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: ‘Chabe,’ ‘Conversations with Female Clowns,’ ‘Dictionary’ and ‘Por Mi Hija’ explore various aspects of love and connection at The New York City Indie Film Festival

The New York City Indie Film Festival concluded on June 19 after approximately a week of screenings at the Producers Club in New York City.  It featured a variety of films from shorts to narratives to documentaries curated with common themes.  At this festival, Sleepless Critic had the opportunity to see screenings on music, small businesses, love and connection, and much more which will be explored in future articles.  Co-founded by Executive Director Dennis Cieri and Director Bonnie Rush, this renowned festival has screened thousands of films since it first launched in 2010.  Click here for more information.

Photo credit to Jeanne Denizard

Curated by Lucie Guillemot, this narrative film collection explored different aspects of love and connection.  Directed by John Tsiavis, Chabe is a vivid short film about Isabel Gomez, a woman who assists in a cataracts surgery project for a Mexican indigenous tribe.  Rich in unique color and told through Isabel’s eyes, the film evokes Isabel’s sheer joy in helping others and the complex process of this tribe’s journey from dark to light.  Chabe made me long to see more on it all.

Isabel Gomez in ‘Chabe’ Photo credit to NYC Indie Film Festival

Directed insightfully by Clare Redden and Joseph Pulitzer, Conversations with Female Clowns is a surprising look at connection through laughter from a unique perspective.  Reflected through a group of female clowns, it explores not only the incentive for a woman to become a clown, but the societal and personal norms as a female that seem to relate all too well to this profession.  It sheds light on the idea of clowning from a new angle with an opportunity to see these female clowns in action.  From a hospital clown to a member of the Big Apple Circus, Conversations with Female Clowns is an eye opening and humbling experience about what it truly means to be funny.

Director and writer Clare Redden of ‘Conversations with Female Clowns’ Photo credit to NYC Indie Film Festival

Dictionary explores the ODU concept of the seven stages of love in vignettes.  A tribute to the Indian culture, Aishwarya Sonar has a great deal to convey in the screening’s brief time frame and writer, director, and producer Elena Viklova aptly evokes the fleeting and sacred power of love in each frame.  From the warm bloom of attraction to the stillness of grief, Sonar elevates each stage in dynamic subtleties.

‘Dictionary’ by Elena Viklova Photo credit to NYC Indie Film Festival

Por Mi Hija (For My Daughter) is an immersive Spanish language film that addresses familial love and the dream of what is thought to be a better life.  Written, directed, and produced by Fernando Rodriguez who dedicated this film to his wife and kids and based on two true stories, Por Mi Hija is a stirring account that examines what creates a fulfilling life in an unconventional way. 

Christopher Bustos as Leo and Daniela Vidaurre as Emma are young newlyweds living a happy life surrounded by family in Mexico when they receive life changing news that prompts Leo to seek success in California.  Bustos and Vidaurre depict a strong and relatable couple with endearing chemistry as they face moving and realistic trials and tribulations while Luciana Elisa Quiñonez shines as imaginative and sweet Luciana. 

Christopher Bustos, Daniela Viduarre, and Luciana Elisa Quinonez in ‘Por Mi Hija’ Photo credit to NYC Indie Film Festival

The real strength in this film lies in its unconventional timeline and how it manages expectations and reality.  The various parallel scenes between Leo and Emma including having a meal or riding in a car are gripping as it is weaved into the film’s progression and there is a dreamlike quality looking into the past as well as a hazy, ethereal ambiance of the future. This particular style enhances the film’s poignant message while achieving a balance between the lighthearted and tense moments.  It also embodies what the characters cannot quite see at the time until the film’s stunning revelation.

Chabe, Conversations with Female Clowns, Dictionary and Por Mi Hija were all part of Narrative 14 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: Tension mounts for an endearing couple in Lyric Stage’s meaningful production, ‘The Light’

One night can change everything.

Genesis and Rashad think they know each other well.  This lovable couple jokes, knows each other’s likes, quirks, habits, and dreams, and yet in one night, they start to see each other in a new and unfamiliar way.

With multi-layer direction by Jacqui Parker, Lyric Stage Company presents Loy A. Webb’s The Light through June 26 at Lyric Stage Company live and in person in Boston, Massachusetts.  The show is 70 minutes long with no intermission and is Lyric Stage’s final show of the season.  This show contains mature topics.  Click here for more information and tickets.

Dominic Carter as Rashad and Yewande Odetoyinbo as Genesis in ‘The Light’ Photo by Mark S Howard

Surrounded by Baron E. Pugh’s inviting apartment setting which includes a purple couch, teal chairs, and colorful accents by Lauren Corcuera while sketches of Beyoncé, Maya Angelou, Michelle Obama and Ruth Bader Ginsberg hang overhead, Genesis and Rashad know this isn’t just any night.  It’s their anniversary.

