REVIEW:  Greater Boston Stage Company’s ‘All is Calm:  The Christmas Truce of 1914’ moving and miraculous

Witnessing a phenomenon is a rare and precious thing.  It was nothing short of miraculous watching Greater Boston Company’s All is Calm:  The Christmas Truce of 1914 which details that short period in history where enemies united briefly during the depths of War War I on Christmas Eve 1914.  Disillusioned and missing their loved ones, soldiers demonstrated compassion and the mercy of the human spirit as both sides sang carols, exchanged goods, and mutually wished for the war to end.

In the Greater Boston Stage Company’s lobby. Authentic combat uniform and gear from the Veteran Association of the First Corps of Cadets and Museum Photo courtesy of Greater Boston Stage Company

Directed poignantly by Ilyse Robbins and compellingly written by Peter Rothstein, Greater Boston Stage Company presents the award-winning documentary musical,  All is Calm:  The Christmas Truce of 1914 through December 23 as a digital performance and live in person at Greater Boston Stage Company, 395 Main Street in Stoneham, Massachusetts.  The show is approximately 70 minutes with no intermission.  Click here for more information and tickets.

It is surprising that The Christmas Truce of 1914 is not more widely known.  Joyeux Noel, The Christmas Truce, various documentaries, and this show are a few of the ways that this short historical period is recorded.  It should be an annual tradition like How the Grinch Stole Christmas, Frosty, Rudolph or A Charlie Brown Christmas.  It stands as a significant reminder of a Christmas Eve miracle that occurred only once during War World I’s long and grueling four year time span.  Most soldiers first joined thinking the war would end by Christmas. 

The cast of ‘All is Calm: The Christmas Truce of 1914’ Photo credit to Nile Scott Studios/Greater Boston Stage Company

A dimly lit, bare stage is all that is revealed at the start of All is Calm, but what transpires as the show progresses is a rich landscape of moonlight, song, and memories.  Though this show features musical interludes, it is not a traditional musical.  It is more like a documentary that features stunning music and carols inviting the audience into the warmth, spirit, sacrifice, and the true meaning of the season.

Comprised of ten cast members who take on several identities during the production as they recollect that time period, All is Calm boasts powerful and silvery harmonies chiming into the wintry night sung a cappella without a band.  Music Director Matthew Stern does a sensational job with Erick Lichte and Timothy Takach’s vocal arrangements which includes popular carols such as Silent Night, O Holy Night, We Wish You a Merry Christmas, Angels We Have Heard on High, and Auld Lang Syne.

Michael Jennings Mahoney and the cast of ‘All is Calm’ Photo credit to Nile Scott Studios/Greater Boston Stage Company

 All is Calm is a beautiful ensemble piece and each cast member rises to the occasion, but when a renowned German tenor leads a stirring rendition of Franz Gruber’s Stille Nacht in No Man’s Land, it is difficult to pinpoint a more memorable moment. 

Dressed in muted military uniforms and kilts faithful to the era’s period and culture by Bethany Mullins, the collaborative cast demonstrates heartwarming chemistry and yet simultaneously depicts each soldier’s growing isolation in sorrow, fear, turmoil, and anguish as they progressively experience war’s cruel reality.  Integrating direct quotes from soldiers, narration, and uplifting carols such as Wassail as well as exceptional and heartrending songs such as I Want to Go Home, many times moved me beyond words. 

Though the extraordinary harmonies are a large part of the production, the production’s real mastery also resides in its stillness.  That brief interlude during a harrowing time where friendships were forged and sweet peace was nestled in the silence of enemies who joined together in the joy of the season and the sadness in their hearts for what was in store.

Greater Boston Stage Company presents the award-winning documentary musical, All is Calm:  The Truce of 1914 through December 23 as a digital performance and live in person at Greater Boston Stage Company in Stoneham, Massachusetts.  The show is approximately 70 minutes with no intermission.  Click here for more information, tickets, and a look at their upcoming events.

