level of success or become even greater?

Some of the most extraordinary musicians also endured turmoil in their lives whether through external circumstances or within the depths of their very being.  Most come to the general consensus that the artist simply wouldn’t have that level of genius without everything that came with it.  For Russian composer, pianist, and conductor Sergei Rachmanioff, he endured quite a battle on his journey to greatness and his music continues to live on.

Dan Prior and Aimee Doherty in ‘Preludes’ Photo by Mark S. Howard

Directed profoundly by Courtney O’Connor, Lyric Stage Company presents Dan Malloy’s musical Preludes through Sunday, February 5 live and in person at Lyric Stage Company in Boston, Massachusetts.  The production is approximately 2 hours with a 15 min intermission.  Click here for more information and tickets.

Preludes references Rachmaninoff’s classic works, but the word itself describes what happens before an important event. It delves head first into Rachmanioff’s massive struggle to create which included fear of failure, Marfan syndrome, and mental instabilities that led to his historical writer’s block. Dan Rodriguez’s music direction combined with Andrew Dunkan Will’s complicated, vivid, and occasionally manic sound design illustrates the turmoil and genius of a musician on the brink of something bigger, but struggling to pull through.

Preludes boasts a fascinating cast including Will McGarrahan taking on multiple roles during the production.  Wringing his hands, frustrated, and utterly exhausted, Dan Prior embodies frazzled and despondent ‘Rach,’ his world seized by hesitation and regret delivered cleverly in the opening number Your Day.  Rachmaninoff battled life through music, but both can become blaringly stringent.  Battling all these limiting factors, Rach freezes.  Music Director Dan Rodriguez performs double duty depicting the mood setting musical side of pianist Rachmanioff with earnestness and peaks of humor and charm. Keyboardists Bethany Aiken and Mindy Cimini enhance this complex score that keeps up with the chaos of Rach’s mind and the reality surrounding it.

Prior’s subtle yet searing performance delves into a defeated man reaching for a lifeline through therapist Dahl, depicted skillfully by Aimee Doherty with a contemporary vibe in a Pink Floyd T-shirt, black glasses and edgy depth.  Doherty’s inquisitive and unorthodox methods may be the calm in the storm.  Kayla Shimizu is relatable as steadfast, optimistic, and maybe in over her head Natalya.  Shimizu brings a smooth and natural ease to the number Vocalize as well as a powerful and painfully honest rendition of Natalya as she struggles in her limited understanding of Rach’s condition.  Shimizu and Prior bring compelling chemistry and connection in their moving rendition of Not Alone

Dan Prior, Aimee Doherty, Dan Rodriguez and Anthony Pires Jr in ‘Preludes’ Photo by Mark S. Howard

Enhanced by Karen Perlow’s mind bending lighting, Preludes is at times trippy and often teetering between daydream and reality.  Highlighted by amazing and intricate choreography, Anthony Pires Jr as Chaliapin slides into an entrancing and catchy Loop with finesse and charisma while blending elegant vocals between jarring beats. It is a standout number that may ruminate long after the show is over. Taking on multiple roles and delivering inspiring and thought provoking pearls of wisdom is Will McGarrahan who portrays a number of dynamic historical figures. McGarrahan’s commanding voice, distinct characterizations, and dark comedic timing make him a treat to watch each time he appears onstage.

Kayla Shimizu, Anthony Pires Jr, Dan Prior, Will McGarrahan, and Dan Rodriguez in ‘Preludes’ Photo by Mark S. Howard

Scenic Designer Shelley Barish’s insightful circular staging moves fluidly with the performers with a piano set perfectly at center stage accented by lilacs, ordered blocks of vibrant colors, and an ever changing, mood-induced colored backdrop. The scalloped trim and soft lighting from various hung fixtures add an eclectic elegance as does the eye popping vintage couch and ottoman.

In some ways, Rachmaninoff’s struggles also made him distinctive. He had Marfan Syndrome which is a genetic disorder that affects the connective tissue of the body and organs. It is a very difficult way of life, but also gave him unusually long fingers. Much of his work is difficult to play because he could reach the piano keys more easily than the average person. This weakness was also a strength and part of what made him seem destined for greatness.

Lyric Stage Company presents Dan Malloy’s musical Preludes through Sunday, February 5 live and in person at Lyric Stage Company in Boston, Massachusetts.  The production is approximately 2 hours with a 15 min intermission.  Click here for more information and tickets.

REVIEW: The 52nd annual ‘Midwinter Revels: A Solstice Celebration Tales from Ellis Island’ shares solace and warmth into a tapestry of traditions from around the world

After a half century, the Midwinter Revels can not only still create fresh and concise storytelling while weaving in various cultures and traditions with a balance of joy and poignancy, but this year recalls a miraculous event in history that is not shared enough during the holiday season.

