REVIEW: Boston Film Festival’s US Premiere of ‘The Girl Who Wore Freedom’ a moving tribute through generations

The 36th annual Boston Film Festival featured the debut of shorts, feature films, and some fascinating documentaries such as the world premiere of This Hits Home, Me The People, Beyond Zero, and ‘25’ Tony Conigliaro The Documentary, the US Premiere of Memory of Water, as well as the East Coast premieres of Knots:  A Forced Marriage Story, Stro:  The Michael D’Saro Story, and After the Rain on September 24 through September 27.  The festival offered virtual options and live screen opportunities at the Showcase Icon Boston at the Seaport in Boston, MA.   Q and A panels were held with actors, directors, and foremost experts.  Click here for the full schedule.

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

Director, executive producer, writer, and narrator Christian Taylor explores the complicated road to forgiveness in her moving D-Day documentary, The Girl Who Wore Freedom which made its US Premiere at the Boston Film Festival.  This extraordinary film provides a unique perspective on D-Day on June 6, 1944 through the eyes of a variety of groups associated with D-Day including citizens of Normandy who were children when the bombs dropped.  20,000 French civilians were killed on D-Day.  Taylor narrates this film as an awed spectator and tourist as she invites D-Day survivors to recall their experiences while she demonstrates the paradoxical ways veterans are treated in Normandy than they are in the United States.

Flo Boucherie, pictured, co-producer of ‘The Girl Who Wore Freedom’ Photo credit to ‘The Girl Who Wore Freedom’

The Girl Who Wore Freedom’s co-producer Flo Boucherie is the symbolic Normandy girl that inspired the film’s title.  She has a particular tie to D-Day partly because her parents were D-Day survivors when they were children.  Her mother worked with the veterans, made Flo’s dress, and participated in the D-Day ceremonies. 

Citizens of Normandy, historical representatives, medics, and veterans describe the impact and the dynamic experiences they had from a Normand child’s encounter with an American veteran who inspired him to never start smoking to trading shoes for eggs to harrowing stories of a civilian who got shot and the museum that resulted from it.  It also recalls some of the significant and surprising events that occurred after D-Day and how perspective changes over the years as generations look back. 

Despite its serious material, the film is not without its lighthearted moments. It is about trauma, heartache, and harrowing loss, but also about liberation, love, friendship, and compassion.  What unfolds is a testament to the power of healing and forgiveness, not lost on anyone who has been at war. 

Watching this film is an eye-opening experience of one of the most harrowing events in world history.  Its emotional complexity may leave some conflicted of what should come out of the atrocities of war. 

Tom Rice, an American veteran who was in the March on Carentan Photo credit to ‘The Girl Who Wore Freedom’

The Girl Who Wore Freedom has been released at a pivotal time in the United States and the world with a sorely needed, universal, and thought-provoking message.  It encourages you to reflect inwardly and empathize with one another’s struggles.  The Girl Who Wore Freedom will unexpectedly move you to tears and make you grateful for the experience.

D-Day Parade Photo courtesy of ‘The Girl Who Wore Freedom’

The Girl Who Wore Freedom is currently touring the film festival circuit nationwide.  Click here to see where The Girl Who Wore Freedom will be shown next and here for more about this year’s Boston Film Festival and future updates.

REVIEW: Compassion and tension drive compelling feature film ‘Paper Spiders’ at the Boston Film Festival

Sponsored in part by NBC Universal, Boston Magazine, and Maydaze Films, The 36th annual Boston Film Festival took place virtually this year due to Covid-19 with the option to attend live screenings in Boston, Massachusetts from Thursday, September 24 through Sunday, September 27. 

Boston Film Festival offered live and virtual films during the 4-day festival Photo courtesy of the Boston Film Festival

Featuring the award-winning documentary, Jay Leno’s Garage, the four-day festival included the US premiere of feature films Small Town Wisconsin and Paper Spiders, a wide variety of short films, and powerful documentaries such as the world premiere of This Hits Home, Me The People, Beyond Zero, and ‘25’ Tony Conigliaro The Documentary,  the US Premiere of The Memory of Water, and The Girl Who Wore Freedom, as well as the East Coast premieres of Stro: The Michael D’Saro Story, Knots:  A Forced Marriage Story and After the Rain. Q and A sessions were held with actors, directors, and foremost experts.  Click here for the full schedule.

