REVIEW:  The Arlekin Players powerful and interactive ‘The Gaaga’ (The Hague) brings war under the microscope

What if during the pain and strife of war, leaders were rounded up and required to stand trial for war crimes?  What if during that trial, the very nature of war is peeled away to only exact more questions?

The Arlekin Players are known for daring and original productions fueled with a strong and universal message and this time, the audience had a say in this interactive trial through the eyes of a child.

Taisiia Fedorenco as Taya in Arlekin Players ‘The Gaaga’ Photo by Irina Danilova

Innovatively written and directed by Sasha Denisova, Arlekin Players Theatre and the Zero-G Virtual Theatre Lab presented The Gaaga (The Hague) live and in person at Beat Brew Hall in Harvard Square in Cambridge, MA as well as a virtual option from June 2 through June 18.  This show contained some adult themes and is 2 hours and 40 including one 10 minute intermission.  Click here for more information.

The cast of Arlekin Players ‘The Gaaga’ Photos by Irina Danilova

The Gaaga delves into some heavy and heady content, but also has its share of satiric humor and spectacle told in an interactive manner through a child’s game delivered through a dark and intriguing performance by Taisiia Fedorenco as Taya in a bomb shelter in Mariupol, Ukraine.  Taya’s “game” is a trial that Putin, portrayed with striking resemblance by hair and makeup designer Anna Furman and depicted somewhat superficially as a child would see Putin by Paulina Dubovikova, and his network of operatives is on trial for their crimes in the Ukraine.  The audience is privy to the trial and then some as each operative parade out for aiding Putin in crimes against humanity. 

It is a powerful, gritty, harrowing, tense, and deeply personal production that leaves many more questions that it does answers about war, its consequences, and the dilemma of who is truly responsible for its uprising.  Though the cast is a dynamic group made of mostly conniving and power hungry adversaries all looking for a scapegoat, The Gaaga adds unexpected dimension to this almost assuredly doomed bunch, but things are never quite as cut and dry.

Taya is not just any girl.  She wants the audience (who can choose to be part of the online jury) to not just see her as narrator and orchestrator of the game, but to get to know her by revealing her favorite soup and what she loves as evidenced by tell tale surroundings including a rocking horse, tea set, and pink doll house.  It’s such a purposefully ironic and metaphorical setting by Environmental Designer Irina Kruzhilina which perhaps symbolizes the loss of innocence as war talk overpowers a child’s playthings.  Lighting designer Kevin Fulton enhances the crucial, mood setting atmosphere from a drab and dismal Dutch prison to the satirical buoyancy of a theatrical performance.  Sound designer Brendan F Doyle and composers Szymon Orfin and Jacek Jedrasik add spectacle and with a cryptic, but at times humorous soundtrack that includes classic rock and original score.

Ilya Volok as Patruschev Photos by Irina Danilova

The originality of The Gaaga varies from treacherous individuals dancing exuberantly in strange garb to being interrogated in a bathtub through the unique lens of security cameras and other means of revelation including a bleary and bombed window.  Quite a few of the cast members make powerful impressions especially handling dual or multiple roles such as Garrett Sands as a malicious soldier, Robert Walsh as Surovikin, Joe Biden and others, but Ilya Volok as conspiracy theorist Patruschev gives a mesmerizing performance, especially in a particularly commanding, absorbing, and unsettling monologue which combines comedy and cruel irony.

Not only is the audience asked show questions as trivia during pivotal points in the production, but invites others to share their thoughts.  Some questions are tongue in cheek, but others are sure to be considered long after the production is over.

Arlekin Players Theatre and the Zero-G Virtual Theatre Lab presented The Gaaga (The Hague) live and in person at Beat Brew Hall in Cambridge, MA as well as a virtual option from June 2 through June 18.  Click here for more information.

REVIEW:   Gloucester Stage examines love’s good, bad, and funny side in Noel Coward’s ‘Private Lives’

Two pairs of British honeymooners embark on a luxurious beachside vacation without a care in the world…until their exes come into view.  Then panic sets in.

Directed with vintage finesse by Diego Arciniegas, Gloucester Stage presents the amusing and at times hilarious romantic comedy, Private Lives live and in person at Gloucester Stage in Massachusetts through June 25.  The show is presented in three acts and is approximately two hours with two intermissions.  Click here for more information and for tickets.

