REVIEW: Overcoming an important theme in NYC’s Indie Theatre Film Festival’s dynamic ‘Coming of Age’ short films

A spontaneous escape, an evil queen, finding inspiration and discovering super strength is just the tip of the iceberg for New York City’s Indie Theatre Film Festival’s Coming of Age Shorts Screening.  These shorts explore overcoming troubles, fears, and heartache in remarkable ways including a sense of humor as demonstrated in Dianne Diep’s Cloud Gazing.  Peals of laughter can remedy almost any situation.

The New York City Indie Theatre Film Festival continues streaming through Sunday, February 20.  Click here for more information and how to stream a variety of dynamic films including animation and documentary works.

Photo credit to the NYC Indie Film Festival

In the face of chaos, there is strength.  Overcoming is such a prevalent theme in these coming of age shorts and none quite faces it like Jonah Beres as Sam Wheeler in Balloon, a boy who is relentlessly bullied at school. Who can Sam really turn to? Beres’s sympathetic eyes and careful demeanor resemble a young Dane DeHaan.  DeHaan has a knack for portraying characters with pent up emotion just on the brink of letting go.  Directors Jeremy Merrifield and Dave Testa capture a captivating burst of emotions and the awkwardness of childhood through nature, at home, and symbolically in a popping balloon. 

Jonah Beres as Sam Wheeler ‘Balloon’ Photo credit to NYC Indie Theatre Film Festival

Directed and produced by Dianne Diep, Cloud Gazing is a lighthearted take upon a common rite of passage in New York City.  It is the epitome of looking at the bright side as Dianne Diep as Mia makes the best of her latest apartment in the Big City.  The silly and imaginative dialogue, cinematography, and the peals of laughter from Shannon Whelan as Dylan and Dianne Diep as Mia could leave the most serious heart uplifted.  Click here for more on Cloud Gazing and Dianne Diep can also be seen in upcoming Mia:  Unraveling Series.

Photo credit to NYC Indie Theatre Film Festival

Profound life advice is hard to come by.  For example, ‘Life is better than a movie…buy cookies and cream’ is a notable and memorable quote from Tom’s Bench.  Directed by Richard H. Pluim, it’s a heartwarming short film taking place on a special Astoria Park bench in New York.  Most notable is the soothing and fitting Simon and Garfunkel-style closing song Come and Go by the Timber Choir

Adam Patterson and Kyle Stockburger on ‘Tom’s Bench’ Photo credit to NYC Indie Theatre Film Festival

Starting a new day holds new meaning for an unhappy wife in Expectations directed by Vic Dominguez.  It is also directed, written, and starring Kaitlin Gould.  This short would benefit with a longer screen time because Gould’s actions only bring up more questions. 

Photo credit to NYC Indie Theatre Film Festival

Overcoming has several meanings for a discouraged artist longing for inspiration and she may find it in a most unconventional way in You and I written directed and produced by Yiqing Zhao.  It is a quirky, colorful, and sweet film about overcoming doubt for the dream in your heart. 

To the sounds of Gymnopedie No 1, Fair is a stinging, deeply relatable, and inventive short film infusing fairy tale with stark reality as a woman, portrayed by Marissa Molnar, must overcome her current circumstances.  It is a clever and fascinating piece that has moments of charm and humor in its brief time frame. 

Marissa Molnar is ‘Fair’ Photo credit to NYC Indie Theatre Film Festival

School life isn’t easy for Angella Cao as Jessa in Pippi, a nod to the famous children’s book character, Pippi Longstocking.  Most notable is the moving and poignant interactions between the adorable Cao and Karoline Xu as her mom. 

Angella Cao as Jessa in ‘Pippi’ Photo credit to NYC Indie Theatre Film Festival

A woman is on a mysterious voyage in Goat.  This short film has beautiful cinematography and its share of odd humor.  Ben Lewis as Simon is an especially intriguing character.

The New York City Indie Theatre Film Festival continues streaming through Sunday, February 20.  Click here for more information and how to stream a variety of films.

