REVIEW: The Huntington’s bold and savory comedy, ‘Clyde’s’ serves up the works

Talk about mouthwatering fare.

Don’t arrive to Clyde’s hungry as Lynn Nottage’s illustrative script is not only a feast for the senses, but Clyde’s is where the sandwich is undeniably king in every sense of the word.  For a group of enigmatic employees struggling to get out from under a scant Pennsylvania trucker stop, the sandwich is the key to all things great.  However, with a tyrannical boss at the helm, Clyde has plenty to say over whom or what reigns supreme.

Harold Surratt as Montrellous and April Nixon as Clyde in Lynn Nottage’s Tony award nominated play Clyde’s Photo by Kevin Berne

Directed intuitively by Taylor Reynolds, The Huntington, in a co-production with Berkeley Repertory Theatre, presents captivating, Pulitzer Prize-winning and Tony award-nominated dramedy Clyde’s through Sunday, April 23 live and in person at the Huntington Theatre in Boston, Massachusetts.  The show is one hundred minutes with no intermission.  Click here for more information and for tickets.

Clyde’s is a fascinating, no holds barred yet comedic look into the hectic lives of Clyde’s employees and the mysterious reasons why they are there.  Nottage’s sterling script balances the heartache of home life and arduous work when the cards are stacked with the dream of pursuing perfection. 

Louis Reyes Mcwilliams as Jason and Cyndii Johnson as Letitia in Lynn Nottage’s Tony Award nominated play, ‘Clyde’s’ Photo by Kevin Berne

The cast does an amazing job collaboratively building surprising comedic moments within a show rife with tension and serious themes.  Harold Surratt epitomizes wise and discerning Montrellous as he poetically describes the art of the sandwich with ‘intangible grace and aromas’ and deems artichokes as ‘grace notes.’   Surratt, unconventional in multicolored and kaleidoscopic garments, portrays amiable Montrellous as the calm within a fiery storm.   Surratt’s warm smile and soothing vocals can charm almost anyone into discovering the joy in life’s simplicity.  Wesley Guimaraes as sous-chef Rafael share some of that optimism and grace striving to achieve the peace that Montrellous seemingly exudes.  Guimaraes shares some refreshing, playful, and flirtatious scenes with Cyndii Johnson as Letitia on prep.  Their remarkable chemistry is a highlight of the production.  Johnson enthusiastically captures the outspoken, fast talking, and sympathetic Letitia who is both caring yet not to be trifled with while Louis Reyes McWilliams searingly portrays guarded Jason, building his own tension with every careful move.

Cyndii Johnson as Letitia and Wesley Guimarães as Rafael in Lynn Nottage’s Tony award- nominated play ‘Clyde’s’ Photo by Muriel Steinke

However, the prime source of unease can be found in Clyde, a force to be reckoned with depicted glacially by April Nixon.  From Montrellous’s unique ensembles to Leticia’s exuberant headscarves, costume designer Karen Perry creates incredible and vampy ensembles that exude Nixon’s egotistical, booming, and militaristic Clyde.  Tiger prints, multicolored, scalloped sleeves, sparkling pumps, and astounding incandescent wigs by Megan Ellis help bring out Nixon’s spicy Clyde in and out of the kitchen.  Nixon’s gusto is evident from the very first scene, channeling the kitchen’s mood under Clyde’s manicured fingertips.

April Nixon as Clyde and Harold Surratt as Montrellous in Lynn Nottage’s Tony award-nominated play ‘Clyde’s’ Photo by Kevin Berne

Aubrey Dube’s catchy and upbeat sound design fuel this bustling and rustic kitchen designed by Wilson Chin.  Plants, boom box, storage boxes, utensils, silver gleaming fridge, grill, Tupperware, and to go boxes are reminiscent of the authentic clutter out of The Bear or Kitchen Nightmares.  The flashy and vibrant monument sign, fueled by lighting designer Amith Chandrashaker, work spectacularly with the show’s memorable score and its fast paced setting.

As Montrellous muses, ‘over complication obscures the truth’ so take a trip to Clyde’s for a bold and powerfully- charged dramedy where aspiration is never off the menu.

The Huntington, in a co-production with Berkeley Repertory Theatre, presents captivating, Pulitzer Prize-winning and Tony award-nominated comedy Clyde’s through Sunday, April 23 live and in person at the Huntington Theatre in Boston, Massachusetts.  The show is one hundred minutes with no intermission.  Click here for more information and for tickets.

REVIEW:  Boston Lyric Opera unveils a spellbinding ‘Bluebeard’s Castle/Four Songs’

As waves splash against the Flynn Cruiseport Boston, Boston Lyric Opera unleashed a chilling tale of seduction and secrets.

Ryan McKinny as Bluebeard in BLOs Bluebeards Castle Four Songs. PHOTO by Liza Voll

Conducted masterfully by David Angus and craftily stage directed by Anne Bogart, Boston Lyric Opera unearthed Bartok’s Bluebeard’s Castle/Four Songs for a limited engagement live and in person from March 22-26 at Flynn Cruiseport in South Boston’s Seaport District.  The show was 90 minutes with no intermission and had some adult themes.  Click here for more information and for what is next for Boston Lyric Opera.

