REVIEW:  It’s a great time for sleuthing at Greater Boston Stage Company’s ‘Clue: On Stage’

During a dark and stormy night, a group of strangers are required to gather in a mysterious mansion under puzzling circumstances.  The real reason for the gathering is just one of many twists and turns in this famous dark and comedic murder mystery.

Last year, Ryan Reynolds announced he would star in a new Clue film reboot for 20th Century Studios which, like a lot of reboots, seems unnecessary since the 80’s film Clue is an enduring cult classic.  The popular Parker Brothers board game (now owned by Hasbro) has been revamped a number of times as a board game and has been translated into various forms of entertainment including a live Scavenger Hunt and interactive dinner theatre.  This is one mystery that people have been anxious to solve for generations.  Having seen the 80’s film many times over as well as played the popular board game, this is the first time seeing it done live onstage. 

The Players of ‘Clue: On Stage’ Photo credit to Nile Scott Studios

Directed mischievously by Weylin Symes, Greater Boston Stage Company continues Sandy Rustin’s Clue: on Stage live and in person at Greater Boston Stage Company in Stoneham, MA through June 25.  Clue: on Stage is family friendly, but after all, a black comedy murder mystery which has its dark turns.  The violence is not gruesome, but like the Parker Brothers board game, probably most appropriate for kids ages 8 and up.  This show is 90 minutes with no intermission.  Click here for more information and for tickets.

Clue is a great murder mystery farce, but it really takes a cohesive cast led by famous butler Wadsworth to make this production simmer.  Recent Elliot Norton Award winner Paul Melendy is just the man for the job not only bringing a unique twist to resourceful Wadsworth, but by fostering a new take on the character as does Bryan Miner as Mr. Body.  Tim Curry will always be THE Wadsworth, but Melendy makes this refreshing interpretation his own while keeping Curry’s core characteristics still intact right down to his playful eyebrow lift and smirking grin. 

Paul Melendy as Wadsworth and Maureen Keiller as Miss Peacock Photo credit to Nile Scott Studios

Whether in moments of scheming or over thinking, the cast has compelling chemistry as funny and fascinating adversaries.   Genevieve Lefevre makes a mischievous Yvette while Jennifer Ellis is pitch perfect as Miss Scarlet creating a wonderful balance of sophistication and dry humor.  Maureen Keiller portrays chatty, nervous, and panicky Miss Peacock.  Wearing signature black glasses, Miss Peacock’s character could be interpreted as shrill and abrasive, but Keiller’s distinct comic timing makes Miss Peacock one of the funniest parts of the production.   

L to R: Paul Melendy as Wadsworth Bill Mootos as Colonel Mustard and Genevieve Lefevre as Yvette Photo credit to Nile Scott Studios

In a classic mustache, Bill Mootos brings comic wit to somewhat dim witted Colonel Mustard while Mark Linehan as Professor Plum and Stewart Evan Smith as squeamish Mr. Green both bring an enigmatic quality to their characters.   

Sara Coombs is a good Mrs. White, but would have liked Mrs. White to be less soft spoken and more humorously cryptic.  From stern to silly, Katie Pickett juggles a number of memorable roles as the story unfolds.

Paul Melendy as Wadsworth, Stewart Evan Smith as Mr. Green and Genevieve Lefevre as Yvette Photo credit to Nile Scott Studios

Whether in Miss Peacock’s spectacular blue and green glittering dress, Colonel Mustard’s military garb, Miss Scarlet’s vampy red dress, Yvette’s classic French maid costume, Wadsworth’s coat and tails or Mrs. White’s jet black furs, costume designer Deirdre Gerrard creates an elegant and vintage look authentic to each of the character’s iconic personas.

Paul Melendy as Wadsworth and Jennifer Ellis as Miss Scarlet Photo credit to Nile Scott Studios

Keeping its vintage 50s charm, Clue on Stage’s set by scenic designer Katy Monthei injects some similarities to the 80s film cult classic from the haunting and soft glow at the iconic mansion’s enigmatic front door to the comical and sophisticated portable set pieces.  Lighting designer Jeff Adelberg and sound designer Caroline Eng work overtime to seamlessly and simultaneously up the ante on suspense, humor, and drama through the evolving lighting from foreboding to revealing to flashing to playful  while the sound design transforms from sinister to lively to jolly. 

The show’s innovative blocking and moving staging is a riot as it cleverly makes the most of every inch of the space with its transformative style and  the cast’s ‘athletic’ movements choreographed by Alexander Platt and Cait Zweil.

The Players of ‘Clue: On Stage’ Photo credit to Nile Scott Studios

Sandy Rustin’s fun and comical script is no rehash of the film adaptation, but delivers fresh humor without leaving out some of the iconic quotes and scenes from the 80s film.  Revisiting Clue was such an entertaining experience that I would gladly see it again.

Greater Boston Stage Company continues Sandy Rustin’s Clue: on Stage live and in person at Greater Boston Stage Company in Stoneham, MA through June 25.  This show is 90 minutes with no intermission.  Click here for more information and for tickets.

REVIEW: OBIE Award-winning New Ohio ICE Factory’s ‘Isla,’ ‘Acheron: The River of Tragedy’ and ‘Body Through Which the Dream Flows’

The OBIE-Award winning New Ohio ICE Factory is celebrating its 29th year and has been presenting a number of innovative works each summer that continue through August 20 live and in person at New Ohio Theatre, 154 Christopher Street in New York City.  Virtual shows are available through August 27.  Isla, Acheron:  The River of Tragedy, and Body Through Which the Dream Flows are just a few of works presented during this annual festival.  Click here for further details, how to stream, and for tickets.

