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.”

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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‘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.”

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‘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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mark Morris Dance Group’s costume designer Elizabeth Kurtzman talks vibrant inspiration behind Beatles show, ‘Pepperland’

According to Rolling Stone, The Beatles hit album Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band ranked #1 of The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time in 2003.  Not only is this groundbreaking album visually compelling, but songs on the album such as Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds, With a Little Help from My Friends, Penny Lane, When I’m Sixty-Four, and the album’s popular title track are considered rock and roll classics.

What is it like to bring that album to life in vibrant color in its 50th anniversary year?  New York costume designer Elizabeth Kurtzman talks about what it was like to bring Mark Morris Group, Pepperland to the stage.  Celebrity Series of Boston presents Mark Morris Dance Group’s Pepperland, a tribute to Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, to the Boch Center Shubert Theatre in Boston February 8-10.  Click here for more information and for tickets.

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

Sleepless Critic:  It must be exciting to portray the essence of this classic Beatles album, Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band in its 50th anniversary year.  Please tell me what your initial thoughts were in taking on this project.

Elizabeth Kurtzman:  I read the email inviting me to work on a project that involved music by the Beatles. I thought I was dreaming and was really intrigued.  Mark Morris and the Beatles are two of my favorite things.  I could not imagine how it would all look and sound. I knew it would not be by-the-book –Beatles and it had to be turned around pretty quickly.

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

The 60s brought rapidly changing style. There is a lot of information in the years the Beatles made all that music, so there were a lot of possibilities.

SC:  You have worked with the Mark Morris Dance Group numerous times.  How was this project a unique experience for you and what do you like most about working with them? I know it might have been a challenge to tie in a contemporary feel to such an iconic time period.

EK:  They look great in these clothes/costumes and wish the guys wore these suits all the time.  They are a dream and it isn’t easy to dance in layers made out of corduroy.

Some of Mark’s pieces require more research than others. I spent hours looking up fashion and color from 1960-69. Mark was not interested in dressing the dancers in satin and feathers a la the album cover. It was more about trying to send the message of the early sixties. Simple shapes, but those shapes looked new, fresh, and young. Colored tights were so futuristic and men’s suits got smaller and cuter. I was a kid mid-sixties, but was completely mesmerized by those clothes.

Color was just as important as shape. Colors were new, synthetic fabrics made bolder, brighter fabrics available. The color palette was loosely based on a photo of a mural painted on a corner on Carnaby Street in London.

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

SC:  Songs like With A Little Help From My Friends, When I’m Sixty-Four, and the title track are just a few of the songs portrayed visually onstage.  What was that process like and can you offer a hint of the vibe audiences can expect when they see the show?

EK:  I think the show is about the energy of the time which offers a lot of happiness with a little melancholy thrown in.

SC:  From what I have seen of your work, you seem to add a vibrant personality to the performers that take the stage.  The colors and designs really pop.

The dancers are so game and energetic, the color and design only enhance their skill.  I love working with fabric and color and am fortunate to be able to attend rehearsals, which is where I get to see the personality of the dance and how the dancers move.

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

 SC:  What has been the most challenging work you have done in New York or otherwise?

EK:  I can’t say there is one thing I’ve worked on that stands out as most challenging. There are always a few little challenges, but always a way to overcome them. It is more challenging working with small theatre companies that have tiny budgets and lots of costume changes or working with opera singers who hate the way they look in any and everything.  The biggest challenge is sewing it myself.

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‘Pepperland’ performance in Liverpool Images by Robbie Jack/Celebrity Series of Boston

SC:  You also provide art and music for programs for children in New York City.  Please tell me more about that and how you got involved.

Several years ago, I was involved with the Children’s Museum of the Arts downtown. I was determined to get kids to design and repurpose their clothes. Most of the adults I know do not know how to sew on a button.

I helped put together a program for children on the autism spectrum and their families that provided a place for making great art and music.  I also spent many hours designing and making costumes for the theatre department at my daughter’s high school who graduated in 2017.

Celebrity Series of Boston presents Mark Morris Group, Pepperland, at the Boch Center Shubert Theatre in Boston from February 8-10.  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.

