REVIEW:  Central Square Theater and Front Porch Collective’s ‘Ain’t Misbehavin’ The Fats Waller Musical’ dazzling, engaging, and sensational fun

Whether it was a wink, a smile, Anthony Pires Jr’s mischievous laugh, the crackling chemistry and snappy asides among this multi-talented, finely adorned cast or Central Square Theater’s transformation into a vivid vintage Harlem nightclub, Ain’t Misbehavin’ certainly knows how to throw a roaring party.

Innovatively directed with stellar choreography by Maurice Emmanuel Parent and Ilyse Robbins with musical arrangements by Luther Henderson, Central Square Theater and The Front Porch Arts Collective continues sensational Ain’t Misbehavin:  The Fats Waller Musical live and in person at Central Square Theater in Cambridge, MA through Sunday, May 29.  Click here for more information and tickets.

Jackson Jirard and Christina Jones in Central Square Theater’s ‘Ain’t Misbehavin” Photo credit to Nile Scott Studios

With festive lighting by Jeff Adelberg, red cocktail tables and lamps lining a gold-embroidered stage that frames the intimate, big band orchestra while eye-catching portraits hang on each side of the stage, Jon Savage’s alluring set design immediately sets the mood for an interactive, carefree, spontaneous, and humorous concert event fueled by Fats Waller’s tremendous talent.

The cast of ‘Ain’t Misbehavin’ The Fats Waller Musical’ Photo credit to Nile Scott Studios

Accented by Elizabetta Polito’s distinctive costumes from furs to glimmering garments to slick pinstripe suits and bowler hats, Ain’t Misbehavin’ seamlessly rewinds the clock to the roaring 20s where Harlem nightclubs and speakeasies sprung up for a boisterous night of revelry during the Prohibition era.  Kicking off the show with a recording from Fats Waller himself, Ain’t Misbehavin’ reveals Waller’s catchy musical repertoire ranging  from exuberant romance to humorous irreverence to playful flirtation while also addressing significant and sobering issues of the era that remain rife today.  This incredible cast depicts it all with clever and mesmerizing swagger as well as some measure of illuminating heartache.

Led and enhanced by conductor Dan Rodriguez’s swift and extraordinary piano work especially for the thrilling stride piano number, Handful of Keys, this fiery, six-piece orchestra masters every brass-tinged and drum-laden beat with finesse. 

The cast of Central Square Theater and Front Porch Arts Collective’s ‘Ain’t Misbehavin’ The Fats Waller Musical’ Photo credit to Nile Scott Studios

With an vocal aptitude for exciting, big band numbers as well as ardent crooning, a few of this show’s many highlights include Lovely Hoffman’s clever and moving Mean to Me and the sheer energy and vibrant vocals in Yacht Club Swing and The Joint is Jumpin.’ 

Ain’t Misbehavin’s  crackling chemistry is well demonstrated between Lovely Hoffman and Anthony Pires Jr as they deliver a playful duet for the light and amorous number, Honeysuckle RoseChristina Jones and Jackson Jirard take the stage for a sweet version of I Can’t Give You Anything But Love and Sheree Marcelle and Anthony Pires Jr deliver an equally charming duet for I’m Gonna Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter.  Accented by Jirard’s limber movements and amazing choreography through hazy lighting, the show takes on a captivating, psychedelic turn as Jirard sings The Viper’s Drag.  Anthony Pires Jr shows off big personality and comedic sass for Your Feets too Big before the cast gathers for a heartrending Black and Blue.

The cast of Central Square Theater and Front Porch Collective’s ‘Ain’t Misbehavin’ The Fats Waller Musical’ Photo credit to Nile Scott Studios

The only thing more exciting than the music are the side smirks, irritated looks and onstage antics clearly hinting of the juicy drama happening between cast members behind the scenes, though it is all part of a show that thrives on the audience’s enthusiasm and interaction.   Ain’t Misbehavin’ is a riveting musical celebration for a multi-talented musician clearly ahead of his time.

Central Square Theater and The Front Porch Arts Collective continues sensational Ain’t Misbehavin’  The Fats Waller Musical‘ live and in person at Central Square Theater in Cambridge, MA through Sunday, May 29.  Click here for more information and tickets.

REVIEW:  ‘Dear Evan Hansen’ a moving but uneven film adaptation of the Tony award-winning musical

A broken arm is the catalyst to much more for Evan Hansen.

Winner of six Tony Awards including Best Picture, Dear Evan Hansen stage musical took Broadway by storm in 2014 by distinctly addressing subjects that are becoming dangerously prevalent in contemporary society.  Dear Evan Hansen delves into difficult territory and is not for everyone, but it is not hard to see why this musical has gained such acclaim. 

The use of social media, the internet, and digital rather than face-to-face interaction due to the pandemic have had people feeling more alone than ever before which has caused social anxiety to gain a greater foothold in our society.  With sweaty palms, a constant stream of over thinking, an overwhelming feeling of loneliness in a crowd, and the pressure to live up to what others expect, senior high school student Evan Hansen struggles with interacting with almost everyone until a chance encounter changes his life.

Based on the Tony award-winning musical, Dear Evan Hansen is available on HBO Max, on DVD, and on demand.  Click here for more information.

The film adaptation of Dear Evan Hansen has gained some notoriety among the stage musical’s fans because a portion of the musical’s character driven development is left out of the film.  As one who has not seen the musical, Dear Evan Hansen is a pretty somber musical experience about a tragedy and a lie that ends up having a life of its own as the film progresses.   There are cringe-worthy moments to be certain, but they stem from how deep the rabbit hole of that big lie goes and its inevitable consequences.