Photo courtesy of New Ohio Theatre

Bikes fly, a plane takes off, and cars zoom as a world unfolds in interactive shadows.  Produced by Hit the Lights Theatre, Isla is a documentary experience which combines shadow puppets, photos, animation, and live action to depict the warmth of Samantha Blaine’s homeland and the realities of the Cuban invasion she grew up in.  Her unique and personal journey with her mother and two free spirited sisters integrates nature and song to demonstrate the realities of invasion, family, and how everything is connected.  Featuring strong vocals as well as heartwarming and wistful performances by Samantha Blain, Marlena Mack, Tiffany Ortiz, Kristopher Dean, Mikayla Stanley, Claron Hayden, and Casey Scott Leach,  Isla is a fascinating production that explores heartache, division, political turmoil, pollution, and how Blaine’s world was shaken by communism. 

‘Isla’ Photo by Claron Haydon

A car crash and a tense, mysterious encounter lead to much more than either of these characters bargained for at a river at the Mexican-US border.  Directed by Martin Balmaceda, Spanish language production Acheron:  The River of Tragedy serves up a wealth of twists and turns in this sordid and at times clever tale.  This production has mature themes and is not for children.

A secretive and menacing presence, portrayed by Cinthia Perez Navarro, has entered the life of Leonardo, portrayed with strained intensity by Aline Lemus Bernal, a nattering, impulsive, and yet perpetual optimist who dreams of freedom as soon as that tumultuous river is crossed.  However, there is a heavy price for that dream and neither are savory characters.  Navarro’s searing intensity and cryptic glances make for some skittish moments while Bernal’s jaunty moves and brisk chatter never quite distract from Navarro’s distressing wrath.  Cinthia Perez Navarro and Aline Lemus Bernal are also behind the show’s sharp choreography.  Acheron:  The River of Tragedy is a gritty tale about the darker side of humanity in the pursuit of happiness.

Acheron ©Hugo Freeman With Aline Lemus Bernal (left) and Cinthia Perez Navarro (right)

Body Through Which the Dreams Flows also explores what it takes to achieve a dream.  In this case, it is achieving the Olympic dream as past footage of Olympic champions kick off the production.  Part documentary and part stage performance, creator Soomi Kim and company takes a look at the incredible world of gymnastics and the corruption and tragedy that has seeped into the sport and the lives of young girls in training.  What does it take to be a champion?  Sometimes the price is too steep.

What is really compelling about Body Through Which Dreams Flow are the reenactments of some real life footage as well as Soomi Kim and Alexandra Beller’s beautiful choreography, the sheer athleticism, and interpretation from athletes Lucy Meola, Olivia Caraballoso, Madison Rodriguez, Shayna Wilson, Nora Avci, and Ai Clancy.  Enhanced by Amanda Ringger’s haunting lighting, Body Through Which the Dream Flows is a stirring and eye opening production addressing the pressures and what seems like the impossible expectations from coaches while focusing on what past athletes have endured.  It also delivers a powerful message on the importance of a child having the chance to be a child.

New Ohio BTWtheDF Full cast_ Ai Clancy, Soomi Kim, Madison Rodriguez, Nora Avci, Shayna Wilson, Lucy Meola, Olivia Caraballoso

The New Ohio ICE Factory 2022 continues live and in person at the New Ohio Theatre through August 20 with virtual availability through August 27.  Click here for more information and tickets.

REVIEW:  Available on Amazon Prime Video, Unlikely friendships and big dreams fuel indie dramedy METHOD

The pandemic put life on pause for awhile and for some, it has an interesting way of putting life into perspective and mull over what really matters.  Perhaps it is to cherish time with family and friends or to realize that the future is now.  It might have prompted regrets and an eagerness to fix the future in any way possible. 

Rebecca Lachmansingh as Amy Photo by Andrew Quach/Method

College students Lydia and Amy are at a pivotal point in their lives.  Both are ambitious with big dreams, but approach their goals in different ways.  Amy decides to shake up her world while Lydia pursues her interests with her feet planted firmly on the ground.  Their peculiar and abrupt chance meeting and awkward dialogue takes a moment to latch onto as if these two distinct young women speak different languages.  Their observances and approaches to life are in such stark contrast, it is a wonder how they get along. 

METHOD, an indie dramedy directed and co-written by Darya Amirshahi with Matthew Choi, is available now on Amazon Prime Video and other streaming services. The film is just under 90 minutes.  Click here for more information.

First time director Darya Amirshahi captures the essence of the pandemic with this small cast spending much of their time in solitude and hints at the restlessness of this time.  This quiet life has Amy crawling out of her skin while Lydia dares not to dream.

Jacqueline Yushkov as Lydia Photo by Andrew Quach

The title suggests multiple meanings in this film, but what first comes to mind is Amy’s dream to become an actress, a career she pursues impulsively and with some reckless abandon.  Serious and steadfast, Jacqueline Yushkov as hardworking Lydia does not seem to indulge in anything other than sensibility and gawks at Lydia’s impulsiveness.  Gradually, Lydia tempers Amy’s lofty goals. 