REVIEW: Grammy award-winning Soweto Gospel Choir makes a mesmerizing and festive Celebrity Series of Boston return

It was a special evening for the Soweto Gospel Choir having recently learned that their latest album, Freedom has been nominated for a Grammy on December 7.   Marking their 15th anniversary as a group, this Grammy award-winning South African Gospel group has toured all over the world and shared the stage with legendary performers such as Bono and Queen.

Celebrity Series of Boston presents Soweto Gospel Choir 'Songs of the Free'

Soweto Gospel Choir Photo courtesy of Celebrity Series of Boston

Marking their sixth appearance since 2005, Celebrity Series of Boston welcomed back this renowned group to the Berklee Performance Center in Boston, MA for one night only to pay special tribute to the late Nelson Mandela who would have celebrated his centenary this year, Aretha Franklin, and perform a bit of James Brown’s fancy footwork.  Combining African Gospel, reggae, and American pop music and sung in six of South Africa’s eleven official languages, The Soweto Gospel Choir’s expressive rhythms, mesmerizing harmony and lively choreography is amazing to behold.  Click here to find out where the Soweto Gospel Choir will perform next and here for more information on Celebrity Series of Boston’s 80th season and more.

Accompanied by a keyboardist, slide whistle, and a drummer who performed a captivating drum solo, the concert’s first half was dedicated to depicting the realities of apartheid as well as perform songs from their latest album.  Dressed in colorful, coordinating traditional garb, The Soweto Gospel Choir’s energy is contagious whether they are sharing a powerful message or joyfully ringing in the Christmas season.

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Photo courtesy of Celebrity Series of Boston

Though each song delivered flawless harmony and the captured the spirit of their message, a few of the particular highlights were Sabashiya a Abuzai, Sabela, Thua Mtanami Medley, Johnny Clegg and Peter Gabriel’s Asimbonanga/Biko, and Letta Mbulu and Mbongeni Ngema’s Freedom Songs Medley:  Jikiela, Rolihlahla Mandela.  They also sang a heartfelt Amazing Grace in smooth harmony and beautiful baritone.

The second half delivered a wide range of Christmas Carols including an enthralling version of Go Tell in On the Mountain/He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands and a partially acapella version of Silent Night.  Soweto Gospel Choir delivered a spiritual Wade in the Water which included a drumming dance competition.  What makes this group unique is the joy and power they evoke though their music, their compelling rhythms, and their freestyle, free spirited choreography that will make you get on your feet.

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Soweto Gospel Choir Photo courtesy of Celebrity Series of Boston

Ending the evening is was a grateful, heartening version of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah, dedicating the song to their latest Grammy nomination.  With talent like this, Soweto Gospel Choir has a lot to be grateful for.

Celebrity Series of Boston is currently offering big savings for the holiday season, which expires on December 28.  Click here for information about that special offer.

A few of the Celebrity Series of Boston’s 2019 highlights include the debut of guitarist Pablo Sainz Villegas in January, Mark Morris Dance Group and Mnozil Brass, Cirque in February, Voci Angelica, and Castle of Our Skins in February, and the return of NPR’s Rob Kapilow’s What Makes it Great on Bands of the Swing Era in March.  Click here to see all that Celebrity Series of Boston has in store.

Laurence Lesser shares music memories as New England Conservatory celebrates his 80th birthday and Leonard Bernstein’s centennial in free opening concert

‘You don’t choose music.  It chooses you.’  This is just one of renowned cellist and longtime New England Conservatory (NEC) President Emeritus Laurence Lesser’s thoughts on music as Lesser celebrates his 80th birthday in a big way with the New England Conservatory Philharmonic and acclaimed conductor Hugh Wolff on Wednesday, September 26 at 7:30 p.m.

Taking place at NEC’s Jordan Hall in Boston, Massachusetts, this free concert also pays tribute to Boston native, legendary composer, and NEC Prep alumnus Leonard Bernstein’s centennial with Symphonic Dances from West Side Story and much more.  Click here for more information and how to reserve seats to this extraordinary concert.