What first attracted me to this production was Requiem, a powerful number with beautiful harmony that still stands as my favorite performance.  Kaitlin Dever’s chiming vocals as Zoe carry the poignant conflict and the bitterness of Requiem while still preserving her as a troubled and sympathetic figure.  Amy Adams as Cynthia Murphy delivers a heartrending performance highlighted by her part in Requiem.  However, without a solo number such as A Little Bit of Light as part of this film adaptation, her character has a lack of dimension and less of a sense of what her actual relationship has been with her late son who is lost to mental illness.   Danny Pino as Larry Murphy reveals a compelling and complex relationship with his late stepson, but the film would have been better if the adaptation delved deeper into his character.  Julianne Moore has much more to work with as Heidi Hansen, Evan Hansen’s single mother.  She and Ben Platt as Evan have a complicated, yet caring relationship and Moore shines for the moving number, So Big/So Small.   Amanda Stenberg as overachieving Alana Beck is a fascinating look into another side of mental illness and how people are not so different in Anonymous Anymore.

Ben Platt originated the Tony award-winning role as Evan Hansen and also does a marvelous job for the film.  Though he seems a little old for the role at this point, Platt’s portrayal of Evan’s anxiety is palpable as he depicts Evan’s struggles right from the opening number, Waving through a Window.  His vocals have a soft and introspective quality as he shares his bewilderment and tenseness in attempting to socialize and make friends.  At times he is visibly shaken and some of the mixed signals and missed social cues he reads from others can be painful to watch.  His simple and hopeful delivery for All We See is Sky Forever is a pivotal and bittersweet song and You Will be Found is inspiring and universally-appealing.  Platt also has some awkward but sweet chemistry with Dever as Zoe in the numbers, Only Us and If I Could Tell Her

Dear Evan Hansen film is not a powerhouse musical, but is filled with quiet reflections, inspirational messages, and sobering revelations. Much of the film deals with various aspects of coping with life and grief, but it also has scattered humor and a few darkly comical moments in the number Sincerely, Me.  The ending is not delivered the same way as the musical and seems to wrap too quickly.  As one who hasn’t seen the musical, I was less aware of what was missing and seeing Ben Platt’s performance was worth watching.  See Dear Evan Hansen the film for its memorable cast and appealing soundtrack, but hold out for the stage musical to get the entire story.

Dear Evan Hansen is available on HBO Max, on DVD, and on demand.  Click here for more information and here to see the stage musical on Broadway or on its national tour.

REVIEW:  Go see Academy of the Company Theatre’s heartwarming, moving, and family-friendly ‘Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat’

The one thing more magnificent then Joseph’s dream coat is the tale behind it.  An interactive, endearing, and humorous production, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat has been entertaining audiences for over 50 years with its exuberant story and its versatile and brilliant music by the Academy Award-winning team of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice.  Joseph’s music offers a wide spectrum of music genres for any taste from calypso to rock and roll which accompanies the unique retelling of a sacred tale of treachery and unceasing hope.

Photo courtesy of Zoe Bradford/Company Theatre

A tale so wonderful that it needs three narrators, Academy of the Company Theatre (ACT) presents Andrew Lloyd Webber’s wondrous and family-friendly musical comedy Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat continuing at the Company Theatre in Norwell, MA through Sunday, May 1.  The production is almost sold out.  Click here for more information, tickets, and for classes that ACT has to offer.

Cate Healey, Gilbert Dabady, and Elizabeth Nunnery as Narrators with Tim Bevens as Joseph Photo courtesy of Zoe Bradford/Company Theatre

Based on the Book of Genesis and set in the land of Canaan and Egypt, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat explores the incredible journey of Joseph and his brothers as Joseph struggles to discover his destiny.  It is very much a collaborative, ensemble piece featuring three engaging narrators portrayed by Gilbert Dabady last seen in ACT’s Les Miserables, Cate Healey, and Elizabeth Nunnery as they share Joseph’s tale not only with the audience, but with the surrounding and energetic young cast gathered onstage.  Dabady, Healey, and Nunnery all have powerful and very different voices that complement each other throughout the performance.

Brothers – Corin O’Neill – Abington, Jay Feeney- Hansen, Henry Jacobs – Norwell, Colin SanGiacomo – Norwood, Roland Schulze – Hingham, Matthew Porro – Hanover, Tim Bevens (Joseph) – Hingham, Ben Cavallo Smith-Hingham and cast Photo courtesy of Zoe Bradford/Company Theatre

With a sweet smile and unassuming demeanor, Tim Bevens portrays humble, yet forthright dreamer Joseph with instant likability from his first opening number, a warm and melodious rendition of Any Dream Will Do.  Bevens delivers a compelling performance as a naïve outsider, his versatile vocal range effortless for the soothing Any Dream Will Do to stirring Close Every Door, his tone heart rendering and sympathetic.

Wearing a white beard, Jacob Yates takes on the mostly silent role of Jacob, Joseph’s devoted father.  Yates makes the most out of this role with an amusing walk and some physical humor.  Led by Charlie Flaherty’s standout portrayal as Joseph’s smirking and sneaky brother Reuben, One More Angel in Heaven depicts the united camaraderie not only by Joseph’s eleven brothers, but from the cast, all in on a little secret.  Another excellent number that depicts the brothers’ united front is delivered by Ben Cavallo-Smith as Judah and his brothers for Roland Schulz as Benjamin, a catchy, amusing song called Benjamin Calypso.

Combining blue, glitter, and gold into dazzling Egyptian attire, Sal Garcia, who was last seen as Jean Val Jean in ACT’s Les Miserables, makes a grand entrance in suave sunglasses and a bouffant hairstyle as Pharaoh, complete with shimmering gold sneakers.  Garcia shows off his comedic talent and charisma in the show stopping number Song of the King, combining the essence and high energy of a certain king not to be revealed here and Jack Black.  It is fun to watch Garcia in a role where he can let loose.