Aunt Lydia (Caroline Worra) leads the handmaids through their prayers in Boston Lyric Opera’s production of “The Handmaid’s Tale,” ran through May 12, 2019. Photo by Liza Voll/Boston Lyric Opera

Lauded Stage Director Anne Bogart was behind the innovative transformation of Margaret Atwood’s harrowing dystopian novel, The Handmaid’s Tale, into an opera and presented that vision in glorious triumph while the hailed author sat in attendance.  See more about that experience here.  Anne Bogart’s riveting vision of Bluebeard’s Castle/Four Songs is another brilliant and dark reckoning in which with each astounding discovery, the plot thickens.   

Naomi Louisa OConnell opens BLOs Bluebeards Castle Four Songs with an Alma Mahler song featuring pianist Yukiko Oba. PHOTO by Liza Voll.

Suspenseful, passionate, and deeply romantic, Bluebeard’s Castle/Four Songs heightens the emotional impact of the libretto with Alma Mahler’s multifarious Four Songs.  Conducted zealously by David Angus with pianist Yukiko Oba, Four Songs as a companion piece which amplifies the magnitude of what Judith is about to see.

A mysterious and passionate tale, the real seduction behind Bluebeard’s Castle is the symbolism that results as Judith, Bluebeard’s new wife, longs to let light in and see more of his ancient castle.  She desires to learn everything about Bluebeard, a man she has given everything up for including a fiancé.  However, Bluebeard would rather leave well enough alone and enjoy the love they have found.

Bass-baritone Ryan McKinny as Bluebeard and mezzo-soprano Naomi Louisa O’Connell’s otherworldly and ascending vocals bring vitality and urgency to each phrase and as a duet, their blended vocals are an ethereal experience.   O’Connell is stunning as willful and persistent Judith, her oceanic teal gown glimmering against her incandescent red hair as she proclaims her love and deepest wishes for Bluebeard and their future together.  Boasting a thick gray beard, McKinny’s stately, rugged and romantic Bluebeard is equally persistent at first.  It is fascinating to watch the duo in an impassioned verbal tug of war, their thrilling chemistry becoming more and more feverish with each request.  McKinny and O’Connell also have a believable playfulness that round out their relationship and temporarily ease that mounting tension.

Judith Naomi Louisa OConnell and Bluebeard Ryan McKinny celebrate the castle garden in BLOs Bluebeards Castle Four Songs. PHOTO by Liza Voll

Trevor Bowen’s impeccable and deceptive costuming added an alluring mystique to the production with Bluebeard in velvety deep blue and purple lined with gold, Judith in aquatic teal and what seemed like dancers adorned in glittering and flowing, yet bridled garments which included Marissa Molinar, Aliza Franz, Olivia Moon, Sasha Peterson and Cassie Wang Victoria L. Awkward does a wonderful job in keeping these clandestine individuals within this changing landscape in a perfect blend of subtlety, vulnerability and strength while Judith and Bluebeard remain at center stage.

Judith Naomi Louisa-OConnell comes to terms with her potential fate in BLOs Bluebeards Castle Four Songs. PHOTO by Liza Voll

Bogart’s spectacular staging alongside set designer Sara Brown plays a pivotal role in Bluebeard’s dark secrets and it is done with elegance and ingenuity.  The vast and multi-layered kingdom is revealed in Bluebeard’s inky and lavish bedchambers in an inventive display of silk sheets as rippling rivers, a vast and boundless secret garden on a bed of roses, and mountains of peerless gold and jewels.  With Brian H. Scott’s artful lighting creating shadowy and ominous tones with startling streaks of red, Bluebeard’s Castle/Four Songs was a foreboding tale of love, power, desire and the sacrifices one is willing to make for the truth.

Conducted masterfully by David Angus and craftily stage directed by Anne Bogart, Boston Lyric Opera unearthed Bluebeard’s Castle/Four Songs for a limited engagement live and in person from March 22-26 at Flynn Cruiseport in Boston Harbor.  Click here for more information and for what is next for Boston Lyric Opera.

REVIEW:  SpeakEasy Stage Company offers a shrewd and exceptional ‘Fairview’

Mama is about to have a birthday bash no one will soon forget.

Prepared by Yewande Odetoyinbo as Beverly and Dominic Carter as Dayton who delivered playful and endearing chemistry previously seen in Lyric Stage Company’s production The Light, SpeakEasy Stage Company’s brilliant production of Fairview is an impactful and evolving show that has so much to say, but yet so little should be said before witnessing it.  Its humor ranges from conventional to absurd to acerbic and should be watched, understood, and thought over.

Yewande Odetoyinbo and Dom Carter. Nile Scott Studios

SpeakEasy Stage Company presents Jackie Sibblies Drury’s Pulitzer prize-winning Fairview live and in person at Calderwood Pavilion in Boston, Massachusetts through Saturday, March 11.  Powerfully directed by Pascale Florestal, Fairview boasts an excellent and dynamic cast.  Fairview runs one hour and 45 minutes with no intermission and contains adult themes.  Click here for more information and tickets.

Lyndsay Allyn Cox, Yewande Odetoyinbo, and Victoria Omoregie. Nile Scott Studios

Amid an Obama family portrait on the left and a Langston Hughes poem on the right with upscale furniture and a dangling crystal chandelier overhead by Erik D Diaz, the production opens to an inviting and seemingly affluent household as Beverly, attempting to quell her nerves, begins to dance while peeling a carrot for Mama’s birthday dinner.  Soon joined by Dayton, Lyndsay Allyn Cox as Beverly’s sister Jasmine and Victoria Omoregie as Beverly and Dayton’s daughter Keisha, Fairview reveals a dysfunctional family gearing up for a big night for Mama.  Beverly’s only wish is for everything to be perfect.

