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.

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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.

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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.

Take a look at Company Theatre’s new logo as co-founder Zoe Bradford discusses the Company Theatre’s exciting future

The Company Theatre is kicking off 2020 with a new look.

Not only are they starting a fun-filled new season that includes The Who’s Tommy, Bring it On, Rock of Ages, and Fun Home, but they recently unveiled their new logo.  Click here to see their new logo.

Sleepless Critic had a chance to interview Zoe Bradford about the Company Theatre’s upcoming projects, their vision for the future, and even walked away with some good advice.  Click here for the full list the Company Theatre’s 2020 season.

Company Theatre co-founders Jordie Saucerman and Zoe Bradford

Company Theatre co-founders Jordie Saucerman and Zoe Bradford, courtesy of Company Theatre

Sleepless Critic:  Congratulations on Company Theatre’s recent 40th anniversary. So much has happened in the last few years from the upgraded, painted theatre with new seating to new, original productions.  Please tell me more about that.

Zoe Bradford:  Now that the theatre is beautiful, we’re envisioning the potential of our outdoor property.  We’ve done a lot with Academy of the Company Theatre (A.C.T.) with an expanded outdoor stage and new pavilion.  We have a growing summer program that has been at full capacity.   Not only do we need more space and with everybody addicted to their screens, I believe in getting kids outside.  We have a path to the pond front and we’ve held classes there for water coloring and creative writing.

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A group of past A.C.T. students Photo courtesy of The Company Theatre

Freedom for creative expression has been the key for me, so I know it is the key for them.  It’s why I desperately wanted my own theatre and thank God it happened.  It’s not stimulating to work in the confines of another person’s building or organization.  That’s one of the draws here.

SC:  You once said you chose popular shows that sell, but in the last few years, The Company Theatre has been delving into uncharted waters a bit with musicals such as Carrie the Musical, Lizzie Borden, and American Idiot.

ZB:  It’s financially difficult to do that, but we are trying to give the young people what they want.  Lizzie Borden went well because people love local history and some said they have been to her house.  It’s a gruesome tale, but it was also a nice psychological thriller.

We changed how we choose our shows a little, but we still have to please our general audience and offer something for the family, something mature, and our team knows their demographic well and what will be successful.

I’m passionate about big musicals and there’s nothing like the thrill of a live orchestra.  People in the professional theatre world, mentors, and colleagues say they will put eight pieces in here and do a lot of synthetic and prerecord.  You can make a lot of money that way, but we can’t do that.  Michael Joseph said that is standard while he was here and we’ve maintained it.

SC:  What shows do you still dream of doing?

ZB:  I’d love to do WickedThe Hunchback of Notre Dame, and I’m also waiting to do Mamma Mia!  We’ll get to it.  It’s all about rights and I’m sure there are new shows coming out that I’d love to get my hands on.

As a non-profit, whatever comes in has to support what we are doing and help us be self-sustaining.  Grants, gifts, and tax deductible donations are the key.  We have better opportunities for community support such as new packages for corporate sponsorship due to having higher end computer capabilities, a better website, and a ticketing service that allows people who wish to support us to advertise.

SC:  What has been your most challenging musical?

ZB:  The Wizard of Oz because the movie is a masterpiece and any derivation from the film would be a disappointment for those who truly love it.  People would fight me on that, but if you take on The Wiz, you can do what you want because no one has a preset notion of it.

The Company Theatre The Wiz auditions

Company Theatre’s ‘The Wiz’ auditions will be held on January 22. Photo courtesy of the Company Theatre

SC: The Wiz is also part of Company Theatre’s 2020 season.  What advice would you give someone taking on a business in theatre or similar?

ZB:  It’s highly competitive.  Know your vision, don’t give up, and try to think of something that someone else hasn’t already thought of.  Be fresh and original when you can and make sure people know of your existence without being obnoxious about it.  We still struggle with it.  Some people say they didn’t know a theatre is here.

SC:  What do you envision for the Company Theatre’s future?

ZB:  We have to keep growing and we set up the Legacy Fund.  Our money rolls in and out with the tide as any non-profit would, but we’re actively fundraising to ensure another 40 years and beyond.

For over ten years, I’ve wanted to design a new logo.  I remember sitting at a little drafting table back in the 70s and hand drew it when we didn’t have any money or resources.

With art being cut in classrooms and attending theatre in Boston can be so expensive, we’re looking to keep this going so it’s accessible for everyone and expand.  I can see us taking on more property and A.C.T. quadrupling over the next ten years.  We’re not a community theatre anymore, but a year round professional and we’ll evolve again.  We provide many jobs for people, but the other part of my vision is to create more jobs for artisans in the area.  The more people that are working and inspiring people, the better.

Company Theatre's The Who's Tommy

Photo courtesy of the Company Theatre

The Company Theatre kicks off their 2020 season with A.C.T’s The Who’s Tommy from January 17 through January 26.  Click here for tickets and here for more on Company Theatre’s 2020 season.  You can also get tickets by calling the box office at 781-871-2787.  Located at 30 Accord Park Drive in Norwell, Massachusetts, click here for how to support the Company Theatre and be sure to follow them on FacebookTwitter, and Instagram.

