REVIEW: Reagle Music Theatre’s ‘La Cage aux Folles’ a rollicking, madcap extravaganza with heart

Robin Williams had many memorable roles, but one of his most amusing roles was alongside Nathan Lane in the 1996 film adaptation of “La Cage Aux Folles,” “The Birdcage.”  Who could forget when Robin gave that dance tutorial?

Though “The Birdcage” was set in Miami Beach, the musical production of “La Cage Aux Folles” is set in Saint Tropez, France.  With European flair and heart, Reagle Music Theatre of Greater Boston presents the wild, gender-bending, and hilarious musical, “La Cage Aux Folles” through Sunday, August 18 at Robinson Theatre in Waltham, Massachusetts.  Click here for more information and tickets.

Reagle Music Theatre of Greater Boston La Cage aux Folles James Darrah as Albin with the Cagelles

James Darrah as Albin (center) and Les Cagelles Photo courtesy of Reagle Music Theatre of Greater Boston

A translucent, glittering blue curtain was just a glimpse of the glitz behind it as the musical’s catchy and exotic overture began, peppered with European flair.  Directed by Susan Chebookjian with book by Harvey Fierstein and music and lyrics by Jerry Herman, “La Cage aux Folles” is about Georges (J.T. Turner) who runs a drag night club and Albin (James Darrah) is the show’s star attraction.  When Georges’s son announces his engagement, everyone realizes they are in for a lot more than they bargained for.

With amazing choreography by Susan M. Chebookjian and Daniel Forest Sullivan, “La Cage aux Folles” bursts with color, razzle dazzle, and unlike “The Birdcage,” features a lot more dance numbers delivered by the sharp and athletic Les Cagelles.  The opening, gender bending tune, We Are What We Are, is a nimble display of tight choreography while the signature number, La Cage aux Folles is stylized, bizarre, and fascinating.  The show is also semi-interactive, which contributes to some of the productions most amusing moments.

Matthew Wright and Alison Pugh’s fantastic costumes are flashy, elegant, and over the top featuring wild, multi-colored wigs, shimmering gowns accented with furs and other costumes using an array of materials such as velour and silk with a bit of 70s flair.  The colorful set, by David Allen Jeffrey, is equally exotic featuring velvet couches and gold accents as well as its share of seaside, Mediterranean flavor and little French nuances at Cafe Renaud.

Reagle Music Theatre of Greater Boston La Cage aux Folles J.T. Turner as Georges

J.T. Turner as Georges Photo courtesy of Reagle Music Theatre of Greater Boston

The quirky, madcap cast is an excellent study in contrasting perspectives and family dysfunction.  In a purple velour coat with bowtie, J.T. Turner delivers a charming, comical, and tender performance as Georges.  Love struck and irresistibly likable, Georges is the heart of the show.  He has a beautiful rapport with Jonathan Acorn as his son, Jean-Michel and James Darrah as Albin, delivering heartfelt renditions of Look over There and wistful Song in the Sand.  The impressive comic timing between Turner as Georges and Darrah as Albin doesn’t get much better than during the number, Masculinity, especially while demonstrating their best John Wayne.

Reagle Music Theatre of Greater Boston La Cage aux Folles Cafe Renaud

James Darrah as Albin (center), J.T. Turner as Georges (right) and cast Photo courtesy of Reagle Music Theatre of Greater Boston

James Darrah as Albin, who possesses more than a passing resemblance to Nathan Lane, delivers a dramatic, engaging, and powerful performance as Albin.  Often not so fashionably late, Albin contends with his longing to hide from the world and his undeniable need to make an entrance.  His rendition of I Am What I Am is a Tour de Force performance, the best number of the show.  Full of bravery, yearning, and emotional weight, it is an anthem for those who feel like they do not belong.

Reagle Music Theatre of Greater Boston La Cage aux Folles James Darrah as Albin

James Darrah as Albin in Reagle Music Theatre of Greater Boston’s “La Cage aux Folles” Photo courtesy of Reagle Music Theatre of Greater Boston

Jonathan Acorn as anxious Jean-Michel is madly in love with his fiancée Anne.  She delivers a sweet and earnest performance by Lily Steven.  Theirs is a sweet love story and Acorn’s beautiful timbre is on full display during the affectionate number Anne on my Arm.

The show cuts loose with adventurous and delightful Maureen Brennan as Marie up against Rich Allegretto as relentlessly frowning, disdainful and uptight M. Dindon.   Speaking of cutting loose, Benz Atthakarunpan’s energetic, smirking Jacob delivers more than a few self deprecating moments in outrageous and surprising costumes while Ellen Peterson brings cleverness and a great set of pipes to Jacqueline.

Reagle Music Theatre of Greater Boston La Cage aux Folles Dinner

J.T. Turner as Georges, Jonathan Acorn as Jean-Michel, Lily Steven as Anne, Rich Allegretto as Dindon, Maureen Brennan as Marie, and James Darrah as Albin Photo courtesy of Reagle Music Theatre of Greater Boston

The show is a bit lengthy, but delivers more than its share of laughs from the dynamic and charismatic cast.  With pizzazz and heart, Reagle Music Theater of Greater Boston presents their final musical of the summer, “La Cage Aux Folles” through Sunday, August 18 at the Robinson Theatre, 617 Lexington Street in Waltham, Massachusetts.

