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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

 

 

 

 

Mark Morris Dance Group’s costume designer Elizabeth Kurtzman talks vibrant inspiration behind Beatles show, ‘Pepperland’

According to Rolling Stone, The Beatles hit album Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band ranked #1 of The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time in 2003.  Not only is this groundbreaking album visually compelling, but songs on the album such as Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds, With a Little Help from My Friends, Penny Lane, When I’m Sixty-Four, and the album’s popular title track are considered rock and roll classics.

What is it like to bring that album to life in vibrant color in its 50th anniversary year?  New York costume designer Elizabeth Kurtzman talks about what it was like to bring Mark Morris Group, Pepperland to the stage.  Celebrity Series of Boston presents Mark Morris Dance Group’s Pepperland, a tribute to Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, to the Boch Center Shubert Theatre in Boston February 8-10.  Click here for more information and for tickets.

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‘Pepperland’ performance in Seattle. Images by Mat Hayward/Celebrity Series of Boston

Sleepless Critic:  It must be exciting to portray the essence of this classic Beatles album, Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band in its 50th anniversary year.  Please tell me what your initial thoughts were in taking on this project.

Elizabeth Kurtzman:  I read the email inviting me to work on a project that involved music by the Beatles. I thought I was dreaming and was really intrigued.  Mark Morris and the Beatles are two of my favorite things.  I could not imagine how it would all look and sound. I knew it would not be by-the-book –Beatles and it had to be turned around pretty quickly.

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‘Pepperland’ performance in Seattle. Images by Mat Hayward/Celebrity Series of Boston

The 60s brought rapidly changing style. There is a lot of information in the years the Beatles made all that music, so there were a lot of possibilities.

SC:  You have worked with the Mark Morris Dance Group numerous times.  How was this project a unique experience for you and what do you like most about working with them? I know it might have been a challenge to tie in a contemporary feel to such an iconic time period.

EK:  They look great in these clothes/costumes and wish the guys wore these suits all the time.  They are a dream and it isn’t easy to dance in layers made out of corduroy.

Some of Mark’s pieces require more research than others. I spent hours looking up fashion and color from 1960-69. Mark was not interested in dressing the dancers in satin and feathers a la the album cover. It was more about trying to send the message of the early sixties. Simple shapes, but those shapes looked new, fresh, and young. Colored tights were so futuristic and men’s suits got smaller and cuter. I was a kid mid-sixties, but was completely mesmerized by those clothes.

Color was just as important as shape. Colors were new, synthetic fabrics made bolder, brighter fabrics available. The color palette was loosely based on a photo of a mural painted on a corner on Carnaby Street in London.

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‘Pepperland’ performance in Seattle Images by Mat Hayward/Celebrity Series of Boston

SC:  Songs like With A Little Help From My Friends, When I’m Sixty-Four, and the title track are just a few of the songs portrayed visually onstage.  What was that process like and can you offer a hint of the vibe audiences can expect when they see the show?

EK:  I think the show is about the energy of the time which offers a lot of happiness with a little melancholy thrown in.

SC:  From what I have seen of your work, you seem to add a vibrant personality to the performers that take the stage.  The colors and designs really pop.

The dancers are so game and energetic, the color and design only enhance their skill.  I love working with fabric and color and am fortunate to be able to attend rehearsals, which is where I get to see the personality of the dance and how the dancers move.

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‘Pepperland’ performance in Seattle. Images by Mat Hayward/Celebrity Series of Boston

 SC:  What has been the most challenging work you have done in New York or otherwise?

EK:  I can’t say there is one thing I’ve worked on that stands out as most challenging. There are always a few little challenges, but always a way to overcome them. It is more challenging working with small theatre companies that have tiny budgets and lots of costume changes or working with opera singers who hate the way they look in any and everything.  The biggest challenge is sewing it myself.

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‘Pepperland’ performance in Liverpool Images by Robbie Jack/Celebrity Series of Boston

SC:  You also provide art and music for programs for children in New York City.  Please tell me more about that and how you got involved.

Several years ago, I was involved with the Children’s Museum of the Arts downtown. I was determined to get kids to design and repurpose their clothes. Most of the adults I know do not know how to sew on a button.