For Performing Arts news, interviews, reviews, and much more in Boston and beyond, follow us on Facebook @sleeplesscritic and subscribe.

 

REVIEW: Mikko Nissinen’s ‘The Nutcracker’ remains a visually-stunning journey for all ages

With enchanting special effects and performances that would endear any holiday pessimist, Mikko Nissinen’s The Nutcracker once again returns with an entire world seeped in the fondest of daydreams for adults and children alike. With the enhancement of internationally-renowned Finnish lighting designer Mikki Kunttu and Tchaikovsky’s classic score conducted by Misha Santora, The Nutcracker is as picturesque as ever, emphasizing its mark as an annual holiday institution.

Boston Ballet The Nutcracker cast Photo by Liza Voll

The 150 dancers making up ‘The Nutcracker’s’ spectacular cast. Photo credit to Liza Voll/Boston Ballet

The castle on a cloud is only the prelude to an enchanting journey as Mikko Nissinen’s The Nutcracker returns to the Citizens Bank Opera House with new surprises.  An elegant party, a valiant battle, and a variety of spectacular toys springing to life is just part of Clara’s exquisite journey when she is gifted an intriguing Nutcracker for Christmas.

The Boston Ballet takes the stage for Mikko Nissinen’s The Nutcracker continuing through Sunday, December 29.  The Boston Ballet features discount youth pricing. Click here for more information and for tickets.

The Boston Ballet The Nutcracker

Stage view Photo courtesy of Jeanne Denizard

Robert Perdziola’s meticulously-detailed set and costume design not only create an inviting atmosphere whether inside a fire lit, multi-dimensional living room with a towering, emerald-lit Christmas tree or surrounding an outdoor fire pit where locals can keep warm, but also creates a pristine wintry wonderland where you can almost feel the chill.  The ornate period costumes are gorgeous as women are adorned in velvet, silk, and ribbons and the men are dressed to the nines. Sweet, sophisticated, yet playful Clara, portrayed impressively by Emma Blake, is lovely in her pale blue coat, bonnet hat, and fur hand warmers.

Boston Ballet The Nutcracker Party Scene by Liza Voll

Party scene. Photo credit to Liza Voll/Boston Ballet

Christmas Eve is a magical time, especially for children.  Paulo Arrais unveils some of that magic as charismatic and confident showman, Drosselmeier.  Mustachioed Arrais is a grand presence as he delivers visions sprung from the imagination, showing children anything is possible.

Boston Ballet Nutcracker Ricardo Santos and Ji Young Chae by Rosalie O Connor

Harlequin Doll and Ballerina Doll. Photo credit to Rosalie O’Connor/Boston Ballet

Among the most memorable moments is a Soo-bin Lee’s convincing portrayal as a Ballerina Doll, her rigid movements out of the box a fascinating sight.  Tyson Clark’s Harlequin Doll and Sun Woo Lee’s life size, exotic bear are exuberant, playful, and among the most highly- anticipated scenes in this production.

The appearance of the Nutcracker Prince, depicted by a chivalrous and gallant Derek Dunn, is extraordinary surrounded by bright, multicolored, shimmering ornaments in a magnificent tree.  His appearance highlights one of the most spectacular and exciting special effects of the production that will not be revealed here.  His encounter with Alec Roberts’s bold and at times humorous Mouse King is thrilling and partially what makes The Nutcracker a children’s classic.

Boston Ballet 'The Nutcracker' Mouse King and Wooden Soldiers by Liza Voll

Alec Roberts as the Mouse King and a valiant battle Photo credit to Liza Voll/Boston Ballet

Seo Hye Han and Tigran Mkrtchyan are visions as The Snow Queen and King on a sparkling silver sleigh as surrounding dancers joyfully flock and frolic in a glorious scene.  Seo Hye Han and Tigran Mikrtchyan have a sweet chemistry as they join together in a captivating dance.

Boston Ballet The Nutcracker Snow fairies by Liza Voll

An enchanted winter wonderland. Photo credit to Liza Voll/Boston Ballet

Under glimmering chandeliers is a group of remarkable, electric performances which is less story progression and more showcase driven presented by the iconic and sparkling Sugar Plum Fairy, portrayed with finesse by Chisako Oga.  Two pairs of Spanish dancers portrayed by Ekaterine Chubinidze, Haley Schwan, Daniel Cooper, and Benji Pearson, sway and twirl in a dazzling spectacle.  Chyrstyn Fentroy and Paul Craig receive a rousing applause as a pair of exotic and athletic Arabian dancers while Desean Taber, Daniel Durrett, and Fuze Sun show off their flexibility and athletic prowess as a trio of leaping Russian dancers.

Among the most humorous scenes is an adorable appearance by Bo Peep accompanied by a mischievous black sheep and Graham Johns as towering and surprising Mother Ginger.