Your Virtual film selection the Boston Film Festival website Photo courtesy of the Boston Film Festival

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

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

No matter what the circumstances, it is not easy dealing with mental illness, especially if it is a parent.  However, that is not the crux of the US Premiere of Paper Spiders, a coming-of-age tale about a teenager named Melanie portrayed with endearing maturity by Stefania LeVie Owen, and her relationship with her widowed mother Dawn, portrayed masterfully by Lili Taylor.  They are a fractured but seemingly happy family coming to terms with loss and attempting a new beginning. 

Set in Syracuse, NY, The film picks right up with relatable mother-daughter chatter at a pivotal time in Melanie’s life as they tour a college Melanie is interested in attending. Their sweet conversation makes it easy to see their close relationship, but later when their neighbor hits a tree in their front yard, what ensues is nothing Melanie could have ever imagined.   

‘Paper Spiders’ made its US premiere at the Boston Film Festival Photo courtesy of the Boston Film Festival

Each member of this compelling cast becomes more complex as the tale progresses, led by Lili Taylor as Melanie’s widowed and troubled mother, Dawn.  Taylor is no stranger to quirky characters and her usual odd charm shines through as Melanie’s talkative and anxious mother.  With a particular talent for exuding fear in her eyes, Taylor evokes sympathy and dismay as Dawn transforms from a concerned mother to living her life with one eye open, her vulnerability palpable as she struggles to see things clearly.

Stefania LeVie Owen is wonderful as responsible, cautious, and practical Melanie as she struggles to achieve a nearly impossible balance between being a teenager and handling her mother’s increasingly concerning episodes. What makes this struggle more poignant is the natural chemistry between Owen and Taylor who exude as much ease as they do strain.  This escalating tension mounts in quick paces as viewed through Owen’s innocent and alarmed perspective.

Peyton List, seen more recently as Tory in Netflix’s popular Cobra Kai series, is a welcome addition as Lacy, Melanie’s fun-loving and promiscuous best friend.  Serious and quiet, Melanie and Lacy’s contrasting personalities offer a break from the film’s serious nature.  Ian Nelson is charismatic as Melanie’s good humored, persistent, and wealthy classmate Daniel.  Nelson and Owen are charming together and also contribute to some of the film’s lighter moments until life inevitably gets more complicated.

Lili Taylor as Dawn in ‘Paper Spiders’ Photo courtesy of the Boston Film Festival

Director and writer Inon Shampanier and his wife and writer Natalie Shampanier create a beautiful blend of funny moments and engaging montages with a deeper look at Dawn and Melanie’s daunting reality.

After all, mental illness can become a roller coaster of emotions such as grief, anger, paranoia, loneliness, and anxiety, but the crux of Paper Spiders isn’t any of these things.  It’s about the struggle through this unpredictable journey with those you love with understanding, ever holding on to hope.  Paper Spiders never loses sight of that.

Paper Spiders is currently touring the film festival circuit nationwide.  Click here to see where Paper Spiders will be shown next and here for more about this year’s Boston Film Festival and future updates.

On the verge of Cohasset Dramatic Club’s 100th season, President Lisa Pratt wrestles with the future of live theatre

“It looks like a snapshot in time waiting for life again,” reflects Cohasset Dramatic Club President Lisa Pratt, as we spoke about what the future holds for live theatre and their highly-anticipated production of The Music Man.  The show was supposed to take the stage in March on the weekend Covid-19 shut everything down.

Sleepless Critic spoke to Pratt about live theatre, the history of Cohasset Dramatic Club, and how art makes a new start.  Cohasset Dramatic Club is hoping to present The Music Man in September 2020 to kick off its 100th season, but what it will look like still remains to be seen.

CDC's 'The Music Man'

Photo courtesy of Cohasset Dramatic Club

Sleepless Critic:  I understand you are hoping The Music Man will arrive this fall.

Lisa Pratt:  I guess I’m hopeful but realistic.  From a parent’s standpoint, I only want to do what’s best and give everyone an outlet for a beautiful and wholesome show.  Literally every costume is perfectly intact and every dressing room is waiting for us to come back.  It looks like a snapshot in time.

Of course, there’s the financial fallout.  We spent all that money to put on a show, but didn’t sell a single ticket.  Not that theatre is a money-making venture.  We might lose more money producing the show than not, but the art is so important to put back on its feet again that we’ll do whatever we have  to do to make it happen.

It’s ironically Cohasset Dramatic Club’s 100th season this September and we had a bunch of plays in the talking stages.  We are scheduled to do Our Town because Our Town author Thornton Wilder portrayed the Stage Manager when it was first being produced in summer stock on our stage which was what Cohasset Town Hall’s Theatre space was before The South Shore Music Circus became their second venue.  It was necessary to have more space, so a family named Cook who owned that flat land in Cohasset, donated the land to let the people put up a tent for shows in 1950.  The summer stock circuit started in the 40s.  It was in and out of the Cohasset Town Hall for 10 years.