Sharon Juhasz amiably depicts Amy’s worried mother and voices her concerns, but Amy is resolute.  Rebecca Lachmansingh as controlling and occasionally harsh Amy makes some questionable decisions in the film, but Lachmansingh also brings naïve and idealism that garners some sympathy for her character.

Rebecca Lachmansingh as Amy Photo by Andrew Quach/Method

Two unlikely friends discover with a little faith, less reckless abandon, and a few hard lessons, there is hope.  The dialogue is farfetched at times and can benefit from having a bit more subtlety, but Yushkov and Lachmansingh work out its believability through their quirky chemistry and gradual understanding of each other.

METHOD, an indie dramedy directed and co-written by Darya Amirshahi with Matthew Choi, is available now on Amazon Prime Video and other streaming services.  Click here for more information

REVIEW: ‘Dancing is an Old Friend,’ ‘Hilary,’ ‘Inventory,’ ‘Looking for Jack’ and ‘The Green Line’ explore isolation and more at the New York City Indie Film Festival

What is it like to feel stuck due to circumstances beyond your control? 

Curated by Gerard van den Broek, each film in the Documentary 12 series including Dancing is an Old Friend, Hilary, Inventory, Looking for Jack, and The Green Line at the New York City Indie Film Festival through June 19 featured people who faced unforeseen obstacles in an attempt to find peace within. 

Whether facing trauma, isolation in a pandemic, family brokenness or being caught between one nation and another, these themes invite a feeling of powerlessness until hope is found.  This particular collection of documentaries delivered some surprising twists and turns in some profound situations in an attempt to discover where one belongs in the world.

The New York City Indie Film Festival featured a variety of films from shorts to narratives to documentaries curated with common themes.  Sleepless Critic had the opportunity to review screenings on music, small businesses, love and connection and much more.  Co-founded by Executive Director Dennis Cieri and Director Bonnie Rush, this renowned festival has screened thousands of films since it was first launched in 2010.  Click here for more information, film submissions for next year, and click here to see what we had to say about NYC Indie Film Festival’s Narrative 14 series.

Directed by Marta Renzi, Dancing is an Old Friend is written by and stars Leah Barsky and Jennifer Tortorello Walker.  It is a relatable account of an amateur ballroom dancer and professional ballet dancer brought together by dance who must find new ways to connect after the pandemic put the world in isolation.  They both struggle with this new way of life but are determined to forge ahead together.

During the pandemic, the arts were hit hard.  Many professional dancers had to find alternate ways to demonstrate their art and remain in top form until the time came for them to once again take the stage.  Dancing is an Old Friend explores the momentum of their daily lives during the pandemic and a chance to examine why they live their lives the way they do and where dance factors into it now and in the future.

‘Dancing is an Old Friend’ Photo credit to New York City Indie Film Festival

What made this film fascinating is not only the captivating athleticism and style of the dancers in action, but comparing each perspective on dance itself and how it demonstrates the bonds of this friendship.  This is not a tragic account of being lost during the pandemic, but an intimate and sincere documentary that explores the good and bad in equal measure and the hope that springs forth during this life altering period of time.

What may or may not have happened is a mystery in Hilary

Hilary Porter, through her own drawings, illustrates a repeated and menacing alien encounter that has left her haunted.  Hilary’s harrowing recollection unfolds through her graphic narration and unusual drawings as she shares that she was always thought she was different.  Director and producer Mariana Zarpellon offers some insight into who Hilary is and how she has been affected by these encounters and though I was initially intrigued by this film, I was left with more concern for Hilary’s well being than the rationality and content of Hilary’s recollections.

‘Hilary’ Photo credit to New York City Indie Film Festival

Resourcefulness is a defining quality in any artist and nothing less than resourcefulness and love defines the story of Inventory, a documentary directed and produced by Daniella Gitlin, the daughter of sculptor, Michael Gitlin.  The film is designed not only to share her father’s relatable journey as a struggling artist, but the unconventional manner in which Michael Gitlin’s legacy is being preserved.

Interwoven into the film are classic American standards such as Someone to Watch over Me, beloved songs from Gitlin’s heritage, and past family photos to create a vintage ambiance and to smoothly rewind the clock to a time before her father’s inventory had accumulated.  It is a unique and personal story about how love and family transcends obstacles even under unusual circumstances and how the film’s most extraordinary “inventory” is not just confined to Gitlin’s art.

‘Inventory’ Photo credit to the New York City Indie Film Festival

For anyone who is searching or has searched for a family member, the idea of finding them is met with a plethora of emotions.  Sara Zeppilli Freeman captures just that and more in her deeply personal documentary, Looking for Jack.  Part of Looking for Jack’s endearing strength is it is shot much like a home movie where it is easy to put oneself in Sara’s shoes.  As Sara talks to the camera with a jittery glow, her excitement is palpable at the promise that her life is about to change.

On this special day with Sara wearing a broad smile, one can picture themselves in Sara as she excitedly waits in anticipation and trepidation to meet her father for the first time in 21 years having traveled from Boston to Portugal.  No matter the outcome, that moment of time is a monumental experience to be treasured and hopefully not regretted.  The pinnacle of the film is that building tension as Sara waits, the camera panning carefully through Sara’s surroundings for that moment of relief.