Fairview addresses the nature of observing and perspective in a unique, palpable and unpredictable manner and it is quite a wild ride to its astonishing conclusion, so be still and observe.  This may be unlike anything witnessed before onstage and most assuredly worth the journey.

SpeakEasy Stage Company presents Jackie Sibblies Drury’s Pulitzer prize-winning Fairview live and in person at Calderwood Pavilion in Boston, Massachusetts through Saturday, March 11.  Fairview runs one hour and 45 minutes with no intermission and has adult themes.  Click here for more information and tickets.

REVIEW:  Fueled by a tight knit cast, August Wilson’s ‘Seven Guitars’ by Actors’ Shakespeare Project strums a spiritual and resonating tune

A shadow lingers over Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

In the aftermath of World War II, grief and death lingered like a shadow over the world’s existence.  In the late 40s in the Pittsburgh Hill District of Pennsylvania, that shadow hovers over a close knit group of friends in August Wilson’s gripping mystery, Seven Guitars.  Love, loneliness, grief, friendship, and the blues strike a chord as each character in Seven Guitars search for their share of happiness in an area nicknamed ‘The Crossroads of the World.’

Directed conscientiously by Maurice Emmanuel Parent, Actors’ Shakespeare Project presents August Wilson’s Seven Guitars through March 5 live and in person at Hibernian Hall in Boston, Massachusetts.  Hibernian Hall provides an intimate theatre setting without a bad set in the house.  Seven Guitars is intended for mature audiences and runs for two hours and 45 minutes with one 15 min intermission.  Click here for more information and tickets.

Vera at the Funeral (0034).jpg: Maya Carter (front) with Johnnie Mack, Dereks Thomas, Regine Vital, and Omar Robinson in August Wilson’s Seven Guitars at Actors’ Shakespeare Project. Photo by Ken Yotsukura Photography.

Written after August Wilson’s Fences, it is easy to see a few of the earmarks of Wilson’s lauded work including Wilson’s rich and cadenced dialogue.  Fences and Seven Guitars are set in Pittsburgh in a neighborhood backyard, and some of the characters in Seven Guitars and Fences share some loose similarities including the ill-advised, but unwavering loyalty from Rose Maxson in Fences and Vera Dotson in Seven Guitars

Jon Savage’s inviting backyard scenic design features a multi-tiered set, colorful garden plot, mood setting hanging string lights, and an inhabited patio dining set. From lively to tense and shocking moments, Amanda E. Fallon’s affective lighting combined with Abe Joyner- Meyers’s mood induced sound design and Dewey Dellay’s haunting and carefully crafted music composition impressively maneuver this evolving and multi-layered production.  Costume Designer Nia Safarr Banks utilizes classic colors and retro patterns to enhance each character’s distinct personality including vintage flowing dresses and plumed bowler hats.

Red at the Funeral (0042).jpg: Johnnie Mack, Dereks Thomas, Maya Carter, Omar Robinson, and Regine Vital in August Wilson’s Seven Guitars at Actors’ Shakespeare Project. Photo by Ken Yotsukura Photography.

However, one of greatest strengths of this particular production is Parent’s great care in the cast’s tight bond.  Whether pondering their own mortality, listening to the radio, shooting the breeze or gripped by a suspenseful moment, the cast easily draws in the audience by their natural and captivating chemistry.

Schoolboy with Bandmates (2793).jpg: Anthony T Goss, Dereks Thomas, and Omar Robinson in August Wilson’s Seven Guitars at Actors’ Shakespeare Project. Photo by Ken Yotsukura Photography.
Schoolboy with Bandmates (2793).jpg: Anthony T Goss, Dereks Thomas, and Omar Robinson in August Wilson’s Seven Guitars at Actors’ Shakespeare Project. Photo by Ken Yotsukura Photography.

Following the funeral of Floyd ‘Schoolboy’ Barton (Anthony T Goss), Seven Guitars follows a group of friends that gather to honor a complicated man.   Goss skillfully depicts Barton’s sass, swagger and charm, but also his admirable determination and dream to be among the haves than the have-nots.  His resolution for success makes him sympathetic despite his egotistically justifiable wrongdoings.  He has compelling chemistry with Maya Carter who delivers a moving performance as devoted, spiritual, and skeptical Vera.  Carter’s intense opening monologue is relatable and heartrending and Carter only gets better from there.  On a lighter note, Regina Vital’s fiercely independent, loyal, and charismatic Louise provides a wealth of humor and fun, especially when she goes toe to toe with Omar Robinson as Canewell, Dereks Thomas as Red Carter, or Valyn Lyric Turner as Louise’s seemingly impressionable niece Ruby.   Robinson as talkative and good natured Canewell, Thomas as ladies man Red, Mack as Hedley and Goss as Floyd share some engrossing camaraderie whether it is for a spontaneous dance with makeshift instruments, playing pranks on each other, or sharing their riveting musings about the future.  However, when they are enjoying themselves, it is a relaxed vibe that is a joy to watch.

Hedley Plays Along (1671).jpg: Johnnie Mack, Dereks Thomas, Anthony T Goss, and Omar Robinson in August Wilson’s Seven Guitars at Actors’ Shakespeare Project. Photo by Ken Yotsukura Photography.

