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: Greater Boston Stage Company’s classic ‘Miracle on 34th Street’ delivers a gentle nudge of holiday cheer

Miracle on 34th Street is a simple tale with a big message.

During this time of year, faith is a predominant theme within many holiday productions such as faith in humanity, in God, and in a “right jolly old elf.”  From Twas the Night Before Christmas to A Christmas Carol, the holiday spirit shines through, a temporary feeling that really should last all year long.

Directed with charm by Ilyse Robbins, based on the book by Valentine Davies, and adapted by Mountain Community Theatre, Greater Boston Stage Company’s Miracle on 34th Street continues through Sunday, December 22 at Greater Boston Stage Company in Stoneham, Massachusetts.  Click here for more information and tickets.

Set in New York City, Miracle on 34th Street is about a mysterious man who becomes a last minute replacement for Santa Claus at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.  He befriends Susie Walker, a precocious little girl portrayed with grace and charm by Addison McWayne, who is far too sensible for childish things including believing in Santa Claus.  Natalie Wood rose to fame in her role as Susie Walker with Maureen O’Hara as Doris Walker in the beloved 1947 film.

Greater Boston Stage Company Miracle on 34th Street cast

Jon Savage’s vibrant set design includes a lovely, towering, and whimsical Christmas tree that contributes its own unique part in the tale.  The famous parade is just one of the events that take place in the aisles during this semi-immersive production.

Though this production of Miracle of 34th Street is not considered a musical, it does have its share of musical moments.  From gift wrapping to sweeping the store shelves, the store workers do more than whistle while they work, swaying and lifting their voices in a variety of spontaneous Christmas carols such as The 12 Days of Christmas, Sleigh Ride, and The Nutcracker Suite led by the mirthful vocal stylings of David Jiles Jr. as Mr. Adams.

Packed with a likeable cast of characters including a lively and noteworthy performance by Gary Thomas NG as Alfred, Miracle on 34th Street shows it is sometimes better to see with the heart rather than the head.  Gary Thomas NG is captivating as Alfred, a humble and gleeful janitor full of holiday cheer.  NG depicts Alfred with a song in his heart as he spontaneously leaps for joy across the stage.  His comic scenes with William Gardiner as gentle, jovial and unfailingly forthright Kris Kringle are a particular highlight as they compete in board games and engage in candid conversations.  With warm charisma and that signature twinkle, William Gardiner fills Kris Kringle’s red suspenders with finesse and of the many iconic conversations he has with McWayne’s Susie, their playful dialogue about imagination is just wonderful.

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In a red coat and distinctive 50s red lipstick, Sara Coombs portrays Doris Walker, an astute and shrewd businesswoman.  It is amusing to watch Walker and her “mini-me” daughter Susie as they inadvertently duplicate each other’s mannerisms.  Susie is seemingly as mature, confident, and shrewd as her elegant mother.  Showing a great rapport with each cast member, Michael Jennings Mahoney is refreshing as fun loving and laid back Fred.  Barlow Adamson exacts Macy store manager Mr. Shellhammer’s nervous and priceless tense expressions prevalent during the holiday season.

Having last seen Juliet Bowler in an affecting performance at Flat Earth Theatre’s Not Medea, it is no surprise that Bowler show off her talents as insecure, strict and secretive Leslie Sawyer.  Her cold disdain and devious manipulations reach Grinch-like proportions.  Sara Gazdowicz also takes an amusing turn as a fast talking, accent-rich NYC cop.

Greater Boston Stage Company Miracle on 34th Street Leslie, Kris, and cast

Juliet Bowler as Mrs. Sawyer, Barlow Adamson as Mr. Shellhammer, Sara Coombs as Doris Walker, and William Gardiner as Kris Kringle Photo courtesy of Nile Scott Studios/Greater Boston Stage Company

While some performances demonstrate holiday spirit in pomp and spectacle, Greater Boston Stage Company delivers that feeling with a gentle nudge of heartwarming cheer.  Greater Boston Stage Company’s Miracle on 34th Street through Sunday, December 22.  Click here for more information and tickets.  Click here to learn more about Greater Boston Stage Company and their upcoming 2020 productions.

