REVIEW: A compelling, trailblazing journey through Boston Ballet’s rEVOLUTION

Having been thrilled with Boston Ballet’s Full on Forsythe at around this time last year (see the review here), it was with great excitement to witness Boston Ballet’s rEVOLTION, a dynamic performance featuring three innovative works that transformed ballet forever.

From catchy R&B to electronica to soul, Full on Forsythe was a showstopper, dispelling any preconceived notions about ballet.  Truly ‘dance on the edge,’ Boston Ballet’s rEVOLUTION explores three works in ballet’s history where visionary and brilliant choreographers paved the way toward a new and unforgettable form of ballet, breaking a few rules along the way.  Each versatile piece in rEVOLUTION builds in intensity while progressively becoming more contemporary and well deserving of the audience’s thunderous applause at its conclusion.

Boston Ballet continues rEVOLUTION through Sunday, March 8 at Citizens Bank Opera House in Boston, Massachusetts.  The show runs two hours including two intermissions. Click here for more information and tickets.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

With music by revered Russian composer Igor Stravinsky, choreography by George Balanchine, and colorful staging by Paul Boos, Agon seems traditional featuring a live orchestra conducted by Mischa Santora.  However, right down to the simple costuming including streamlined white shirt and black tights and accompanied by Agon’s triumphant, horn-infused rhythm, it becomes a piece unlike anything traditional ballet has seen before. More artistically-focused than plot driven, agile dancers shift into impressive and sometimes jaw dropping shapes while spinning joyfully.  Each piece features athletic and daring moves, but the Pas de Deux between Lia Cirio and Paula Arrais is a particular highlight as they curve and move together en point and as one.  It ends like it begins and stands as its own work of art.

Ballet takes a bit more of an eclectic, modern tone in Glass Pieces with choreography by Jerome Robbins and music by Philip Glass.  From Jennifer Tipton’s dramatic lighting to the expressive and colorfully rich costumes by Ben Benson, Glass Pieces is still the gem it was when it premiered during Boston Ballet’s Genius in Play in 2018.  Taking place in what looks like a subway station, Glass Pieces has a palpable rhythm and urgency as dancers are unleashed into a celebration of dance in the city.  In ordinary life, there is joy.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Lia Cirio and John Lam perform a tender and stirring duet while dancers move in shadow during Glass’s romantic song, Facades.  However, it is easy to see Robbins’s influence during Glass’s catchy, drum-infused Funeral as male and female dancers urgently form two groups before encircling each other and coming together.  Robbins also choreographed the musical classic, West Side Story.  From a plain landscape into a spectrum of color, Glass Pieces transforms into a splendid piece of artistry as dancers perform in a variety of styles in silhouette, reflective, and in unison.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

As silver headphones dangle from the ceiling aloft a black backdrop as starting with a jolt, it’s clear that In the Middle Somewhat Elevated would take ballet to another level.  Featuring music by Dutch composer Thom Willems in collaboration with  Lesley Stuck, thrilling lighting by Jennifer Tipton, and choreographed by William Forsythe, In the Middle Somewhat Elevated is a cutting edge masterwork clearly ahead of its time.   The industrial, tribal feel of Thom Willems music as dancers shift in shadows create a haunting intensity.  Featuring vigorous, jaw dropping footwork bending in what seems like impossible angles, this fast paced performance keeps you riveted from start to finish.  Lia Cirio, Patrick Yocum, Chyrstyn Fentroy, Maria Alvarez, Ashley Ellis, Lawrence Rines, Irlan Silva, Mallory Mehaffey, and Abigail Merlis seem part of a seamless machine as dancers spin and swing, hitting every last eccentric beat.

Boston Ballet Warm Up

Boston Ballet’s The Warm Up Photo by Jeanne Denizard

The Boston Ballet continues to offer an opportunity to learn more about ballet through The Warm Up, an interactive display located in the lobby.

The Boston Ballet continues rEVOLUTION at the Boston Opera House, 539 Washington Street in Boston, Massachusetts through Sunday, March 8.  Click here for more information and tickets.  For future events and more, follow Boston Ballet on Facebook and Twitter.

REVIEW: Greater Boston Stage Company re-imagines a classic in riveting ‘Swan Lake in Blue’

Exploring love from obsession to at first sight, Greater Boston Stage Company couldn’t have chosen a more perfect time to introduce Swan Lake, one of ballet’s most popular productions of all time, with a bold and re-imagined twist the day after Valentine’s Day.

With insightful choreography and direction by Ilyse Robbins, Greater Boston Stage Company continues Jazz Ballet Swan Lake in Blue through Sunday, March 1 at Greater Boston Stage Company in Stoneham, Massachusetts.  Click here for more information and tickets.

