REVIEW: Inspiring documentary ‘Won’t You Be My Neighbor’ more than a beautiful day in the neighborhood

“It’s such a good feeling to know we are lifelong friends,” was Mr. Rogers final words as he closed out his show, Mr. Rogers Neighborhoodin 2001.  However, the impact he has had on the world is timeless.

Though The Sleepless Critic usually tackles the very best in music and theatre, one has to make an exception to express the rare, extraordinary quality in Morgan Neville’s Won’t You Be My Neighbor, a moving, deeply personal documentary which highlights Mr. Rogers Neighborhood, a children’s show that was unconventionally the best in television and ran from 1968 through 2001 on PBS.  The film is currently in limited release.  Click here for more information and ticket availability.

This is not to say Won’t You Be My Neighbor didn’t explore the power of music.  American cellist Yo-Yo Ma appeared on Mr. Rogers Neighborhood at a young age and shared his exceptional musical talent.

Mr. Rogers also used music as a powerful tool to influence his viewers such as with his original song, It’s You I Like.   An introvert from childhood, Mr. Rogers often expressed his feelings through music.  This inspiring documentary opens with Mr. Rogers offering a metaphor on the piano about life’s difficult transitions.  He expressed how easy it may be to get from a C note to a D, but how challenging it is to transition from an F to an F sharp, paralleling the challenges children face growing up.  His dedication to children through television offered children support on how to overcome the hardships of life and feel like they have a unique importance in this world.

The film draws from Mr. Rogers’s charisma, which softened the toughest of hearts with his assertion that everyone either had love or lacked it.  Through his family members, cast, crew, and some of his adversaries, it is a balanced portrayal of an ordained minister with a simple purpose, a purpose that was not always understood.  Nonetheless, Won’t You Be My Neighbor is an important film that has navigated generations of children through grief, assassination, divorce, disabilities, and other hardships, providing glimpses into devastation in recent history such as war, the Challenger tragedy, and 9/11.

Won’t You Be My Neighbor was also not without its own sense of humor from backstage antics to show parodies.  However, the best quality of Won’t You Be My Neighbor is, like a good neighbor, Mr. Rogers had a warm smile and an open door, and he genuinely cared.  That’s an awful lot of comfort in a troubled world.

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

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

It's a Wonderful Life Bedford Falls

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

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

It's a wonderful life Baileys

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

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

It's a wonderful life Uncle Billy

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

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

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

It's a wonderful life Potter

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

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

REVIEW: Cohasset Dramatic Club proves life is too short to miss the insightful musical, ‘If/Then’

Mix in a dash of the Tony award-winning musical, Rent, a hint of HBO’s hit show, Sex and the City, and stir in the thought-provoking film, Sliding Doors, and what emerges is a real treat in Cohasset Dramatic Club’s musical drama, If/Then.  Set in New York City and based on a book by Tom Kitt, If/Then is an unpredictable, immersive tale that explores destiny, love, happiness, and the complexity of navigating through life’s surprises.

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Cohasset Dramatic Club is thrilled to debut “If/Then” through Saturday, March 25 Photo courtesy of Cohasset Dramatic Club

 

Cohasset Dramatic Club is thrilled to be the first in the US to present this stirring, humorous musical after its professional Broadway run and national tour.  Directed by Lisa Pratt and technically directed by Mark Bono, If/Then continues at Cohasset Town Hall in Cohasset, Massachusetts through Saturday, March 25.  Click here for more information and tickets.

Is the path to happiness completely random or is destiny derived from the right choices?  Elizabeth Vaughn, portrayed masterfully by Ann McCoy, is a successful urban planner who decides to make a fresh start in New York City.  Everyone seems to think they know what is best for her, which helps lead Elizabeth onto two, unexpected paths.

