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.

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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.

 

 

REVIEW: Celebrating their 70th anniversary, Hingham Civic Music Theatre delivers a feel good family favorite with ‘Annie’

Generations have grown up with some version of little orphan Annie and her trusty dog Sandy who meets billionaire tycoon Oliver Warbucks during Depression-era New York.  It is a classic family tale for all ages with the eternal promise that no matter what happens, there is always hope.  As the intimate, sweet-sounding orchestra chimed its first triumphant, horn-infused notes of the overture highlighting song snippets of It’s a Hard Knock LifeFully Dressed, and TomorrowHingham Civic Music Theatre (HCMT) proves this steadfast musical favorite never goes out of style.

To cap off their 70th anniversary, Hingham Civic Music Theatre brings back this beloved musical to an almost sold-out audience so try to capture the last few tickets now.  Directed and choreographed by Nathan Fogg and musically directed by Sandee Brayton, Annie continues through Sunday, November 10 at Hingham Town Hall located at 210 Central Street in Hingham, Massachusetts.  Click here for more information and for tickets.

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Abby Tondorf as Annie, Rob Buckel-Gillis as Oliver Warbucks, Sara Daly as Grace Farrell and the cast in the Big City Photo courtesy of Hingham Civic Music Theatre

What is such fun about Annie is although the story remains the same, there is always room to perform it a little differently each time.  Having seen the beloved 1982 film adaptation featuring a brilliant cast including Tim Curry, Carol Burnett, Bernadette Peters, Aileen Quinn, and Albert Finney, it is easy to forget the stage musical version sticks to the storyline for the most part, but also contains additional songs.

A group of homeless New Yorkers offer a spirited version of Hooverville, which dials into social injustices during the Great Depression.  Rob Buckel-Gillis as dapper, tough-minded tycoon Oliver Warbucks pays tribute to the Big City with N.Y.C. before later performing a touching rendition of Why Would I Change a Thing.  These are just a few of the additional songs included in the stage version of the musical.

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Abby Tondorf as Annie, Sara Daly as Grace Farrell as Grace, and the cast singing ‘I Think I’m Gonna Like it Here’  Photo courtesy of Hingham Civic Music Theatre

From wealthy city shoppers to house staff to government officials including President Roosevelt to the amazing Rockettes and even Santa, the delightful ensemble cast seamlessly enhances the lighthearted atmosphere of this production.  For example, before the famous number, Be Our Guest from Disney’s Beauty and the Beast existed, I Think I’m Gonna Like it Here offers its own set of accommodations as the house staff warmly introduce Annie to Oliver Warbucks’s mansion.

Enhanced by a few impressive stunts, the orphans skillfully navigate the memorable number, It’s a Hard Knock Life as the orphans mourn their life in the orphanage with Miss Hannigan.  The orphans’ version of Fully Dressed is adorable and sure to make you smile.

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‘It’s a Hard Knock Life’ number Photo courtesy of Hingham Civic Music Theatre

Donning a red bob haircut tied with a scarf, Abby Tondorf delivers spunky charm as Annie, her silvery vocals strongest during the numbers I Think I’m Gonna Like it Here and her signature song, Tomorrow.   She shares some endearing moments with Rob Buckel-Gillis as Daddy Warbucks.  Along with her trusty dog Sandy who is a ringer for the dog in other adaptations, the two of them make a sweet pair.

Having made her last appearance as the Dragon in HCMT’s Shrek, Debby Rawson Stratton sinks her teeth into this fiery role as sarcastic and snarky Miss Hannigan.  Wearing a purple silk robe over a green nightgown with frazzled red hair, Debby makes the role her own with sharp, comic timing and a vocal belting quality never better than during the hilarious number, Little Girls.  Aaron Stolicker as Rooster and Whitney Lloyd as Lily St. Regis make an amusing, sleazy pair.

Sara Daly charmingly depicts elegant Grace Farrell, Oliver Warbucks’s levelheaded secretary.  Daly participates in a frequent battle of wills with Debby Rawson Stratton as Miss Hannigan and their smug verbal exchanges are hilarious.

