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

Nothing brings back memories quite like a song.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What are the 39 Steps?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Company Theatre’s Director of Development Michael Hammond discusses returning to indoor theatre and the power of positivity to conquer your next audition

Michael Hammond may change the way you look at life.  Are you afraid of the audition?  He’ll show you a way to succeed.  Having a bad day?  He’ll show you a way to lift your spirits.  As the new Director of Development at the Company Theatre, a role he calls a lifelong dream, his positivity may help others the way Company Theatre has helped him since childhood. 

The Company Theatre, located at 30 Accord Park Drive in Norwell, Massachusetts, joyously held their first indoor production since their absorbing musical, Fun Home early last year.  Rock of Ages was an edgy and energetic rock jukebox musical that took place last month.  See Rock of Ages review here and click here for Sleepless Critic’s full podcast.

Sleepless Critic:  Please tell me what it was like to be back in the indoor setting for Rock of Ages

Michael Hammond: It’s so fantastic.  It’s emotional, exciting, and the energy in the air was just electric.  You were there.  You saw it.  People were cheering and screaming.

The show starts with Sally Forrest’s voice doing her standard announcement which we are all accustomed to hearing.  It was such a welcome back and to hear her voice and I think people cheered over her entire announcement.  Just to be back inside, hear that familiar voice, and to know we’re about to see a really fun and exciting show was just great.

SC:  I know this was the opening weekend for indoor theatre, but you did have some outdoor theatre experiences like Avenue Q before this show. 

MH:  Avenue Q was incredible.  The kids were so talented.  Their commitment to what they were doing and their characters were dynamic.  It was Broadway-type quality coming out of these kids on the outdoor stage of the Company Theatre out back.  We have had other things like Divas with a Twist and Donny Norton’s band, The New Band there.  That’s been a really nice addition to the Company Theatre as well as now being back inside.

SC:  So getting back to Rock of Ages, you had your opening weekend and you felt like everything went as smooth as can be?

MH:  Absolutely!  So many new people in this show and as is typical of the Company Theatre, they are already saying this is my new home.  It’s this overwhelming feeling that you’re home and you found your family at the Company Theatre even if you did one show and you never come back, it still feels that way.  I’ve been involved since I was 19 years old. 

Shane Hennessey as Stacee Jaxx Photo courtesy of Zoe Bradford/Company Theatre

SC:  I was going to say that you are familiar with that feeling.

MH:  I’m very familiar with that feeling.  I don’t know what my life would have been like without Company Theatre.  I would have taken a completely different path. 

SC:  It’s hard to replicate the kind of friendly and welcoming atmosphere you have when you’re in theatre.

MH:  Absolutely!  Such a nice group of people too that do theatre especially the teens.  They just stay out of trouble.  They have a common goal they are working towards and they enjoy each other’s company and make lifelong friendships.  I can’t say enough about it.

I’ve just seen so many kids, even this summer just come through the doors and they leave just completely changed and confident and more themselves.  It’s just a beautiful thing to witness.

SC:  When you said you had been with Company Theatre pretty much your whole life, you said it was a lifelong dream to do something like this as the Director of Development now.  I’m really excited for you.

MH:  Thank you!  Like a lot of people during the pandemic, you start to question ‘Am I doing what I want with my life?  Is this fulfilling and rewarding?’  Like many people, I came to the conclusion that what I was doing was not for me anymore. 

It had run its course and I needed something new and Jordie Saucerman, one of the founding partners of the Company Theatre, had passed away and that really accelerated my thought process because her wake was attended by so many people.  I thought ‘Look at all the lives that she touched.’  The impact that Jordie had on people is immeasurable.  Even if I make just a little sliver of that impact on people, I would feel great about my life.  That set the wheels turning. 

I approached Zoe one day and said, ‘I will be your janitor.  I basically don’t care what you have me do, if there is a spot for me here, I am coming.’  That seed was planted awhile ago and it sort of blossomed into Director of Development.  I’m so excited to try new things and just give back what I got from this theatre. 

SC:  Not only that, but you have a similar positive way about you like Jordie had.  Where do you get your positive outlook from?  Where do you draw it from considering I’ve also seen videos of you on social media?

I’m not attempting to fill Jordie’s shoes in any way.  That’s not a task that anyone could accomplish.  She is a unique individual who I feel is still around in the atmosphere and in the joy of the theatre.  If I’m upset or have a bad day, it makes me feel better to brighten someone else’s day.  That is such a nice feeling to buy someone in line a coffee or just compliment someone or encourage someone to do something they didn’t think they could do.  I live off of that.  If I am having the worst day of my life and I do something nice for somebody, I instantly feel recharged.  I think that’s how I basically go through life.

