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.

REVIEW: The Company Theatre is up to magic and mischief in family-friendly ‘Matilda the Musical’

Not even a Willy Wonka candy coated confection could properly prepare one for what the Company Theatre has in store onstage.

With book by Dennis Kelly and music and lyrics by Tim Minchin, The Company Theatre’s Matilda the Musical is a holiday-themed whirlwind of caricatured adults and rage-filled adolescence while at its core, an inspiring story of an extraordinary girl in a peculiar and unique world that could only come from renowned storyteller Roald Dahl’s innovative imagination.  Add Lindsay Hoisington’s eye popping costumes that share their own story along with set designer Ryan Barrow’s striking, festive colors and Matilda the Musical made a refreshing debut from Company Theatre’s more traditional annual holiday fare.

Diana Lee as Lavender and Reese Racicot as Matilda Photo credit to Zoe Bradford/Company Theatre

Inventively directed by Zoe Bradford with dynamic Music Direction by Melissa Carubia, The Company Theatre continues Roald Dahl’s Matilda the Musical live and in person at the Company Theatre at 130 Accord Park Drive in Norwell, Massachusetts through December 18.  Click here for more information and for tickets.

With a string of renowned children’s books that includes classics such as James and the Giant Peach and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, it is easy to see award-winning author Roald Dahl’s trademark characterizations, sardonic humor, and peculiarities within a morally driven subtext delivered in Dahl’s Matilda, a novel published almost 35 years ago.  Matilda went on to become a bonafide hit with children and adults and it was not long before a 1996 film adaptation arrived featuring Danny DeVito and his real life wife Rhea Perlman.  In 2012, Matilda became a Tony award-winning Broadway musical before Netflix recently premiered Matilda the Musical featuring Emma Thompson around Thanksgiving. Like most theatrical adaptations, nothing is quite like the experience of seeing it live.

Mischief during the holidays in Company Theatre’s ‘Matilda the Musical’ Photo credit to Zoe Bradford/Company Theatre

Expectations were skewed immediately with the darkly comedic and infectious opening number, Miracle where cute, wild, and blatantly naughty children zip around a Christmas tree fueled by Brad Reinking’s athletic, energetic, and fist pumping choreography. Keep an eye out for some amazing feats by Ben Cavallo-Smith and others.

Ben Cavallo-Smith and cast in ‘Matilda the Musical’ Photo credit to Zoe Bradford/Company Theatre

Imagination and mischief run wild in Roald Dahl’s tale of an extraordinary girl making her way through a peculiar world. Roald Dahl tugs at the heartstrings in this absorbing children’s tale, but not before displaying a wealth of less than savory characters making Matilda’s life arduous.  It is a darkly humorous tale guaranteed to delight children more than the grownups.

Annie Jones as Mrs. Phelps and Reese Racicot as Matilda Photo credit to Zoe Bradford/Company Theatre

Clad in black and white, precious and precocious Matilda, portrayed with determination and quick wit by Reese Racicot, is one of the very few characters standing out in an ostentatious world where television is more important than cracking open a book. Racicot immediately charms from the spunky number, Naughty to mastering the heady lyrics in Quiet, punctuated by her light and airy vibrato. Racicot has a sweet rapport with Annie Jones as enthralled librarian Mrs. Phelps, who delights in Matilda’s significant and imaginative stories as well as Miss Honey, portrayed endearingly by Jennifer Beth Glick. With delicate and powerful vocals, Glick shines depicting Miss Honey’s quiet strength and good natured humbleness, especially for the tender and moving number, My House with Salvador Guillermo Garcia.

Brad Rafferty as Rudolpho, Emilee Dennis Leahy as Mrs. Wormwood and Jennifer Beth Glick as Miss Honey Photo credit to Zoe Bradford/Company Theatre

The adults are about as tempestuous and spoiled as their children.  Matilda’s scheming con artist father Mr. Wormwood, portrayed with a sneer and manipulative glee by Todd Yard is not to be outdone by his equally shortsighted, narcissistic, and ballroom dancing wife and Matilda’s resentful mother, Mrs. Wormwood, depicted by Emilee Dennis Leahy with the sort of flirtatious, chaotic humor reminiscent of Jennifer Coolidge. Accompanied by Brady Rafferty as egotistical Rudolpho, Leahy demonstrates limber dance moves and a wild cha cha in the shimmering and comically shallow number, Loud. Never have a pair claimed to know so much know so little. Oliver Dunn as Matilda’s conspiring brother Michael Wormwood seems to be following in their stealthy footsteps as Yard and Dunn open Act II with humorous improvisation and vaudeville inspired number All I Know.