REVIEW:   NYC Indie Theatre Film Festival’s drama ‘Get it Together’ cleverly subverts expectations

College students Mary Hewitt (Andie Lerner) and Harold Kruger (Eric Bermudez) decide to meet upstairs at a house party in a small town in Pennsylvania.  At first glance one can form a few assumptions about this scenario, but Get it Together’s clever dialogue and building tension only keeps the viewer guessing on what could possibly be next in its approximately 45 minute timeframe.

Written and directed by Michael Quinn, Get it Together is a drama film in the New York City Indie Theatre Film Festival (NYCITFF) which continues streaming online through Sunday, February 20. This film contains some mature themes.  Click here for more information and how to get access to a wide range of short and full length films in a variety of genres.

From having fun to sharing secrets to betrayal to creepy and back again, Mary and Harold have a bit of a history.  Deep thinking Scarlett and secretive Horan have peculiar and evolving chemistry and it is interesting to see the way the tone of the film changes at the drop of a hat. 

The push and pull of the dialogue constantly ambushes expectations.  Are these two people adversaries, acquaintances, friends, lovers?  Each carefully selected line of dialogue will leave the viewer constantly guessing about what these two mean to each other.  It is an encounter that will possibly simmer in your mind long after the film is over.

Get it Together, part of the New York City Indie Theatre Film Festival (NYCTIFF) continues streaming online through Sunday, February 20.  Click here for more information and how to get access to a wide range of short and full length films in a variety of genres.

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: PTP/NYC’s ‘Lunch’ rich, searing, and absorbing

Two people, immediately intrigued by the sight of each other, hesitate to speak to one another.  Yet they have such remarkable things to say. 

Steven’s Burkoff’s Lunch takes off from the start in fascinating and dense musings as Mary, portrayed with perceptive shrewdness by Jackie Sanders and Thomas, depicted with charm and gall by Bill Army sit listening to the sea’s crashing waves as their lives unfold.

Jackie Sanders as Mary and Bill Army as Thomas Photo courtesy of PTC/NYC

Directed meticulously by PTP’s Co-Artistic Director Richard Romagnoli, Potomac Theatre Project (PTP/NYC) presents Lunch virtually through Tuesday, July 13.  The play contains some mature themes and is free to watch.  Click here for more information and how to support Potomac Theatre Project.

Lunch makes the most of every moment of its approximately 40 minute runtime through Berkoff’s rich and enthralling script and groundbreaking style of dialogue.  Letting the audience into each person’s thoughts and conversation, what makes Mary and Thomas mysterious while thoroughly engaging is the distinct contrast between what they say and mean.  Their lively imaginations and their tantalizing and sometimes searing observations of one another seem unhinged amid their marginally polite discussions at first.  Sanders is particularly astute at capturing Mary’s detachment while Army’s boyish and meandering charm make for some unique chemistry as their encounter escalates into a surprising conclusion.

Jackie Sanders as Mary and Bill Army as Thomas Photo courtesy of PTP/NYC

Passionate, blunt, vivid, and occasionally shocking, Lunch also delves into earnestness and loneliness in a most unexpected way. Lunch continues through Tuesday, July 13.  Click here for more information and PTP/NYC’s upcoming events in their 34 1/2 season.

REVIEW: Boston Ballet’s immersive and uplifting ‘BB@yourhome: Look Back Focus Forward’ offers rare performances and more

The Boston Ballet launched their first virtual production of the year with an optimistic look at 2021 featuring a selection of rarely performed past performances, an exclusive look back at the Boston Ballet on tour, and where they go from here with a sneak peek into a new project scheduled for April 2021.

Boston Ballet’s virtual program, BB@yourhome: Look Back Focus Forward continues through Sunday, January 31.  Click here for more information and how to access this lighthearted and immersive program.