SC:  I hear that from a lot of comedians as well.  It makes them feel better to make someone else laugh even if they are upset or having issues.

MH:  I tried standup comedy once.  I did it more for the writing aspect, but I did perform.  It was an interesting experience because you come out onstage and you look at a sea of faces who want you to succeed because if you succeed, they have a fantastic time.  You have an overwhelming amount of support that you just want to hold onto and it was an incredible feeling.

SC:  What did you did before this that you wanted to walk away from and join the Company Theatre?

MH:  I was the station manager at a local cable television station.  I was so grateful because it was also a non-profit.  I probably learned so many skills that I could apply to this job I didn’t necessarily have before.  Just the behind the scenes stuff, the QuickBooks, the budgets, and managing a non-profit was extremely helpful and then also applying my video experience to the job as well.  Filming and creating events and learning special effects. 

So all of that which at the time was a perfect job for me, but nine years later I felt like I needed a change and so I am going to apply what I learned there and bring it to the Company Theatre.  We can offer acting for camera classes and improv for camera classes. 

I’ve been on auditions and in commercials.  We want to provide those skills to kids who like to act and be on camera.  We want them to be able to go into an audition and know how to slay what they are going to be asked to do and be prepared for anything.

I actually started with a class over the summer.  Some of the kids were auditioning so they got immediate training for those auditions. When they came back, they would tell the other students that they did just what Michael showed us.  I asked if they felt more prepared.  Did you do a better job with the audition?  Their faces lit up and they said, ‘Absolutely!’  That was a nice thing.

We want to get in touch with the local casting agencies which we already have a good relationship.  We want to create a talent database where you can see video auditions and we can send those out so we kind of want to be a bridge between the local movie and theatre scene.  We’ll provide students with the training.  They’ll have the skills to go out and nail professional auditions and maybe get cast in movies and commercials.  We just really want everyone to have new and exciting opportunities to excel in a career in film and theatre if that is something that they are interested in. 

‘Ragtime’ (L to R) Barbara Baumgarten, Cristian Sack, Hilary Goodnow, Brenna Kenney, Finn Clougherty, Jillian Griffin, with Hannah Dwyer as Little Girl and Michael Hammond as Tateh Photo courtesy of Zoe Bradford/Company Theatre

SC:  Let’s face it – the audition process is the most nerve-wracking and hardest part I think to convey right off the bat because in your head, you are saying,’ I know what I can do for you’ but then you get up there and it is not exactly what you picture. 

MH:  Having directed before, people come in and they are nervous. The reality is the casting company is nervous and they have roles to fill.  So, the second you come in, put them at ease, and they know they have options, they feel better.  I always say in my mind when I got into an audition, ‘Here I am!  You can relax.  I am going to be that person you need.’  I think it’s an interesting way to keep yourself calm to think I am exactly what you need instead of I hope I’m what you need.

SC:  I never really thought of it like that.

MH:  Think about it.  You have a reputation.  You have a project.  You want to cast the right people because that makes you look good as well.  If you find the right people not only are you confident about the project, but it brings excitement. 

When I direct a show, I’m not very excited about it until I know who is in it and then I can tailor their performances to their talents. It is such a thrill to watch people blossom. 

Please tell me about the projects you are working on now and upcoming projects.

I don’t think I’ll be directing anything for a little bit.  I’ll probably take on some projects here and there.  I definitely can’t leave that part behind.  I’m really going to focus on the video classes.  I’ll be working with Christie Reading.  She is extremely talented with anything video related.  So, I will be teaming up with her teaching improv for camera, acting for camera, and getting people ready for auditions. 

I think it will be really exciting if we get someone cast in a major motion picture which has happened at Company Theatre.  Andrew Mackin was in Mystic River, Jonathan Togo is on CSI, Michael Morlani is the casting director for Disney.  There are a lot of success stories that come out of this theatre. 

We want to nurture and encourage that.  That is kind of my goal.  It’s to really push people to excel in any way that they can.

SC: You can’t forget about Boston Casting.  How convenient is that!  There are all kinds of films going on in the state.

MH: Exactly and literally a mile down the road they are making motion pictures.  So how can we not be a part of that?  They are working on the new Jon Hamm movie in Cohasset.  I know Angela at Boston Casting who is an incredible woman and I don’t know how she does everything she does, but with all those films going on, eventually they will run out of actors. 

We get casting notices all the time and I’m forwarding them off to everybody I know that I think fits.  For example, I sent a buddy of mine a notice yesterday.  They were looking for an actual butcher with acting experience and I happen to know a butcher with acting experience.  I’m thinking he might get it.

