REVIEW: Celebrity Series of Boston presented John Pizzarelli Trio and Veronica Swift for Nat King Cole tribute and more on Valentine’s Day

Since Jazz and love doesn’t follow a set of rules, they came together for Valentine’s Day.

Love lit up Harvard University’s Sanders Theatre in Cambridge, Massachusetts on Valentine’s Day as Celebrity Series of Boston presented ‘For Centennial Reasons: 100 Year Salute to Nat King Cole’ on Friday, February 14 at 8 p.m.  Whether longing for love, falling in love, or losing in love, Veronica Swift and the John Pizzarelli Trio brought a jazz-infused twist to classic love songs and American Standards from Gershwin, Billie Holiday, Cole Porter, and especially Nat King Cole for one night only.

Veronica Swift and John Pizzarelli are currently on tour.  Click here for Swift’s upcoming shows and here for John’s future tour dates.  Click here for more on Celebrity Series of Boston and their upcoming events.

Festive purple curtains embellished Sanders Theatre’s beautiful, softly-lit stage.  Dressed in an effervescent pink jumpsuit that changed shades in different lighting, jazz vocalist Veronica Swift kicked off the evening with a drum-infused rendition of Cole Porter’s breezy classic, Let’s Do It (Let’s Fall in Love).  Each musician had an opportunity to show off their stellar talent which included pianist Julius Rodriguez, bassist Phillip Norris, and drummer Aaron Kimmel.

Swift offered a casual, low key presence as she shared childhood stories of growing up touring with her jazz singer mother, Stephanie Nakasian and her father, bebop pianist Hod O’Brien.  Swift’s versatile set had its share of joyous and stirring moments which included a poignant version of Ella Fitzgerald’s Everytime We Say Goodbye dedicated to her father as her voice swelled in quiet emotion.  She skimmed the scales in an electrifying version of Billie Holiday’s Come Rain or Come Shine and an anguished Prisoner of Love.

Veronica Swift and pianist Julius Rodriguez Photo credit: Robert Torres

At just 25 years old, she is a spirited and contemplative performer.  Jazz aficionados would appreciate her natural ability for scatting showcased in a fast paced, ebullient rendition of Billie Holiday’s I Can’t Believe that You’re in Love with Me.  Though I am not a big jazz fan, it is easy to appreciate the liberties jazz takes to transform these classics into a refreshing, eclectic new sound.

With a great deal of humor, a relaxed atmosphere, and in a sharp gray suit, avid storyteller John Pizzarelli delved into the history of Nat King’s Cole music while sharing some of his own history along the way.  He revitalized a few of Nat King Cole’s hits and shared a few anecdotes in tribute to Nat King Cole’s centennial.  American Jazz singer-songwriter and musician Nat King Cole was one of the most successful artists on Capital Records’ roster and his music has inspired generations.

Pizzarelli is currently on tour for John Pizzarelli Trio’s most recent album For Centennial Reasons:  100 Year Salute to Nat King Cole.  The title seems a subtle play on Nat King Cole’s I Love You (For Sentimental Reasons) which Pizzarelli performs tenderly later in the show.  Aside from Pizzarelli who can no less shred on guitar, Pizzarelli was joined by spectacular musicians Isaiah Thompson on piano and Mike Karn on bass.  The John Pizzarelli Trio’s collective sound had the rhythm of a moving train.  Each piece came alive as the instruments seem to “chat” with each other especially during Hit That Jive, Jack and a lively rendition of Honeysuckle Rose.

Celebrity Series of Boston presented the John Pizzarelli Trio and Veronica Swift at Sanders Theatre.

Bassist Mike Karn, John Pizzarelli, and pianist Isaiah Thompson Photo credit: Robert Torres

The trio explored Lorraine as Pizzarelli shared a legendary story about how the song turned Nat King Cole from a pianist into a singer, though it is a rumored tale.  Nat King Cole was part of the Nat King Cole Trio and it was nice to see Pizzarelli reflecting that with his own John Pizzarelli Trio, each member getting their own chance to shine.