Click here for more information and tickets.  Follow Reagle Music Theatre of Greater Boston on Twitter and Facebook for upcoming events and more.

REVIEW: Bridgewater State University’s Family Performing Arts Center’s lighter ‘The Wizard of Oz’ inventive fun for the whole family

A group of Nelson Mandela Fellows and visitors from China we among the enthusiastic audience attending Bridgewater State University’s (BSU) Family Performing Arts Center’s ‘The Wizard of Oz.’  Featuring full versions of ‘The Wizard of Oz’s’ beloved soundtrack such as Somewhere over the Rainbow and If I Only Had a Brain, this ‘Wizard of Oz’ is a bright, inventive look at a sweet Kansas farm girl and her dog who find themselves in a strange land with no idea how to get home and a witch suddenly in their wake.

Family Performing Arts Center presents ‘The Wizard of Oz’ through Sunday, July 28 at Bridgewater State University’s Rondileau Campus Center Auditorium in Bridgewater, Massachusetts.  Click here for more information and for tickets.  Click here for a closer look at the production.  Save 10% when you use the code ‘BRAIN’ at online checkout.  This show is suitable for all ages.

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Mary Kate McDonald as Dorothy Gale and her dog Toto Costumes by Mary Hurd and Photo credit to Deidre Confrare/BSU’s Family Performing Arts Center

From the moment Mary Kate McDonald as Dorothy, in braids and blue gingham overalls, vocally glides through the full version of Harold Arlen’s Somewhere Over the Rainbow which includes the song’s lesser known introduction, it was clear this show was going to be something special.  A beautiful soprano, McDonald is adorable as spunky Dorothy, depicting her with curiosity and a determined spirit, but careful not to let her impulsiveness get the better of her.  Her interaction with Toto, portrayed and operated by an ensemble character, gives Toto dimension.  Though at first it was disappointing Toto wasn’t a live dog, it ended up being a clever touch.  The human expressions and movements make Toto that much more endearing.

Featuring a couple of songs and a few characters not included in the 1939 film and a subtle twist ending, BSU’s Family Performing Arts Center keeps this production with its share of freshness and surprises.  With orchestration by Larry Wilcox and Peter Howard and background music by Herbert Stothart, ‘The Wizard of Oz’s’ enchanting soundtrack is no joke, as rarely heard and welcome introductions are weaved into each familiar number.  Conducted by Eli Bigelow, the orchestra impressively sets the mood to each comical and exciting scene.  Though the Jitterbug number is not included in the 1939 film and seems a bit dated and silly, the kids will certainly enjoy the darkly comedic piece.

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A Kansas landscape Costumes by Mary Hurd and Photo credit to Deidre Confrare/ BSU’s Family Performing Arts Center

‘The Wizard of Oz’ also boasts unique choreography, rich lighting, and picturesque sets.  For example, the yellow brick road is cleverly demonstrated more through props and choreography than a literal road.  Another notable moment is the intriguing choreography used during the poppies scene enhanced by bright, hand painted sets by Maia Hay and Michael Duarte.  Christopher Scully’s brilliant lighting and Michael Duarte’s sets portray rich silhouettes of the Kansas landscape and Oz which can dazzling or frightening.

This production has a few more comical moments to keep the show a bit lighter, but does not take away from the show’s poignancy and excitement.  It was a surprise to discover Haley McKenney as Glinda and Aunt Em.  McKenney could not have portrayed the two characters more differently.  Decked out in a feathered stole and shimmering tiara, McKenney’s vivacious Glinda is a high energy diva, chipper-voiced and almost maniacally giggly while the plainly stoic Aunt Em is a practical, but the nonetheless a compassionate soul.

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In a winged black hat, Katia Greene’s unpredictable Wicked Witch has her wicked moments, but portrayed a bit more comically with a spin on the character that I’ve never considered.  Greene clearly relishes the role, delivering an energetic and intimidating performance.  Neha Groves captures the mysterious, well meaning, but somewhat bombastic Professor Marvel.

However, Christopher Starr is an expert tumbler and his pliable body and good-natured demeanor make him a wonderful Scarecrow.  Steven Sawan as Tinman and Jim Quinn as Cowardly Lion both give endearing, comical performances.  Quinn’s baritone and quick wit make the number, If I Were King of the Forest a lot of fun.  With McDonald as Dorothy, they develop a lasting, captivating camaraderie that ring especially true during the numbers We’re Off to See the Wizard, The Merry Old Land of Oz, and Lions and Tigers and Bears.

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Christopher Starr as Scarecrow, Steven Sawan as Tinman, Mary Kate McDonald as Dorothy, and Jim Quinn as Cowardly Lion. Costumes by Mary Hurd and Photo credits to Deidre Confrare/BSU’s Family Performing Arts Center

Take a trip down the yellow brick road with BSU’s Family Performing Arts Center’s production of ‘The Wizard of Oz’ continuing through July 28 at Rondileau Campus Center Auditorium, 19 Park Avenue in Bridgewater, Massachusetts.  Click here for more information and for tickets.  Save 10% when you use the code ‘BRAIN’ at online checkout.   Follow BSU’s Family Performing Arts Center on Facebook for future events and more.