SC: I know. Some of the requirements are so wild.

MH: It’s so specific, but every once in a while I’ll say, ‘Wait a minute, that is me.’ 

Company Theatre is offering theatre classes in the fall. Click here for the full schedule and upcoming events.

REVIEW: Merrimack Repertory Theatre’s quintessentially local ‘A Woman of the World’ fascinating and full of surprises

Scandalous secrets unfold and things are not what they seem in Merrimack Repertory Theatre’s  (MRT) quintessentially local and fascinating production of A Woman of the World by Rebecca Gilman streaming on demand through Sunday, May 30.  Partnering with the Emily Dickinson Museum and directed cleverly by Courtney Sale, this one-woman show led by Massachusetts native Denise Cormier lights up the stage with natural charisma as enigmatic lecturer and historical figure Mabel Loomis Todd. She claims to bring insight into the real life of the late, renowned poet Emily Dickinson, but what she unveils is so much more. 

It was wonderful to see another production from MRT filmed onstage.  A Woman of the World also offers plenty of local references such as Harvard, MIT, the New England Conservatory, Boston, Amherst and the surrounding areas.  The show contains some hinted adult themes.  Click here for more information and for tickets.

Denise Cormier in MRT’s ‘A Woman of the World.’ Photo: Kathy Wittman/Merrimack Repertory Theatre

Scenic designer Bill Clarke and Original Music/Sound Designer David Remedios seamlessly combine the inviting comforts of home with the sights and sounds of a serene Maine setting.  However, don’t let the serenity of this island home fool you.   Mabel gears up for a quiet storm as the sound of the wind and crickets fill the air.

From welcoming to haunting, Carolina Ortiz Herrera’s soft, dynamic lighting not only transforms each mood in an instant, but does more so with Cormier.  At first Denise Cormier as Mabel seems a lively, well-to-do speaker with well coiffed blond hair, but as the show progresses, the subtle lighting reveal tinges of gray. 

Denise Cormier in MRT’s ‘A Woman of the World’. Photo: Kathy Wittman/Merrimack Repertory Theatre

Though it is a one-woman show, other “cast members” such as Mabel’s daughter Millicent is addressed offstage.  Delivering a multi-layered performance, Mabel’s charm to win over her audience first comes off as egotistical, but gradually becomes earnestness and she soon seems like an old friend.  Nothing short of a captivating showman, a warm and inviting presence, but the guarded moments intertwined in her storytelling is the stuff that keeps you hooked and her drifting reflections are when the show truly hits its stride.  Having had a stroke, Mabel is also somewhat an unreliable narrator in more ways than one. 

Denise Cormier in MRT’s ‘A Woman of the World’. Photo: Kathy Wittman/Merrimack Repertory Theatre

The show tackles relatable issues on feminism and Cormier as Mabel may make you root for her one moment and against her the next.   However, she’s a survivor and an enigma ahead of her time. 

Merrimack Repertory Theatre’s production of A Woman of the World by Rebecca Gilman is streaming on demand through Sunday, May 30.  Following the production is a short interview between director Courtney Sale and Denise Cormier on the inspiration behind the show.  Click here for more information, tickets, and for more about the Merrimack’s Repertory Theatre’s season.

REVIEW: Warmth and humor reign in Company Theatre’s traditional ‘Steel Magnolias’

One of my favorite lines from Robert Harling’s classic comedy drama, Steel Magnolias is stated by sarcastic and dour Ouiser, portrayed here by Ellen Peterson. “I do not see plays, because I can nap at home for free. And I don’t see movies ’cause they’re trash…and I don’t read books, ’cause if they’re any good, they’re gonna make ’em into a miniseries.”

This type of straight shooting and self deprecating humor is what has made Steel Magnolias thrive over the last 30 years.  Steel Magnolias has been adapted so many ways from stage to screen, but what Ouiser leaves out is her unmitigated opinion about a partial true story.

Company Theatre Steel Magnolias

Company Theatre continues with the comedy drama ‘Steel Magnolias’ through Sunday, February 16.  Photo courtesy of Company Theatre

Robert Harling’s Steel Magnolias originated as a screen play in 1987 and is based off of real people Harling knew in Louisiana.  In the popular 1989 film (which included a parade of famous actresses including Dolly PartonOlympia DukakisDaryl Hannah,  and Shirley MacLaine), M’Lynn was portrayed by Sally Field and Julia Roberts was Shelby.  Harling based M’Lynn on his own mother and Shelby (whose real name was Susan) on his sister.