Derek Dunn in Leonid Yakobson’s Vestris Photo by Rachel Neville Photography; courtesy of Boston Ballet

Opening the program is Derek Dunn, who has a history of wonderful performances including The Nutcracker, Helen Pickett’s Petal and Genius at Play.   After an insightful introduction from Boston Ballet’s Artistic Director Mikko Nissenen and Executive Director Max Hodges, He took on a monumental solo dance demonstrating humor, tension, and a wide range of emotions as Auguste in Leonid Yakobson’s rarely performed Vestris.  In a powered wig and meticulously-detailed Founders garment by Robert Perdziola, Dunn is madcap and witty to a rousing applause, taking on a dance that Mikhail Baryshnikov immortalized.  A particular highlight was a moment of subtle humor as Dunn leans forward and hesitates like a novice dancer, just learning his steps. 

Leonid Yakobson’s Pas de Quatre takes on a lighthearted and fanciful tone as Ji Young Chae, Ekaterine Chubinidze, Maria Baranova, and Nina Matiashvili unite as one in a circular dance adorned in flower crowns and flowing, pristine and romantic tutus.  This is another rarely performed piece that demonstrates a sisterhood between this quartet.  To a poignant score featuring selections from Norma and picturesque staging by Vera Solovyeva and Nikolay Levitsky, the dancers each showcase their own unique talents and much of it is lively, elegant, and charming. 

Corina Gill and Issac Akiba in Leonid Yakobson’s Rodin; photo by Rachel Neville Photography; courtesy of Boston Ballet

Love takes many shapes in Leonid Yakobson’s Rodin in three parts.  It explores each stage of love from first glimpse to passion and it is captivating to see each part come to life.  Sun Woo Lee and Abigail Merlis have playful chemistry as they lean into each other and Abigail smiles as he attempts a kiss.  To Debussy’s classic score, Clair de Lune, Maria Alvarez and Alec Roberts depict the sweet joy and rapture of love as they move in unison in shyness and jubilance. Another highlight was Emily Entingh as she leans back into Michael Ryan and he lifts her up in admiration.

Look Back Focus Forward also reveals exclusive touring footage and Boston Ballet Artistic Director Mikko Nissenen and principal dancer Lia Cirio share in depth the Boston Ballet’s most exciting and extraordinary experiences on tour and the significance in touring once again.  One of their favorite experiences was premiering Jiri Kylian’s controversial Bella Figura at Lincoln Center in New York City for the Boston Ballet’s 50th anniversary.  Bella Figura is best witnessed to fully take in its daring, haunting, and mysterious subtlety.

Rie Ichikawa in Jiri Kylian’s Bella Figura; photo by Gene Schiavone; courtesy of Boston Ballet

The Boston Ballet also offers a sneak peek into an entirely new and innovative virtual production helmed by renowned international choreographer Ken Ossola that will soon premiere in April 15-25 2021.

BB@yourhome’s Look Back Focus Forward continues streaming through Sunday, January 31.  Click here for more information and tickets.  The Boston Ballet celebrates the work of Jorma Elo in February.  Click here to see the BB@yourhome’s entire virtual schedule.

REVIEW: ‘Love, Repeat’ gets love right

Viewing Warwick Film’s unconventional and heartwarming romantic comedy Love, Repeat makes this city lover long to return to New York City.  Steeped in New York City’s pinnacle, snow-covered beauty and featuring some of the city’s most iconic landmarks in muted enchantment brings on a wistful feeling.  New York City not only provides this film’s idyllic ambiance, but is portrayed as its own active character in James, an auspicious person who feels like he lucked out in love to his wife Barbara until they suddenly divorce.  James feels much like Manhattan, a lonely island.

Bill Connington as James in idyllic New York City in ‘Love, Repeat’ Photo courtesy of DARR Publicity/Love, Repeat

Whether you are still feeling the holiday spirit as any Hallmark movie fan would be or looking for a lighthearted tale of love and loss, Love, Repeat delivers.  January is also nestled between the close of the holiday season and the anticipation of Valentine’s Day.  Warwick Film’s Love, Repeat is available to stream and on DVD.  Click here for more information on the film and how to watch Love, Repeat.

