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

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

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

Lyric Stage Pacific Overtures Please Hello

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

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

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

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

Lyric Stage Pacific Overtures cast

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

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

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

Lyric Stage Pacific Overtures Carl Hsu and Sam Hamashima

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

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

Lyric Stage Pacific Overtures Welcome to Kanagawa

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

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

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

REVIEW: Lively and insightful, Lyric Stage Company’s award-winning play, ‘The Wolves’ howls

Woven into the lush, green indoor turf is a unique narrative with the clever earmarks of adolescence in Sara DeLappe’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play finalist, The Wolves.  Framed as a soccer match, this unconventional ensemble drama kicks off like a rocket, luring the audience into the tumultuous chattering of a competitive, all-girls soccer team who are about to learn a few valuable lessons about life and themselves in and out of the game.

Directed by A. Nora Long, Lyric Stage Company’s The Wolves continues through Sunday, February 3 at 140 Clarendon Street in Boston.  The show is 90 minutes with no intermission and contains some mature themes.    Click here for more information and tickets.

The Wolves play

Photo courtesy of The Lyric Stage Company of Boston

Taking place entirely in an indoor soccer arena, Shelley Barish and Elizabeth Cahill’s exciting setting fits into the team’s boundless energy.  Sports fans take note:  Trained by soccer consultant Olivia Levine, The Wolves are the real deal, showing off authentic as well as physically complex moves throughout the performance.

What makes this show particularly interesting is the remarkable way the story is told.  With a 90 minute running time matching the length of an average soccer match, a horn blaring not only kicks off the latest match within the performance, but sometimes humorously ties in to interrupt a heated conversation.  As the audience as spectators peek into this team’s lives, the progressive nature in which they learn discipline, tolerance, and how to listen to each other is subtle, yet one of the most powerful parts of this compelling narrative.

The Wolves with orange slices

Cast consists of Lydia Barnett-Mulligan, Sarah Elizabeth Bedard, Simone Black, Olivia Z. Cote, Chelsea Evered, Grace Experience, Julia Lennon, Valerie Terranova, and Jurielle Whitney Photo courtesy of Lyric Stage Company

These teammates have a natural and at times, rumbling chemistry in their uninhibited conversations.  Whether they are delving into gossip around school, technology, getting their driver’s permits or scandalized by their maturing bodies, their viewpoints stay consistent with their level of maturity (right down to the abuse of the word, “like”) which can sometimes be insightful and other times, hilarious.

Though each cast member exhibits their own distinct personality in their matching uniforms, Valerie Terranova, who is making her debut on the Lyric Stage with this show, is a particular highlight as serious, optimistic player #25.  The wise, unassuming way she leads the team shows that while the other girls may only see what is right in front of them, #25 sees where the game might take them, united, one victory at a time.

 

The Wolves may even serve as a nostalgic trip down memory lane, when you were a teenager and everything was the best thing in the world or the worst, the raging excitement of life.  It may even leave you scratching your head, trying to recall if being a teenager girl was really like this.  The undeniable answer, for the most part, was yes.

The Lyric Stage Company continues Sara DeLappe’s The Wolves through Sunday, February 3 at 140 Clarendon Street in Boston, Massachusetts.  Click here for tickets and more information.  Subscriptions and dinner packages are also available.  Follow The Lyric Stage on Twitter and Facebook for their upcoming productions and more.

Review: Packed with inspiring music, Lyric Stage Company and Front Porch Arts Collective’s ‘Breath and Imagination’ soars

It often takes a village to become great.  In Daniel Beaty’s Breath and Imagination:  The Story of Roland Hayes, lyric tenor and composer Roland Hayes embarks on a tremendous journey from a shy, sulky church boy to the trials and sacrifices that were made in order for him to become an established singer.  He was often plagued by insecurity and faced backlash in many forms, but the heart of this piece lies in the ones who believed in him even when he wasn’t sure how to proceed, ultimately proving, as the production proclaims, “pain and promise make you great.”

Co-produced by Front Porch Arts Collective, directed by Maurice Emmanuel Parent, and musically directed by Asher Denburg, Lyric Stage Company proudly presents this interactive, uplifting musical helmed by a stellar cast, Daniel Beaty’s Breath and Imagination:  The Story of Roland Hayes continuing through Sunday, December 23 at 140 Clarendon Street in Boston, Massachusetts.  This is a 90-minute musical with no intermission.  Click here for more information and for tickets.

Front Porch and Lyric Stage Breath and Imagination Asher Denburg and Davron S. Monroe

Music Director Asher Denburg and Davron S. Monroe Photo courtesy of Lyric Stage Company of Boston

Packed with impressive performances, Breath and Imagination is an important musical, especially fitting for Boston since Roland Hayes is the first soloist of color to perform at Symphony Hall.  Accompanied by a grand piano sitting in front of an illuminated, sliding paneled backdrop, this interactive, concert musical draws the audience into the performance with its small and mighty cast.

If I thought Davron S. Monroe was terrific in Lyric Stage’s Kiss of the Spider Woman or on the Company Theatre stage in the powerful musical, Ragtime, nothing could quite prepare me for the magnificent performance he delivers as lyric tenor and composer Roland Hayes.  Not only does Monroe beautifully depict Roland Hayes’s journey as he matures from a humble childhood in a wool cap to adulthood in bow tie and tails, he also shows Hayes’s progressive vocal maturity, his powerhouse vocals rising to new, complicated heights as he masters everything from spiritual hymns to internationally-renowned classical works.