‘Looking for Jack’ Photo credit to New York City Indie Film Festival

In a land fraught with uncertainty, Yehudit Kahana is no stranger to anxiety and strife for most of her life.  Co-written with Sharon Yaish, directed, and produced by Yehudit Kahana herself and set from the early 2000s to today, illuminating documentary The Green Line focuses on Yehudit’s coming of age as she resides in Elon Moreh, a land near the Green Line which borders the Palestine territories and Israel.  Since a life changing incident occurred resulting from an innocent child’s game, Yehudit has struggled with the threat of sudden violence, terrorist attacks, and chaos in a place where she doesn’t feel she entirely belongs. 

‘The Green Line’ Photo credit to New York City Indie Film Festival

The Green Line delivers a wealth of information on certain incidents in Israel, Palestine, and the Green Line which can be confusing at times, but what is clear was how Yehudit felt in circumstances beyond her control in a harsh and threatening land determined to break free.  The Green Line has some lighter and amusing moments with family that not only shed light on Yehudit’s understandably frustrating, strict, and expected traditional place as a female in the world and in the path of the Torah, but also explores how valuable the road less taken can be.

Dancing is an Old FriendHilaryInventory, Looking for Jack and The Green Line were all part of Documentary 12 at the New York City Indie Film Festival which continued through June 19.  Click here for more information on this annual festival and its winners.

REVIEW: ‘Chabe,’ ‘Conversations with Female Clowns,’ ‘Dictionary’ and ‘Por Mi Hija’ explore various aspects of love and connection at The New York City Indie Film Festival

The New York City Indie Film Festival concluded on June 19 after approximately a week of screenings at the Producers Club in New York City.  It featured a variety of films from shorts to narratives to documentaries curated with common themes.  At this festival, Sleepless Critic had the opportunity to see screenings on music, small businesses, love and connection, and much more which will be explored in future articles.  Co-founded by Executive Director Dennis Cieri and Director Bonnie Rush, this renowned festival has screened thousands of films since it first launched in 2010.  Click here for more information.

Photo credit to Jeanne Denizard

Curated by Lucie Guillemot, this narrative film collection explored different aspects of love and connection.  Directed by John Tsiavis, Chabe is a vivid short film about Isabel Gomez, a woman who assists in a cataracts surgery project for a Mexican indigenous tribe.  Rich in unique color and told through Isabel’s eyes, the film evokes Isabel’s sheer joy in helping others and the complex process of this tribe’s journey from dark to light.  Chabe made me long to see more on it all.

Isabel Gomez in ‘Chabe’ Photo credit to NYC Indie Film Festival

Directed insightfully by Clare Redden and Joseph Pulitzer, Conversations with Female Clowns is a surprising look at connection through laughter from a unique perspective.  Reflected through a group of female clowns, it explores not only the incentive for a woman to become a clown, but the societal and personal norms as a female that seem to relate all too well to this profession.  It sheds light on the idea of clowning from a new angle with an opportunity to see these female clowns in action.  From a hospital clown to a member of the Big Apple Circus, Conversations with Female Clowns is an eye opening and humbling experience about what it truly means to be funny.

Director and writer Clare Redden of ‘Conversations with Female Clowns’ Photo credit to NYC Indie Film Festival

Dictionary explores the ODU concept of the seven stages of love in vignettes.  A tribute to the Indian culture, Aishwarya Sonar has a great deal to convey in the screening’s brief time frame and writer, director, and producer Elena Viklova aptly evokes the fleeting and sacred power of love in each frame.  From the warm bloom of attraction to the stillness of grief, Sonar elevates each stage in dynamic subtleties.

‘Dictionary’ by Elena Viklova Photo credit to NYC Indie Film Festival

Por Mi Hija (For My Daughter) is an immersive Spanish language film that addresses familial love and the dream of what is thought to be a better life.  Written, directed, and produced by Fernando Rodriguez who dedicated this film to his wife and kids and based on two true stories, Por Mi Hija is a stirring account that examines what creates a fulfilling life in an unconventional way. 

Christopher Bustos as Leo and Daniela Vidaurre as Emma are young newlyweds living a happy life surrounded by family in Mexico when they receive life changing news that prompts Leo to seek success in California.  Bustos and Vidaurre depict a strong and relatable couple with endearing chemistry as they face moving and realistic trials and tribulations while Luciana Elisa Quiñonez shines as imaginative and sweet Luciana. 

Christopher Bustos, Daniela Viduarre, and Luciana Elisa Quinonez in ‘Por Mi Hija’ Photo credit to NYC Indie Film Festival

The real strength in this film lies in its unconventional timeline and how it manages expectations and reality.  The various parallel scenes between Leo and Emma including having a meal or riding in a car are gripping as it is weaved into the film’s progression and there is a dreamlike quality looking into the past as well as a hazy, ethereal ambiance of the future. This particular style enhances the film’s poignant message while achieving a balance between the lighthearted and tense moments.  It also embodies what the characters cannot quite see at the time until the film’s stunning revelation.

Chabe, Conversations with Female Clowns, Dictionary and Por Mi Hija were all part of Narrative 14 at the New York City Indie Film Festival which continued through June 19.  Click here for more information on this annual festival and its winners.

REVIEW:  Mikko Nissinen’s ‘Swan Lake’ returns in riveting and enchanting splendor

Mikko Nissinen’s Swan Lake will enchant you from the start.