REVIEW:  Lyric Stage Company’s ‘The Last Five Years’ a shrewd and beguiling look at love

Start from the beginning.  No, start from the end. 

Not certain which way is best to tell a love story, but Jason Robert Brown certainly makes a powerful argument by the innovative way this story is told as Lyric Stage Company ’s musical The Last Five Years continues through December 12 at the Lyric Stage Company, 140 Clarendon Street in Boston, Massachusetts.  The show is 90 minutes with no intermission.

Directed intuitively by Leigh Barrett with eloquent musical direction by Dan Rodriguez, The Last Five Years describes an ardent romance between a promising writer and an up and coming actress.  It’s blissful love at first sight when suddenly, life goes into overdrive.

Jared Troilo as Jamie and Kira Troilo as Cathy Photo by Mark S Howard/Lyric Stage Company

Having seen the 2014 film adaptation of the same name starring Broadway dynamos Jeremy Jordan and Anna Kendrick, I had high hopes for this production and like Jamie Wellerstein and Cathy Hiatt, fell for both immediately.  The Last Five Years is a compelling, poignant and multi-dimensional journey of love’s elation, humor, compromise, and struggle as life veers into unexpected directions.  The Last Five Years doesn’t hold back in revealing the complex nature of this blossoming relationship, showing its vibrancy and its cracks in equal measure.  How do two people stay afloat when life is throwing so many things at them in completely different ways?

Intimately performed in theatre-in-the-round with a seamless six piece band, the beauty in Lyric Stage Company’s The Last Five Years is not only in its wonderful lead casting with married couple Jared Troilo as Jamie and Kira Troilo as Cathy, but in its unique depiction of time and place through a cosmic and multi-functional rotating stage and the engaging way it consistently involves the audience. 

Jamie and Cathy are earnest and likable and their faults are seen and met with sympathy, heartache, and a degree of discernment when they don’t perceive their own shortcomings.  It’s an intriguing and thought-provoking piece as it explores a kaleidoscope of emotions with intensity and realism and perhaps recognizing yourself in their shoes for a moment or two.

Having witnessed amazing Jeremy Jordan as Jamie in the film adaptation, Jared had a lot to live up to, but he captures the essence of Jamie’s endless humor, charm, and determination while adding his own contagious enthusiasm and captivating vocals.  He is a gleeful and conspiring storyteller for The Schmuel Song and displays ego and earnest sincerity in If I Didn’t Believe in You.  Kira’s soaring vocals depict Cathy’s fragility, sheer determination, and playful optimism in I Can Do Better Than That.  Another highlight involves Kira reflecting on A Summer in Ohio, portraying Cathy’s dry sense of humor and insecurity.  However, she is the most enchanting in Goodbye until Tomorrow.   

Kira Troilo as Cathy Photo by Mark S Howard/Lyric Stage Company

Jenna McFarland-Lord’s enthralling set design and Karen Perlow’s mood-induced lighting reflects two sides of love through its multi-color backdrops such as violet, teal, and purple as well as floating gold rings that shine alone and in pairs.

Jason Robert Brown’s music ebbs and flows much like love from bright to poignant, confident to humbling, and from rueful to triumphant.  No matter how love changes, it is always a memorable journey.

Lyric Stage Company presents Jason Robert Brown’s musical The Last Five Years through December 12 at Lyric Stage Company in Boston, Massachusetts. Click here more information and tickets.

REVIEW:  Boasting two stellar leads, Central’s Square’s ‘The Half Life of Marie Curie’ full of inspiration and crackling chemistry

For revolutionary physicist and chemist Marie Curie, not everything can be solved through a calculation.

On the verge of her second Noble Prize for Chemistry, anxious and introspective Marie Curie finds herself embroiled in a scandal and at one of the lowest points of her life.  Quite literally bursting onto the scene is brilliant and charismatic electromechanical engineer and suffragette Hertha Ayrton ready to bring humor and optimism to what seems like a bleak situation.