In that same vein, who better to direct Steel Magnolias than someone native to this popular play’s southern setting?  Directed with local flair by Natchitoches native Johnny Nichols, Jr, The Company Theatre presents Steel Magnolias through Sunday, February 16 at the Company Theatre in Norwell, Massachusetts.   Click here for more information and tickets.

Unlike the film, the play is set entirely in Truvy’s Beauty Spot in 1980’s Louisiana.   This bittersweet tale follows a group of vastly different women who find strength in each other through hardships and triumphs with a great deal of understanding, humor, and hairspray.

Director Johnny Nichols, Jr not only adds local attributes unique to the show’s setting such as the voice of local DJ Rick Terrell, but the 80s come alive with music distinctive to the era and various references such as Princess Grace, Cher, and Elizabeth Arden.  Costume designer Paula Ninestein and Wig Master Ryan Barrow emphasize the era with fringe and florals highlighting each woman’s distinct personality while Truvy’s is an expansive salon that includes a boom box and  a wall to wall mix of pastel floral and lace on busy wallpaper and curtains.  However, what was most refreshing about this era is to look back at a time before the internet where people shared time, recipes, and hair tips in person.

Company Theatre Steel Magnolias cast 2

From L to R: Juliana Dennis as Clairee, Ellen Peterson as Ouiser, Karen Cavallo as M’Lynn, Stephanie Wells as Truvy, Hannah Cunniff as Annelle, and Abilgail Chase as Shelby (center) Photo courtesy of Company Theatre

Though other productions have put a daring spin on Steel Magnolias over the years, Company Theatre’s production is traditional, warm, and thrives on the growth between these primarily outspoken southern women.  With her signature blond locks and a gift for gab and gossip, Stephanie Wells depicts fun loving salon owner, Truvy.  As a big fan of the movie, it is hard to imagine this part for anyone other than Dolly Parton, but in a black fringe blouse and pumps, Wells puts her own spin on sweet, welcoming, and confident Truvy.  Her scenes with Hannah Cunniff as mysterious and humble Annelle make for some quirky, heartwarming moments.  Wearing an awkward smile, Cunniff portrays Annelle with quiet unpredictability.

Ellen Peterson’s sardonic and darkly amusing Ouiser delivers some of the most entertaining moments in the show.  A bit softer than other productions but no less amusing, Peterson depicts Ouiser more dramatic than sour.  Ouiser has a casual style, but costume designer Ninestein make an intriguing statement by having her also wear a distinctive string of pearls, showing Ouiser may not be quite who she seems. Her sarcastic facade rings true with the priceless line, “I’m not crazy.  I’ve just been in a bad mood for forty years.”

Widow Clairee, portrayed with warmth and stylishness by Juliana Dennis, is a down to earth perfectionist with an interest in keeping up with the times while Ouiser couldn’t be bothered.  With good intentions and a knowing smile, Clairee amuses herself by teasing Ouiser and their exchanges create their own spark.

However, the most compelling relationship exists between Karen Cavallo as M’Lynn and Abigail Chase as M’Lynn’s daughter Shelby.  Though Sally Field depicted M’Lynn with a tough sadness, Cavallo’s M’Lynn exudes a sweet demeanor and quiet anxiousness. Cavallo is impressive navigating this complicated character.  Chase as Shelby seems cast on the younger side, but exhibits growing maturity as the show progresses.  It is easy to see why they are mother and daughter and not just by their remarkable resemblance.  Cavallo is sensible while Shelby is impulsive and as with any mother-daughter relationship, one minute they exchange nagging barbs and the next, nurturing affection.

Company Theatre photo booth

Company Theatre’s Beauty Spot photo booth in lobby Photo courtesy of Jeanne Denizard

Rewind the clock and take a trip south to Truvy’s for Company Theatre’s Steel Magnolias at Company Theatre, 30 Accord Park Drive in Norwell, Massachusetts through Sunday, February 16.  Click here for more information and tickets, here for details on their upcoming “Galentine’s Day” and here for more on their 2020 season.

 

 

REVIEW: Reagle Music Theatre’s ‘La Cage aux Folles’ a rollicking, madcap extravaganza with heart

Robin Williams had many memorable roles, but one of his most amusing roles was alongside Nathan Lane in the 1996 film adaptation of “La Cage Aux Folles,” “The Birdcage.”  Who could forget when Robin gave that dance tutorial?