Pizzarelli’s delivered an uplifting set which included a few love songs.  His guitar hummed during a cheerful rendition of Nat King Cole’s Make Believe as lightning fast pianist Isaiah Thompson commanded the keys.  Pizzarelli showed off his side winding guitar style in his own song titled Nat King Cool and his scatting skills during Nat King Cole’s Frim Fram Sauce.  The evening’s lighthearted vibe continued with the humorous Save the Bones for Henry Jones, the vibrant I Would Do Anything for You, and one of Nat King Cole’s most popular singles, Straight Up and Fly Right.

Celebrity Series of Boston presented the John Pizzarelli Trio and Veronica Swift at Sanders Theatre.

John Pizzarelli, bassist Mike Karn, and pianist Isaish Thompson Photo credit: Robert Torres

Swift returned to the stage for a few Gershwin classics that included a wistful Someone to Watch Over Me.  She and Pizzarelli delivered a wonderful rendition of They Can’t Take That Away from Me, I Got Rhythm, and their lauded encore Route 66.

As a big Nat King Cole fan, I would have liked to have heard Nat King Cole’s Stardust and his mega-hit Unforgettable, but it simply didn’t fit into an evening consisting of mostly the brighter side of love and its boundless possibilities.

Celebrity Series of Boston is just getting 2020 started with a number of performing arts musicians that includes Bobby McFerrin, Milos, the Jason Palmer Quartet, Lyon Opera Ballet, and the return of Alvin Ailey.  Click here for the full list of upcoming events.

 

REVIEW: The 35th Boston Film Festival brought comic wit and moving narratives to Shorts Program I

Sponsored in part by Starz and supported by The Hollywood Reporter, The 35th Boston Film Festival had a lot to offer on this landmark year.  Though it took place on a gorgeous fall weekend, audiences gathered to attend the four-day festival that included world premiere shows and films (Whaling, American Tragedy and She’s in Portland), a wide variety of short films, and clever independent films from Thursday, September 19 through Sunday, September 22.

Some of the highlights included the US Premiere of JoJo Rabbit, the East coast premiere of Once Upon A River and A Hidden Life, and special event screenings such as NBC’s Bluff City Law and The Dog Doc.  The festival also featured powerful documentaries such as The Last Harvest:  You Can’t Grow Without Change and The Wild.  Click here for a closer look at the full schedule.

jo jo rabbit_

The Boston Film Festival presented US Premiere of indie film, ‘JoJo Rabbit’ Photo credit to Fox Serachlight Pictures

The Boston Film Festival took place for the most part at the stellar Showplace Icon Theatre.  Located at the Boston Seaport and conveniently located at the Courthouse stop on the Silver Line, The Showplace Icon Theatre features state-of-the-art stadium seating with plush reclining chairs, a beverage holder, and a place for your popcorn.  Click here for a closer look at this amazing theatre and here for more information and tickets.

Showplace Icon Theatre

Showplace Icon Theatre, located at Boston Seaport. Photo courtesy of Jeanne Denizard

The Shorts Program I took place on day three of the festival on Saturday, September 21 and featured a dynamic group of films that ranged from heartrending to hilarious to the macabre.  It was a selection likely to appeal to everyone.

Boston Film Festival 'Class of 84'

Alex Salsburg as Mom and Harley Harrison as Mike Photo credit to the Boston Film Festival and Class of 84

Directed by Alex Salsburg and Joe Andrade, Class of 84 is a narrated animated short film that offers an amusing and clever angle on helicopter parenting.  Dr. Katz’s Jonathan Katz is involved in the project.  Through clean, colorful, and two dimensional animation, Class of 84 delves into the life of a teenager living with his constantly hovering, overprotective mother.  From eating raw cookie dough to crossing the street, Class of 84 has its share of silly moments, but overall a fun and interesting look at the virtues of listening to your mother.

Directed by Jon Bloch, Waiting Game takes a darker turn exploring a tough and complicated relationship between constantly worried and well meaning Kenny, portrayed by John Patrick Amedori and his ailing, frustrated father, portrayed by Bruce McGill as Mel.  It doesn’t take long for this meaningful short film to cause a lump in one’s throat.