NEC’s Laurence Lesser, who will be performing at the concert, discusses his history with music, the cello, career surprises, and recording Hollywood soundtracks from films such as Rosemary’s Baby.

Sleepless Critic:  I understand you were invited to perform with the New England Conservatory Philharmonic and conductor Hugh Wolff for your 80th birthday celebration.  Were you able to choose your own music?

Laurence Lesser:  I asked to do Ernest Bloch’s  Schelomo because it is a wonderful piece full of personal meaning for me.

SC:  What first interested you in music, especially the cello?

LL:  My parents took me to LA Phil Children’s concerts when I was about 5.  I wanted to play the double bass, but they thought that was too big for a little guy and gave me a cello for my 6th birthday.

SC:  I understand you play a 1622 Italian-made cello.  There must be an amazing story behind how you obtained it.

LL:  I was looking for a great old Italian cello with a true solo voice and bigger dimension than what I was using.  I saw it in a shop in London, England, but I was second in line for it.  Fortunately very soon afterwards in 1972, it came my way.

Leonard Lesser

Photo credit to Carlin Ma Photography

SC:  What was it that encouraged you to pursue music as a career?

LL:  My mother was a pianist.  My two older brothers and I had music lessons from an early age.  When I went to college at Harvard to study mathematics, I soon knew that mathematics was the wrong path for me and it had to be music.  You don’t choose music, it chooses you.

SC:  Music afforded you a great deal of opportunities, just a couple of them recording Hollywood soundtracks such as Rosemary’s Baby and Finian’s Rainbow and traveling the world.  What kind of surprise opportunities have you experienced in your career or a moment where you couldn’t believe this is happening to you?

LL:  I played in chamber music concerts with Jascha Heifetz and my teacher Gregor Piatigorsky and we performed at Carnegie Hall.  Such a wonderful place and an amazing memory to be on stage with those musical giants!

SC:  How did you end up working at the New England Conservatory?  I understand during your tenure as President, you were part of the restoration of Jordan Hall and you curated ‘First Mondays at Jordan Hall.’  Please tell me about that.

LL:  I was invited to teach there by then President, Gunther Schuller.  Jordan Hall is one of the greatest ‘rooms’ for music in the world.  It had become shabby.  When I was President, my team joined me in focusing on the restoration.  ‘First Monday’ concerts were the outgrowth of ad hoc faculty chamber concerts.  I decided to put some structure into it and it’s now beginning its 34th season!

SC:  Congratulations!  Jordan Hall is a majestic venue.  You’ve enjoyed a wonderful career in music from teaching to performing.  What kind of music do you like to listen to?

LL:  I can listen to anything that ‘speaks’ to me.  Any medium suits me and I don’t simply listen to pieces I have heard over and over again.

SC:  What music goals are you pursuing now?

LL:  I think it’s too late in my life to go on a completely new road, but I intend to keep pursuing excellence in what I am currently doing.

SC:  For those pursing music as a career, what was the best piece of advice you were given?

LL:  My father, who was not a musician, said you should do what you love in life.  It’s not for personal glory or ego.  Simply keep remembering that you are doing this for listeners who want something.

Attend Leonard Lesser’s 80th birthday and celebrate the music of Leonard Bernstein on Wednesday, September 26 at 7:30 p.m.  New England Conservatory will pay tribute to Leonard Bernstein’s works all season, including the New England premiere of the exhibition, Leonard Bernstein at 100, unveiling on September 24 and continuing through November 11 at NEC’s Student and Performance Center.  Click here to learn how to support NEC and here for all of NEC’s upcoming concerts this season.

REVIEW: Lyric Stage’s ‘Kiss of the Spider Woman’ spins a fascinating web

The Lyric Stage’s powerful musical, Kiss of the Spider Woman, with music by John Kander and lyrics by Fred Ebb, proves escape can take many forms.  Much like Kander and Ebb’s previous works such as Chicago and Cabaret, Kiss of the Spider Woman delves into equal parts fantasy through lavish dance numbers and brutal reality as two very different men are cellmates in a Latin American prison.  Directed and choreographed skillfully by Rachel Bertone, Kiss of the Spider Woman is not just a gripping tale about surviving under profoundly dark circumstances, but an emotional journey, keeping the audience guessing to each character’s complex motives.