Though “The Birdcage” was set in Miami Beach, the musical production of “La Cage Aux Folles” is set in Saint Tropez, France.  With European flair and heart, Reagle Music Theatre of Greater Boston presents the wild, gender-bending, and hilarious musical, “La Cage Aux Folles” through Sunday, August 18 at Robinson Theatre in Waltham, Massachusetts.  Click here for more information and tickets.

Reagle Music Theatre of Greater Boston La Cage aux Folles James Darrah as Albin with the Cagelles

James Darrah as Albin (center) and Les Cagelles Photo courtesy of Reagle Music Theatre of Greater Boston

A translucent, glittering blue curtain was just a glimpse of the glitz behind it as the musical’s catchy and exotic overture began, peppered with European flair.  Directed by Susan Chebookjian with book by Harvey Fierstein and music and lyrics by Jerry Herman, “La Cage aux Folles” is about Georges (J.T. Turner) who runs a drag night club and Albin (James Darrah) is the show’s star attraction.  When Georges’s son announces his engagement, everyone realizes they are in for a lot more than they bargained for.

With amazing choreography by Susan M. Chebookjian and Daniel Forest Sullivan, “La Cage aux Folles” bursts with color, razzle dazzle, and unlike “The Birdcage,” features a lot more dance numbers delivered by the sharp and athletic Les Cagelles.  The opening, gender bending tune, We Are What We Are, is a nimble display of tight choreography while the signature number, La Cage aux Folles is stylized, bizarre, and fascinating.  The show is also semi-interactive, which contributes to some of the productions most amusing moments.

Matthew Wright and Alison Pugh’s fantastic costumes are flashy, elegant, and over the top featuring wild, multi-colored wigs, shimmering gowns accented with furs and other costumes using an array of materials such as velour and silk with a bit of 70s flair.  The colorful set, by David Allen Jeffrey, is equally exotic featuring velvet couches and gold accents as well as its share of seaside, Mediterranean flavor and little French nuances at Cafe Renaud.

Reagle Music Theatre of Greater Boston La Cage aux Folles J.T. Turner as Georges

J.T. Turner as Georges Photo courtesy of Reagle Music Theatre of Greater Boston

The quirky, madcap cast is an excellent study in contrasting perspectives and family dysfunction.  In a purple velour coat with bowtie, J.T. Turner delivers a charming, comical, and tender performance as Georges.  Love struck and irresistibly likable, Georges is the heart of the show.  He has a beautiful rapport with Jonathan Acorn as his son, Jean-Michel and James Darrah as Albin, delivering heartfelt renditions of Look over There and wistful Song in the Sand.  The impressive comic timing between Turner as Georges and Darrah as Albin doesn’t get much better than during the number, Masculinity, especially while demonstrating their best John Wayne.

Reagle Music Theatre of Greater Boston La Cage aux Folles Cafe Renaud

James Darrah as Albin (center), J.T. Turner as Georges (right) and cast Photo courtesy of Reagle Music Theatre of Greater Boston

James Darrah as Albin, who possesses more than a passing resemblance to Nathan Lane, delivers a dramatic, engaging, and powerful performance as Albin.  Often not so fashionably late, Albin contends with his longing to hide from the world and his undeniable need to make an entrance.  His rendition of I Am What I Am is a Tour de Force performance, the best number of the show.  Full of bravery, yearning, and emotional weight, it is an anthem for those who feel like they do not belong.

Reagle Music Theatre of Greater Boston La Cage aux Folles James Darrah as Albin

James Darrah as Albin in Reagle Music Theatre of Greater Boston’s “La Cage aux Folles” Photo courtesy of Reagle Music Theatre of Greater Boston

Jonathan Acorn as anxious Jean-Michel is madly in love with his fiancée Anne.  She delivers a sweet and earnest performance by Lily Steven.  Theirs is a sweet love story and Acorn’s beautiful timbre is on full display during the affectionate number Anne on my Arm.

The show cuts loose with adventurous and delightful Maureen Brennan as Marie up against Rich Allegretto as relentlessly frowning, disdainful and uptight M. Dindon.   Speaking of cutting loose, Benz Atthakarunpan’s energetic, smirking Jacob delivers more than a few self deprecating moments in outrageous and surprising costumes while Ellen Peterson brings cleverness and a great set of pipes to Jacqueline.

Reagle Music Theatre of Greater Boston La Cage aux Folles Dinner

J.T. Turner as Georges, Jonathan Acorn as Jean-Michel, Lily Steven as Anne, Rich Allegretto as Dindon, Maureen Brennan as Marie, and James Darrah as Albin Photo courtesy of Reagle Music Theatre of Greater Boston

The show is a bit lengthy, but delivers more than its share of laughs from the dynamic and charismatic cast.  With pizzazz and heart, Reagle Music Theater of Greater Boston presents their final musical of the summer, “La Cage Aux Folles” through Sunday, August 18 at the Robinson Theatre, 617 Lexington Street in Waltham, Massachusetts.