GBSC Swan Lake in Blue tap dancing

Jackson Jirard (center) and the cast of Swan Lake in Blue Photo by Maggie Hall Photography

Tap dancing, ballet, and classic dance just skims the surface of the sheer energy that encapsulates Swan Lake in Blue, a brilliant production that transforms Tchaikovsky’s classic fairy tale into a lively, non-stop dance spectacle with big band flair.  Swan Lake in Blue has elements of that beloved classic in swan feathers, but set in thrilling 1940’s New York City.

Costume designer Kevin Hutchins and Scenic and Prop designer Teri Oakes work together to capture the mood of 1940s New York City in bowler hats, vintage suits, and colorful casual wear right down to the cast’s 40s style Oxfords.

Steve Bass not only seamlessly composed and musically directs Swan Lake in Blue, but also performs onstage with a full big band stately dressed in black and grey vintage sophistication.  The rollicking live orchestra instantly sets the mood of this vibrant, non-stop musical journey.  Swan Lake in Blue features an array of gloriously energetic, athletic dancers that keep the pace joyous and thriving while integrating popular dance moves of its time like the Charleston and Swing.  Each dancer gets an opportunity to shine and Jackson Jirard as Ben Kelly leads this agile group of exceptional talent.

GBSC Swan Lake in Blue dancers

Jackson Jirard (center) with male dance auditions. Photo by Maggie Hall Photography

Jirard is magnificent as he leaps and spins audaciously in tap shoes. Andy McLeavey as Seigfried and Jirard look like naturals dancing together, especially when Mr. Seigfried is first introduced. From Mambo to the Samba to the alluring Dance of the Swans, it is a wordless piece that invites dance to take over.

GBSC Swan Lake in Blue Sara Coombs as Odette

Sara Coombs as Odette Photo by Maggie Hall Photography

Swan Lake in Blue preserves the classic tale but gives it a Broadway spin involving a mobster, idyllic “swans” and a love struck Broadway producer set in a dance studio.  Odette, portrayed with elegance, fragility, and anguish by Sara Coombs, is a seemingly tethered soul longing for peace.  Coombs flourishes in the complex dual role which balances sass and sincerity as well as compassion and malicious glee through her carefully crafted sharp and sweeping dance moves.

Sara Coombs and Andy McLeavey as charming Seigfried share some beautiful moments.  David Visini captures a dark sophistication as Von Rothbart.  Visini’s unsettling, sharp, and menacing dance create a mysterious and powerful charisma every time he makes an appearance.

GBSC Swan Lake in Blue Sara Coombs and Andy McLeavey Photo by Maggie Hall Photography

Sara Coombs and Andy McLeavey Photo by Maggie Hall Photography

Tchaikovky’s immortalized Dance of the Swans takes on a new, alluring spin as Briana Fallon and Gillian Gordon join Coombs decked out in feathery, white fringed dresses.  It’s a daring, yet fitting departure of Tchikovsky’s original dance and like the imaginative Swan Lake in Blue,  includes a few winks to the original.

Greater Boston Stage Company continues Jazz Ballet Swan Lake in Blue through Sunday, March 1 at Greater Boston Stage Company at 395 Main Street in Stoneham, Massachusetts.  Click here for more information and tickets and here for more on Greater Boston Stage Company’s 20th season.

 

REVIEW: Celebrity Series of Boston presented John Pizzarelli Trio and Veronica Swift for Nat King Cole tribute and more on Valentine’s Day

Since Jazz and love doesn’t follow a set of rules, they came together for Valentine’s Day.

Love lit up Harvard University’s Sanders Theatre in Cambridge, Massachusetts on Valentine’s Day as Celebrity Series of Boston presented ‘For Centennial Reasons: 100 Year Salute to Nat King Cole’ on Friday, February 14 at 8 p.m.  Whether longing for love, falling in love, or losing in love, Veronica Swift and the John Pizzarelli Trio brought a jazz-infused twist to classic love songs and American Standards from Gershwin, Billie Holiday, Cole Porter, and especially Nat King Cole for one night only.

Veronica Swift and John Pizzarelli are currently on tour.  Click here for Swift’s upcoming shows and here for John’s future tour dates.  Click here for more on Celebrity Series of Boston and their upcoming events.

Festive purple curtains embellished Sanders Theatre’s beautiful, softly-lit stage.  Dressed in an effervescent pink jumpsuit that changed shades in different lighting, jazz vocalist Veronica Swift kicked off the evening with a drum-infused rendition of Cole Porter’s breezy classic, Let’s Do It (Let’s Fall in Love).  Each musician had an opportunity to show off their stellar talent which included pianist Julius Rodriguez, bassist Phillip Norris, and drummer Aaron Kimmel.

Swift offered a casual, low key presence as she shared childhood stories of growing up touring with her jazz singer mother, Stephanie Nakasian and her father, bebop pianist Hod O’Brien.  Swift’s versatile set had its share of joyous and stirring moments which included a poignant version of Ella Fitzgerald’s Everytime We Say Goodbye dedicated to her father as her voice swelled in quiet emotion.  She skimmed the scales in an electrifying version of Billie Holiday’s Come Rain or Come Shine and an anguished Prisoner of Love.