MaxwellPurushothaman as Chris and Bill Connington as James in ‘Love, Repeat’ Photo courtesy of DARR Publicity/Love, Repeat

Written, executive produced, and starring Bill Connington as James, Love, Repeat largely portrays the difficult part of love.  It explores the kind of love that is tested after things go right, but done in a way that is optimistic, humorous, and never bereft of hope.

Marcus Ho as Chad, Maxwell Purushothaman as Chris, Stu Richel as Philip, and Bill Connington as James Photo courtesy of DARR Publicity/Love, Repeat

The setting may be idyllic, but this is not a tale of beautiful people with beautiful problems that are easily solved.  Love, Repeat boasts a dynamic, strong, and quirky cast helmed by Bill Connington as earnest, stoic and quietly romantic James Anderson.  Connington endearingly depicts James’s tension and hesitation as he wades into this unexpected period in his life while his artistic ex-wife Barbara, amiably portrayed by Leenya Rideout, seems ready to move on.  The pair possess a sweet and familiar chemistry.  There is nothing quite like getting romantic advice from your son and Maxwell Purushothanan as their bright, albeit blunt son Chris receives the lion’s share of the laughs.  Stu Richel as Phillip, James’s football-loving father resembles that “shoot-from-the-hip” charisma portrayed in Martin Crane from the hit TV show Frasier

Marcus Ho as Chad and Nandita Shenoy as Lavanya Photo courtesy of DARR Publicity/Love, Repeat

Marcus Ho as Chad and Nandita Shenoy as Lavanya are James’s chic and wildly dramatic friends as they amusingly swing from passionate to cynical at times in the very same scene.  The film also has its share of good naturedly silly moments including a spontaneous dance sequence and Vivia Font who deems a noteworthy portrayal as increasingly obsessive and comically driven Camilla.

The story is a bit rushed at times and it would have been nice to get more insight into Barbara’s character, but the characters are relatable enough to stay invested while delivering an authentic message about love, risk, acceptance, and relationships while taking in those marvelous city views.

Bill Connington as James at the MET Photo courtesy of DARR Publicity/Love, Repeat

Warwick Film’s Love, Repeat is available to stream and on DVD.  Click here for more information on the film and how to watch Love, Repeat.

REVIEW: PTP/NYC presents enthralling family mystery, ‘The House in Scarsdale’

Dan has a complicated relationship with his estranged family.

Director Christian Parker of ‘The House in Scarsdale’ Photo courtesy of PTC/NYC

Directed by Christian Parker and written by playwright and actor Dan O’Brien, Dan embarks on more than just a spiritual journey in The House in Scarsdale: a memoir for the stageThe House in Scarsdale is the third play within Potomac Theatre Project(PTP/NYC’s) virtual series that has been running each weekend from September 24 through Sunday, October 18.

 Dan O’Brien’s The House in Scarsdale streamed from Thursday, October 8 through Sunday, October 11 and Caryl Churchill’s Far Away continues through Sunday, October 18 on PTC/NYC’s YouTube channel.   Viewings are free, but donations are welcome to support PTC/NYC with ten percent of the proceeds supporting The National Black Theatre.  Click here for the complete list of productions in PTP/NYC’s virtual series.

 In what can be described as a play within a prospective play, The House in Scarsdale visits the darkest of dysfunction as Dan, a journalist, visits various family members and others to learn more about his family’s past for his upcoming autobiographical play.  Audiences travel alongside Dan on his journey from the Garden State Parkway to as far as Europe as he investigates a possible family secret. What makes this show unique is not only is it a mystery, but as the details unfold, how much of the truth do you really want to know about your family?  Every family has their problems, but some secrets cannot be fathomed. 

The House in Scarsdale stars the show’s own playwright Dan O’Brien as Dan and Alex Draper portrays several dynamic characters throughout the production.  Draper seamlessly sinks right into each role, navigating an assortment of colorful characters from Dan’s resentful grandmother to his eccentric uncle.  Draper is expressive and spirited, clearly enjoying each transition.  His conversations with O’Brien have moments of dark humor, relatable family banter, and a good dose of stark, stirring honesty. 