Our Town, a relatively simple show to produce, has a fairly large cast.  The town election takes place in that space.  It works for them and I think it is convenient to have the town officers have their own auditorium attached to them.  So, we would bypass a September 1 election and have Our Town before the November 3 election.  The final show and the end of our 2021 season would be in March 2021.

Sleepless Critic:  I was watching the 1962 film The Music Man a few weeks ago.  At one point in the movie, Robert Preston as Harold Hill was told not to go in that house and he replied, “Why?  Is it in Quarantine?”

Lisa:  Shut the front door!  Are you kidding me?  That is so funny.  We want The Music Man be a live event at this point.  It all depends if Covid-19 follows the right path to keep all of us safely sharing space and moving forward.  As much as I want it all to happen, I would be devastated if anything came from it and someone got sick.  What will it look like?

Sleepless Critic:  Theatre has transformed a bit as we’ve been going through what Lin- Manuel Miranda deemed “an intermission.”  Some theatres have just stopped and some have turned to other avenues.

Lisa:  I feel we have stayed in touch with people who have wanted to study scene work, choreography, dance, and vocal work.  In the spring, we created a program called, Live from the Living Room, a free virtual production with option to donate to Cohasset Dramatic Club and people did.  We did a special theatrical makeup piece created by Lancôme’s Cara Lee Chamberlain.  We have a great friend who is a professional dancer and choreographer for The Tonight Show starring Jimmy Fallon in New York.   She also choreographed a large theatrical production of Matilda which took place at the Union Theatre in Minneapolis, one of the biggest regional theatres in the country.  She taught a choreography class and we had lots of young families virtually tune in.  We did that for about six weeks and then took a break to settle in a bit.

CDC's Live from the Living Room

Photo courtesy of Cohasset Dramatic Club

This would have been our 15th consecutive year of offering that summer theater education and performance program for kids ages 8-21.  One of the shows we got the rights to produce this summer is Les Miserables with age ranges from 14 to 21 years old.  We are excited we are not losing the rights and doing it next year.

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‘Les Miserables’ delayed to 2021 Photo courtesy of Cohasset Dramatic Club

Cohasset Dramatic Club has been at the same place for 100 years and thankfully, I haven’t been at the helm of it that long which I think is unique.  So many theatres I respect are having a hard time and I am saddened every time a theatre is selling off stuff because they can’t keep it alive anymore or however it works at a professional, regional, or local level.   No one goes into this with the amount of time it takes to spend to do any less than the best they can with the resources they have.  For that, I am always buoyant when I see theatres at any level doing great things.

Whether we present our work virtually, in person, or on the town green with people sitting further apart from one another, the arts community is committed and alive and it’s so important for so many people to keep it that way.

I’m so proud of this organization that has been through good times and bad whether living on a shoestring budget or having the money to pay for rights for shows before they get to deadline.  We’re part of a community that I think we’ll survive.  If there is ever a person looking for a rocking chair and we have one, I’ll be the first one to say that you can come get it or I can meet you somewhere.  That’s the camaraderie of our combined love of art.

We can do this.  Theatre can do it.  It has survived through everything.

Click here for more on Cohasset Dramatic Club and its upcoming events.

REVIEW: Company Theatre unveils remarkable ‘Fun Home’

The crowd roared.   Even with a half-full Company Theatre crowd that adhered to Covid-19 requirements opening night on Friday, March 13th, this enthusiastic audience was more than ready to be taken away by what theatre does best.  Company Theatre co-founder Zoe Bradford provided a special Fun Home introduction and mused, “Theatre has a way of helping you escape reality.”

Company Theatre Fun Home Airplane

Riley Crockett as Small Alison and Michael Hammond as Bruce Photo courtesy of Zoe Bradford/Company Theatre

Five-time Tony award-winning musical Fun Home explores different perceptions of reality within the Bechdel family.  They wrestle with it, deny it, but ultimately, must come to terms with it.  Based on the graphic novel memoir by Alison Bechdel and directed by Zoe Bradford and Jordie Saucerman, The Company Theatre presented musical Fun Home on Friday, March 13 at Company Theatre at 30 Accord Park Drive in Norwell, Massachusetts and plans for the show’s return when the theatre reopens.  Click here for more information.