Todd Yard as Mr. Wormwood and Oliver Dunn as Michael Wormwood Photo credit to Zoe Bradford/Company Theatre

Matilda the Musical is not without its dark moments and that is exemplified in Matilda’s iron fisted headmaster, Agatha Trunchbull. A fearful and miserably barreling adversary depicted enthusiastically by Christie Reading, Trunchbull is a force to be reckoned with, but against these lively students, anything is possible highlighted by the brilliant and ironic number, When I Grow Up.

Christie Reading as Miss Agatha Trunchbull, Jennifer Beth Glick, and the students Photo credit to Zoe Bradford/Company Theatre

The Company Theatre continues Roald Dahl’s Matilda the Musical live and in person at the Company Theatre at 130 Accord Park Drive in Norwell, Massachusetts through December 18.  Click here for more information and for tickets.

REVIEW:  Company Theatre’s rock musical ‘Hair’ a meaningful trip

Before cell phones, the internet, and alternate forms of digital communication invited people to text and talk on a computer screen as an alternative to seeing someone in person, Hair highlights the value of in person camaraderie, especially when things seem to be falling apart.  Set in war torn 1968 and focusing on a tribe of hippies that could possibly be drafted, emotionally and physically holding onto each other helps them cope in a world gone mad.

Company Theatre’s ‘Hair’ Shane Cunniff-of Quincy and Gilbert Dabaddy of Rockland Photo courtesy of Zoe Bradford/Company Theatre

Directed astutely by Zoe Bradford with bold musical direction by Robert McDonough, Company Theatre continues the 1960’s rock musical Hair through August 21 live and in person at the Company Theatre, 130 Accord Park Drive in Norwell, Massachusetts.  This show has mature themes and not appropriate for children.  Click here for more information and for tickets.

What is so prevalent in Company Theatre’s production of Hair is the natural camaraderie between cast members tackling a work that requires the cast to engage so closely and without reservations.  Hair is at times an immersive experience with some interaction with the audience and cast members occasionally marching down the aisles.   An entire cast warmly together onstage is uplifting albeit still a tad bit strange to witness.  It provides an escape from the world today with social distancing still not quite a thing of the past.

Company Theatre’s ‘Hair’ Julia Violet of Hanover Janaysia Gethers of Weymouth Elizabeth Nunnery of Hanover Shane Cunniff of Quincy and Tim Bevens of Hingham Photo courtesy of Zoe Bradford/Company Theatre.jpeg

Though the musical took place almost 55 years ago, there are clearly some parallels with contemporary society.  In a world with increasing protests, questions on gender, environmental concerns, women’s lib, the realities of war, racism, social injustice and societal division, Hair addresses many of these issues through song, humor, activism, and somberness.  It also features some silly and sometimes unnecessary content, but the intrinsic nature of its most popular songs give it a poignancy and relevance that the musical isn’t always given enough credit for.

Hair takes place, as the famous song proclaims, in the Age of Aquarius where one is destined for either greatness or madness.  With all the turmoil in the world, Hair seems to be embracing a bit of both. From Aquarius to Easy to Be Hard to Good Morning Starshine to Let the Sunshine In to its memorable title track, Hair delivers an energetic and steady stream of versatile music almost from beginning to end. 

Company-Theatre-Hair-Peter-Kirby-of-Norwell portrays Claude and Julia Violet of Norwell as Sheila the protest leader Photo courtesy of Zoe Bradford/Company Theatre

Not only does this young cast have strong vocals, but they also fit naturally into this era having done meticulous research with Bradford on the time period.  Some historical footage is sporadically shared during the production.  Charismatic Nolan Donato as Berger, the Tribe’s outspoken leader, is an engaging storyteller for the catchy song Donna.  Fun-loving Peter Kirby as mysterious Claude delivers a humorous rendition of Manchester, England, but Claude’s inner turmoil is what truly brings out Kirby’s dynamic performance.  Kirby also shines with the Tribe for I’ve Got Life.  Julia Violet is wonderful as the free spirited Sheila and offers a moving rendition of Easy to Be Hard.  Wearing slick 60s sunglasses, Jeff John-Phillipe as Hud candidly leads the Tribe in an affecting Colored Spade and later alone for Abie, Baby.  Shawn Verrier gets a lot of laughs as historical and controversial Margaret Mead.

