REVIEW: The Company Theatre is up to magic and mischief in family-friendly ‘Matilda the Musical’

Not even a Willy Wonka candy coated confection could properly prepare one for what the Company Theatre has in store onstage.

With book by Dennis Kelly and music and lyrics by Tim Minchin, The Company Theatre’s Matilda the Musical is a holiday-themed whirlwind of caricatured adults and rage-filled adolescence while at its core, an inspiring story of an extraordinary girl in a peculiar and unique world that could only come from renowned storyteller Roald Dahl’s innovative imagination.  Add Lindsay Hoisington’s eye popping costumes that share their own story along with set designer Ryan Barrow’s striking, festive colors and Matilda the Musical made a refreshing debut from Company Theatre’s more traditional annual holiday fare.

Diana Lee as Lavender and Reese Racicot as Matilda Photo credit to Zoe Bradford/Company Theatre

Inventively directed by Zoe Bradford with dynamic Music Direction by Melissa Carubia, The Company Theatre continues Roald Dahl’s Matilda the Musical live and in person at the Company Theatre at 130 Accord Park Drive in Norwell, Massachusetts through December 18.  Click here for more information and for tickets.

With a string of renowned children’s books that includes classics such as James and the Giant Peach and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, it is easy to see award-winning author Roald Dahl’s trademark characterizations, sardonic humor, and peculiarities within a morally driven subtext delivered in Dahl’s Matilda, a novel published almost 35 years ago.  Matilda went on to become a bonafide hit with children and adults and it was not long before a 1996 film adaptation arrived featuring Danny DeVito and his real life wife Rhea Perlman.  In 2012, Matilda became a Tony award-winning Broadway musical before Netflix recently premiered Matilda the Musical featuring Emma Thompson around Thanksgiving. Like most theatrical adaptations, nothing is quite like the experience of seeing it live.

Mischief during the holidays in Company Theatre’s ‘Matilda the Musical’ Photo credit to Zoe Bradford/Company Theatre

Expectations were skewed immediately with the darkly comedic and infectious opening number, Miracle where cute, wild, and blatantly naughty children zip around a Christmas tree fueled by Brad Reinking’s athletic, energetic, and fist pumping choreography. Keep an eye out for some amazing feats by Ben Cavallo-Smith and others.

Ben Cavallo-Smith and cast in ‘Matilda the Musical’ Photo credit to Zoe Bradford/Company Theatre

Imagination and mischief run wild in Roald Dahl’s tale of an extraordinary girl making her way through a peculiar world. Roald Dahl tugs at the heartstrings in this absorbing children’s tale, but not before displaying a wealth of less than savory characters making Matilda’s life arduous.  It is a darkly humorous tale guaranteed to delight children more than the grownups.

Annie Jones as Mrs. Phelps and Reese Racicot as Matilda Photo credit to Zoe Bradford/Company Theatre

Clad in black and white, precious and precocious Matilda, portrayed with determination and quick wit by Reese Racicot, is one of the very few characters standing out in an ostentatious world where television is more important than cracking open a book. Racicot immediately charms from the spunky number, Naughty to mastering the heady lyrics in Quiet, punctuated by her light and airy vibrato. Racicot has a sweet rapport with Annie Jones as enthralled librarian Mrs. Phelps, who delights in Matilda’s significant and imaginative stories as well as Miss Honey, portrayed endearingly by Jennifer Beth Glick. With delicate and powerful vocals, Glick shines depicting Miss Honey’s quiet strength and good natured humbleness, especially for the tender and moving number, My House with Salvador Guillermo Garcia.

Brad Rafferty as Rudolpho, Emilee Dennis Leahy as Mrs. Wormwood and Jennifer Beth Glick as Miss Honey Photo credit to Zoe Bradford/Company Theatre

The adults are about as tempestuous and spoiled as their children.  Matilda’s scheming con artist father Mr. Wormwood, portrayed with a sneer and manipulative glee by Todd Yard is not to be outdone by his equally shortsighted, narcissistic, and ballroom dancing wife and Matilda’s resentful mother, Mrs. Wormwood, depicted by Emilee Dennis Leahy with the sort of flirtatious, chaotic humor reminiscent of Jennifer Coolidge. Accompanied by Brady Rafferty as egotistical Rudolpho, Leahy demonstrates limber dance moves and a wild cha cha in the shimmering and comically shallow number, Loud. Never have a pair claimed to know so much know so little. Oliver Dunn as Matilda’s conspiring brother Michael Wormwood seems to be following in their stealthy footsteps as Yard and Dunn open Act II with humorous improvisation and vaudeville inspired number All I Know.

Todd Yard as Mr. Wormwood and Oliver Dunn as Michael Wormwood Photo credit to Zoe Bradford/Company Theatre

Matilda the Musical is not without its dark moments and that is exemplified in Matilda’s iron fisted headmaster, Agatha Trunchbull. A fearful and miserably barreling adversary depicted enthusiastically by Christie Reading, Trunchbull is a force to be reckoned with, but against these lively students, anything is possible highlighted by the brilliant and ironic number, When I Grow Up.