REVIEW: Hingham Civic Music Theatre’s ‘Sweet Charity’ has fun, laughs, and the right moves

She’s just a girl in love with love.  Swipe right for the Tony award-winning, romantic musical dramedy instilled with a dose of cynicism, Sweet Charity.  Unforeseen high jinks and adventures find Charity as she makes her way through what can be a harsh reality.  Before Julia Roberts stepped onto the L.A. streets in the popular film, Pretty Woman, Charity wondered Central Park.  Both have a heart of gold.

With music by Cy Coleman, lyrics by Dorothy Fields, book by Neil Simon, and directed by Nathan Fogg, Hingham Civic Music Theatre (HCMT) continues Sweet Charity through Sunday, May 5 at the Sanborn Auditorium in Hingham, Massachusetts.  This show is for mature audiences and not for young children.  Click here for more information and tickets.

HCMT's 'Sweet Charity' - tap dance

Emilee Leahy as Charity Photo courtesy of Hingham Civic Music Theatre

Sweet Charity is one of those rare opportunities to witness a collaboration featuring theatrical icons playwright Neil Simon and director and choreographer Bob Fosse.  Oh yes, and Fosse’s then wife, muse, and dance dynamo Gwen Verdon starred in the musical’s stage debut in the 60s.

Bob Fosse and Gwen Verdon’s influence is still as lively as ever as FX continues Fosse/Verdon, a biographical miniseries starring Sam Rockwell as Bob Fosse and Michelle Williams as Gwen Verdon.  Coincidentally, Fosse/Verdon also covers in part the making of Sweet Charity.  Fosse Fever has certainly been evident on the South Shore of Massachusetts as two adaptations of Chicago recently took the stage in close succession.

Perhaps it’s the Neil Simon influence, but Sweet Charity seems to tread on the lighter side of Fosse’s popular works.  It has its edgy moments and not for everyone, but Sweet Charity depends much more on humor than darkness.  Though Pretty Woman might be a beloved, yet formulaic tale, Sweet Charity is less predictable and not a by-the-numbers romantic comedy.  The costumes, by Kathryn Ridder and company, are fitted and flashy and the dialogue is snappy and at times, charming.  At one point, Emilee Leahy as Charity sings, “You’re so strong, you have muscles you don’t need.”

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After portraying resourceful criminal Velma Kelly in Massasoit Theatre Company’s production of Chicago,  Emilee Leahy delivers a breezier performance as coy yet sweet, aware and yet sometimes naïve, hopeful and pensive Charity Hope Valentine.  Charity can be a poor judge of character, but Leahy’s Charity proves to be worth rooting for.  She has a pliable vocal range and is certainly light on her feet as she slips into a spontaneous tap routine featuring the famous number, If They Could See Me Now, decked out with a signature Fosse top hat and cane.

Speaking of dance, Sweet Charity offers an array of Fosse-inspired dance sequences, tinged with retro flair.  Choreographer Samantha-Brior Jones, Music Director Sandee Brayton, and Dance Captain Mary Donahue turn up the heat with sharp and distinctive choreography as the Fan-dango Ballroom dancers perform a fierce, steamy, and hip shaking Hey Big Spender.  The sweeping, sophisticated, 60s-inspired Rich Man’s Frug featuring Pompeii Club dancers in all-black has a classic vibe to it while Rhythm of Life is an outrageous, seemingly spiritual journey.

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Kristen Annese as Nickie and Pompeii Club dancers Photo courtesy of Hingham Civic Music Theatre

The characters that Charity encounter seem a bit melodramatic, showing it doesn’t take itself too seriously.  With great New York accents, Kristen Annese as Nickie and Lindsay Warwick as Helene are a plucky, street smart comedy duo.  Their rendition of Baby Dream Your Dream has a lot of reassuring sass and they share playful, if at times mildly-snarky camaraderie with Charity.

Leah Shiels as Ursula and Rob Buckel-Gillis as Vittorio make an exotic celebrity pair, decked out in shimmering attire.   Buckel-Gillis delivers a beautiful rendition of Too Many Tomorrows.  Tony Light is comical as Oscar, a panicked claustrophobic.   Shirtless and in suspenders, Rylan Vachon delivers a wildly energetic, off-the-wall performance as zany preacher Daddy Brubeck.  Mike Warner as Herman also delivers some laughs, but keep an eye on his T-shirts.  Trust me.

Hingham Civic Music Theatre offers two remaining performances of Sweet Charity on Saturday, May 4 and a Sunday matinee on May 5 at the Sanborn Auditorium in Hingham Town Hall, 210 Central Street in Hingham, Massachusetts.  Click here for more information and for tickets.  Tickets are also available at the door.  Be sure to follow Hingham Civic Music Theatre on Facebook and click here to learn how to support HCMT’s upcoming productions.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

REVIEW: Company Theatre’s ‘Evita’ is a touch of star quality

She was a mystery, but everyone thought they knew her.  From a sassy, excitable teenager to rising political figure, Eva (Evita) Peron knew she belonged at the top before she ever knew how to get there.  Having recently celebrated its 40th Anniversary like the Company Theatre, The Company Theatre proudly presents Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Tony award-winning musical, Evita through March 31 at The Company Theatre in Norwell, Massachusetts.  This production is currently sold out.  Click here for more information on the Company Theatre’s upcoming productions and more.