Boston Film Festival 'Waiting Game'

‘Waiting Game’ Photo credit to Boston Film Festival and ‘Waiting Game’

Waiting Game is a relatable tale about how family can have the best of intentions and those intentions can end up getting misconstrued in the worst way.  John Patrick Amedori Bruce McGill deliver powerful and moving performances that can sometimes be painful to watch as they build a fragile, tension-filled chasm between them.  Waiting Game balances a few lighter moments between Kenny and sweet waitress Alyssa, portrayed by Dilshad Vadsaria.

On a lighter note, director Barbara Elbinger directs You Need Help, a heartfelt look at a retired married couple.  Featuring a fitting soundtrack, Fred, portrayed by Edmund Dehn, is a depressed husband who longs to put vitality and fun back into his life with his all too practical wife, Doreen, portrayed by Eileen Nicholas.   These two have a wonderful chemistry even when they do not see eye to eye and there is much more to these two than they seem.  To witness Fred’s unconventional antics in recapturing the joy in their marriage is worth the price of the ticket.

The Boston Film Festival The Seal

Shahana Goswami as Sheetal in ‘The Seal’ Photo credit to Boston Film Festival and The Seal

Directed by Richa Rudola, The Seal takes a look at Shahana Goswami as Sheetal, a woman haunted by her past when she receives a mysterious, sealed package.  Though the story is fictional, Director Richa Rudola was inspired to create this tale based on events she witnessed and experienced as a woman growing up in India.

The Seal delves into the struggles that keep people stuck in their pain, unable to move on with their lives.  As the haunting phrase, ‘Remember what Mama used to Say’ permeates Sheetal’s thoughts, she seeks comfort in caring, but shady Daquane Cherry as Ruben.  However, some of The Seal’s best scenes are in the unspoken moments, allowing the audience to draw their own conclusions.

Boston Film Festival 'Boy Eats Girl: A Zombie Love Story'

Photo credit to the Boston Film Festival and ‘Boy Eats Girl: A Zombie Love Story’

Director Sarah Gurfield puts a little love in a zombie’s heart in Boy Eats Girl:  A Zombie Love Story.  Zombies seem to be all the rage and a love struck zombie picking flowers can be humorous, but found these seven short minutes all too dark and grisly to muster adoration.

The Bigonia Garden, directed by Ron Goldin and based on Goldin’s own experiences, is a foreign short film that explores an unexpected connection between neighbors in war torn Ashdod in Tel Aviv.  As missiles are launched over their heads, Sound Producer Adam and neighbor Bar retreat to the stairwell in their building, the safest place during a crisis.  It is a snapshot into the lives of people who have no choice but live in the moment during a tumultuous time.

It is a beautiful, personal film and loner Adam, portrayed by Adam Hirsch and Bar, portrayed by Bar Ackerman, have compelling chemistry with an unpredictable conclusion.

Directed by Joel Marsh, A Valley explores a couple of adventure-seeking risk takers as they go on a camping excursion together.  It is based on a short story called The Marsh.  They make each other laugh, wax philosophical, and the film gives the impression that all they have is each other.  The film was a bit ambiguous and would have liked to have delved more into their relationship to give the film more emotional weight.

Boston Film Festival’s Shorts Program I also featured American Life and Heirloom, but were not reviewed.  Click here for more about this year’s festival and future updates.

 

 

 

 

 

REVIEW: Hingham Civic Music Theatre’s ‘Sweet Charity’ has fun, laughs, and the right moves

She’s just a girl in love with love.  Swipe right for the Tony award-winning, romantic musical dramedy instilled with a dose of cynicism, Sweet Charity.  Unforeseen high jinks and adventures find Charity as she makes her way through what can be a harsh reality.  Before Julia Roberts stepped onto the L.A. streets in the popular film, Pretty Woman, Charity wondered Central Park.  Both have a heart of gold.

