Company Theatre’s Michael Hammond reveals his favorite part of theatre, a secret project, and ‘Fun Home’

Just prior to the pandemic, an award-winning, intriguing production not only made its debut but closed in one night on the Company Theatre stage in Norwell, Massachusetts over a year ago.  Onstage as the meaty role of Bruce, Company Theatre’s Director of Development Michael Hammond experienced that incredible and bittersweet night and what it meant to the cast of the musical memoir Fun Home. Click here for our full podcast conversation.

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

The Company Theatre is offering a chance to see Fun Home for the full run they had originally intended in October.  Michael talks about his experience as Bruce, his favorite part of theatre, and a secret upcoming project. 

Click here for Sleepless Critic’s Fun Home review and here for tickets and further information about the Company Theatre.

Sleepless Critic: So you’ve been in theatre since you were a kid and now that we have had the pandemic, what was your favorite part of the theatre before and was there a change in your favorite or what you miss the most when we had a break?

Michael Hammond: I think we take a lot for granted in life.  We forget how much fun it is to sing with an orchestra or to perform on a beautiful set someone built.  Ryan Barrow does amazing sets at Company Theatre and it’s thrilling to perform on one of his sets.  It’s thrilling to perform with Steve Bass conducting an orchestra and thrilling to perform Sally Forrest’s choreography under Zoe Bradford’s direction. 

I think we take that for granted in some ways and as much as I enjoy it and maybe as I got from show to show to show, I think I just liked performing specific roles for the experience of getting to know a new cast.  I did a Christmas show at Company Theatre and just recharged my energy to be around such beautiful people and exciting kids and talent.  You’re in a flow and you are doing shows and enjoying it. 

The cast of Company Theatre’s ‘A Christmas Carol’ Photo courtesy of Zoe Bradford/Company Theatre

You get what you get out of it, but when the pandemic was coming, I was doing Fun Home with an extremely talented cast.  Riley Crockett was playing the youngest Alison.  I was re-experiencing theatre through her eyes and she had never been on a big stage or performed with an orchestra which is shocking because she is so talented.  She would ask me, ‘Are you nervous for your solo tonight?’  I would say, ‘I am a little.’  She would say, ‘Good, now you know how I feel.’  Ok, she needs a little more support and encouragement in that moment. 

Then we were standing on top of a staircase and we were about to walk down for our first entrance and she said, ‘Michael, I’ve never performed on a set like this.  This is a big deal.’  I said, ‘Yes, it is a big deal.  You are right. This is a beautiful experience and you’re about to sing live with an orchestra for the first time in a big theatre on a beautiful set.’  It made me look at what we are doing and not take it for granted. 

So we were fortunate to open and close Fun Home on the exact same night because the pandemic had really hit.  That day everyone was cancelling their performances but we went on because we had a feeling this would be it.  I’m so glad we did because it was one of the most exciting and electric experiences of my life.  People were rebellious and excited.  They knew this might be the last time they ever saw this show and Fun Home is not a super positive and happy experience.

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

SC:  It is melancholy.

MH:  Right, but the audience treated it like it was a rock concert! 

SC:  Yes, I was there to review your first and final performance.  I felt so comfortable and wonderful and I had saw this show in Boston before.  What I liked about watching this particular show is that you can make it so different every time you perform it.  The parts can be portrayed very differently and you can do so much with the show.  In a way, if you had to say goodbye to theatre for awhile, I felt like that was such a poignant thing to do in that moment.

MH:  It was.  It was one of the most beautiful experiences I think I ever had and it was just so bittersweet because it was the last show with Jordie.  How thrilled and grateful am I that I got to have Jordie’s final show be Fun Home and I got to be a part of it. It was just such a fantastic experience and she loved the show. It was such a joy to go through that process with her. 

SC:  It is one of those shows that sneak up on you unexpectedly.  You’re experiencing the show and you enjoy it, but once it’s over, it is really thought-provoking. 

MH:  I saw it on Broadway and loved it.  I thought that I don’t necessarily need to see it again.  It was beautiful and moving and I think of it like a beautiful film.  You watch it and then you watch another film.  When this opportunity came around to work on the show, I have such a great appreciation for it.  I think it’s just one of the greatest things ever written where you’re dissecting and it personally and really in the trenches on it.  It’s so much more brilliant than I realized. 

SC:  It has such multi-layered performances as well. 

MH:  I was thinking today that there were so many things about Bruce,  I almost feel like I just left my body.  I personally couldn’t be any part of this character because it just wasn’t anything like me.  Sometimes I think about it and it feels really difficult to do it again because I remember it as ‘What did I even do?’  I feel like something else took over and performed the role for me.

SC:  I don’t often see you play parts like that.  Not to reveal anything, but your character is very complicated.

MH:  Then to hear compliments like you should do roles like that more often is such a compliment because people think of me as a song, dance, and musical theatre man.  Not that I shy away from roles like that, but it was very gratifying to play that part especially opposite such a talented cast.  It’s unbelievable.

SC:   I know you’ve written a few works with Jordie and Zoe over the years.  Please tell us how that came about.

MH:  I co-wrote Paragon Park the Musical with Zoe, Jordie, Sally, and Michael Joseph for the first production and Steve Bass for the second who worked on the music.  I love amusement parks and I loved Paragon Park. I went there so many times in my life. 