Under a softly lit, lattice rooftop, Fun Home takes an intimate look inside a family seemingly full of zeal and an antique Victorian house so tidy and flawless flanked with a fireplace, grand piano, and large casement windows, it neatly hides any cracks and crevices underneath.  With elegant scenic design by Ryan Barrow and Zoe Bradford as well as rich, emotive lighting by Ethan R. Jones, The Company Theatre unveils this absorbing musical that lures the audience into the Bechdel family’s complicated world.

The Company Theatre Fun Home Looking On

Aimee Doherty as Alison, Michael Hammond as Bruce, and Riley Crockett as Small Alison Photo courtesy of Zoe Bradford/Company Theatre

It’s funny what you recall in life.  Memories can be tricky.  As time goes by, perspective changes as a person grows, transforming a memory and gradually revealing details once never thought of or understood before.  That lattice rooftop seals in cartoonist Alison Bechdel’s intimate memories as she writes her memoirs through her work, ruminating on her childhood and upbringing to find out what ultimately makes her feel like she is stuck in life.  Alison uses cartoons because drawing as a child, she recalls, “I need real things to draw from because I don’t trust memory.”

With its share of comedic and uplifting moments, Alison looks back on her relationship with her enigmatic and intellectual father Bruce and her traveling and ill at ease mother, Helen.  Alison is the only individual that outwardly transforms in this piece, thanks to the exceptional work of Riley Crockett as adorably precocious Small Alison, and Jaclyn Chylinski who is impressive as naïve, anxious, and excitable Medium Alison.  Crockett performs an impeccable version of Ring of Keys and shines with Charlie Flaherty as Christian and Owen Veith as John in the darkly humorous title track, Fun HomeMelissa Carubia is smooth and charismatic as cool and collected Joan.

The Company Theatre 'Fun Home'

Riley Crockett as Small Alison, Charlie Flaherty as Christian, and Owen Veith as John Photo courtesy of Zoe Bradford/Company Theatre  

With black rimmed glasses and short dark hair, IRNE award-winner Aimee Doherty slips into Alison’s façade, a mature, jaded and intellectually-driven individual.  With a dark sense of humor, Doherty narrates this emotional journey evoking confusion, warmth, sorrow, and frustration in her fine features while building her strength in each new discovery.

Michael Hammond, in a tenacious performance, embodies the many sides of Alison’s father Bruce.  With black rimmed glasses, dress pants, and a collared sweater, he is critical man with a refined intellect, and perpetually occupied to become an expert on most everything.  Seemingly a friendly, strict, and hardworking family man, Bruce is also secretive and closed off.  Each Alison does a brilliant job in portraying their wrought frustration in every moment they attempt to make a genuine connection to him, but especially in the bittersweet song, Telephone Wire.  Hammond’s engaging and affecting vocals capture Bruce’s perplex feelings in each number, including the poignant song Pony Girl, and most notably his harrowing rendition of Edges of the World.

Amy Barker skillfully portrays Alison’s unassuming, overwhelmed, and misunderstood mother, Helen.  Surrounded by outward perfection, she lives her life distancing herself from reality reflected in the heartrending and beautiful number Days and Days.  Always putting others first, she is a repressed woman following the traditional values of her generation within the confines of her home.

The Company Theatre Fun Home Full Cast

The full cast of ‘Fun Home’ Photo courtesy of Zoe Bradford/Company Theatre

Led by and musically directed by Matthew Stern, the intimate, seven piece orchestra features a soothing, fiddle-laden soundtrack that is a combination of light, airy, and melancholy.  From its opening song, It All Comes Back to the Flying Away finale, Jeanine Tesori’s captivating musical numbers hold a spectrum of rich, multi-faceted meaning.  The catchy, Partridge Family-inspired song, Rainbow of Love is a particular highlight, enhanced by cheerful retro costumes and illustrating Small Alison’s hope of escape.

Company Theatre’s Fun Home is on hiatus and plans to return when the Company Theatre reopens.  Click here for more information.  Follow Company Theatre on Facebook for further updates.

REVIEW: SpeakEasy Stage Company’s intriguing ‘The Children’ explores resilience and buried secrets

What would you do in the face of a disaster?

Under the roof of a shabby and antiquated seaside English cottage, Lucy Kirkwood’s The Children looks into the lives of three brilliant and possibly doomed people that may be more connected than they seem.  Not without its dark sense of humor and charm, The Children is a gripping exploration into the meaning of survival in a crumbling landscape and what happens next has never been more important.

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Paula Plum, Karen MacDonald, and Tyrees Allen in SpeakEasy Stage’s production. Photo by Maggie Hall Photography

Directed with profound insight by Bryn Boice, SpeakEasy Stage Company recently had to discontinue the remaining performances of The Children at the Calderwood Pavilion in Boston, Massachusetts due to COVID-19 concerns. This show contained adult themes and some smoking onstage.  Click here to learn about the remaining shows of SpeakEasy Stage Company’s 2020 season.