Gloucester Stage’s ‘Private Lives’ Gunnar Manchester as Elyot and Katie Croyle as Amanda Photo Credit to Jason Grow

Seeing an ex can be excruciating, embarrassing, and depending on the circumstances in which it ended, a resentful experience.  Every individual is different, but unless one parts way in a resplendent and amicable manner resembling  a typical Reese Witherspoon romantic comedy where everyone is cheerfully and most times unrealistically understanding, seeing an ex can take the wind out the sails and become a harrowing and at best, brief and awkward experience.  During what should be the happiest time in these honeymooners’ lives, encountering a complicated ex can spell disaster.

Gloucester Stage’s ‘Private Lives’ Serenity S’rae as Sibyl Photo Credit to Jason Grow

Private Lives may be a bit outdated in some of its thinking, but the nature of love remains the same. It boasts Noel Coward’s snappy dialogue that resembles 1940 classic comedy His Girl Friday about ten years before that film existed.  Set in the 1930s, Private Lives features gorgeous classic love songs designed by Eric Hamel and possesses the charm of times gone by including marvelous vintage couture and outdoor wear by Nia Safarr Banks and landline telephones back when no one could identify who was on the other end of the line until it was picked up.  Refreshingly, not a cell phone in sight.  Another bright facet of Private Lives is Izmir Ickbal’s elegant scenic design that matches the show’s pristine sophistication from matching French-style furniture and grand piano to a pristine marble patio, balustrades, and lush greenery.

Gloucester Stage’s ‘Private Lives’ Stephen Shore as Victor and Katie Croyle as Amanda Photo Credit to Jason Grow

Essentially though, it explores the good, the bad, and the ugly side of love.   The patterns of falling in and out of love while learning from what went wrong.  When it comes to love on a scale of when it’s good, it’s perfect, but when it becomes ugly, watch out. 

Gloucester Stage’s ‘Private Lives’ Jennifer Bubriski as Louise Photo Credit to Jason Grow

Each character has an eloquent speaking style and sophistication in manner, tone, and behavior evident even in chatty, young, and impressionable Sibyl depicted with vigor and excitable humor by Serenity S’rae.  S’rae as Sibyl is not to be underestimated and her scenes with Gunnar Manchester as Elyot are full of idealistic expectations.  Manchester certainly has the charisma for it as brooding, mysterious and a gambler in every sense of the word Elyot.  While his motives are often in question, Elyot is a fascinating sort that never walks blindly into a situation.  Katie Croyle embodies headstrong Amanda with wit and cynicism, yet still idealistic about love and hoping she has outsmarted her past.  Stephen Shore, who shares a passing resemblance to Matt Damon, depicts chatty, protective, yet heart on his sleeve Victor while Jennifer Bubriski portrays Louise, a comedic bystander in this situation with perfectly timed, deadpan one-liners.   The cast have compelling chemistry as well as quick witted comedic timing.  Each character also demonstrates various outlooks on love, but will it serve them well?

Gloucester Stage’s ‘Private Lives’ Stephen Shore as Victor Serenity S’rae as Sibyl and Gunnar Manchester as Elyot Photo credit to Jason Grow

Energetic, tense, and with plenty of engaging physical and absurd humor, Private Lives is a smart, lighthearted, and hopeful romantic comedy about searching for love that is perfect in its imperfection. 

Gloucester Stage presents the amusing and at times hilarious romantic comedy, Private Lives live and in person at Gloucester Stage in Massachusetts through June 25.  The show is presented in three acts and is approximately two hours with two intermissions.  Click here for more information and for tickets.

REVIEW:  Life is full of surprises in Lyric Stage’s unconventionally ‘Rooted’

Plant a tree and save the planet.  Be a ‘smartie plants’ and explore the ‘wood wide web.’

That is a few of the many mottos and a bit of humor uttered by Emery, a disabled recluse spending life in a tree house in the small town of Millersville, Pennsylvania.  Emery talks to plants more than people with the exception of her sister and caretaker Hazel as well as her cousin who she depends on for everything.  Longing for companionship she is comfortable with, Emery decides to post about her plants on YouTube.  What could go wrong?