When I heard that Zoe and Jordie were thinking of writing a musical about Paragon Park, I selfishly just wanted to see it.  I had no inkling that I would be involved or that they would want me involved.  I just wanted to see that production so it got mentioned many times over the years and one summer I designed a poster Paragon Park the Musical coming summer of whatever year it was.  It was a long time ago. 

One day Zoe decided years after the poster even to start doing some research.  She said, ‘Why don’t you come with me?  We’ll get lunch.’  We went to the Hull Library which was incredible.  They put us in a private room and provided us with access to microfiche, boxes of memorabilia, and photographs.  They were so generous.  It just snowballed from there.  We just couldn’t stop.  We were researching and loved what we found.  It did not end up being the musical we thought we were going to write because the ideas we had in mind turned out to be completely not true.  It all got shifted.

We thought maybe there was this seedy underbelly to the park and that once the park was closed, things happened at night.  It was going to be dark and mysterious and then we find out from the park owners that ‘Oh no, we locked that place, sealed it like a drum at 11 pm, and went out for Chinese food.’  Nothing happened at the Park after hours.  So much for that, but the Stone Family provided us with so much information that we were able to write a really interesting and factual musical.  It was 80% true except for the love story we incorporated. 

SC:  Not only did you write it the first time around, but when it came back around, you got to star in it too. 

MH:  I did and it was a thrill!  The nicest feeling about that show and being in it is to be putting on a costume and as I’m by myself getting dressed, I would hear people walk down the hallway singing the songs or they would say that they get to do that scene they love now.  There was so much positivity and to realize we wrote a show that was really fun to perform.  Some of the kids were in Ragtime and we used to make these funny backstage videos.  So I said, ‘Why don’t we make videos during Paragon Park?’  They said, ‘Michael, you and Zoe wrote a show where there is no time to make videos.  When would we do that?’  It was nice to know we had a hand in creating this really fun experience.   It was quite thrilling to be able to perform something that I helped write.

Michael Hammond in Company Theatre’s ‘Paragon Park the Musical’ Photo courtesy of Zoe Bradford/Company Theatre

SC: Please tell me about the projects you are working on now and upcoming projects.

MH: I’m devoting all my time to Company Theatre and Zoe and I thought, ‘Why not write another musical?’ It’s a completely different project from Paragon Park and we can’t quite announce yet what it is, but Zoe is incredibly inspired by this project. 

Watching her, it’s almost like she is channeling something like I’ve never seen.  She’s a beautiful artist and I’m obsessed with the way she draws and paints.  So she just took out a magic marker and a gigantic pad of paper and drew what she saw in her head for the plot of this show and it was quite impressive to watch.  Her ideas are flowing through her.  It is unbelievable so we’re hoping that will probably be the summer of 2023. 

A celebration of life for Company Theatre co-founder Jordie Saucerman. Visit companytheatre.com to learn how to be part of this tribute. Photo courtesy of The Company Theatre

Company Theatre, 30 Accord Park Drive in Norwell, Massachusetts, is presenting Fun Home in October as well as devoting a night to their late co-founder, Jordie Saucerman, in November.  Click here for more information and check back to find out about Company Theatre’s mystery original production.

Company Theatre’s Director of Development Michael Hammond discusses returning to indoor theatre and the power of positivity to conquer your next audition

Michael Hammond may change the way you look at life.  Are you afraid of the audition?  He’ll show you a way to succeed.  Having a bad day?  He’ll show you a way to lift your spirits.  As the new Director of Development at the Company Theatre, a role he calls a lifelong dream, his positivity may help others the way Company Theatre has helped him since childhood. 

The Company Theatre, located at 30 Accord Park Drive in Norwell, Massachusetts, joyously held their first indoor production since their absorbing musical, Fun Home early last year.  Rock of Ages was an edgy and energetic rock jukebox musical that took place last month.  See Rock of Ages review here and click here for Sleepless Critic’s full podcast.

Sleepless Critic:  Please tell me what it was like to be back in the indoor setting for Rock of Ages

Michael Hammond: It’s so fantastic.  It’s emotional, exciting, and the energy in the air was just electric.  You were there.  You saw it.  People were cheering and screaming.

The show starts with Sally Forrest’s voice doing her standard announcement which we are all accustomed to hearing.  It was such a welcome back and to hear her voice and I think people cheered over her entire announcement.  Just to be back inside, hear that familiar voice, and to know we’re about to see a really fun and exciting show was just great.

SC:  I know this was the opening weekend for indoor theatre, but you did have some outdoor theatre experiences like Avenue Q before this show. 

MH:  Avenue Q was incredible.  The kids were so talented.  Their commitment to what they were doing and their characters were dynamic.  It was Broadway-type quality coming out of these kids on the outdoor stage of the Company Theatre out back.  We have had other things like Divas with a Twist and Donny Norton’s band, The New Band there.  That’s been a really nice addition to the Company Theatre as well as now being back inside.

SC:  So getting back to Rock of Ages, you had your opening weekend and you felt like everything went as smooth as can be?

MH:  Absolutely!  So many new people in this show and as is typical of the Company Theatre, they are already saying this is my new home.  It’s this overwhelming feeling that you’re home and you found your family at the Company Theatre even if you did one show and you never come back, it still feels that way.  I’ve been involved since I was 19 years old. 

Shane Hennessey as Stacee Jaxx Photo courtesy of Zoe Bradford/Company Theatre

SC:  I was going to say that you are familiar with that feeling.

MH:  I’m very familiar with that feeling.  I don’t know what my life would have been like without Company Theatre.  I would have taken a completely different path. 

