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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

REVIEW: Michael John Ciszewski’s ‘The Sun is Sleeping’ dwells in dreamlike introspection in 2020

To some, the sun is an adversary.  To fast-living insomniac Simon, portrayed by Michael John Ciszewski, the sun is sleeping just when he is waking up.  Michael John Ciszewski’s second solo project, The Sun is Sleeping, is a personal, contemplative piece though Simon wants to be anything but contemplative.  He’d rather escape than be alone in his thoughts and his isolation, always looking for a quick fix as he dreams, loves, and parties big.

Having seen Ciszewski in other projects such as Lyric Stage Company of Boston’s The Little Foxes and his latest Hub Theatre Company of Boston’s virtual Much Ado about Nothing, Ciszewski has a strength for portraying intense, multi-faceted characters and Simon is no exception.  Steeped in city views, sunsets, and the crack of dawn, The Sun is Sleeping is a beautifully shot, relatable journey during these difficult times. 

Michael John Ciszewski in ‘The Sun is Sleeping’ Photo credit to Michael John Ciszewski

Click here for more information and how to watch The Sun is Sleeping, a one hour avant-garde film.

The Sun is Sleeping is part confessional, part introspection, and part escape, featuring a myriad of mixed emotions as Simon and other characters face a pandemic.  As Simon fantasies about an eternally happy existence and doubt seeps in, the audience is privy to each character’s meandering perspectives in their sheer yearning to bond with other people in any way they can.

For the actors themselves facing an arts ‘intermission’ of this magnitude, it’s the thrill of the audience, lack of that type of expression, and entire way of life turned upside down that contributes to their unsettling uncertainty.  Pier Lamia Porter as Sam and Rachel Belleman as Caroline unite in a wistful zoom call that could speak to anyone right now.  It’s the longing and joy of being together.  Some of the show has a sense of humor, but much more of it is reflection showing we all have too much time on our hands and yet the sun still shines.