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The cast of ‘Annie’ Photo courtesy of Hingham Civic Music Theatre

Don’t wait for tomorrow to get the remaining tickets to Hingham Civic Music Theatre’s musical, Annie, a classic family show with an timeless message about never giving up.  Annie continues through Sunday, November 10 at Hingham Town Hall located at 210 Central Street in Hingham, Massachusetts.  Click here for more information and for tickets.  Follow Hingham Civic Music Theatre on Facebook for updates and more.

REVIEW: Featuring delicious food and eclectic charm, consider Boston’s ‘The Beehive’ before or after the show

After spending Sunday afternoon at the Calderwood Pavilion for the Tony award-winning musical Fun Home, I had made reservations through Open Table for The Beehive restaurant right next door at 541 Tremont Street in South Boston, Massachusetts.  It’s a charming and convenient place to enjoy after show cocktails, brunch, lunch, or dinner while featuring daily live music including jazz and tribute to famous musicians.  Decorated subtly for Halloween and featuring a lit outdoor patio, The Beehive has unique charm and Bohemian décor in the South End on the orange line off of the Back Bay T stop.

At the time I made the reservation, the live band didn’t start until 8 p.m.  The servers were friendly and asked about the performance I saw at the Calderwood.  Pricing is a bit expensive, but the food is wonderful and can easily be shared.  The artisan sour dough bread was seasoned with sea salt and topped with delicious honey butter.  Our dinner dish, the half chicken was tender, flavorful and juicy mixed with carrot puree, bok choy, rainbow carrots, and olives in a peanut aillade.  It was more than enough for two unless you prefer to take some home.

The Beehive is open seven days a week and located in the Back Bay, an area in Boston that features many theatrical options.  The Beehive offers a special menu on holidays and are open on Thanksgiving.  Take a closer look at the Beehive here for the menu, live music schedule, and much more.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

REVIEW: With comic wit and vintage flair, Boston Ballet’s ‘Genius at Play’ is an exhilarating dance celebration

Honoring the centennial birthdays of legendary choreographer Jerome Robbins and composer Leonard Bernstein, The Boston Ballet opened its 55th season on a joyous, lighthearted note on Thursday, September 6 with Genius at Play continuing through Sunday, September 16 at the Boston Opera HouseGenius at Play certainly lives up to its name, a production with glimpses of Robbins and Bernstein’s signature dance moves, music, and lively banter sure to leave the audience in carefree spirits.  Click here for more information and for tickets.

Accomplished conductor Beatrice Jona Affron opened the show, leading the orchestra with Leonard Bernstein’s sparkling and triumphant masterpiece Overture to Candide, first performed in 1957.  Much of Genius at Play celebrates the very nature of dance and its playful competitiveness and Overture to Candide quite fittingly sets the tone.

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Boston Ballet in Jerome Robbin’s Interplay; photo by Rosalie O’Connor; courtesy of Boston Ballet

Interplay, with choreography by Jerome Robbins, rewinds the clock as women pile on high ponytails in casual, colorful costumes by Santo Loquasto.  As the mischievous, upbeat rhythm of Morton Gould’s American Concertette plays, dancers Maria Alvarez, Dawn Atkins, Chyrstyn Fentroy, Dalay Parrondo, Isaac Akiba, Paul Craig, Sun Woo Lee, and Lawrence Rines take part in some friendly competition.  Creativity runs wild as dancers perform lifts, spins, and high leaps while also paying subtle homage to Robbins as they rhythmically snap their fingers and playfully shake their hips.

With choreography by Jerome Robbins and jazz-infused music by Leonard Bernstein, Fancy Free is the source material for what became the hit Broadway musical and Academy award-winning film, On the Town, a tale about three sailors portrayed here by Irlan Silva, Derek Dunn, and Michael Ryan, who are on shore leave in New York City.  Taking a page from the old movies with cheerful 40s costumes by Kermit Love, these sailors realize they are in over their head when they meet three passers-by portrayed by Emily Entingh, Viktorina Kapitonova, and Dawn Atkins.  With a multi-dimensional, romantically-lit set equipped with a vivid, leaning lamp post, these sailors depict a wonderful camaraderie as they embark on an amusing night with plenty of surprises.