L to R Lisa Tucker as Emery and Karen MacDonald as Hazel Photo by Ken Yotsukura Photography

Directed conscientiously by Courtney O’Connor, Lyric Stage Company presents Deborah Zoe Laufer’s dramedy Rooted continuing live and in person at Lyric Stage Company in Boston, Massachusetts through June 25.  The show is 100 minutes without one intermission.  Click here for more information and tickets.

The stage unfolds with blooming splendor as a lively, bending tree hovers over the cast.  Soothing and eclectic music by Dewey Dellay as well as streaming and transformative lighting by Karen Perlow provide a warm and peaceful vibe as Emery carefully handles the greenery surrounding her.  Janie E. Howland’s meditative and functioning set at first sight provides an oasis from the real world.   

Lisa Tucker as Emery Photo by Ken Yotsukura Photography

Rooted explores various topics such as the internet, climate change, healing, taking risks, and companionship with insightfulness and humor as Hazel and Emery manage one surprise after the next.  The small cast is rooted in connection to one another.  With sun hat and a mix of modest and eccentric attire by Chelsea Kerl, Lisa Tucker portrays plant loving and serious Emery with fragility and compassion while evoking determination and anxiety bubbling just under the surface as she faces decisions she has never encountered before in her sheltered existence.  Karen MacDonald portrays Emery’s sister and lifetime caretaker Hazel, an adventurous spirit who longs to ‘spread her leaves’ beyond this small town.  Dressed in a short diner uniform with white go-go boots, MacDonald lights up as chatty Hazel, exuding Hazel’s frank and responsible yet opportunistic spirit as Hazel struggles with day-to-day-life.  With Emery as careful observer and Hazel’s big and cynical personality, Tucker and MacDonald are definitely yin and yang in this production, but manage at times to streamline their differences.    Katherine Callaway as impressionable and naïve East Coopersville native Luanne brings a unique outlook and has an ultimately calming effect on the group. 

L to R Katherine Callaway as Luanne Karen MacDonald as Hazel and Lisa Tucker as Emery Photo by Ken Yotsukura Photography

Finally, the plants themselves by Props Artisan Lauren Corcuera deliver subtle charm as these sentient beings gauge the frequently changing energy and emotion of the production’s increasingly complex environment.

Rooted challenges a few of life’s bigger questions and is ultimately one wild and engaging production about what can come from good intentions as three uniquely flawed individuals work together to maneuver hope and healing to the masses during life’s surprising turns.

Katherine Callaway as Luanne and Lisa Tucker as Emery Photo by Ken Yotsukura Photography

Lyric Stage Company presents Deborah Zoe Laufer’s dramedy Rooted continuing live and in person at Lyric Stage in Boston, Massachusetts through June 25.  The show is 100 minutes without an intermission.  Click here for more information and tickets.

REVIEW: By song and by sea, interactive musical comedy ‘Toothy’s Treasure’ makes waves in Boston

A pirate’s life is not for everyone, but when it comes to the possibility of treasure, perhaps anyone might be willing to learn.

Widely interactive with its share of comedic pop culture references and more, musical comedy Toothy’s Treasure by Brayden Martino and composed by John-William Gambrell arrived for one weekend only at Boston Center for the Arts live and in person from Wednesday, May 31 through Sunday, June 4.  The production was 95 minutes with no intermission and offered pay-what-you-can tickets.  Click here for more information.

The Off-Broadway cast of ‘Toothy’s Treasure’ Photo by Brayden Martino

What is great about the day in the life of a pirate is that every day is different and the same can be said for Toothys Treasure.  Part sink-or-swim improvisation, musical comedy, and interactive tale, Toothy’s Treasure is never the same production twice.  The core plot may remain the same, but Toothy’s Treasure steers in various directions and with the amount of improvisation actually involved, it can be tricky to keep this type of show from starting to veer off course.  However, it does keep the cast and the audience on their toes. 

He’s a Pirate or otherwise known as the Pirates of the Caribbean Theme song, Under the Sea, and Ruth B’s Lost Boy are just a few of the mood setting preshow tunes piped into the Black Box Theatre to warm up the crowd as cast members humorously mingle.  Easter eggs such as a cereal box, skeleton, a cardboard rudder, and multi-purpose wooden boxes hold a purpose or two as the show progresses.

