REVIEW: SpeakEasy Stage Company’s ‘Heroes of the Fourth Turning’ delves deep

A fire pit and backyard party in the deep woods of Landon, Wyoming seems the perfect setting for fun and good conversation.  What could go wrong?

Certainly a relatable situation in contemporary society, Heroes of the Fourth Turning knows how to tackle difficult discussions in a heady and thought provoking way, but leaving the conversation between these five distinct individuals unscathed is seldom a realistic scenario.

Dayna Cousins, Nathan Malin, and Jesse Hinson in ‘Heroes of the Fourth Turning.’ Photo by Nile Scott Studios.

Directed by Marianna Bassham who previously directed SpeakEasy’s acclaimed People Places and Things, SpeakEasy Stage Company presents Will Arbery’s Heroes of the Fourth Turning through October 8 live and in person at the Calderwood Pavilion in Boston, Massachusetts.  This show has adult themes.  Click here for more information and tickets.

One of the greatest strengths of Heroes of the Fourth Turning is its multifaceted approach to each of its characters.  Each individual is complex and struggling in some way, but are rarely stereotyped and the production is not approached in a divisive way.  The show is most effective by keeping an open mind.

It is satirical and darkly humorous from its opening scene with Justin, in hunting gear and a plaid shirt, moments away from shooting a deer.  This scenario may seem indicative of some the preconceived notions of conservative thinking and the nature of its forthcoming characters, but it gradually thwarts any preconceived expectations.  Its strength is not in the black and white, but delves into the gray corners of each of its characters.

Arbery’s script does not shy away from hot button and controversial issues and the atmosphere can get realistically heated and uncomfortable as it would at any gathering in contemporary society.  It offers a glimpse of each character’s unique perspective while their struggle unfolds as well as their flaws.

Dayna Cousins, Nathan Malin, and Jesse Hinson in ‘Heroes of the Fourth Turning.’ Photo by Nile Scott Studios.

This cast of well rounded characters and their easy camaraderie is a convincing depiction of a group that has known each other for years, especially between Dayna Cousins as Teresa and Nathan Malin as Kevin.  The quirks they know about each other demonstrate their long history.  Visiting her hometown from New York, Teresa is the seeming intellectual of the group.  Portrayed with nerve and intensity, Teresa has adapted a way of know-it-all thinking that makes her cold and unable to see another viewpoint, stereotyping whoever is unlike her.  As she boldly discusses her opinions on the world, she lets loose an air of authority, waiting to be challenged.

Dayna Cousins, Nathan Malin, and Jesse Hinson in ‘Heroes of the Fourth Turning.’ Photo by Nile Scott Studios.

Nathan Malin, who showed off his impressive dark comedic skills previously in SpeakEasy’s Admissions and The Sound Inside, portrays comical, chatty, and tormented Kevin.  Always ready for a party and deep conversation, Kevin longs to know the real secret of happiness in life as he contends with deep seated guilt and loneliness.

Justin, host of the party and veteran, is portrayed with a mix of sympathy and an air of mystery by Jesse Hinson.  A seemingly compassionate individual and clearly affected by his past experiences, it doesn’t take long to see there is much more to his story.

Jesse Hinson, Dayna Cousins, and Karen MacDonald in ‘Heroes of the Fourth Turning.’ Photo by Nile Scott Studios.

Battling physical ailments is Emily, an angelic portrayal by Elise Piliponis.  Emily is sweet and nonjudgmental, but with her own strong and compassionate views.  Bearing the brunt of her daily challenges, Emily is insightful and introverted and would like to do anything but argue. 

Emily’s mother and much admired Gina, portrayed with charisma and decorum by Karen MacDonald, is no stranger to complex characters such as in SpeakEasy’s The Children and as Erma in Merrimack Repertory Theatre’s Erma Bombeck:  At Wit’s End.  MacDonald thrives here too, depicting a complicated political figure that has impacted each of the other character’s lives.

Jesse Hinson, Dayna Cousins, and Karen MacDonald in Heroes of the Fourth Turning. Photo by Nile Scott Studios.

Heroes of the Fourth Turning is a fascinating, darkly humorous, and concerning look at human nature and though the ending seems outlandish, the clever script offers an interesting perspective on what happens even among the supposed like minded.

SpeakEasy Stage Company presents Will Arbery’s Heroes of the Fourth Turning through October 8 live and in person at the Calderwood Pavilion in Boston, Massachusetts.  This show has adult themes.  Click here for more information and tickets.