Veronica Swift and pianist Julius Rodriguez Photo credit: Robert Torres

At just 25 years old, she is a spirited and contemplative performer.  Jazz aficionados would appreciate her natural ability for scatting showcased in a fast paced, ebullient rendition of Billie Holiday’s I Can’t Believe that You’re in Love with Me.  Though I am not a big jazz fan, it is easy to appreciate the liberties jazz takes to transform these classics into a refreshing, eclectic new sound.

With a great deal of humor, a relaxed atmosphere, and in a sharp gray suit, avid storyteller John Pizzarelli delved into the history of Nat King’s Cole music while sharing some of his own history along the way.  He revitalized a few of Nat King Cole’s hits and shared a few anecdotes in tribute to Nat King Cole’s centennial.  American Jazz singer-songwriter and musician Nat King Cole was one of the most successful artists on Capital Records’ roster and his music has inspired generations.

Pizzarelli is currently on tour for John Pizzarelli Trio’s most recent album For Centennial Reasons:  100 Year Salute to Nat King Cole.  The title seems a subtle play on Nat King Cole’s I Love You (For Sentimental Reasons) which Pizzarelli performs tenderly later in the show.  Aside from Pizzarelli who can no less shred on guitar, Pizzarelli was joined by spectacular musicians Isaiah Thompson on piano and Mike Karn on bass.  The John Pizzarelli Trio’s collective sound had the rhythm of a moving train.  Each piece came alive as the instruments seem to “chat” with each other especially during Hit That Jive, Jack and a lively rendition of Honeysuckle Rose.

Celebrity Series of Boston presented the John Pizzarelli Trio and Veronica Swift at Sanders Theatre.

Bassist Mike Karn, John Pizzarelli, and pianist Isaiah Thompson Photo credit: Robert Torres

The trio explored Lorraine as Pizzarelli shared a legendary story about how the song turned Nat King Cole from a pianist into a singer, though it is a rumored tale.  Nat King Cole was part of the Nat King Cole Trio and it was nice to see Pizzarelli reflecting that with his own John Pizzarelli Trio, each member getting their own chance to shine.

Pizzarelli’s delivered an uplifting set which included a few love songs.  His guitar hummed during a cheerful rendition of Nat King Cole’s Make Believe as lightning fast pianist Isaiah Thompson commanded the keys.  Pizzarelli showed off his side winding guitar style in his own song titled Nat King Cool and his scatting skills during Nat King Cole’s Frim Fram Sauce.  The evening’s lighthearted vibe continued with the humorous Save the Bones for Henry Jones, the vibrant I Would Do Anything for You, and one of Nat King Cole’s most popular singles, Straight Up and Fly Right.

Celebrity Series of Boston presented the John Pizzarelli Trio and Veronica Swift at Sanders Theatre.

John Pizzarelli, bassist Mike Karn, and pianist Isaish Thompson Photo credit: Robert Torres

Swift returned to the stage for a few Gershwin classics that included a wistful Someone to Watch Over Me.  She and Pizzarelli delivered a wonderful rendition of They Can’t Take That Away from Me, I Got Rhythm, and their lauded encore Route 66.

As a big Nat King Cole fan, I would have liked to have heard Nat King Cole’s Stardust and his mega-hit Unforgettable, but it simply didn’t fit into an evening consisting of mostly the brighter side of love and its boundless possibilities.

Celebrity Series of Boston is just getting 2020 started with a number of performing arts musicians that includes Bobby McFerrin, Milos, the Jason Palmer Quartet, Lyon Opera Ballet, and the return of Alvin Ailey.  Click here for the full list of upcoming events.

 

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

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

Boston Ballet The Nutcracker cast Photo by Liza Voll

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

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

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

The Boston Ballet The Nutcracker

Stage view Photo courtesy of Jeanne Denizard

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

Boston Ballet The Nutcracker Party Scene by Liza Voll

Party scene. Photo credit to Liza Voll/Boston Ballet

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Boston Ballet The Nutcracker Snow fairies by Liza Voll

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

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

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

Boston Ballet The Nutcracker By Liza Voll

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

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

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

 

 

REVIEW: Boston Ballet’s idyllic ‘Cinderella’ more than a glittering gown and glass slippers

Be like Cinderella.

During Sir Frederick Ashton’s Cinderella, The Prince, portrayed masterfully by Patrick Yocum, gentlemanly gestures for Cinderella to go first as they make their entrance and she in turn motions for him to go first.  It is a subtle gesture, but holds great significance.  It is just one moment in many that this Cinderella exudes pure selflessness, more so than other adaptations. We can all learn from Cinderella.  She’ll make a lasting impression and is a shining example of what every child should strive to become.