With music by Cy Coleman, lyrics by Dorothy Fields, book by Neil Simon, and directed by Nathan Fogg, Hingham Civic Music Theatre (HCMT) continues Sweet Charity through Sunday, May 5 at the Sanborn Auditorium in Hingham, Massachusetts.  This show is for mature audiences and not for young children.  Click here for more information and tickets.

HCMT's 'Sweet Charity' - tap dance

Emilee Leahy as Charity Photo courtesy of Hingham Civic Music Theatre

Sweet Charity is one of those rare opportunities to witness a collaboration featuring theatrical icons playwright Neil Simon and director and choreographer Bob Fosse.  Oh yes, and Fosse’s then wife, muse, and dance dynamo Gwen Verdon starred in the musical’s stage debut in the 60s.

Bob Fosse and Gwen Verdon’s influence is still as lively as ever as FX continues Fosse/Verdon, a biographical miniseries starring Sam Rockwell as Bob Fosse and Michelle Williams as Gwen Verdon.  Coincidentally, Fosse/Verdon also covers in part the making of Sweet Charity.  Fosse Fever has certainly been evident on the South Shore of Massachusetts as two adaptations of Chicago recently took the stage in close succession.

Perhaps it’s the Neil Simon influence, but Sweet Charity seems to tread on the lighter side of Fosse’s popular works.  It has its edgy moments and not for everyone, but Sweet Charity depends much more on humor than darkness.  Though Pretty Woman might be a beloved, yet formulaic tale, Sweet Charity is less predictable and not a by-the-numbers romantic comedy.  The costumes, by Kathryn Ridder and company, are fitted and flashy and the dialogue is snappy and at times, charming.  At one point, Emilee Leahy as Charity sings, “You’re so strong, you have muscles you don’t need.”

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After portraying resourceful criminal Velma Kelly in Massasoit Theatre Company’s production of Chicago,  Emilee Leahy delivers a breezier performance as coy yet sweet, aware and yet sometimes naïve, hopeful and pensive Charity Hope Valentine.  Charity can be a poor judge of character, but Leahy’s Charity proves to be worth rooting for.  She has a pliable vocal range and is certainly light on her feet as she slips into a spontaneous tap routine featuring the famous number, If They Could See Me Now, decked out with a signature Fosse top hat and cane.

Speaking of dance, Sweet Charity offers an array of Fosse-inspired dance sequences, tinged with retro flair.  Choreographer Samantha-Brior Jones, Music Director Sandee Brayton, and Dance Captain Mary Donahue turn up the heat with sharp and distinctive choreography as the Fan-dango Ballroom dancers perform a fierce, steamy, and hip shaking Hey Big Spender.  The sweeping, sophisticated, 60s-inspired Rich Man’s Frug featuring Pompeii Club dancers in all-black has a classic vibe to it while Rhythm of Life is an outrageous, seemingly spiritual journey.

HCMT Sweet Charity - The girls

Kristen Annese as Nickie and Pompeii Club dancers Photo courtesy of Hingham Civic Music Theatre

The characters that Charity encounter seem a bit melodramatic, showing it doesn’t take itself too seriously.  With great New York accents, Kristen Annese as Nickie and Lindsay Warwick as Helene are a plucky, street smart comedy duo.  Their rendition of Baby Dream Your Dream has a lot of reassuring sass and they share playful, if at times mildly-snarky camaraderie with Charity.

Leah Shiels as Ursula and Rob Buckel-Gillis as Vittorio make an exotic celebrity pair, decked out in shimmering attire.   Buckel-Gillis delivers a beautiful rendition of Too Many Tomorrows.  Tony Light is comical as Oscar, a panicked claustrophobic.   Shirtless and in suspenders, Rylan Vachon delivers a wildly energetic, off-the-wall performance as zany preacher Daddy Brubeck.  Mike Warner as Herman also delivers some laughs, but keep an eye on his T-shirts.  Trust me.