Christie Reading as Miss Agatha Trunchbull, Jennifer Beth Glick, and the students Photo credit to Zoe Bradford/Company Theatre

The Company Theatre continues Roald Dahl’s Matilda the Musical live and in person at the Company Theatre at 130 Accord Park Drive in Norwell, Massachusetts through December 18.  Click here for more information and for tickets.

REVIEW: Central Square Theater brings Lloyd Suh’s ‘The Chinese Lady’ to light

Afung Moy is majestic, idealistic, and beautiful. In 1834, she has set foot on American soil from China at just 14 years of age to share her background, culture, and experiences. However, the details behind her arrival as well as her time and purpose in the United States is where the real story lies.

Directed impressively by Sarah Shin and in partnership with the Chuang Stage, Central Square Theater reveals a little known yet impactful figure in Lloyd Suh’s The Chinese Lady live and in person at Central Square Theater in Cambridge, Massachusetts through December 11. This semi-interactive production is 90 minutes with no intermission. Click here for more information and for tickets.

Sophorl Ngin as Afung in ‘The Chinese Lady’ Photo credit to Nile Scott Studios.

The Chinese Lady is gripping from the start and much of that is due to its two powerful leads that at first share amiable banter, humor, and building tension. With bright and expressive eyes, Sophorl Ngin depicts Afung Moy with compelling curiosity as she gradually discovers the life that has been set out in front of her. Ngin’s sweet and understated ingenuity beams adorned in exquisitely-detailed gold embroidered lavender and lilac attire crowned with a colorful guan by costume designer Sandra Zhihan Jia.

Scenic designer Qinan Zhang has a meticulous eye for detail and each piece of furniture and prop provides a significant purpose. Nothing in this vast room is just for show. Translucent curtains blanket the room and add a mysterious quality to the space. Steel structures hang above a Chinese floral blossoms arrangement and the matching end tables and chair quickly become essential to this historical account.

Jae Woo as Atung and Sophorl Ngin as Afung Photo credit to Nile Scott Studios

From China’s history of inventing tea to the gruesome details of foot binding, Ngin delivers her lines pragmatically and with a cheery glow, treating her time onstage at first an adventure with delusions of grandeur. With a wide eyed countenance, Ngin brilliantly depicts Afung from her imaginative humor and naivete to the subtle evolution in her ripened demeanor, weary walk, and her conflicted style of speaking as years gradually progress. The Chinese Lady is confronted with the ugly side of humanity and lays it bare as her time slowly fades into a land she has little choice but to adapt to it.

Ngin as Afung and Jae Woo as her older translator and guide Atung illustrate their absorbing camaraderie as they embody their complex characters, particularly exemplified in a chilling scene with the President. This intense and carefully executed scene is riveting and difficult to witness, but punctuates the sheer marvel of these two together onstage. Jae Woo portrays Atung as mysterious, subdued, polite, and unassuming as he keeps himself as minimal as the furniture. He is kind, protective, and squarely knows his place, but hints at a painfully buried intensity. Woo handles this complicated and austere character with tight lipped finesse in spite of or more hauntingly, because of all he has been through.

Sophorl Ngin as Afung and Jae Woo as Atung Photo credit to Nile Scott Studios

The Chinese Lady is best experienced without revealing the true nature of the story. Afung’s endearing personality provides a temporary distraction of what is actually happening onstage. Director Sarah Shin and author Lloyd Suh’s clever unfolding of historical and contemporary events and the actors’ subtle navigation in their performances on issues that are anything but subtle are weaved into a striking and message driven historical work that peels away that subtlety piece by piece and by the final act, leaves everything astonishingly and unsettling bare.

Jae Woo as Atung and Sophorl Ngin as Afung Photo credit to Nile Scott Studios

Central Square Theater reveals a little known yet impactful historical figure in Lloyd Suh’s The Chinese Lady live and in person at Central Square Theater in Cambridge, Massachusetts through December 11. This semi-interactive performance is 90 minutes with no intermission. Click here for more information and tickets.

REVIEW: Embrace SpeakEasy Stage Company’s illuminating ‘English’

Learning a new language brings all kinds of emotions to the surface.   One is swept out of one’s own element and that can be as exciting as it is daunting. It can also become a long and awkward struggle to capture the essence of a new culture while steeped in a new language. Though one is gaining something new, one might also be losing a bit of themselves.

Thoughtfully directed by Melory Mirashrafi, Speakeasy Stage Company continues Sanaz Toossi’s English at Calderwood Pavilion in Boston, Massachusetts live and in person through Saturday, November 19.  The performance reviewed was audio described and one hour and 45 minutes with no intermission. Click here for more information and tickets.

The company of English. From left: Deniz Khateri, Josephine Moshiri Elwood, Lily Gilan James, Zaven Ovian, and Leyla Modirzadeh. Photo by Nile Scott Studios.

One of the most fascinating messages in SpeakEasy Stage Company’s English is the realization that one can learn many languages, but can only know one. That one native language is the foundation for all the rest.  In learning to speak a new language, it can reshape what comes naturally.