Johnnie Mack delivers a searing and multi-dimensional performance as peculiar, lonely and hardworking dreamer Hedley.  In overalls and an apron, Hedley has lofty dreams and supportive friends, but lives in a sad reality.  Mack seamlessly navigates Hedley’s intermittent moods with rising tension weaved into some compassionate moments. 

Visions of grandeur, ambition, and destiny play more than a medley in August Wilson’s Seven Guitars on a landscape that has experienced harsh realities.  For August Wilson’s richly drawn and dynamic characters, one cannot help but share their hopes for a brighter future.

Actors’ Shakespeare Project presents August Wilson’s Seven Guitars through March 5 live and in person at Hibernian Hall in Boston, Massachusetts.  Click here for more information and tickets.

REVIEW:  True Repertory Theatre’s ‘Ellen’s Boys’ a heartwarming and heartrending family tale

Family life can get complicated and for the large Irish Catholic Flaherty family, complicated is an understatement.   Though Ellen’s Boys are a big part of this dramedy, the real center of this production lies in Ellen, the stubborn, pushy, and interfering Flaherty matriarch in a powerful performance by Victoria Bond.  Emotions run high with some typical family arguments and some not so typical, but the show shines a light on the hypocrisies (even the innocent ones) set by family that almost anyone can relate to.   

True Repertory Theatre’s ‘Ellen’s Boys’ logo Logo courtesy of Jim Sullivan/True Repertory Theatre

Partnering in part by GLSEN and directed insightfully by Donald Sheehan, True Repertory Theatre presented Jim Sullivan’s original dramedy, Ellen’s Boys, live and in person at the Beal House, 222 Main Street in Kingston, Massachusetts through March 27.  The show is approximately 2 hours with one intermission.  Click here for more information, upcoming auditions, and more. 

The ‘Ellen’s Boys’ set Photo courtesy of Jim Sullivan/True Repertory Theatre

The Ellen Boys’ set takes up a significant space at the Beal House so there’s not a bad seat for the audience.  As a photo of John F. Kennedy hangs on the wall, a tube television and vintage radio stand in the living room, and Andes mints sit in a crystal bowl on a doily, Ellen’s Boys successfully rewinds the clock back to December of 1965.  Based on playwright Jim Sullivan’s own vision of his grandmother’s house, the Beal House is home to a functional space with full kitchen off a retro-furnished living room as sacramental Catholic objects hang on the walls with framed portraits of family memories on a piano.  The show also sets a prominent Irish tone whether through the Celtic music between scenes, the Irish teapot on the dining room table, or through Flaherty sisters Ellen and Bridget’s rich Irish accents. 

Each character longs to break free in one’s own unique way and Ellen’s Boys has its share of heartwarming and heartrending moments within this animated family dynamic.  It seems the only one against evolution is Ellen Flaherty.   Victoria Bond could have easily depicted Ellen as a caricature of the classic pushy Irish mother in a house dress and apron who manipulates her way through grief and guilt, but as Bond breathes life into the character with finesse and humor, it is difficult to stay frustrated with Ellen for long. 

Lisa Caron Driscoll’s remarkable portrayal as Ellen’s fun loving, spontaneous and equally quick-tempered sister Bridget makes for some high drama between sisters displaying some tempestuous sibling rivalry.  They are alike in the ways that matter, though neither will admit it.

Donald Sheehan took both the director’s seat and a role as Ellen’s lonely and devoted son Gil.  Noonan strikes a delicate balance between sweet and exasperated as he holds onto the past in fear of the ramifications of his future.  Seemingly the opposite is Cammerron Baits as spontaneous and hard-partying Nathan.  In a multi-layered performance, Baits emotes fragility and earnestness under that impulsive façade.

Paul Noonan has a palpably eerie way of portraying the seemingly peaceful, helpful, yet enigmatic John Flaherty, Ellen’s son, while Oliver Henry Bellman is sweet and sympathetic as Patrick Walsh.  Noonan’s scenes with Julie Butler, in a bittersweet performance as dutiful and sensible sister Kathleen Doherty, made for some tough realizations as Kathleen pushes to break past John’s stoic nature.

Ellen’s Boys’ more lighthearted moments come in part from Sara McNulty as young and beautiful Tina Toccio whose self consciousness in front of Ellen and their various exchanges make for some dynamic comedy and also tense moments as they butt heads in their mutual stubbornness. With Cody Savoy as Ellen’s son, Michael, McNulty and Savoy also deliver some lighter moments and heartwarming chemistry together.

Though Ellen’s Boys runs a little long, through all of the drama, the complications, the heartache, and family outbursts because you simply can’t hold your tongue another second longer at the dinner table, what a relief to finally be understood.

REVIEW:  Boston Ballet’s elegant and edgy ‘DREAMstate’ a fascinating departure from reality

From classically fanciful to electrifying to distinctive, unconventional artistry, the Boston Ballet’s DREAMstate is an astute exploration of the delicate nature of dreams and a fascinating escape from reality.  Aside from Boston Ballet’s traditional Nutcracker in December, Mikko Nissinen’s DREAMstate is the first live and in person return to Boston Ballet’s regular season since the pandemic.  Excitement was in the air and the Boston Opera House was full.

Boston Ballet in George Balanchine’s Chaconne © The George Balanchine Trust; photo by Liza Voll; courtesy of Boston Balle

Boston Ballet’s DREAMstate continues through Sunday, March 27 at live and in person at the Citizen’s Bank Opera House in Boston, MA.  The show is approximately two hours with two intermissions and the final piece contains partial nudity.  Click here for more information and tickets.