SC:  It’s hard to replicate the kind of friendly and welcoming atmosphere you have when you’re in theatre.

MH:  Absolutely!  Such a nice group of people too that do theatre especially the teens.  They just stay out of trouble.  They have a common goal they are working towards and they enjoy each other’s company and make lifelong friendships.  I can’t say enough about it.

I’ve just seen so many kids, even this summer just come through the doors and they leave just completely changed and confident and more themselves.  It’s just a beautiful thing to witness.

SC:  When you said you had been with Company Theatre pretty much your whole life, you said it was a lifelong dream to do something like this as the Director of Development now.  I’m really excited for you.

MH:  Thank you!  Like a lot of people during the pandemic, you start to question ‘Am I doing what I want with my life?  Is this fulfilling and rewarding?’  Like many people, I came to the conclusion that what I was doing was not for me anymore. 

It had run its course and I needed something new and Jordie Saucerman, one of the founding partners of the Company Theatre, had passed away and that really accelerated my thought process because her wake was attended by so many people.  I thought ‘Look at all the lives that she touched.’  The impact that Jordie had on people is immeasurable.  Even if I make just a little sliver of that impact on people, I would feel great about my life.  That set the wheels turning. 

I approached Zoe one day and said, ‘I will be your janitor.  I basically don’t care what you have me do, if there is a spot for me here, I am coming.’  That seed was planted awhile ago and it sort of blossomed into Director of Development.  I’m so excited to try new things and just give back what I got from this theatre. 

SC:  Not only that, but you have a similar positive way about you like Jordie had.  Where do you get your positive outlook from?  Where do you draw it from considering I’ve also seen videos of you on social media?

I’m not attempting to fill Jordie’s shoes in any way.  That’s not a task that anyone could accomplish.  She is a unique individual who I feel is still around in the atmosphere and in the joy of the theatre.  If I’m upset or have a bad day, it makes me feel better to brighten someone else’s day.  That is such a nice feeling to buy someone in line a coffee or just compliment someone or encourage someone to do something they didn’t think they could do.  I live off of that.  If I am having the worst day of my life and I do something nice for somebody, I instantly feel recharged.  I think that’s how I basically go through life.

SC:  I hear that from a lot of comedians as well.  It makes them feel better to make someone else laugh even if they are upset or having issues.

MH:  I tried standup comedy once.  I did it more for the writing aspect, but I did perform.  It was an interesting experience because you come out onstage and you look at a sea of faces who want you to succeed because if you succeed, they have a fantastic time.  You have an overwhelming amount of support that you just want to hold onto and it was an incredible feeling.

SC:  What did you did before this that you wanted to walk away from and join the Company Theatre?

MH:  I was the station manager at a local cable television station.  I was so grateful because it was also a non-profit.  I probably learned so many skills that I could apply to this job I didn’t necessarily have before.  Just the behind the scenes stuff, the QuickBooks, the budgets, and managing a non-profit was extremely helpful and then also applying my video experience to the job as well.  Filming and creating events and learning special effects. 

So all of that which at the time was a perfect job for me, but nine years later I felt like I needed a change and so I am going to apply what I learned there and bring it to the Company Theatre.  We can offer acting for camera classes and improv for camera classes. 

I’ve been on auditions and in commercials.  We want to provide those skills to kids who like to act and be on camera.  We want them to be able to go into an audition and know how to slay what they are going to be asked to do and be prepared for anything.

I actually started with a class over the summer.  Some of the kids were auditioning so they got immediate training for those auditions. When they came back, they would tell the other students that they did just what Michael showed us.  I asked if they felt more prepared.  Did you do a better job with the audition?  Their faces lit up and they said, ‘Absolutely!’  That was a nice thing.

We want to get in touch with the local casting agencies which we already have a good relationship.  We want to create a talent database where you can see video auditions and we can send those out so we kind of want to be a bridge between the local movie and theatre scene.  We’ll provide students with the training.  They’ll have the skills to go out and nail professional auditions and maybe get cast in movies and commercials.  We just really want everyone to have new and exciting opportunities to excel in a career in film and theatre if that is something that they are interested in. 

‘Ragtime’ (L to R) Barbara Baumgarten, Cristian Sack, Hilary Goodnow, Brenna Kenney, Finn Clougherty, Jillian Griffin, with Hannah Dwyer as Little Girl and Michael Hammond as Tateh Photo courtesy of Zoe Bradford/Company Theatre

SC:  Let’s face it – the audition process is the most nerve-wracking and hardest part I think to convey right off the bat because in your head, you are saying,’ I know what I can do for you’ but then you get up there and it is not exactly what you picture. 

MH:  Having directed before, people come in and they are nervous. The reality is the casting company is nervous and they have roles to fill.  So, the second you come in, put them at ease, and they know they have options, they feel better.  I always say in my mind when I got into an audition, ‘Here I am!  You can relax.  I am going to be that person you need.’  I think it’s an interesting way to keep yourself calm to think I am exactly what you need instead of I hope I’m what you need.

SC:  I never really thought of it like that.

MH:  Think about it.  You have a reputation.  You have a project.  You want to cast the right people because that makes you look good as well.  If you find the right people not only are you confident about the project, but it brings excitement. 

When I direct a show, I’m not very excited about it until I know who is in it and then I can tailor their performances to their talents. It is such a thrill to watch people blossom. 

Please tell me about the projects you are working on now and upcoming projects.