REVIEW: Company Theatre’s ‘A Christmas Carol’ immersive, haunting, and filled with holiday spirit

The Company Theatre’s haunting, immersive, and meaningful A Christmas Carol is a frequent holiday tradition with good reason.  So much more than the Charles Dickens classic, the Company Theatre calls on the holiday spirit through subtle nuances in story and song and the exceptional festivities only become more fervent each December it takes the stage.  Sure, the Company Theatre weaved in the holiday spirit in other December productions such as last year’s Charles Dickens classic, Oliver the Musical (featuring Matt O’Connor as Oliver who returns as adorable Scrooge as a young boy) but this thought-provoking tale of charity, compassion, and forgiveness is the pinnacle holiday treat.

Company Theatre A Christmas Carol

Company Theatre’s ‘A Christmas Carol’ is sold out! Photo courtesy of The Company Theatre

The Company Theatre presents the Charles Dickens classic A Christmas Carol now through Sunday, December 22 at the Company Theatre in Norwell, Massachusetts.  This show is sold out.  Click here for their recently announced 2020 theatre season and how to support The Company Theatre.

A Christmas Carol is the classic tale of Ebenezer Scrooge, a wealthy, penny-pinching old miser who has no use for Christmas until his past comes back to haunt him on Christmas Eve.

With LED lighting and cinematography, heightened special effects, singing Carolers flooding the aisles,  enviable costumes by Kathryn Ridder, and snow glimmering over that bright, familiar cobblestone street where Scrooge must face his worst fears, A Christmas Carol is certainly a feast for the eyes.  The uplifting overture, orchestrated by Steve Bass and arranged by Steve Rogers, is tinged in popular Christmas carols, a preview of the wealth of carols and additional songs added to this festive production.  Ding Dong Merrily on High, O Come O Ye Faithful, Hark the Harold Angels Sing, Joy to the World, and Noel are among the production’s musical highlights.

Company Theatre A Christmas Carol Owen George as Tiny Tim as Bill Carter as Bob Cratchit

Owen George as Tiny Tim and Bill Carter as Bob Cratchit Photo courtesy of Zoe Bradford/Company Theatre

Directed by Zoe Bradford and Jordie Saucerman, The Company Theatre’s production of A Christmas Carol also sets itself apart by weaving in the beauty of the season within the excitement of its joyous ensemble cast.  Each cobblestone street character is as enthralling as the immediate cast, each with their own individual story and holiday motivation within the context of this beautiful London setting.  The action is so immersive that it can hide the immediate cast a bit.  One of the most endearing moments is the return of a lively trio running around the London streets holding up mistletoe for kisses as well as the uplifting and rollicking period dance numbers choreographed with style by Sally Ashton Forrest.

This production boasts a lively cast led by Phillip Hebert as miserly Ebeneezer Scrooge.  Hebert exacts Scrooge’s deep, searing signature growl, his sterling vocals cutting into the soul.  Scrooge toils, scowls, and his dire sense of humor is not lost on his cheerful and generous nephew Fred, portrayed with a crisp accent and inviting demeanor by Christopher Spenser.  In spectacles and a sour huff, Hebert is best in his dark gruffness. However, his overall interpretation becomes jollier as the show progresses as his arms stubbornly swayto the music, offering a lighter, increasingly heartening Scrooge.

Company Theatre A Christmas Carol Owen George as Tiny Tim and Philip Hebert as Scrooge

Owen George as Tiny Tim and Philip Hebert as Ebenezer Scrooge Photo courtesy of Zoe Bradford/Company Theatre

Bill Carter portrays humble, guarded, and sympathetic Bob Cratchit.  Hebert and Carter skillfully develop palpable tension as Carter, leery, speaks to Scrooge out of turn.  Kris Connolly portrays loyal and eternally patient Mrs. Cratchit.  Connolly and Carter deliver heartwarming scenes with their large, beautiful family including sweet Owen George as Tiny Tim as their voices lift for the bright and original song, Noel.