Rolling Stones tribute DEVIL’s/eye Photo credit to Boston Ballet

Though all three Boston Ballet pieces had its highlights, the stellar world premiere of Boston Ballet’s tribute to the Rolling Stones, DEVIL’S/eye was the most uniquely compelling.  Weaving in live concert elements and classic hits such as Can’t You Hear Me Knocking, Paint it Black and much more, dancers take the stage in shadow bathed in purple, red, yellow, pink, and blue glimmering from an incredible, multi-functional sound system lit by Brandon Stirling Baker.  With exhilarating choreography and edgy and exotic costume design both by Stephen Galloway, lively dancers in silk, sequins, fishnets and windswept hair complete the full glamour of a rock and roll concert showing off thrilling, contemporary freestyle moves.  The entire performance is an electrifying spectacle as dancers let loose to the Stones concert footage with epic alicicone spins, but a brief pause in the guitar-tinged, horn-infused rhythms showing off each dancer’s glowing silhouette cannot be properly conveyed here and those sensational moments are best witnessed in person.

George Balanchine’s Chaconne brings to life a regal and fanciful daydream to the heavenly sounds of the Christoph Willibald von Gluck opera, Orfeo ed Euridice.  Elegantly adorned in a flowing and ethereal skirt and crown by Barbara Karinska in front of tranquil green blue backdrop, the always fresh-faced and charming Viktorina Kapitonova performed a beautiful and romantic pas de deux with Lasha Khozashvili, dressed in white.  Khozashvili lifts and leads Kapitonova delicately as they sporadically intertwine.  The piece is primarily playful as dancers bow and sway in gleaming, royal costumes as they float along this lighthearted daydream, the flutter of slippers sweeping across the stage.

Misa Kuranaga and Patrick Yocum in George Balanchine’s Chaconne © The George Balanchine Trust; photo by Liza Voll; courtesy of Boston Ballet

The final piece is probably one of the most unconventional performances the Sleepless Critic has ever witnessed with the Boston Ballet because after a brief intermission, the piece begins before the music starts and dancers are already in motion as the rehearsal blurs into the performance.

Altan Dugaraa, Sarah Wroth, Yury Yanowsky in Jiří Kylián’s Bella Figura; photo by Gene Schiavone, courtesy of Boston Ballet

 Jiri Kylian’s Bella Figura, a fan favorite, often departs from reality and the structure of how a performance would normally flow.  In many ways, it bucks tradition as the dancers float and slide between closing curtains as Seo Hye Han, topless, wraps herself in only a black stage curtain.  Bella Figura has some captivating choreographed indignation and intensity as Ji Young Chae struggles not to be held or controlled by Paul Craig, shaking Craig away.  Bella Figura seems an abstract piece with haunting and mysterious elements as female dancers are manipulated in sharp, robotic movements.   It seems Bella Figura represents the vision of a perfect female specimen as women bend under the intensity and pressure to be perfect.  In gathering rich red skirts, men and women, all topless and all looking the same, glide along the stage.  It is a memorable, distinctive performance as the piece continues even as the music concludes.

 Boston Ballet’s DREAMstate continues through Sunday, March 27 at live and in person at the Citizen’s Bank Boston Opera House.  Click here for more information and tickets.

REVIEW: Featuring virtual world premiere in studio, Boston Ballet presents luminous and vibrant ‘Celebrating Jorma Elo’

Since last August’s inventive Carmen, Boston Ballet has not brought new work to BB@Your Home until now.

Celebrating Jorma Elo not only introduces highly-anticipated new dance back in studio including a Jorma Elo World premiere, but launches a luminous montage of Elo’s innovative and exciting work over a fifteen-year history as Boston Ballet’s Resident Choreographer.  Introduced by Artistic Director Mikko Nissenen and Jorma Elo, Boston Ballet took to the studio to record Jorma Elo’s Plan to B, excerpts from Bach Cello Suites, and the world premiere of Story of Memory before presenting a vibrant montage of Jorma Elo’s brilliant past work. 

The Boston Ballet’s BB@Your Home’s Celebrating Jorma Elo continues streaming through Sunday, March 7.  Click here for more information.

Resident Boston Ballet Chorographer Jorma Elo on right with Boston Ballet dancers Photo courtesy of Brooke Trisolini/Boston Ballet

In masks and filmed under one studio light designed by Jon Gonda, Heinrich Ignaz Franz von Biber’s fiddle-laden score lays the groundwork for this joyful and intense dance in Elo’s Plan to B filmed in February 2021.  Concise, surefooted, and sharp moves dominate this urgent and sweeping performance that feature Lia Cirio, Ji Young Chae, John Lam, Patric Palkens, Tyson Clark and an impressive solo by Tigran Mkrtchyan.

It is an upbeat, contemporary performance with pulsing movement as dancers slice the air and form seemingly impossible forms and shapes.  In purple coordinated leotard, Cirio and Palkens perform a duet with building intensity as Palkens carries and spins Cirio romantically before she hastens forward.

Lia Cirio and Patric Palkens Photo courtesy of Patric Palkens

A more intimate performance blooms with excerpts from Bach Cello Suites also taking place in studio February 2021 featuring music from Johann Sebastian Bach performed by cellist Ron Lowry.  Lia Cirio and Paolo Arrais dance romantically in shadow as an opaque backdrop softly burgeons into light.  This beautiful dance is further enhanced by the nature in which the two perform.  Arrais spins and handles her delicately in each movement before they embrace. 