I helped put together a program for children on the autism spectrum and their families that provided a place for making great art and music.  I also spent many hours designing and making costumes for the theatre department at my daughter’s high school who graduated in 2017.

Celebrity Series of Boston presents Mark Morris Group, Pepperland, at the Boch Center Shubert Theatre in Boston from February 8-10.  Click here for more information and for tickets. Tickets can also be obtained at the Celebrity Series of Boston’s box office.  Follow Celebrity Series of Boston on FacebookTwitter, and Instagram.

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.

Annie NYC

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: Reagle Music Theatre’s 35th anniversary of ‘ChristmasTime’ is most wonderful

Brimming with holiday cheer while celebrating two milestone anniversaries, Reagle Music Theatre of Greater Boston is offering a season more spectacular than ever before.  Not only is Reagle celebrating its 50th anniversary, their beloved annual holiday music revue, ChristmasTime is marking 35 magnificent years.  These special ChristmasTime anniversary performances are dedicated to Reagle’s Christmas Angel, Natalie L. Durkin.  ChristmasTime continues through Sunday, December 10.  Click here for more information and for tickets.

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Raggedy Ann Photo courtesy of Reagle Music Theatre of Greater Boston

Just walking into Robinson Theatre before the performance, attendees are greeted by iconic holiday characters and Victorian carolers as the Robinson halls are decked out onstage and off with brightly lit snowflakes, richly designed Christmas trees, gold embossed wreaths, and the stage festively framed with wooden embroidered angels.  Reagle Music Theatre of Greater Boston annually features the memorable performances that transformed ChristmasTime into a holiday tradition as well as additional scenes that keep the show fresh each year.

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ChristmasTime stage Courtesy of Reagle Music Theatre of Greater Boston

From touching, candlelit hymns to joyous rollicking Christmas carols for the entire family including a sing-along, Reagle Music Theatre’s production of ChristmasTime never loses steam even in its quietest of moments.  During the holiday season, spend the afternoon witnessing a unique musical revue seeped in a variety of iconic Christmas scenes expertly narrated with the warm, inviting vocals of R. Glen Mitchell and a live orchestra led by Jeffrey P Leonard and Paul S. Katz.  Featuring an enormous, impressive cast of all ages with some performances offered with special permission from Radio City Music Hall, Reagle Music Theatre of Greater Boston travels to distant lands and different time periods from the North Pole to New York City in landscapes painted with picturesque flair by Robert Moody of Santa’s Workshop, Rockefeller Center, Boston’s duck statues, a candlelit church with sunburst stained glass windows, and the stunning, sprawling city of Jerusalem.

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Renowned Tenor Fred C. VanNess Jr in The Living Nativity

The afternoon also featured an array of special, surprise guests with the returning, suburb talent of renowned tenor, Fred C. VanNess Jr and Mara Bonde’s gorgeous vocals.  Famous scenes of the season include a lively version of The Nutcracker, appearances from Reagle’s Rockettes, a humorous scene from Parade of the Wooden Soldiers, and the suburb The Living Nativity highlighted by popular carols like Little Saint Nick, Jingle Bells, Twelve Days of Christmas, and Christmas medleys capture the Christmas spirit in an unforgettable way.  Scenes are also peppered in performances from toys to trees coming to life dancing to rock, gospel, and much more.  ChristmasTime, through its delightful, stunning vignettes of the season, exhibits a captivating depiction of the meaning of Christmas.

As part of Reagle’s 50th anniversary celebration, Reagle Music Theatre of Greater Boston is holding a limited raffle to win a new Honda Civic.  Click here for further details.

This annual, interactive celebration, which is appropriate for all ages, has a strong following so purchase tickets now.  Each show is held at Reagle Music Theatre, 617 Lexington Street in Waltham, Massachusetts through December 10.  Call 781-891-5600 or Click here for tickets and for more information and upcoming events in 2018 such as Night Fever:  An Evening With the Bee Gees and A Little Bit of Ireland. Tickets are also available at the theatre box office.