Lee Mikeska Gardner as Marie Curie Debra Wise as Hertha Ayrton Photo courtesy of Nile Scott Studios

Brimming with crackling chemistry between Lee Mikeska Gardner as Marie Curie and Debra Wise as Herthe Ayrton, Central Square Theater opened their fall season with Lauren Gunderson’s The Half Life of Marie Curie continuing through December 12 at the Central Square Theater in Cambridge, Massachusetts.  The show is 85 minutes with no intermission.  Click here for more information and tickets.

The stage is deceptively serene for Lauren Gunderson’s The Half Life of Marie Curie. Lindsay Genevieve Fuori’s colorful, innovative, and functional scenic design comes to life as stirring sound effects and a mysterious and foreboding piano score by sound designer Elizabeth Cahill make an intriguing combination fused with Whitney Brady-Guzman’s dynamic and surreal lighting.

A production that picks up from the very start, these two driven pillars of science with contrasting personalities are a fascinating pair to watch and listen to their musings.  Gunderson’s sharp script strikes a delicate balance between intellectual prowess and absorbing dramedy.  They share their views on life, family, and work with wit, humor and candor, yet instinctually encourage each other forward with respect and admiration.  Both are widows and mothers who struggle with how women were perceived in the early 20th century, but their sheer determination and passion for science ultimately make an indelible mark on the world.

Lee Mikeska Gardner as Marie Curie and Debra Wise as Hertha Ayrton in 1910s swimwear Photo courtesy of Nile Scott Studios

Adorned in a lovely feathered black hat and flowing emerald green dress, Debra Wise brings gravitas, confidence, ego, and clever charm as Hertha Ayrton.  From the moment Ayrton bursts onto the stage with a confident cock of her head, gleam in her eye, and cheerful intonation, a lightheartedness sets in to her passionate and outspoken persona as opposed to Curie’s darker sensibilities.  Dressed demurely in a rich purple dress, Gardner skillfully embodies tense Curie in her careful and calculated movements.  You can practically see the wheels turning in Curie’s constantly analyzing mind and consider the lengths she would go for the sake of her work.

Lee Mikeska Gardner as Marie Curie Debra Wise as Hertha Ayrton Photo courtesy of Nile Scott Studios

Marie Curie and Hertha Ayron’s exchanges are no ordinary gabfests.  From sexual politics to love to family and everything in between, Wise and Gardner, as different in their approaches are and as opposite their personalities, they understand each other as equals, colleagues, and kindred spirits. Celebrating each other’s triumphs and supportive in hardship, theirs is a true testament to unyielding and enduring friendship and it stands at the center of this auspicious and biographical story.

Directed astutely by Bryn Boice, Central Square Theater presents Lauren Gunderson’s The Half Life of Marie Curie through December 12 at the Central Square Theater in Cambridge, Massachusetts.  The show is 85 minutes with no intermission.  Click here for more information and tickets.

REVIEW: SpeakEasy Stage Company’s comedy-drama ‘BLKS’

A glow in the dark graffiti soaked Brooklyn apartment and street set the stage for SpeakEasy Stage Company’s production of BLKS continuing through Saturday, November 20 live and in person at Calderwood Pavilion at Boston Center for the Arts in Boston, Massachusetts.  Raw, raunchy, and at times more shocking than funny, BLKS delves into one long and hazy 24-hour period for a group of 20-something city singles.  Infidelity, danger, and sex are just a few of the issues addressed in this one hour and 45 minute comedy-drama by Aziza Barnes.  This show has no intermission and contains mature themes, adult content and language.  Click here for more information and tickets.