Dialogue is rarely introduced into dance and it was fascinating to witness the world premiere of Elo’s Story of Memory and the sheer beauty of this piece’s compelling cinematography filmed in February 2021.  Dressed in alternately black and white, Viktorina Kapitanova and Tigran Mkrtchyan depict two people who struggle to understand one another.  It has moments of discovery, passion, fury, and mystery wrapped in Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, Johann Sebastian Bach, and Nancy Euverink’s captivating scores.  Kapitanova and Mkrtchayan depict two struggling, determined people in an increasingly intense dance longing for understanding before coming to a stunning realization.

Tigran Mkrtchyan in ‘Story of Memory’ Photo courtesy of Brooke Trisolini

Surely it was quite a challenge to choose the highlights of Jorma Elo’s 15-year tenure of rich and revolutionary dance into one luminous montage.  It was about as monumental as it was writing about it having experienced only excerpts of some pieces in its one and a half hour timeframe.

A photo montage prefaces these particular highlights from Sacre du Printemps featuring James Whiteside and Kathleen Breen Combes to the most recent production of Carmen with Lia Cirio and Victorina Kapitanova taken by renowned photographers Rosalie O’Connor, Gene Schiavone,  and Liza Voll.

Too many standout moments to count in this wide spectrum of work including various approaches to the same work at different times in the ballet’s history.  Each impressive interpretation brings a new dynamic to the performance.

An excerpt of Elo’s 2004 Plan to B kicks off this collection of works at the Wang Theatre featuring Sarah Lamb, Larissa Ponomarenko, Joel Pronty, Jared Redick, Raul Salamanca, and Sabi Varga drawing comparisons from its most recent interpretation.  Though both are impressive, but the newest version seems a bit more intense with sharper, more concise choreography.

Whitney Jensen, Bo Busby, and Jeffrey Cirio in Jorma Elo’s Plan to B, photo by Gene Schaivone; courtesy of Boston Ballet

Featuring solo pianist Bruce Livingston, excerpts from Jorma Elo’s C to C (Close to Chuck) Reborn filmed in February 2014 takes the audience into a dark, mysterious, and transcendent world.  C to C showcases the dancers’ athleticism and the human form as they move about in shadow to pulsing rhythms featuring Kathleen Breen Combes, Lia Cirio, Jeffery Cirio, Whitney Jenson, John Lam and Sabi Varga. 

Many of Jorma Elo’s chorography and works have a unique spirit, liveliness, and a seemingly freestyle nature.  In this Avant Garde piece, Kathleen Breen Combes, Lia Cirio, and Whitney Jenson’s swing like pendulums.  Certain moves seem to play with time as the dancers move swiftly in fast forward, rewind, repetition, slow motion, and then wild intonations to the music’s runaway urgency.  Similar unconventional moves are performed in Elo Experience.

Lia Cirio and Paulo Arrais in Jorma Elo’s ‘Bach Cello Suites’, photo by Rosalie O’Connor; courtesy of Boston Ballet

Elo Experience filmed in March 2011 opens with an audible laugh and dialogue.  It also has elements of avant garde work as a large group of dancers gather all in black.  Elo’s innovative choreography showcases freestyle, unconventional moves in an upbeat, lively setting featuring a compelling solo by Jeffrey Cirio.

Excerpts from Elo’s Brake the Eye from March 2012 is part of Elo Experience.  It is a playful and vibrant piece as dancers swing in angular movements while others remain still.  Dressed in purple and crème and performing to the divine works of Mozart, it is a bustling and upbeat performance featuring Larissa Ponomarenko, Jeffrey Cirio, Robert Krenz, John Lam, Sabi Varga, James Whiteside, Lia Cirio, Kathleen Breen Combes, Whitney Jensen, and Dalay Parrondo.

Humming is integrated into excerpts of Elo’s Sharp(er) Side of Dark filmed in February 2012, showcasing different dancers performing in what seems like heaven.  Accompanied by a string trio composed of violinist Michael Rosenbloom, Jean Haig on viola, and cellist Ronald Lowry, Lia Cirio and Sabi Varga, lights hover above them as they playfully glide and frolic in bodysuits to lively, urgent, and joyful music by Bach before seeing excerpts of the same dance performed by duos Kathleen Breen Combes and James Whiteside, Corina Gill and Paulo Arrai, and Whitney Jenson and Jeffrey Cirio. 

Lia Cirio and Paul Craig in Jorma Elo’s Fifth Symphony of Jean Sibelius, photo by Rosalie O’Connor; courtesy of Boston Ballet

The Boston Ballet revisits excerpts of a past performance of Bach Cello Suites from March 2018 featuring cellist Sergey Antonov and dancers Maria Baranova, Junxiong Zhao, Lia Cirio, Paolo Arrais, Kathleen Breen Combes, Derek Dunn, Misa Kuranga, John Lam, Addie Tapp, and Lasha Khaozashvili.  Dressed in black leotard, this lively performance shows a wide range of moods including pain, love, and passion.  A particular highlight showed the dancers briefly interacting with the onstage cellist, leaning in as the cellist plays.