Paula Plum as Hazel chillingly recalls the disaster, “It looked like the sea was boiling milk and it just kept boiling and boiling.”  Married couple Hazel and Robin face day-to- day life in the aftermath of a disaster.  With few resources, they attempt to build a new life when an old friend, one that Hazel thought was dead, arrives unexpectedly.

Technical Director Taylor Hansen and Master Electrician Becky Marsh launched some incredible special effects built into the stage.  Rachel Padula-Shufelt’s colorful costumes flourish against Cristina Todesco’s bleak scenic design while lighting designer Jeff Adelberg and David Remedios’s sound design skillfully complete the show’s haunting seaside solitude.

The Children is steeped in as much looming sadness as engaging humor.  That is in no small part due to its three stellar actors and sharp script that swings from humor to tragic in a single quip.

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With a thick, Yorkshire accent, Paula Plum embodies low key, practical, and increasing complex Hazel.  Simply dressed in overalls and a turtleneck, Plum is as capable of leveling a room with her eyes as she is with her dry wit.  Plum seems to relish cynical and stealthy characters behind a seemingly ordinary facade and Hazel holds her own surprises.  She reconnects unexpectedly with enigmatic, free-spirited, and one-time confidant Rose, portrayed with gumption and gall by Karen MacDonald.  Watching Plum and MacDonald spar and interact with each other is like watching a tense chess match where you are anxious to find out who will make the next move.  They share stories, philosophize, and trade smiles while wondering what kind of secret the other one is hiding.

Having last portrayed Pops in SpeakEasy Stage’s critically-acclaimed Between Riverside and Crazy, Tyrees Allen is a charismatic and often fun loving presence as Robin, Hazel’s dairy farmer husband.  Allen and Plum have a seemingly effortless chemistry with an even mix of irritability and adoration illustrated in old married couples.  A man of stubbornness and solutions, Allen’s seemingly carefree attitude cuts through Plum and MacDonald’s building tension before he creates some of his own.  The deliberate unfolding of this story occurs in sharp, sequential pieces with hardly time to digest the last big revelation before the next one is unveiled.

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Tyrees Allen, Paula Plum, and Karen MacDonald in SpeakEasy Stage Company’s ‘The Children’ Photo by Maggie Hall Photography

So why is this production called The Children?  While Hazel is grounded by her three children, Rose is single and childless.  Children are explored in multifaceted ways whether referring to Hazel’s children, the community children, the things we learn from children, and the things we wish we knew as children growing up.  However, life begins and ends with children in this production and the very foundation in what holds them together is also what can tear them apart.

Click here to learn more about The Children and the remaining shows of SpeakEasy Stage Company’s season.  Click here to learn about auditions, support, and how to get involved with SpeakEasy Stage Company.

 

 

REVIEW: Currently on tour, Ice Dance International’s ‘In Flight: Live’ delivered a stylish farewell to the Skating Club of Boston

The memories certainly flow after a century.

Ice Dance International’s Executive Artistic Director and choreographer Douglas Webster reflected wistfully as he introduced what was likely Ice Dance International’s final performance on The Skating Club of Boston’s ice rink on Saturday, February 29.  With a 100-year reputation of bringing everything from amateur to Olympic skaters to the ice, The Skating Club of Boston has been sold and will move to a much larger facility in Norwood, Massachusetts.  During the week of Ice Dance International’s historic performance in Boston,  WGBH’s Open Studios’ star Jared Bowen interviewed Ice Dance International’s exemplary ice dancers at WGBH and took to the ice with them for a stunt or two.

01 -- IDI Tour Cast Photo David J Murray

ICE DANCE INTERNATIONAL “IN FLIGHT: LIVE” TOUR 2020 FULL Cast Front Row: Laura Seal, Klabera Komini, Lara Shelton, Douglas Webster, Alissa Czisny, Kseniya Ponomaryova; Back Row: Ian Lorello, Neill Shelton, Rohene Ward, Collin Brubaker Not pictured: Adam Kaplan Photo credit to David J. Murray, ClearEyePhoto.com

Ranging from searing romance to lighthearted fun to big band to catching the wind, Ice Dance International’s ‘In Flight:  Live’ gave The Skating Club of Boston a proper send off with a sold out show at 1240 Soldiers Field Road in Cambridge, Massachusetts.  Ice Dance International, who holds residence at Strawbery Banke Museum in Portsmouth, Massachusetts, is currently on a national tour through April 4.    Click here for more information and tickets.

