Get ready for a whirlwind concert experience fueled by vocal powerhouses. Having been familiar with the award-winning 1998 The Temptationsminiseries 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.
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.
Based on the Otis Williams and Patricia Romanowski’sThe 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.
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.
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 Girlto I Wish it Would Rain. The stirring I Wish it Would Rain symbolizes much more than love lost in this particular production.
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.
The expression, ‘Out with the old, in with the new’ takes on new meaning for Umbrella Stage Company’s dynamic musical, Head Over Heels, a gender-bending jukebox musical comedy which includes a case of mistaken identity that integrates the renaissance with contemporary themes and the 80s in Arcadia, a land that thrives on a beat. If that seems like a lot, it’s because this ambitious show tackles a lot in its approximately 2-hour time frame.
With resourceful direction by Brian Boruta, The Umbrella Stage Company presents Head Over Heels the Musical live and in person at the beautifully-renovated Umbrella Arts Center, 40 Stow Street in Concord, MA through Sunday, May 8. This show may not be appropriate for young children. Click here for more information at for tickets.
Who else to handle a beat but the Go-Gos! Following a string of jukebox musicals such as Jersey Boys, Mamma Mia! (featuring music from Abba), Movin’ Out (featuring music from Billy Joel), Good Vibrations (featuring music from the Beach Boys), Moulin Rouge and Priscilla, Queen of the Desert(both which deliver covers of contemporary pop songs), 80s pop princesses the Go-Gos handle this production’s unique beat. This lighthearted show highlights many of the Go-Gos snappy, feel-good numbers such as Vacation, Our Lips are Sealed, Head Over Heels, and We Got the Beat along with some lesser known tracks that don’t land as well.
Head Over Heels is lively and cheerful in presentation from overhead neon lights, versatile surrounding white columns, and a live band veiled behind translucent curtains onstage by set designer Janie Howland to bold and bright period costumes in pink, green, and yellow weaving 80s glam with a rock-n-roll edge by Brian Simon and Johnny Cagno to the rollicking, up-tempo choreography by Lara Finn Banister.
Based loosely on Sir Phillip Sidney’sThe Arcadia, Head Over Heels is a farce that follows a few Arcadian love stories with one taking a cue from Shakespeare as love struck shepherd Musidorus, portrayed by John Breen, must disguise himself in order to gain approval to marry Princess Pilocleas, portrayed by Temma Beaudrea. Beaudrea and Breen have a brimming, awkward, and excitable chemistry as they fight not only the royal rules, but the predictions from a mysterious oracle that ultimately sees the kingdom’s demise unless things change. Meanwhile, Philocleas’s sister, Pamela, portrayed with humorous narcissism by Bri Ryder, is proclaimed fairest in the land, but a groom might not be what she has her sights on after all.
Damon Singletary as King Basilius brings gravitas and humor to the king’s bombastic nature while Kate Pickett’s flirty and dry sarcasm makes Gynecia a scene stealer. Robert Saoud as Dametas portrays the sympathetic and seemingly sole voice of reason. While the majority of the characters are so fixated on what each of them wants, Dametas and Kai Clifton, a commanding presence as Pythio, may be the only ones capable of seeing the bigger picture. Singletary and Saoud deliver some amusing scenes together as they share differing outlooks on this kingdom’s shaky ground.
The humor ranges from irreverent to absurd to charming. Head over Heels makes some deliberate and clever points in its storytelling, but can get more fixated on what each character stands for rather than giving the characters more depth. However, If you enjoy a frivolous farce dipped in 80s nostalgia, this “trifle” as Sir Phillip Sidney has called his prose, this one may be for you.
The Umbrella Stage Company presents Head Over Heels the Musical live and in person at the beautifully-renovated Umbrella Arts Center, 40 Stow Street in Concord, MA through Sunday, May 8. This show may not appropriate for young children. Click here for more information at for tickets.
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.
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.
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.
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.
If you decide to visit Hollywood, California, stop by the Bourbon Room, a real bar and nightclub inspired by the legendary fictional bar and nightclub in jukebox musical Rock of Ages. The Bourbon Room opened last year in honor of the show’s 20th anniversary and if it contains half the wild antics of this edgy musical, it will be worth the trip.