Boston Ballet in Jorma Elo’s Creatures of Egmont, photo by Liza Voll; courtesy of Boston Ballet

The final two performances are on a larger scale exploring the sheer dynamic nature of Elo’s work from the traditional to the contemporary culminating into a jubilant finale.  The sheer athleticism in excerpts of Elo’s Creatures of Egmont as dancers form angular, symmetrical shapes under a twilight sky and then Fifth Symphony of Jean Sibelius filmed in November 2017 a joyous and uplifting grand scale finale that reflects Jorma Elo’s continuing luminous, inventive, and astonishing work with the Boston Ballet.

BB@Your Home continues with The Art of the Classical Ballet from March 25 through April 4 which includes excerpts from Swan Lake and Sleeping Beauty.  Click here for more information and a look at Boston Ballet’s full season.

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.


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.






Acrobat Nathan Knowles talks circus and inspiration as Celebrity Series of Boston presents award-winning show, Circa ‘S’

With sensational feats sure to cause the audience to look twice in amazement, the award-winning, animal free Australian circus, Circa is not only fun for the whole family, but has been enchanting audiences all over the world since 2004.  With a revamped cast making its third thrilling return to Boston, Celebrity Series of Boston proudly presents Circa ‘S’ for three performances only from Friday, March 2 through Sunday, March 4 with a post- performance artist talk on March 3 at Boch Center Shubert Theatre in Boston, Massachusetts.  Click here for more information and for tickets.

Joining the circus was a fire that burned the brightest for young Canadian acrobat, Nathan Knowles. Having been with Circa ‘S’ for 18 months, he learns something new and exciting every day.  Nathan talks about discovering the circus, what it takes to become an acrobat, and his future.

Circa - S - Image by Darcy-Grant6

Acrobats Photo courtesy of Darcy Grant

Sleepless Critic:  What first inspired you to become an acrobat and when did you decide it was your calling?

Nathan Knowles:  In my hometown of Maple Ridge, British Columbia, a clown first introduced me to the circus at age six during an extra-curricular program at my primary school. I went home from school that day and told my parents that one day I’ll be running away with the circus. They laughed it off thinking, ‘What kid doesn’t joke about that?’ I actually manifested it.

SC:  Was there something you wanted to be first, or was it always an acrobat?

NK:  As per a normal childhood, I had a few fleeting ideas of what I would do professionally one day, but the circus was always the fire that burned the brightest.

SC:  What kind of skills do you think it takes to become an acrobat?

NK:  It takes motivation, hunger, discipline, a healthy dose of insanity, and natural or developed physical talent.

Circa - S

Photo courtesy of Steve Eggelton

SC:  How did you get involved with Circa?

NK:  My involvement with Circa began at a workshop in Montréal with our Artistic Director, Yaron Lifschitz during my graduating year from National Circus School. A few months later, I had a signed contract and was hopping on a plane to Brisbane to start the adventure!

SC:  What is your favorite act to perform?

NK:  My acrobatic specialties are hand balancing and contortion, but in terms of the company’s repertoire, I’d have to say ‘Snap’. ‘Snap’ is a scene from our show Il Ritorno where the rest of the ensemble manipulates my body into seemingly impossible shapes and leaves me to sort myself out and bring my body back to normal.

SC:  Wow, that is wild.  Aside from excluding animals, in what way is Circa a unique experience?  I understand that ‘S’ stands for sinuous, seductive, sophisticated, sensual and savage.

Circa - S - Image by Steve-Eggelton6

Photo courtesy of Steve Eggelton

NK:  Circa, a show for all ages, is a stand out company based on our artistic approach to the simply physical and spectacular nature that circus is known for. The company is known for not only demonstrating extreme physical prowess but also our storytelling and capabilities to strike a nerve emotionally and reflectively in the souls of our audiences.

SC:  Circa has been established since 2004. How has this production evolved over the years?

NK:  Circa has grown immensely and has doubled, if not tripled in size. Our reputation for high quality work and innovation has been acclaimed and recognized in 36 different countries. We live up to our reputation without being elitist. We’re a group of fun loving, curious, and professional people from all walks of life.

SC:  What does Circa ‘S’ have in store for Boston? Does the act change a bit with each destination?

NK:  Boston is in for an exciting treat! Although ‘S’ has been performed in many venues around the world, it’s an almost completely revamped cast this time around, yet still holds true to the original concept and structure of the show.

SC:  What do you think makes Circa different from other circuses around the world?

NK:  What makes us different is our hunger and fearless drive to continue chipping away at the future of the circus. Our work is an honest extension of our own humanity, not simply physical prowess coated in fancy costuming, booming budgets, and heavy makeup.

Circa - S - Image by Justin-Nicholas1

Photo Courtesy of Justin Nicholas

SC:  I understand Circa also has a training center for young people from age 3 to 16. Please tell me more about that.

NK:  Circa Zoo, our training program, is an after school program for young people who either are looking for a fun way to stay active or develop the tools to one day break out into the professional market. They also do outreach and external projects in regional Australian towns.

SC:  What do you hope to accomplish with Circa in the future and in your career as an acrobat?

NK:  I prefer to view it as taking it one day at a time. I’ve worked for the company for 18 months now and there hasn’t been a day where I leave the studio or theatre without having learned something new. I’m unable to say at this point whether my career will extend to other companies apart from Circa. I’m happy where I am and have no intention of leaving any time soon. I am also highly interested in making my own work later in life, hopefully in the form of a solo show.

Circa - S -

Photo courtesy of Justin Nicholas


SC:  What is the best reason people should see Circa as it makes its third return to Boston with Celebrity Series?

NK:  We’ll have you on the edge of your seats, full to the brim with wonder and questioning!  We aim for you to walk away from the show with a sense of being changed or even a new flame of inspiration to take with you into your life.

