REVIEW: SpeakEasy Stage’s award-winning drama ‘Between Riverside and Crazy’, a powerful, darkly comical look at a family gone awry

“Eat vegetables.  Fiber is your best friend.  Potassium combats blood pressure.”  This sage, conventional advice was delivered in a humorous moment by Pops in an earnest attempt to be an average, conventional dad.  Though wise in his own way, Walter “Pops” Washington is anything but conventional as an alcoholic widow, father, and head of a wildly dysfunctional household in the Pulitzer Prize-winning drama Between Riverside and Crazy that recently completed its run at the SpeakEasy stage at the Calderwood Pavilion in Boston, Massachusetts.  This production is not meant for children.  Click here for more information on the SpeakEasy Stage, winner of the 2018 Boston’s Best by the Improper Bostonian, and its upcoming productions.

Directed by Tiffany Nichole Greene and written by Stephen Adly Guirgis, Between Riverside and Crazy takes an edgy, at times controversial look at a struggling family who is losing their connection to each other while trying to survive by any means necessary.  With darkly humorous moments that delve into issues of racism, privilege, and deception, this message-driven production grows every bit as crazy as the title suggests.  However, things are certainly not all that they seem and the show is all the better for it.  The Washington family has a great deal of underlying heart and blunt honesty, but it takes some digging to get there.

Between Riverside and Crazy - Dinner with Audrey and Dave_083web

Lewis D. Wheeler, Maureen Keiller, Stewart Evan Smith, Tyrees Allen, and Octavia Chavez-Richmond in SpeakEasy Stage’s production of BETWEEN RIVERSIDE AND CRAZY. Photo by Nile Scott Studios.

The real strength in Between Riverside and Crazy is in its energetic, complex performances.  With a gravelly voice, more than his fair share of obstinacy, and traces of Red Foxx from Sanford and Son, Tyrees Allen slips smoothly into Walter’s tough skin with an inner turmoil that is always brimming to the surface, at the brink of revealing itself.   Every snarl, agitation, and sorrow flows eloquently, delivering a powerful punch to a performance that should not be missed.   It is easy to spot his outspokenness brashness in his son Junior, portrayed with a tough exterior, but with charm and secretiveness by Stewart Evan Smith.  Their exchanges, like most of the show, are quick paced and snappy, and if it wasn’t for the darker nature of this show, shows earmarks of any relatable American family.

Completing this family is Alejandro Simoes who delivers a quiet and sympathetic performance as Walter’s adopted son Oswaldo.  A bit naïve and with a secret of his own, Simoes delivers a clever and at times shocking performance of a troubled individual who is not all that he seems.

Between Riverside and Crazy - Lulu and Junior Roof_207web

Octavia Chavez-Richmond and Stewart Evan Smith in SpeakEasy Stage’s production of BETWEEN RIVERSIDE AND CRAZY. Photo by Nile Scott Studios.

With over-sized gold earrings, a tiny outfit and a Puerto Rican accent, Octavia Chavez-Richmond portrays the mysterious and often humorous Lulu.  Chavez-Richmond delves into this juicy, darkly comical role with gusto every time she takes the stage.  She is particularly funny during an exchange with Junior about their future and during a subtle, fascinating scene with Oswaldo and Junior discussing Ring Dings, bologna, and grape soda.

Between Riverside and Crazy - Lulu Pops Caro Clash_355web

Octavia Chavez-Richmond, Tyrees Allen, Lewis D. Wheeler, and Maureen Keiller in SpeakEasy Stage’s production of BETWEEN RIVERSIDE AND CRAZY. Photo by Nile Scott Studios.

Maureen Keiller as warm, but complicated Detective O’Connor and Lewis D. Wheeler as brown nosing Lieutenant Caro are outspoken New York police officers who have a history with Walter.  Some of the most memorable scenes of the show are between Keiller, Allen, and Wheeler, each exchange between them like a fascinating game of poker.  Although brief, Celeste Oliva offers a bold, pivotal, and controversial performance as Church lady.

Between Riverside and Crazy - Pops Meets The Church Lady_272web

Celeste Oliva and Tyrees Allen in SpeakEasy’s production of BETWEEN RIVERSIDE AND CRAZY. Photo by Nile Scott Studios.