Adorned in a gorgeous lit crown and veil, Nicole Hall delivers warmth, yet a foreboding quality as the Ghost of Christmas Past.  Serene and gentle, she brings out the best in Scrooge’s curmudgeonly soul.  Majestic in a crown of holly and carrying a cornucopia, Dave Daly glides across the stage as charismatic, jolly and larger-than-life Ghost of Christmas Present and the equally endearing Mr. Fezziwig.  Lilly George and Brynn Hsu also shine as giggling Christmas sprites.  Covered in hazy light, Dan Kelly is remarkably ghoulish and crazed as Jacob Marley with some very impressive special effects.

Company Theatre’s A Christmas Carol pulls off a couple of surprises to this classic tale in the finale, and cannot leave out Megan Boutilier’s expressive and hilarious depiction of The Laundress.  She is marvelous.  If the holiday season is not spreading the joy that is should this year, Company Theatre’s A Christmas Carol will certainly encourage that heartwarming feeling, indeed.

The Company Theatre continues A Christmas Carol at the Company Theatre, 30 Accord Park Drive in Norwell, Massachusetts through December 22.  The show is sold out, but click here for their exciting 2020 season.

Artistic Director and founder Tony Williams describes how ‘Urban Nutcracker’ became a hit

What if the spirit of Boston as well as hip hop, tap, Mexican folk dance, flamenco, swing dancing and more were weaved into Tchaikovsky’s beloved holiday classic, The Nutcracker?  Celebrating its 19th anniversary, The City Ballet of Boston (CBB) presents Tony Williams’ family friendly Urban Nutcracker from Thursday, December 19 through Saturday, December 28 at the Boch Center Shubert Theatre in Boston, Massachusetts.  Click here for more information and tickets.  Click here for a sneak peek at the show.

Tony Williams, acclaimed choreographer, founder, and Artistic Director of the Urban Nutcracker and the Tony Williams Dance Center, talks about Urban Nutcracker’s humble beginnings and how it has evolved to become the hit it is today while every year featuring something new.

Urban Nutcracker Tony WIlliams

Founder and Artistic Director of Urban Nutcracker Tony Williams Photo courtesy of Tony Williams/City Ballet of Boston

Sleepless Critic:  What I love about Urban Nutcracker is while the traditional Nutcracker is rooted in fantasy, the heart of the Urban Nutcracker is in Boston and its history.  What inspired this concept?

Tony Williams:  I was raised in Boston and danced in the premiere of the first major professional production of Boston Ballet’s The Nutcracker conducted by famed conductor of the Boston Pops Arthur Fiedler in 1965.  I danced in the traditional Nutcracker for many years and when I stopped, I still performed large and smaller productions in and around Boston.

About 20 years ago, I started my dance school in Jamaica Plain.  I had two male African American dancers working for me teaching tap and hip hop.  In my school’s first year of enrollment, I had about 20 boys which is a huge amount of boys than in most dance schools.  I had the makings of a youth cast for a production and wanted to showcase the kids, but most of the boys came for tap and hip hop where I was teaching ballet.

I thought about putting on The Nutcracker and the parents can be involved and bring their kids.  With so many traditional Nutcrackers out there, maybe we can create an urban contemporary Nutcracker with hip hop, tap, and ballet incorporating our hip hop teacher Ricardo Foster and tap teacher Khalid Hill.

Coincidentally around that time, I came across Duke Ellington’s jazzy, big band Nutcracker Suite.  I can use that and mix in the traditional Nutcracker like a soup and hope it turns out right.  A smaller dance troupe also performed a Nutcracker in New York City around that time.  Their background was in New York City and they based the show in Central Park.   I decided to freshen up this old classic chestnut, The Nutcracker, and put it in present day Boston.

Urban Nutcracker Boston Tree Lighting

Sneak Peek of the Urban Nutcracker at this year’s Boston Tree Lighting in the Boston Common Photo courtesy of Tony Williams/City Ballet of Boston

SC:  It has been very successful because I believe next year will be Urban Nutcracker’s 20th anniversary in 2020.