Celebrity Series of Boston presents Circa ‘S’ from Friday, March 2 through Sunday, March 4 at Boch Center Shubert Theatre.  Click here for tickets and more about Celebrity Series of Boston as well as their upcoming events.  Follow them on Facebook and Twitter.





REVIEW: WGBH’s annual ‘A St. Patrick’s Day Celtic Sojourn’ offered humor, inspiration, and vibrant performances

Lighthearted tales of green porridge, an inspirational insect, a hilarious song about classical Greek to more serious fare such as historical anti-war songs, punctuated with the stirring song, Siúil a Rún, sung a capella, highlighted this year’s WGBH’s A St. Patrick’s Day Celtic Sojourn.  This captivating show concluded its run at Harvard University’s famous Sanders Theatre on Saturday, March 18.  The majestic stage has been affectionately likened to a “roll up desk.”  The beautiful, dark wooden stage was softly-lit with two stately, marble Greek statues sitting on each end as a grand, dimly-lit bronze chandelier floats overhead.

A St. Patrick’s Day Celtic Sojourn always strikes a delicate balance between the rollicking and a sweet lullaby.  Wearing coordinated black dresses, Scottish musicians Jenna and Mairi Chaimbeul struck the first chords for an afternoon of celebration, comedy, rebellion, and joy wrapped up in the roots and branches of Irish music.  A high energy number greeted the enthusiastic crowd as the rest of this dynamic ensemble took the stage including returning Music Director and multi-instrumentalist Keith Murphy, The Karan Casey Band, fiddle champion Liz Carroll, and the Miller Family with the Goulding School of Irish Music.  Joined by host WGBH’s Brian O’Donovan, A St. Patrick’s Day Celtic Sojourn was brought to a thrilling start as it traditionally does each year.

Dressed in a black and red dress, Karan Casey’s vocals soar with a tone a bit reminiscent of Linda Ronstadt.  She embraced Buile Mo Chroí’s passionate lyrics such as “the palm of my hand” and “the beat of my heart” accompanied by a concertina, blues guitar, and piano.   She also gave an enthralling performance later as Brian O’Donovan shared how the Irish spontaneously sings in public places.  Karan Casey then offered an impromptu a cappella version of Siúil a Rún as the audience fell into hushed tones before bursting into applause.

All Ireland fiddle champion Liz Carroll, dressed in a red shirt and black pants, offered some welcome comedic storytelling before each of her performances.  Hailing from Chicago, she humorously named a song she’s written on her slide-style fiddle after her brother’s leading film role in The Relic.  She also talked about composing songs for seven rooms in a Chicago art museum containing ceramics, musical instruments, and metal.  Her dry sense of humor combined with her uplifting, toe-tapping songs were wonderful to witness.

Liz was joined by Keith Murphy, who spoke of green porridge on St. Patrick’s Day, for two songs, one amusingly called Barbara Streisand Trip that had the mounting energy and pulsing rhythms of a moving train.  From Newfoundland, Keith Murphy’s performances are always stellar, with a song named after a Tennyson poem about seafaring and the great beyond. He was accompanied by harpist Jenna Moynihan.  His rich, resonant, smooth sound, which possesses a hint of James Taylor and John Denver, is always remarkable.

As for the inspirational insect, Scottish fiddler Jenna Moynihan and harp player and composer Mairi Chaimbeul, competing in a harp festival in April, judged that a particular song was good by an insect that made its presence known after the song, Dancing in Absence was completed.  With the chime of the harp distinct over the fiddler’s subtle rhythm, the energetic tune built into a quick step.

Sam Miller, athletic and blindingly swift, kept the energy high as he performed solo with high leaps, kicks, and complicated stepping.  The Miller dancers and the Goulding School of Irish Music, in coordinated black traditional garb, offered their own moments of comedy, one involving a hat.  They also skillfully navigated though a slip jig and hornpipe reel, showing just why they ranked 5th place at the Glasgow competition traditional set dance.


A St. Patrick's Day Celtic Sojourn

Past photo of ‘A St. Patrick’s Day Celtic Sojourn’ Courtesy of A St. Patrick’s Day Celtic Sojourn/WGBH

Keeping up with tradition, Brian O’Donovan, with his wife and the ensemble took the stage to pay tribute to The Clancy Brothers with the catchy tune, The Leaving of Liverpool.

The second half tackled anti-war songs, immigration, and its fair share of comedy mixed in.  Not only did Brian O’Donovan proudly share a comedic song on classical Greek and education at Harvard University accompanied by fiddler Kevin Burke, but on a solemn note, also paid a compelling tribute to the late Leonard Cohen with a song about rebellion called The Partisan.  Brian and Keith Murphy created beautiful harmony, enhanced exquisitely by Mairi Chaibeul’s harp.

The afternoon also boasted collaborative jam sessions that brought the audiences to a stomping rhythm and ending with Karan Casey leading a sing-along on immigration with the entire ensemble, showing how music always makes a difference in the world.

A Celtic Sojourn presents their summer Roots and Branches concert in July, A Christmas Celtic Sojourn, and other events during the year.  For a taste of Irish and Celtic traditions each Saturday afternoon, click here to tune in to A Celtic Sojourn hosted by Brian O’Donovan on 89.7 FM WGBH from 3 – 6 p.m.  Follow A St. Patrick’s Day Celtic Sojourn on Facebook for updates and much more.