Sir Frederick Ashton’s Cinderella, performed by the Boston Ballet, continues through Saturday, June 8 at the Citizens Bank Boston Opera House.  Click here for more information and for tickets.  Click here for a closer look at the production.

The Boston Ballet’s Cinderella is an ethereal, lighthearted tale, told with a richness that far exceeds a glittering gown and glass slippers.  David Walker’s multi-layered, translucent scenic design and elaborate costumes create moving portraits from deep into an enchanted forest to a sophisticated royal ball.

It is a classic fairy tale about a young girl living with her father and two ugly Stepsisters.  When a mysterious woman shows up on their doorstep, it may change Cinderella’s life forever.  This adaptation has the earmarks of the popular fairy tale including the pumpkin, the royal ball, fairy godmother, and the handsome prince.

Jeffrey Cirio and Misa Kuranaga in Ashton's Cinderella ©Gene Schiavone

Misa Kuranaga and Jeffrey Cirio in Sir Frederick Ashton’s Cinderella; photo by Gene Schiavone, courtesy of Boston Ballet

Sir Frederick Ashton’s Cinderella also contains a few slight alternations from other popular adaptations and it is all the better for it starting with Vikorina Kapitonova’s marvelous portrayal as Cinderella.  Even in a soot-covered, flowing costume, Kapitonova’s glowing face shines through as she jaunts around the house, with only a broom as her companion.  She soaks in her surroundings, her exuberance shown through the simplest of things.  She puts joy in every step, rarely showing any despair in her strength, warmth, and innocent smile.  Cinderella may be neglected, but she’s also happy and imaginative, despite her circumstances.

Absent is the anguish and vindictiveness Cinderella endured from the glaring presence of a Stepmother in other retellings, but instead a harried father tending to the constant needs of two trying Stepsisters.  What makes this Cinderella so remarkable is she is not bullied by her Stepsisters, but that much more selfless, doing everything for the ease of others, always putting others first with a smile.  She tends to her Stepsisters needs out of love, a self-absorbed pair of braying bookends, portrayed with awkward, conceited flair by Roddy Doble and John Lam.  In full bonnets and mismatched, heavily adorned attire, the Stepsisters comically parade in their gaudy and audacious glory, unaware of how foolish they seem.

Sir Frederick Ashton’s Cinderella’s choreography is an elegant display.  The Fairy Godmother makes a grand, magical entrance and is soon accompanied by the colorful Fairies of the Four Seasons.  They each have their moment to shine, their beautiful solos reflecting their distinct personalities on lush green and then under silvery trees.

Misa Kuranaga and Jeffrey Cirio in Ashton's Cinderella ©Gene Schiavone

 

In white and blue, Patrick Yocum, who was also impressive in Boston Ballet’s Full on Forsythe, makes a wonderful Prince, leading Kapitonova to a delicate pas de deux. Their sweet chemistry is apparent as Cinderella makes her own grand entrance.  Another captivating dance occurs at the ball as the clock strikes midnight, the dancers intricately posing in that pivotal moment knowing the best is soon to come.

Boston Ballet 'The Warm Up'

One of the interactive stations at Boston Ballet’s ‘The Warm Up’ Photo by Jeanne Denizard

Mikko Nissinen’s Boston Ballet continues to offer a number of interactive stations including Fairy tale Fun and a photo-friendly display to learn more about the show and ballet through The Warm Up located in the lower lobby.

Sir Frederick Ashton’s Cinderella, performed by the Boston Ballet, continues through Saturday, June 8 at the Citizen’s Bank Boston Opera House, 539 Washington Street in Boston, Massachusetts.  Save 50% for youth under 17 after purchasing one full price ticket.  Click here for more information, tickets, and for future events and more, follow Boston Ballet on Facebook and Twitter.

 

REVIEW: Greater Boston Stage Company’s ‘Million Dollar Quartet’ worth every penny

December 4, 1956 was a pivotal night for rock and roll music as four distinct, legendary performers united for a one-night-only recording experience unlike anything rock and roll would see again.  The egos, the tension, and the harmony.  Oh, the harmony.

Greater Boston Stage Company’s tribute concert musical Million Dollar Quartet is guaranteed to keep your feet tapping, whether you are aware of it or not.  Directed by Ilyse Robbins with Music Direction by James Scheider who also portrays a hilarious Jerry Lee Lewis, Million Dollar Quartet continues through Sunday, May 19 at Greater Boston Stage Company in Stoneham, Massachusetts.  Click here for more information and tickets.

Accompanied by Trey Lundquist behind the Fluke and Drums and Matthew Pitts as Brother Jay and Bass, Million Dollar Quartet does an exhilarating job of capturing the sound and magic of that musical night long ago featuring Luke Linsteadt as Elvis Presley, Nile Scott Hawver as Carl Perkins, Austin Wayne Price as Johnny Cash, and James Scheider as Jerry Lee Lewis.  With a powerful, authentic sound by John Stone, inventive set design by Patrick Lynch, stylized concert lighting by Jeff Adelberg and Lawrence Ware, and each performer singing and playing their own instruments like the legends themselves, Million Dollar Quartet delivers greatness times four.