Shanelle Chloe Villegas, Kelsey Fonise, and Thomika Marie Bridwell in SpeakEasy Stage’s production of ‘BLKS’ Photo by Nile Scott Studios

On the surface, BLKS tackles the life of a group of strong Brooklyn 20-something singles living together.  After they all endure a tough day, they decide to party and forget their troubles.  However, as the night wears on with plenty of pitfalls in the way from a broken heel to a broken heart, getting what they hope for will be far more difficult than they ever expected.  Each individual faces their own insecurities and long for belonging, whether it comes to love, commitment, career, or identity.  They all want to fit in where they are and yet, each person can’t shake what is missing.

Struggling comedian Imani, portrayed by Kelsey Fonise, longs to be like comedy legend Eddie Murphy and like Murphy’s standup comedy, much of the humor in BLKS is fierce, aggressive, and pulls no punches.  It runs the gamut of relatable to squeamish to unabashedly funny.  Thomika Marie Bridwell as level headed June seems to be climbing the corporate ladder, but is perpetually stuck in love while filmmakers Sandra Seoane-Seri as forthright Ry and Shanelle Chloe Villegas as flighty Octavia clash as they attempt to label their relationship.  Bridwell has a gift for the one liner while Villegas as Octavia displays a knack for physical humor. 

Sharmarke Yusuf portrays a number of dynamic characters including seemingly sweet Justin.  A climatic scene between Yusef and Villegas in an apartment display the daring lengths these two will go for a laugh.  Bridwell as June and Yusef as Justin also share some charming moments.

Roommates Octavia, June, and Imani have a moment on the street and one in the apartment when they reflect on the struggles they deal with on a daily basis and this is where the production shows such potential and solid relevance.  With the exception of Justin who reveals an immediate emotional center, it is a chance to get to know these characters on a deeper level, but these moments pass by too soon.  It gets weighed down at times by the need for shock and comedy over substance rather than delving into these characters more closely.

BLKS is primarily a comedy and these roommates also share their fill of junk food, gossip, and partying in their quest to find love, success, and contentment in which they all share good chemistry.  Like many 20-something singles, they find comfort facing the struggle together.

Directed by Tonasia Jones, SpeakEasy Stage Company’s continues Aziza Barnes’s production of BLKS through Saturday, November 20 at Calderwood Pavilion at Boston Center for the Arts in Boston, Massachusetts.  Click here for more information and tickets.

REVIEW: TCAN Players’ classic comedy ‘Harvey’ full of imaginative charm

We’ve all had that peculiar relative.  It might be an odd extended family member that raises a few eyebrows at family gatherings.   A sweet and wonderful person that is often misunderstood.   In the Dowd family, that person is Elwood P. Dowd, a mix of old fashioned charm, amiability, and humbleness who just so happened to have inherited his mother’s estate.  He is a wealthy bachelor that likes to socialize around town and graciously supports his socialite sister and niece.  However, Elwood has something that probably no other relative you might know has in common…Elwood claims a large bunny called Harvey is always by his side.  Is he crazy?

Now, Harvey is no ordinary bunny.  He’s a rather extraordinary figure to anyone around him and he makes an incredible impact in TCAN Players classic comedy, Mary Chase’s Pulitzer Prize-winning Harvey continuing through Sunday, November 14 at TCAN Center for Arts in Natick, Massachusetts.  Click here for more information and tickets.

Photo courtesy of TCAN Players

This popular 1944 production was adopted into an Oscar-winning film of the same name starring Jimmy Stewart, steeped in affable charm as Elwood and accomplished Josephine Hull, who nabbed an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress as Veta.  TCAN Players’ Harvey boasts a wonderful cast especially from Jo d’Angelo as Veta.  D’Angelo perfects Elwood’s dramatic, intense, at times hysterical, but caring socialite sister who certainly goes through quite a lot in the production’s full three acts.  She portrays fed up to a tee and her sharp comedic skills have her swinging from collected to sheer panic in an instant.  D’Angelo takes on this meaty role so naturally that it is easy to get swallowed up in her unending drama. 