I don’t think I’ll be directing anything for a little bit.  I’ll probably take on some projects here and there.  I definitely can’t leave that part behind.  I’m really going to focus on the video classes.  I’ll be working with Christie Reading.  She is extremely talented with anything video related.  So, I will be teaming up with her teaching improv for camera, acting for camera, and getting people ready for auditions. 

I think it will be really exciting if we get someone cast in a major motion picture which has happened at Company Theatre.  Andrew Mackin was in Mystic River, Jonathan Togo is on CSI, Michael Morlani is the casting director for Disney.  There are a lot of success stories that come out of this theatre. 

We want to nurture and encourage that.  That is kind of my goal.  It’s to really push people to excel in any way that they can.

SC: You can’t forget about Boston Casting.  How convenient is that!  There are all kinds of films going on in the state.

MH: Exactly and literally a mile down the road they are making motion pictures.  So how can we not be a part of that?  They are working on the new Jon Hamm movie in Cohasset.  I know Angela at Boston Casting who is an incredible woman and I don’t know how she does everything she does, but with all those films going on, eventually they will run out of actors. 

We get casting notices all the time and I’m forwarding them off to everybody I know that I think fits.  For example, I sent a buddy of mine a notice yesterday.  They were looking for an actual butcher with acting experience and I happen to know a butcher with acting experience.  I’m thinking he might get it.

SC: I know. Some of the requirements are so wild.

MH: It’s so specific, but every once in a while I’ll say, ‘Wait a minute, that is me.’ 

Company Theatre is offering theatre classes in the fall. Click here for the full schedule and upcoming events.

REVIEW: ‘Rock of Ages,’ Company Theatre’s grand return to the stage, is packed with big dreams, spectacle, and wry rock nostalgia

If you decide to visit Hollywood, California, stop by the Bourbon Room, a real bar and nightclub inspired by the legendary fictional bar and nightclub in jukebox musical Rock of Ages.  The Bourbon Room opened last year in honor of the show’s 20th anniversary and if it contains half the wild antics of this edgy musical, it will be worth the trip.

The excitement was tangible as the Company Theatre prepared for their return to its signature indoor stage for the debut of Rock of Ages on Saturday, August 7.  The crowd was pumped for an uproarious good time as the booming sounds of 80s hits enlivened the stage and nostalgia took over not only for hair bands and jelly bracelets, but for a live show in person and in glorious color.

Caitlin Ford as Justice and Janis Hudson as Denise Dupree Photo courtesy of Zoe Bradford/Company Theatre

Directed by Zoe Bradford, musically directed by Steve Bass, and choreographed by Sally Ashton Forrest, The Company Theatre presents Rock of Ages without an intermission through Sunday, August 22 at The Company Theatre, 30 Accord Park Drive in Norwell, Massachusetts. This show is not for young kids. Please note this show run has some rotating cast members.  Click here for more information and for tickets.

Packed with colorful characters doused with a mix of rock raunchiness and self aware humor, Rock of Ages holds a mirror up to the era of excess and distinct self expression.  Steering this club is Brad Reinking as Lonny, the Bourbon’s impulsive no-holds-barred co-owner, resident storyteller, and narrator.  According to Company Theatre’s Director of Development Michael Hammond, Reinking improvised a portion of the dialogue with local references and contemporary quips the audience and not even the cast saw coming.   Reinking shines as Lonny, his strong voice and penchant for dark humor work well in a script that never takes itself too seriously.

Part love story, part rebellion, and mostly musical, Rock of Ages is set in the 80s on the Sunset Strip where idealistic Sherrie (Emily Lambert) and guitar strumming dreamer Drew (Braden Misiaszek) long for stardom and are not sure where to start.  They set their sights inside the fledgling Bourbon Room, an aging nightclub and bar in danger of being shut down unless someone takes action.

Shane Hennessey as Stacee Jaxx Photo courtesy of Zoe Bradford/Company Theatre

Performed by an intimate group of musicians led by Steve Bass, Rock of Ages is fueled by a wide range of 80’s hits that are clearly a trip down memory lane for some including Journey, Bon Jovi, REO Speedwagon, and Foreigner enhanced by Forrest’s intense choreography.   Emily Lambert boasts powerful vocals as wide-eyed yet determined Sherrie and does a terrific job teaming up with Caitlin Ford as complex yet confident Justice in a powerful medley of Quarterflash’s Harden My Heart and Pat Benatar’s Shadows of the Night.  Lambert also shines in a sweet yet intense rendition with Misiaszek for Extreme’s More than Words, Bad English’s To Be with You, and Warrant’s Heaven medley.   Melissa Carubia as spunky and resourceful renegade Regina is all spirit and heart for Twisted Sister’s We’re Not Gonna Take it and light and amusing rendition of Starship’s We Built this City and Styx’s Too Much Time on My Hands

Shane Hennessey makes a big entrance as mysterious Stacy Jaxx (in a nod to another famous 80s rocker) to Bon Jovi’s Dead or AliveRyan Barrow’s vibrant set design is on point especially one scene in a nightclub bathroom.  It is easy to feel the grime watching that signature nightclub bathroom from the audience.  Janis Hudson portrays compelling Denise Dupree with a tough façade, dry humor, and a Joan Jett vibe while Christopher Spencer offers some refreshing and sometimes goofy comic relief as Franz.