06.1 Till The End PHOTO Daphne Backman

Neill Shelton and Kseniya Ponomaryova in ‘Till the End’ Choreographed by Douglas Webster

Ice Dancing is not competitive skating, but a unique artistic journey on ice.  Not only did ‘In Flight’ feature captivating and extraordinary ice dancers that delivered more than their share of eye-popping stunts, but what was most impressive was how different each dance was from the other.  Featuring dynamic choreography from Douglas Webster, Trey McIntyre, Stephanee Grosscup, and Benoit Richaud, Ice Dance International delivered a wide range of music from classical to contemporary including pop, hip hop, and ballads evoking stories of heartache, excitement, humor, and passion.

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Just a few of the highlights included a stirring couples skate from Collin Brubaker and Kseniya Ponomaryova called ‘Till the End’ to the haunting ballad, Kissing You by Des’ree.  A passionate and bittersweet performance, the pair seemed to float upon the ice as Collin dipped, spun, and lifted Kseniya. They joined together as one before he must let go.  Another elegant performance was delivered by Klabera Komini and Neill Shelton called ‘In Space’ choreographed by Douglas Webster with music by Tom Yorke called Suspirium.   To a luminous, piano-infused melody with a deeper meaning, the dancers skillfully glided together connected only by a sheer purple scarf.

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Alissa Czisny and Rohene Ward delivered beautiful solo performances.  Rohene was charming and humorous in a beard and suspenders in ‘Wind Dancer’ choreographed by Stephanee Grosscup while Alissa was a vision in blue skillfully keeping a precise, quick pace to Yo-Yo Ma’s Cello Suite No. 1 in G Major in ‘Primavera.’

Some lighter moments included a group skate with Collin Brubaker, Adam Kaplan, Ian Lorello, Laura Seal, and Lara Shelton to Ben Kweller and Parsonfield’s  How It Should Be.  In a dance appropriately called ‘A Blade of Sunshine,’ what looked like a freestyle, fun loving group skate in bright, rich colors culminated into a jaw dropping moment as one dancer dove underneath and through the group of moving dancers and landed on his feet.  It’s only one example of the sensational stunts witnessed throughout the evening from daring lifts to high speed spins to impossible twists and turns.

Ice Dance International’s ‘In Flight:  Live’ continues its 2020 national tour through Saturday, April 4, concluding in Aspen, Colorado.  Click here for more information and tickets.  For upcoming events and more, follow Ice Dance International on Facebook.

REVIEW: A compelling, trailblazing journey through Boston Ballet’s rEVOLUTION

Having been thrilled with Boston Ballet’s Full on Forsythe at around this time last year (see the review here), it was with great excitement to witness Boston Ballet’s rEVOLTION, a dynamic performance featuring three innovative works that transformed ballet forever.

From catchy R&B to electronica to soul, Full on Forsythe was a showstopper, dispelling any preconceived notions about ballet.  Truly ‘dance on the edge,’ Boston Ballet’s rEVOLUTION explores three works in ballet’s history where visionary and brilliant choreographers paved the way toward a new and unforgettable form of ballet, breaking a few rules along the way.  Each versatile piece in rEVOLUTION builds in intensity while progressively becoming more contemporary and well deserving of the audience’s thunderous applause at its conclusion.

Boston Ballet continues rEVOLUTION through Sunday, March 8 at Citizens Bank Opera House in Boston, Massachusetts.  The show runs two hours including two intermissions. Click here for more information and tickets.

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With music by revered Russian composer Igor Stravinsky, choreography by George Balanchine, and colorful staging by Paul Boos, Agon seems traditional featuring a live orchestra conducted by Mischa Santora.  However, right down to the simple costuming including streamlined white shirt and black tights and accompanied by Agon’s triumphant, horn-infused rhythm, it becomes a piece unlike anything traditional ballet has seen before. More artistically-focused than plot driven, agile dancers shift into impressive and sometimes jaw dropping shapes while spinning joyfully.  Each piece features athletic and daring moves, but the Pas de Deux between Lia Cirio and Paula Arrais is a particular highlight as they curve and move together en point and as one.  It ends like it begins and stands as its own work of art.

Ballet takes a bit more of an eclectic, modern tone in Glass Pieces with choreography by Jerome Robbins and music by Philip Glass.  From Jennifer Tipton’s dramatic lighting to the expressive and colorfully rich costumes by Ben Benson, Glass Pieces is still the gem it was when it premiered during Boston Ballet’s Genius in Play in 2018.  Taking place in what looks like a subway station, Glass Pieces has a palpable rhythm and urgency as dancers are unleashed into a celebration of dance in the city.  In ordinary life, there is joy.