Sal Garcia as Pharaoh Photo courtesy of Zoe Bradford/Company Theatre

The transformative lighting by Dean Palmer Jr. ranges from a lone spotlight to doubling for the hot, desert sun to flashing, multicolored spotlights for Go Go Go Joseph to the warm candlelight and modest staging of Close Every Door.  Though most of the sets are colorful and fun, there is something special about the translucent, simple staging for Close every Door by candlelight, letting Tim Bevens’s poignant rendition speak for itself without distractions. 

Elsa Hancock-Happ – Rockland, Calvin Jacobs – Norwell, Reese Warshaw – Hingham, Izzie Donnelly – Hingham, Nora Joyce – Weymouth, Silvia Thompson – Hingham, Tim Bevens – Joseph – Hingham, Laird Lacoste and cast Photo courtesy of Zoe Bradford/Company Theatre

Among the vibrant and bold costumes by John Crampton and Alison Gordon is the famous coat in yellow and green and ochre… Joseph’s magnificent, flowing, and sparkling coat is a head turner decked out in multi-colored stars on the back.  The cast wearing sunglasses, an unusual camel, and cute Egyptian “beetles” among the crowd on a unconventional journey to Egypt are just a few of the subtle, cheerful touches added to this lighthearted production that certainly has its share of stirring and difficult moments, but with far more uplifting and spirited ones, it’s difficult to feel down for long.

Tim Bevens (Joseph) and cast Photo courtesy of Zoe Bradford/Company Theatre

Directed by Zoe Bradford with lively choreography by Sally Ashton Forrest and musically directed by Melissa Carubia, Academy of the Company Theatre (ACT) presents Andrew Lloyd Webber’s wondrous and family-friendly musical comedy Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat continuing at the Company Theatre in Norwell, MA through Sunday, May 1.  The production is almost sold out.  Click here for more information and for tickets.

REVIEW:  Lexus Broadway in Boston’s ‘Ain’t too Proud: The Life and Times of the Temptations’ powerhouse vocals as compelling as their back story

Get ready for a whirlwind concert experience fueled by vocal powerhouses.  Having been familiar with the award-winning 1998 The Temptations miniseries produced by Temptations founder Otis Williams and based on the book featuring a special appearance by Smokey Robinson, it is no secret just how much material this musical had to cover and does so with finesse and upbeat pacing.

The Temptations Marcus Paul James as Otis Williams, James T. Lane as Paul Williams, Jalen Harris as Eddie Kendricks, Harrell Holmes Jr as Melvin Franklin and Elijah Ahmed Lewis as David Ruffin Photo credit to Lexus Broadway in Boston

Directed slickly by Des McAnuff and produced by Otis Williams and Shelly Berger, Lexus Broadway in Boston presents Tony award-winning jukebox musical Ain’t Too Proud:  The Life and Times of the Temptations at Citizens Bank Opera House in Boston, MA through Sunday, May 1.  The show is 2 hours and 30 minutes including an intermission.  Click here for more information and for tickets.

Behind every monumental group is a colossal tale.  The story behind the Temptations spans decades encapsulating wild drama (some of which seems too incredible to be true) while members of the Temptations changed like a revolving door.  Some of these legendary performers haunted by the past wrestled with inner turmoil and demons that indelibly impacted their own lives and with timeless and groundbreaking music comes sacrifice.

Marcus Paul James as Otis Williams (center) Photo credit to Lexus Broadway in Boston

Based on the Otis Williams and Patricia Romanowski’s The Temptations autobiography, the journey began in Detroit.  Marcus Paul James is part preacher, part storyteller, and all heart as Temptations founder Otis Williams recalls admiring groups like The Cadillacs in his hometown when he wasn’t getting into trouble.  Finding his calling to sing was like ‘the heavens opening up.’  Immediately engaging, James guides the audience through decades of the Temptations musical journey through the losses, the humor, dedication, arrogance, passion, tragedy, and fleeting success to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.

Most importantly though, it is a rich voyage through the classic Motown tunes that have stood the test of time not just by The Temptations, but the Supremes and other famous Motown classics of that time.

Jalen Harris as Eddie Kendricks with the Temptations and The Supremes together. Photo credit to Lexus Broadway in Boston

Decked out in suave matching gray suits and ties and launching into The Way You Do the Things You Do featuring the five original members composed of James T. Lane as Paul Williams, Harrell Holmes Jr as Melvin Franklin, Elijah Ahmad Lewis as David Ruffin, Jalen Harris as Eddie Kendricks, and Marcus Paul James as Otis Williams, Ain’t too Proud is an interactive, energetic, concert-driven locomotive as sliding vintage black and white photos and film depict the fans, the touring, the injustices, and the milestones through the years.  The frequently moving, multilayered set by Robert Brill combined with Howell Binkley’s impressive lighting gives the slick illusion of the quick pace of their lives and the audience riding along for each transforming scene.

The Supremes – Traci Elaine Lee as Mary Wilson Deri’Andra Tucker as Diana Ross and Shayla Brielle G. as Florence Ballard Photo credit to Lexus Broadway in Boston

Not only does Ain’t too Proud feature Tony award-winning choreography, but some dynamite vocals from start to finish.  Traci Elaine Lee delivers a dual role first with brief, but memorable impromptu vocals as fast-talking Johnnie Mae in a spectacular onstage Cadillac as as Mary Wilson of The Supremes.  The Supremes, adorned in dazzling gowns by costume designer Paul Tazewell, make brief but memorable appearances with seamless vocals for classic numbers such as You Can’t Hurry Love and I’m Gonna Make You Love Me led by Deri’Andra Tucker as the luminous Diana Ross. 