Evita, with music, book and lyrics by award-winning collaborators Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice, is a rock opera set in Argentina.  Part of what makes Evita such a captivating work is its vibrant pacing, handled beautifully by Sally Ashton Forrest.  Based on the life of Maria Eva Peron, Evita’s life moves much like the soundtrack’s quick rhythms. The audience is taken through song from night club to city street to porch step with barely a pause for applause, its sweeping sets divulge Eva’s life in its sheer magnitude.

Company Theatre Evita Kristen Huberdeau as Evita with cast

Kristen Huberdeau as Evita with cast Photo courtesy of The Company Theatre

This version of Evita features real footage from Eva Peron’s life and includes songs not featured in the latest 1996 film.  The Art of the Possible, a cryptic number not in the film and featuring five officers, is particularly engaging.  Evita is a young woman taking Argentina by storm…until she locks eyes with Peron, portrayed with regal like mindedness by Dan Kelly.

The Company Theatre Evita Dan Kelly as Peron

Dan Kelly as Peron Photo courtesy of The Company Theatre

Kristen Huberdeau exudes excitable sass and a bright, wide smile when she first appears as a teenager.  However, Huberdeau’s Evita, behind her feigned naivete, is shrewd as soon as her feet hit the ground for the catchy, effervescent number, Buenos Aires.  Huberdeau takes Evita from a vivacious teenager onward and excels at her developing influence and maturity through the years.  She hits her stride with Buenos Aires, a joyous, catchy number about her instant love for the city and keeps up the brisk pace for this demanding role throughout, though some notes were a bit strained.  She delivered an impressive version of Evita’s signature number, Don’t Cry for Me Argentina, glowing in a pristine gown.

No one succeeds without opposition.  Che, portrayed with charisma and sardonic wit by Ken Bayliss, is part keen observer, part narrator, and represents the working class.  In a beret and military fatigues, he occasionally engages the crowd, but his primary focus is on Evita.  Bayliss captures the essence of Che and makes the role uniquely his own, leaving no trace of previous versions I have seen.  From his observations in Oh What a Circus, his humorous duet in Good Night and Thank You with Huberdeau, and the reflective ballad, High Flying Adored, you’ll be glad to be taking this musical journey with Bayliss.

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With rich, charming vocals for his signature song. On This Night of a Thousand Stars, Ryan Barrow blends sensitivity, melodrama, and humor to night club singer, Magaldi and was a hit with the audience.  A couple of other notable numbers include a sweet rendition of Another Suitcase in Another Hall by Sydney Palmer and a stirring, candlelit rendition of Santa Evita.

The Company Theatre proudly presents Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Tony award-winning musical, Evita through March 31 at the Company Theatre, 30 Accord Park Drive in Norwell, Massachusetts.  This production is currently sold out.  Click here for more information and and how to support Company Theatre’s future.  Follow Company Theatre on FacebookInstagram and Twitter for more on their upcoming events.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

REVIEW SpeakEasy Stage’s ‘Once’ a celebration even within its quiet moments

Dancing fiddlers and a rollicking music celebration is only the beginning.  Directed by Paul Melone and adapted from the 2007 romantic musical film of the same name, The SpeakEasy Stage Company presents the Tony Award-winning musical, Once extended through Sunday, April 7 at the Calderwood Pavilion in Boston, Massachusetts.  Click here for more information and for tickets.

Welcoming early arrivals to the show is a lively, comical, pre-show band that is also part of the talented Once cast.  Each cast member is also a musician and they all get their moment to shine.  With naturally flowing choreography by Ilyse Robbins, stomping guitarists and dueling fiddlers joyfully romp in a freestyle dance with the drummer.  The band has such personality and the performance is a wonderful preface to a quietly beautiful love story about a pair of lonely musicians who long for their place in the world.

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Eric Levenson’s absorbing set design enhances the production’s soulful atmosphere, featuring instruments hanging around a brick arch while musicians pop up sporadically during the production.  Though Once is set in Dublin, takes a lot at Czech and Irish traditions.  Guy is a lonely, sensitive street performer from Northside Dublin.  Portrayed with tight lipped earnestness by Nile Scott Hawver, Guy expresses his raw emotion through his songwriting, immediately leaving an impact with his first number, Leave.

Guy meets Girl, a talkative Czech pianist portrayed with quirky charm by Mackenzie Lesser-Roy.  Their immediate, humorous chemistry and her heartening, compassionate demeanor toward him is a particular highlight only topped by their remarkable duets, heightened during the show’s signature song, Falling Slowly.