Kander and Ebb’s Kiss of the Spider Woman continues at the Lyric Stage in Boston, Massachusetts through Sunday, October 7.  Click here for tickets and more information.

What makes this show particularly fascinating is Bertone’s talent for depicting mounting tension, evident between each character who all share some sort of connection.  Lisa Yuen embodies the Spider Woman/Aurora with dark humor and beguiling charm, a presence who sees and knows all as she proclaims, I Do Miracles.  Her haunting vocals are a magnetic presence as she slinks onstage.  Her dazzling, alluring costumes vary from a shimmering, translucent gown to a bright, multi-colored Bird of Paradise.

Lyric Stage - Cuadros, Yuen, Cavazos, Gamble, Baldassaro

L to R: Arthur Cuadros as Gabriel, Lisa Yuen as Aurora, Eddy Cavazos as Molina, Taavon Gamble as Valentin, and Bernie Baldassaro as a prisoner Photo courtesy of Lyric Stage

Portraying the two cellmates are Eddy Cavazos as imaginative, openly gay window dresser Molina and Taavon Gamble as gruff revolutionary Valentin.  Dressed in a bright scarf and silk robe, Molina is often sinking into his own vivid imagination recalling his favorite film star, Aurora (Lisa Yuen). Cavazos portrays Molina as exceedingly optimistic, vain, and wildly dramatic.  However, with an occasional far off glance or a brief, mournful smile, Cavazos also reveals Molina’s palpable loneliness, wearing his heart on his sleeve.  He and Johanna Carlisle-Zepeda as Molina’s cherished mother share sweet moments, especially during the number, Dear One and You Can Never Shame Me.

Lyric Stage - Cavazos, Carlisle-Zepeda, Zofia, Gamble

L to R Eddy Cavazos as Molina, Johanna Carlisle-Zepeda as Molina’s Mother, Katrina Zofia as Marta, and Taavon Gamble as Valentin Photo courtesy of the Lyric Stage

Taavon Gamble is also impressive as proud, indignant revolutionary Valentin, a man of few words.  His stirring number, The Day After That, offers immense insight into Valentin’s visceral strength.  Cavazos and Gamble’s scenes together are riveting, both delivering shrewd and gritty performances.

Lyric Stage - Gamble, Cavazos with prisoners

Taavon Gamble as Valentin (center), Eddy Cavazos as Molina and prisoners

Musically directed by Dan Rodriguez featuring songs ranging from haunting to catchy, Kander and Ebb’s Kiss of the Spider Woman continues at the Lyric Stage, 140 Clarendon Street in Boston, Massachusetts through Sunday, October 7.  Click here for tickets and more information.  Subscriptions and dinner packages are also available.  Follow The Lyric Stage on Twitter and Facebook for their upcoming productions and more.

 

 

REVIEW: As clever as it is insightful, make time for Americana Theatre Company’s compelling ‘Man of La Mancha’

“When life itself seems lunatic, who knows where madness lies?”

In the midst of action, suspense, heartbreak, and humor in multiple Tony award-winning musical, Man of La Mancha, lies Don Quixote author Miguel de Cerventes’s wise words, one of many timeless reflections declared during Americana Theatre Company’s moving, insightful musical, Man of La Mancha at the Spire Center for the Arts in Plymouth, Massachusetts through Sunday, July 29.  This show is not for children.  Click here for more information and for tickets.

Based on the classic tale, Don Quixote, Americana Theatre Company’s Man of La Mancha by Dan Wasserman is steeped in theatrical riches from its strong, edgy cast, powerful voices, a hint of Monty Python humor, and diverse combat scenes, but the real heart of this work is found in Cervantes himself, a beacon in dark times.  Americana Theatre Company prides itself on its stellar storytelling and this one is for the ages.

American Theatre Company Man of La Mancha

Scott Wahle as Don Quixote and Bethany Lauren James as Aldonza with Ruben Navarro as Sancho Panza

Directed by Michael Kirkland, Man of La Mancha addresses the everlasting battle between idealism and realism through a play-within-a-play.  With the exception of Sancho Panza, portrayed with wide-eyed optimism and unflinching faithfulness by Ruben Nevarro, each character depicts a dark side in humanity, but not without redemption.