Ashley Harmon gleefully portrays conspiratorial and impressionable Myrtle Mae, Veta’s cooped up daughter longing for adventure.  Scott Salley has a gift for comedy as seen in previous TCAN productions such as First Things First and he holds his own as he portrays the straight man in this production.  As resident psychiatrist Lyman Sanderson, Salley’s smooth, seemingly knowledgeable delivery with a touch of arrogance makes for a number of amusing moments.  He has great chemistry with Sylvia Czubarow as beautifully beaming and complex nurse Ruth Kelly who offers a few zingers of her own.  David Dooks depicts seemingly level headed and imposing psychiatrist William Chumley with gravitas and some good-natured absurdity, especially in scenes with delightful John Alzapiedi as Elwood.  Though the role of Elwood is so clearly made for Jimmy Stewart which brought Stewart an Oscar nomination, Alzapiedi clearly does not lean on the portrayal and makes compassionate and forthright Elwood his own.

Directed with vintage flair by Lisa Astbury, Harvey is set in the present, but from the classic songs bookending the show, the polished set design by Tom Powers, and Donna Cabibbo’s detailed, retro costumes nods to the show’s 1944 setting.  Warmly decorated in floral trim and vintage portraits hanging from the Dowd’s library as well as rotary telephones hearken to that era.  The costumes are also faithful to the period ranging from women adorned in floral dresses, rabbit furs, and sophisticated hats to men decked out in trench coats, ties, and sharp suits. The set is divided into two sides, the latter a typical doctor’s office.

Harvey delves into some darker places, but never let you forget it is a comedy.  Elwood’s lightheartedness seems to diffuse any stressful situation simply by Alzapiedi’s soothing, influential voice and good nature so the show never embarks into disturbing territory.  It is an exploration into relatable family dynamics, a touch of greed, and the power of a little faith.

TCAN Players presents Mary Chase’s inventive comedy Harvey live and in person through Sunday, November 14 at TCAN Center for Arts in Natick, Massachusetts.  Click here for more information and tickets.

REVIEW:  Boston Ballet off to a brilliant ‘reSTART’

Boston, it’s time to reSTART.

Embarking on a journey from beloved local landmarks to overseas to inside the Boston Ballet studios, Boston Ballet’s reSTART amps up the excitement of their highly-anticipated return live onstage in time for the holidays.

With a versatile lineup that includes recently filmed jazz-infused contemporary dance, classic tales, traditional dance, and a season preview as well as a full range of costumes including street wear by Yin Yue and Jens Jacob Worsaae and Judanna Lynn’s spectacular royal fashion, Boston Ballet’s virtual reSTART, available through November 7, delivers an elegant and dynamic show for dance lovers everywhere.  Click here for more information and for Boston Ballet’s full season.

Boston Ballet in Yin Yue’s A Common Movement, photo by Brooke Trisolini; courtesy of Boston Ballet

Over the past year and a half, the renowned Boston Ballet has become much more than a force onstage.  It has been inspiring to see this sophisticated and athletic company in various settings, using creative and unconventional methods to evoke their passion for their extraordinary work.  Lighthearted, romantic, and refreshing, Boston Ballet’s season premiere reSTART demonstrates a brilliant new season to come.

It all starts right in the city of Boston.  Renowned contemporary choreographer Yin Yue delivers jazz-infused spirit into the Boston Common as fifty dancers brighten this beloved October landscape in A Common Movement.  In comfortable and modest attire, the dancers come together in a joyful and sweeping dance as horns blare creating a vintage vibe under a peerless sun.  With catchy tunes performed by Quincy Jones and Alice Coltrane, these charismatic dancers take over the Common with a swift beat in a smooth, mischievous, and calibrated performance enhanced by a slick dance by Maria Alvarez, Louise Hautefeuille, Lauren Herfindahl, Sangmin Lee, Ao Wang, and Patrick Yocum on the Boston Public Garden Foot Bridge.