Yewande Odetoyinbo as Genesis and Dominic Carter as Rashad in ‘The Light’ Photo by Mark S Howard

Elmer Martinez’s expressive lighting enhances the evocative nature of this production.  It is a meaningful show hinging on the strengths of its leads and Yewande Odetoyinbo as school principal Genesis and Dominic Carter as firefighter Rashad are more than up to the task.  While both characters are stubborn, Odetoyinbo’s grounded and witty nature as Genesis strikes an important balance with Carter’s optimistic and playful sense of humor as Rashad.  Carter is charismatically charming and leads in some of the production’s funniest moments while Odetoyinbo as Genesis is best as the tension builds.  It is a joy to watch as they zing each other, tease, dream about the future, debate, and share some of their most treasured memories together.  Their innate and compelling chemistry attract such a fondness for this couple that it is easy to get lost in what seems like their complete compatibility.

Dominic Carter as Rashad and Yewande Odetoyinbo as Genesis in ‘The Light’ Photo by Mark S Howard

However, realizations and revelations run deep on this special night. Webb’s clever script invites the audience into this couple’s intimate relationship in all its charms with some passing notes of underlying resentment while carefully laying its cards on the table and raising the stakes through every twist and turn.  Odetoyinbo and Carter are a true force as they approach the humor, tension and the difficult and serious topics with compassion. 

Yewande Odetoyinbo as Genesis and Dominic Carter as Rashad in ‘The Light’ Photo by Mark S Howard

The Light makes the most out of its 70 minute run time.  It has good pacing and escalates quickly, fueled by Odetoyinbo and Carter’s natural chemistry as the show veers toward its powerful conclusion.

Lyric Stage Company presents Loy A. Webb’s The Light through June 26 at Lyric Stage Company live and in person in Boston, Massachusetts.  The show is 70 minutes long with no intermission and is Lyric Stage’s final show of the season.  This show contains mature topics.  Click here for more information and tickets.

REVIEW: Singer-songwriters Natalie Price and Grace Pettis share resilience through struggle and the joy of performing live onstage again

It is no surprise that guitar strumming singer-songwriters Natalie Price and Grace Pettis recently brought a mix of emotional weight to the Club Passim stage in Cambridge, MA.  Not only in the great joy of performing for an audience again, but the heartache, loss, and reflection in their music as a result of these past couple of complicated years.  However, within this sadness lies resilience for thriving again.  

Grace Pettis and Natalie Price Photo credit to Natalie Price

Singer-songwriter Natalie Price debuted at Club Passim and opened for returning Club Passim favorite Grace Pettis on Thursday, April 14 in person and on live stream for one night only.  Click here to see where Pettis will perform next and here for more on Price.  Click here for more on Club Passim, their educational programs, upcoming events, and how to support local music.

A smattering of spotlights lit the Club Passim stage as Dallas-born Natalie Price delivered a mix of reflective, sorrowful, and playful love songs during her brief opening set.   Price’s sound has a tinge of Natalie Imbruglia or Lisa Loeb as she shares her experiences.

These Days is a clever track about the memory of escaping an unhealthy relationship and if the timing of that relationship were any different, Price might not have escaped.  Price sings, ‘I’m so glad I wasn’t younger when we met’ and ‘The heaviness, strangled me/A songbird in a cage.’  Its seemingly lighthearted chords contrast a returning and complex memory that changes over time.

Another highlight was The Island, a song performed entirely with a music box-sounding Kalimba instrument.  It is a melodious track about the euphoria of new love while Done is another clever piece that delves into the erratic and frantic feelings of unsteady love.  Price ends the set with a catchy and cheerful tune about devotion.

Natalie Price’s music can be found on Band Camp or on her website.

Grace Pettis Photo credit to Nicola Gell

Before taking the stage alone, Grace Pettis joined Price for an unconventional and sweet lullaby Pettis wrote and performs for a Ukrainian child living with Pettis and her family in Ireland called Sleepy Lobster.  Pettis had a table set up that evening to support Ukraine.

Florida-born Grace Pettis delves into a collection of powerful, somber, and soulful tunes, a reflection of some of the complex, life-changing experiences Pettis endured over the last two years.  In a burgundy shirt and black pants, Pettis is an unassuming presence with a certain personable charm and expressed her gratefulness to be back at Club Passim sharing her music with a crowd again.

Her passionate and powerful vocals in Pick me Up and Never Get it Back from her new album, Working Woman from MPress Records, has universal appeal with the latter a bittersweet message on the importance of living in the present and the former finding the strength to keep going in spite of life’s hardships.   Though Pick me Up could simply be interpreted as a love song, it could also apply to a larger message about faith and finding loyal support through life.