The-Company-Theatre’s ‘Hair’ Jeff Jean Phillipe as Hud Peter Kirby as Claude and Shawn Verrier as Margaret Mead Photo courtesy of Zoe Bradford/Company Theatre

Love triangles are rampant and depicted quite humorously featuring Julia Violet as Sheila, Olivia Valianti, Emma Bergman, Amelia Kirshon, and Cate Healey in I Believe Love.  He’s in love with her and she’s in love with him and he’s in love with someone else.  Sally Aston Forrest’s funky and flowing choreography is at its best for the psychedelic Walking in Space enhanced by Dean Palmer Jr’s florescent lighting.

From beads to fringe to bell bottoms to slick 60s sunglasses to multi-pattered and flowing garments, costume designer Hannah Schuurman with set designer Ryan Barrow creates that groovy 60’s vibe featuring an embellished 60s theme truck, beaded passageways, and oriental rugs lining the stage.

Company Theatre’s rock musical Hair shows an era where people are anxious about the future and wondering where their destiny lies.  It does not stray too far from today’s struggles, but peace, love, and happiness are not a thing of the past.  Depicted by this young cast in a powerful, emotionally-charged rendition of Let the Sunshine In, perhaps the most important thing is holding onto each other.

Company Theatre’s ‘Hair’ Berger leader of the Tribe portrayed by Nolan Donato of Scituate and Sheila the protest leader portrayed by Julia Violet of Norwell Photo courtesy of Zoe Bradford/Company Theatre.jpeg

Company Theatre continues the 1960’s rock musical Hair through August 21 live and in person at the Company Theatre, 130 Accord Park Drive in Norwell, Massachusetts.  This show has mature themes and not appropriate for children.  Click here for more information and for tickets.

REVIEW:  Spectacular and uplifting, the world premiere of ‘The Neil Diamond Musical:  A Beautiful Noise’ is anything but a song sung blue

After watching The Neil Diamond Musical:  A Beautiful Noise, one thing is clear.  Every story should be told with brilliant swing backup dancers.

Directed shrewdly by Michael Mayer, The world premiere of The Neil Diamond Musical:  A Beautiful Noise continues its pre-Broadway run at Emerson Colonial Theatre in Boston, MA live and in person through August 7.  The show is two hours and 30 minutes including an intermission.  Click here for more information and tickets.

Tony Award® nominee Will Swenson as Neil Diamond – Then and the Swings Photo credit to DCM O & M/Emerson Colonial Theatre

Kicking off with surprising, self-deprecating humor, A Beautiful Noise might have been just what one would expect from a musical biopic, but Neil Diamond takes it to the next level.  Diamond’s music beginnings are a bit reminiscent of Carole King’s journey from creative songwriter delivering hits such as I’m a Believer to songwriter solo act. Part riveting, sing-along concert within a musical, part dive into Diamond’s past, but yet there is so much more to this solitary man.  Even if Neil Diamond’s songs aren’t at the top of your playlist, this wonderful musical helmed by Will Swenson’s stellar performance as then Neil Diamond just might end up being music to your ears.

Tony Award® nominee Will Swenson as Neil Diamond – Then Photo credit to DKC O & M/Emerson Colonial Theatre

One of the best selling musicians of all time and yet Neil Diamond is not what one might expect.  Now Diamond, portrayed with pensive fortitude by Mark Jacoby, is a rather gruff and unassuming man who does not like to talk about himself.  Many deep thinking individuals steeped in the pressures for success seem to also have what Neil Diamond calls ‘clouds’ and the show does not shy away from that, but this musical is much more of a celebration. 

Neil Diamond’s hit songs are explored, but on a more comprehensive and personal level.  Much of the production is a luminous foray into how songs like catchy Cherry, Cherry, Song Sung Blue, America which delves into Diamond’s Polish heritage, traditional Boston Red Sox song Sweet Caroline met with rousing applause and many others factor into this revered songwriter’s remarkable journey. 

Tony Award® nominee Will Swenson as Neil Diamond – Then and Tony award nominee Robyn Hurder as Marcia Photo credit to DKC O & M/Emerson Colonial Theatre

Charismatic and charming, it is difficult to imagine a better Then Diamond than Will Swenson.  A compelling singer with a dry sense of humor, Swenson has an indelible stage presence from the moment he first appears with his guitar.  He and Jessie Fisher as optimistic and sympathetic Jayne Posner have endearing chemistry and deliver a powerful and tense duet for Love on the RocksRobyn Hurder gives an electrifying performance of Forever in Blue Jeans as charming and soulful Marcia Murphey.  Bri Sudia in a dual role is comic gold as outspoken and caring record producer Ellie Greenwich from her very first line with Swenson as Then Diamond. Their snappy chemistry creates some of the production’s funniest and most inspiring moments.