Though each member of the Temptations have good chemistry, baritone Marcus Paul James as Otis and Harrell Holmes Jr as dedicated and forthright bass singer Melvin, have an exceptional brotherly connection. Jalen Harris as falsetto Eddie Kendricks performed a memorable Just My Imagination to an enthusiastic crowd. Elijah Ahmad Lewis portrays complex and sensational tenor David Ruffin with charisma, arrogance, and affliction from the sweet first notes of My Girl to I Wish it Would Rain.  The stirring I Wish it Would Rain symbolizes much more than love lost in this particular production.

Harris Matthew as Dennis Edwards (center) Marcus Paul James as Otis Williams, James T. Lane as Paul Williams, Harrell Holmes Jr as Melvin Franklin, and Jalen Harris as Eddie Kendricks Photo credit to Lexus Broadway in Boston

Ain’t too Proud delves into the lives of the Temptations, the classic tunes, what tears them apart, and what ultimately makes them the greatest Rhythm and Blues group in music history.  With a total of 24 Temptations over the years, it is quite the tale to tell. 

Lexus Broadway in Boston presents jukebox musical Ain’t too Proud:  The Life and Times of the Temptations at Citizens Bank Opera House in Boston, MA through Sunday, May 1.  Click here for more information and for tickets.

REVIEW: Fueled by Go-Gos pop-punk nostalgia, The Umbrella Stage Company’s ‘Head Over Heels’ a frothy farce with a unique beat

The expression, ‘Out with the old, in with the new’ takes on new meaning for Umbrella Stage Company’s dynamic musical, Head Over Heels, a gender-bending jukebox musical comedy which includes a case of mistaken identity that integrates the renaissance with contemporary themes and the 80s in Arcadia, a land that thrives on a beat.  If that seems like a lot, it’s because this ambitious show tackles a lot in its approximately 2-hour time frame. 

The cast of ‘Head over Heels’ Photo courtesy of Gillian Mariner Gordon/Umbrella Arts

With resourceful direction by Brian Boruta, The Umbrella Stage Company presents Head Over Heels the Musical live and in person at the beautifully-renovated Umbrella Arts Center, 40 Stow Street in Concord, MA through Sunday, May 8.  This show may not be appropriate for young children.  Click here for more information at for tickets.

Who else to handle a beat but the Go-Gos!  Following a string of jukebox musicals such as Jersey Boys, Mamma Mia! (featuring music from Abba), Movin’ Out (featuring music from Billy Joel), Good Vibrations (featuring music from the Beach Boys), Moulin Rouge and Priscilla, Queen of the Desert (both which deliver covers of contemporary pop songs), 80s pop princesses the Go-Gos handle this production’s unique beat.  This lighthearted show highlights many of the Go-Gos snappy, feel-good numbers such as Vacation, Our Lips are Sealed, Head Over Heels, and We Got the Beat along with some lesser known tracks that don’t land as well.

Kai Clifton as Pythio and cast Photo courtesy of Gillian Mariner Gordon/Umbrella Arts

Head Over Heels is lively and cheerful in presentation from overhead neon lights, versatile surrounding white columns, and a live band veiled behind translucent curtains onstage by set designer Janie Howland to bold and bright period costumes in pink, green, and yellow weaving 80s glam with a rock-n-roll edge by Brian Simon and Johnny Cagno to the rollicking, up-tempo choreography by Lara Finn Banister.

Temma Boudreau as Philoclea and John Breen as Musidorus Photo courtesy of Gillian Mariner Gordon/Umbrella Arts

Based loosely on Sir Phillip Sidney’s The Arcadia, Head Over Heels is a farce that follows a few Arcadian love stories with one taking a cue from Shakespeare as love struck shepherd Musidorus, portrayed by John Breen, must disguise himself in order to gain approval to marry Princess Pilocleas, portrayed by Temma Beaudrea.  Beaudrea and Breen have a brimming, awkward, and excitable chemistry as they fight not only the royal rules, but the predictions from a mysterious oracle that ultimately sees the kingdom’s demise unless things change.  Meanwhile, Philocleas’s sister, Pamela, portrayed with humorous narcissism by Bri Ryder, is proclaimed fairest in the land, but a groom might not be what she has her sights on after all.

Damon Singletary as Basilius Photo courtesy of Gillian Mariner Gordon/Umbrella Arts

Damon Singletary as King Basilius brings gravitas and humor to the king’s bombastic nature while Kate Pickett’s flirty and dry sarcasm makes Gynecia a scene stealer.  Robert Saoud as Dametas portrays the sympathetic and seemingly sole voice of reason.   While the majority of the characters are so fixated on what each of them wants, Dametas and Kai Clifton, a commanding presence as Pythio, may be the only ones capable of seeing the bigger picture.  Singletary and Saoud deliver some amusing scenes together as they share differing outlooks on this kingdom’s shaky ground. 

The humor ranges from irreverent to absurd to charming.  Head over Heels makes some deliberate and clever points in its storytelling, but can get more fixated on what each character stands for rather than giving the characters more depth.  However, If you enjoy a frivolous farce dipped in 80s nostalgia, this “trifle” as Sir Phillip Sidney has called his prose, this one may be for you.

The Umbrella Stage Company presents Head Over Heels the Musical live and in person at the beautifully-renovated Umbrella Arts Center, 40 Stow Street in Concord, MA through Sunday, May 8.  This show may not appropriate for young children.  Click here for more information at for tickets.

REVIEW:  Comparing music biopic ‘Respect’ and anthology series ‘Genius:  Aretha Franklin’

Maybe it was because I went in with the highest of expectations. 

When casting was announced for the Aretha Franklin film biopic, Respect, the anticipation for this film soared.  A cast that included Academy award-winner Forrest Whittaker, multi-Tony award winner Audra McDonald and starring Academy Award-winning Jennifer Hudson as Aretha, it seemed this film could do no wrong.  In many ways, it didn’t and in other ways, it did.  The movie has my respect, but can’t quite pinpoint exactly why it wasn’t as spectacular as it should have been.