TW:  It’s amazing we’ve succeeded all of these years.  We evolve, tweak, and polish the show every year and it’s a challenge financially to pull it all together.  The first year we were on a shoestring budget.

People have supported the show all of these years and I feel fortunate it is still around.  Not so much for my personal ego, but for the opportunity to have it for the City of Boston.  You don’t have to know Boston in order to like the show but if you do, you will have more of a connection to it.

SC:  You feature some traditional and international roots in the Urban Nutcracker such as The Russian Dance.

TW:  We have the Russian Dance which we call Caviar Caper, the Arabian Dance we call Desert Chiffon, and the Chinese or Tea Dance which we call Ginseng Brise.  Brise is the French word for a dance step in ballet.

This year, we have a major addition to Act II and one of the divertissements will be based on the story, Make Way for Ducklings by Robert McCloskey from 1941.  We introduced ducks in the snow scene in the past and it didn’t quite fit.  This year we are calling it Mrs. Mallard and her Duckling Delights with a tap dancing policeman and Mother Duck will dance on Pointe.  The cute baby ducks have their own dance which the kids will love.

We’re doing a new Russian dance with two couples and many more surprises!

Urban Nutcracker Ballet with edge

Urban Nutcracker cast Photo courtesy of Tony Williams/City Ballet of Boston

SC:  How did this become a tradition?  The reception must have been extraordinary that first year.

TW:  The first year we were trying to introduce this new creation was right after 911 and the whole world was in a depression.  A friend of mine told me it wasn’t the time to do this kind of show and I thought about that.

I was sad about what had happened, but working with the young kids brought about a rebirth of hope and I continue the show because of them.  We did three sold out performances the first year at the Strand Theatre in Dorchester.

I was so nervous that first night and had no idea how it would be received.  We had no money or advertisements except a great story in the Globe.  From the opening dance in the prologue right before the story line began, the dancers and musicians in Downtown Crossing and Quincy Market danced outside with their hats out for donations.  The ovation was so loud and that’s when we knew we had something.

SC:  I understand that the show features The City Ballet of Boston.  Is that your troupe?

TW:  It used to be the Tony Williams Ballet Company, but last year it evolved into the non-profit City Ballet of Boston.  The core group is comprised of eight cohesive adult professional dancers that have been with me for the second year.  It is expected we have top notch professional dancers at the Shubert Theatre which is partly why I did that with the company.  I call it City Ballet of Boston because we are proud of Boston.  Hopefully, when I am no longer around, The CBB will be able to produce this show for generations to come.

A woman who happens to work at the Boch Center Shubert Theatre came for the first time last year and brought her three year old daughter while her husband was away on business.   Her parents were visiting from Chicago and the four of them came to the show.  She told me afterwards she really enjoyed the show, but was struck that her daughter, father, and mother were so raptly attentive to the show as well.   Each generation enjoyed it!

SC:  What are your future plans?

TW:  We have the family production, Peter and the Wolf from April 29 to May 2, 2020 at the Calderwood Pavilion.  We’ve been doing some classical and contemporary pieces and it will be something for everybody.

SC:  You tend to mix contemporary with traditional dance.

TW:  I do it because it is intriguing creatively, artistically, and it’s fun to work that way.

SC:  That way you can keep surprising people with your work.

TW:  I need to do something fresh not only for the audience and the dancers, but I get a charge out of that too.

Urban Nutcracker returns to the Boch Center Shubert Theatre, 265 Tremont Street in Boston, Massachusetts from Thursday, December 19 through Saturday, December 28.  Click here for more information, tickets, and learn more about Tony Williams and his work.

 

REVIEW: Walt Disney World at its finest in fall featuring Epcot International Food and Wine Festival

Bursts of orange, green and yellows adorn a landscape of huge pumpkin patches on a chilly night.  Vivid mums, harvest wreaths, festive decorations, and fall colors fill the night sky in a special, nightly fireworks celebration.  No, this is not fall in New England, but the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida, a hidden gem for all the flavors of fall from the end of August through November.  Featuring Disney’s most infamous villains, enchanting characters, and seasonal activities for the entire family, attendees are encouraged to dress up in costume for trick or treating throughout the park.  Click here for more information on Disney’s extensive activities.