Tony Award® nominee Will Swenson as Neil Diamond – Then with Swings Photo credit to DKC O & M/Emerson Colonial Theatre

Whether soaked in beautiful shadows or in a multi-colored glow on a concert stage, lighting designer Kevin Adams exacts each mood-induced scene masterfully.  Emilio Sosa’s lively and glittering costumes have a retro feel delving into the wild, vibrant patterns of the late 60’s and onward while Diamond’s progressive stage presence flaunt his signature fringe, suede, leather, and glittering sequins.  David Rockwell’s inviting and eye-catching set design enhances this dazzling musical experience which includes dynamic hanging light fixtures and a stunning, innovative multi-tiered, spot-lit band richly conducted by Sonny Paladino and Sinai Tabak.

Tony Award nominee Mark Jacoby as Neil Diamond – Now, Linda Powell as Doctor, and the Swings Photo credit to DCM O & M/Emerson Colonial Theatre

A Beautiful Noise is a clever, eloquent, and illuminating look at Diamond without taking itself too seriously.  Now to those incredible swing dancers that accompany Diamond on his journey.  Fueled by Steven Hoggett’s upbeat, athletic, and era-driven choreography, the Swings brightened each scene even its darker moments to make this effervescent musical journey feel so good.

The world premiere of The Neil Diamond Musical:  A Beautiful Noise continues at Emerson Colonial Theatre in Boston, MA live and in person through August 7.  Click here for more information and tickets.

REVIEW: Reagle Music Theatre of Greater Boston makes an exciting return to the stage with a moving and remarkable ‘West Side Story’

‘I’ve just met a girl named Maria/And suddenly that name/will never be the same/to me.”

Having seen the classic musical West Side Story from the stage to the 1961 film adaptation to Spielberg’s recent Oscar worthy film, Reagle Music Theatre’s Blake Du Bois as Tony’s moving rendition of the classic song, Maria is a must see.  Many Tonys have floated through this number with surprise, naiveté, and the excitement of attraction while blinded by love, but Du Bois’s delivery evokes a more meaningful perspective.  Enhanced by his extensive vocal range, this soulful rendition depicts not naiveté, not necessarily blindness, but an overwhelming feeling of love for Maria and the fear of what that means.  So overcome by love that he must move forward in spite of it. It was like understanding Maria anew.

Eevie Perez as Maria and Blake Du Bois as Tony in Reagle Music Theatre of Greater Boston’s ‘West Side Story’ Photo by Herb Philpott/Reagle Music Theatre of Greater Boston

Sharply directed and choreographed by Rachel Bertone with seamless musical direction by Dan Rodriguez, Reagle Music Theatre of Greater Boston delivered powerful and clever performances as it kicked off its summer musical season with West Side Story continuing through July 16 at Reagle Music Theatre of Greater Boston live and in person in Waltham, MA.  This show is not intended for children under 13.  Click here for more information and for tickets.

Based on Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, West Side Story is the timeless tale of the Sharks and the Jets, two rival gangs who cannot seem to coexist in Manhattan without a fight.  However, when Blake Du Bois as streetwise Tony and Eevie Perez as idyllic Maria lock eyes, everything quickly becomes complicated.

Helmed by a captivating cast, Reagle Music Theatre’s West Side Story is intriguing from the start as it lays out mischief, antics and petty outrage over owning the streets.  A broad city landscape, chain linked fences, a retro jukebox and detailed drug store are just part of Janie Howland’s retro, rolling set that successfully rewinds the clock back to the 1950s. 

The cast of West Story Photo by Herb Philpott/Reagle Music Theatre of Greater Boston

A great deal of West Side Story hinges on its sharp dance and fight choreography and director and choreographer Bertone hits the ground running.  Along with Fight and Intimacy Director Angie Jepson, the high-kicking choreography blurs the lines between dance and fighting as the gangs intertwine in innovative and precise movements.  A leap becomes a punch and aggressiveness turns graceful…all in the same move.  Jack Mullen delivers an intense performance as the tough talking, swaggering Jet leader Riff, especially during a catchy and memorable rendition of Cool as each tense moment pops to Franklin Meissner, Jr’s intricate lighting.  Mullen as Riff and Du Bois as Tony share some affable camaraderie as they do with their fellow Jets and their fair share of united animosity toward the Sharks.  Nate Walsh stood out as hot head Action, on edge and ready for a fight while Gracin Wilkins delivers a stirring performance as outcast Anybodys.