Though Respect is no longer in theatres, it is streaming on HBO Max, VOD, and other platforms.  National Geographic’s Genius:  Aretha Franklin is available on Hulu

This is not to say that Jennifer Hudson did not deliver a phenomenal performance.  Her dynamic vocal range could run circles around almost any singer today.  Just to see her take on the theme song to TV classic, The Jeffersons for Live in front of a Studio Audience:  All in the Family and The Jeffersons, her sass and brilliance shines through even for those select few minutes.  On a larger scale, she performed The Color Purple on Broadway plus watching her sing a live Prince tribute to Purple Rain alongside Cynthia Erivo (who also went on to embody the Queen of Soul in Genius:  Aretha Franklin) the night Prince passed away was probably one of the most endearing versions I have ever heard next to the Purple one himself.

It was the kind of vocals needed to match Aretha Franklin’s superlative falcon soprano voice that mastered an aria for Luciano Pavoratti during a live performance at the 1998 Grammy Awards to the bluesy Chain of Fools to the magnificence of her version of Amazing Grace.

 Jennifer Hudson is unquestionably an incredible talent and yet, watching Respect, it was difficult to envision Aretha Franklin.  Perhaps if Hudson was a less recognizable or not such an established talent in her own right, it might have been easier to picture it.  After watching Respect and Genius:  Aretha Franklin back to back, it was easier to envision Cynthia Erivo in the role of Franklin.  Not only does Erivo look more like Franklin and her distinct vocals a bit closer to Aretha’s, but she also possesses that determination and sass that Aretha was well known for.  However, Erivo also had a lot more room to flourish during an entire season.

Though both adaptations are worth watching, it seems like Genius had too much time to tell Franklin’s story and Respect did not have enough.  Respect sometimes seemed choppy and there are scenes that were featured in Genius that would have been better explored in RespectRespect was once a 3 hour film cut down to 2 hours and 25 minutes, but it would have better with more time.  Genius had plenty of time to tell its story, but some parts lingered on events a bit too long.

Hudson delivers a surprisingly subdued performance compared to the strong presence Franklin displayed in life.  Hudson masters more of Franklin’s natural instinct and wisdom into music as she navigates the music industry from her early misses to her meteoric success from Franklin’s version of the hit song, Respect (which is an Otis Retting song that Franklin undoubtedly made her own). 

Both Respect and Genius:  Aretha Franklin feature epic casts.  A notable portrayal was that of the young version of Franklin, portrayed by Skye Dakota Turner in Respect.  Turner possessed more of the charm, spunk, and valor that Aretha was known for.  It is easy to see Aretha has a song in her heart from the very first scene, especially due to director Liesl Tommy’s vivid cinematography.  Marc Maron delivers an amazing performance as legendary and steadfast music manager Jerry Wexler though the part is not a great departure from other roles he has delivered over the years.  Forrest Whittaker in Respect and Courtney B. Vance in Genius:  Aretha Franklin skillfully portray Franklin’s fiercely protective, stubborn, and seemingly strict preacher father.  Each actor hones in on different aspects of C.L. Franklin’s strong character.  Audra McDonald is dynamite as Barbara Franklin even within her brief screen time.  She delivers a memorable performance at the piano with young Aretha for Irving Kahal’s I’ll Be Seeing You.

Respect is also set up like the standard biopic rather than choosing an unconventional way of sharing excerpts from Franklin’s life.  Much like recent biopics such as Walk the Line, Bohemian Rhapsody, and Judy, Respect uses this narrative structure from fame to childhood and in sequence and in this instance, surrounded by depictions of Martin Luther King Jr, Barry White, Smokey Robinson, Dinah Washington and Sam Cooke along the way.  Though it is an effective formula, it is a bit of a clichéd one.  Genius:  Aretha offers a fresher and unconventional perspective into Franklin’s life delving into an experience Franklin and her father survived together, leaving the viewer to guess what could be next. 

Both biopics have their strengths, but if you are looking for a fresher and more believable take featuring some lesser known experiences on Franklin, dive into Genius:  Aretha Franklin.   Respect features an incredible cast worth watching for its masterful songs featuring a paramount scene featuring Aretha Franklin recording her signature Amazing Grace not to be missed.  Either way, the Queen of Soul’s dynamic life is worth telling twice.

REVIEW: Boasting a strong cast, Company Theatre’s ‘Something Rotten’ a fresh and clever musical comedy

Amid set designer Ryan Barrow’s quaint, warmly-lit, Tudor-inspired cottages of 1595 London is a Renaissance rock star…and the ones he left behind.   Company Theatre’s Something Rotten has something new to say about something olde and what it truly takes to be remembered.

Slickly directed by Zoe Bradford with zealous musical direction by Steve Bass, Company Theatre presents lighthearted musical comedy Something Rotten through April 3 live and in person at the Company Theatre, 30 Accord Park Drive in Norwell, Massachusetts. The show is not recommended for young children and runs approximately two hours with a brief intermission.  Click here for more information and tickets.

Director Zoe Bradford and the cast of ‘Something Rotten’ Photo courtesy of Zoe Bradford/Company Theatre

The phrase, Something Rotten, calls to mind a number of references, but primarily this alludes to the one and only William Shakespeare, London’s resident celebrity.  While music was prevalent in 1595, writers were the real stars of their time and Shakespeare, charismatically portrayed with plenty of ego, prowess, and smirking, flamboyant charm by Brad Reinking, was a legend.  Surrounded by Shakespeare’s Bard Boys (watch their expressions as he speaks), Reinking’s stage presence is an eclectic cross between Prince and Elvis.