As pirates are often in peril, a crack team of multi-talented actors are on hand to weather the storm, albeit like all pirates, with more than a bit of self preservation.  Cait Winston is more than up to the challenge as not only a lively parrot puppeteer, but with a knack for maneuvering other humorous roles along the way.  Creator Brayden Martino, in lavender threads, is commanding, foppish, and egotistical as Captain Moldy Bones who leads a crew including Chloe Gardner and Mabel White to replace a certain missing crew member on their voyage to locate Toothy’s buried Treasure.  Charlize Vermaak and Dylan Gombos also lend spontaneity and playfulness to various roles.

The Off-Broadway cast of ‘Toothy’s Treasure’ Photo credit to Brayden Martino

The musical aspect holds promise, especially as certain lyrics are cleverly altered to fit ever changing scenarios performed by an onstage musical trio.   A few highlights include the catchy opening number Thank you Scurvy which explores the next quest for this dastardly and swashbuckling crew.  My Lady the Sea is a charming piece delivered with devoted fervor by Mabel White as Squid Lips and the introspective What Would I Do boasts humorous and well timed sound effects skillfully engineered by Bella Cario, Brayden Martino, and Evelyn DumeerBreak the Mold by Chloe Gardner, who depicts humble and earnest Wet Shoe, brims with boldness and sincerity. 

The show is strange, silly, humorous, and adventurous with a sincere message, but features a bit more improvisation for its own good and might benefit from sticking a bit more to structure.  However, Toothy’s Treasure is a funny and entertaining piece of theatre that allows the audience to be part of the story and to decide if it’s indeed a pirate’s life for you.

Toothy’s Treasure by Brayden Martino and composed by John-William Gambrell arrived for one weekend only at Boston Center for the Arts live and in person from Wednesday, May 31 through Sunday, June 4.  Toothy’s Treasure has taken the stage off-Broadway and in Boston.  Click here for more information and when it will return Off-Broadway in New York.

REVIEW: Plenty of glitz, humor, and charm in SpeakEasy Stage’s ‘The Prom’

It’s just so nice to be invited back to a Prom and not be the one in a frilly dress.

Though costume designer Miranda Kau Giurleo does bring all the glitz, glitter and glamour to this satirical blend of inspired true story and over the top musical comedy set in New York as well as in Edgewater, Indiana.  SpeakEasy Stage Company’s The Prom delivers plenty of humor ranging from silly to parody to satirical not without its political ribbings with a sincere and underlying message about helping others.

Mary Callanan and Johnny Kuntz. Photo credit to Nile Scott Studios

Featuring stellar and intricate choreography by Taavon Gamble and lightheartedly directed by Paul Daigneault, SpeakEasy Stage Company continues musical comedy The Prom through June 10 live and in person at the Calderwood Pavilion in Boston Massachusetts.  The show is two hours and 25 minutes with one 15 minute intermission.  Click here for more information and tickets.

The Prom should sound a least a little familiar since its 2020 Netflix film adaptation debut with an abundance of its own star shine including Meryl Streep as Dee Dee and James Corden as Barry.  Inspired by a true story, anxious Emma, depicted with self effacing and quiet optimism by Liesie Kelly, invites a date to the Prom with none other than Abriel Coleman as Alyssa, the daughter of the head of the Parent Teacher Association.  Once a group of egocentric Broadway celebrities gets wind of this human interest story, they decide to make a difference in this small Indiana town.

Abriel Coleman (left) and Liesie Kelly. Photo credit to Nile Scott Studios

Lit with soft and cheerful pastels by Karen Perlow, The Prom features a flashy and dynamic set design including checkered red carpet doubling for any high school setting.  One of the stage highlights is a chameleon-like, glittering backdrop complete with shimmering disco ball and an onstage orchestra hidden behind a sports scoreboard.