Haley Schwan and My’Kal Stromile in Yin Yue’s A Common Movement, photo by Brooke Trisolini; courtesy of Boston Ballet

Clever choreography and digital technology bring together pairs Ji Young Chae and Tyson Clark and Haley Schwan and My’kal Stromile in an unexpected way for a fascinating performance in the Public Garden.

Boston Ballet delves into a classic tale with fantasy flair featuring Soo-bin Lee and SeokJoo Kim, a stunning duo as they perform a deeply romantic Pas de Deux in an excerpt from Romeo and Juliet.   Angelically adorned in a halo of ribbons and flowing gown by Song Bohwa and Hanna Kim, Lee is a vision in an idealistic dark forest.  Despite a hint of foreboding, Prokofiev’s score is uplifting and glorious as Lee and Kim enchant each other building into bursts of joy, seeming to move as one into an embrace.

Addie Tapp and Lasha Khozashvili in Jorma Elo’s Ruth’s Dance, photo by Brooke Trisolini; courtesy of Boston Ballet

From classic tale to classic dance, another highlight of reSTART features Bach’s soothing, piano-driven rhythms as Addie Tapp and Lasha Khozahvili perform a tender and delicate dance as Khozahvili quite literally sweeps Tapp off her feet.  

Muses take on full form as Paul Arrais beguiles inspiration as bold and fresh faced Apollo in a pivotal classic work which first brought choreographer Balanchine and composer Stravinsky together.  What is particularly captivating about Balanchine’s choreography is the mechanical synchronization between muses Lia Cirio as majestic Terpsichore, Viktorina Kapitonova as mysterious and foreboding Calliope, and Chryrstyn Fentroy as jubilant and charismatic Polyhymnia.  Their dance is meticulously precise as they rhythmically pivot in unison, at one point forming a beautiful silhouette until each have a chance to portray their own distinct chemistry with Arrais’s mesmerizing Apollo.  They join together, hinging onto each other and one might wonder who is in control.

The Boston Ballet kicks off their new season with virtual reSTART continuing through Sunday, November 7.  Click here for more information and a closer look at Boston Ballet’s new season.

REVIEW: Fueled by a nostalgic rock soundtrack and a charismatic storyteller, Merrimack Repertory Theatre’s ‘Wild Horses’ a lively and momentous tale

Nothing brings back memories quite like a song.

The power of music is in full force in Merrimack Repertory Theatre’s (MRT) production of Alison Gregory’s Wild Horses streaming on demand through Sunday, October 17.  Merrimack Repertory Theatre previously offered the production in person from September 15 through October 3 at Western Avenue Studios in Lowell, Massachusetts.  The show contains mature language and some adult themes. Click here for more information and tickets to this virtual performance.

Directed with heart and humor by Courtney Sale, Wild Horses delves into the life of the mother of a teenage daughter, portrayed with a blend of lively charm and excitable nervousness by Leenya Rideout, as she gets wrapped up recalling her story of a special California summer during her 13th year in the 70s while onstage at an open mic night.  Rideout evokes a sense of adventure during this musically-fueled Moth Radio Hour featuring lyrics from 70s greats Rolling Stones, Heart, Van Morrison, America, and more.

Having delivered a likable performance in the 2020 indie film, Love, Repeat, Rideout further showcases her dynamic range in this meatier Wild Horses role with a humorous, heartfelt and sometimes raunchy performance.  See what Sleepless Critic had to say about Rideout in Love, Repeat here

With a love for music almost as much as horses, Rideout sings, strums an acoustic guitar, and proves an energetic and engaging storyteller sharing her experiences from a studious perfectionist to a teenager not afraid to break a few rules with the encouragement from her daring friends.   With no shortage of excitement, scandal, humor, and heartache, Rideout’s onstage demeanor switches from responsible mother in need of a night out to wide eyed, youthful innocent with all the angst that goes with it.  She blends what she remembers with her current wisdom, dwelling in the sacredness of youth. Ranging from teenage pranks to rites of passage, Rideout recalls these stories with wistfulness and passion, interacting with the audience like old friends.