Swan Lake has stood the test of time for generations and it is no mystery why.  Seeped in regal splendor, Swan Lake is a visually-striking portrait of elegance and grandiosity similar to another one of Tchaikovsky’s classics, The Nutcracker. Both known for their iconic scores, mystical elements, and magnificent presentation, but Swan Lake’s sophisticated splendor, dark charm, intricate choreography and mirror image story of true love sets it apart from the rest.  Like The Nutcracker, Swan Lake has a universal appeal and memorable qualities that even those who don’t care for ballet will still enjoy Swan Lake.

Boston Ballet in Mikko Nissinen’s Swan Lake; photo by Rosalie O’Connor, courtesy of Boston Ballet

With seamless musical-direction by Mischa Santora, Tchaikovsky’s majestic score navigates a classic tale of love, torment, betrayal, magic, and unbridled joy as Boston Ballet rises out of Mikko Nissinen’s Swan Lake continuing live and in person at the Citizens Bank Opera House in Boston, Massachusetts through Sunday, June 5. Swan Lake will then stream from the comfort of your home from June 9 through June 19.  Performed in memory of John W. Humphrey, Swan Lake has returned to the Boston Opera House for the first time since Mikko Nissinen re-imagined the ballet in 2016.  This four-act performance has one intermission.  Click here for more information and tickets.

Taking a mysterious and thrilling tone from the start, Swan Lake is a fanciful tale involving sought-after Prince Siegfried, portrayed with zest and charm by Patrick Yocum, who sets his sights on a flock of swans drifting over a misty and enchanted lake.  Swan Queen Odette, portrayed with graceful fragility by Lia Cirio, catches his eye and it is love at first sight.  It soon becomes clear that the swans were once women cursed by sorcerer Von Rothbart, depicted menacingly by Tyson Clark.  Tyson Clark as Rothbart is an incredible and unpredictable force as he athletically and perilously tears through the mist as Prince Siegfried vows to set Odette free.

Golden-braided, ornate headpieces, flowing pastel garments, parasols, garlands, exquisitely feathered tutus and pristine crowns are just a glimpse into Robert Perdziola’s opulent and meticulously-detailed, handmade costumes that enrich the lush and picturesque royal garden setting as well as the haunting mirror image and mystical lake bathed in luminous blue moonlight by lighting designer Mark Stanley.

Marked by such precision, Mikko Nissinen’s choreography is ballet at its finest.   Emily Entingh and Sage Humphries are visually-stunning rising gracefully and beautifully fluttering out of the mist.  A gathering of cygnets demonstrate perfect synchronicity as they glide in lithe, delicate strokes.  The swans are ethereal and immaculate as they simultaneously rise exquisitely out of a swallowing mist.  It still stands as one of the beautiful displays of ballet I have ever seen.

Boston Ballet in Mikko Nissinen’s Swan Lake; photo by Gene Schiavone, courtesy of Boston Ballet

In the castle gardens, dancers whimsically join together in a feast dance with goblets and joyfully present the prince with rich garlands.  While the castle garden depicts almost a dreamlike setting, an equally opulent ballroom with vast ceilings lit in red later depict a livelier setting as a  grand and dynamic lineup of guests gather to charm the kingdom including princesses, czardas, and Neapolitans.

Patrick Yocum is impressive as Prince Siegfried as he evokes loneliness and melancholy in an emotive and carefully-executed variation and then later in a flawless and joyful dance as if floating across the stage.  Light and dark in Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake is demonstrated impeccably in Lia Cirio in a complex, dual role.  As guarded Odette, her every move diligent and yet her statuesque beauty and downcast demeanor enrich her mysterious and powerful presence.  Tingling violin resonates in Tchaikovsky’s emotive score as Cirio and Yocum share a hesitant and sweet encounter.  He tenderly lifts and comforts her at every turn.  Cirio can craftily engage an audience and masters her dual role as mysterious and confident Odile.  That striking look she gives reminded me of the fire she brought to her 2020 performance in Boston Ballet’s Carmen.  Cirio’s cunning smile and playful charisma gleam as Yocum takes her hand playfully and yet, almost possessively in a spellbinding and exhilarating dance.    

Boston Ballet in Mikko Nissinen’s Swan Lake; photo by Rosalie O’Connor, courtesy of Boston Ballet

Swan Lake is such a haunting and beloved tale of tender grace and arduous passion that, like The Nutcracker, it has been adapted in various forms for stage and screen over the years including Darren Aronofsky’s Academy award-winning Black Swan.  Mikko Nissinen has adjusted a few scenarios in Swan Lake since its re-imagining in 2016, but only for its betterment to create an even more thrilling, illuminative and memorable experience.    

Mikko Nissenen’s Swan Lake continues live and in person at the Citizens Bank Opera House in Boston, Massachusetts through Sunday, June 5. Swan Lake will then stream from the comfort of your home from June 9 through June 19. Click here for more information and tickets.

REVIEW:  ‘Dear Evan Hansen’ a moving but uneven film adaptation of the Tony award-winning musical

A broken arm is the catalyst to much more for Evan Hansen.

Winner of six Tony Awards including Best Picture, Dear Evan Hansen stage musical took Broadway by storm in 2014 by distinctly addressing subjects that are becoming dangerously prevalent in contemporary society.  Dear Evan Hansen delves into difficult territory and is not for everyone, but it is not hard to see why this musical has gained such acclaim. 