Featuring a vibrant cast with realistic conflicts and fleshed out characters, Ann McCoy as conflicted, soulful Elizabeth Vaughn is the heart of the show, a meaty role originated by Idina Menzel on Broadway.  Dressed in a sharp black pants suit, McCoy is more than up to the challenge, portraying a woman who was once certain of life’s direction, but lately, her confidence has waned.  McCoy impressively depicts Elizabeth’s cautiousness through a shift in her eyes and yet, also brings out the character’s lively impulsiveness.  She heeds other people’s advice, but ultimately follows her heart.  A soprano, Ann McCoy’s vocals dip and soar, hitting challenging notes with ease.  This is especially evident in the numbers, You Learn to Live Without and Always Starting Over.

One of McCoy’s greatest strengths is the natural, unique chemistry she shares with each cast member.  Elizabeth is single, but not lonely.  Michelle Margulies portrays Kate’s incredibly charming and outspoken friend.  Margulies as Kate is engaging, fun-loving, and a bit of a scene stealer.  She is Elizabeth’s biggest fan and only has her best interests at heart.  Perpetually optimistic, Margulies offers a soulful and comical rendition of the number, It’s a Sign, playfully engaging the crowd.

CDC If Then Ann McCoy and Michael Warner

Ann McCoy as Elizabeth and Michael Warner as Josh depict great chemistry in ‘If/Then’ Photo courtesy of Cohasset Dramatic Club

Ann McCoy and Michael Warner are local community talents known for various productions on the South Shore, shine in their roles.  Michael Warner is compelling as caring, forthright, and unassuming army surgeon Josh, a man also clearly torn between two life choices.  He delivers a touching rendition of the song, Hey Kid.  Elizabeth and Josh’s chemistry is hopeful and passionate.  They create great harmony together, especially during the song, Here I Go.

While Josh is practical, Ricky DeSisto is a natural as impulsive and endearing Lucas.  With his earnest, idealistic nature and fair share of cynicism, one cannot help but root for him through life.  Through lighthearted teasing and sweet glances, Elizabeth and Lucas have a warm, playful chemistry.    Their song together, Some Other Me is moving.  Rob Buckel-Gillis portrays hopeful, supportive David, a surgeon.  He is hopeful, likable, and optimistic.  Lucas and David share a tender duet, The Best Worst Mistake You Ever Made.

CDC If Then Michelle Margulies Ann McCoy and Ricky DeSisto

Michelle Marguies as Kate, Ann McCoy as Elizabeth and Ricky DeSisto as Lucas in ‘If/Then’ Photo courtesy of Cohasset Dramatic Club

Elegantly dressed in a suit and tie, Mike Nakashima portrays Stephen, a complex character with mysterious intentions.  Determined and serious, Stephen and Elizabeth share a career-minded camaraderie as he encourages her to follow her dreams, seeing her boundless potential.

With music and lyrics by Brian Yorkey,  an intimate band including Music Director Sarah Troxler on piano, guitarist Jack Byrne, percussionist Michael Hobbs, bassist Jon Lay, Clarinet/Flute/Saxophone Glenn Silvia, and Cassie Sulbaran on Viola bring to life this upbeat, contemporary musical with a libretto.  Clever blocking brings part of the band onstage.

Costume and props designer Irene Vifides lend to New York City’s urban vibe and signature style through big, designer purses, fashionable shoes, and impressive, colorful costumes that vary from sophisticated, city attire to a casual night in.  Scenic artist Denise Feeney and Scenic projection designers Erin and Patrick Dzierzak and Dramatic Sounds create urban ambiance with recreated city sounds, black and white city skylines, and a wealth of broad, colorful landscapes depicting a few of New York City’s most famous landmarks.  One of this show’s many highlights is the humorous depiction of NYC’s tiny apartments.  Cohasset Dramatic Club brings to life a captivating musical depicting how complicated life can be and proving it’s also too short to miss If/Then.

Directed by Lisa Pratt, musically directed by Sarah Troxler, and choreographed by Tara Morrison, Cohasset Dramatic Club presents If/Then through March 25 at 7:30.  All performances will be held at Cohasset Town Hall 41 Highland Ave in Cohasset, Massachusetts.   Click here for more information and for tickets.

Other ways to support Cohasset Dramatic Club is to become a volunteer and make a donation.  Sign up for their email list to learn about upcoming events and more.  Click here for more about the Cohasset Dramatic Club and follow them on Facebook.