Guiding him on this audacious journey is his no nonsense, strict, and faith-filled mother, Angel Mo’, portrayed by Yewande Odetoyinbo in a captivating performance that makes it easy to see where Roland Hayes gets his inspired vocal chops.  Odetoyinbo as Angel Mo’ is fierce yet humble, a quick witted woman in a shawl who shows Hayes what is truly important in life and song.  She reflects the pain of her past and the weight of the immense obstacles in front of her, but consistently holds her own with faith and love.

Front Porch and Lyric Stage Breath and Imagination - Davron S Monroe, Yewande Odetoyinbo and Nile Scott Hawver

Davron S. Monroe as Roland Hayes, Yewande Odetoyinbo as Angel Mo.’ and Nile Scott Hawver Photo courtesy of Lyric Stage Company of Boston

Odetoyinbo and Monroe teamed up earlier this year in Lyric Stage’s spring musical, The Wiz and their sweet chemistry make it no surprise they are collaborating again.  Much of this musical tackles the highs and lows of their relationship as he makes his way into the world.

Rounding out this stellar cast is Doug Gerber as Mr. Calhoun and Nile Scott Hawver, who portrays multiple roles seamlessly from a preacher to a teacher, his enthusiasm makes way for some exciting, touching, and humorous moments.

Front Porch and Lyric Stage Breath and Imagination - Asher Denburg, Doug Gerber, Nile Scott Hawver, Davron S. Monroe and Yewande Odetoyinbo

Asher Denburg, Doug Gerber, Nile Scott Hawver, Davron S. Monroe and Yewande Odetoyinbo Photo courtesy of Lyric Stage Company of Boston

Enjoy the Lyric Stage Company and The Front Porch Arts Collective’s compelling musical, Breath and Imagination:  The Story of Roland Hayes at 140 Clarendon Street in Boston, Massachusetts through Sunday, December 23.  Click here for more information and tickets.  Follow The Lyric Stage on Twitter and Facebook for their upcoming productions and more.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

REVIEW: Lyric Stage’s ‘Kiss of the Spider Woman’ spins a fascinating web

The Lyric Stage’s powerful musical, Kiss of the Spider Woman, with music by John Kander and lyrics by Fred Ebb, proves escape can take many forms.  Much like Kander and Ebb’s previous works such as Chicago and Cabaret, Kiss of the Spider Woman delves into equal parts fantasy through lavish dance numbers and brutal reality as two very different men are cellmates in a Latin American prison.  Directed and choreographed skillfully by Rachel Bertone, Kiss of the Spider Woman is not just a gripping tale about surviving under profoundly dark circumstances, but an emotional journey, keeping the audience guessing to each character’s complex motives.

Kander and Ebb’s Kiss of the Spider Woman continues at the Lyric Stage in Boston, Massachusetts through Sunday, October 7.  Click here for tickets and more information.

What makes this show particularly fascinating is Bertone’s talent for depicting mounting tension, evident between each character who all share some sort of connection.  Lisa Yuen embodies the Spider Woman/Aurora with dark humor and beguiling charm, a presence who sees and knows all as she proclaims, I Do Miracles.  Her haunting vocals are a magnetic presence as she slinks onstage.  Her dazzling, alluring costumes vary from a shimmering, translucent gown to a bright, multi-colored Bird of Paradise.

Lyric Stage - Cuadros, Yuen, Cavazos, Gamble, Baldassaro

L to R: Arthur Cuadros as Gabriel, Lisa Yuen as Aurora, Eddy Cavazos as Molina, Taavon Gamble as Valentin, and Bernie Baldassaro as a prisoner Photo courtesy of Lyric Stage

Portraying the two cellmates are Eddy Cavazos as imaginative, openly gay window dresser Molina and Taavon Gamble as gruff revolutionary Valentin.  Dressed in a bright scarf and silk robe, Molina is often sinking into his own vivid imagination recalling his favorite film star, Aurora (Lisa Yuen). Cavazos portrays Molina as exceedingly optimistic, vain, and wildly dramatic.  However, with an occasional far off glance or a brief, mournful smile, Cavazos also reveals Molina’s palpable loneliness, wearing his heart on his sleeve.  He and Johanna Carlisle-Zepeda as Molina’s cherished mother share sweet moments, especially during the number, Dear One and You Can Never Shame Me.

Lyric Stage - Cavazos, Carlisle-Zepeda, Zofia, Gamble

L to R Eddy Cavazos as Molina, Johanna Carlisle-Zepeda as Molina’s Mother, Katrina Zofia as Marta, and Taavon Gamble as Valentin Photo courtesy of the Lyric Stage

Taavon Gamble is also impressive as proud, indignant revolutionary Valentin, a man of few words.  His stirring number, The Day After That, offers immense insight into Valentin’s visceral strength.  Cavazos and Gamble’s scenes together are riveting, both delivering shrewd and gritty performances.

Lyric Stage - Gamble, Cavazos with prisoners

Taavon Gamble as Valentin (center), Eddy Cavazos as Molina and prisoners

Musically directed by Dan Rodriguez featuring songs ranging from haunting to catchy, Kander and Ebb’s Kiss of the Spider Woman continues at the Lyric Stage, 140 Clarendon Street in Boston, Massachusetts through Sunday, October 7.  Click here for tickets and more information.  Subscriptions and dinner packages are also available.  Follow The Lyric Stage on Twitter and Facebook for their upcoming productions and more.