Click here for more information and tickets.  Follow Reagle Music Theatre of Greater Boston on Twitter and Facebook for upcoming events and more.

REVIEW SpeakEasy Stage’s ‘Once’ a celebration even within its quiet moments

Dancing fiddlers and a rollicking music celebration is only the beginning.  Directed by Paul Melone and adapted from the 2007 romantic musical film of the same name, The SpeakEasy Stage Company presents the Tony Award-winning musical, Once extended through Sunday, April 7 at the Calderwood Pavilion in Boston, Massachusetts.  Click here for more information and for tickets.

Welcoming early arrivals to the show is a lively, comical, pre-show band that is also part of the talented Once cast.  Each cast member is also a musician and they all get their moment to shine.  With naturally flowing choreography by Ilyse Robbins, stomping guitarists and dueling fiddlers joyfully romp in a freestyle dance with the drummer.  The band has such personality and the performance is a wonderful preface to a quietly beautiful love story about a pair of lonely musicians who long for their place in the world.

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Eric Levenson’s absorbing set design enhances the production’s soulful atmosphere, featuring instruments hanging around a brick arch while musicians pop up sporadically during the production.  Though Once is set in Dublin, takes a lot at Czech and Irish traditions.  Guy is a lonely, sensitive street performer from Northside Dublin.  Portrayed with tight lipped earnestness by Nile Scott Hawver, Guy expresses his raw emotion through his songwriting, immediately leaving an impact with his first number, Leave.

Guy meets Girl, a talkative Czech pianist portrayed with quirky charm by Mackenzie Lesser-Roy.  Their immediate, humorous chemistry and her heartening, compassionate demeanor toward him is a particular highlight only topped by their remarkable duets, heightened during the show’s signature song, Falling Slowly.

Hawver does an impressive job portraying Guy’s gradual vulnerability while showing off his comic chops, especially during the song Broken Hearted Hoover Fixer Sucker Guy, but it is Lesser-Roy who shines, her chiming voice delivering a stirring rendition of The Hill and If You Want Me.  She carries a longing and loneliness she recognizes in Guy and her plucky, irrepressible optimism leaves a mark on everyone she meets.

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Once also has its share of amusing moments.  Billy Butler is hilarious as hot blooded, macho music shop owner, Billy.  Jeff Song is a delight as Bank Manager in a wildly enthusiastic version of Abandoned in BandonJacob Brandt and Kathy St. George are charming as perpetual dreamer Andrej and as candid, strong-willed Girl’s mother Baruska respectively.

The songs on Once’s acoustic, fiddle-laden soundtrack contain timeless, contemplative messages and the ensemble certainly contributes to its playful moments, but Once’s greatest strength is its subtle nuances and the impalpable stillness within this simple tale, most evident in the ensemble’s lovely, a capella version of Gold.  Love can a simple, quiet declaration that lingers long after the show is over.

SpeakEasy Stage presents the Tony Award-winning musical, Once extended through Sunday, April 7 at the Calderwood Pavilion, 539 Tremont Street in Boston, Massachusetts.  Click here for more information and for tickets.  Click here for a closer look at the SpeakEasy Stage and its 2019 season.

REVIEW: Festive and moving, Massasoit’s production of ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ is time well spent

Soft, twinkling lights and vintage multi-colored bulbs frame the Buckley Performing Arts Center stage as beloved Christmas carols ring in the holiday cheer in anticipation of a beloved tale.  That familiar sign, “You are Now in Bedford Falls” rings true as Massasoit Theatre Company opened a four show, two weekend run of It’s A Wonderful Life continuing through Sunday, December 3 at Buckley Performing Arts Center, part of Massasoit Community College in Brockton, Massachusetts.  Craig O’Connor, who acts as part narrator and full-time aspiring angel, warmly recalls a beautiful and haunting tale of the value of a life well spent.  Click here for more information and for tickets.

It's a Wonderful Life Bedford Falls

Curtis J. Bellafiore as George and Elizabeth Lovley as Mary Hatch and the cast Photo courtesy of Massasoit Theatre Company

Massasoit has an affinity for festive onstage caroling during annual holiday productions and We Wish You a Merry Christmas is just one of an array of classic tunes to set the mood.  The rolling stage, designed impressively by Nathan Fogg DeSisto, hearkens not only to its vintage 1920s to 40s setting, but visually captures some of the tale’s most iconic moments from the cold, snow covered bridge to a wooden bench frequently shown in Bedford Falls, a setting inspired by Seneca Falls, New York.  Jennifer Spagone’s distinct costume design make the cast looked sharp as women wore brightly colored dresses from polka dots to paisley in signature hairstyles of the period and the men in a variety of suits, ties, and winter coats faithful to the season.