Bianca Rivera-Irions as Anita with the Shark Girls performing ‘America.’ Photo by Herb Philpott/Reagle Music Theatre of Greater Boston

Eevie Perez is charming and spot on as Maria, her chiming vocals and naiveté especially evident with Ana Viveros as Consuela, Marissa Pineda as Rosalia, and Karina Gonzalez as Tesesita in the exuberant and playful number, I Feel Pretty and in a gorgeous duet with Du Bois as Tony for One Hand, One Heart.  Tall and distinctive, charismatic Bianca Rivera-Irions as Anita knows how to make an entrance in a show stopping red dress, just one of the many rich, vintage, and vibrant costumes provided by Tiffany Howard.  A lively dancer, Rivera-Irions as Anita stands out in any room as only Anita can.  Rivera-Irions as Anita and Diego Klock-Perez as proud and protective Shark leader Bernardo share lighthearted and steamy chemistry.  The dynamic cast performs an exhilarating rendition of Tonight, their robust sound and stirring harmonies build the anticipation and excitement of a night that will change everything.

Reagle Music Theatre of Greater Boston presents musical classic West Side Story continues through July 16 at Reagle Music Theatre of Greater Boston live and in person in Waltham, MA.  This show is not intended for children under 13.  Click here for more information and for tickets.

REVIEW: ‘Dancing is an Old Friend,’ ‘Hilary,’ ‘Inventory,’ ‘Looking for Jack’ and ‘The Green Line’ explore isolation and more at the New York City Indie Film Festival

What is it like to feel stuck due to circumstances beyond your control? 

Curated by Gerard van den Broek, each film in the Documentary 12 series including Dancing is an Old Friend, Hilary, Inventory, Looking for Jack, and The Green Line at the New York City Indie Film Festival through June 19 featured people who faced unforeseen obstacles in an attempt to find peace within. 

Whether facing trauma, isolation in a pandemic, family brokenness or being caught between one nation and another, these themes invite a feeling of powerlessness until hope is found.  This particular collection of documentaries delivered some surprising twists and turns in some profound situations in an attempt to discover where one belongs in the world.

The New York City Indie Film Festival featured a variety of films from shorts to narratives to documentaries curated with common themes.  Sleepless Critic had the opportunity to review screenings on music, small businesses, love and connection and much more.  Co-founded by Executive Director Dennis Cieri and Director Bonnie Rush, this renowned festival has screened thousands of films since it was first launched in 2010.  Click here for more information, film submissions for next year, and click here to see what we had to say about NYC Indie Film Festival’s Narrative 14 series.

Directed by Marta Renzi, Dancing is an Old Friend is written by and stars Leah Barsky and Jennifer Tortorello Walker.  It is a relatable account of an amateur ballroom dancer and professional ballet dancer brought together by dance who must find new ways to connect after the pandemic put the world in isolation.  They both struggle with this new way of life but are determined to forge ahead together.

During the pandemic, the arts were hit hard.  Many professional dancers had to find alternate ways to demonstrate their art and remain in top form until the time came for them to once again take the stage.  Dancing is an Old Friend explores the momentum of their daily lives during the pandemic and a chance to examine why they live their lives the way they do and where dance factors into it now and in the future.

‘Dancing is an Old Friend’ Photo credit to New York City Indie Film Festival

What made this film fascinating is not only the captivating athleticism and style of the dancers in action, but comparing each perspective on dance itself and how it demonstrates the bonds of this friendship.  This is not a tragic account of being lost during the pandemic, but an intimate and sincere documentary that explores the good and bad in equal measure and the hope that springs forth during this life altering period of time.

What may or may not have happened is a mystery in Hilary

Hilary Porter, through her own drawings, illustrates a repeated and menacing alien encounter that has left her haunted.  Hilary’s harrowing recollection unfolds through her graphic narration and unusual drawings as she shares that she was always thought she was different.  Director and producer Mariana Zarpellon offers some insight into who Hilary is and how she has been affected by these encounters and though I was initially intrigued by this film, I was left with more concern for Hilary’s well being than the rationality and content of Hilary’s recollections.