Hingham Civic Music Theatre offers two remaining performances of Sweet Charity on Saturday, May 4 and a Sunday matinee on May 5 at the Sanborn Auditorium in Hingham Town Hall, 210 Central Street in Hingham, Massachusetts.  Click here for more information and for tickets.  Tickets are also available at the door.  Be sure to follow Hingham Civic Music Theatre on Facebook and click here to learn how to support HCMT’s upcoming productions.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

REVIEW: Greater Boston Stage Company’s intriguing ‘Onegin’ offers vodka, love at first sight, and a whirlwind of surprises

Combine an onstage rock band nicknamed the Ungrateful Dead with a storytelling cast in 19th century St. Petersburg, Russia.  Throw in love at first sight, a duel, add some vodka, and a few winks to today’s technology and it is quite the tale…and that’s not even the half of it.

Expect the unexpected at Greater Boston Stage Company’s unique performance of Onegin, a semi-interactive musical that blends the traditional with the contemporary in surprising ways.  It explores how far one would go for love while its rock and roll vibe and comic moments show it doesn’t take itself too seriously.

Based on Alexandr Pushkin’s poem of the same name and Tchaikovsky’s opera, Greater Boston Stage Company continues Onegin’s United States debut at the Stoneham Theatre in Stoneham, Massachusetts through Sunday, March 31.  Click here for more information and tickets.

Onegin - cast

From L to R: Michael Jennings Mahoney as Vlaimir Lensky, Music Director Steve Bass (on piano), Mark Linehan as Evgeni Onegin, Josephine Moshiri Elwood as Olga, Sarah Pothier as Tatyana, and Peter Adama as Prince Gremin Photo by Maggie Hall Photography/Greater Boston Stage Company

Onegin pushes quite a few boundaries within its two hour time frame.  The show inhabits a myriad of genres and occasionally breaks the fourth wall, but underneath it all is a moving tale of love and loss and what it means when destiny is out of your hands.  The contemporary flair of this period piece may not appeal to staunch traditionalists, but the show has heart.

Katheryn Monthei’s open set design topped with sparkling brass chandeliers and silk backdrops mixed with Deirdre Gerrard’s detailed costumes and Ilyse Robbins’ dynamic choreography depict a romantic, yet edgy vibe indicative of this strong and versatile cast.

Onegin Lensky

Michael Jennings Mahoney as Vladimir Lensky Photo by Maggie Hall Photography/Greater Boston Stage Company

Opening with the rollicking number A Love Song, these singing storytellers describe a man irretrievably in love and one who is roguishly indifferent to it. Michael Jennings Mahoney portrays excitable and lovelorn poet, Vladimir Lensky.  Lensky could have been a one note character, but Mahoney gives him dimension and makes him much more than he seems.   He is taken with Olga, portrayed with complexity and practicality by Josephine Moshiri Elwood.  Enter Evgeni Onegin, portrayed with a deep vibrato and roguish charm by Mark Linehan.  Linehan is charismatic, but also possesses a cynical, world-weary look on life while Tatyana, portrayed with pensive idealism by Sarah Pothier, may just change everything.

ONEGIN at GBSC

Sarah Pothier as Tatyana and Mark Linehan as Evgeni Onegin Photo courtesy of Nile Hawver/Nile Scott Shots

A few highlights include Sarah Pothier’s commanding performance of Let Me Die and stunning performances of In Your House and My Dearest Comrade by the cast.   Expect the unexpected at Onegin and like this engaging cast, prepare to have a little fun.

Directed by Weylin Symes, Greater Boston Stage Company’s musical drama Onegin continues through Sunday, March 31.  Click here for more information and tickets.  Click here for a closer look at Greater Boston’s Stage Company’s recently announced season.

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

REVIEW: Let loose and laugh a lot about life with inventive musical comedy ‘The Other Josh Cohen’

What if life could nudge you in the right direction when nothing seems to be going right?  The romantic musical comedy The Other Josh Cohen inventively and comically explores this concept and more continuing at the Westside Theatre in New York, New York through April 7.  This production is 90 minutes without an intermission.  Click here for more information and tickets.