The show is figuratively and literally on a journey to learn more about Dan’s troubled family, a family so dysfunctional that poor Dan has been cast out of his family circle hence its ironic opening quote by John Cheever, ‘Come back, come back, my wretched, feeble and unwanted child.’ Dan understandably wants to know why. As Dan’s extended family recall his family’s wild tendencies and various psychoses, Dan’s low key and unassuming demeanor makes one think that perhaps he has been through much more than he lets on. 

Dan is a quiet, inquisitive soul and depicts his emotional detachment with a skilled subtlety.  His conflicted nature between trepidation and yearning is fascinating as he ventures deeper into his family history becoming so invested and anxious about what he might find, he even visits a psychic.  Some of his family recollections are universal and lighthearted and every family has a degree of unhealthy dysfunction, but other memories are dreadfully concerning. 

So, as some answers come to light and more questions arise, how much is Dan like his family and how much of the story can be trusted?  The House in Scarsdale lures you in and leaves you engrossed in its outcome, hoping for a light at the end of this tunnel.

Potomac Theatre Project or PTC/NYC is located at 330 West 16th Street in New York City. Click here for more information and how to support PTP/NYC’s current and upcoming productions.

REVIEW: Greater Boston Stage Company’s classic ‘Miracle on 34th Street’ delivers a gentle nudge of holiday cheer

Miracle on 34th Street is a simple tale with a big message.

During this time of year, faith is a predominant theme within many holiday productions such as faith in humanity, in God, and in a “right jolly old elf.”  From Twas the Night Before Christmas to A Christmas Carol, the holiday spirit shines through, a temporary feeling that really should last all year long.

Directed with charm by Ilyse Robbins, based on the book by Valentine Davies, and adapted by Mountain Community Theatre, Greater Boston Stage Company’s Miracle on 34th Street continues through Sunday, December 22 at Greater Boston Stage Company in Stoneham, Massachusetts.  Click here for more information and tickets.

Set in New York City, Miracle on 34th Street is about a mysterious man who becomes a last minute replacement for Santa Claus at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.  He befriends Susie Walker, a precocious little girl portrayed with grace and charm by Addison McWayne, who is far too sensible for childish things including believing in Santa Claus.  Natalie Wood rose to fame in her role as Susie Walker with Maureen O’Hara as Doris Walker in the beloved 1947 film.

Greater Boston Stage Company Miracle on 34th Street cast

Jon Savage’s vibrant set design includes a lovely, towering, and whimsical Christmas tree that contributes its own unique part in the tale.  The famous parade is just one of the events that take place in the aisles during this semi-immersive production.

Though this production of Miracle of 34th Street is not considered a musical, it does have its share of musical moments.  From gift wrapping to sweeping the store shelves, the store workers do more than whistle while they work, swaying and lifting their voices in a variety of spontaneous Christmas carols such as The 12 Days of Christmas, Sleigh Ride, and The Nutcracker Suite led by the mirthful vocal stylings of David Jiles Jr. as Mr. Adams.

Packed with a likeable cast of characters including a lively and noteworthy performance by Gary Thomas NG as Alfred, Miracle on 34th Street shows it is sometimes better to see with the heart rather than the head.  Gary Thomas NG is captivating as Alfred, a humble and gleeful janitor full of holiday cheer.  NG depicts Alfred with a song in his heart as he spontaneously leaps for joy across the stage.  His comic scenes with William Gardiner as gentle, jovial and unfailingly forthright Kris Kringle are a particular highlight as they compete in board games and engage in candid conversations.  With warm charisma and that signature twinkle, William Gardiner fills Kris Kringle’s red suspenders with finesse and of the many iconic conversations he has with McWayne’s Susie, their playful dialogue about imagination is just wonderful.