Hawver does an impressive job portraying Guy’s gradual vulnerability while showing off his comic chops, especially during the song Broken Hearted Hoover Fixer Sucker Guy, but it is Lesser-Roy who shines, her chiming voice delivering a stirring rendition of The Hill and If You Want Me.  She carries a longing and loneliness she recognizes in Guy and her plucky, irrepressible optimism leaves a mark on everyone she meets.

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Once also has its share of amusing moments.  Billy Butler is hilarious as hot blooded, macho music shop owner, Billy.  Jeff Song is a delight as Bank Manager in a wildly enthusiastic version of Abandoned in BandonJacob Brandt and Kathy St. George are charming as perpetual dreamer Andrej and as candid, strong-willed Girl’s mother Baruska respectively.

The songs on Once’s acoustic, fiddle-laden soundtrack contain timeless, contemplative messages and the ensemble certainly contributes to its playful moments, but Once’s greatest strength is its subtle nuances and the impalpable stillness within this simple tale, most evident in the ensemble’s lovely, a capella version of Gold.  Love can a simple, quiet declaration that lingers long after the show is over.

SpeakEasy Stage presents the Tony Award-winning musical, Once extended through Sunday, April 7 at the Calderwood Pavilion, 539 Tremont Street in Boston, Massachusetts.  Click here for more information and for tickets.  Click here for a closer look at the SpeakEasy Stage and its 2019 season.

REVIEW: Lexus Broadway in Boston’s ‘Beautiful: The Carole King Musical’ some kind of wonderful triumph

Triumph she does.  Carole King, one of the most successful songwriters of the latter part of the 20th century, had talent from the first time she walked in the studio at age 16.  This is not the average biopic where the protagonist has to overcome some sort of terrible tragedy or failure, but a woman on the move from the very start.

Boasting a library of hits before Carole even considers taking the stage to perform her own music, this show brings on the nostalgia of passing generations from the chic retro clothes to the distinctive music style.  It is a sweeping musical from a songwriter’s perspective with few low notes and anyway, why not pack a show with hits and a lighter story that just might leave you smiling?

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Sarah Bockel as Carole King Photo credit to Lexus Broadway in Boston

Lexus Broadway in Boston concluded Beautiful:  The Carole King Musical‘s run on Sunday, February 10.  Beautiful:  The Carole King Musical recently celebrated five years on Broadway.  Click here to see where this captivating show will be next.  Click here more on Broadway in Boston’s stellar season.

From the moment Carole makes contact with that baby grand piano for a lively rendition of I Feel the Earth Move, impressive, rolling sets transport her into her Brooklyn home where she first started writing.  Portrayed by Elise Vannerson throughout the show, Carole is introspective yet dreamy, seemingly more than ready for her life to take off.  Vannerson captures the essence of her ambition, shyness, and tenacity.  Her soaring vocals is an impressive tribute to Carole’s trademark voice.   Suzanne Grodner portrays Genie Klein, Carole King’s mother, with humorous, cynical sass and sensibility as she cuts Carole a deal.

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The Drifters: Darius Delk, Dimitri Joseph Moise, Deon Releford-Lee, and Nathan Andrew Riley Photo credit to Lexus Broadway in Boston

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The Shirelles:  Harper Miles, DeAnne Stewart, Danielle J. Summons, and Alexis Tidwell  Photo credit to Lexus Broadway in Boston

Dominating this tale is some of the most popular music of the 20th century and Beautiful offers a peek into how some of these songs hit the charts.  A rollicking mix of hits including There Goes My Baby and Yakety Yak encompasses the sensational 1650 Broadway Medley as a glittering display of guitars, scripts, music sheets, and sound systems hang in the background.  From shimmering gowns to some of the era’s most popular, colorful fashion trends, Allejo Vietti’s costume design blends perfectly with Joyce Chittick’s lively choreography, a compelling spectrum of classic dance moves and crazes of each era.  It’s an era so influenced by Carole King’s songwriting and that of her peers.

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From Left to right: James Clow as Don Kirshner, Dylan S. Wallach as Gerry Goffin, Sarah Bockel as Carole King, Jacob Heimer as Barry Mann, and Alison Whitehurst as Cythia Weil Photo credit to Lexus Broadway in Boston

Beautiful:  The Carole King Musical is full of moments of light humor and endearing chemistry among the cast.  With smooth, pliable vocals, Dylan S. Wallach portrays idealistic, sharp, and a bit macho Gerry Goffin.  He and Elise Vannerson as Carole have charming chemistry and moments of cute awkwardness.  They complement each other and their duets are particularly memorable.  Alison Whitehurst as confident and driven Cynthia Weil and Jacob Heimer as hypochondriac Barry Mann make a fascinating comic duo.   James Clow is also impressive as warm, inventive, and open minded Don Kirshner, who always knows talent when he sees it.

Click here to see where Beautiful:  The Carole King Musical will be next.  Lexus Broadway in Boston’s upcoming performances include A Bronx Tale, Hello Dolly, Dear Evan Hanson, as well as the return of The Illusionists, Miss Saigon, Les Miserables.  Click here for a closer look at their season and follow them on Facebook and Twitter.