GBSC Million Dollar Quartet band

From L to R: James Scheider as Jerry Lee Lewis, Trey Lundquist as Fluke/Drums, Matthew Pitts as Brother Jay/Bass, Nile Scott Hawver as Carl Perkins, Melissa Geerlof as Dyanne, Luke Lundquist as Elvis Presley and Austin Wayne Price as Johnny Cash Photo courtesy of Greater Boston Stage Company

 

On the surface, Million Dollar Quartet seems like the ultimate jam session featuring classic songs such as Blue Suede Shoes, Folsom Prison Blues, Great Balls of Fire, and Ghost Riders, but that is only part of the story.   The show is also about loyalty, a bit of David and Goliath, and knowing real talent from the man behind the music, Sam Phillips, portrayed with forthright affability by Robert Saoud.  Saoud is wonderful as Phillips, a modest, compelling, and insightful narrator.  A genius among record producers, Phillips had a vision and music was all that mattered.

Luke Linsteadt portrays a young, thriving Elvis complete with his familiar, rubbery legs as he keeps the crowd moving with Hound Dog.  Attempting to keep his ego in check is Nile Scott Hawver as Carl Perkins, who was last seen at Speakeasy Stage’s captivating musical, Once.  Though Perkins is the more reserved in the bunch, the story behind Blue Suede Shoes was one of Hawver’s best moments.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Perfecting Johnny Cash’s guitar style is Austin Wayne Price, taking on the man in black with a soulful quality, his drawn, serious eyes and deep vocals deliver a unique rendition of Walk the Line.  Jeff Scheider relishes the reckless and obnoxious nature of up and coming, bigger-than-his-britches Jerry Lee Lewis.  Scheider is a real scene stealer, delivering some of the funniest one liners in the show while madly sweeping those piano keys.

Though Elvis brought a dancer to the recording studio as his date on that night in 1956, Melissa Geerlof slips into the role of Dyanne, a promising songstress.  She shows she is much more than Elvis’s eye candy singing Fever with an alluring, bluesy growl.

GBSC - Million Dollar Quartet full band

The cast of Million Dollar Quartet Photo courtesy of Greater Boston Stage Company

Though Million Dollar Quartet features plenty of rock and roll moments, the band’s quieter scenes are just as appealing.  When Carl Perkins, Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, and Jerry Lee Lewis unite for an acapella version of the spirituals, Down by the Riverside and Peace in the Valley, their clean, silvery harmony is pure perfection.

Greater Boston Stage Company’s Million Dollar Quartet continues through Sunday, May 19 at Greater Boston Stage Company, 395 Main Street in Stoneham, Massachusetts.  Click here for more information and tickets.  Click here for more information on Greater Boston Stage Company’s recently announced 20th season.

 

 

 

 

REVIEW: Hingham Civic Music Theatre’s ‘Sweet Charity’ has fun, laughs, and the right moves

She’s just a girl in love with love.  Swipe right for the Tony award-winning, romantic musical dramedy instilled with a dose of cynicism, Sweet Charity.  Unforeseen high jinks and adventures find Charity as she makes her way through what can be a harsh reality.  Before Julia Roberts stepped onto the L.A. streets in the popular film, Pretty Woman, Charity wondered Central Park.  Both have a heart of gold.

With music by Cy Coleman, lyrics by Dorothy Fields, book by Neil Simon, and directed by Nathan Fogg, Hingham Civic Music Theatre (HCMT) continues Sweet Charity through Sunday, May 5 at the Sanborn Auditorium in Hingham, Massachusetts.  This show is for mature audiences and not for young children.  Click here for more information and tickets.

HCMT's 'Sweet Charity' - tap dance

Emilee Leahy as Charity Photo courtesy of Hingham Civic Music Theatre

Sweet Charity is one of those rare opportunities to witness a collaboration featuring theatrical icons playwright Neil Simon and director and choreographer Bob Fosse.  Oh yes, and Fosse’s then wife, muse, and dance dynamo Gwen Verdon starred in the musical’s stage debut in the 60s.

Bob Fosse and Gwen Verdon’s influence is still as lively as ever as FX continues Fosse/Verdon, a biographical miniseries starring Sam Rockwell as Bob Fosse and Michelle Williams as Gwen Verdon.  Coincidentally, Fosse/Verdon also covers in part the making of Sweet Charity.  Fosse Fever has certainly been evident on the South Shore of Massachusetts as two adaptations of Chicago recently took the stage in close succession.