It's a wonderful life Baileys

Patricia Straight-McGrath as Mother Bailey and Curtis J. Bellafiore as George Photo courtesy of Massasoit Theatre Company

Told partly in vignettes and flashbacks, It’s a Wonderful Life focuses on a morbidly downtrodden George Bailey, portrayed with a unique charisma by Curtis J. Bellafiore, who reaches a pivotal moment in his life that makes him question the value of his existence.  Enter mild-mannered Clarence Odbody, portrayed with warmhearted sincerity by Craig O’Connor, who questions whether he can produce a Christmas miracle.

It's a wonderful life Uncle Billy

Curtis J. Bellafiore as George and Danny Hannafin as Uncle Billy Photo courtesy of Massasoit Theatre Company

Director Tony Ruscio masters the challenging task of capturing the charm of this small town through the cast’s jocular and moving camaraderie.  The children have small roles, but each engages the audience in their own distinct way.  With a winning smile and apprehensive verbal style only mildly reminiscent of Jimmy Stewart’s portrayal, Curtis J. Bellafiore, embodies endearing dreamer George Bailey with a unique charisma.  His instant chemistry with Elizabeth Lovley as jubilant, yet mysterious Mary Hatch is captivating to watch.  Lovley’s real skill as Mary is not just in the scripted word, but in the subtlety of her performance.  Lovley’s quiet serenity perfectly complements Bellafiore’s charming optimism.  Craig O’Connor harnesses such a natural presence as lovable Clarence that it is difficult to imagine the actor himself any other way.

Chris DiOrio, last seen as grouchy but lovable Shrek in Hingham Civic Music Theatre’s fall production of the same name, takes a gloriously dark turn as the infamous Mr. Potter.   As he makes his demands from a sitting position, his presence casts a constant shadow, his deep, gravelly, and well spoken demeanor brimming with unflinching practicality.  His calculating exchanges with each cast member are riveting to say the least.

It's a wonderful life Potter

Chris DiOrio as Mr. Potter, Jim Gross, and Margaret O’Brien as Bank Examiner Photo courtesy of Massasoit Theatre Company

Massasoit Theatre Company’s festive and moving It’s A Wonderful Life continues through Sunday, December 3 at Buckley Performing Arts Center, One Massasoit Boulevard in Brockton, Massachusetts.  Call 508-427-1234 or click here for tickets and further details.  Follow Massasoit Theatre Company on Facebook for upcoming events and more.

Hingham Civic Music Theatre will soon debut the humorous fairy tale with a twist, ‘Shrek the Musical’

Shrek the Musical

Hingham Civic Music Theatre debuts ‘Shrek the Musical for two weekends only from Oct 21 through Oct 29 Photo courtesy of Hingham Civic Music Theatre

Can an intimidating green ogre have what it takes to become an unlikely hero?  Get to know Shrek, Donkey, the Gingerbread Man, Three Blind Mice, The Three Little Pigs, Pinocchio, and many more iconic fairy tale creatures in an entirely new way as Hingham Civic Music Theatre debuts Shrek the Musical at the Sanborn Auditorium in Hingham Town Hall Saturday, October 21 and continuing for two weekends through Sunday, October 29.  Based on William Steig’s imaginative fairy tale that later launched into a beloved animated film starring Mike Myers and Cameron Diaz followed by many popular film sequels, Shrek the Musical adds a bit more to this thrilling, family adventure.  Click here for more information, tickets, and how to participate in the HCMT Fundraising campaign.

Featuring real life husband and wife Chris DiOrio as Shrek and Leslie DiOrio as Princess Fiona, Shrek is a lone, but not lonely, green ogre who lives a quiet swamp life until life as he knows it is threatened, forcing him to embark on an daunting quest to save a mysterious princess.  With heartwarming songs such as Don’t Let Me Go, Big Bright Beautiful World, This is How Dreams Come True, and the Monkees classic, I’m a BelieverShrek the Musical offers enough witty humor and heartwarming moments that will entertain children and adults alike.