English delves into the lives of four students living in Iran who are learning the English language for TOEFL, a standardized test that stands for Test of English as a Foreign Language. The production is mostly in the English language with no subtitles.  It takes a moment to catch on, but Mirashrafi cleverly depicts when characters are speaking in their native tongue.

Leyla Modirzadeh as Roya in SpeakEasy’s production of English. Photo by Nile Scott Studios.

This multi-generational cast has various and deep seated reasons for learning English and this production resonates universal truths of having to learn a new language whether by choice or necessity. English does explore the political climate of learning English in Iran, but what is most memorable are the hardships, victories, competitiveness, and the often flustered frustration of learning a peculiar new facet of life.  Each individual demonstrates a different degree of longing to belong. It is not difficult to relate to this small and dynamic cast in their obstacles, earnestness, but most importantly, in the strength in who they are.  Deniz Khateri depicts complicated Marjan, who seems to firmly place herself in the world of the language she teaches. In a multi-layered performance, Khateri as Marjan is engaging and encouraging, but also firm and mysteriously guarded.  She lends to the show’s tension and subtle humor and has unique chemistry with each student. Lily Gilan James portrays wide-
eyed and optimistic Goli with effervescent candor. She stands on her own mistakes while earnestly articulating the nature of her wishes. 

The company of English. From left: Deniz Khateri, Josephine Moshiri Elwood, Lily Gilan James, Zaven Ovian, and Leyla Modirzadeh. Photo by Nile Scott Studios.

Leyla Modirzedeh as wise and headstrong Roya is strongly urged to learn English to communicate with new members of her long distance family.  A sympathetic character, Modirzedeh powerfully evokes Roya’s sincerity and her struggle between her heritage and this new way of communicating.   Zaven Ovian depicts Omid with easygoing charm and he shares some compelling scenes with Khateri as Marjan and with witty, outspoken and understandably frustrated Elham, a standout performance by Josephine Moshiri Elwood.  Elham is a complex individual who is as compassionate as she is bold and is often hardest on herself.

Josephine Moshiri Elwood as Elham in SpeakEasy’s production of English. Photo by Nile Scott Studios.

Nina Vartanian’s culturally sound and vivid costumes pop in Janie E Howland’s realistic classroom staging and enhanced by an elegant, multicolored portrait in teal, orange, red, brown, and beige.   

English is an honest, straightforward, warmly funny, and universally relatable journey of discovering a new language and in all of its difficulties, deciding whether or how to embrace it.  See English and embrace its life lessons. 

Deniz Khateri (left) and Zaven Ovian in SpeakEasy’s production of English. Photo by Nile Scott Studios.

SpeakEasy Stage Company presents Sanaz Toossi’s English live and in person at the Calderwood Pavilion in Boston, MA through Saturday, November 19.  Click here for more information and for tickets.

REVIEW: Greater Boston Stage Company’s ‘The Legend of Sleepy Hollow’ a family treat and delivering more surprises than things that go bump in the night

Under a glimmering moon, fog rolls in as a candle burns. 

Near a tattered fence and curtains behind a pedestal table sits The Legend of Sleepy Hollow’s author Washington Irving, portrayed by Boston-based actor Paul Melendy.  Poised to share his gothic novel, Washington Irving is just one of several personas Melendy charismatically manifests for Greater Boston Stage Company’s semi-interactive, one man performance of Halloween classic, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.

Paul Melendy in Greater Boston Stage Company’s ‘The Legend of Sleepy Hollow’ Photo credit to Nile Scott Studios

With lively direction by Weylin Symes, Paul Melendy aptly bares the weight of this local, legendary, and family-friendly tale live and in person at Greater Boston Stage Company in Stoneham, Massachusetts as well as virtually through Sunday, November 6.  This show is just under 90 minutes with no intermission.  Click here for more information and tickets.

Already proving to be a wonderful talent in Greater Boston Stage productions such as The 39 Steps and Miss Holmes Returns, Paul Melendy captures the spirit of Sleepy Hollow through a frenzy of distinct personalities, rapid fire mannerisms, and occasional scares.  This version has a historical and contemporary context, delivering more family- friendly and comedic content than a fright fest.

Paul Melendy in Greater Boston Stage Company’s ‘The Legend of Sleepy Hollow’ Photo credit to Nile Scott Studios

Melendy’s Icabod Crane is an eccentric, bumbling, and polite schoolmaster in love with the lovely Katrina and sets out to impress her and her family, but rumor has it that something ghostly just might be lurking through Sleepy Hollow.  Feeding off the audience while drawing comedic inspiration and wide- eyed vigor reminiscent of Jim Carrey or Jerry Lewis, Melendy’s pliable features transform into a number of characters ranging from the elegant Katrina to a tough guy New Yorker to the mysterious Mister Knickerbocker.  A cross between a recollection and a retelling, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow treats the audience to an assortment of dynamic characters who roam through this secluded valley along the Hudson River.

Melendy is an animated and quick-witted storyteller on this partially introspective journey as David Remedios’s chilling sound effects highlighted by a wild horse whinnying, Katy Monthel’s haunting scenic design, and Deirdre Gerrard’s eerie lighting elevate the production’s mysterious and uneasy tone.  Add Melendy’s exuberance to the mix and audiences are in for an enjoyable ride.