REVIEW:  Go see Academy of the Company Theatre’s heartwarming, moving, and family-friendly ‘Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat’

The one thing more magnificent then Joseph’s dream coat is the tale behind it.  An interactive, endearing, and humorous production, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat has been entertaining audiences for over 50 years with its exuberant story and its versatile and brilliant music by the Academy Award-winning team of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice.  Joseph’s music offers a wide spectrum of music genres for any taste from calypso to rock and roll which accompanies the unique retelling of a sacred tale of treachery and unceasing hope.

Photo courtesy of Zoe Bradford/Company Theatre

A tale so wonderful that it needs three narrators, Academy of the Company Theatre (ACT) presents Andrew Lloyd Webber’s wondrous and family-friendly musical comedy Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat continuing at the Company Theatre in Norwell, MA through Sunday, May 1.  The production is almost sold out.  Click here for more information, tickets, and for classes that ACT has to offer.

Cate Healey, Gilbert Dabady, and Elizabeth Nunnery as Narrators with Tim Bevens as Joseph Photo courtesy of Zoe Bradford/Company Theatre

Based on the Book of Genesis and set in the land of Canaan and Egypt, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat explores the incredible journey of Joseph and his brothers as Joseph struggles to discover his destiny.  It is very much a collaborative, ensemble piece featuring three engaging narrators portrayed by Gilbert Dabady last seen in ACT’s Les Miserables, Cate Healey, and Elizabeth Nunnery as they share Joseph’s tale not only with the audience, but with the surrounding and energetic young cast gathered onstage.  Dabady, Healey, and Nunnery all have powerful and very different voices that complement each other throughout the performance.

Brothers – Corin O’Neill – Abington, Jay Feeney- Hansen, Henry Jacobs – Norwell, Colin SanGiacomo – Norwood, Roland Schulze – Hingham, Matthew Porro – Hanover, Tim Bevens (Joseph) – Hingham, Ben Cavallo Smith-Hingham and cast Photo courtesy of Zoe Bradford/Company Theatre

With a sweet smile and unassuming demeanor, Tim Bevens portrays humble, yet forthright dreamer Joseph with instant likability from his first opening number, a warm and melodious rendition of Any Dream Will Do.  Bevens delivers a compelling performance as a naïve outsider, his versatile vocal range effortless for the soothing Any Dream Will Do to stirring Close Every Door, his tone heart rendering and sympathetic.

Wearing a white beard, Jacob Yates takes on the mostly silent role of Jacob, Joseph’s devoted father.  Yates makes the most out of this role with an amusing walk and some physical humor.  Led by Charlie Flaherty’s standout portrayal as Joseph’s smirking and sneaky brother Reuben, One More Angel in Heaven depicts the united camaraderie not only by Joseph’s eleven brothers, but from the cast, all in on a little secret.  Another excellent number that depicts the brothers’ united front is delivered by Ben Cavallo-Smith as Judah and his brothers for Roland Schulz as Benjamin, a catchy, amusing song called Benjamin Calypso.

Combining blue, glitter, and gold into dazzling Egyptian attire, Sal Garcia, who was last seen as Jean Val Jean in ACT’s Les Miserables, makes a grand entrance in suave sunglasses and a bouffant hairstyle as Pharaoh, complete with shimmering gold sneakers.  Garcia shows off his comedic talent and charisma in the show stopping number Song of the King, combining the essence and high energy of a certain king not to be revealed here and Jack Black.  It is fun to watch Garcia in a role where he can let loose.

Sal Garcia as Pharaoh Photo courtesy of Zoe Bradford/Company Theatre

The transformative lighting by Dean Palmer Jr. ranges from a lone spotlight to doubling for the hot, desert sun to flashing, multicolored spotlights for Go Go Go Joseph to the warm candlelight and modest staging of Close Every Door.  Though most of the sets are colorful and fun, there is something special about the translucent, simple staging for Close every Door by candlelight, letting Tim Bevens’s poignant rendition speak for itself without distractions. 

Elsa Hancock-Happ – Rockland, Calvin Jacobs – Norwell, Reese Warshaw – Hingham, Izzie Donnelly – Hingham, Nora Joyce – Weymouth, Silvia Thompson – Hingham, Tim Bevens – Joseph – Hingham, Laird Lacoste and cast Photo courtesy of Zoe Bradford/Company Theatre

Among the vibrant and bold costumes by John Crampton and Alison Gordon is the famous coat in yellow and green and ochre… Joseph’s magnificent, flowing, and sparkling coat is a head turner decked out in multi-colored stars on the back.  The cast wearing sunglasses, an unusual camel, and cute Egyptian “beetles” among the crowd on a unconventional journey to Egypt are just a few of the subtle, cheerful touches added to this lighthearted production that certainly has its share of stirring and difficult moments, but with far more uplifting and spirited ones, it’s difficult to feel down for long.