Perhaps it’s the Neil Simon influence, but Sweet Charity seems to tread on the lighter side of Fosse’s popular works.  It has its edgy moments and not for everyone, but Sweet Charity depends much more on humor than darkness.  Though Pretty Woman might be a beloved, yet formulaic tale, Sweet Charity is less predictable and not a by-the-numbers romantic comedy.  The costumes, by Kathryn Ridder and company, are fitted and flashy and the dialogue is snappy and at times, charming.  At one point, Emilee Leahy as Charity sings, “You’re so strong, you have muscles you don’t need.”

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

After portraying resourceful criminal Velma Kelly in Massasoit Theatre Company’s production of Chicago,  Emilee Leahy delivers a breezier performance as coy yet sweet, aware and yet sometimes naïve, hopeful and pensive Charity Hope Valentine.  Charity can be a poor judge of character, but Leahy’s Charity proves to be worth rooting for.  She has a pliable vocal range and is certainly light on her feet as she slips into a spontaneous tap routine featuring the famous number, If They Could See Me Now, decked out with a signature Fosse top hat and cane.

Speaking of dance, Sweet Charity offers an array of Fosse-inspired dance sequences, tinged with retro flair.  Choreographer Samantha-Brior Jones, Music Director Sandee Brayton, and Dance Captain Mary Donahue turn up the heat with sharp and distinctive choreography as the Fan-dango Ballroom dancers perform a fierce, steamy, and hip shaking Hey Big Spender.  The sweeping, sophisticated, 60s-inspired Rich Man’s Frug featuring Pompeii Club dancers in all-black has a classic vibe to it while Rhythm of Life is an outrageous, seemingly spiritual journey.

HCMT Sweet Charity - The girls

Kristen Annese as Nickie and Pompeii Club dancers Photo courtesy of Hingham Civic Music Theatre

The characters that Charity encounter seem a bit melodramatic, showing it doesn’t take itself too seriously.  With great New York accents, Kristen Annese as Nickie and Lindsay Warwick as Helene are a plucky, street smart comedy duo.  Their rendition of Baby Dream Your Dream has a lot of reassuring sass and they share playful, if at times mildly-snarky camaraderie with Charity.

Leah Shiels as Ursula and Rob Buckel-Gillis as Vittorio make an exotic celebrity pair, decked out in shimmering attire.   Buckel-Gillis delivers a beautiful rendition of Too Many Tomorrows.  Tony Light is comical as Oscar, a panicked claustrophobic.   Shirtless and in suspenders, Rylan Vachon delivers a wildly energetic, off-the-wall performance as zany preacher Daddy Brubeck.  Mike Warner as Herman also delivers some laughs, but keep an eye on his T-shirts.  Trust me.

Hingham Civic Music Theatre offers two remaining performances of Sweet Charity on Saturday, May 4 and a Sunday matinee on May 5 at the Sanborn Auditorium in Hingham Town Hall, 210 Central Street in Hingham, Massachusetts.  Click here for more information and for tickets.  Tickets are also available at the door.  Be sure to follow Hingham Civic Music Theatre on Facebook and click here to learn how to support HCMT’s upcoming productions.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

REVIEW: Boston Ballet’s bold and exciting ‘Full on Forsythe’ kicks ballet up a notch

With all that Full on Forsythe has to offer, it is easy to forget any preconceived notions one may have about the ballet.  The Boston Ballet takes on a wide variety of classic productions such as Sleeping Beauty, Swan Lake, as well as the upcoming performances of Cinderella in May and Coppelia starting March 21.  Yes, ballet is steeped in tradition, but Full on Forsythe adds a bold, modern dimension to dance and this version is unconfined by any assumptions.

09_Pas Parts 2018 FORSYTHE

Boston Ballet in William Forsythe’s Pas/Parts 2018; photo by Rosalie O’Connor, courtesy of Boston Ballet

The Boston Ballet continues Full on Forsythe at the Boston Opera House through Sunday, March 17.  The Boston Ballet also recently announced a tour of Full on Forsythe in Paris next month.  The production is divided into three parts with two intermissions.  Click here for more information and tickets.

From catchy R&B to electronica to soul, acclaimed choreographer William Forsythe showcases a modern spin to the Boston Ballet’s signature moves creating fascinating visual portraits.  Songs were taken from James Blake’s album, The Colour in Anything, including I Need a Forest Fire, I Hope My Life, and F.O.R.E.V.ER., music by Dutch composer Thom Willems, and music from popular R&B singers such as Khalid, Barry White, and Natalie Cole.

Lithe, athletic solo dancer Chyrstyn Fentroy kicked off this joyful, haunting, and romantic music journey with last year’s Pas/Parts 2018 in a dual colored leotard as dancers gradually multiplied.  The industrial, tribal feel of Thom Willems music as dancers shift in shadows create a haunting intensity.  The dancers spin and swing like part of seamless machine, hitting every last eccentric beat.