Christopher Spencer as Nigel Bottom, Brad Reinking as Shakespeare, and Donny Norton as Nick Bottom Photo courtesy of Zoe Bradford/Company Theatre

In the glow of stardom, there must be a few naysayers and no one does it better than Donnie Norton as cynical and struggling writer Nick Bottom who once worked with that famous Bard.  Nick’s level of griping is prevalent in the catchy number, God, I Hate Shakespeare, but what makes the song particularly interesting it is also embodies relevant reasons some people do not care for Shakespeare’s writing.  Norton as Nick Bottom is so good at the role that payoff is big when he finally shows a trace of optimism.  Christopher Spencer also shines as idealistic, impressionable, and head-in-the-clouds Nigel, Nick’s little brother and fellow writer.  Spencer’s best moments as Nigel is when he shows reason and aptitude, though his giddy chemistry with Emily Lambert as wide-eyed yet steadfast Portia is also wonderful to watch.

Emily Lambert as Portia and Christopher Spencer as Nigel Bottom Photo courtesy of Zoe Bradford/Company Theatre

Something Rotten is often self aware and its irreverent brand of humor brought to mind the classic comedy of Mel Brooks in musicals such as in the Tony award-winning The Producers or Young FrankensteinSally Ashton Forrest’s notable choreography boasts some splashy and humorous dance sequences including tap dancing and even a glorious kick line. 

Elizabeth Cole Sheehan’s gleaming, colorful, and historically-faithful costumes cross the pond between regal classical to edgy contemporary adorned in gold-embroidered velvet, puffed sleeves, and leather. 

Welcome to the Renaissance Photo courtesy of Zoe Bradford/Company Theatre

Something Rotten features some powerhouse vocals, especially from these forward-thinking leading ladies in jolly ol’ England.  Emily Lambert as Portia lifted her soaring soprano vocals for the gospel-inspired, We See the Light and the sweet and cheeky duet, I Love the Way with Spencer’s Nigel.  Melissa Carubia as spunky, confident, and loyal to a fault Bea is also ahead of her time, her dynamic vocal range on display for the groundbreaking number, Right Hand Man.  With quirky comedic charms fueled by a mix of Catherine Tate and Jennifer Saunders, Janis Hudson is perfectly smashing as royally-dressed Lady Clapham. 

Janis Hudson as Lady Clapham Photo courtesy of Zoe Bradford/Company Theatre

With bright, inquisitive eyes and a mischievous and knowing grin, Christopher Hagberg is a scene stealer as Thomas Nostradamus who leads with Norton in the funniest and most brilliant number of the show, A Musical tailor-made for literary and musical lovers everywhere. 

Donnie Norton as Nick Bottom and Christopher Hagberg as Thomas Nostradamas Photo courtesy of Zoe Bradford/Company Theatre

Company Theatre presents lighthearted musical comedy Something Rotten through April 3 live and in person at the Company Theatre, 30 Accord Park Drive in Norwell, Massachusetts.  The show runs approximately two hours with a brief intermission.  Click here for more information and tickets.

REVIEW:  Creativity runs wild in Andrew Garfield’s Oscar-nominated portrayal as Jonathan Larson in Netflix’s ‘tick, tick…BOOM!’

Though at times he has traveled under the radar from stage to screen aside from his turn as our friendly neighborhood Spiderman, Andrew Garfield has most deservedly been on the map lately.  Though he was sadly overlooked by the Academy as the emotional center of David Fincher and Aaron Sorkin’s 2010 acclaimed drama, The Social Network, Garfield has finally scored an Academy Award-nomination for the musical hit, tick tick…BOOM! available on Netflix.  Garfield has a knack for dynamic performances and though everyone is looking at Jessica Chastain as Tammy Faye Bakker in The Eyes of Tammy Faye, Garfield also brought a wealth of humor, quirkiness, and manipulative prowess to his portrayal of TV Evangelist Jim Bakker.

Once an Off-Broadway play, tick, tick…BOOM’s film adaptation is available now on Netflix and directed by Lin-Manuel Miranda.  The film is currently Oscar-nominated for Best Actor for Andrew Garfield and Best Film Editing and Garfield has a Screen Actors Guild nomination for Best Actor in a Leading Role.

As Lin-Manuel Miranda was once a struggling writer himself, it is not surprising he is the director of the Academy Award-nominated musical tick, tick…BOOM!, a fascinating semi-autobiographical story about Jonathan Larson, a struggling writer living in New York City years before he created his hit rock musical, RENT.  A writer writes about what one knows and so much of this story offers glimpses into Larson’s inspiration for that wildly-successful musical.

However, this is about the struggle and this musical film is brimming with it.  The painstaking work of creativity and all that could go wrong illuminates tick, tick…BOOM! as Larson struggles to keep it all together to achieve what at times seems impossible, especially in New York City.  tick, tick…BOOM! is not only about Jonathan Larson’s frantic life, but it is also an ode to the writer and the struggle to live that extraordinarily competitive dream while just skirting out and skimming by trying to get a chance.

At its center is narrator and lead Andrew Garfield who brings a driving intensity and delivers an electrifying performance as the frenetic Larson on the eve of Larson’s 30th birthday.  The unconventional, deeply creative, and quick-thinking Larson divides his time between writing and working at the Moondance Diner.  Look for Lin-Manuel Miranda as a short order cook.  However, music and writing naturally pours out of Larson’s soul and he is often consumed by it at the expense of everything else.  For forward-thinking Larson, turning 30 is a looming chasm that soaks up every ounce of his time until that odious deadline as he demonstrates in the catchy and memorable number, 30/90.  Thirty is not old, but maybe Larson always felt like he was running out of time.