The cast and creative team for Greater Boston Stage Company’s ‘The Legend of Sleepy Hollow’ Photo courtesy of Nile Scott Studios

Greater Boston Stage Company presents The Legend of Sleepy Hollow live and in person in Stoneham, Massachusetts as well as virtually through Sunday, November 6.  This show is just under 90 minutes with no intermission.  Click here for more information and tickets.

REVIEW:  Greater Boston Stage Company’s family comedy ‘Popcorn Falls’ zippy, lighthearted fun

Two dynamic actors take the stage for some wacky fun in Popcorn Falls, a wild, improv-inspired tale about a small, provincial New Hampshire town brimming with zany townspeople of all ages affectionately called, “kernels.”  From a feline-loving librarian with a flair for the dramatic to jack-of-all-trades Joe, Popcorn Falls must find a way to save itself from bankruptcy before it’s too late.

Christopher Chew and Sarah Elizabeth Bedard in ‘Popcorn Falls’ Photo courtesy of Greater Boston Stage Company

Written by James Hindman and directed warmly by Lisa Rafferty, Greater Boston Stage Company presents quirky, family-friendly comedy, Popcorn Falls live and in person through October 2 at Greater Boston Stage Company in Stoneham, MA.  This show is 90 minutes with no intermission.  Click here for more information and for tickets.

Sarah Elizabeth Bedard and Christopher Chew in ‘Popcorn Falls’ Photo courtesy of Greater Boston Stage Company

Doing the heavy lifting is Christopher Chew depicting a set of unique characters including the Town Mayor and Sarah Elizabeth Bedard who portrays other wild characters including Joe.  They are more than up for the challenge of keeping the pace of this lively production from a broken mic wire to journeys unknown.  From shifting voices to lightning-fast wardrobe changes thanks to dynamic Properties Designer Sarajane Mullins and Costume Designer Deirdre Gerrard, Bedard’s ability to transform into a wide spectrum of characters from seductress to meet cute to smarmy sometimes in mid-sentence is amusing to say the least.  The kernels can make a lot of noise and the audience is in on the joke rooting on each shifting character.  Christopher Chew largely portrays the straight man with few exceptions, enduring the eccentricities of each alternating character in stride while putting his own twist on his changing persona.

‘Popcorn Falls’ full cast and artistic team Photo courtesy of Greater Boston Stage Company

Kristin Loeffler’s inviting town hall set up including a brick backdrop, a chalkboard, and a town flag does little to reveal the path this duo is about to embark on while sound designer Caroline Eng enhances each running gag.  Popcorn Falls doesn’t take itself too seriously, but each prop, sound, and set piece lends itself to the production’s playful and zany antics. 

Sarah Elizabeth Bedard and Christopher Chew Photo courtesy of Greater Boston Stage Company

Quite a tale develops as this play kicks off in mid-action as the audience must piece together what exactly is happening onstage and what “kernel” the audience is sure to meet next.  Popcorn Falls is a feel-good show for the whole family that will keep the audience guessing at each unpredictable turn.  It is endearing and funny journey that saves the big, eye opening reveal for last.

Greater Boston Stage Company presents quirky, family-friendly comedy, Popcorn Falls live and in person through October 2 at Greater Boston Stage Company in Stoneham, MA.  This show is 90 minutes with no intermission.  Click here for more information, discount tickets, and more.

REVIEW: SpeakEasy Stage Company’s ‘Heroes of the Fourth Turning’ delves deep

A fire pit and backyard party in the deep woods of Landon, Wyoming seems the perfect setting for fun and good conversation.  What could go wrong?

Certainly a relatable situation in contemporary society, Heroes of the Fourth Turning knows how to tackle difficult discussions in a heady and thought provoking way, but leaving the conversation between these five distinct individuals unscathed is seldom a realistic scenario.

Dayna Cousins, Nathan Malin, and Jesse Hinson in ‘Heroes of the Fourth Turning.’ Photo by Nile Scott Studios.

Directed by Marianna Bassham who previously directed SpeakEasy’s acclaimed People Places and Things, SpeakEasy Stage Company presents Will Arbery’s Heroes of the Fourth Turning through October 8 live and in person at the Calderwood Pavilion in Boston, Massachusetts.  This show has adult themes.  Click here for more information and tickets.

One of the greatest strengths of Heroes of the Fourth Turning is its multifaceted approach to each of its characters.  Each individual is complex and struggling in some way, but are rarely stereotyped and the production is not approached in a divisive way.  The show is most effective by keeping an open mind.

It is satirical and darkly humorous from its opening scene with Justin, in hunting gear and a plaid shirt, moments away from shooting a deer.  This scenario may seem indicative of some the preconceived notions of conservative thinking and the nature of its forthcoming characters, but it gradually thwarts any preconceived expectations.  Its strength is not in the black and white, but delves into the gray corners of each of its characters.

Arbery’s script does not shy away from hot button and controversial issues and the atmosphere can get realistically heated and uncomfortable as it would at any gathering in contemporary society.  It offers a glimpse of each character’s unique perspective while their struggle unfolds as well as their flaws.