Forsythe Playlist

Patrick Yocum Boston Ballet in William Forsythe’s Playlist (EP); photo by Angela Sterling; courtesy of Boston Ballet

There are quite a few extended solos including Lasha Khozashvili, Sao Hye Han, Patrick Yokum, Issac Akiba, Ji Young Chae, Daniel Cooper, Patric Palkins, and Lia Cirio who all capture an intensity within the music and pulsing rhythm, depicting an myriad of exciting dance moves.  Whether in a duet or solo, Patrick Yocum is a particularly wonderful dancer, soulful and charismatic each time he takes the stage.  Click here for a closer look at the company.

Forsythe2019B 0896

Lia Cirio and Viktorina Kapitonova in William Forsythe’s Playlist (EP); photo by Angela Sterling; courtesy of Boston Ballet

Blake Works I offers a more intimate, romantic display, but also has its share of subtle and humorous moments, especially within the duets.  Pairs Ji Young Chae and Seo Hye Han, Lia Cirio and Patric Palkens, and Jessica Burrows and Patrick Yocum have a great chemistry together as they entwine in each other’s arms in a part interpretive dance.  At one point Patric Palken attempts to lift Lia, but she teasingly denies him before she joins him.  It is a subtle moment, but it depicts the sweet chemistry and joy between the two.

09_Pas Parts 2018 FORSYTHE

Roddy Doble, Patrick Yocum, and Hannah Bettes in William Forsythe’s Pas/Parts 2018; photo by Rosalie O’Connor, courtesy of Boston Ballet

The Boston Ballet is revered for its beautiful performances, but what sets Full on Forsythe apart is its universal appeal.  The Boston Ballet’s must-see Full on Forsythe leads the audience on an enthralling, unique, and beautiful music journey that concludes on a jubilant, mesmerizing note.

The Boston Ballet continues to offer an opportunity to learn more about ballet through The Warm Up, an interactive, photo-friendly display located in the lower lobby.

The Boston Ballet continues Full on Forsythe at the Boston Opera House, 539 Washington Street in Boston, Massachusetts through Sunday, March 17.  They also recently announced a tour of Full on Forsythe in Paris next month.  Click here for more information and tickets.  For future events and more, follow Boston Ballet on Facebook and Twitter.

CAEG’s ‘Princess Zhaojun’s’ Yang Donglin envisions how one woman united a nation

Continuing with the theme of International Women’s Day is a show about real life heroine.  During the Han Dynasty, an amazing, intelligent woman considered one of the four beauties of Ancient China left the world she knew to marry Huhanye in order to achieve peace on the Northern Border of China.

Princess Zhaojun, presented by China Arts and Entertainment Group (CAEG), is a compelling dance drama and features detailed, beautiful sets and costumes.  The Sleepless Critic interviewed accomplished costume designer Yang Donglin about his work and what is was like to visually bring the Han Dynasty and this story to life.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

China National Opera and Dance Drama Theatre present Princess Zhaojun for one weekend only at the Boch Shubert Theatre in Boston, MA March 16-17.  Its mission is to share traditional and contemporary Chinese performing arts around the world.  Click here for more information and tickets.

Yang Donglin

Accomplished costume designer Yang Donglin Photo courtesy of China Performing Arts Agency

Sleepless Critic:  Is this your first time working with the China Performing Arts Agency and what other shows have you worked on?

Yang Donglin:  For China Performing Arts Agency I was costume designer for the dance drama Confucius when it toured the US in 2017 and Dragon Boat Racing in 2016 and 2018.  I have also worked in dance drama for Du Fu, Chinese Orphan, Lotus and Li Bai and Opera for Jianzhen Crosses the Ocean to Japan, Turandot, The White-Haired Girl and Peasant Takes a Wife.

Princess Zhaojun. China National Opera & Dance Drama Theater. (20)

Princess Zhaojun. Photo courtesy of China National Opera & Dance Drama Theater

SC:  The China Performing Arts Agency has a reputation for featuring the most beautiful costumes and scenery I have ever seen and Princess Zhaojun is no different.  I saw the Soaring Wings production last January and it was stunning.  This show serves as a piece of Chinese history and Princess Zhaojun is a real person who lived during the Han Dynasty.  Please tell me about how you selected and put together the costumes for this show.

YD:  I added proper contemporary interpretation of the piece instead of simply copying and restoring what it looked like in history.  We need to constantly deny ourselves and make textured clothing that can keep abreast of the body language expression of our actors. Taking Zhaojun for example, we have tried to change at least 5-6 kinds of fabrics to make a sample, and the director has even personally tried it on for rehearsal action until the most satisfactory texture and effect comes out.

Artistic creation is neither restoring history nor making things up. We have incorporated more dramatic elements into the traditional Han dynasty clothing, and many of the costumes are inspired by the wooden terracotta figures, Han portrait stones, and bricks portraits in the ancient Han dynasty tombs. At the same time, costumes are endowed with different souls according to the personalities and fates of the characters. For example, the overall cool color of the Han dynasty palace and the warm orange color on the grassland have all indicated the change in the character of the protagonist.