The use of social media, the internet, and digital rather than face-to-face interaction due to the pandemic have had people feeling more alone than ever before which has caused social anxiety to gain a greater foothold in our society.  With sweaty palms, a constant stream of over thinking, an overwhelming feeling of loneliness in a crowd, and the pressure to live up to what others expect, senior high school student Evan Hansen struggles with interacting with almost everyone until a chance encounter changes his life.

Based on the Tony award-winning musical, Dear Evan Hansen is available on HBO Max, on DVD, and on demand.  Click here for more information.

The film adaptation of Dear Evan Hansen has gained some notoriety among the stage musical’s fans because a portion of the musical’s character driven development is left out of the film.  As one who has not seen the musical, Dear Evan Hansen is a pretty somber musical experience about a tragedy and a lie that ends up having a life of its own as the film progresses.   There are cringe-worthy moments to be certain, but they stem from how deep the rabbit hole of that big lie goes and its inevitable consequences.

What first attracted me to this production was Requiem, a powerful number with beautiful harmony that still stands as my favorite performance.  Kaitlin Dever’s chiming vocals as Zoe carry the poignant conflict and the bitterness of Requiem while still preserving her as a troubled and sympathetic figure.  Amy Adams as Cynthia Murphy delivers a heartrending performance highlighted by her part in Requiem.  However, without a solo number such as A Little Bit of Light as part of this film adaptation, her character has a lack of dimension and less of a sense of what her actual relationship has been with her late son who is lost to mental illness.   Danny Pino as Larry Murphy reveals a compelling and complex relationship with his late stepson, but the film would have been better if the adaptation delved deeper into his character.  Julianne Moore has much more to work with as Heidi Hansen, Evan Hansen’s single mother.  She and Ben Platt as Evan have a complicated, yet caring relationship and Moore shines for the moving number, So Big/So Small.   Amanda Stenberg as overachieving Alana Beck is a fascinating look into another side of mental illness and how people are not so different in Anonymous Anymore.

Ben Platt originated the Tony award-winning role as Evan Hansen and also does a marvelous job for the film.  Though he seems a little old for the role at this point, Platt’s portrayal of Evan’s anxiety is palpable as he depicts Evan’s struggles right from the opening number, Waving through a Window.  His vocals have a soft and introspective quality as he shares his bewilderment and tenseness in attempting to socialize and make friends.  At times he is visibly shaken and some of the mixed signals and missed social cues he reads from others can be painful to watch.  His simple and hopeful delivery for All We See is Sky Forever is a pivotal and bittersweet song and You Will be Found is inspiring and universally-appealing.  Platt also has some awkward but sweet chemistry with Dever as Zoe in the numbers, Only Us and If I Could Tell Her

Dear Evan Hansen film is not a powerhouse musical, but is filled with quiet reflections, inspirational messages, and sobering revelations. Much of the film deals with various aspects of coping with life and grief, but it also has scattered humor and a few darkly comical moments in the number Sincerely, Me.  The ending is not delivered the same way as the musical and seems to wrap too quickly.  As one who hasn’t seen the musical, I was less aware of what was missing and seeing Ben Platt’s performance was worth watching.  See Dear Evan Hansen the film for its memorable cast and appealing soundtrack, but hold out for the stage musical to get the entire story.

Dear Evan Hansen is available on HBO Max, on DVD, and on demand.  Click here for more information and here to see the stage musical on Broadway or on its national tour.

REVIEW:  Comparing music biopic ‘Respect’ and anthology series ‘Genius:  Aretha Franklin’

Maybe it was because I went in with the highest of expectations. 

When casting was announced for the Aretha Franklin film biopic, Respect, the anticipation for this film soared.  A cast that included Academy award-winner Forrest Whittaker, multi-Tony award winner Audra McDonald and starring Academy Award-winning Jennifer Hudson as Aretha, it seemed this film could do no wrong.  In many ways, it didn’t and in other ways, it did.  The movie has my respect, but can’t quite pinpoint exactly why it wasn’t as spectacular as it should have been.

Though Respect is no longer in theatres, it is streaming on HBO Max, VOD, and other platforms.  National Geographic’s Genius:  Aretha Franklin is available on Hulu

This is not to say that Jennifer Hudson did not deliver a phenomenal performance.  Her dynamic vocal range could run circles around almost any singer today.  Just to see her take on the theme song to TV classic, The Jeffersons for Live in front of a Studio Audience:  All in the Family and The Jeffersons, her sass and brilliance shines through even for those select few minutes.  On a larger scale, she performed The Color Purple on Broadway plus watching her sing a live Prince tribute to Purple Rain alongside Cynthia Erivo (who also went on to embody the Queen of Soul in Genius:  Aretha Franklin) the night Prince passed away was probably one of the most endearing versions I have ever heard next to the Purple one himself.

It was the kind of vocals needed to match Aretha Franklin’s superlative falcon soprano voice that mastered an aria for Luciano Pavoratti during a live performance at the 1998 Grammy Awards to the bluesy Chain of Fools to the magnificence of her version of Amazing Grace.

 Jennifer Hudson is unquestionably an incredible talent and yet, watching Respect, it was difficult to envision Aretha Franklin.  Perhaps if Hudson was a less recognizable or not such an established talent in her own right, it might have been easier to picture it.  After watching Respect and Genius:  Aretha Franklin back to back, it was easier to envision Cynthia Erivo in the role of Franklin.  Not only does Erivo look more like Franklin and her distinct vocals a bit closer to Aretha’s, but she also possesses that determination and sass that Aretha was well known for.  However, Erivo also had a lot more room to flourish during an entire season.