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Along with the long list of Magic Kingdom’s wonderful, classic rides such as Pirates of the CaribbeanIt’s a Small WorldBig Thunder Mountain Railroad, and Space Mountain, take some time to visit some of Disney’s spooky attractions in the spirit of the season such as Haunted MansionMonsters Inc. Laugh Floor, and Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom on Main Street.  A select number of rides are open late into the night.  From August through November 1, Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party is built for all ages and features an array of Halloween shows, Mickey’s Boo-to-You Halloween ParadeA Hocus Pocus Villain Spelltacular set up outside of Cinderella’s Castle, and a seasonal themed fireworks celebration.

Fall is also widely known for amazing food festivals around the country.  Taking that idea and expanding it in Disney’s own unique way within Epcot’s famous World Showcase, Epcot is proud to offer their annual International Food and Wine Festival kicking off Thursday, August 29 through Saturday, November 23.  While Epcot’s World Showcase features the rich cultures of 11 countries from Mexico to Tokyo, Epcot’s International Food and Wine Festival exponentially expands on this idea for a limited time, offering enticing cuisines and beverages from 30 marketplaces.  Explore and dine on fare from the Caribbean Islands, Africa, Australia, Brazil, and more.  Cooking demonstrations from famous culinary chefs, exclusive wine and beers from around the world, concerts, and cultural demonstrations take place throughout the park.  From sweet and fruity Hurricane Class 5 wine and key lime flavored wines sold exclusively in Florida to international wines that suit any palette, attendees can try them first with wine tastings throughout the day.

Epcot

This way to more of Epcot’s World Showcase Photo courtesy of Jeanne Denizard

While the festival takes place, enjoy the classic and new attractions such as Norway’s popular ride, FrozenSoarin,’ Test TrackThe Seas with Nemo and Friends, and Mission Space.  Canada and Mexico are among the most popular attractions featured within Epcot’s World Showcase.  With the holidays and the summer months among Disney World’s peak times, attendees can see a bit more without a bigger crowd, though FastPass is always recommended for optimal time saving and planning.

At Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida, the sun shines a little brighter than most places around the world.  Having thrilled families for almost 50 years, enjoy shopping, family activities, and spectacular attractions within each of the four parks.  Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Hollywood Studios, and Animal Kingdom all offer exciting adventures throughout the year.  Click here for more information about Walt Disney World, rates, exclusive offers and more.  It’s never too early to start planning a trip to Disney World, no matter what time of year.

REVIEW: ‘Star Wars: A New Hope in Concert’ with live orchestration from the Boston Pops a thrilling cinematic achievement

No better way to witness a galaxy far, far away.

It has become a beloved Boston Pops tradition to exhibit the finest films in cinema history enhanced by the stellar sounds of the Boston Pops, an immersive film experience performed so eloquently, one may never watch the film quite the same way again.  In the past few years, The Boston Pops has inventively breathed new life into film classics such as ‘The Wizard of Oz,’ ‘West Side Story,’ ‘Singin’ in the Rain,’ ‘Psycho,’ ‘Home Alone,’ ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark,’ and ‘Nosferatu‘ through stunning live orchestration and Star Wars lives up to that sterling reputation.

The re-mastered, extended version of ‘Star Wars: A New Hope in Concert‘ with live orchestration by the Boston Pops was held at Symphony Hall earlier this spring and then recently in the Koussevitzky Music Shed at the Tanglewood in Lenox, MA on August 16.  The ninth film and epic conclusion of the Star Wars series, ‘Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker‘ arrives in theatres in December and what better way to welcome the end than by remembering the beginning.