Costume designer A. Lee Viliesis has Rideout ready to rock in an animal print scarf, Fender T Shirt, and ripped jeans and accompanied by guitarist Rafael Molina, she slips right into this adolescent spirit longing to be wild and free.  All that is necessary is a little courage.

Here’s to the ‘freedom takers’ with Merrimack Repertory’s production of Wild Horses continues streaming through Sunday, October 17.  Click here for more information and to get a closer look on MRT’s new season.

REVIEW:  In these tough times, escape down Greater Boston Stage Company’s zany production of Hitchcock’s ‘The 39 Steps’

What are the 39 Steps?

Like so many Hitchcock creations, it’s complicated.  However, though this Hitchcock production is presented during Halloween season, please don’t let that scare you away.  The 39 Steps is based on John Buchan’s 1915 thriller novel by the same name, was adapted by Alfred Hitchcock into a classic British film in 1935, and adapted to the stage by Patrick Barlow.  Though The 39 steps will certainly keep the audience on its toes, it has more than its share of comedic moments sure to deliver more laughter than frights. 

Greater Boston Stage Company joyfully returned indoors to present Alfred Hitchcock’s thriller comedy mystery, The 39 Steps which continues through Sunday, October 10 at the Greater Boston Stage Company in Stoneham, MA.  The show runs approximately 2 hours and 15 min including an intermission.  Click here for more information and tickets.

Directed imaginatively by llyse Robbins, this dynamic crime noir boasts plenty of vintage flair as well as adventure, romance, comedy, and suspense.  However, what really makes this show such fun is that it doesn’t take itself too seriously.

KP Powell and Paul Melendy in ‘The 39 Steps’ Photo courtesy of Greater Boston Stage Company

The 39 Steps pay tribute to Hitchcock’s body of works with a catchy story while spoofing some of his most famous works along the way.  Vertigo and Rear Window is just a portion of the Hitchcock Easter eggs run amok in this production.  Some of the dark and witty humor from The 39 Steps call to mind humor likened to other murder mystery comedy classics including Clue.

Shelley Barish’s modest and multi-functional set design, Daisy Long’s mercurial lighting, and Andrew Duncan Will’s exceptional, carefully-timed sound effects play a pivotal role in some of the production’s most humorous scenes.  Moveable set pieces transform each scene and costume designer Rachel Padula-Shufelt’s colorful gowns, dynamic wigs, and tweed and paisley suits enliven the production’s vintage noir atmosphere. 

Taking on this production was no small feat for its four stellar actors who depict a total of 150 characters.  However, they were more than up for the task as they sometimes cleverly and quite literally switch roles at the drop of a hat or within seconds.  With impeccable timing and snappy chemistry, these dynamic performers bring to life a variety of accents and deliver a great deal of physical comedy while delivering sharp and at times quirky dialogue. 

Russell Garett, KP Powell, Grace Experience, and Paul Melendy in a makeshift car in ‘The 39 Steps’ Photo courtesy of Greater Boston Stage Company

Paul Melendy portrays Richard Hannay with a mix of bumbling and debonair charm.  Set in Scotland, he is a man on the run after a chance encounter with a femme fatale in all her forms by Grace Experience, leading to a murder mystery.   What Grace Experience does particularly well is though she depicts each character distinctly, they all have the same familiar strength, resourcefulness, and truthfulness as the tale unfolds.  With Russell Garrett and KP Powell quite often after Hannay, it’s a madcap adventure with high jinx galore and likable characters that range from a ludicrous man with ridiculous eyebrows to a flirtatious and outspoken innkeeper.  Some of the scenes are arbitrary and self aware and a couple of gags get a bit repetitive, yet fit right into the production’s silly charm.