 

 

 

Sleepless Beyond the Stage: Building a dream with Richard Bento, President of South Shore Theatre Works

Building a dream always has its share of surprises and challenges. However, with determination, hard work, and more than a touch of luck, those sought after dreams can become a reality.  Sleepless Beyond the Stage explores the reality of making that dream come true, whether by building an organization, finally bringing that dream production to life, or starting a group that makes a difference.

Richard Bento, Executive Director and President of South Shore Theatre Works (SSTW) checked in with Sleepless Critic a few years ago as the theater was just getting on its feet.  Boasting a successful run of Seussical in December, SSTW’s upcoming productions include Blithe Spirit, Ordinary Days, and Chicago.  Richard Bento talks about how this Massachusetts theater has grown in a short time.  Click here for more information, auditions, and for tickets.

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Past performances of ‘Seussical the Musical’ December 2018

Sleepless Critic: Please tell me about your background and what inspired you to start South Shore Theatre Works?

Richard Bento:  I’ve participated in community and semi-professional theater throughout Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Georgia, and San Francisco.  One of my goals was to have a group of my own who share the same mission and passion I had for the arts.

A few years ago, I decided to participate in theater here and assist another community theater group.  I fell in love with the people.  We shared the same passion.  When we were at a crossroads needing to decide whether we were going to bring this other group to another level or start our own with other people who shared that same drive, I decided to put together South Shore Theatre Works.

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South Shore Theatre Works presents ‘Blithe Spirit’ February 15-17 in Randolph, MA Photo courtesy of South Shore Theatre Works

JD:  What would you say to those who are considering starting a community theater?

REVIEW: Company Theatre’s enhanced, lively production of Lionel Bart’s ‘Oliver! ‘kicks this classic up a notch

It was a nostalgic night witnessing Company Theatre’s livelier version of Lionel Bart’s musical, Oliver! having performed in the musical production in high school.  While my part was limited to selling roses on a busy London street, the Company Theatre opened up an entire world for the holidays with enhanced flair for Lionel Bart’s Oliver! continuing through Sunday, December 16 at The Company Theatre in Norwell, Massachusetts.  The production has recently sold out.  Click here for more information on the Company Theatre and their future productions.

Directed by Zoe Bradford and Jordie Saucerman and musically directed by Steve Bass with choreography by Sally Ashton Forrest, Lionel Bart’s Oliver!  is the latest version of this Charles Dickens’ classic.  This family production has enjoyed several tours and revivals in different parts of the world in its close to 60-year history.

It’s is the tale of a workhouse orphan who get entangled in a series of unfortunate events that lead him to face many adversaries, but stays strong in his search for hope and love.  With a large cast featuring memorable numbers such as Consider Yourself, As Long as He Needs Me, I’d Do Anything, and the title song, Oliver, this tale has its share of dark and humorous moments while delivering an important message about humanity that is especially relevant during the holidays.

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Matthew O’Connor as Oliver Photo courtesy of Company Theatre

During the holiday season, the Company Theatre tends to make whichever production they have chosen bigger and more spectacular in line with the spirit of the season.  Lionel Bart’s Oliver! stays consistent with that tradition featuring extended, more upbeat musical numbers, grander sets,  and sharper choreography, especially during the sweeping numbers and quicker pacing of Food, Glorious Food and Consider Yourself.

From the humble, stone-lined workhouse surroundings with a single banner that reads, ‘God is Love’ to a bright street setting, Ryan Barrow’s impressive, rolling set design details the diversity of 1840’s London.  Set pieces dropping from the ceiling was a particular highlight.

The musical’s classic line, ‘I want some more’ has never sounded more humble than from the adorable countenance of Matthew O’Connor as Oliver, a sweet, naïve, but daring workhouse orphan boy who, by uncontrollable circumstances, has an opportunity to see life beyond the workhouse walls.  He shares some amusing camaraderie with Colin Paduck as the Artful Dodger, portrayed with a thick, regional accent and a charismatic grin.  They stay in time with the children’s ensemble’s compelling choreography, an energetic bunch light on their feet during some of the production’s most challenging numbers.

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The Sowerberrys Christopher Spencer as Mr Sowerberry and Christa Dunn as Mrs. Sowerberry Photo courtesy of The Company Theatre

Mr. and Mrs. Sowerberry are wonderfully wicked together.  With a nasal voice and prominent sideburns, Christopher Spencer is quite comical as dour Mr. Sowerberry and Christa Dunn as stern and maybe a bit tipsy Mrs. Sowerberry.  With a prominent stance and a great voice, Francis Sheehan takes on the gruffly bombastic parish beadle Mr. Bumble.

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Colin Paduck as The Artful Dodger, Christopher Hagberg as Fagin, Matthew O’Connor as Oliver and the children’s ensemble Photo courtesy of Company Theatre

With a white beard, black hat, and flowing overcoat, Christopher Hagberg delivers a limber, stealthy performance as Fagin.  Hagberg captures the magic of Fagin, his deceptively good nature and comic greediness put on display in the number, You’ve Got to Pick a Pocket or Two and the fiddle-infused Reviewing the Situation.