Man of La Mancha kicks off without a hitch, showcasing a wide range of comic, stylized, and clever combat scenes by Derek Martin that often take the audience by surprise.  With just two onstage guitars and an offstage piano, the music accompaniment is delightfully subtle and intimate as the musicians melt into the background.  From colorful gypsy costumes and corset dresses to detailed, embroidered vests and leather armor, costumer Brian Kenerson zealously captures the beautiful and harsh Reformation era.

Americana Theatre Company The Barber

Brian Kenerson portrays The Barber as is also the Costumer for the show Photo Courtesy of Denise Maccaferri/Americana Theatre Company

Scott Wahle steps into Cervantes/Don Quixote’s brown leather boots with a natural assurance.  Finding himself among a group of prisoners, author and poet Miguel de Cervantes creates a defense in the form of a play in order to keep his possessions and potentially save his own life.

Wahle has a long history being a charismatic, relatable storyteller as a local television personality and in theatrical roles such as Walt Disney-esque Paragon Park creator George A. Dodge in Company Theatre’s original musical, Paragon Park or as smooth-talking Nathan Detroit in Reagle Music Theatre’s slick musical, Guys and Dolls.  He draws from that and more to deliver a powerful, emotionally-charged, multi-layered performance as a sympathetic admirer in the tender song, Dulcinea to a valiant hero in epic numbers such as The Impossible Dream and Man of La Mancha.  Alongside such dark characters, he is idealistic and compassionate, but hiding a secret.

Americana Theatre Company Don Quixote

Jennifer Martin performs a memorable dance as a Moorish dancer Photo courtesy of Denise Maccaferri/Americana Theatre Company

The chemistry between the cast members crackle, but most notably between Scott Wahle as Cervantes/Don Quixote and Ruben Nevarro as his unfathomably loyal squire, Sancho Panza.  It is a vivid, nurturing friendship every true friendship should strive to be.  Nevarro has his own set of crisp vocals in a warm rendition of I Really Like Him and comical A Little Gossip.

Americana Theatre Company Aldonza

Bethany Lauren James as Aldonza Photo courtesy of Denise Maccaferri/Americana Theatre Company

Wahle shares sweet chemistry with Bethany Lauren James, who delivers a brilliant performance as uncouth, harsh, suspicious, and yet compassionate spitfire Aldonza.  Surrounded by menacing muleteers, she first appears strained and exasperated in a red corset dress for the comical and fiery number, It’s All the Same.  A hard realist who can’t imagine otherwise, James is a wonderful foil for Wahle and holds her own among a cast of powerful characters.  She masters the meaty role and her expressions are a complex web of emotions, her character constantly torn between what to think and how to feel.

Derek Martin is intriguing as a quietly distressed Padre.  Dressed in rust colored robes, Martin is torn by what is right and what is ultimately good for the human spirit, offering a tender and reflective rendition of To Each His Dulcinea.  With vivid, comical expressions and a deep baritone, David Friday is hilarious as a panicked Innkeeper.  Caitlin Skinner as Antonia, Derek Martin as Padre, Erin Friday as Housekeeper, and Jesse Sullivan as Dr. Carrasso lend their impressive vocals to the multifaceted number, I’m Only Thinking of Him.

Americana Theatre Company Man of La Mancha bow

The complete cast Photo credit to Denise Maccaferri

A clever tale with deeper meaning, Man of La Mancha kicked off Americana Theatre Company’s eighth season and continues through Sunday, July 29 at Spire Center for the Arts, 25 1/2 Court Street in Plymouth, Massachusetts.  In October, Americana Theatre Company continues its season with a one man production of Sleepy Hollow and The Gifts of the Magi in time for the holidays.  Click here for ticket information, fall classes, and more.  Click here to find out how to support Americana Theatre Company’s mission and be sure to follow them on Facebook and Twitter.

For Performing Arts news, interviews, reviews, and much more in Boston and beyond, follow us on Facebook @sleeplesscritic and subscribe.