Boston Ballet The Nutcracker By Liza Voll

Clara, portrayed by Mia Steedle, Nutcracker Prince portrayed by Tigran Mkrtchyan, and reindeer by students of Boston Ballet School Photo credit to Liza Voll/Boston Ballet  

Whether seeing Mikko Nissinen’s The Nutcracker for the first time or returning to enjoy it all over again, The Boston Ballet is as elegant and magical as you remember with enough refreshing additions to endure as a splendid holiday treat for the entire family.

The Boston Ballet takes the stage for Mikko Nissinen’s The Nutcracker continuing through Sunday, December 29 at the Citizen Bank Opera House, 539 Washington Street in Boston, Massachusetts.  These performances feature group rates and discount youth pricing.  Click here for tickets and for more information on Boston Ballet’s 2020 season.

 

 

REVIEW: Greater Boston Stage Company’s classic ‘Miracle on 34th Street’ delivers a gentle nudge of holiday cheer

Miracle on 34th Street is a simple tale with a big message.

During this time of year, faith is a predominant theme within many holiday productions such as faith in humanity, in God, and in a “right jolly old elf.”  From Twas the Night Before Christmas to A Christmas Carol, the holiday spirit shines through, a temporary feeling that really should last all year long.

Directed with charm by Ilyse Robbins, based on the book by Valentine Davies, and adapted by Mountain Community Theatre, Greater Boston Stage Company’s Miracle on 34th Street continues through Sunday, December 22 at Greater Boston Stage Company in Stoneham, Massachusetts.  Click here for more information and tickets.

Set in New York City, Miracle on 34th Street is about a mysterious man who becomes a last minute replacement for Santa Claus at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.  He befriends Susie Walker, a precocious little girl portrayed with grace and charm by Addison McWayne, who is far too sensible for childish things including believing in Santa Claus.  Natalie Wood rose to fame in her role as Susie Walker with Maureen O’Hara as Doris Walker in the beloved 1947 film.

Greater Boston Stage Company Miracle on 34th Street cast

Jon Savage’s vibrant set design includes a lovely, towering, and whimsical Christmas tree that contributes its own unique part in the tale.  The famous parade is just one of the events that take place in the aisles during this semi-immersive production.

Though this production of Miracle of 34th Street is not considered a musical, it does have its share of musical moments.  From gift wrapping to sweeping the store shelves, the store workers do more than whistle while they work, swaying and lifting their voices in a variety of spontaneous Christmas carols such as The 12 Days of Christmas, Sleigh Ride, and The Nutcracker Suite led by the mirthful vocal stylings of David Jiles Jr. as Mr. Adams.

Packed with a likeable cast of characters including a lively and noteworthy performance by Gary Thomas NG as Alfred, Miracle on 34th Street shows it is sometimes better to see with the heart rather than the head.  Gary Thomas NG is captivating as Alfred, a humble and gleeful janitor full of holiday cheer.  NG depicts Alfred with a song in his heart as he spontaneously leaps for joy across the stage.  His comic scenes with William Gardiner as gentle, jovial and unfailingly forthright Kris Kringle are a particular highlight as they compete in board games and engage in candid conversations.  With warm charisma and that signature twinkle, William Gardiner fills Kris Kringle’s red suspenders with finesse and of the many iconic conversations he has with McWayne’s Susie, their playful dialogue about imagination is just wonderful.

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In a red coat and distinctive 50s red lipstick, Sara Coombs portrays Doris Walker, an astute and shrewd businesswoman.  It is amusing to watch Walker and her “mini-me” daughter Susie as they inadvertently duplicate each other’s mannerisms.  Susie is seemingly as mature, confident, and shrewd as her elegant mother.  Showing a great rapport with each cast member, Michael Jennings Mahoney is refreshing as fun loving and laid back Fred.  Barlow Adamson exacts Macy store manager Mr. Shellhammer’s nervous and priceless tense expressions prevalent during the holiday season.

Having last seen Juliet Bowler in an affecting performance at Flat Earth Theatre’s Not Medea, it is no surprise that Bowler show off her talents as insecure, strict and secretive Leslie Sawyer.  Her cold disdain and devious manipulations reach Grinch-like proportions.  Sara Gazdowicz also takes an amusing turn as a fast talking, accent-rich NYC cop.

Greater Boston Stage Company Miracle on 34th Street Leslie, Kris, and cast

Juliet Bowler as Mrs. Sawyer, Barlow Adamson as Mr. Shellhammer, Sara Coombs as Doris Walker, and William Gardiner as Kris Kringle Photo courtesy of Nile Scott Studios/Greater Boston Stage Company

While some performances demonstrate holiday spirit in pomp and spectacle, Greater Boston Stage Company delivers that feeling with a gentle nudge of heartwarming cheer.  Greater Boston Stage Company’s Miracle on 34th Street through Sunday, December 22.  Click here for more information and tickets.  Click here to learn more about Greater Boston Stage Company and their upcoming 2020 productions.