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In a red coat and distinctive 50s red lipstick, Sara Coombs portrays Doris Walker, an astute and shrewd businesswoman.  It is amusing to watch Walker and her “mini-me” daughter Susie as they inadvertently duplicate each other’s mannerisms.  Susie is seemingly as mature, confident, and shrewd as her elegant mother.  Showing a great rapport with each cast member, Michael Jennings Mahoney is refreshing as fun loving and laid back Fred.  Barlow Adamson exacts Macy store manager Mr. Shellhammer’s nervous and priceless tense expressions prevalent during the holiday season.

Having last seen Juliet Bowler in an affecting performance at Flat Earth Theatre’s Not Medea, it is no surprise that Bowler show off her talents as insecure, strict and secretive Leslie Sawyer.  Her cold disdain and devious manipulations reach Grinch-like proportions.  Sara Gazdowicz also takes an amusing turn as a fast talking, accent-rich NYC cop.

Greater Boston Stage Company Miracle on 34th Street Leslie, Kris, and cast

Juliet Bowler as Mrs. Sawyer, Barlow Adamson as Mr. Shellhammer, Sara Coombs as Doris Walker, and William Gardiner as Kris Kringle Photo courtesy of Nile Scott Studios/Greater Boston Stage Company

While some performances demonstrate holiday spirit in pomp and spectacle, Greater Boston Stage Company delivers that feeling with a gentle nudge of heartwarming cheer.  Greater Boston Stage Company’s Miracle on 34th Street through Sunday, December 22.  Click here for more information and tickets.  Click here to learn more about Greater Boston Stage Company and their upcoming 2020 productions.

Artistic Director and founder Tony Williams describes how ‘Urban Nutcracker’ became a hit

What if the spirit of Boston as well as hip hop, tap, Mexican folk dance, flamenco, swing dancing and more were weaved into Tchaikovsky’s beloved holiday classic, The Nutcracker?  Celebrating its 19th anniversary, The City Ballet of Boston (CBB) presents Tony Williams’ family friendly Urban Nutcracker from Thursday, December 19 through Saturday, December 28 at the Boch Center Shubert Theatre in Boston, Massachusetts.  Click here for more information and tickets.  Click here for a sneak peek at the show.

Tony Williams, acclaimed choreographer, founder, and Artistic Director of the Urban Nutcracker and the Tony Williams Dance Center, talks about Urban Nutcracker’s humble beginnings and how it has evolved to become the hit it is today while every year featuring something new.

Urban Nutcracker Tony WIlliams

Founder and Artistic Director of Urban Nutcracker Tony Williams Photo courtesy of Tony Williams/City Ballet of Boston

Sleepless Critic:  What I love about Urban Nutcracker is while the traditional Nutcracker is rooted in fantasy, the heart of the Urban Nutcracker is in Boston and its history.  What inspired this concept?

Tony Williams:  I was raised in Boston and danced in the premiere of the first major professional production of Boston Ballet’s The Nutcracker conducted by famed conductor of the Boston Pops Arthur Fiedler in 1965.  I danced in the traditional Nutcracker for many years and when I stopped, I still performed large and smaller productions in and around Boston.

About 20 years ago, I started my dance school in Jamaica Plain.  I had two male African American dancers working for me teaching tap and hip hop.  In my school’s first year of enrollment, I had about 20 boys which is a huge amount of boys than in most dance schools.  I had the makings of a youth cast for a production and wanted to showcase the kids, but most of the boys came for tap and hip hop where I was teaching ballet.

I thought about putting on The Nutcracker and the parents can be involved and bring their kids.  With so many traditional Nutcrackers out there, maybe we can create an urban contemporary Nutcracker with hip hop, tap, and ballet incorporating our hip hop teacher Ricardo Foster and tap teacher Khalid Hill.

Coincidentally around that time, I came across Duke Ellington’s jazzy, big band Nutcracker Suite.  I can use that and mix in the traditional Nutcracker like a soup and hope it turns out right.  A smaller dance troupe also performed a Nutcracker in New York City around that time.  Their background was in New York City and they based the show in Central Park.   I decided to freshen up this old classic chestnut, The Nutcracker, and put it in present day Boston.