Tim Bevens (Joseph) and cast Photo courtesy of Zoe Bradford/Company Theatre

Directed by Zoe Bradford with lively choreography by Sally Ashton Forrest and musically directed by Melissa Carubia, Academy of the Company Theatre (ACT) presents Andrew Lloyd Webber’s wondrous and family-friendly musical comedy Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat continuing at the Company Theatre in Norwell, MA through Sunday, May 1.  The production is almost sold out.  Click here for more information and for tickets.

REVIEW:  Lexus Broadway in Boston’s ‘Ain’t too Proud: The Life and Times of the Temptations’ powerhouse vocals as compelling as their back story

Get ready for a whirlwind concert experience fueled by vocal powerhouses.  Having been familiar with the award-winning 1998 The Temptations miniseries produced by Temptations founder Otis Williams and based on the book featuring a special appearance by Smokey Robinson, it is no secret just how much material this musical had to cover and does so with finesse and upbeat pacing.

The Temptations Marcus Paul James as Otis Williams, James T. Lane as Paul Williams, Jalen Harris as Eddie Kendricks, Harrell Holmes Jr as Melvin Franklin and Elijah Ahmed Lewis as David Ruffin Photo credit to Lexus Broadway in Boston

Directed slickly by Des McAnuff and produced by Otis Williams and Shelly Berger, Lexus Broadway in Boston presents Tony award-winning jukebox musical Ain’t Too Proud:  The Life and Times of the Temptations at Citizens Bank Opera House in Boston, MA through Sunday, May 1.  The show is 2 hours and 30 minutes including an intermission.  Click here for more information and for tickets.

Behind every monumental group is a colossal tale.  The story behind the Temptations spans decades encapsulating wild drama (some of which seems too incredible to be true) while members of the Temptations changed like a revolving door.  Some of these legendary performers haunted by the past wrestled with inner turmoil and demons that indelibly impacted their own lives and with timeless and groundbreaking music comes sacrifice.

Marcus Paul James as Otis Williams (center) Photo credit to Lexus Broadway in Boston

Based on the Otis Williams and Patricia Romanowski’s The Temptations autobiography, the journey began in Detroit.  Marcus Paul James is part preacher, part storyteller, and all heart as Temptations founder Otis Williams recalls admiring groups like The Cadillacs in his hometown when he wasn’t getting into trouble.  Finding his calling to sing was like ‘the heavens opening up.’  Immediately engaging, James guides the audience through decades of the Temptations musical journey through the losses, the humor, dedication, arrogance, passion, tragedy, and fleeting success to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.

Most importantly though, it is a rich voyage through the classic Motown tunes that have stood the test of time not just by The Temptations, but the Supremes and other famous Motown classics of that time.

Jalen Harris as Eddie Kendricks with the Temptations and The Supremes together. Photo credit to Lexus Broadway in Boston

Decked out in suave matching gray suits and ties and launching into The Way You Do the Things You Do featuring the five original members composed of James T. Lane as Paul Williams, Harrell Holmes Jr as Melvin Franklin, Elijah Ahmad Lewis as David Ruffin, Jalen Harris as Eddie Kendricks, and Marcus Paul James as Otis Williams, Ain’t too Proud is an interactive, energetic, concert-driven locomotive as sliding vintage black and white photos and film depict the fans, the touring, the injustices, and the milestones through the years.  The frequently moving, multilayered set by Robert Brill combined with Howell Binkley’s impressive lighting gives the slick illusion of the quick pace of their lives and the audience riding along for each transforming scene.

The Supremes – Traci Elaine Lee as Mary Wilson Deri’Andra Tucker as Diana Ross and Shayla Brielle G. as Florence Ballard Photo credit to Lexus Broadway in Boston

Not only does Ain’t too Proud feature Tony award-winning choreography, but some dynamite vocals from start to finish.  Traci Elaine Lee delivers a dual role first with brief, but memorable impromptu vocals as fast-talking Johnnie Mae in a spectacular onstage Cadillac as as Mary Wilson of The Supremes.  The Supremes, adorned in dazzling gowns by costume designer Paul Tazewell, make brief but memorable appearances with seamless vocals for classic numbers such as You Can’t Hurry Love and I’m Gonna Make You Love Me led by Deri’Andra Tucker as the luminous Diana Ross. 