As a lit Christmas tree sits in the corner and what looks like a functioning kitchen, Eric D. Diaz and Wooden Kiwi do a wonderful job to portray a warm and inviting apartment equipped with a built in brick terrace, a set that is consistent throughout the entire show.  The staging is also strong as simultaneous scenes play out throughout the household, not a moment of it distracting.

Though it is not a show for everyone, its underlying themes, powerful performances, and meaty, twist-filled story delivers its award-winning appeal.  Between Riverside and Crazy kicked off Speakeasy Stage’s 28th season.  Next for the SpeakEasy Stage is the contemporary, Tony award-winning musical Fun Home, continuing through November 24.  Click here for more information of their current season which includes the the Tony award-winning musical Once and The View Upstairs.

Renowned Broadway producer Ken Davenport talks Tony Awards, Hollywood, and ‘Gettin’ the Band Back Together’

Ambitious Tony award-winning Broadway and off-Broadway theatre producer and writer Ken Davenport has had a passion for theatre his entire life.  He has produced renowned musicals from Godspell to Kinky Boots to this year’s Tony-nominated Once on This Island and helms the North American activity for Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Really Useful Group.  Dedicated to bridge the gap between the stage and its audience, he is also behind an interactive theatre app, Didhelikeit as well as the hit board game, Be a Broadway Star.

Ken-new-1-web

Ken Davenport Photo courtesy of Ken Davenport

Ken talked to Sleepless Critic about when he first discovered the theatre, Hollywood and the Tony Awards, and his upcoming musical comedy, Gettin’ the Band Back Together.  Click here for more on Ken Davenport and see who the the big winners are on the 72nd annual Tony Awards on Sunday June 10.

The 72nd Annual Tony Awards hosts

Hosts Josh Groban and Sara Bareilles Photo credit: Cliff_Lipson-CBS

Sleepless Critic:  What awakened your interest in theatre and how did the opportunity to become a Broadway producer come about?

Ken Davenport:  My mom told me I first kicked when she was watching a production of Godspell, so I think I’ve always wanted to be part of the theatre.  I produced the first revival of Godspell on Broadway in 2011.

Being a producer is like starting your own business.  Opportunities don’t come about.  You have to make them happen.

SC:  What do you like most about producing and what production did you find to be the most challenging?

KD:  I love watching the audience’s expressions on their faces at the end of the show whether they are laughing, crying, or cheering.  We’ve affected them and that’s a joy to watch.

The most challenging part of producing is getting everyone on the same page.  It’s like getting ten people to paint the Mona Lisa.

SC:  Is there a show you turned down that you ended up wishing you were a part of?

KD:  Nah, I have no regrets.  I’ve passed on shows that have gone on to be hits, but they weren’t me.  They still wouldn’t be me, even if I had a few more bucks in my pocket.  I’d much rather stay true to what I want to do.

SC:  The musical, Mean Girls is one of the big Tony nominees this year and it is one of many Hollywood to Broadway musical crossovers.  From Pretty Woman to Heathers, do you think that this method has been an effective way to draw a wider audience to Broadway?  From what I’ve seen of Mean Girls and having recently seen Waitress, it seems to be working well.

KD:  Movies have become a common source for adaptations in the last ten years, but it doesn’t guarantee success.  I think the adaptations that work best are the ones that don’t have super popular source material.  It’s like when a movie is made from a book.  Most people think the book is better.  That happens a lot when popular movies are made into musicals.  It’s a very high hurdle to jump over.

SC:  What has been your favorite Hollywood to Broadway crossover musical so far?

KD:  Kinky Boots because I am one of the producers.

SC:  From classic musicals like Rogers and Hammerstein’s Carousel to Spongebob Squarepants, what nominations most surprised you and which did you think should have been nominated?

KD:  I think my choreographer from Once on this Island, Camille A. Brown should have been nominated as well as Alex Newell.

SC:  Which do you predict will be the standout production to win?  I’m sure you were thrilled when Once on This Island was nominated, a show you have produced.

KD:  I think the awards this year will be spread out amongst several shows rather than one big winner taking home multiple awards.

SC:  You work to make Broadway a more interactive experience.  Please tell me about the apps you promote.

KD:  We have an app for our website, Didhelikeit.com that gives you a snapshot of show reviews and focuses on the New York Times.

Gettin the Band Back Together

‘Gettin’ the Band Back Together’ premieres on July 19.