The musical features a dynamic, infectious, and multi-dimensional soundtrack about living in your 20s in New York City and how life changes.   RENT’s influence is unmistakably evident in the lighthearted and humorous numbers, Boho Days and No More.  It is also easy to recognize the roots that will develop Larson’s future work.  Inside the Moondance Diner, Sunday features beautiful harmonies that include some of Broadway’s biggest stars.  Therapy is a fantastic and humorous number about the miscommunication of love.  The rap-infused Play Game depicts the struggle between living out the uncertainty of your dream or entering the corporate world which is a prevalent theme throughout the film.

tick, tick BOOM! explores the little victories, the bigger victories, and the gut-wrenching defeats in Larson’s personal and professional world.  However, what is genuinely important becomes painfully clear and what truly inspires his work changes as the film progresses.

tick, tick BOOM! is currently streaming on Netflix. Click here for more information on RENT’s 25th Anniversary Farewell Tour.

REVIEW:  Academy of the Company Theatre’s ‘Les Miserables School Edition’ cast Turning, Turning Wise Beyond their Years

Having read Victor Hugo’s epic novel Les Miserables, witnessed three film adaptations including a 1998 mediocre version starring Claire Danes as Cosette and Liam Neesen as Jean Valjean (without an Eponine), GBH’s 10th and 25th anniversary of Les Miserables in Concert as well as Les Miserables live onstage from Broadway to Lexus Broadway in Boston to right here a few years ago at the Company Theatre, the Academy of the Company Theatre’s Les Miserables School Edition features the youngest cast I’ve ever witnessed onstage.  Les Miserables is a masterful show and a paramount redemption tale, but it does deal in underlying mature themes such as criminal injustices, swindling, prostitution, and war.

Weston Hammond as Javert and Sal Garcia as Jean Valjean Photo credit to Dean Palmer Jr./Zoe Bradford

Set in 18th century France, Les Miserables is a brilliant tale about an escaped convict attempting to rebuild his life under the watchful eye of Inspector Javert.  Life experience suggests that adults might have a firmer grasp on the show’s complicated and mature themes, but with exceptional Sal Garcia starring as Jean Valjean and a wise beyond their years cast, it is not difficult to imagine.

Skillfully directed and staged by Sally Forrest and musically-directed by Melissa Carubia, Academy of the Company Theatre (ACT) presents Les Miserables School Edition continuing through Sunday, January 30 live and in person at the Company Theatre, 30 Accord Park Drive in Norwell, Massachusetts.  This musical is over two hours with one intermission.  The School Edition is a bit abbreviated, but only meticulous fans of the full length musical would notice.  Click here for more information and tickets. 

Will Moon as The Bishop of Digne and Sal Garcia as Jean Valjean Photo credit to Dean Palmer Jr/Company Theatre

With a thick beard and an imposing figure, it is not much of a stretch of the imagination that Sal Garcia could take on the reigns of Jean Valjean.  With a vocal range from a whispered lullaby to a powerful belt, Garcia’s vocal gymnastics take off from Soliloquy onward and especially for extraordinary solos, Bring Him Home and Who Am I.  At just 16 years old, it is amazing to think his voice will only become more powerful and pliable in the years to come.  Garcia as Valjean and Will Moon’s clear and distinct vocals as the Bishop of Digne combine for a moving performance in the musical’s most pivotal and iconic scene.  Valjean’s encounters with Weston Hammond as mysterious Inspector Javert work well together to fuel the mounting tension between them.  Hammond’s deep baritone and Garcia’s versatile vocals heighten each scene together.

Sal Garcia as Jean Valjean and Brianna Casey as Fantine Photo credit to Dean Palmer Jr./Company Theatre

Brianna Casey may look young, but her deep and rich vocals exude that maturity needed to take on Fantine’s complexities from a struggling mother to a woman haunted by visions of the past exhibited in the anguish of I Dreamed a Dream.

Elsa Hancock-Happ as Young Cosette is pitch perfect and adorable, but her distinct and reactive facial expressions with the Thenardiers are the most fun to watch.   Jack Baumrind is a little scene stealer as Garouche, his sweet smile and streetwise antics outsmarting most everyone he encounters.

Tessa Beshere and Jackson Parker as the manipulative and amusing Thenardiers only seem to get better as the show progresses.  With a cackling laugh, scheming Parker as Thenardier excels in the show’s darkest number, Dog Eat Dog with Garcia as Valjean and Dabady as Marius.  The Thenardiers’ playful, dynamic chemistry and physical humor is at its best as they become the life of the party for Beggars at the Feast.

Jackson Parker as Thenardier and Tessa Beshere as Madame Thenardier Photo courtesy of Zoe Bradford/Company Theatre

Usually I don’t care for the character of Cosette, but Katherine Dee changes my mind through her angelic, soaring soprano vocals and sweet chemistry with Gilbert Dabady as strong-willed and charming Marius.  Dabady exhibits playful chemistry with a lovely Isabelle Assaf as Eponine.  The trio creates beautiful harmonies for A Heart Full of Love and the collective cast’s harmonies are exceptional for One Day More.

Gilbert Gabady as Marius and Katherine Zee as Cosette ‘A Heart Full of Love’ Photo courtesy of Zoe Bradford/Company Theatre

Antoine Aoun is also memorable and charismatic as Enjolras, leader of a student revolution.  Aoun builds excitement for the future with ABC Café and The People’s Song.

Antoine Aoun as Enjolras with revolutionaries and the barricade Photo credit to Zoe Bradford/Company Theatre

From subtle cobblestone streets to the finely detailed and massive barricade, Ryan’s Barrow’s set design strikes the contrasting tone of the elite and the poverty-stricken parts of France accentuated by Martine Assaf’s aesthetically pleasing costumes faithful to the musical’s vision.  Dean Palmer Jr.’s impressive lighting is prominent throughout the production from an atmospheric glow to flickering street lamps to twinkling stars to illuminated lanterns most evident in a gorgeous display for Turning and the unique and stirring staging accentuates the resonating and timely number, Empty Chairs at Empty Tables led by Dabady who pays melancholic and poignant tribute to ghosts of the past.