Innovatively written and directed by Patrick Swanson and guided by Carolyn Saxon as the Immortal Spirit of Place, Midwinter Revels: A Solstice Celebration Tales from Ellis Island continues live and in person at the Sanders Theatre in Cambridge, MA through December 28 and then will be available virtually December 29 through January 15.  Each performance pays tribute to Revels supporters and this particular performance was dedicated to the The Rioff Family in honor of WGBH’s Brian O’Donovan.  This show is translated in ASL and is approximately two hours with one intermission.  Click here for more information and tickets.

The Ensemble of The Christmas Revels Photo by Roger Ide

Veteran reveler David Coffin’s enthusiasm reflected the same from the audience as he vigorously prepared them pre-production for the Revels live and interactive sing-along that features a vast array of carols and cultural songs.  Meticulously musically directed by Elijah Botkin and led by Keith Murphy of A Saint Patrick’s Day Celtic Sojourn, an intimate onstage band returns as the Liberty Band performing carols to folk to war songs from around the world right alongside the cast.  The joy and gratitude in singing in front of an audience again is as uplifting as ever and the cast’s a cappella harmonies are a glorious treat.

Midwinter Revels: A Solstice Celebration Tales from Ellis Island does not just take place on Ellis Island, but provides the foundation for each of the tales shared during the production.  The tales of hardship and strife seem so different, but are somehow tied into shared experiences as immigrants from all over the world find themselves stranded together on Christmas Eve in 1924.  The spirit of the season is exemplified in several tales including a fiddle that needs mending featuring Maeve Leahy as Bridget and Ewan Swanson as Isaac.

From Left to Right Carolyn Saxon, Maeve Leahy and Ewan Swanson and the Revels Ensemble Photo by Paul Buckley

Adorned in a glimmering gown and gold wreathed crown, Carolyn Saxon makes a warm and welcome return to Revels this time as the Immortal Spirit of Place.  Her subtle charm and light humor enhance each aspect of the production as she guides the audience through various tales and periods in history in Nikes.  Saxon is clearly enjoying this enigmatic role becoming invisible when she wishes and popping up at felicitous and spontaneous moments. 

While last year’s show focused on saving a bar by venturing into the past, family is much more prevalent as members of the cast tie in pieces of their own cultural holiday memories into the production.  Irish and Jewish Dramaturg Nicole Galland contributed by drawing on her own experiences and upbringing.  With frank and humorous inflections, Reveler Stephanie Clayman is an amiable and avid storyteller as she brings some of those tales to life such as two well staged pieces of morally centered Jewish folklore and several Chanukah traditions.

Stephanie Clayman, Ewan Swanson, The Ellis Island Children, and the Midwinter Revels Adult Chorus Photo by Paul Buckley

David Coffin as Conor Riley revealed a miraculous event during World War I that took place on Christmas Eve in 1914.  For a brief time, soldiers showed camaraderie with their enemies as they joined together in song, games, and friendship.  It is a historical event that needs to be shared with as much frequency as annual holiday traditions such How the Grinch Stole Christmas, A Christmas Carol, or It’s a Wonderful Life.  That brief interlude of peace made such a significant impact on the world and Midwinter Revels depicts that moving period of time with Christmas in the Trenches, O Tannenbaum and Stile Nacht as the production spread itself beyond the Sanders Theatre stage.

The children are always a joy to watch and this year as the Ellis Island Children, they share upbeat, jumping rope rhythm for There’s a Big Ship Sailing and later with Las Posadas as Mary rides on a donkeyIt is just one example of the many endearing appearances they make in song and tale.

A brilliant performance comes from Ricardo Holguin who passionately performs a wondrous rendition of Mexican love song La Malgeuna followed by striking number El Relampago featuring women in gorgeous floral headdresses and sun drenched gowns by Heidi HermillerKelli Edwards’ multifaceted choreography is on full display throughout as well as for a tricky and intricate sword dance accompanied by an onstage accordion and drummer for The Straw Folk Mummers Play and Rogue’s Delight.

Though the show lulled a bit on occasion, Midwinter Revels: A Solstice Celebration Tales from Ellis Island’s engaging tales bring unity and light and depicts how sharing different traditions can bring a new understanding and warmth into the darkest of times.

Midwinter Revels: A Solstice Celebration Tales from Ellis Island continues live and in person at the Sanders Theatre in Cambridge, MA through December 28 and then will be available virtually December 29 through January 15.  Click here for more information and tickets.