Though each member of the Temptations have good chemistry, baritone Marcus Paul James as Otis and Harrell Holmes Jr as dedicated and forthright bass singer Melvin, have an exceptional brotherly connection. Jalen Harris as falsetto Eddie Kendricks performed a memorable Just My Imagination to an enthusiastic crowd. Elijah Ahmad Lewis portrays complex and sensational tenor David Ruffin with charisma, arrogance, and affliction from the sweet first notes of My Girl to I Wish it Would Rain.  The stirring I Wish it Would Rain symbolizes much more than love lost in this particular production.

Harris Matthew as Dennis Edwards (center) Marcus Paul James as Otis Williams, James T. Lane as Paul Williams, Harrell Holmes Jr as Melvin Franklin, and Jalen Harris as Eddie Kendricks Photo credit to Lexus Broadway in Boston

Ain’t too Proud delves into the lives of the Temptations, the classic tunes, what tears them apart, and what ultimately makes them the greatest Rhythm and Blues group in music history.  With a total of 24 Temptations over the years, it is quite the tale to tell. 

Lexus Broadway in Boston presents jukebox musical Ain’t too Proud:  The Life and Times of the Temptations at Citizens Bank Opera House in Boston, MA through Sunday, May 1.  Click here for more information and for tickets.

REVIEW:  SpeakEasy Stage Company’s searing and immersive ‘People, Places & Things’ makes an indelible impact

Nina is in a nightmare.

Perhaps rock bottom is an unimaginable state until you learn how much further you can sink. People, Places & Things is a jarring and astounding portrait of a spiraling woman who must face that this nightmare she’s in can be stopped.

Masterfully directed  by David R. Gammons, SpeakEasy Stage Company presents Duncan Macmillan’s People, Places, & Things live and in person at the Calderwood Pavilion in Boston, Massachusetts through Saturday, March 5.  This show contains mature themes.  Click here for more information and tickets.

People, Places, and Things is immediately gripping as it thrusts the audience into Nina’s (or whatever she calls herself at the moment) apparent breakdown onstage.  Nina, brilliantly depicted by Marianna Bassham, is a struggling actress who has more than just forgotten her lines during a pivotal moment in a sophisticated play.  The harried and frantic nature of Nina’s life emanates from the stage and you are engulfed in the deep chasm of an addict.

Kadahj Bennett and Marianna Bassham in People, Places & Things. Photo by Nile Scott Studios.

While People, Places & Things has its share of harrowing moments, it is not without its doses of dark humor. It is a realistic depiction of an addict’s complex journey with its own share of twists, turns, and shocking revelations.  Bassham is enigmatic and at times dreadfully unlikable in the way a guarded person who thinks they have all the answers might be.  Her sporadic tics, vacant expression, shaking, low talking, and absent pauses are shocking yet enthralling to witness.  Bassham’s disillusionment of the world gives the impression that she feels she is not in the chaos of her circumstances, but standing outside of them in her own judgment.  With alarm, rage, and confusion flickering in her eyes, Bassham is absolutely riveting.

Adrianne Krstansky and Marianna Bassham in People, Places & Things. Photo by Anabel Rios Photography.

 The show depicts a mix of lucid moments and unhinged visions manifested in part by the efforts of Jeff Adelberg’s transient lighting varying from creepy to downright alarming. Whether it is to demonstrate time freezing, time progression or revealing trauma with occasional strobe lights, Adelberg captures the striking and vivid chaos within and outside this woman.

Marianna Bassham and the cast of People, Places & Things. Photo by Nile Scott Studios.

Jeff Petersen’s open staging is a bold and clever choice where nothing is hidden from the front of the stage right through to what seems like dressing rooms.  This quick-paced production makes some swift transitions meticulously done with purpose and meaning.  The transparency lends a great deal to the piece as each character struggles with what they are hiding.

Marianna Bassham and Nael Nacer in People, Places & Things. Photo by Nile Scott Studios.

 The dynamic cast includes members that take on dual or even multiple roles that are vastly different throughout the production. Kadahj Bennett’s direct, compassionate, and occasionally amusing turn as Foster is as harsh on Bassham as he has probably been on himself.  Bennett, Bassam, and barely stable and complicated Nael Nacer as Mark share some significant and transcending moments as their outlooks on life make for some compelling dialogue.   Nacer and Bassham also share some intriguing chemistry.  At one point, Naser refers to Bassam as a ‘human hand grenade.’  Adrienne Krstansky and John Kuntz make some brilliant transitions in their multiple roles and it is easy to become invested in each of these unpredictable characters.