Dayna Cousins, Nathan Malin, and Jesse Hinson in ‘Heroes of the Fourth Turning.’ Photo by Nile Scott Studios.

This cast of well rounded characters and their easy camaraderie is a convincing depiction of a group that has known each other for years, especially between Dayna Cousins as Teresa and Nathan Malin as Kevin.  The quirks they know about each other demonstrate their long history.  Visiting her hometown from New York, Teresa is the seeming intellectual of the group.  Portrayed with nerve and intensity, Teresa has adapted a way of know-it-all thinking that makes her cold and unable to see another viewpoint, stereotyping whoever is unlike her.  As she boldly discusses her opinions on the world, she lets loose an air of authority, waiting to be challenged.

Dayna Cousins, Nathan Malin, and Jesse Hinson in ‘Heroes of the Fourth Turning.’ Photo by Nile Scott Studios.

Nathan Malin, who showed off his impressive dark comedic skills previously in SpeakEasy’s Admissions and The Sound Inside, portrays comical, chatty, and tormented Kevin.  Always ready for a party and deep conversation, Kevin longs to know the real secret of happiness in life as he contends with deep seated guilt and loneliness.

Justin, host of the party and veteran, is portrayed with a mix of sympathy and an air of mystery by Jesse Hinson.  A seemingly compassionate individual and clearly affected by his past experiences, it doesn’t take long to see there is much more to his story.

Jesse Hinson, Dayna Cousins, and Karen MacDonald in ‘Heroes of the Fourth Turning.’ Photo by Nile Scott Studios.

Battling physical ailments is Emily, an angelic portrayal by Elise Piliponis.  Emily is sweet and nonjudgmental, but with her own strong and compassionate views.  Bearing the brunt of her daily challenges, Emily is insightful and introverted and would like to do anything but argue. 

Emily’s mother and much admired Gina, portrayed with charisma and decorum by Karen MacDonald, is no stranger to complex characters such as in SpeakEasy’s The Children and as Erma in Merrimack Repertory Theatre’s Erma Bombeck:  At Wit’s End.  MacDonald thrives here too, depicting a complicated political figure that has impacted each of the other character’s lives.

Jesse Hinson, Dayna Cousins, and Karen MacDonald in Heroes of the Fourth Turning. Photo by Nile Scott Studios.

Heroes of the Fourth Turning is a fascinating, darkly humorous, and concerning look at human nature and though the ending seems outlandish, the clever script offers an interesting perspective on what happens even among the supposed like minded.

SpeakEasy Stage Company presents Will Arbery’s Heroes of the Fourth Turning through October 8 live and in person at the Calderwood Pavilion in Boston, Massachusetts.  This show has adult themes.  Click here for more information and tickets.

REVIEW: Gloucester Stage’s ‘Paradise Blue’ a savvy and intriguing noir experience

Paradise, a longtime 40s Detroit Jazz Club, holds many secrets.  As those secrets gradually unfold, nothing is as it seems.

With multi-faceted direction by Elise Joyner and Logan Pitts, Gloucester Stage Company presents Dominique Morisseau’s noir drama Paradise Blue through Sunday, September 18 live and in person at Gloucester Stage, 267 E Main Street on Cape Ann in Gloucester, MA.  The show has some adult language.  The half moon stage and intimate venue does not have a bad seat in the house.  Click here for more information and for tickets.

Gloucester Stage’s ‘Paradise Blue’ Darian Michael Garey as P-Sam, Destiny Deshuan Washington as Pumpkin, and Dereks Thomas as Corn Photo Credit to Jason Grow

Though the show’s main focus didn’t seem immediately clear, many revelations piece the production together for its stunning conclusion that may leave you thinking about it long after the show is over. 

Paradise Blue focuses on a group of people tied in one way or another to a jazz club/boarding house called Paradise, run exclusively by no-nonsense Blue, portrayed with guarded complexity by horn player Durrell Lyons.  Now in danger of closing, the club has its own mysterious roots in Detroit and everyone in Blue’s world has a stake in the club’s future.

Gloucester Stage’s ‘Paradise Blue’ Darian Michael Garey as P-Sam and Dereks Thomas as Corn Photo Credit to Jason Grow

Paradise Blue taps into the cast’s multilayered personas as each character makes surprising choices as the show progresses.  This complex and unpredictable production boasts strong performances with particular standouts from Destiny Deschaun Washington as Pumpkin and Alexandria Danielle King as Silver. Destiny Deschaun Washington infuses Pumpkin with warmth, humbleness and compassion towards everyone while consistently putting others first at times to her own detriment.  Pumpkin’s maternal nature endears her to each cast member as she shares bittersweet and complicated moments with Blue and a natural camaraderie with James Ricardo Milord who only recently joined the cast, but kept up with the best of them as trusting and steadfast piano player Corn. 