‘Hilary’ Photo credit to New York City Indie Film Festival

Resourcefulness is a defining quality in any artist and nothing less than resourcefulness and love defines the story of Inventory, a documentary directed and produced by Daniella Gitlin, the daughter of sculptor, Michael Gitlin.  The film is designed not only to share her father’s relatable journey as a struggling artist, but the unconventional manner in which Michael Gitlin’s legacy is being preserved.

Interwoven into the film are classic American standards such as Someone to Watch over Me, beloved songs from Gitlin’s heritage, and past family photos to create a vintage ambiance and to smoothly rewind the clock to a time before her father’s inventory had accumulated.  It is a unique and personal story about how love and family transcends obstacles even under unusual circumstances and how the film’s most extraordinary “inventory” is not just confined to Gitlin’s art.

‘Inventory’ Photo credit to the New York City Indie Film Festival

For anyone who is searching or has searched for a family member, the idea of finding them is met with a plethora of emotions.  Sara Zeppilli Freeman captures just that and more in her deeply personal documentary, Looking for Jack.  Part of Looking for Jack’s endearing strength is it is shot much like a home movie where it is easy to put oneself in Sara’s shoes.  As Sara talks to the camera with a jittery glow, her excitement is palpable at the promise that her life is about to change.

On this special day with Sara wearing a broad smile, one can picture themselves in Sara as she excitedly waits in anticipation and trepidation to meet her father for the first time in 21 years having traveled from Boston to Portugal.  No matter the outcome, that moment of time is a monumental experience to be treasured and hopefully not regretted.  The pinnacle of the film is that building tension as Sara waits, the camera panning carefully through Sara’s surroundings for that moment of relief.

‘Looking for Jack’ Photo credit to New York City Indie Film Festival

In a land fraught with uncertainty, Yehudit Kahana is no stranger to anxiety and strife for most of her life.  Co-written with Sharon Yaish, directed, and produced by Yehudit Kahana herself and set from the early 2000s to today, illuminating documentary The Green Line focuses on Yehudit’s coming of age as she resides in Elon Moreh, a land near the Green Line which borders the Palestine territories and Israel.  Since a life changing incident occurred resulting from an innocent child’s game, Yehudit has struggled with the threat of sudden violence, terrorist attacks, and chaos in a place where she doesn’t feel she entirely belongs. 

‘The Green Line’ Photo credit to New York City Indie Film Festival

The Green Line delivers a wealth of information on certain incidents in Israel, Palestine, and the Green Line which can be confusing at times, but what is clear was how Yehudit felt in circumstances beyond her control in a harsh and threatening land determined to break free.  The Green Line has some lighter and amusing moments with family that not only shed light on Yehudit’s understandably frustrating, strict, and expected traditional place as a female in the world and in the path of the Torah, but also explores how valuable the road less taken can be.

Dancing is an Old FriendHilaryInventory, Looking for Jack and The Green Line were all part of Documentary 12 at the New York City Indie Film Festival which continued through June 19.  Click here for more information on this annual festival and its winners.

REVIEW:  Mikko Nissinen’s ‘Swan Lake’ returns in riveting and enchanting splendor

Mikko Nissinen’s Swan Lake will enchant you from the start.

Swan Lake has stood the test of time for generations and it is no mystery why.  Seeped in regal splendor, Swan Lake is a visually-striking portrait of elegance and grandiosity similar to another one of Tchaikovsky’s classics, The Nutcracker. Both known for their iconic scores, mystical elements, and magnificent presentation, but Swan Lake’s sophisticated splendor, dark charm, intricate choreography and mirror image story of true love sets it apart from the rest.  Like The Nutcracker, Swan Lake has a universal appeal and memorable qualities that even those who don’t care for ballet will still enjoy Swan Lake.

Boston Ballet in Mikko Nissinen’s Swan Lake; photo by Rosalie O’Connor, courtesy of Boston Ballet

With seamless musical-direction by Mischa Santora, Tchaikovsky’s majestic score navigates a classic tale of love, torment, betrayal, magic, and unbridled joy as Boston Ballet rises out of Mikko Nissinen’s Swan Lake continuing live and in person at the Citizens Bank Opera House in Boston, Massachusetts through Sunday, June 5. Swan Lake will then stream from the comfort of your home from June 9 through June 19.  Performed in memory of John W. Humphrey, Swan Lake has returned to the Boston Opera House for the first time since Mikko Nissinen re-imagined the ballet in 2016.  This four-act performance has one intermission.  Click here for more information and tickets.