Imagine a studio apartment being robbed on a holiday with Grinch-like stealthiness, perhaps even the thief figuratively “taking the last can of Who Hash” which in this case is unceremoniously a radio.  However, rather than it taking place on Christmas Eve, it’s on Valentine’s Day, and what little the thief does leave behind becomes your most treasured possession – a certain CD.  It’s easy to relate to this scenario because my own car was robbed once and I knew kids were probably responsible because they left the movie soundtrack to Titanic behind.  Ah, kids today.

The victim in this robbery is Josh Cohen, portrayed with lovable earnestness by Steve Rosen as Narrator Josh, portrayed with confidence and charm by David Rossmer, looks on.  It seems that nothing is going quite right for Josh until an unforeseen circumstance just might turn his life around.

The Other Josh Cohen - 8_263-Steve-Rosen-and-David-Rossmer-in-THE-OTHER-JOSH-COHN-c-Caitlin-McNaney

Steve Rosen and David Rossmer as The Other Josh Cohens Photo courtesy of Caitlin McNaney/The Other Josh Cohen

This multi-layered musical comedy is as ambitious as it is hilarious.  Not only does the show take off right away and I’m not just talking about most of the set, but it plays with time frames, utilizing a small, but ceaselessly hardworking, multi-talented cast capable of playing several characters at the drop of a dime.  How many shows can say that the cast is also the band and it all runs like clockwork?

With orchestrations by Dan Lipton and David Rossmer, The Other Josh Cohen is packed with catchy, insightful, comical, and frequently optimistic tunes about life and isn’t afraid to get occasionally silly.   The lighthearted, rock and roll and pop soundtrack includes Hang On, The Other Josh Cohen, What If, Change a Thing, and Samuel Cohen’s Family Tree which come highly recommended.   The Other Josh Cohen star-studded CD soundtrack features the voices of Hank Azaria, Sutton Foster, Sarah Bishop, and Richard Kind to name just a few.

The Other Josh Cohen - 11_829_Louis-Tucci-Kate-Wetherhead-Luke-Darnell-Hannah-Elless

From L to R Louis Tucci, Kate Wetherhead, Luke Darnell-Hannah Elless Photo courtesy of Caitlin McNaney/The Other Josh Cohen

There is a great deal of natural chemistry among this small cast and though they seem to be improvising at times, it is an entirely scripted show punctuated by timely pop culture references.  Cathryn Wake, Jane Bruce, Luke Darnell, Louis Tucci, and Megan Loomis all make portraying several roles look easy as glittering Aunt Bea, Josh’s neighbor who is part of the “she” street band, the superintendent, Josh’s father, and the dentist are particular highlights.

 

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So The Other Josh Cohen is funny, inventive, semi-interactive, and has a multi-talented cast, but what makes this show special?  Even when life shows its dark side, there is always hope.  It’s good to laugh a little (or a lot) and through its catchy, sometimes self-deprecating songs, everything in life just might turn out ok.  That makes for more than just a fun night out.

The Off-Broadway, romantic musical comedy, The Other Josh Cohen continues at the Westside Theatre at 407 W 43rd Street New York, New York through April 7.  Click here for more information and tickets.  Click here for further details on that star-studded soundtrack.

 

 

REVIEW: Company Theatre walks the line between love and rage with Green Day’s catchy punk musical, ‘American Idiot’

Rage. Love. Town. City are the themes emblazoned within the songs and tale of the Tony award-winning punk rock musical, Green Day’s American Idiot, presented by the Company Theatre and continuing through Sunday, February 17 at the Company Theatre in Norwell, Massachusetts.  It is an in-your-face journey of a group of young, unambitious city dwellers who occupy a portion of an angry, rebellious America.  Green Day’s American Idiot is a concert drama that contains mature themes and surprising moments.  Click here for more information and tickets.

Green Day American Idiot set

The set of Green Day’s ‘American Idiot’ Photo courtesy of Jeanne Denizard

This high energy musical is based on Green Day’s lauded album, American Idiot, a band known for their raw, catchy, guitar-tinged riffs, and uncensored lyrics.  With hits such as Holiday, Know Your Enemy, Boulevard of Broken Dreams, Wake Me Up When September Ends, and Good Riddance (Time of Your Life), Green Day’s American Idiot contains the music and vocal chops that would please Green Day fans while also considered a message-driven punk rock opera.