Gloucester Stage’s ‘Paradise Blue’ Alexandria Danielle King as Silver, Durrell Lyons as Blue, Darian Michael Garey as P-Sam, and Dereks Thomas as Corn, Photo credit to Jason Grow

Chatty, curious, and hardworking, Pumpkin is the seeming antithesis to new tenant Silver, portrayed with blunt and worldly shrewdness by Alexandria Danielle King.  Both Silver and P-Sam, depicted with agitated energy by Darian Michael Garey, possess a learned tenacity and restlessness from bitter past experiences.  Darian Michael Garey exudes palpable energy while King simmers.  Seeing these characters face conflict in their own unique way is a fascinating character study, but due to vastly differing perspectives, Pumpkin and Silver are particularly intriguing with each interaction.

Gloucester Stage ‘Paradise Blue’ Destiny Deshuan Washington as Pumpkin and Alexandria Danielle King as Silver Photo Credit_Jason to Grow

Paradise Blue itself exudes its own restlessness in the Black Bottom neighborhood of Detroit which society considers the club a ‘blight.’  Word travels fast and gossip carries its own weight in this enigmatic neighborhood.  Paradise Blue succinctly carries the tense and rueful undertones through Toni Sterling’s stirring lighting and Aubrey Dube’s soulful and bluesy sound design.  Nia Safarr Banks’s sharp vintage suits and distinctive and colorful dresses pop against Janie Howland’s modest and earthy-colored set.

‘Paradise Blue’ Stage set Photo Credit to Jason Grow

Paradise Blue is a powerful drama with grit and gall as each character pours their hopes into Paradise for a brighter future unsuspecting of what lies ahead.

Gloucester Stage Company presents Dominique Morisseau’s noir drama Paradise Blue through Sunday, September 18 live and in person at Gloucester Stage, 267 E Main Street on Cape Ann in Gloucester, MA.  Click here for more information and for tickets.

REVIEW: Reagle Music Theatre of Greater Boston’s ‘Pippin’ delivered magic with more to come

The quest to discover one’s destiny can be both exciting and harrowing. 

After opening with musical classic West Side Story last month to kick off Reagle Music Theater of Greater Boston’s summer season, Bob Fosse’s unmistakable style took the stage in Reagle’s follow up summer musical Pippin, a tale within a tale about destiny and realizing where one fits in the world.  Pippin resembles a morality play and Pippin, portrayed with earnest naiveté and enthusiasm by Kenny Lee, is convinced he was created for an extraordinary purpose and will stop at nothing to find it.

Directed and choreographed by Rachel Bertone with Music Direction by Dan Rodriguez, Reagle Music Theatre of Greater Boston had a lot more magic to do, but the musical Pippin had to shorten its run due to Covid concerns. However, Reagle Music Theatre of Greater Boston will have another chance to create some magic at a one night only cabaret fundraiser featuring the Pippin cast on live and in person on August 26 at Reagle Music Theatre of Greater Boston in Waltham, MA at 7 p.m. Purchase tickets early and get a discount. Click here for more information and tickets.

Reagle Music Theatre of Greater Boston presents a one night only cabaret on August 26. Photo courtesy of Herb Philpott/Reagle Music Theatre of Greater Boston

Led by Boston based award-winning actor and singer Davron Monroe, the musical Pippin was a wonder to witness though the plot itself is a bit uneven at times and the musical is not appropriate for children.  Based on the originally-directed Bob Fosse musical and Diane Paulus’s Tony award-winning revival, Pippin ran at Reagle Music Theatre of Greater Boston in Waltham, MA through August 7. Click here for more on Reagle Music Theatre of Greater Boston’s upcoming events.

Davron Monroe as Leading Player Photo courtesy of Reagle Music Theatre of Greater Boston

Set initially in a traveling circus, cast members immersed the audience in this mystical tale within a tale also set in the Middle Ages by occasionally marching down the aisles, addressing the audience and encouraging an occasional sing-along. 

Kenny Lee as Pippin Photo courtesy of Reagle Music Theatre of Greater Boston

Scenic designer Cameron McEchern seamlessly handled the frequent “magical” changes of scenery as Pippin explored various aspects of one’s existence from sophisticated royalty to military life to the simplicity of farming life and much more in between.   From bright, bedazzled and exotic costumes to the simplicity of the Middle Ages, costume designer Jake O’Hara and Emerald City Theatricals helped to create this versatile and dynamic world shared skillfully by charismatic Davron Monroe as the complicated narrator and mysterious advisor, Leading Player.  Monroe’s resounding vocals and quick comic wit lent to his compelling performance, especially for Magic to Do and the lively On the Right Track.  However, Monroe’s most captivating work was saved for the twist-filled finale.

The costumes along with Rachel Bertone’s dazzling and at times racy choreography offered subtle nods to Fosse’s signature style including top hat, cane, and scantily clad, Chicago-inspired dancers.  Even Monroe gave a subtle nod to Fosse’s Razzle Dazzle

Damon Singletary as Charlemagne Photo courtesy of Reagle Music Theatre of Greater Boston

Like Chicago, Pippin has some surprising moments and often addressed the dark side of humanity.  Pippin is looking for meaning as expressed quite wonderfully with Corner of the Sky. Lee portrays Pippin with wide-eyed optimism, chatty naiveté, and a free spirit which make him more sympathetic than egotistical, even when Pippin makes some poor choices.