Company Theatre's Oliver- Nancy, Oliver, Bet, and Artful Dodger

Brittany Rolfs as Nancy, Matthew O’Connor as Oliver, Aliyah Harris as Bet, and Colin Paduck as the Artful Dodger Photo courtesy of the Company Theatre

Brittany Rolfs brings sass and saavy to the role of Nancy, a sweet but tough woman who has mixed with the wrong crowd.  From her passionate, tenacious version of As Long as She Needs Me to the catchy harmony of the playful, rollicking number, Oom-Pah-Pah, Nancy is a force of her own onstage, sweet with the children, but always certain of what she wants.

With a deep seated growl and a menacing stare, Damian Smith steps into the role of troubled Bill Sikes.  In this production, The Company Theatre brings a new dimension and lesser known angle to this character as he stalks the city streets.  Remington is a welcome addition to the cast as scene stealing Bullseye, Bill Sikes’s dog.

The Company Theatre is capping off its 40th season with Lionel Bart’s Oliver! continuing through Sunday, December 16.  Click here for how to support the Company Theatre and here for more on their 2019 season.

 

Go green with Cohasset Dramatic Club’s sci fi horror comedy musical ‘Little Shop of Horrors’

Cohasset Dramatic Club’s comedy horror rock sci fi musical, Little Shop of Horrors, offers two very important life lessons.  Don’t feed the plants and everyone’s life should be narrated by a streetwise, Greek chorus.  Punctuated by the sweet, sassy sounds of female Greek chorus trio Chiffon, Crystal, and Ronnette, Cohasset Dramatic Club opened its 98th season with Little Shop of Horrors in all of its zany, outrageous glory on the Cohasset Town Hall stage in Cohasset, Massachusetts continuing through Sunday, November 18.  Click here for more information and tickets.

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Directed by Lisa Pratt, ‘Little Shop of Horrors’ continues through November 18! Photo courtesy of Cohasset Dramatic Club

Little Shop of Horrors, based on John Cullier’s short story Green Thoughts from 1932, has gone on to become a cult classic, with actors such as Jack Nicholson, Bill Murray, Rick Moranis, Steve Martin, and John Candy stepping into its various film adaptations.  A remake is in the works as it celebrates its 60th anniversary in 2020.

It’s a seemingly simple tale about young love on Skid Rowe in a fledgling flower shop that houses a curious, unique breed of plant.  Some critics compare it to the campy tone of the another cult classic, Rocky Horror Picture Show, but Little Shop of Horrors offers a more subtle brand of campy charm.

The show has a gift for funny, ironic contrasts right down to the bright, cheerful set design by Mark Bono with scenic artist Denise Feeney.   An ode to vintage 50s films of its time, Mr. Mushnik’s beautiful and pastel Floral Shop front seems hardly a place that belongs on Skide Row or Gutter as the name of a bar.  With few exceptions, the music, with lyrics by award-winning composer Alan Menken, has a catchy, rock n roll vibe, some tunes an ode to 60s girl groups.  From plaids to shimmering gowns, Colleen Craig as Chiffon, Michelle Margulies as Crystal and Cara Lee Chamberlain as Ronnette form a taut, humorous, street-smart trio, unveiling the real ins and outs of Skid Rowe through harmony, kicking it off with the catchy, signature track, Little Shop of Horrors.

With a distinctive, comedic voice and dark reading glasses, Jonathan Markella is a natural as Mr. Mushnik.  Shrewd, sensible, and a bit dour, Markella’s take on the firm, yet fidgety Mr. Mushnik is a memorable one.  He showcases his comedic chops best with Jordan Reymolds as Seymour in the clever number, Mushnik and Son.

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Jordan Reymolds as Seymour and Audrey II Photo courtesy of Cohasset Dramatic Club

With black glasses and a sweater vest, Jordan Reymolds is splendid as Seymour, a sympathetic, conflicted botanist.  With a bit of a crackly speaking voice and a light city accent, he is ever the shy, unassuming nerd that actor Rick Moranis stepped into in the 1986 film adaptation.  He shines in the darkly tender number, Grow for Me and his awkward adoration for Audrey, portrayed with stylish, effervescence by Adina Lunquist, exudes comic charm, at one moment he’s hoping to take her to “a fancy dinner at Howard Johnson’s.”  Linquist is wonderful, her silvery soprano vocals carrying a lullaby or a soulful belt with equal skill.  She shares her simple, 50s domestic dreams in Somewhere That’s Green and with Seymour who deliver a powerful rendition of Suddenly Seymour.

Brendan Smith rises to the occasion playing several roles including the outrageous, narcissistic biker dentist.  Having portrayed The Monster in Young Frankenstein, his pliable, animated features master a multitude of roles in stride.

The real spectacle is Audrey II, the sly soulful plant that changes everything.  With deep, soulful, animated vocals that harness a bit of Elvis and Robin Williams and skillfully manipulated by Mike Nakashima whose theatre history includes a part in Cohasset’s Avenue Q, Audrey II is an impressive specimen right down to its shiny, dangling teeth.

Directed by Lisa Pratt, Cohasset Dramatic Club presents Little Shop of Horrors through Sunday, November 18 at Cohasset Town Hall, 41 Highland Avenue in Cohasset, Massachusetts.  Click here for more information and tickets.  Learn more about Cohasset Dramatic Club by following on their Facebook page.