Princess Zhaojun. China National Opera & Dance Drama Theater. (12)

Princess Zhaojun. Photo courtesy of China National Opera & Dance Drama Theater

SC:  What has been the most difficult part of putting this show together and what has been the best part?

The most difficult part is finding the balance between the communication of the main actors’ images and the restriction of their dance movements in single, double, or triple dance.  The most satisfying is the characteristics of each costume are exactly the same as the director’s ideas such as the leashed called dance, free Zigui dance, and bold pouring wax dance full of exotic flavors. Each has its own traits, but together they have a unified style to construct distinctive aesthetic style on the stage.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

SC:  What do you like best about being a costume designer?

YD:  I like the creativity.  I like the feeling of swimming freely in the ocean of creation.

Witness Yang Donglin’s exceptional costume design and experience China National Opera and Dance Drama Theatre’s Princess Zhaojun for one weekend only at the Boch Shubert Theatre at 265 Tremont Street in Boston, MA March 16-17.  Click here for more information and tickets.  Click here for more about China Arts and Entertainment Group and their future productions.

 

REVIEW: Presented by Celebrity Series of Boston, Mark Morris Dance Group’s ‘Pepperland’ a psychedelic, humorous, and visually-compelling Beatles tribute

It was a packed house and a long line outside of the Boch Shubert Theatre in Boston on a cold Sunday afternoon on February 10 to witness Mark Morris Dance Group’s Pepperland, a humorous and visually-captivating tribute to the 50th anniversary of the Beatles lauded album, Sgt Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band.  Having made its debut in Liverpool in May 2017, Celebrity Series of Boston presented this distinct musical celebration for three performances only from February 8-10.  The show was approximately an hour with no intermission.  Click here to see where Pepperland will be next,  here for more information about the Celebrity Series of Boston and their upcoming performances, and here for more on the Mark Morris Dance Group.

From depicting the Beatles rampant popularity to a psychedelic journey to enlightenment to the lonely journey of finding love, Mark Morris Dance Group offered a fresh take of this beloved Beatles album through Ethan Iverson’s  original compositions.  Often instrumental, Pepperland is partially sung and narrated, highlighting some of the Beatles most popular and insightful lyrics.

Pepperland_Seattle 2018_Mat Hayward - 8416

‘Pepperland’ performance in Seattle. Images by Mat Hayward/Celebrity Series of Boston

Renowned costume designer Elizabeth Kurtzman’s brilliant color schemes such as mesmerizing black and white checkered suits and kaleidoscopic pleated dresses seamlessly blend with the crystallized multi-color backdrop, thanks to set designer Johan Henckens and lighting designer Nick Kolin.  This mix created an alluring flair.

Within these original orchestrations lie hints of some of the Beatles most popular songs.  A particular highlight was the song, Magna Carta, where dancers bring some of the celebrities featured on the album cover, Sgt Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band to life, like Marilyn Monroe and Laurel and Hardy, just by their signature poses.  Mark Morris Dance Group performed a nostalgic version of With a Little Help from my Friends, punctuated by peace signs and a simple, yet memorable wave.

Pepper land dress rehearsal and press night. Images by Gareth Jones

Pepper land dress rehearsal and press night in Liverpool. Images by Gareth Jones/Celebrity Series of Boston

The dancers’ somewhat trippy and complicated moves personify the essence of the album while also providing a new vision.  Dancing in brightly colored socks, they performed a blend of classic and contemporary moves as they bent into a complex slant and defied gravity as they leaned back into each other.  In bright, bold colors, they formed clever dance combinations spinning in pairs, purposefully out of sync.

Their interpretive, ensemble dance of A Day in the Life was another particular standout, telling their own tale.  Couples flourished and dancers were lifted through the crowd.  Also weaved into the songs were energetic dance moves reminiscent of the era.  During the song, Within You Without You, dancers lapsed into moments of loneliness as the Beatles reflected, “We were talking about the space between us all and the people who hold thousands behind us all.”

Pepperland_Seattle 2018_Mat Hayward - 8770

‘Pepperland’ performance in Seattle Images by Mat Hayward/Celebrity Series of Boston

Book ending the show was the iconic title track, Sgt Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band.  The psychedelic, signature beat punctuated by a captivating and unique march kicked off and ended a journey that featured moments of joy, beauty, and individuality as they paid tribute to one of the most brilliant bands of all time.

Click here to see where Pepperland will be next.  Celebrity Series of Boston offers a dynamic roster featuring the annual Stave Sessions, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre, What Makes it Great with NPR’s Rob Kapilow, and much more.  Click here for more information and for tickets. Tickets can also be obtained at the Celebrity Series of Boston’s box office.  Follow Celebrity Series of Boston on FacebookTwitter, and Instagram.