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Lia Cirio and John Lam perform a tender and stirring duet while dancers move in shadow during Glass’s romantic song, Facades.  However, it is easy to see Robbins’s influence during Glass’s catchy, drum-infused Funeral as male and female dancers urgently form two groups before encircling each other and coming together.  Robbins also choreographed the musical classic, West Side Story.  From a plain landscape into a spectrum of color, Glass Pieces transforms into a splendid piece of artistry as dancers perform in a variety of styles in silhouette, reflective, and in unison.

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As silver headphones dangle from the ceiling aloft a black backdrop as starting with a jolt, it’s clear that In the Middle Somewhat Elevated would take ballet to another level.  Featuring music by Dutch composer Thom Willems in collaboration with  Lesley Stuck, thrilling lighting by Jennifer Tipton, and choreographed by William Forsythe, In the Middle Somewhat Elevated is a cutting edge masterwork clearly ahead of its time.   The industrial, tribal feel of Thom Willems music as dancers shift in shadows create a haunting intensity.  Featuring vigorous, jaw dropping footwork bending in what seems like impossible angles, this fast paced performance keeps you riveted from start to finish.  Lia Cirio, Patrick Yocum, Chyrstyn Fentroy, Maria Alvarez, Ashley Ellis, Lawrence Rines, Irlan Silva, Mallory Mehaffey, and Abigail Merlis seem part of a seamless machine as dancers spin and swing, hitting every last eccentric beat.

Boston Ballet Warm Up

Boston Ballet’s The Warm Up Photo by Jeanne Denizard

The Boston Ballet continues to offer an opportunity to learn more about ballet through The Warm Up, an interactive display located in the lobby.

The Boston Ballet continues rEVOLUTION at the Boston Opera House, 539 Washington Street in Boston, Massachusetts through Sunday, March 8.  Click here for more information and tickets.  For future events and more, follow Boston Ballet on Facebook and Twitter.

REVIEW: Greater Boston Stage Company re-imagines a classic in riveting ‘Swan Lake in Blue’

Exploring love from obsession to at first sight, Greater Boston Stage Company couldn’t have chosen a more perfect time to introduce Swan Lake, one of ballet’s most popular productions of all time, with a bold and re-imagined twist the day after Valentine’s Day.

With insightful choreography and direction by Ilyse Robbins, Greater Boston Stage Company continues Jazz Ballet Swan Lake in Blue through Sunday, March 1 at Greater Boston Stage Company in Stoneham, Massachusetts.  Click here for more information and tickets.

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Jackson Jirard (center) and the cast of Swan Lake in Blue Photo by Maggie Hall Photography

Tap dancing, ballet, and classic dance just skims the surface of the sheer energy that encapsulates Swan Lake in Blue, a brilliant production that transforms Tchaikovsky’s classic fairy tale into a lively, non-stop dance spectacle with big band flair.  Swan Lake in Blue has elements of that beloved classic in swan feathers, but set in thrilling 1940’s New York City.

Costume designer Kevin Hutchins and Scenic and Prop designer Teri Oakes work together to capture the mood of 1940s New York City in bowler hats, vintage suits, and colorful casual wear right down to the cast’s 40s style Oxfords.

Steve Bass not only seamlessly composed and musically directs Swan Lake in Blue, but also performs onstage with a full big band stately dressed in black and grey vintage sophistication.  The rollicking live orchestra instantly sets the mood of this vibrant, non-stop musical journey.  Swan Lake in Blue features an array of gloriously energetic, athletic dancers that keep the pace joyous and thriving while integrating popular dance moves of its time like the Charleston and Swing.  Each dancer gets an opportunity to shine and Jackson Jirard as Ben Kelly leads this agile group of exceptional talent.

GBSC Swan Lake in Blue dancers

Jackson Jirard (center) with male dance auditions. Photo by Maggie Hall Photography

Jirard is magnificent as he leaps and spins audaciously in tap shoes. Andy McLeavey as Seigfried and Jirard look like naturals dancing together, especially when Mr. Seigfried is first introduced. From Mambo to the Samba to the alluring Dance of the Swans, it is a wordless piece that invites dance to take over.

GBSC Swan Lake in Blue Sara Coombs as Odette

Sara Coombs as Odette Photo by Maggie Hall Photography

Swan Lake in Blue preserves the classic tale but gives it a Broadway spin involving a mobster, idyllic “swans” and a love struck Broadway producer set in a dance studio.  Odette, portrayed with elegance, fragility, and anguish by Sara Coombs, is a seemingly tethered soul longing for peace.  Coombs flourishes in the complex dual role which balances sass and sincerity as well as compassion and malicious glee through her carefully crafted sharp and sweeping dance moves.