Sharing a bit of the mentality of Rent and the 90s film, Reality Bites, the characters in American Idiot wander into a realm of rebellious indifference, confusion, and perhaps laziness looking for their purpose in life as Green Day sings, “in the land of make believe.”  Some are unconcerned and others genuinely lost.  Partially set in a beat up apartment equipped with a blank, but lit tube TV and shabby couch which perhaps reflects a thinking but lost generation, American Idiot shows they have a hell of a lot to learn.  

The energetic, daring choreography by Corinne Mason, which includes moshing and head banging, reflects the anarchic nature of punk music.  The choreography in Holiday, which includes a group of characters packed into a wire cart, is a visual highlight.

Cast of Green Day's 'American Idiot'

(Back row, L-R ) Audrey Clark of Northboro as Whatsername, Jose Merlo of Attleboro as Jose, William Oliver of Weymouth as Will, Sarah Kelly of Braintree as Heather, John Crampton of Dedham as John, Jessica DePalo of Westboro as Extraordinary Girl, Brendan Duquette of North Attleboro as Tunny (Front row) Theo Victoria of Brockton as Theo, Evan Cole of Natick as Johnny, Aliyah Harris of Mansfield as Aliyah Photo courtesy of Zoe Bradford

This cast of jaded youths include a haunting performance by Chris Boyajian as Joshua/St. Jimmy, a role that Green Day lead singer Billy Joe Armstrong took over for 50 performances during the show’s run on Broadway.  Evan Cole hits all the right notes as Johnny, who also plays his own guitar for Boulevard of Broken Dreams, one of the show’s few quieter tunes.  He shares a natural camaraderie with Brendan Duquette as naive Tunny and William Oliver as oblivious Will, a trio of friends heading in different directions.  Sarah Kelly stands out as Heather as she develops her resolve during a heartfelt Last Night on Earth.  Aliyah Harris as Aliyah also lends her serious pipes to Favorite Son and Too Much Too Soon.

The Company Theatre presents Green Day’s American Idiot through Sunday, February 17, with a special event for Valentine’s Day.  All performances take place at Company Theatre, 30 Accord Park Drive in Norwell, Massachusetts  Click here to support the Company Theatre and here for more on their 2019 season.

 

 

 

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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Director Igor Golyak discusses the shocking and comical show, ‘Dead Man’s Diary: A Theatrical Novel’

Taking a rich, multidimensional look at love and the theatre, the Arlekin Players proudly presents Mikhail Bulgakov’s Dead Man’s Diary: A Theatrical Novel for two weekends from Saturday, March 17 through Sunday, April 1 at Paramount Center in Boston, Massachusetts.  Shocking and comical, Dead Man’s Diary:  A Theatrical Novel is written in Russian and performed by Russian actors with English audio translation, but was created in Needham, Massachusetts.  Click here for more information and for tickets.

Igor Golyak

Director Igor Golyak of ‘Dead Man’s Diary’ Photo courtesy of Igor Golyak Acting Studio

Dead Man’s Diary’s director and head of Igor Golyak Acting Studio, Igor Golyak, discusses this shocking and comical show’s fascinating background, developing the show’s unique style, and what it means to be successful.

Sleepless Critic:  What is it about this show that made you decide to take on this piece?

Igor Golyak:  I fell in love with the novel, a prose piece by Mikhail Bulgakov, which was not published until after his death as it was considered offensive to Stanislavsky and the Moscow Art Theatre. I wanted to adapt this unfinished novel for the stage because I saw it not only as satire on theatre, but as a vow of love to the theatre. Through this production, we wanted to express the conflicts and illusions around realizing oneself in the theatre through Bulgakov life’s work.