Nael Nacer, John Kuntz, and Marianna Bassham in People, Places & Things. Photo by Nile Scott Studios.

SpeakEasy Stage Company presents Duncan Macmillan’s People, Places, & Things live and in person at the Calderwood Pavilion in Boston, Massachusetts through Saturday, March 5.  This show contains mature themes.  Click here for more information, tickets, and upcoming productions.

REVIEW: Tony Williams’ ‘Urban Nutcracker’ makes a vivid and engaging return to the stage for its 20th anniversary

The thrill is back. 

For an interactive and engaging show like Urban Nutcracker, experiencing it online last year on its 19th anniversary offered a glimpse into its dazzling style, multi-genre music, and the unique perspective within a classic tale. 

However, sitting in the Boch Center’s Shubert Theatre as Urban Nutcracker’s dynamic orchestra traveled down the aisles performing their horn-infused, big band sound on instruments stringed in colorful lights created an authentically immersive experience.  This year marks Urban Nutcracker’s 20th anniversary live onstage, an innovative show that not only pays tribute to Tchaikovsky’s classic holiday tale, but to the beauty and spirit of Boston.

Featuring the City Ballet of Boston, The Brooklyn Ballet, Phunk Phenomenon Dance Complex, the Northeast School of Ballet, and Revels, Tony Williams Dance Center’s Urban Nutcracker is available for a limited engagement continuing through December 22 at the Boch Center Shubert Theatre in Boston, Massachusetts.  The show is approximately 2 hours with one 15 minute intermission. Click here to for more information and for further details about the Tony Williams Dance Center

Click here for an interview with Tony Williams about his dance center and how the Urban Nutcracker began.

Prefaced by festive carols from the likes of Frank Sinatra, Judy Garland, and Nat King Cole, the enthusiastic crowd was more than ready to experience The Urban Nutcracker live and in person again and from the spontaneous cheers from the crowd, showed no sign of disappointment. 

As the band settles inside a replica of the Hatch Shell above the stage amid Janie Howland’s amazing scenic design, identifiable landmarks such as the CITGO signMassachusetts State House, Green Monster, and Downtown Boston’s Custom House Clock Tower  (which comes alive upon closer examination) are set strategically on Boston’s city skyline.  The orchestra plays above the performers, delivering rich and funky rhythms inspired by a variety of music styles that match the vast array of festive, eye-popping costumes by Dustin Todd Rennels as cultures from around the world take the stage once more.

Ruth Whitney and Ronnie Thomas Photo credit to Peter Paradise

When TchaikovskyDuke Ellington, and David Berger come together for this eclectic score musically directed by Bill Whitney, it takes this timeless tale to the next level.  Urban Nutcracker delivers a modern, sparkling, family-friendly vibe which is depicted in the show’s rich colors as a chic and contemporary apartment with a distinctive tree, glimmering cushions, and large and festive bulbs covering the windows is revealed.

What is particularly noticeable this year is the gathering.  The variety of children and adults dancing and playing with their new toys as a group come together for an amazing photo with a lengthy selfie stick.  The sheer joy of a houseful of children and adults enjoying each other’s company has been something dearly missed.

Selfie stick Photo credit to Peter Paradise

Horn infused jazz, hip hop, and the blues are just a few of the genres explored in this tradition meets contemporary Urban Nutcracker.  It was amazing to watch the adults dance with elements of swing and ballet integrated into their steps.

Urban Nutcracker depicts all the classic scenes from Tchikovsky’s production with an inviting twist featuring a diverse, multi-talented cast.  In a magnificent coat and top hat, Gianni Di Marco has more than one trick up his sleeve as captivating Drosselmeyer.  He not only wows adults and children alike with tricks and presents, but his sweet interactions with Ruby including one point as the duo watch from the balcony provide some of Urban Nutcracker’s most memorable moments.

Drosselmeyer does his magic as children look on. Photo credit to Peter Paradise

Khalid Hill returns and again masters multiple roles including a catchy break dancing, tap and toe tapping routine on the city streets as dancers synchronize beats on trash cans.  Ronnie Thomas is excellent as a wiry soldier doll in bright orange and purple as he bends in incredible shapes around the stage as well in an exciting rat battle as the Nutcracker Prince.

The Snow Queen and King, portrayed by Ruth Bronwen-Whitney and Ronnie Thomas, are sophisticated and elegant gliding in a snow-covered landscape of the Boston Common surrounded by luminous snowflake dancers.  Thomas also delivers a visually-rich and memorable performance in a duet with Ruth Bronwen-Whitney as Arabian dancers.  Spain’s spectacular costumes glitter in a flowing flamenco dance as a bull rider dominates the background while China’s dancers are bursting with color in a spinning fan dance.