The Rock of Ages cast Photo courtesy of Zoe Bradford/Company Theatre

That is just a taste of the wide range of rock numbers in store.  A jukebox rock musical, Rock of Ages is best enjoyed as an extended MTV music video at a time when music was mainly performed on MTV. The rock medleys have cheek and sass and in the real world oozing with serious drama (where to start) Rock of Ages is meant as pure entertainment and each fun loving character a representation of a lighter time. You may find yourself bobbing your head, singing along, or both to the catchy tunes you may or may not have lived through, but nonetheless have stood the test of time in their own vibrant way.

Prior to the Rock of Ages musical on opening night, Company Theatre offered a VIP pre-show that featured plenty of 80s nostalgia and delicious treats including Pop Rocks, shrimp cocktail, cheese and crackers, vintage-style cupcakes, and a special Ecto Cooler cocktail.

The Company Theatre presents Rock of Ages without an intermission through Sunday, August 22 at The Company Theatre, 30 Accord Park Drive in Norwell, Massachusetts.   Click here for more information, upcoming events, and tickets.

REVIEW: ‘The Mom Show’ a moving recollection of survival and resilience

Michael Levin’s Polish Jewish mother hated one man shows.  Jenny Graubart didn’t think there was anything interesting about someone standing on stage talking through an entire performance.  However, what is so rewarding about Michael Levin’s The Mom Show is not just his reflections and a collection of family photos.  It has wisdom, tragedy, resilience, love, disaster, music, and a cast of multi-faceted relatives existing during one of the most harrowing parts of history.  Accompanied by a collection of original songs performed and composed by Levin (with the exception of one), The Mom Show is an intimate and engaging portrait of a survivor whose son still wonders how she did it all.

Written, composed, and performed by New York Times bestselling author and Tanglewood Festival Chorus tenor Michael Levin, The Mom Show continues live at the Regent Theatre in Arlington, Massachusetts Sundays through July 18 at 7 pm.  It was the first in person theatre production to open in Massachusetts and it follows Covid guidelines.  The show runs 80 minutes without an intermission.  Click here for more information and tickets. 

Unlike Levin’s mother, I think there is something endearing about one man shows if they are delivered with heart, finesse, and has a solid story to tell.  The production explores three generations from 1908 Poland right into the present day exploring Levin’s family’s experiences as they ventured into different parts of the world to escape the Holocaust and ultimately settling in Queens, NY.  Through their ever changing locations, Graubart’s versatility, worldliness, and resourcefulness shine through while overcoming difficult hardships and triumphs that will not be revealed here. We’ll let Levin tell the tale.

Levin is an engaging storyteller, adding humor and spontaneity to this emotional journey.  Musically directed by Nancy Loedy, The Mom Show delves into various musical genres from rockabilly to the blues to a Cuban lullaby.  What We Remember is a particularly stirring piece.   Levin’s sincerity and heartfelt vocals add a lighthearted gleam that keeps in step with each segment of the production.  Levin’s mom was also a big fan of musicals before her death in 2018 and The Mom Show is worthy of her approval. 

The Mom Show continues live at the Regent Theatre, 7 Medford Street in Arlington, Massachusetts Sundays through July 18.  Click here for more information and tickets. 

REVIEW: Led by powerhouse vocals, SpeakEasy Stage Company’s engaging ‘Songs for a New World’ a memorable musical experience

We are all hearing soon.  Soon we will be back together in the theatre for a wonderful live theatrical experience.  How it has been missed! 

However convenient it is sitting in front of a computer for a virtual show, there is nothing quite like the anticipation of live theatre in person with an audience in a shared experience.  SpeakEasy Stage Company’s remarkable concert musical benefit show, Songs for a New World, accomplishes quite a bit in its hour and a half runtime.  Through clever cinematography that still adheres to Covid guidelines, SpeakEasy Stage Company recreates the thrill of seeing actors together onstage and it is easy to see each cast member’s excitement through their own extraordinary performances.  We’re not quite there yet, but this is getting ever closer.

‘A New World’ featuring the entire company Video courtesy of SpeakEasy Stage Company

Directed by Paul Daigneault and musically-directed by Jose Delgado, SpeakEasy Stage Company continues their 30th anniversary season with John Robert Brown’s Songs for a New World streaming through June 8.  The show was filmed onstage at the Calderwood Pavilion in Boston, Massachusetts.  Click here for more information and tickets.  Discount tickets are also available.  Click here for more information on SpeakEasy Stage Company’s recently announced 2021-22 season.

It is difficult to describe the anticipation of seeing SpeakEasy Stage Company’s concert musical benefit, Jason Robert Brown’s Songs for a New World.   The last Jason Robert Brown musical I witnessed was a film adaptation of The Last Five Years.  It was a glorious, resonating tear jerker featuring reliable talents Jeremy Jordan and Anna Kendrick

Songs for a New World explores a variety of characters that are faced with the ultimate, sometimes humorous and other times harrowing life-changing decisions and deciding what to do next.  With simple staging and an onstage band conducted by Jose Delgado, Songs for a New World has humor and heartache enhanced by some of Boston’s most recognizable vocal powerhouses.

Rashed Al Nuaimi sings ‘She Cries” Video courtesy of SpeakEasy Stage Company

From the inspiring, tremendous, and relatable opening number, A New World featuring powerful, upbeat harmonies between Dwayne P. Mitchell, Davron S Monroe, Mikayla Myers, Rebekah Rae Robles, Alexander Tan, Victor Carillo Tracey, Laura Marie Duncan and Rached Al Nuaimi, this production proves to be something to behold.  A New World/Time to Fly gives the audience a glimpse into the shared experience of what each character is feeling and the hope their decisions will turn out right.