Kathy St. George as Berthe © Joe Henson Photography 2006 All Rights reserved.

King Charlemagne, depicted with gravitas, charm, and stubbornness by Damon Singletary, is no stranger to the monarchy having portrayed the king in Concord’s past Umbrella Arts Theatre musical, Head over Heels.  Stern and shrewd Singletary delivered some wise and memorable dialogue and has a good rapport with his son, PippinKathy St. George as spicy and fun loving Berthe is a particular highlight, especially during the number, No Time at All.  Berthe offers Pippin and the audience valuable life lessons and an occasional sing-along through humor, joy, and wit.  Kenny Lee as Pippin and Kathy St. George have some endearing chemistry and Berthe’s vibrant dance moves and her occasional engagement with the audience make her a difficult act to follow.

Katie Anne Clark as Fastrada Photo courtesy of Reagle Music Theatre of Greater Boston

Katie Ann Clark as seductive and materialistic Fastrada and Joel Douglas as handsome, dimwitted and egotistical Lewis make formidable adversaries and Kayla Shimizu shines as headstrong, patient, and graceful Catherine.

Reagle Music Theatre of Greater Boston presents a one night only cabaret on August 26. Photo courtesy of Herb Philpott/Reagle Music Theatre of Greater Boston

It is a shame that Pippin could not continue for its full run because it had a lot to say about the key to happiness and what is truly important in life. However, Reagle Music Theatre of Greater Boston will have another opportunity for some magic at a one night only cabaret fundraiser featuring the Pippin cast live and in person on August 26 at Reagle Music Theatre of Greater Boston in Waltham, MA at 7 p.m. Click here for more information and tickets.

REVIEW:  Company Theatre’s rock musical ‘Hair’ a meaningful trip

Before cell phones, the internet, and alternate forms of digital communication invited people to text and talk on a computer screen as an alternative to seeing someone in person, Hair highlights the value of in person camaraderie, especially when things seem to be falling apart.  Set in war torn 1968 and focusing on a tribe of hippies that could possibly be drafted, emotionally and physically holding onto each other helps them cope in a world gone mad.

Company Theatre’s ‘Hair’ Shane Cunniff-of Quincy and Gilbert Dabaddy of Rockland Photo courtesy of Zoe Bradford/Company Theatre

Directed astutely by Zoe Bradford with bold musical direction by Robert McDonough, Company Theatre continues the 1960’s rock musical Hair through August 21 live and in person at the Company Theatre, 130 Accord Park Drive in Norwell, Massachusetts.  This show has mature themes and not appropriate for children.  Click here for more information and for tickets.

What is so prevalent in Company Theatre’s production of Hair is the natural camaraderie between cast members tackling a work that requires the cast to engage so closely and without reservations.  Hair is at times an immersive experience with some interaction with the audience and cast members occasionally marching down the aisles.   An entire cast warmly together onstage is uplifting albeit still a tad bit strange to witness.  It provides an escape from the world today with social distancing still not quite a thing of the past.

Company Theatre’s ‘Hair’ Julia Violet of Hanover Janaysia Gethers of Weymouth Elizabeth Nunnery of Hanover Shane Cunniff of Quincy and Tim Bevens of Hingham Photo courtesy of Zoe Bradford/Company Theatre.jpeg

Though the musical took place almost 55 years ago, there are clearly some parallels with contemporary society.  In a world with increasing protests, questions on gender, environmental concerns, women’s lib, the realities of war, racism, social injustice and societal division, Hair addresses many of these issues through song, humor, activism, and somberness.  It also features some silly and sometimes unnecessary content, but the intrinsic nature of its most popular songs give it a poignancy and relevance that the musical isn’t always given enough credit for.

Hair takes place, as the famous song proclaims, in the Age of Aquarius where one is destined for either greatness or madness.  With all the turmoil in the world, Hair seems to be embracing a bit of both. From Aquarius to Easy to Be Hard to Good Morning Starshine to Let the Sunshine In to its memorable title track, Hair delivers an energetic and steady stream of versatile music almost from beginning to end. 

Company-Theatre-Hair-Peter-Kirby-of-Norwell portrays Claude and Julia Violet of Norwell as Sheila the protest leader Photo courtesy of Zoe Bradford/Company Theatre

Not only does this young cast have strong vocals, but they also fit naturally into this era having done meticulous research with Bradford on the time period.  Some historical footage is sporadically shared during the production.  Charismatic Nolan Donato as Berger, the Tribe’s outspoken leader, is an engaging storyteller for the catchy song Donna.  Fun-loving Peter Kirby as mysterious Claude delivers a humorous rendition of Manchester, England, but Claude’s inner turmoil is what truly brings out Kirby’s dynamic performance.  Kirby also shines with the Tribe for I’ve Got Life.  Julia Violet is wonderful as the free spirited Sheila and offers a moving rendition of Easy to Be Hard.  Wearing slick 60s sunglasses, Jeff John-Phillipe as Hud candidly leads the Tribe in an affecting Colored Spade and later alone for Abie, Baby.  Shawn Verrier gets a lot of laughs as historical and controversial Margaret Mead.