Kirsten Glaser leads Spain dance Photo cred to Peter Paradise Michaels.

The Sugar Plum Fairy, performed by Kseniya Melyukhina and Ruth Bronwen-Whitney, has a more traditional look in lilac this year, but nonetheless stands out for a beautiful, upbeat solo and a later performance with Gianni Di Marco during a jazz-infused Nutcracker Suite. 

Kseniya Melyukhina in Urban Nutcracker Photo credit Peter Paradise

Several lighthearted performances return to the stage including the athletic hula hoop dancers in Revere Beach with back flips included, a lively and humorous performance featuring skilled, tap-dancing workmen in hardhats and paint-splotched overalls, but a favorite performance of Urban Nutcracker’s answer to Make Way for Ducklings is endearing and heartwarming featuring Michael Oliver Slayton as a tap dancing cop and an adorable, yellow feathered troupe of ducklings led by Simone Wolfhorst.

Urban Nutcracker still offers something for everyone with a unique twist on a classic while still reminding audiences what is truly important this time of year.  It is a unique and exciting Boston tribute with surprises along the way.

Tony Williams Dance Center’s Urban Nutcracker continues through December 22. Click here for more information, tickets, and how to support this organization.

REVIEW:  GBH’s ‘A Christmas Celtic Sojourn’ full of gratitude, wistfulness, and holiday cheer

As the world shut down last year and domestic and international performers could not take the stage on A Christmas Celtic Sojourn’s usual tour around Massachusetts, GBH decided to bring the audience virtually to them in 2020.  From stunning Sligo Cathedral in Ireland to Scotland to Canada and various parts of Massachusetts, viewers could see a mix of Christmas traditions and scenery on location right from their own living room as well as experience traditional and contemporary harmonies performed simultaneously internationally through brilliant technology.  What hadn’t changed was A Christmas Celtic Sojourn’s master of ceremonies, Brian O’Donovan who delivered a mix of humor, melancholy, and warm reflections through engaging storytelling and fond tidings.  

From L to R: Windborne, Brian O’Donovan and Moira Smiley Photo credit to Matthew Muise

This year should seem more familiar.  Host Brian O’ Donovan and a mix of renowned performers from around the world returned to the stage for A Christmas Celtic Sojourn to deliver glad and wistful tidings through uplifting Celtic step dancing, musings, music, and storytelling while making stops in Rockport and Boston. 

Brian O’Donovan and the Christmas Celtic ensemble Photo credit to Matthew Muise

Directed with a mix of festiveness and reflection by Jenna Worden, the live and in person tour included a sold-out show at Shalin Liu Performance Center in Rockport, Massachusetts on December 14 and at the Cutler Majestic Theatre from December 17 through 19 in Boston, Massachusetts.  The show is 90 minutes with no intermission.

GBH’s virtual A Christmas Celtic Sojourn is still available.  Click here for more information and to enjoy the show on-demand through December 26.  A Christmas Celtic Sojourn would also like to hear what you thought of the program by visiting their Facebook page.

Nearing its 20 year-anniversary, what this annual production and concert certainly masters is the quiet and stirring.  That is just how the show begins as A Christmas Celtic Sojourn welcomed the audience with crisp, a cappella harmonies led by singer-songwriter Moira Smiley accompanied by returning folk singers Windborne.  Weaving in contemporary songs with God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen, their chiming vocals brought distinctive warmth so prevalent to the production.

In front of a painted mural of a serene Irish countryside transforming from dawn to dusk by innovative light designer Dan Jentzen, remarkable Christmas carol compositions, stirring remembrances, lively Celtic step dancing, and rousing jam sessions or  Celtic ‘round robins’ brought beauty, celebration, and stillness into the season. 

Speaking of ‘round robins,’ the Christmas Celtic ensemble composed of co-music director and multi-instrumentalist Seamus Egan, Celtic Harpist, pianist and co-music director Maeve Gilchrist, multi-instrumentalists Owen Marshall and Yann Falquet, Fiddler Jenna Moynihan, Kate McNally and Neil Pearlman on Fiddle and Piano, and Chico Huff on Bass, dedicated an uplifting and freestyle number to Paddy Moloney of The Chieftains who passed away in October.  It was fascinating to see how pianist Neil Perlman keeps the lively beat playing as his feet danced along. 