From L to R: Russell Garrett, Paul Melendy, Grace Experience, and KP Powell in ‘The 39 Steps’ Photo courtesy of Greater Boston Stage Company

Take a break from these difficult times and escape down Greater Boston Stage Company’s unconventional, madcap, and lighthearted The 39 Steps continuing through Sunday, October 10.  Click here for more information, tickets, and for a closer look at Greater Boston’s Stage Company’s 22nd season.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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: Merrimack’s Repertory Theatre’s ‘Maytag Virgin’ a captivating mix of sweetness and substance

Maytag Virgin has a charming way of airing out the laundry.

Loss and laundry is just the tip of the iceberg in Audrey Cefaly’s moving romantic comedy, Maytag Virgin.  Poignantly directed by Eleanor Holdridge and presented by Merrimack Repertory Theatre (MRT) Maytag Virgin continues through Sunday, February 2 at Liberty Hall in Lowell, Massachusetts.  This show is not suitable for young children.  Click here for more information and tickets.

Merrimack Repertory Theatre's 'Maytag Virgin' set

‘Maytag Virgin’s’ inviting set Photo courtesy of Jeanne Denizard

Though this romantic comedy may at first seem as fluffy as its laundry, Maytag Virgin is full of honesty, raw humor, and substance featuring just two cast members as seemingly enigmatic widowed neighbors with enough sassy chemistry and smart dialogue to keep the show on spin.  Sound designer Scott Stauffer’s upbeat, fiddle-laden score effectively enhances the show’s humorous and bittersweet story line.

Merrimack Repertory Theatre Brazda and Adkins in lights

Kati Brazda and David Adkins. Photo by Meghan Moore.

Set in Southern Alabama, Maytag Virgin focuses on next door neighbors who find common ground despite their vast differences.  Kati Brazda is engaging as outspoken, sensitive, and newly widowed Lizzie, a goldmine of chatter who suffers from the unfamiliarity of living alone.  In a messy updo, Brazda captures Lizzie’s awkward anxiousness and need to control her surroundings through her frank and excitable demeanor.  Having only lost her husband only a month ago, it is easy to see how her grief and loneliness is seeping into her everyday life.

David Adkins is amiable as stoic and good humored Jack, Lizzie’s new neighbor she politely calls Mr. Key.  He is quiet and more familiar with solitude.  They discuss everything from neighborhood gossip to religion to their sad stories.  Both are stubborn and guarded, dealing with their grief in different ways.  However, what makes these two fascinating is not so much in the things that they say to one another.  It is what they reveal about each other through slight and subtle actions that could easily go unnoticed, but Brazda and Adkins do well to reveal more about themselves in a glance or a long pause much more than in their insightful dialogue.

Kris Stone and Katie Scibelli’s memorably stylish scenic design puts its own spin on white picket fences featuring pristine transparent houses that add dimension and vastness to the surrounding southern Alabama neighborhood.  Gleaming props mixed with Karen Perlow’s beautiful lighting create some compelling landscapes.

Merrimack Repertory Theatre Brazda and Adkins Christmas

Kati Brazda and David Adkins. Photo by Meghan Moore/Merrimack Repertory Theatre

Lizzie has never used a dryer and Jack doesn’t know what to do without one.  It’s never to too late to start again.

Maytag Virgin’s opening night featured a pre-talk with author Audrey Cefaly and a post show reception featuring food by Mill City Barbeque as well as crackers, beverages, and various desserts.

Merrimack Repertory Theatre continues the romantic comedy ‘Maytag Virgin’ through Sunday, February 2 at Liberty Hall, 50 East Merrimack Street in Lowell, Massachusetts.  Click here for tickets and upcoming special performances during the show’s run.  Click here for more information on Merrimack Repertory Theatre’s 2019-2020 season.