Academy of the Company Theatre (ACT) presents Les Miserables School Edition continuing through Sunday, January 30 live and in person at the Company Theatre, 30 Accord Park Drive in Norwell, Massachusetts.  Click here for more information and tickets.

REVIEW:  Lexus Broadway in Boston’s glitzy ‘Pretty Woman the Musical’ fluffy but fun

Sure, it’s escapism, but isn’t that what Pretty Woman is all about?

Based on the hit film adaptation starring breakout star Julia Roberts and then megastar Richard Gere, Pretty Woman put a fairy tale spin on a story about a clever prostitute who charms a rich guy.  The film is produced by Disney no less and solidly directed by the esteemed Garry Marshall.  With natural elegance, pitch perfect comic timing, and tangible chemistry with Gere who she went on to star with in other film projects due to their thriving and bankable chemistry, Julia Roberts instantly became America’s Sweetheart at just 21 years old.

Adam Pascal as Edward and Olivia Valli as Vivian Photo credit to Lexus Broadway in Boston

A lot of big box office movies become musicals, so Pretty Woman was inevitable.

Directed and choreographed by Jerry Mitchell with music by award-winning singer-songwriters Bryan Adams and Jim Vallance, Lexus Broadway in Boston’s Pretty Woman the Musical continues live and in person at the Citizens Bank Opera House in Boston, Massachusetts through Sunday, January 30.  Click here for more information and for tickets.

While the musical lacks Roberts and Gere’s tangible chemistry, Pretty Woman the Musical is still a fun adaptation with a few memorable musical numbers and includes the beloved and iconic moments that charged the 90s rom com classic.  However, I do wish the show took its time a little more.  The scenes and dialogue at times seem rushed, but with a show already two plus hours, that can be understandable.  There is a great deal to cover from the music to the wealth of the film’s signature moments, but perhaps subtracting the more forgettable reprises might make up for the patches of rushed pacing.

Olivia Valli and Saleswomen on Rodeo Drive Photo credit to Lexus Broadway in Boston

From colorful street clothes to flowing, runway fashion to majestic gowns that include Vivian’s iconic red dress, costume designer Gregg Barnes exacts the splashy nature and 80s/90s vibe of this fantasy fairy tale.  Fashion bursts onto the scene in the flashy number, Rodeo Drive oozing in the elegance of many shoppers’ fondest dreams and can’t help but notice Jessica Crouch as Kit’s amazing and glittery red and gold heels.

Kyle Taylor Parker as Happy Man Photo credit to Lexus Broadway in Boston

One performer who does more of the heavy lifting in this version is Kyle Taylor Parker as Happy Man.  He not only carries his excellent and fun-loving charisma to the neon glow of Hollywood Boulevard for What’s Your Dream, a catchy opening number with a tropic tinge, but keep an eye out for Parker to pop up unexpectedly and delightedly in various sequences throughout the production boasting sharp comic wit and dynamic spontaneity. 

Olivia Valli, the granddaughter of Frankie Valli, has a lot to live up to and does not do a Julia Roberts impression even through those signature red curls, but she makes the part her own as a goofier free spirit and an even faster-talking Vivian than in Roberts’s memorable performance.  Julia Roberts had more of an established elegance in her role, even when she is trying to look tough.  Valli has her own unique and bubbly comic timing.  She performs a charming rendition of This is My Life, created from one of Vivian’s monologues to Edward.  She also delivers a heightened and powerful solo for I Can’t Go Back.

An iconic Rodeo Drive moment in Pretty Woman Photo credit to Lexus Broadway in Boston

Adam Pascal as quiet, powerful, and observant Edward lacks Richard Gere’s subtle charm though he sounds a lot like Gere.  His character is developed further than in the film, especially during his insightful solo, Freedom which is a nice addition drawn from Edward’s monologue in the film to Vivian.

Jessica Crouch’s vocal gymnastics with a rock edge as Kit uplifted Luckiest Girl in the World alongside Olivia Valli as Vivian and in the bright and catchy number, Never Give Up on a Dream.  Kit’s spitfire persona and shoot-from-the hip attitude is a heightened version of Laura San Giocomo’s benchmark performance, but here Kit is a more established character and given a larger arc than in the film.  She and Olivia Valli have a warm camaraderie evident from Kit’s first scene. 

Jessica Crouch as Kit and Olivia Valli as Vivian Photo credit to Lexus Broadway in Boston

Jason Alexander has said that his opportunity for George from Seinfeld came from Pretty Woman and it was a hard fought battle for him to play the role of Edward’s lawyer and friend, Phillip Stuckey.  However, in this version, Brent Thiessen filling for Matthew Stocke, is more of what director Garry Marshall originally had in mind for Stuckey’s intimidating, slimy, and snarky persona (imagine if Bradley Cooper took this role) and Olivia Valli as Vivian’s updated interactions with him are a little different this time around and more welcoming.   

Amma Osei as Violetta and cast Photo credit to Lexus Broadway in Boston

Whether it’s the astounding vocals from Amma Osei as Violetta or the scene’s up close and personal delivery or even Pascal’s beautiful rendition of You and I, which has an unmistakable Bryan Adams influence, the iconic opera scene between Vivian and Edward stands out as is one of the best scenes in the musical.

Lexus Broadway in Boston’s Pretty Woman the Musical continues live and in person at the Citizens Bank Opera House in Boston, Massachusetts through Sunday, January 30.  Click here for more information and for tickets.