Pettis mused in Rain’s lyrics, ‘I don’t know how to be happy’ when she recalled being tasked with writing a song about sunshine.  The somber track was inspired by November rain in Ireland.

So many of Grace’s work addresses strength through struggle.  Mean Something also from Working Woman has a soothing quality about finding hope while Birthright, which is a Nobody’s Girl song, reveals the struggles of living with the pain of the past.  Pettis is an apt songwriter reflecting on the end of a life-changing relationship. She sings, ‘Brace myself for unwanted advice…I’m the box forgotten in the attic.’

However, one of my favorite tracks is Corner, a complex love song about unconditional loyalty, the pain thick in Grace’s voice.  Though the show had its share of solemn musings, Pettis ends the set with Working Woman’s fiery and meaningful title track, her powerful belt demonstrating though hardship, Grace Pettis has thicker skin than that.

Click here for more information on Grace Pettis and where she is touring next.  Learn more about Natalie Price here and click here for more on Club Passim, their music classes, upcoming concerts, and how to support local music.

REVIEW:  ‘Aimee Victoria’ love beyond boundaries

Since the pandemic started, loneliness has increased exponentially.  People have been scrambling to find a fulfilling form of communication since quarantine took effect in 2020 and any miscommunication or absence of a loved one quickly became fear and worry of their well being.  Even today, people are still struggling with how best to communicate and see each other in person without the fear of illness.  For Aimee and Victoria at the start of the pandemic, communication had to come more from the heart than from the head as they celebrate their anniversary apart.

Natasha Ofili as Aimee and Stephanie Noguras as Victoria Photo courtesy of Olivia Long/Aimee Victoria

Directed aptly by Chrystee Pharris and written by Hannah Harmison and Mikail Chowdhury, Aimee Victoria is a short film created entirely remotely during the pandemic in 2020.  The film is approximately 10 minutes long.  Click here for more information and how to view this film.

Aimee Victoria explores how Natasha Ofili as Aimee and Stephanie Nogueras as Victoria, a deaf couple, cope with being separated by the pandemic on their first anniversary.  As many have difficulty communicating their feelings under the best of circumstances, Aimee and Victoria tackle this obstacle in a sweet depiction of love beyond boundaries. 

Stephanie Nogueras as Victoria Photo courtesy of Olivia Long/Aimee Victoria

Through the film’s isolating setting and circumstances, Pharris navigates panic, depression, and struggle in these characters as they readjust to this new way of living.  For example, Aimee struggles just to get out of bed at a loss for what is next as so many have felt in the past couple of years.

Natasha Ofili as Aimee Photo courtesy of Olivia Long/Aimee Victoria

Aimee Victoria transcends not only the journey of these two people, but the significance of love beyond any obstacles and expressing to anyone, whether friend, family, or significant other, what is truly important.  Finding a way to carry that love with them no matter where they are.

Aimee Victoria is available now on streaming platforms and in theatres.  Click here for more information on how to view this short film.

REVIEW:  Boasting two stellar leads, Central’s Square’s ‘The Half Life of Marie Curie’ full of inspiration and crackling chemistry

For revolutionary physicist and chemist Marie Curie, not everything can be solved through a calculation.

On the verge of her second Noble Prize for Chemistry, anxious and introspective Marie Curie finds herself embroiled in a scandal and at one of the lowest points of her life.  Quite literally bursting onto the scene is brilliant and charismatic electromechanical engineer and suffragette Hertha Ayrton ready to bring humor and optimism to what seems like a bleak situation.

Lee Mikeska Gardner as Marie Curie Debra Wise as Hertha Ayrton Photo courtesy of Nile Scott Studios

Brimming with crackling chemistry between Lee Mikeska Gardner as Marie Curie and Debra Wise as Herthe Ayrton, Central Square Theater opened their fall season with Lauren Gunderson’s The Half Life of Marie Curie continuing through December 12 at the Central Square Theater in Cambridge, Massachusetts.  The show is 85 minutes with no intermission.  Click here for more information and tickets.

The stage is deceptively serene for Lauren Gunderson’s The Half Life of Marie Curie. Lindsay Genevieve Fuori’s colorful, innovative, and functional scenic design comes to life as stirring sound effects and a mysterious and foreboding piano score by sound designer Elizabeth Cahill make an intriguing combination fused with Whitney Brady-Guzman’s dynamic and surreal lighting.

A production that picks up from the very start, these two driven pillars of science with contrasting personalities are a fascinating pair to watch and listen to their musings.  Gunderson’s sharp script strikes a delicate balance between intellectual prowess and absorbing dramedy.  They share their views on life, family, and work with wit, humor and candor, yet instinctually encourage each other forward with respect and admiration.  Both are widows and mothers who struggle with how women were perceived in the early 20th century, but their sheer determination and passion for science ultimately make an indelible mark on the world.