Songs for a New World is full of powerful performances and each song is as strong as the last, but here are a few highlights.  One standout performance is a tender and stirring rendition of On the Deck of a Spanish Ship, 1492 as Monroe exclaims, “Have Mercy Lord” while the cast embarks on a harrowing, life-changing journey.  Dressed in a long fur coat, Laura Marie Duncan is wildly entertaining as a scorned woman in an extreme situation in Just One Step.  Duncan’s expressive personality and her sheer energy drive this amazing performance. 

‘I’d Give it All for You’ Jennifer Ellis and Dwayne P Mitchell Video courtesy of SpeakEasy Stage Company

Jennifer Ellis performs some vocal gymnastics as Mrs. Claus for Sweabaya Santa, reimagining Santa as an absent, judgmental husband whose love is as fleeting as his sleigh.  Dwayne P Mitchell literally rises from the ashes of his childhood in this boastful, self-assured rendition of The Steam Train.  Ellis and Mitchell have sweet chemistry in a beautiful duet about the complexity of love in I’d Give it All for You.

Rached Al Nuaimi demonstrates zany, emotional turmoil and building frustration in She Cries and Jennifer Ellis delivers a bold and anguished performance in The Flagmaster, 1776.

SpeakEasy Stage Company’s Songs for a New World also boasts an incredible finale not to be missed with Hear My Song.  Glad to add John Robert Brown’s Songs for a New World as another memorable musical experience. 

SpeakEasy Stage Company continues streaming Songs for a New World through June 8. Click here for more information, tickets, and how to support the SpeakEasy Stage Company.

REVIEW: Merrimack Repertory Theatre’s quintessentially local ‘A Woman of the World’ fascinating and full of surprises

Scandalous secrets unfold and things are not what they seem in Merrimack Repertory Theatre’s  (MRT) quintessentially local and fascinating production of A Woman of the World by Rebecca Gilman streaming on demand through Sunday, May 30.  Partnering with the Emily Dickinson Museum and directed cleverly by Courtney Sale, this one-woman show led by Massachusetts native Denise Cormier lights up the stage with natural charisma as enigmatic lecturer and historical figure Mabel Loomis Todd. She claims to bring insight into the real life of the late, renowned poet Emily Dickinson, but what she unveils is so much more. 

It was wonderful to see another production from MRT filmed onstage.  A Woman of the World also offers plenty of local references such as Harvard, MIT, the New England Conservatory, Boston, Amherst and the surrounding areas.  The show contains some hinted adult themes.  Click here for more information and for tickets.

Denise Cormier in MRT’s ‘A Woman of the World.’ Photo: Kathy Wittman/Merrimack Repertory Theatre

Scenic designer Bill Clarke and Original Music/Sound Designer David Remedios seamlessly combine the inviting comforts of home with the sights and sounds of a serene Maine setting.  However, don’t let the serenity of this island home fool you.   Mabel gears up for a quiet storm as the sound of the wind and crickets fill the air.

From welcoming to haunting, Carolina Ortiz Herrera’s soft, dynamic lighting not only transforms each mood in an instant, but does more so with Cormier.  At first Denise Cormier as Mabel seems a lively, well-to-do speaker with well coiffed blond hair, but as the show progresses, the subtle lighting reveal tinges of gray. 

Denise Cormier in MRT’s ‘A Woman of the World’. Photo: Kathy Wittman/Merrimack Repertory Theatre

Though it is a one-woman show, other “cast members” such as Mabel’s daughter Millicent is addressed offstage.  Delivering a multi-layered performance, Mabel’s charm to win over her audience first comes off as egotistical, but gradually becomes earnestness and she soon seems like an old friend.  Nothing short of a captivating showman, a warm and inviting presence, but the guarded moments intertwined in her storytelling is the stuff that keeps you hooked and her drifting reflections are when the show truly hits its stride.  Having had a stroke, Mabel is also somewhat an unreliable narrator in more ways than one. 

Denise Cormier in MRT’s ‘A Woman of the World’. Photo: Kathy Wittman/Merrimack Repertory Theatre

The show tackles relatable issues on feminism and Cormier as Mabel may make you root for her one moment and against her the next.   However, she’s a survivor and an enigma ahead of her time. 

Merrimack Repertory Theatre’s production of A Woman of the World by Rebecca Gilman is streaming on demand through Sunday, May 30.  Following the production is a short interview between director Courtney Sale and Denise Cormier on the inspiration behind the show.  Click here for more information, tickets, and for more about the Merrimack’s Repertory Theatre’s season.

REVIEW: Merrimack Repertory Theatre’s ‘Until the Flood’ a raw, complex, and gripping docu-drama

Until the Flood begs the question, “How do you want to be remembered?”

Director Timothy Douglas frames a poignant, moving portrait of a community in pain with Merrimack Repertory Theatre’s virtual docu-drama Until the Flood continuing through Wednesday, May 5. The content of this program is not recommended for youth under age 16.  This program was originally commissioned by The Repertory Theatre of Saint Louis.  Click here for more information on Merrimack Repertory Theatre and how to stream the show.

Based on real life accounts gathered in 2014 by Pulitzer prize-winning finalist Dael Orlandersmith, Until the Flood delves deep into the emotional and complicated perspectives and recollections of this community and how it affected each person following the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. 