Though both adaptations are worth watching, it seems like Genius had too much time to tell Franklin’s story and Respect did not have enough.  Respect sometimes seemed choppy and there are scenes that were featured in Genius that would have been better explored in RespectRespect was once a 3 hour film cut down to 2 hours and 25 minutes, but it would have better with more time.  Genius had plenty of time to tell its story, but some parts lingered on events a bit too long.

Hudson delivers a surprisingly subdued performance compared to the strong presence Franklin displayed in life.  Hudson masters more of Franklin’s natural instinct and wisdom into music as she navigates the music industry from her early misses to her meteoric success from Franklin’s version of the hit song, Respect (which is an Otis Retting song that Franklin undoubtedly made her own). 

Both Respect and Genius:  Aretha Franklin feature epic casts.  A notable portrayal was that of the young version of Franklin, portrayed by Skye Dakota Turner in Respect.  Turner possessed more of the charm, spunk, and valor that Aretha was known for.  It is easy to see Aretha has a song in her heart from the very first scene, especially due to director Liesl Tommy’s vivid cinematography.  Marc Maron delivers an amazing performance as legendary and steadfast music manager Jerry Wexler though the part is not a great departure from other roles he has delivered over the years.  Forrest Whittaker in Respect and Courtney B. Vance in Genius:  Aretha Franklin skillfully portray Franklin’s fiercely protective, stubborn, and seemingly strict preacher father.  Each actor hones in on different aspects of C.L. Franklin’s strong character.  Audra McDonald is dynamite as Barbara Franklin even within her brief screen time.  She delivers a memorable performance at the piano with young Aretha for Irving Kahal’s I’ll Be Seeing You.

Respect is also set up like the standard biopic rather than choosing an unconventional way of sharing excerpts from Franklin’s life.  Much like recent biopics such as Walk the Line, Bohemian Rhapsody, and Judy, Respect uses this narrative structure from fame to childhood and in sequence and in this instance, surrounded by depictions of Martin Luther King Jr, Barry White, Smokey Robinson, Dinah Washington and Sam Cooke along the way.  Though it is an effective formula, it is a bit of a clichéd one.  Genius:  Aretha offers a fresher and unconventional perspective into Franklin’s life delving into an experience Franklin and her father survived together, leaving the viewer to guess what could be next. 

Both biopics have their strengths, but if you are looking for a fresher and more believable take featuring some lesser known experiences on Franklin, dive into Genius:  Aretha Franklin.   Respect features an incredible cast worth watching for its masterful songs featuring a paramount scene featuring Aretha Franklin recording her signature Amazing Grace not to be missed.  Either way, the Queen of Soul’s dynamic life is worth telling twice.

REVIEW:  Dreams proceed with caution for Central Square Theater’s illuminating ‘Young Nerds of Color’

When I first witnessed the hit film Hidden Figures, I was absolutely amazed for a couple of reasons.  In the early 60’s, a team of phenomenal NASA mathematicians were so talented that some astronauts including Neil Armstrong refused to board the space shuttle without their astute calculations.  The other amazing and frustrating detail is that for all that these African-American women accomplished, I had never heard of them or worse, was never taught about them at school.  Hidden Figures stayed with me.  These genius mathematicians made such an indelible impact in the world and yet, I was learning about them for the first time in this film.

‘Young Nerds of Color’ cast and creative team Photo credit to Nile Scott Studios

Directed remarkably by Dawn M. Simmons, Underground Railway at Central Square Theater presents Young Nerds of Color arranged by Melinda Lopez live in person through March 20 at Central Square Theater in Cambridge, MA and virtually through April 3.  The show is approximately 75 minutes with no intermission.    Click here for more information, tickets, and COVID-19 guidelines.

The night before reviewing Young Nerds of Color, I attended an astronomy group meeting that featured a documentary about a rarely predictable phenomenon.  A professor claimed he knew when the next supernova would occur.  A supernova is when a star explodes and disperses its matter into the galaxy.   It turns out the professor made a tragic miscalculation and the supernova never occurred in the documentary.  However, Young Nerds of Color depicts two beautiful ones thanks to Andrea Sofia Sala’s innovative lighting while also symbolically illuminating some big and impactful ideas such as the discovery that matter from a supernova is directly connected to eyesight. 

Lindsey McWhorter as Portia Long, Daniel Rios Jr as Reinaldo Herrera and DJ Lopez, and Alison Yueming Qu As Chloe Chen Photo credit to Nile Scott Studios

An educational and unconventional play full of discoveries, Young Nerds of Color translates like a flowing and collaborative academic dialogue among geniuses with performances so subtle and convincing that I had to glance back at the program to make sure they were actors and not the actual professionals they are depicting.  A show gathered from 60 interviews with real life scientists, cast members deliver their point of view in their own unique style as they discuss the journey to make their ambitions come to life. 

Ricardo Engermann as Jim Gates, DJ Thomas, Reinaldo Herrera and DJ Lopez Photo credit to Nile Scott Studios

Sponsored in part by MIT, Young Nerds of Color examines the lives of renowned scientists and engineers from diverse backgrounds whose career dreams were more difficult to achieve than they ever expected even before they discovered that dream.   Living in pre-segregated Boston, racism and economic struggles was just a portion of the challenges they faced for being “young nerds of color.”  They all collaboratively take on the role of scientist and educator as they share with the audience and usher in the next generation to proceed toward their dreams with cautious optimism.