Sara Coombs and Andy McLeavey as charming Seigfried share some beautiful moments.  David Visini captures a dark sophistication as Von Rothbart.  Visini’s unsettling, sharp, and menacing dance create a mysterious and powerful charisma every time he makes an appearance.

GBSC Swan Lake in Blue Sara Coombs and Andy McLeavey Photo by Maggie Hall Photography

Sara Coombs and Andy McLeavey Photo by Maggie Hall Photography

Tchaikovky’s immortalized Dance of the Swans takes on a new, alluring spin as Briana Fallon and Gillian Gordon join Coombs decked out in feathery, white fringed dresses.  It’s a daring, yet fitting departure of Tchikovsky’s original dance and like the imaginative Swan Lake in Blue,  includes a few winks to the original.

Greater Boston Stage Company continues Jazz Ballet Swan Lake in Blue through Sunday, March 1 at Greater Boston Stage Company at 395 Main Street in Stoneham, Massachusetts.  Click here for more information and tickets and here for more on Greater Boston Stage Company’s 20th season.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Veronica Swift and pianist Julius Rodriguez Photo credit: Robert Torres

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

REVIEW: SpeakEasy Stage Company and Front Porch Arts Collective delivers a no holds barred, twist-filled ‘Pass Over’

The setting could be anywhere.  However, that feeling of impending doom cannot be shaken as SpeakEasy Stage Company and Front Porch Arts Collective presents the twist-filled, semi-interactive, and award-winning Pass Over by Antoinette Nwandu continuing through Sunday, February 2 at the Calderwood Pavilion in Boston, Massachusetts.  This show is not appropriate for young children for explicit language and adult themes.  Pass Over is an hour and a half with no intermission.  Click here for more information and tickets.

Directed cleverly by Monica White Ndounou, Pass Over is part absurdist drama that tackles a number of social issues including racism and police brutality and weaves them together into a culturally meaningful narrative. Its theatre-in-the-round and semi-interactive setting helps pull the audience into the drama and never lets go.

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Hubens “Bobby” Cius and Kadahj Bennett in SpeakEasy Stage’s production of ‘Pass Over’ Photo by Nile Scott Studios

Alternating swiftly from humorous to harrowing,  Pass Over mixes the real with the seemingly imagined, often leaving you wondering whether what you are seeing onstage is actually happening.  Kathy A. Perkins’s lighting and pulsing sound by Anna Drummond seamlessly navigates the distinct, intense mood of this piece.

This suspenseful tale comes with simple staging by Baron E. Pugh and Wooden Kiwi Productions with only a nondescript lamp post and chain link fencing.  Anything more than that would be distracting.  Costume designer Chelsea Kerl keeps Kitch and Moses local with Red Sox caps and Celtics gear.

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Hubens “Bobby” Cius and Kadahj Bennett in SpeakEasy Stage’s production of ‘Pass Over’ Photo by Nile Scott Studios

The joint charisma of the two main characters is what hinges on the show’s credibility and they have that in spades.  The magnetic camaraderie, natural rhythm, and gift for physical humor between pensive Moses, portrayed by Kadahj Bennett, and funny, fast-talking Kitch, portrayed by Hubens “Bobby” Cius, gives this show its intriguing vibe as they joke, dream, plot, and wait on a deserted street corner.  They keep each other strong as they dream of rising up to their full potential and escape what is holding them back.  “Pass Over” means freedom.

Lewis D. Wheeler’s over-the-top performance enhances the palpable tension in this production.  As Mister, he plays an intricate part and takes on more than one role in this thought provoking tale.  In a beige suit and panama hat while carrying a wicker basket, Mister’s back story faintly resembles little red riding hood as he creates an impossible situation.

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Lewis D. Wheeler in SpeakEasy Stage’s ‘Pass Over’  Photo by Nile Scott Studios

Without being preachy, Pass Over delivers a powerful message while exploring some of the darker, hypocritical sides of human nature and treats its serious themes with sensitivity.

SpeakEasy Stage Company and the Front Porch Arts Collective present Pass Over through Sunday, February 2 at the Calderwood Pavilion at the Boston Center for the Arts, 527 Tremont Street in the South End of Boston, Massachusetts.  Click here for more information and tickets and here to learn more about the Front Porch Arts Collective. The Children and Bright Star still coming up as part of SpeakEasy Stage Company’s 2020 season.