Maiesha McQueen in one person show ‘Until the Flood’ Photo courtesy of Kathy Wittman/MRT

A colorful, makeshift memorial is strewn on a chain link fence shrouded in a blue, haunting darkness.  Sirens ring out in the distance amid tingling and powerful music.  Merrimack Repertory Theatre’s Until the Flood sets a foreboding undertone through Lindsay Jones’s chilling sound design and Bill Clarke’s haunting and true-to-life set pieces.

Encapsulating all the anguish, uncertainty, doubt, fears, and hope is Maiesha McQueen in a tour-de-force performance onstage as she takes on eight individual composites drawn from real life interviews in this one person show.  From a 17 year-old teenager to a 75 year-old retired police officer, McQueen digs into the heart of each individual and delivers the kind of multi-layered performance that flows with each individual.  From a subtle head tilt and a tumult of emotion brewing in her eyes to the careful movements and creaking in her bones as she takes on the persona of an ailing senior to the confident swagger of a teenager that feels like he can take on the world, McQueen writhes and broods with each character.  Dressed in colorful and consistent street clothes by Yao Chen, each perspective and recollection made by each individual is fleshed out and brought together by McQueen as she pours herself into each character and makes each stand on their own.  Her pliability transforms her stature, stance, rage, compassion, sadness, and anger “like the flood” over the state of the world. 

Until the Flood provides not only each individual account of what they heard, saw, or experienced of the Michael Brown shooting, but a deeper look into how each person lived their life before and after this harrowing incident within this community.  It is a raw, gripping look at how ugly and how beautiful a society can be and how easily friendships can change when people do not see eye-to-eye.  It delves into anger that can be unleashed too easily, anguish, sadness, harrowing fear, and unbridled hope in fellow human beings in spite of life’s sorrowful circumstances.  Most of all, it presents a fairly even handed, but complex account of what truly motivates human nature and how fear and hope takes shape.

Merrimack Repertory Theatre, located in Lowell, Massachusetts continues streaming Until the Flood through Wednesday, May 5.  Click here for more information and tickets.

REVIEW: Company Theatre presents interactive and charming ‘Wonderland: Alice’s Immersive Adventure’

Ever wonder what the Mad Hatter would say if you were welcome to tea or imagining a nonsense word to get you out of a fix or how the guards paint the roses red?

This is just a glimpse into Company Theatre’s Wonderland:  Alice’s Immersive Adventure, a magical, unique and most curious tour with some of Alice in Wonderland’s most iconic characters continuing through Saturday, May 1 at The Company Theatre, 30 Accord Park Drive in Norwell, MA.  Directed by Corey Cadigan, this family-friendly tour, based on the Academy of the Company Theatre’s Theatre Workshop, takes place entirely outdoors on Company Theatre’s surrounding grounds following Covid guidelines.  Click here for more information.

Alice with Dweedle Dum and Tweedle Dee Photo courtesy of Zoe Bradford/Company Theatre

Drawing inspiration from the famous Lewis Carroll tales such as Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and its film adaptations, Wonderland:  Alice’s Immersive Adventure with Alice as your guide, you follow the White Rabbit while interacting with some of Carroll’s most iconic characters on a wacky journey to defeat the Red Queen.  The colorful characters’ costumes by John Crampton and the sets by Ryan Barrow are fun, detailed and imaginative featuring twinkling lights to guide your way and the enthusiastic, engaging cast make every tour a unique experience. 

Each character may ask you questions and you may ask them according to the rules of Wonderland.   At journey’s end, enjoy a tea party featuring cookies and other goodies.

The Company Theatre presents Wonderland:  Alice’s Immersive Adventure through Saturday, May 1.  Click here for more information, tickets, and how to support The Company Theatre.

Amid peerless Castle Hill and candlelight, Boston Lyric Opera delivers exquisite ‘Winter’s Evening’ on Operabox

One this is for sure, Boston Lyric Opera can achieve elegance anywhere.

Boston Lyric Opera (BLO) had two remarkable debuts for their virtual concert, A Winter’s Evening.  Directed sublimely by Nathan Troop, Boston Lyric Opera’s ‘A Winter’s Evening’ not only made its virtual debut on Operabox, but soprano Gabriella Reyes also made her effervescent debut with the Boston Lyric Opera, an event which she calls “a dream come true.”

BLO’s ‘A Winter’s Evening’ continues streaming through Sunday, January 10.  Click here for more information.  Boston Lyric Health Task Force helped coordinate the virtual performance to meet safety standards.

Surrounded by the gorgeous grounds at Castle Hill at the Crane Estate in Ipswich, Massachusetts, Miss Massachusetts 2020 Sabrina Victor, adorned in black fur over a glittering white gown, hosted this lovely evening with warmth and poise.

Boston Lyric Opera’s ‘A Winter’s Evening’ continues streaming on Operabox through Sunday, January 10. Photo credit to Boston Lyric Opera

Boston Lyric Opera also weaved in elements of hearth and home blending classic opera and festive classic songs as Gabriella Reyes and Sabrina Victor shared personal remembrances of holidays past.  The show is the height of elegance, not only in the couture, but inside the Crane Estate’s majestic ballroom embellished with candlelight and Christmas trees. 