By candlelight and Christmas tree, host Brian O’Donovan recalls childhood memories in Ireland where Protestants and Catholics were brought together singing Christmas carols and the lingering smell of bacon wafted through his home weaving in anecdotes from Welch poet Dylan Thomas.  Brian also shared historical musings and performed a humorous rendition of Miss Fogarty’s Christmas cake

Singer-songwriter Moira Smiley Photo credit to Matthew Muise

Singer-songwriter Moira Smiley also delivered a mix of reflective and ruminating lyrics with Days of War about hard times as well as the rich folk lullaby Johanna Dreams on banjo.  Smiley’s remarkable, round, and velvety vocals enrich each verse.  She also shares the stage with Windborne and Brian O’Donovan in a stirring and gorgeous rendition Silent Night, O Holy Night and with the entire cast joined in for a treasured and traditional Auld Lang Syne and Here We Come A-Wassailing.

Entire Company of ‘A Christmas Celtic Sojourn’ Photo credit to Matthew Muise

However, most memorable is a vivid gathering as the stage transforms into a warm and inviting living room with the atmosphere of family and friends singing around the piano sharing various Christmas carols such as Joy to the World.  The stage is bright and festive as Celtic step dancers join in this familiar picture of the spirit of the season joyfully leaping in velvet attire and bejeweled shoes led by Ashley Smith-Wallace.  It is a picture treasured for the Christmas season and reflective of what is soon to come. 

GBH’s virtual A Christmas Celtic Sojourn is still available.  Click here for more information and to enjoy the show on-demand through December 26.  A Christmas Celtic Sojourn would also like to hear what you thought of the program by visiting their Facebook page.

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

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

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

Photo courtesy of TCAN Players

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

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

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

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

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

REVIEW:  Academy of the Company Theatre’s parody ‘Puffs’ full of lively, enchanted fun

Those first few chords seem familiar, but no, this is not quite the John Williams classic score about THAT wizard, but another earnest group of wizard hopefuls.  Not quite ‘saint-like,’ but fun loving and enthusiastic underachievers nonetheless.  Some legendary faces appear and make quite an impression, but the Puffs are the real stars.

Full of inside and self aware jokes, 90s pop culture references, chocolate frogs, almost every flavored bean, and not nearly as long as Harry Potter and the Cursed Child Parts 1 and 2 comes Puffs, a spot on parody that tells the epic tale of the seven years Harry Potter attended Hogwarts from the viewpoint of some of the lesser known wizard students that aimed for first, but would also settle for third.  It is a hilarious exploration that is best appreciated by Harry Potter fans due to its share of spoilers, but anyone would enjoy a wealth of improvisational fun and physical humor as well as Dean Palmer Junior’s impressive lighting and special effects.  The introduction of hilarious dragons and haunting dementors are just some of the show’s highlights.

Bath scene. Photo courtesy of Zoe Bradford/Company Theatre

Directed cleverly by Corey Cadigan, Academy of the Company Theatre (ACT) presents Matt Cox’s Puffs for one exclusive weekend from October 22 through October 24 at Company Theatre in Norwell, Massachusetts.  Click here for all of Company Theatre’s upcoming events including a tribute to Jordie Saucerman, Company Theatre’s late co-founder.

The timing is perfect for Puffs as next year marks 25 years since JK’s Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone hit bookshelves in 1997, making the author one of the richest people in the world.  With Harry Potter and the Cursed Child back on Broadway and around the world and Fantastic Beasts 3: The Secrets of Dumbledore slated for next year, Harry Potter remains a phenomenon.

Annie Dunn as Sally Perks and others and Marissa Tolini as Susie Bones and others Photo courtesy of Zoe Bradford/Company Theatre

This is absolutely not a retread of Harry Potter though, but tells a slightly different and more humorous tale along Harry Potter’s timeline.  It is difficult to choose which characters makes the biggest impression because each cast member collaborate so well together and as a big Harry Potter fan, I found myself laughing right through my mask which is required within Company Theatre’s comfortable theatre space.

Brianna Casey as Narrator Courtesy of Zoe Bradford/Company Theatre

Many cast members transfigure into multiple roles as Brianna Casey serves as Puffs scholarly narrator.  Casey’s benevolent and dignified delivery adds gravitas to an often whimsical role, keeping the tale focused as some of the more spontaneous characters could have led the story astray.  Will Moon epitomizes Cedric’s rock star persona and charismatic scene stealer in a dual role and Alex Norton’s Wayne Hopkins is talkative and charming as the tale’s ‘would be’ hero.  Morgan Hurley offers a memorable portrayal of conflicted Megan Jones, a rebel with a chip on her shoulder.  She shares endearing chemistry with Sean Lally as Wayne’s nerdy best friend, Oliver Rogers.