From left: Lisa Yuen, Mary Callanan, Johnny Kuntz, and Jared Troilo. Photo credit to Nile Scott Studios

The Prom is helmed by a strong and exuberant cast with exceptional comedic timing.  Dynamite duo Barry Glickman and Dee Dee, portrayed with pizzazz by Johnny Kuntz and Mary Callanan, deliver lots of laughs as seemingly shallow thespians, but their real charm is exposed by the people they meet in this fish out of water production.  Their wild antics and Callanan’s fantastic belt are on spectacular display for fist pumping and humorous Changing Lives.  Adorned with glamorous red hair, Callanan shines in the commanding and infectious solo It’s Not About Me and has lively and fun loving chemistry with Anthony Pires Jr as compassionate and forthright Mr. Hawkins.  Pires Jr adds a shy charisma to the role and his scenes with Emma and Dee Dee are touching and memorable especially for the sweet solo, We Look to You.

From left: Amy Barker, Anthony Pires Jr., and Mary Callanan. Photo credit to Nile Scott Studios

Meagan Lewis-Michelson as no nonsense PR rep Sheldon Saperstein and inspirational Lisa Yuen as Angie Dickenson both have their great comedic moments, but Jared Troilo is a bit of a scene stealer hatching outrageous theatrical schemes to unique pronunciations as aspiring actor Trent Oliver.  Troilo’s character could have easily become obnoxious as the show progressed, but Troilo’s Trent remained endearing at every turn.  Though Troilo is wonderful in every number, perhaps the cheeky Love Thy Neighbor is the most noteworthy fueled by surprising musical accompaniment and gospel influences.

The Prom deals with some serious topics including betrayal, but balances it well with the show’s overall optimistic tone.   It is positive throughout, even in the face of Emma’s most difficult challenges.  Liesie Kelly’s lovely Just Breathe mixes dry wit with Kelly’s mellifluous vocals and smiling eyes.  Emma’s high school classmates are painted as shallow and insensitive and as far as storytelling, it might have been nice to have at least one of them sympathetic to Emma’s plight from the start.

Tori Heinlein (center) and the company. Photo credit to Nile Scott Studios

Boasting amazing choreography that not only is reminiscent of popular musicals Footloose and Hairspray, but The Prom contains a wealth of welcome, inside Broadway references.  From a clapping and celebratory champagne dance to  the Fosse-inspired choreography of Zazz to the intricate chorography of  It’s Time to Dance, Gamble with Paul S. Katz’s music direction creates a complex yet sparkling escape to fun and frivolity if only temporarily from the realities of life.   

SpeakEasy Stage Company continues musical comedy The Prom through June 10 live and in person at the Calderwood Pavilion in Boston Massachusetts.  Click here for more information and tickets.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

REVIEW: ‘The Mom Show’ a moving recollection of survival and resilience

Michael Levin’s Polish Jewish mother hated one man shows.  Jenny Graubart didn’t think there was anything interesting about someone standing on stage talking through an entire performance.  However, what is so rewarding about Michael Levin’s The Mom Show is not just his reflections and a collection of family photos.  It has wisdom, tragedy, resilience, love, disaster, music, and a cast of multi-faceted relatives existing during one of the most harrowing parts of history.  Accompanied by a collection of original songs performed and composed by Levin (with the exception of one), The Mom Show is an intimate and engaging portrait of a survivor whose son still wonders how she did it all.

Written, composed, and performed by New York Times bestselling author and Tanglewood Festival Chorus tenor Michael Levin, The Mom Show continues live at the Regent Theatre in Arlington, Massachusetts Sundays through July 18 at 7 pm.  It was the first in person theatre production to open in Massachusetts and it follows Covid guidelines.  The show runs 80 minutes without an intermission.  Click here for more information and tickets. 

Unlike Levin’s mother, I think there is something endearing about one man shows if they are delivered with heart, finesse, and has a solid story to tell.  The production explores three generations from 1908 Poland right into the present day exploring Levin’s family’s experiences as they ventured into different parts of the world to escape the Holocaust and ultimately settling in Queens, NY.  Through their ever changing locations, Graubart’s versatility, worldliness, and resourcefulness shine through while overcoming difficult hardships and triumphs that will not be revealed here. We’ll let Levin tell the tale.

Levin is an engaging storyteller, adding humor and spontaneity to this emotional journey.  Musically directed by Nancy Loedy, The Mom Show delves into various musical genres from rockabilly to the blues to a Cuban lullaby.  What We Remember is a particularly stirring piece.   Levin’s sincerity and heartfelt vocals add a lighthearted gleam that keeps in step with each segment of the production.  Levin’s mom was also a big fan of musicals before her death in 2018 and The Mom Show is worthy of her approval. 