Arlekin Players Dead Mans Diary

‘Dead Man’s Diary: A Theatrical Novel’ Photo courtesy of the Arlekin Players

SC:  Arlekin Players is behind this production and they studied under the Igor Golyak Acting Studio.  Please tell me about your studio and teaching philosophy.  How can people join the Arlekin Players?

IG:  Right now, I mostly cast my students because we develop our own theatre vocabulary during the training period. This takes some time. It is a big advantage as I know the capabilities of the actors and how to challenge them. What’s most important in the theatre is the atmosphere of mutual respect and appreciation in the training and rehearsal process.  I aim to create this with the approach I take.  People can join the company by applying, coming to rehearsals, and possibly doing some scenes with company members.  Ultimately, if we mutually agree that the relationship can move forward, they join the company.  We have a family-type atmosphere in our theatre just like in life.  People get to know each other and some join the family.

SC:  This diary is written by a scorned lover.  How would you describe how the show depicts love or the lack thereof?

IG:  I am not sure if there is a better way to express the love for the theatre than through Bulgakov’s words.

The main character, Maksudov says:

‘I returned to the theater which had now become as necessary to me as morphine to an addict.” and “But more important was my love for the Independent Theatre; I was now pinned to it like a beetle to a piece of cork…’  

SC:  The show offers a new perspective on theatre and is at times shocking.  It also can be a bit haunting and bleak.  How did you develop the style of this show?

IG:  Each style of theatre for me is born out of the text, and the world of the author.

The main character says:

‘I started noticing that something colorful was emerging from the white pages.

The vision was not just a flat picture, but something three-dimensional.  As if peering into a little box, I could see the light gleaming and the figures from my novel moving about. Oh, what a fascinating game it was to observe these characters moving about the little room.’

Using this text, we decided to create a box that all the characters live in, and with them, Maksudov, the main character. What kind of box should it be?  Since the play depicts the Moscow Art Theatre in the 1920s, we decided that the shape of the walls of this box should depict the famous portrait foyer of the Moscow Art Theatre with portraits of the great artists of the time constantly staring at the author and characters inside the box.  We then decided that the audience members should portray these portraits, and thus, we have the audience seated around the box, in which characters come alive.  They are looking though their individual windows or portraits as if in a foyer of the legendary theatre.  Maksudov therefore, is forever stuck like Prometheus in the ‘magical box’ or the ‘portrait foyer’ that he loves more than anything in the world.

Arlekin Players Dead Man's Diary cast

A scene from Dead Man’s Diary: A Theatrical Novel Photo courtesy of Arlekin Players

SC:  This show also features its share of absurd comedy as well.

IG:  Correct.  In Maksudov’s eyes, the actors in the theatre hire him to write a play are from a different, exotic, and fascinating world.  It’s as if they are superhuman. The absurdity comes from the heightened level of passion of the characters and their incredible self-delusions, which at times are absurdly vulnerable and poetic, and at times absurdly cruel and self-absorbed. We recognize the faults of the human soul looking through Maskudov’s eyes as if though a looking glass, where the faults become exaggerated and ultimately comical.

SC:  It describes not only theatre, but the writer’s journey and touches upon what it really means to be successful.  What are your views on success?

IG:  My view of success is having a group of artists, a team of sorts, which is united and inspired by each other to produce a specific piece of text.  As a result, they are able to touch the souls of people in the audience.  When this happens, I feel truly successful.

SC:  What do you like most about this show and what is the best reason someone should attend?

IG:  I think the acting, directing, set design, music composition, and collaborative imagination all work together to give this piece an unusual style. We are excited to bring what we believe is a unique contribution to the Boston Theatre Scene. Also, the piece was written in Russian and is performed by Russian actors but was adapted and created here. We are a local company making new work for the last 9 years. We have already had 20 performances of Dead Man’s Diary. For those who have seen and loved it, it has grown even more over time.  See the show and you will not leave untouched.

Click here for more information and for tickets to Dead Man’s Diary: A Theatrical Novel from Saturday, March 17 through Sunday, April 1 at the Paramount Theatre in Boston, Massachusetts.  Follow the Arlekin Players on Facebook and Twitter.

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.