Directed by Lisa Pratt, music by Jeanine Tesori, musically-directed by Mark Bono, with choreography by Tara McSweeney Morrison, Hingham Civic Music Theatre presents Shrek the Musical on Saturdays, October 21 and 28 as well as one Friday performance on October 27 at 7:30 p.m.  Sunday matinees will be held on October 22 and 29 at 2 p.m.  All shows take place at Hingham Town Hall, 210 Central Street in Hingham, Massachusetts.  Click here for further details, tickets, and be sure to follow Hingham Civic Music Theatre on Facebook for upcoming events and more.

REVIEW: Led by CeCe Winans, Boston Pops Gospel Night rings in a joyous 25 years

Over the past 25 years, Boston Pops Gospel Night has stood the test of time as a glorious and revered annual tradition.  An illuminated brass backdrop, shining music notes, and a floating, celluloid film strip adorned the Symphony Hall stage while an enthusiastic crowd filed in for this highly-anticipated, one night only, 25th anniversary event.

Each year, Gospel Night features a special blend of acclaimed musical guests, a variety of beloved and new songs from the Boston Pops Gospel Choir, and memorable performances.  With multiple Grammy Award-winning singer CeCe Winans, a resounding, patriotic, monumental speech about freedom and peace, and rousing performances from the Boston Pops Gospel Choir, the Boston Pops Gospel Night has certainly outdone itself.  It’s an annual concert with toe tapping reverence and a spirited finale that always brings the audience to its feet.  Click here for more information on the Boston Pops, upcoming events, and more.

Warmly greeting the crowd and the orchestra was accomplished conductor, pianist, and composer Charles Floyd, who has been conducting Gospel Night for the past 23 years.  Click here for a closer look at Charles Floyd and his career.  Distinguished looking in a white tuxedo with black pants and a bow tie, Charles Floyd gave an appreciative wave before opening the 25th anniversary concert with Aaron Copland’s spirited Fanfare for the Common Man, as horns blared distinct and clear.  It was a mix of tender, powerful, and upbeat melodies that included Bach’s Little Fugue in G Minor and Chadwick’s Jubilee, which culminated into a vigorous finish and wondrous applause.

Gospel Night also recognized what would have been the recent 100th birthday of the late President John F. Kennedy by paying tribute to him and also honoring award-winning conductor, John Williams, who was the subject of this year’s Boston Pops season.  Young and naturally charismatic Reverend Thomas Crowley who is Senior Pastor of Myrtle Baptist Church, passionately delivered JFK’s famous inaugural address, “Let the Word Go Forth,” a stirring and thrilling speech which remains especially prevalent today.  The audience was captivated as the Reverend spoke of freedom, peace, ambition, and achieving the American ideal of brotherhood as musical excerpts of John Williams film score, JFK and Celebration 2000: Journey of John Williams rose underneath.

Boston Pops CeCe_Winans

Legendary, Grammy award-winning Gospel singer CeCe Winans Photo courtesy of the Boston Pops

 

The excitement for multiple Grammy award-winning singer CeCe Winans was tangible.   Dressed in a black and multi-colored floral gown, Cece Winans took the stage to roaring applause.  CeCe Winans is a flawless soprano whose vocal tone at times is reminiscent of Whitney Houston.  CeCe and Whitney collaborated together for the uplifting song, Count on Me in 1996.  With a joyful warmth and tenderness and as the Boston Pops Gospel Choir swayed and clapped, CeCe performed an array of faith-filled songs from her latest album, Let Them Fall in Love such as Run to Him, Dancing in the Spirit, Peace from God, Never Have to Be Alone, and the title track.  “Welcome to church,” CeCe exclaimed as she gracefully took the stage.  Many of her songs spoke about finding hope in despair, forgiveness, and in the state of the world today, how much we are in need prayer.  She concluded with a beautiful cover of Fanny Crosby’s hymn, Blessed Assurance, bringing the crowd to their feet.

Featuring a number impassioned performances from talented soloists, Charles Floyd continued to lead the Boston Pops Gospel Choir.  Soloist Suzanne Buell and Raymond Martin opened with upbeat, jubilant renditions of Celebrate followed by Carolyn Saxon and David Grandy singing King of Kings.  A particular highlight was Katani Sumner’s powerful, expressive, and bluesy rendition of When Sunday Comes.  Katani’s smooth version of the song hinted of Ella Fitzgerald in its delivery.

Each year, Gospel Night offers a grand, spirit-fueled finale.  Led by The Boston Pops Gospel Choir Artistic Director Dennis L. Slaughter, it is a party that could go all night long, if only they could.  One of the biggest highlights of the evening came from soloist Renese King, who sang a tambourine-infused, rollicking rendition of the classic Gospel hymn, Oh Happy Day.  Oh, Happy 25th Anniversary indeed.