The Mom Show continues live at the Regent Theatre, 7 Medford Street in Arlington, Massachusetts Sundays through July 18.  Click here for more information and tickets. 

REVIEW: Led by powerhouse vocals, SpeakEasy Stage Company’s engaging ‘Songs for a New World’ a memorable musical experience

We are all hearing soon.  Soon we will be back together in the theatre for a wonderful live theatrical experience.  How it has been missed! 

However convenient it is sitting in front of a computer for a virtual show, there is nothing quite like the anticipation of live theatre in person with an audience in a shared experience.  SpeakEasy Stage Company’s remarkable concert musical benefit show, Songs for a New World, accomplishes quite a bit in its hour and a half runtime.  Through clever cinematography that still adheres to Covid guidelines, SpeakEasy Stage Company recreates the thrill of seeing actors together onstage and it is easy to see each cast member’s excitement through their own extraordinary performances.  We’re not quite there yet, but this is getting ever closer.

‘A New World’ featuring the entire company Video courtesy of SpeakEasy Stage Company

Directed by Paul Daigneault and musically-directed by Jose Delgado, SpeakEasy Stage Company continues their 30th anniversary season with John Robert Brown’s Songs for a New World streaming through June 8.  The show was filmed onstage at the Calderwood Pavilion in Boston, Massachusetts.  Click here for more information and tickets.  Discount tickets are also available.  Click here for more information on SpeakEasy Stage Company’s recently announced 2021-22 season.

It is difficult to describe the anticipation of seeing SpeakEasy Stage Company’s concert musical benefit, Jason Robert Brown’s Songs for a New World.   The last Jason Robert Brown musical I witnessed was a film adaptation of The Last Five Years.  It was a glorious, resonating tear jerker featuring reliable talents Jeremy Jordan and Anna Kendrick

Songs for a New World explores a variety of characters that are faced with the ultimate, sometimes humorous and other times harrowing life-changing decisions and deciding what to do next.  With simple staging and an onstage band conducted by Jose Delgado, Songs for a New World has humor and heartache enhanced by some of Boston’s most recognizable vocal powerhouses.

Rashed Al Nuaimi sings ‘She Cries” Video courtesy of SpeakEasy Stage Company

From the inspiring, tremendous, and relatable opening number, A New World featuring powerful, upbeat harmonies between Dwayne P. Mitchell, Davron S Monroe, Mikayla Myers, Rebekah Rae Robles, Alexander Tan, Victor Carillo Tracey, Laura Marie Duncan and Rached Al Nuaimi, this production proves to be something to behold.  A New World/Time to Fly gives the audience a glimpse into the shared experience of what each character is feeling and the hope their decisions will turn out right.

Songs for a New World is full of powerful performances and each song is as strong as the last, but here are a few highlights.  One standout performance is a tender and stirring rendition of On the Deck of a Spanish Ship, 1492 as Monroe exclaims, “Have Mercy Lord” while the cast embarks on a harrowing, life-changing journey.  Dressed in a long fur coat, Laura Marie Duncan is wildly entertaining as a scorned woman in an extreme situation in Just One Step.  Duncan’s expressive personality and her sheer energy drive this amazing performance. 

‘I’d Give it All for You’ Jennifer Ellis and Dwayne P Mitchell Video courtesy of SpeakEasy Stage Company

Jennifer Ellis performs some vocal gymnastics as Mrs. Claus for Sweabaya Santa, reimagining Santa as an absent, judgmental husband whose love is as fleeting as his sleigh.  Dwayne P Mitchell literally rises from the ashes of his childhood in this boastful, self-assured rendition of The Steam Train.  Ellis and Mitchell have sweet chemistry in a beautiful duet about the complexity of love in I’d Give it All for You.

Rached Al Nuaimi demonstrates zany, emotional turmoil and building frustration in She Cries and Jennifer Ellis delivers a bold and anguished performance in The Flagmaster, 1776.

SpeakEasy Stage Company’s Songs for a New World also boasts an incredible finale not to be missed with Hear My Song.  Glad to add John Robert Brown’s Songs for a New World as another memorable musical experience. 

SpeakEasy Stage Company continues streaming Songs for a New World through June 8. Click here for more information, tickets, and how to support the SpeakEasy Stage Company.