John Williams at Tanglewood (Hilary Scott)

John Williams conducting Film Night at Tanglewood Photo credit to Hilary Scott

Academy award-winning composer John Williams has been the name on everyone’s lips at Tanglewood for the past couple of weeks with ‘Star Wars: A New Hope in Concert‘ on Friday, August 16 and then the ever-popular ‘Film Night’ on August 24, an annual tribute concert featuring just a few of the acclaimed film scores of John Williams.  Not only did John Williams make an appearance at the end of the August 16th performance, but Patriots owner Robert Kraft was also in the audience.  Click here for more information, tickets, and a look at Tanglewood’s full schedule.

Keith Lockhart Leads the Boston Pops at Tanglewood (Hilary Scott)

Keith Lockhart leads the Boston Pops at Tanglewood Photo courtesy of Hilary Scott

Conducted by acclaimed Boston Pops conductor Keith Lockhart, The Boston Pops launched an enthusiastic audience into that beloved galaxy with ‘Star Wars: Episode IV A New Hope,’ the first film in what would become a beloved series of films in 1977.  The rising swell of the perilous, suspenseful, triumphant, and Academy award-winning Star Wars Main Theme from John Williams was just the start of this exciting film that has been thought to be a touchstone to future films in that genre while also possessing some classic Shakespearean roots.

The intense score, each crisp note from the orchestra, the sound that thundered in the Koussevitzky Shed was nothing that can be relived in front of a television screen or in a movie theatre.  It felt like being in the studio with the cast, enhancing their already outstanding performances, and scoring the film for the first time.

Star Wars A New Hope

Mark Hamill as Luke Skywalker, Carrie Fisher as Princess Leia, and Harrison Ford as Han Solo in ‘Star Wars: A New Hope’ Photo credit to Disney/Lucasfilm

The lively audience was clearly composed of some of the most devoted Star Wars fans cheering   not only the opening of the film, but each major character as they were first introduced onscreen.  Familiar faces such as the twinkling eyes and swaggering charisma of Harrison Ford’s Han Solo, Peter Mayhew’s towering presence as Chewbacca, Carrie Fisher’s holographic appearance as Princess Leia as she utters the classic line, “Help me, Obi-Wan Kenobi.  You’re my Only Hope,” Alec Guinness as the wise and mysterious Obi-Wan Kenobi, Mark Hamill’s naïve Luke Skywalker, and James Earl Jones as the timeless voice of Darth Vader were all greeted with rousing applause.

Set on the planet with two suns, the subtle humor, the scheming, the epic adventure, George Lucas’s marvelous characters, the dazzling technology of its time, the bickering between R2-D2 and C-3PO and between Han Solo and Princess Leia are all recaptured in this unforgettable cinematic experience.

The Lawn at Tanglewood 2016 (Hilary Scott)

The Lawn at Tanglewood 2016 Photo credit to Hilary Scott

Located in the Berkshires at 297 West Street in Lenox, Massachusetts and now year-round, Tanglewood’s outdoor venue is a must see, whether under the tent at Koussevitzky Shed or under the stars for a lawn picnic.  Click here for Tanglewood’s full schedule follow them on Facebook.

REVIEW: Bridgewater State University’s Family Performing Arts Center’s lighter ‘The Wizard of Oz’ inventive fun for the whole family

A group of Nelson Mandela Fellows and visitors from China we among the enthusiastic audience attending Bridgewater State University’s (BSU) Family Performing Arts Center’s ‘The Wizard of Oz.’  Featuring full versions of ‘The Wizard of Oz’s’ beloved soundtrack such as Somewhere over the Rainbow and If I Only Had a Brain, this ‘Wizard of Oz’ is a bright, inventive look at a sweet Kansas farm girl and her dog who find themselves in a strange land with no idea how to get home and a witch suddenly in their wake.

Family Performing Arts Center presents ‘The Wizard of Oz’ through Sunday, July 28 at Bridgewater State University’s Rondileau Campus Center Auditorium in Bridgewater, Massachusetts.  Click here for more information and for tickets.  Click here for a closer look at the production.  Save 10% when you use the code ‘BRAIN’ at online checkout.  This show is suitable for all ages.