 

REVIEW: Boston Ballet’s ‘The Sleeping Beauty’ is a regal, dazzling achievement

An unexpected hero, an insulted fairy, true love, and a terrible curse make up the enchanting and haunting fairy tale classic as Boston Ballet proudly presents The Sleeping Beauty.  Unfolding with elegant and athletic choreography by Marius Pepita and Sir Frederick Ashton, The Sleeping Beauty has returned to Boston for a limited run by popular demand through Saturday, May 19 at the Boston Opera House in Boston, Massachusetts.  Click here for more information and for tickets.  Click here for a closer look at more of Boston Ballet’s upcoming performances.

A full house including a wealth of excited children gathered inside the Boston Opera House as Ming Luke conducted Tchaikovsky’s famous and dramatic music score, transporting the enthusiastic crowd into a world of royalty, betrayal, innocence, a few familiar fairy tale faces, and a dose of magic.  Disney’s popular animated adaptation possesses a few similarities to this captivating tale, but Boston Ballet delivers more to the story.  At the center of The Sleeping Beauty was raven-haired Lia Cirio as regal and elegant Princess Aurora, a triumph of athletic grace, her limber body mastering a few of ballet’s most difficult dance moves with impeccable balance, an arabesque garnering particular applause.

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Lia Cirio and Boston Ballet in Marius Petipa’s The Sleeping Beauty; photo by Liza Voll Photography, courtesy Boston Ballet

Based on Russia’s Imperial Ballet’s 1890 production, The Sleeping Beauty is a visual treat, boasting finely-detailed costumes and a multi-dimensional set design by David Walker.  From ornate, lush and colorful backdrops in gold, red, and green to the enchanting Renaissance era costumes, each scene is a portrait to behold.  Wearing wreathed tiaras and dressed in sparkling pink, green, yellow, and blue, the gracious fairies made up of Dawn Atkins, So Jung Lee, Maria Baranova, Maria Alvarez, and Emily Entingh floated, frolicked, and twirled, each displaying their own unique personalities.  The energetic yellow fairy was a particular highlight, performing a sweet, joyful, and humorous dance.

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Boston Ballet in Marius Petipa’s The Sleeping Beauty; photo by Liza Voll Photography, courtesy Boston Ballet

With a cruel, mocking laugh and appearing in a dark, glimmering carriage was Dalay Parrondo as treacherous Carabosse.  Accompanied by a group of monstrous henchmen performed by Tyson Clark, Derek Drillon, August Generalli, and Christian Pforr, Dalay delivered an electrifying performance as an insulted fairy in a haunting display of sharp, rigid movements.

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Kathleen Breen Combes and Boston Ballet in Marius Petipa’s The Sleeping Beauty; photo by Liza Voll Photography, courtesy Boston Ballet

Tchaikovsky’s uplifting score hit a crescendo as Rachel Buriassi appeared as the Lilac Fairy.  In this adaptation, she acted as a guide, her quick thinking and courage setting her apart.  Her skillful performance was most evident among her lively, energetic lilac fairy attendants in a glorious display of fouettes, plies, and pirouettes.  She was also impressive in a compelling scene with Lasha Khozashvilli as Prince Desire.  Lia Cirio as Aurora and Lasha Khozashvili as Prince Desire had instant chemistry and perfectly complemented each other in a dream-like dance, swept up in love.

The Sleeping Beauty delivers many magnificent performances within this large cast, many taking on multiple roles.  From a fascinating, thrilling duet from Maria Alvarez as Little Red Riding Hood and Alexander Maryianowski as the Wolf to a humorous, feline flirtation from Emily Entingh as The White Cat and Irlan Silva as Puss ‘N Boots, many beloved fairy tale characters took the stage in a joyous celebration.

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With two intermissions, The Boston Ballet also offers an opportunity to learn more about ballet through The Warm Up, an interactive, photo friendly display located in the lower lobby.   Boston Ballet presents The Sleeping Beauty through Saturday, May 19 at the Boston Opera House.  Click here for more information and follow the Boston Ballet on Twitter and Facebook.

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