The-Company-Theatre’s ‘Hair’ Jeff Jean Phillipe as Hud Peter Kirby as Claude and Shawn Verrier as Margaret Mead Photo courtesy of Zoe Bradford/Company Theatre

Love triangles are rampant and depicted quite humorously featuring Julia Violet as Sheila, Olivia Valianti, Emma Bergman, Amelia Kirshon, and Cate Healey in I Believe Love.  He’s in love with her and she’s in love with him and he’s in love with someone else.  Sally Aston Forrest’s funky and flowing choreography is at its best for the psychedelic Walking in Space enhanced by Dean Palmer Jr’s florescent lighting.

From beads to fringe to bell bottoms to slick 60s sunglasses to multi-pattered and flowing garments, costume designer Hannah Schuurman with set designer Ryan Barrow creates that groovy 60’s vibe featuring an embellished 60s theme truck, beaded passageways, and oriental rugs lining the stage.

Company Theatre’s rock musical Hair shows an era where people are anxious about the future and wondering where their destiny lies.  It does not stray too far from today’s struggles, but peace, love, and happiness are not a thing of the past.  Depicted by this young cast in a powerful, emotionally-charged rendition of Let the Sunshine In, perhaps the most important thing is holding onto each other.

Company Theatre’s ‘Hair’ Berger leader of the Tribe portrayed by Nolan Donato of Scituate and Sheila the protest leader portrayed by Julia Violet of Norwell Photo courtesy of Zoe Bradford/Company Theatre.jpeg

Company Theatre continues the 1960’s rock musical Hair through August 21 live and in person at the Company Theatre, 130 Accord Park Drive in Norwell, Massachusetts.  This show has mature themes and not appropriate for children.  Click here for more information and for tickets.

REVIEW:  Hub Theatre Company of Boston’s zany and immersive dinner comedy ‘Slow Food’ survival of the hangriest

Having to wait for food isn’t easy, but the crazy antics that result are quite extraordinary in Slow Food, a wild comedy that focuses on a long time married couple on their anniversary vacation who finds themselves in pursuit of their meal.  It’s a good thing that Hub Theatre Company of Boston cleverly sets this production in a dinner theatre setting because not only does the show address love, marriage, manipulative food service and more, but most importantly, the very art of being frustratingly hangry.

With witty direction by Daniel Bourque, Hub Theatre Company of Boston presents Slow Food through Saturday, July 30 live and in person at Club Café Boston at 209 Columbus Ave in Boston, MA.  This show is 90 minutes with no intermission and tickets are on a pay-what-you can-basis.  Club Café offers a discount on the menu when attending Slow Food.   Click here for more information and for tickets.

Jyoti Daniere as Irene, Victor L. Shopov as Waiter Stephen, and Steve Auger as Peter Photo courtesy of Lauren Elias/Hub Theatre Company of Boston

Club Café’s backroom was once artfully transformed into a hair salon setting for Steel Magnolias, one of Hub Theatre Company of Boston’s lighthearted past productions held at Club Café Boston.  Though a Palm Springs Greek restaurant setting is less of a stretch, set designer Justin Lahue’s subtle candlelit setting, vine adorned walls and framed photos onstage flow with the candlelight and Ukraine flags that frame Club Café while sound designer Ted Kearnan’s inviting Greek soundtrack sets the mood. 

Slow Food’s immersive and interactive vibe continues as Jyoti Daniere as Irene, Steve Auger as Peter and Victor J. Shopov as Stephen the Waiter wander through Club Café at various times, making it easy to engage in the frustrating hilarity of this pair as they attempt to navigate a stubborn, preoccupied waiter and each other through it all. 

Jyoti Daniere as Irene, Victor L. Shopov as Waiter Stephen, and Steve Auger as Peter Photo courtesy of Lauren Elias/Hub Theatre Company of Boston

Slow Food features a small and strong cast with dialogue that is pretty snappy at times.  Shopov pushes all the right buttons and stealthily builds tension as a nosy, savvy and neurotic waiter that doesn’t know his boundaries. With a dry sense of humor, natural chemistry, and a gift for pushing each other’s buttons, Daniere and Auger make a likeable and relatable couple. Daniere as perceptive, exasperated, and sympathetic Auger as business minded, occasionally distracted and blunt Peter know they must rally to negotiate a good meal if they can get past their personal grievances as secrets gradually unfold along the way.

Jyoti Daniere as Irene, Victor L. Shopov as Waiter Stephen, and Steve Auger as Peter Photo courtesy of Lauren Elias/Hub Theatre Company of Boston

Slow Food is only the name of the show and Club Café delivered quick and attentive service.  Try the delicious Raspberry White Chocolate Cheesecake for dessert.

Hub Theatre Company of Boston presents Slow Food through Saturday, July 30 live and in person at Club Café Boston at 209 Columbus Ave in Boston, MA.  This show is 90 minutes with no intermission and tickets are on a pay-what-you can-basis.  Club Café offers a discount on the menu when attending Slow Food.   Click here for more information, tickets, and for more about Hub Theatre Company of Boston.