REVIEW: Lyric Stage brings beauty and powerful perspective to Sondheim’s ‘Pacific Overtures’

Surrounded by wild pink cherry blossoms, Lyric Stage reveals a telling story with Stephen Sondheim’s stirring musical Pacific Overtures, a historical production set in 1853 when a mysterious ship drops anchor on Japan’s remote and tranquil island.  Told entirely from Japan’s perspective, it’s an important tale about conflict, betrayal, and the price of progress.

Skillfully directed by Spiro Veloudos, musically-directed by Jonathan Goldberg, and choreographed by Micheline Wu, Lyric Stage presents Stephen Sondheim’s Pacific Overtures through June 16 at 140 Clarendon Street in Boston, Massachusetts.  Click here for more information and tickets.

Lyric Stage Pacific Overtures Please Hello

Jeff Song and The cast of Pacific Overtures. Photo by Mark S. Howard.

The Lyric Stage has a knack for surprises.  They take on a variety of shows throughout the season, from contemporary to original productions to traditional musicals, but one thing they all have in common is it is hard to imagine how the show will play out onstage.  Though rarely performed, Sondheim’s Pacific Overtures is an unpredictable, multi-layered musical that delivers an unforgettable message about power and prosperity.

Between scenic designer Janie E Howland’s hand painted set, the sloping wild pink cherry blossoms, Gail Astrid Buckley’s rich and historically-accurate costumes, and Karen Perlow’s clever light design, Lyric Stage brings to life Japan’s beautiful and increasingly tumultuous landscape.  This show does an excellent job at depicting a sympathetic, humorous, and at times, haunting look of how Japan saw the outside world.

Choreographer Micheline Wu’s reflects Japan’s distinct culture in sharp choreography, integrating samurai tradition while carefully letting a bit of westernization seep in.  Kai Chao as relentless Commodore Perry struts into a patriotic, humorous, and cunning Lion Dance while Wu herself, who also depicts Tamate and other roles, captures Tamate’s raw vulnerability in a fan dance during the reflective number, There is No Other Way.

Lyric Stage Pacific Overtures cast

The cast of Lyric Stage’s ‘Pacific Overtures’ Photo by Mark S. Howard

Enthusiastically recited by Lisa Yuen, who was last seen on the Lyric Stage as the mesmerizing Spider Woman in Puig’s Kiss of the Spider Woman, Yuen delicately balances the tale she tells with a mix of humor and urgency, occasionally stepping into the story itself.  That could be an awkward transition, but it’s one that Yuen takes on with ease.

Carl Hsu portrays Kayama, a quietly conflicted fisherman thrust into the spotlight to solve a seemingly impossible issue.  Hsu’s wistful, soaring vocals reflect his alienation as western culture attempts to take hold in Bowler Hat.  Inquisitive and awestruck, he struggles to adjust to Japan’s seeming future.

Lyric Stage Pacific Overtures Carl Hsu and Sam Hamashima

Carl Hsu as Kayama and Sam Hamashima as Manjiro in ‘Pacific Overtures’ Photo by Mark S. Howard

Sam Hamashima portrays Massachusetts fisherman prisoner Manjiro, a man with mysterious intentions.  Hamasima and Hsu show low key camaraderie as they improvise together during the number PoemsGary Thomas Ng takes on several roles, but proves to be at his funniest as the Grandmother in the lighthearted number, Welcome to Kanagawa.

Lyric Stage Pacific Overtures Welcome to Kanagawa

Alexander Holden, Gary Thomas Ng, Karina Wen, and Kai Chao in Pacific Overtures. Photo by Mark S. Howard.

Change can be painful.  From a remote, peaceful, self-sufficient island to an economic powerhouse to the home of the 2020 Olympics, Japan has worn many faces and overcame many obstacles.  Pacific Overtures depicts the raw emotion and a sympathetic perspective on what that might have felt like along the way.

Lyric Stage continues Stephen Sondheim’s moving musical, Pacific Overtures through Sunday, June 16 at 140 Clarendon Street in Boston, Massachusetts.  Click here for tickets and more information.  Subscriptions and dinner packages are also available.  Follow The Lyric Stage on Twitter and Facebook for their upcoming productions and more.