With music by Philip Glass and choreography by Jerome Robbins, Glass Pieces is quite the gem.  Taking place in what looks like a subway station, Glass Pieces has a palpable rhythm and urgency as dancers are unleashed into a celebration of dance in the city.  From a plain landscape into a spectrum of color, Glass Pieces transforms into a splendid piece of artistry as dancers perform in a variety of styles in silhouette, reflective, and in unison.

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Lia Cirio and Paulo Arrais in Jerome Robbin’s Glass Pieces; photo by Rosalie O’Connor; courtesy of Boston Ballet

With comic wit, vintage flair, and renowned choreography, The Boston Ballet proudly presents Genius at Play through Sunday, September 16 at the Boston Opera House.  Click here for more information and for tickets.  For future events and more, follow Boston Ballet on Facebook and Twitter.

REVIEW: Lyric Stage’s ‘Kiss of the Spider Woman’ spins a fascinating web

The Lyric Stage’s powerful musical, Kiss of the Spider Woman, with music by John Kander and lyrics by Fred Ebb, proves escape can take many forms.  Much like Kander and Ebb’s previous works such as Chicago and Cabaret, Kiss of the Spider Woman delves into equal parts fantasy through lavish dance numbers and brutal reality as two very different men are cellmates in a Latin American prison.  Directed and choreographed skillfully by Rachel Bertone, Kiss of the Spider Woman is not just a gripping tale about surviving under profoundly dark circumstances, but an emotional journey, keeping the audience guessing to each character’s complex motives.

Kander and Ebb’s Kiss of the Spider Woman continues at the Lyric Stage in Boston, Massachusetts through Sunday, October 7.  Click here for tickets and more information.

What makes this show particularly fascinating is Bertone’s talent for depicting mounting tension, evident between each character who all share some sort of connection.  Lisa Yuen embodies the Spider Woman/Aurora with dark humor and beguiling charm, a presence who sees and knows all as she proclaims, I Do Miracles.  Her haunting vocals are a magnetic presence as she slinks onstage.  Her dazzling, alluring costumes vary from a shimmering, translucent gown to a bright, multi-colored Bird of Paradise.

Lyric Stage - Cuadros, Yuen, Cavazos, Gamble, Baldassaro

L to R: Arthur Cuadros as Gabriel, Lisa Yuen as Aurora, Eddy Cavazos as Molina, Taavon Gamble as Valentin, and Bernie Baldassaro as a prisoner Photo courtesy of Lyric Stage

Portraying the two cellmates are Eddy Cavazos as imaginative, openly gay window dresser Molina and Taavon Gamble as gruff revolutionary Valentin.  Dressed in a bright scarf and silk robe, Molina is often sinking into his own vivid imagination recalling his favorite film star, Aurora (Lisa Yuen). Cavazos portrays Molina as exceedingly optimistic, vain, and wildly dramatic.  However, with an occasional far off glance or a brief, mournful smile, Cavazos also reveals Molina’s palpable loneliness, wearing his heart on his sleeve.  He and Johanna Carlisle-Zepeda as Molina’s cherished mother share sweet moments, especially during the number, Dear One and You Can Never Shame Me.

Lyric Stage - Cavazos, Carlisle-Zepeda, Zofia, Gamble

L to R Eddy Cavazos as Molina, Johanna Carlisle-Zepeda as Molina’s Mother, Katrina Zofia as Marta, and Taavon Gamble as Valentin Photo courtesy of the Lyric Stage

Taavon Gamble is also impressive as proud, indignant revolutionary Valentin, a man of few words.  His stirring number, The Day After That, offers immense insight into Valentin’s visceral strength.  Cavazos and Gamble’s scenes together are riveting, both delivering shrewd and gritty performances.

Lyric Stage - Gamble, Cavazos with prisoners

Taavon Gamble as Valentin (center), Eddy Cavazos as Molina and prisoners

Musically directed by Dan Rodriguez featuring songs ranging from haunting to catchy, Kander and Ebb’s Kiss of the Spider Woman continues at the Lyric Stage, 140 Clarendon Street in Boston, Massachusetts through Sunday, October 7.  Click here for tickets and more information.  Subscriptions and dinner packages are also available.  Follow The Lyric Stage on Twitter and Facebook for their upcoming productions and more.