Lee Mikeska Gardner as Marie Curie and Debra Wise as Hertha Ayrton in 1910s swimwear Photo courtesy of Nile Scott Studios

Adorned in a lovely feathered black hat and flowing emerald green dress, Debra Wise brings gravitas, confidence, ego, and clever charm as Hertha Ayrton.  From the moment Ayrton bursts onto the stage with a confident cock of her head, gleam in her eye, and cheerful intonation, a lightheartedness sets in to her passionate and outspoken persona as opposed to Curie’s darker sensibilities.  Dressed demurely in a rich purple dress, Gardner skillfully embodies tense Curie in her careful and calculated movements.  You can practically see the wheels turning in Curie’s constantly analyzing mind and consider the lengths she would go for the sake of her work.

Lee Mikeska Gardner as Marie Curie Debra Wise as Hertha Ayrton Photo courtesy of Nile Scott Studios

Marie Curie and Hertha Ayron’s exchanges are no ordinary gabfests.  From sexual politics to love to family and everything in between, Wise and Gardner, as different in their approaches are and as opposite their personalities, they understand each other as equals, colleagues, and kindred spirits. Celebrating each other’s triumphs and supportive in hardship, theirs is a true testament to unyielding and enduring friendship and it stands at the center of this auspicious and biographical story.

Directed astutely by Bryn Boice, Central Square Theater presents Lauren Gunderson’s The Half Life of Marie Curie through December 12 at the Central Square Theater in Cambridge, Massachusetts.  The show is 85 minutes with no intermission.  Click here for more information and tickets.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

REVIEW: 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: ‘Love, Repeat’ gets love right

Viewing Warwick Film’s unconventional and heartwarming romantic comedy Love, Repeat makes this city lover long to return to New York City.  Steeped in New York City’s pinnacle, snow-covered beauty and featuring some of the city’s most iconic landmarks in muted enchantment brings on a wistful feeling.  New York City not only provides this film’s idyllic ambiance, but is portrayed as its own active character in James, an auspicious person who feels like he lucked out in love to his wife Barbara until they suddenly divorce.  James feels much like Manhattan, a lonely island.

Bill Connington as James in idyllic New York City in ‘Love, Repeat’ Photo courtesy of DARR Publicity/Love, Repeat

Whether you are still feeling the holiday spirit as any Hallmark movie fan would be or looking for a lighthearted tale of love and loss, Love, Repeat delivers.  January is also nestled between the close of the holiday season and the anticipation of Valentine’s Day.  Warwick Film’s Love, Repeat is available to stream and on DVD.  Click here for more information on the film and how to watch Love, Repeat.

MaxwellPurushothaman as Chris and Bill Connington as James in ‘Love, Repeat’ Photo courtesy of DARR Publicity/Love, Repeat

Written, executive produced, and starring Bill Connington as James, Love, Repeat largely portrays the difficult part of love.  It explores the kind of love that is tested after things go right, but done in a way that is optimistic, humorous, and never bereft of hope.

Marcus Ho as Chad, Maxwell Purushothaman as Chris, Stu Richel as Philip, and Bill Connington as James Photo courtesy of DARR Publicity/Love, Repeat

The setting may be idyllic, but this is not a tale of beautiful people with beautiful problems that are easily solved.  Love, Repeat boasts a dynamic, strong, and quirky cast helmed by Bill Connington as earnest, stoic and quietly romantic James Anderson.  Connington endearingly depicts James’s tension and hesitation as he wades into this unexpected period in his life while his artistic ex-wife Barbara, amiably portrayed by Leenya Rideout, seems ready to move on.  The pair possess a sweet and familiar chemistry.  There is nothing quite like getting romantic advice from your son and Maxwell Purushothanan as their bright, albeit blunt son Chris receives the lion’s share of the laughs.  Stu Richel as Phillip, James’s football-loving father resembles that “shoot-from-the-hip” charisma portrayed in Martin Crane from the hit TV show Frasier

Marcus Ho as Chad and Nandita Shenoy as Lavanya Photo courtesy of DARR Publicity/Love, Repeat

Marcus Ho as Chad and Nandita Shenoy as Lavanya are James’s chic and wildly dramatic friends as they amusingly swing from passionate to cynical at times in the very same scene.  The film also has its share of good naturedly silly moments including a spontaneous dance sequence and Vivia Font who deems a noteworthy portrayal as increasingly obsessive and comically driven Camilla.

The story is a bit rushed at times and it would have been nice to get more insight into Barbara’s character, but the characters are relatable enough to stay invested while delivering an authentic message about love, risk, acceptance, and relationships while taking in those marvelous city views.

Bill Connington as James at the MET Photo courtesy of DARR Publicity/Love, Repeat

Warwick Film’s Love, Repeat is available to stream and on DVD.  Click here for more information on the film and how to watch Love, Repeat.

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.