Lindsey McWhorter as Portia Long and Karina Beleno Carney as Dr Maria Hernandez Photo credit to Nile Scott Studios

Shelley Barish’s straightforward and illuminated set features two double helixes that might also symbolize that long career ladder and periodic table while Nona Hendryx creates memorable compositions with catchy and cosmic-sounding rhythms and original music.

Some of the cast depicts multiple roles and have engaging chemistry as they portray the journey from childhood experiments fueled by curiosity to those dangerous discoveries that can change the world all while presenting themselves in a way that society might accept so they too might thrive.   I should have learned about this astounding group before now.

Hidden Figures stayed with me and Young Nerds of Color sure does too.

Underground Railway at Central Square Theater presents Young Nerds of Color arranged by Melinda Lopez live in person through March 20 at Central Square Theater in Cambridge, MA and virtually through April 3.  The show is approximately 75 minutes with no intermission.    Click here for more information, tickets, and COVID-19 guidelines.

REVIEW:  Company Theatre’s regal ‘The Audience’ delivers lessons from a queen

So much can transpire in a certain room.

Though I’m not a fan of The Crown, the intriguing Oscar-nominated Spencer is new on Hulu and I was too curious about the polarizing acting abilities of Kristen Stewart to miss this film.  Not only does the film focus on the tension, the princess’s fragility, and her deteriorating marriage, but  what is deemed a fable of a tragedy taught me a bit about the monarchy’s strict regime before heading out to see the Company Theatre’s production of The Audience.

Directed by Steve Dooner and the inspiration behind the Netflix’s hit drama The Crown, Company Theatre presents Peter Morgan’s The Audience through Sunday, February 20 at Company Theatre, 30 Accord Park Drive in Norwell, Massachusetts.  The show is 2 hours and 15 minutes including an intermission.  Click here for more information and tickets.

Carol Laing Stearns as Queen Elizabeth II with Pembroke Welch Corgis Gregory and Laci Photo courtesy of Zoe Bradford/Company Theatre

The Audience is named after an important room inside Buckingham Palace where Queen Elizabeth II discusses a wide range of topics with various Prime Ministers over the Years.  As Queen, she must live up to certain standards to have these meetings on a certain day for a certain length of time and keeping discussions strictly to Cabinet, Parliament, and Current Affairs.  Needless to say, conversations often take a turn in unexpected directions.  The show delivers light and subtle humor throughout the production, but this is mostly a historical drama.

Carol Laing Stearns portrays the sharp and coolheaded English monarch with sophistication, grace, and underlying prowess (with her royal corgis in tow).  She dryly describes herself as “a postage stamp with a pulse,” but we all know better.  Stearns has a natural and likable presence, but also stoic and headstrong.  She rarely lets her emotions get the better of her, even when she is commenting on it.  It is interesting to see the quirks and tenacity, navigating her age progression well.  However in a rare moment, thanks to the keen lighting design of Dean Palmer. Jr, the spotlight shines on Stearns in a moment of vulnerability, and it is difficult not be entirely moved by it.

Carol Laing Stearns as Queen Elizabeth II Photo courtesy of Zoe Bradford/Company Theatre

Ryan Barrow’s elegant set is flanked with wall-to-wall gold trim, historical portraits, and a sparkling chandelier shining overhead.  Charismatic Rama Rodriguez as Equerry acts as half narrator and half historian, sharing the relevance of this special room and its astute history.  From a tartan skirt to the dapper suits on each Prime Minister to the very replica of Queen Elizabeth II’s white dress and royal sash symbolizing her position as the Dame Grand Cross of the Royal Victorian Order, costume designer Elizabeth Cole Sheehan has a meticulous eye for historically-accurate regal flair.

The depiction of Elizabeth II’s flashes of childhood is handled in a unique and insightful way though at first it can be a little confusing.  Young Elizabeth, portrayed as a precocious and inquisitive old soul by Samantha LeBretton, struggles with her destiny and the separation of her public and private figure.  Although she is unsure of her place exactly, she feigns surefootedness, but not without questions. 

Chris DiOrio as Harold Wilson is the most sympathetic among the Prime Ministers while Julie Dennis as Iron Lady Margaret Thatcher comes in like a lion and remains one.  The tension between Stearns and Dennis as a compelling Thatcher is quite thrilling to witness as two people with much in common can barely agree.  DiOrio as Wilson thrives in the role, his strong Northern accent only accentuates his likability. 

Among the many political, social, and personal topics addressed, the clash between royal rituals and traditions with modernization and talk of the end of the monarchy is always looming.  However, The Audience presents a bigger picture and depicts just why Queen Elizabeth II’s, who just celebrated her Platinum Jubilee this month and is the longest reigning English monarch in history,  secret to her longevity reaches far beyond her wit.

Company Theatre’s ‘The Audience’ is the inspiration behind Netflix’s ‘The Crown’ Photo courtesy of Zoe Bradford/Company Theatre

Company Theatre presents Peter Morgan’s The Audience through Sunday, February 20 at Company Theatre, 30 Accord Park Drive in Norwell, Massachusetts.  The show is 2 hours and 15 minutes including an intermission.  Click here for more information and tickets.