Urban Nutcracker Boston Tree Lighting

Sneak Peek of the Urban Nutcracker at this year’s Boston Tree Lighting in the Boston Common Photo courtesy of Tony Williams/City Ballet of Boston

SC:  It has been very successful because I believe next year will be Urban Nutcracker’s 20th anniversary in 2020.

TW:  It’s amazing we’ve succeeded all of these years.  We evolve, tweak, and polish the show every year and it’s a challenge financially to pull it all together.  The first year we were on a shoestring budget.

People have supported the show all of these years and I feel fortunate it is still around.  Not so much for my personal ego, but for the opportunity to have it for the City of Boston.  You don’t have to know Boston in order to like the show but if you do, you will have more of a connection to it.

SC:  You feature some traditional and international roots in the Urban Nutcracker such as The Russian Dance.

TW:  We have the Russian Dance which we call Caviar Caper, the Arabian Dance we call Desert Chiffon, and the Chinese or Tea Dance which we call Ginseng Brise.  Brise is the French word for a dance step in ballet.

This year, we have a major addition to Act II and one of the divertissements will be based on the story, Make Way for Ducklings by Robert McCloskey from 1941.  We introduced ducks in the snow scene in the past and it didn’t quite fit.  This year we are calling it Mrs. Mallard and her Duckling Delights with a tap dancing policeman and Mother Duck will dance on Pointe.  The cute baby ducks have their own dance which the kids will love.

We’re doing a new Russian dance with two couples and many more surprises!

Urban Nutcracker Ballet with edge

Urban Nutcracker cast Photo courtesy of Tony Williams/City Ballet of Boston

SC:  How did this become a tradition?  The reception must have been extraordinary that first year.

TW:  The first year we were trying to introduce this new creation was right after 911 and the whole world was in a depression.  A friend of mine told me it wasn’t the time to do this kind of show and I thought about that.

I was sad about what had happened, but working with the young kids brought about a rebirth of hope and I continue the show because of them.  We did three sold out performances the first year at the Strand Theatre in Dorchester.

I was so nervous that first night and had no idea how it would be received.  We had no money or advertisements except a great story in the Globe.  From the opening dance in the prologue right before the story line began, the dancers and musicians in Downtown Crossing and Quincy Market danced outside with their hats out for donations.  The ovation was so loud and that’s when we knew we had something.

SC:  I understand that the show features The City Ballet of Boston.  Is that your troupe?

TW:  It used to be the Tony Williams Ballet Company, but last year it evolved into the non-profit City Ballet of Boston.  The core group is comprised of eight cohesive adult professional dancers that have been with me for the second year.  It is expected we have top notch professional dancers at the Shubert Theatre which is partly why I did that with the company.  I call it City Ballet of Boston because we are proud of Boston.  Hopefully, when I am no longer around, The CBB will be able to produce this show for generations to come.

A woman who happens to work at the Boch Center Shubert Theatre came for the first time last year and brought her three year old daughter while her husband was away on business.   Her parents were visiting from Chicago and the four of them came to the show.  She told me afterwards she really enjoyed the show, but was struck that her daughter, father, and mother were so raptly attentive to the show as well.   Each generation enjoyed it!

SC:  What are your future plans?

TW:  We have the family production, Peter and the Wolf from April 29 to May 2, 2020 at the Calderwood Pavilion.  We’ve been doing some classical and contemporary pieces and it will be something for everybody.

SC:  You tend to mix contemporary with traditional dance.

TW:  I do it because it is intriguing creatively, artistically, and it’s fun to work that way.

SC:  That way you can keep surprising people with your work.

TW:  I need to do something fresh not only for the audience and the dancers, but I get a charge out of that too.

Urban Nutcracker returns to the Boch Center Shubert Theatre, 265 Tremont Street in Boston, Massachusetts from Thursday, December 19 through Saturday, December 28.  Click here for more information, tickets, and learn more about Tony Williams and his work.