REVIEW: SpeakEasy Stage’s riveting musical, ‘Fun Home’ unveils the illusion of perfection

Every home withholds a multitude of secrets.  Under a softly lit, lattice rooftop, The SpeakEasy Stage Company takes an intimate look inside a family seemingly full of zeal and an old Victorian house so tidy and flawless on the outside, flanked with a towering bookshelf, a grand piano, and oriental rugs, it neatly hides the cracks and crevices underneath.  With clever scenic design by Cristina Todesco, SpeakEasy Stage unveils this absorbing musical as an interactive treat, every seat a good one, luring the audience into the Bechdel family’s complicated world.

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COME TO THE FUN HOME.  Marissa Simeqi, Luke Gold, and Cameron Levesquue in SpeakEasy Stage’s production of FUN HOME. Photo by Nile Scott Studios.

Based on the graphic novel memoir by Alison Bechdel and directed by Paul Daigneault, The SpeakEasy Stage presents the five-time Tony award-winning musical Fun Home through Sunday, November 24 at the Calderwood Pavilion at the Boston Center for the Arts in Boston, Massachusetts.  Click here for more information and tickets.

Looking back on life, it’s funny what you recall. Memories can be tricky.  As time goes by, perspective changes as a person grows, transforming a memory, gradually revealing details once never thought of or understood before.  That lattice rooftop seals in cartoonist Alison Bechdel’s intimate memories as she writes her memoirs through her work, ruminating on her childhood and upbringing to find out what ultimately makes her feel like she is stuck in life.  Alison uses cartoons because drawing as a child, she mused, “I need real things to draw from because I don’t trust memory.”

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Marissa Simeqi and Todd Yard in SpeakEasy Stage’s production of FUN HOME. Photo by Nile Scott Studios

Told through Alison’s perspective, she looks back on her relationship with her enigmatic, intellectual father Bruce and her traveling and ill at ease mother, Helen.  The show is a musical drama with its share of comedic, uplifting moments.  Alison is the only individual that outwardly transforms in this piece, thanks to the intense, meticulous work by Marissa Simeqi, adorably and precociously portrayed by Small Alison and Ellie van Amerongen, exceptional as naïve, charming, and nervous Medium Alison.

With black rimmed classes with short dark hair, Amy Jo Jackson slips into Alison’s façade, a mature, jaded and intellectually-driven individual.  With a dark sense of humor, Jackson narrates this emotional journey, evoking confusion, warmth, sorrow, and frustration in her fine features, building her strength in each new discovery.

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ALISON AT DESK. Marissa Simeqi and Amy Jo Jackson in SpeakEasy Stage’s production of FUN HOME. Photo by Nile Scott Studios.

Todd Yard, in a searing performance, masters the many sides of Alison’s father Bruce, who seems to juggle who is or should be to everyone, but cannot openly face his true nature.  With black rimmed glasses and dressed in khakis and a blue sweater, he is serious man with a brilliant intellect, aiming to be an expert on most everything.  Friendly, strict, and responsible, but as much as he loves his family, secretive and closed off.  Each Alison does a brilliant job in portraying their wrought frustration in every moment they attempt to make a genuine connection to him, but especially in the bittersweet song, Telephone Wire.  Yard’s vocals have a lovely, emotionally-rich quality reflected in whatever he sings including the poignant number Pony Girl, and most notably his harrowing rendition of Edges of the World  – a must see.

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EDGES OF THE WORLD. Todd Yard in SpeakEasy Stage’s production of FUN HOME. Photo by Nile Scott Studios.

Laura Marie Duncan portrays Alison’s complicated and misunderstood mother.  Surrounding herself with outward perfection, like her husband, Bruce, she lives her life distancing herself from reality, reflected in the moving number, Days and Days.  She personifies a woman with the traditional values of her generation, building security within the walls of her home.  Duncan, a beautiful soprano, is behind the house that shines, keeping the flaws out of sight.

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Led by and musically directed by Matthew Stern, the small onstage orchestra, spread out in front of the bookcase, features a soothing, fiddle-laden soundtrack that is a combination of light, airy, and melancholy.  From its opening song, It All Comes Back to the Flying Away finale, Jeanine Tesori’s captivating musical numbers hold a spectrum of rich, multi-faceted meaning.  The catchy, Partridge Family-inspired song, Rainbow of Love is a particular highlight, enhanced by bright colors and retro costumes, but sung in Small Alison’s hope of escaping reality.

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RAINCOAT OF LOVE. The cast of SpeakEasy Stage’s production of FUN HOME. Photo by Nile Scott Studios.

Some things cannot be fixed.  The painful and difficult moments, and those joyful moments, that might not have been as once imagined.  The best thing is to learn from it and take the next step.

SpeakEasy Stage Company’s Fun Home continues through Sunday, November 24 at the Calderwood Pavilion at the Boston Center for the Arts in Boston, Massachusetts.  Click here for more information and tickets.  Follow Speakeasy Stage on Facebook for more on their upcoming events.