The excitement was tangible as the Company Theatre prepared for their return to its signature indoor stage for the debut of Rock of Ages on Saturday, August 7. The crowd was pumped for an uproarious good time as the booming sounds of 80s hits enlivened the stage and nostalgia took over not only for hair bands and jelly bracelets, but for a live show in person and in glorious color.
Directed by Zoe Bradford, musically directed by Steve Bass, and choreographed by Sally Ashton Forrest, The Company Theatre presents Rock of Ages without an intermission through Sunday, August 22 at The Company Theatre, 30 Accord Park Drive in Norwell, Massachusetts. This show is not for young kids. Please note this show run has some rotating cast members. Click here for more information and for tickets.
Packed with colorful characters doused with a mix of rock raunchiness and self aware humor, Rock of Ages holds a mirror up to the era of excess and distinct self expression. Steering this club is Brad Reinking as Lonny, the Bourbon’s impulsive no-holds-barred co-owner, resident storyteller, and narrator. According to Company Theatre’s Director of Development Michael Hammond, Reinking improvised a portion of the dialogue with local references and contemporary quips the audience and not even the cast saw coming. Reinking shines as Lonny, his strong voice and penchant for dark humor work well in a script that never takes itself too seriously.
Part love story, part rebellion, and mostly musical, Rock of Ages is set in the 80s on the Sunset Strip where idealistic Sherrie (Emily Lambert) and guitar strumming dreamer Drew (Braden Misiaszek) long for stardom and are not sure where to start. They set their sights inside the fledgling Bourbon Room, an aging nightclub and bar in danger of being shut down unless someone takes action.
Performed by an intimate group of musicians led by Steve Bass, Rock of Ages is fueled by a wide range of 80’s hits that are clearly a trip down memory lane for some including Journey, Bon Jovi, REO Speedwagon, and Foreigner enhanced by Forrest’s intense choreography. Emily Lambert boasts powerful vocals as wide-eyed yet determined Sherrie and does a terrific job teaming up with Caitlin Ford as complex yet confident Justice in a powerful medley of Quarterflash’s Harden My Heart and Pat Benatar’s Shadows of the Night. Lambert also shines in a sweet yet intense rendition with Misiaszek for Extreme’s More than Words, Bad English’s To Be with You, and Warrant’s Heaven medley. Melissa Carubia as spunky and resourceful renegade Regina is all spirit and heart for Twisted Sister’s We’re Not Gonna Take it and light and amusing rendition of Starship’s We Built this City and Styx’s Too Much Time on My Hands.
Shane Hennessey makes a big entrance as mysterious Stacy Jaxx (in a nod to another famous 80s rocker) to Bon Jovi’s Dead or Alive. Ryan Barrow’s vibrant set design is on point especially one scene in a nightclub bathroom. It is easy to feel the grime watching that signature nightclub bathroom from the audience. Janis Hudson portrays compelling Denise Dupree with a tough façade, dry humor, and a Joan Jett vibe while Christopher Spencer offers some refreshing and sometimes goofy comic relief as Franz.
That is just a taste of the wide range of rock numbers in store. A jukebox rock musical, Rock of Ages is best enjoyed as an extended MTV music video at a time when music was mainly performed on MTV. The rock medleys have cheek and sass and in the real world oozing with serious drama (where to start) Rock of Ages is meant as pure entertainment and each fun loving character a representation of a lighter time. You may find yourself bobbing your head, singing along, or both to the catchy tunes you may or may not have lived through, but nonetheless have stood the test of time in their own vibrant way.
Prior to the Rock of Ages musical on opening night, Company Theatre offered a VIP pre-show that featured plenty of 80s nostalgia and delicious treats including Pop Rocks, shrimp cocktail, cheese and crackers, vintage-style cupcakes, and a special Ecto Cooler cocktail.
The Company Theatre presents Rock of Ages without an intermission through Sunday, August 22 at The Company Theatre, 30 Accord Park Drive in Norwell, Massachusetts. Click here for more information, upcoming events, and tickets.