Anastasia Ferrera is bubbly and delightful as Leanne among others and James Keyes as goofy J. Finch as well as other roles is often the life of the party.  One of the many collaborative scenes and highlights of the show involve a party with too much butter beer and a familiar sounding 90s dance song.   Some scenes seem a random addition, but are always smartly done.

With intricate, multi-functional sets and props (those wands and that sorting hat!) by Ryan Barrow and colorful, distinctive, and humorously outlandish costumes by John Crampton, Puffs is a lighthearted and wonderful journey while still delivering important life lessons so prevalent in the books such as valuing the power of friendship, dreaming big, and being true to oneself.  It’s a shame the show is only presented for one weekend with a cast that is having so much fun.

Brianna Casey as Narrator and Max Ripley as Ernie Mac and others

Academy of the Company Theatre (ACT) performs parody Puffs through October 24.  Click here for more information and for all of the Company Theatre’s upcoming events.

REVIEW: Boston Lyric Opera’s season opener ‘Cavalleria Rusticana’ a passionate and magnificent affair

Not even Easter Sunday can stop a scandal in the Sicilian countryside.

Featuring distinct, eye-popping costumes, a glorious Opera Chorus led Brett Hodgdon, and a full orchestra, Boston Lyric Opera (BLO) opened their season on a grand scale with the renowned one act Italian libretto, Cavalleria Rusticana for just two performances on October 1 and 3.  Boston Lyric Opera was greeted by an enthusiastic crowd anticipating BLO’s return to a live venue for 18 months.  Delivered on a concert scale, Cavalleria Rusticana was presented under Leader Bank Pavilion’s open air tent in the Seaport District in Boston, Massachusetts.  It ran for 1 hour and 10 minutes with no intermission.

JAVIER ARREY AS ALFIO WITH DANCERS VICTORIA L. AWKWARD, MICHAYLA KELLY, AND MARISSA MOLINAR Photo by Liza Voll/Boston Lyric Opera

Loyalty, love, honor, and faith are tested among this group of passionate players.  Led by Music Director David Angus, the seemingly joyous overture delivers an exciting rush woven into a sense of foreboding, hinting at turmoil among still waters on the holiest of days, Easter Sunday.  Introducing the libretto is an interactive and unparalleled performance of Pagliacci’s Prologue by Javier Arrey.  Taking a reflective, humorous, and philosophical tone addressing the audience over what they are about to see, Cavalleria Rusticana becomes a passionate and cautionary tale, pleading about the affects of love and the human spirit.

Julia Noulin-Merat’s standalone set pieces, including overturned chairs piled high in pale pink as well as bright yellow chairs lining the stage, pop as does Gail Astrid Buckley’s distinct, vivid costumes with blooming flowers set against the orchestral backdrop depicting the emergence of a Sicilian spring. 

CHELSEA BASLER AS LOLA WITH DANCER MICHAYLA KELLY Photo by Liza Voll/Boston Lyric Opera

It is easy to get invested in these headstrong characters and Cavalleria Rusticana hits the ground running steeped in a complex love affair as the sacredness of Easter surrounds them, emphasized by ethereal dancers Victoria Awkward, Michayla Kelly, and Marissa Molinar and the swelling of the Boston Lyric Chorus’s powerful and spiritual lyrics.

Michelle Johnson as conflicted Santuzza leads this magnificent cast, delivering a splendid, heartrending performance.  Filled with sorrow and longing, Johnson’s tremendous vocals and her searing confrontation with Turiddo, portrayed with a charismatic yet manipulative mystique by Adam Diegel, show Johnson is a force to be reckoned with.  Chelsea Basler depicts alluring and complicated Lola with infuriating and masterful charm and the heart of the show lies with loyal and compassionate Nina Yoshida Nelsen as Mamma Lucia who observes it all much like the audience, with bated breath.

The show is delivered entirely in Italian and with subtitles at significant parts of the production.  However, for someone who does not know Italian and with a production so captivating, it is difficult having to forego not knowing every single word spoken from this enthralling cast.

Cavallaria Rusticana takes place in 1900’s Sicily and yet this opera is as timeless as any contemporary story told today and a perfect choice to open Boston Lyric Opera’s new season which includes virtual and live and in-person performances including jazz-themed opera Champion and Svadba through operabox.tv.  Click here for more information and a closer look at BLO’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.