 

REVIEW: With flawless artistic wizardry, Disney’s ‘The Lion King’ musical, presented by Lexus Broadway in Boston, remains a magnificent theatrical experience

Over the years as a critic, taking notes during the show has been a ritual and now pretty much a reflex these days.  When Disney’s The Lion King musical amazed audiences over 20 years ago on Broadway at the Nederlander Theatre, it was a larger than life spectacle that was as impressive to the eyes as it was to the heartstrings.   Seeing it for the first time back then, it was probably one of the most glorious theatre experiences in memory.

One would think that as time passed, the technology and the sheer artistry of the show would become a bit dated.  However, it hasn’t aged a bit unveiling richer interpretations of songs from the film such as I Just Can’t Wait to Be King and The Circle of Life and including additional songs such as Shadowland and They Live in You not included in the film. It is also the one show that was too enthralling to take notes.

Directed by Julie Taymor, Lexus Broadway in Boston presents Disney’s Tony award-winning musical, The Lion King through Sunday, October 27 at Citizens Bank Opera House in Boston, Massachusetts.  Click here for more information and tickets and click here to see where the show is touring next.

The Lion King is based on Disney’s 1994 Academy award-winning film of the same name which is also an adaptation of Shakespeare’s Hamlet.  It is about a cub prince named Simba who must grow up fast after being exiled from his home by his scheming uncle.  Bursting with color, comedy, jaw dropping special effects, a classic soundtrack by Elton John and Tim Rice with important lessons about growing up, it puts an entirely new spin and depth into in this extraordinary tale, giving this musical new dimension and heart.

With scenic design by Richard Hudson, lighting by Donald Holder, and Steve Canyon Kennedy on sound, it brilliantly navigates Citizens Bank Opera House’s space to stage some of the film’s vast landscapes which includes the breathtaking and encompassing opening sequence.  The show manipulates movement and height with strategically placed moving props and the Julie Taymor and Michael Curry’s mask and puppet design representing members of the animal kingdom are visionary marvels.

The entire cast is as impressive as their visually stunning surroundings.  Bursting with color, I Just Can’t Wait to be King is a celebration with zany, eye popping color and wild shapes combined with Walter Russell the III’s enthusiastic vocals as Young Simba.  Buyi Zama is intense and hilarious as the wise Rafiki, her mesmerizing interactions with the cast unpredictable and endlessly amusing while delivering the emotional impact that the part entails.  She stands out in the stirring number, Nao Tse Tsa and every scene at Rafiki’s Tree.  Gerald Ramsey has a commanding, yet nurturing presence as Mufasa as he interacts with energetic and adorable Walter Russell III.

Spencer Plachy is a masterful, manipulative Scar the likes of the original Scar voiced by Jeremy Irons, haunting in the number, Be Prepared and with kooky and creepy performances by Keith Bennett as Banzai, Martina Sykes as Shenzi, and Robbie Swift as Ed, they form a group more menacing than in the film.

Adding a wealth of comic relief is Nick Cordileone as Timon, his compelling puppetry bringing the character to life in a new way.  With Ben Lipitz as a wild haired Pumbaa whose expressions channel John Belushi, the two make a sidesplitting pair as they deliver the catchy classic, Hakuna Matata.  Greg Jackson is impressive as he navigates Zazu’s jittery angst in a sprawling bird.

Lexus Broadway in Boston presents The Lion King musical through Sunday, October 27 at Citizens Bank Opera House, 539 Washington Street in Boston, Massachusetts.  Click here for tickets and here to see where The Lion King will perform next on their national tour.  This mesmerizing hit musical continues to reign on Broadway at the Minskoff Theatre in New York City.

Lexus Broadway in Boston has an amazing lineup in store as they continue their 2019-2020 season which includes Disney’s Anastasia, Mean Girls, and their next musical, Come From Away.  Click here for their entire lineup and follow them on Facebook for updates and much more.