SC:  Just a few of the productions you have worked on is Groundhog DaySpring Awakening, and The Play That Goes Wrong.  The musical comedy, Getting the Band Back Together is coming up.

KD:  I’m super excited about Gettin’ the Band Back Together, which starts performances on July 19.  It’s such a fun show to be a part of and totally original.  It has an original story, music, etc.  It’s going to be a blast so come see it!

1820x1210_TuneinBanners_2018

Click here for more information on Ken Davenport and here for more on Ken’s current project, Gettin’ the Band Back Together.  Hosted by Josh Groban and Sara Bareilles, find out who wins on CBS for the 72nd annual Tony Awards on Sunday June 10 at 8 p.m.  Follow The Tony Awards on Facebook.

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

The Academy of the Company Theatre Teen Conservatory presents the dark comedy, ‘Heathers the Musical’

What does it take to be popular?  Long before Glinda sang about it in the hit musical, Wicked, or queen bee Regina George and the Plastics ruled the school in the satirical teen comedy film, Mean Girls, the Heathers dominated Westerberg High in the dark cult comedy film, Heathers.  Heathers takes a bitingly funny and satirical look at teen life and all the drama that comes with it.   Directed by Steve Shannon with musical direction by Melissa Carubia with the Academy of the Company Theatre’s summer workshop program, The Academy of the Company Theatre Teen Conservatory proudly presents Heathers the Musical (High School Edition) on Thursday, July 13 and Friday, July 14 at The Company Theatre, 30 Accord Park Drive in Norwell, Massachusetts at 7 p.m.  This show contains mature themes.  Click here for tickets and here for more information on the Academy of the Company Theatre.

Heathers the Musical is based on the 1988 film adaptation that stars Winona Ryder, Shannen Doherty, and Christian Slater.  A television adaptation is also currently in development.  Taking a look at the ruthless side of high school, clever Veronica Sawyer finds her way into the Heathers, Westerberg High’s ultimate, cruel clique, just as she encounters mysterious new boy at school, J.D.  In a wild scheme, Veronica plans to show the world life is so much more than popularity.

Performances for the Academy of the Company Theatre’s Teen Conservatory of Heathers the Musical (High School Edition) take place at the Company Theatre, 30 Accord Park Drive in Norwell, Massachusetts on July 13 and 14 at 7 p.m.  Click here for tickets or call the box office at 781-871-2787.  Click here for more on the Company Theatre and its extensive upcoming productions like Disney’s The Little Mermaid and follow them on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

The Academy of the Company Theatre Teen Conservatory will hold auditions for dark comedy, ‘Heathers the Musical’

No avoiding a mean girl.  Long before queen bee Regina George and the Plastics ruled the school in the satirical teen comedy film, Mean Girls, the Heathers dominated Westerberg High in the dark cult comedy film, Heathers.  The Academy of the Company Theatre Teen Conservatory (T.C.T.) will hold auditions for Heathers the Musical (High School Edition) on Monday, June 6 with callbacks on Tuesday, June 7 at the Company Theatre in Norwell, Massachusetts at 6 p.m.  Teen actors from age 13 through college age are invited to audition.  Click here and check back for further details on auditions.

Heathers the Musical is based on the 1988 film adaptation that stars Winona Ryder, Shannen Doherty, and Christian Slater.  A television adaptation is also in development.  Taking a look at the ruthless side of high school, clever Veronica finds her way into the Heathers, Westerberg High’s ultimate, cruel clique, just as she encounters mysterious new guy, J.D.  In a wild scheme, Veronica plans to show the world life is so much more than popularity.

Audition candidates should be prepared to sing 16 to 24 bars of a song from the show or similar musical style.  A headshot or snapshot and a resume is preferred at the audition, but not required.  Audition candidates may bring their own sheet music, but the score will be available with accompaniment.  Audition candidates will be charged a non-refundable $10 audition fee.  Click here for further details on the A.C.T. Summer Workshop and to the emergency form to be completed prior to the audition.

Performances for the Academy of the Company Theatre’s Teen Conservatory of Heathers the Musical (High School Edition) will be held at the Company Theatre, 30 Accord Park Drive in Norwell, Massachusetts on July 13 and 14 at 7 p.m.  For further information about the auditions, email ACT@companytheatre.com, or call the box office at 1-781-871-2787.  Click here for more information about the Company Theatre’s fabulous 2017 season and follow them on Facebook.