Impressively accompanied by pianist Brett Hodgdon, Reyes, adorned in a black gown, showcased her broad range with a dynamic selection of songs that included a serene, bi-lingual version of Silent Night/Nochede Paz, passionate Quando M’en Vo from Puccini’s La Boheme, stirring Nana by Manuel De Falla, a dreamy and heartfelt When You Wish Upon a Star with lyrics by Ned Washington and music by Leigh Harline, and the inspirational classic Harold Arlen song, Over the Rainbow featuring its rarely sung introduction.  Reyes masters the operatic selections, her light and powerful vocals make it all look easy.

Guitarist Zaira Meneses accompanied Reyes for a portion of the evening with a selection of songs that are meaningful to both of them including Grever’s Alma Mia and Sandoval’s Gracias a la Vita.  Meneses’s vibrancy and flair, putting her entire body into her music with Reyes’s eloquence made for a stirring pair.

BLO’s ‘A Winter’s Evening’ continues on Operabox through Sunday, January 10.  Click here for more information and how to subscribe to Boston Lyric Opera’s current season.

REVIEW: GBH’s inviting virtual ‘A Christmas Celtic Sojourn’ maintains warmth and tradition in 2020

2020 has been many things, but traditional is not one of them.  However, this year’s virtual A Christmas Celtic Sojourn brought back holiday traditions, beautiful performances, reflections, stirring carols, and dare I say a bit of normalcy to 2020.

With a selection of live performances and an option to watch on-demand, GBH’s A Christmas Celtic Sojourn was brought into your home in a warm, inviting, and spirited atmosphere.  From a majestic, candlelit cathedral in Ireland to a festive outdoor step dance in Ottawa, Canada, it unconventionally included all the elements of what is beloved about this annual New England show and somehow broadened its possibilities worldwide. 

Host Brian O’Donovan and fiddle player Jenna Moynihan at Rockport Music Photo credit to Dan Jentzen

Brilliantly directed by Jenna Worden, A Christmas Celtic Sojourn offered seven live streaming opportunities to watch virtually from your home Tuesday, December 15 at THE VETS in Providence, RI, Wednesday, December 15 at Hanover Theatre in Worcester, MA, Thursday, December 17 at The Zeiterion Performing Arts Center in New Bedford, MA, Friday, December 18 at Shalin Liu Performance Center in Rockport, MA, Saturday, December 19 at The Cutler Majestic Theatre in Boston, MA, and Sunday, December 20 in GBH Studios in Boston, MA  These locations are usually where A Christmas Celtic Sojourn tours annually.  A bonus encore presentation also occurred on Christmas Eve. 

GBH’s virtual A Christmas Celtic Sojourn is still available.  Click here for more information and to enjoy the show on-demand through January 2, 2021.  A Christmas Celtic Sojourn would also like to hear what you thought of the program by visiting their Facebook page.

Celtic harpist, pianist, and Assistant Music Director Maeve Gilchrist Photo credit to Dan Jentzen

Though a portion of the performers were at home, audiences were treated to harmonies created from multiple locations nationally and internationally while enjoying festive, international scenery.  For a person who has lacked the chance to travel the world this year, it was a more than welcome opportunity to take a glimpse and to share in some international traditions. 

From the stirring, candlelit opening of beloved carol, O Come Emmanuel sung in Latin by Cathy Jordan from gorgeous Sligo Cathedral in Ireland, A Christmas Celtic Sojourn transported audiences to Ireland and to other places around the world as they were unable to bring Ireland to the stage.  The show also boasted dueling harmonies simultaneously sung from Vermont, Scotland, and various parts of Massachusetts. 

Host Brian O’Donovan brought a mix of humor, melancholy, and wistful reflections toward this difficult year, engaging storytelling, and fond tidings.  Though this year has presented its challenges, A Christmas Celtic Sojourn still managed to keep the rituals and long-awaited music right at your fingertips delivering jubilant, soulful moments while still embracing winter’s dark and sacred stillness.

Music Director and multi-instrumentalist Seamus Egan with fiddlers Jenna Moynihan and Maura Shawn Scanlin Photo credit to Dan Jentzen

Thanks to Rockport Music, multi-instrumentalist and Music Director Seamus Egan, Assistant Music Director, Celtic harpist, and pianist Maeve Gilchrist, Bouzouki and Harmonium player Owen Marshall, guitarist Conor Hearn, and fiddle players Jenna Moynihan and Maura Shawn Scanlin returned to perform cheerful medleys and energetic jam sessions filmed in Rockport Music at Shalin Liu Performance Center in Rockport, Massachusetts.  Seamus Egan’s brilliance shone through as he reached for multiple instruments for separate songs and at one point reaching for a banjo for a joyful freestyle. 

Fiddle players Jenna Moynihan and Maura Shawn Scanlin with Bouzouki and Harmonium musician Owen Marshall Photo credit to Dan Jentzen

A traditional wassail in Edinburgh, Scotland, rollicking sing-along carols and dance from A Christmas Celtic Sojourn’s past, a peerless lullaby carol involving a newborn, original song and stirring new renditions of classic carols, a lighthearted percussive dance from Michigan by Nic Gareiss, and returning step dancer and choreographer Cara Butler reveling in her backyard to a jubilant tune in Ottawa, Canada are just some of the highlights of this carefully-executed, moving production.  There were plenty of welcome surprises not to be revealed here.

Spending an awful lot of time at home and not in the car, music is less of a tradition in my house.  GBH’s  A Christmas Celtic Sojourn created a haven of holiday comfort in song that though we are far apart, some rituals and traditions can still stay the same.

GBH’s virtual A Christmas Celtic Sojourn is still available.  Click here for more information and to enjoy the show on-demand through January 2, 2021