Taking a mysterious and thrilling tone from the start, Swan Lake is a fanciful tale involving sought-after Prince Siegfried, portrayed with zest and charm by Patrick Yocum, who sets his sights on a flock of swans drifting over a misty and enchanted lake.  Swan Queen Odette, portrayed with graceful fragility by Lia Cirio, catches his eye and it is love at first sight.  It soon becomes clear that the swans were once women cursed by sorcerer Von Rothbart, depicted menacingly by Tyson Clark.  Tyson Clark as Rothbart is an incredible and unpredictable force as he athletically and perilously tears through the mist as Prince Siegfried vows to set Odette free.

Golden-braided, ornate headpieces, flowing pastel garments, parasols, garlands, exquisitely feathered tutus and pristine crowns are just a glimpse into Robert Perdziola’s opulent and meticulously-detailed, handmade costumes that enrich the lush and picturesque royal garden setting as well as the haunting mirror image and mystical lake bathed in luminous blue moonlight by lighting designer Mark Stanley.

Marked by such precision, Mikko Nissinen’s choreography is ballet at its finest.   Emily Entingh and Sage Humphries are visually-stunning rising gracefully and beautifully fluttering out of the mist.  A gathering of cygnets demonstrate perfect synchronicity as they glide in lithe, delicate strokes.  The swans are ethereal and immaculate as they simultaneously rise exquisitely out of a swallowing mist.  It still stands as one of the beautiful displays of ballet I have ever seen.

Boston Ballet in Mikko Nissinen’s Swan Lake; photo by Gene Schiavone, courtesy of Boston Ballet

In the castle gardens, dancers whimsically join together in a feast dance with goblets and joyfully present the prince with rich garlands.  While the castle garden depicts almost a dreamlike setting, an equally opulent ballroom with vast ceilings lit in red later depict a livelier setting as a  grand and dynamic lineup of guests gather to charm the kingdom including princesses, czardas, and Neapolitans.

Patrick Yocum is impressive as Prince Siegfried as he evokes loneliness and melancholy in an emotive and carefully-executed variation and then later in a flawless and joyful dance as if floating across the stage.  Light and dark in Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake is demonstrated impeccably in Lia Cirio in a complex, dual role.  As guarded Odette, her every move diligent and yet her statuesque beauty and downcast demeanor enrich her mysterious and powerful presence.  Tingling violin resonates in Tchaikovsky’s emotive score as Cirio and Yocum share a hesitant and sweet encounter.  He tenderly lifts and comforts her at every turn.  Cirio can craftily engage an audience and masters her dual role as mysterious and confident Odile.  That striking look she gives reminded me of the fire she brought to her 2020 performance in Boston Ballet’s Carmen.  Cirio’s cunning smile and playful charisma gleam as Yocum takes her hand playfully and yet, almost possessively in a spellbinding and exhilarating dance.    

Boston Ballet in Mikko Nissinen’s Swan Lake; photo by Rosalie O’Connor, courtesy of Boston Ballet

Swan Lake is such a haunting and beloved tale of tender grace and arduous passion that, like The Nutcracker, it has been adapted in various forms for stage and screen over the years including Darren Aronofsky’s Academy award-winning Black Swan.  Mikko Nissinen has adjusted a few scenarios in Swan Lake since its re-imagining in 2016, but only for its betterment to create an even more thrilling, illuminative and memorable experience.    

Mikko Nissenen’s Swan Lake continues live and in person at the Citizens Bank Opera House in Boston, Massachusetts through Sunday, June 5. Swan Lake will then stream from the comfort of your home from June 9 through June 19. Click here for more information and tickets.

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 before moving to the Greater Boston Stage Company in Stoneham, MA from June 9 to June 26.  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 before moving to the Greater Boston Stage Company in Stoneham, MA from June 9 to June 26.  Click here for more information and tickets.

REVIEW:  Go see Academy of the Company Theatre’s heartwarming, moving, and family-friendly ‘Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat’

The one thing more magnificent then Joseph’s dream coat is the tale behind it.  An interactive, endearing, and humorous production, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat has been entertaining audiences for over 50 years with its exuberant story and its versatile and brilliant music by the Academy Award-winning team of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice.  Joseph’s music offers a wide spectrum of music genres for any taste from calypso to rock and roll which accompanies the unique retelling of a sacred tale of treachery and unceasing hope.

Photo courtesy of Zoe Bradford/Company Theatre

A tale so wonderful that it needs three narrators, Academy of the Company Theatre (ACT) presents Andrew Lloyd Webber’s wondrous and family-friendly musical comedy Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat continuing at the Company Theatre in Norwell, MA through Sunday, May 1.  The production is almost sold out.  Click here for more information, tickets, and for classes that ACT has to offer.