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Mary Kate McDonald as Dorothy Gale and her dog Toto Costumes by Mary Hurd and Photo credit to Deidre Confrare/BSU’s Family Performing Arts Center

From the moment Mary Kate McDonald as Dorothy, in braids and blue gingham overalls, vocally glides through the full version of Harold Arlen’s Somewhere Over the Rainbow which includes the song’s lesser known introduction, it was clear this show was going to be something special.  A beautiful soprano, McDonald is adorable as spunky Dorothy, depicting her with curiosity and a determined spirit, but careful not to let her impulsiveness get the better of her.  Her interaction with Toto, portrayed and operated by an ensemble character, gives Toto dimension.  Though at first it was disappointing Toto wasn’t a live dog, it ended up being a clever touch.  The human expressions and movements make Toto that much more endearing.

Featuring a couple of songs and a few characters not included in the 1939 film and a subtle twist ending, BSU’s Family Performing Arts Center keeps this production with its share of freshness and surprises.  With orchestration by Larry Wilcox and Peter Howard and background music by Herbert Stothart, ‘The Wizard of Oz’s’ enchanting soundtrack is no joke, as rarely heard and welcome introductions are weaved into each familiar number.  Conducted by Eli Bigelow, the orchestra impressively sets the mood to each comical and exciting scene.  Though the Jitterbug number is not included in the 1939 film and seems a bit dated and silly, the kids will certainly enjoy the darkly comedic piece.

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A Kansas landscape Costumes by Mary Hurd and Photo credit to Deidre Confrare/ BSU’s Family Performing Arts Center

‘The Wizard of Oz’ also boasts unique choreography, rich lighting, and picturesque sets.  For example, the yellow brick road is cleverly demonstrated more through props and choreography than a literal road.  Another notable moment is the intriguing choreography used during the poppies scene enhanced by bright, hand painted sets by Maia Hay and Michael Duarte.  Christopher Scully’s brilliant lighting and Michael Duarte’s sets portray rich silhouettes of the Kansas landscape and Oz which can dazzling or frightening.

This production has a few more comical moments to keep the show a bit lighter, but does not take away from the show’s poignancy and excitement.  It was a surprise to discover Haley McKenney as Glinda and Aunt Em.  McKenney could not have portrayed the two characters more differently.  Decked out in a feathered stole and shimmering tiara, McKenney’s vivacious Glinda is a high energy diva, chipper-voiced and almost maniacally giggly while the plainly stoic Aunt Em is a practical, but the nonetheless a compassionate soul.

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In a winged black hat, Katia Greene’s unpredictable Wicked Witch has her wicked moments, but portrayed a bit more comically with a spin on the character that I’ve never considered.  Greene clearly relishes the role, delivering an energetic and intimidating performance.  Neha Groves captures the mysterious, well meaning, but somewhat bombastic Professor Marvel.

However, Christopher Starr is an expert tumbler and his pliable body and good-natured demeanor make him a wonderful Scarecrow.  Steven Sawan as Tinman and Jim Quinn as Cowardly Lion both give endearing, comical performances.  Quinn’s baritone and quick wit make the number, If I Were King of the Forest a lot of fun.  With McDonald as Dorothy, they develop a lasting, captivating camaraderie that ring especially true during the numbers We’re Off to See the Wizard, The Merry Old Land of Oz, and Lions and Tigers and Bears.

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Christopher Starr as Scarecrow, Steven Sawan as Tinman, Mary Kate McDonald as Dorothy, and Jim Quinn as Cowardly Lion. Costumes by Mary Hurd and Photo credits to Deidre Confrare/BSU’s Family Performing Arts Center

Take a trip down the yellow brick road with BSU’s Family Performing Arts Center’s production of ‘The Wizard of Oz’ continuing through July 28 at Rondileau Campus Center Auditorium, 19 Park Avenue in Bridgewater, Massachusetts.  Click here for more information and for tickets.  Save 10% when you use the code ‘BRAIN’ at online checkout.   Follow BSU’s Family Performing Arts Center on Facebook for future events and more.