Cate Healey, Gilbert Dabady, and Elizabeth Nunnery as Narrators with Tim Bevens as Joseph Photo courtesy of Zoe Bradford/Company Theatre

Based on the Book of Genesis and set in the land of Canaan and Egypt, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat explores the incredible journey of Joseph and his brothers as Joseph struggles to discover his destiny.  It is very much a collaborative, ensemble piece featuring three engaging narrators portrayed by Gilbert Dabady last seen in ACT’s Les Miserables, Cate Healey, and Elizabeth Nunnery as they share Joseph’s tale not only with the audience, but with the surrounding and energetic young cast gathered onstage.  Dabady, Healey, and Nunnery all have powerful and very different voices that complement each other throughout the performance.

Brothers – Corin O’Neill – Abington, Jay Feeney- Hansen, Henry Jacobs – Norwell, Colin SanGiacomo – Norwood, Roland Schulze – Hingham, Matthew Porro – Hanover, Tim Bevens (Joseph) – Hingham, Ben Cavallo Smith-Hingham and cast Photo courtesy of Zoe Bradford/Company Theatre

With a sweet smile and unassuming demeanor, Tim Bevens portrays humble, yet forthright dreamer Joseph with instant likability from his first opening number, a warm and melodious rendition of Any Dream Will Do.  Bevens delivers a compelling performance as a naïve outsider, his versatile vocal range effortless for the soothing Any Dream Will Do to stirring Close Every Door, his tone heart rendering and sympathetic.

Wearing a white beard, Jacob Yates takes on the mostly silent role of Jacob, Joseph’s devoted father.  Yates makes the most out of this role with an amusing walk and some physical humor.  Led by Charlie Flaherty’s standout portrayal as Joseph’s smirking and sneaky brother Reuben, One More Angel in Heaven depicts the united camaraderie not only by Joseph’s eleven brothers, but from the cast, all in on a little secret.  Another excellent number that depicts the brothers’ united front is delivered by Ben Cavallo-Smith as Judah and his brothers for Roland Schulz as Benjamin, a catchy, amusing song called Benjamin Calypso.

Combining blue, glitter, and gold into dazzling Egyptian attire, Sal Garcia, who was last seen as Jean Val Jean in ACT’s Les Miserables, makes a grand entrance in suave sunglasses and a bouffant hairstyle as Pharaoh, complete with shimmering gold sneakers.  Garcia shows off his comedic talent and charisma in the show stopping number Song of the King, combining the essence and high energy of a certain king not to be revealed here and Jack Black.  It is fun to watch Garcia in a role where he can let loose.

Sal Garcia as Pharaoh Photo courtesy of Zoe Bradford/Company Theatre

The transformative lighting by Dean Palmer Jr. ranges from a lone spotlight to doubling for the hot, desert sun to flashing, multicolored spotlights for Go Go Go Joseph to the warm candlelight and modest staging of Close Every Door.  Though most of the sets are colorful and fun, there is something special about the translucent, simple staging for Close every Door by candlelight, letting Tim Bevens’s poignant rendition speak for itself without distractions. 

Elsa Hancock-Happ – Rockland, Calvin Jacobs – Norwell, Reese Warshaw – Hingham, Izzie Donnelly – Hingham, Nora Joyce – Weymouth, Silvia Thompson – Hingham, Tim Bevens – Joseph – Hingham, Laird Lacoste and cast Photo courtesy of Zoe Bradford/Company Theatre

Among the vibrant and bold costumes by John Crampton and Alison Gordon is the famous coat in yellow and green and ochre… Joseph’s magnificent, flowing, and sparkling coat is a head turner decked out in multi-colored stars on the back.  The cast wearing sunglasses, an unusual camel, and cute Egyptian “beetles” among the crowd on a unconventional journey to Egypt are just a few of the subtle, cheerful touches added to this lighthearted production that certainly has its share of stirring and difficult moments, but with far more uplifting and spirited ones, it’s difficult to feel down for long.

Tim Bevens (Joseph) and cast Photo courtesy of Zoe Bradford/Company Theatre

Directed by Zoe Bradford with lively choreography by Sally Ashton Forrest and musically directed by Melissa Carubia, Academy of the Company Theatre (ACT) presents Andrew Lloyd Webber’s wondrous and family-friendly musical comedy Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat continuing at the Company Theatre in Norwell, MA through Sunday, May 1.  The production is almost sold out.  Click here for more information and for tickets.