 

 

NYC actress, writer, and filmmaker Stephanie Iscovitz talks film career and managing annual ‘New York New Works Theatre Festival’ in October

NYC actress, writer, filmmaker, and casting assistant Stephanie Iscovitz is no stranger to a competitive festival, having been on the winning end and a participant.  She is taking her expertise to a whole new level running the upcoming New York New Works Theatre Festival, kicking off Tuesday, October 3 and continuing through Saturday, Oct. 21 at New York City’s Duke Theatre with the final gala on Monday, Nov. 6 at Theatre 80.

With a wide spectrum of diverse, carefully chosen theatre productions from hundreds of submissions and created by Gene Fisch, Jr., the New York New Works Theatre Festival is a give back project to help the arts community.  It’s an exciting, annual event as award-winning representatives from Broadway and beyond judge the next generation’s promising talent.  Click here for the full theatre schedule, tickets, and here for panelist information.

Stephanie Iscovitz delves into her journey as a film festival participant, what to expect at the New York New Works Theatre Festival, and the message she hopes to convey through her work.  Click here for more on Stephanie and her upcoming projects.

Sleepless Critic:  Starting October 3, you are leading the management team at the New York New Works Theatre Festival.

Stephanie Iscovitz:  Yes, I’m managing the New York New Works Theater Showcase and am very passionate about including as many powerful, female and diverse voices as possible.

 The New York New Works Theatre Showcase is a theatre competition that provides aspiring writers the opportunity to present their work in a top tier theatre while being mentored by a group of Broadway, television producers, and industry leaders. The distinguished panelists are Broadway producers, Tony Award-winners, Emmy Award-winners, or industry executives that volunteer their time to help aspiring writers.  Performances take place in the 199-seat Duke Theatre on 42nd and Broadway from Tuesday, October 3 through Saturday, October 21 with the final gala on Monday, November 6.

I’m eager to take all the wonderful parts of my film festival experience while bringing some great new ideas to the New York New Works Theatre Showcase. As an actor and writer, I know what kind of opportunities I would benefit from and am humbled and excited to provide that for the participants in this year’s showcase.

SC:  You bring a broad range of experience to the New York New Works Theatre Festival, including your training at the T. Schreiber Studio and Theatre, a studio that features Edward Norton, Peter Sarsgaard, and Maria Bello, just a few of their renowned alumni.  What was that experience like for you?

 SI:  With only eleven students in the conservatory, it was an extraordinary, life-changing experience.   When you’re part of an intense, raw, and emotionally-challenging program like that, the people you experience it with become your family.  I still study there as part of their on-going scene study program continually challenged with roles I’m afraid to do.  I was most recently working on a character affected with brain damage.

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T. Schreiber Studio and Theatre graduate Stephanie Iscovitz T. Schreiber Photo Credit: T. Schreiber Studio & Theatre

SC:  What do you think is the most important thing that T. Schreiber has taught you as an actress, filmmaker, writer, and producer?

SI:  Terry Schreiber notoriously says that you must give yourself the permission to let yourself happen, which has become my mantra. The first couple of short films I made as an actor, writer, and producer had potential, but they weren’t great.  However, I wouldn’t be where I am today or learned as much as I did had I not made those short films, which I consider beautiful stepping stones.  Give yourself permission to fall flat on your face and be patient with yourself on this creative journey because in this business, it’s more about the journey than the destination.

SC:  Having attended a number of festivals in your career, you have firsthand experience participating in what can be incredibly competitive festivals.  What was your first film festival you attended?

SI:  The first film festival I got into was for my first film, Ladies Night, presented at a great festival I return to annually, the 2014 Big Apple Film Festival.  It’s a comedy held in a karaoke bar and I’ve learned a lot after that first film, like avoid writing a film where music rights are imperative. To my surprise, it was very well received and screened alongside Jerry Stiller in the festival program.  I had no idea what I was doing at the festival and was so nervous during the Q&A I could feel my shortness of breath while I was speaking.  It’s a comforting thought that no one really knows what they’re doing and just trying to do the best they can with what they’ve got.

Big Apple Film Festival with Jerry Stiller

2014 Big Apple Film Festival – Stephanie won for her first film, which screened along Jerry Stiller. It was a comedy called ‘Ladies Night’ Photo Credit: Stephanie Iscovitz

SC:  Recently, you went to Long Beach Island for a film festival not long ago.  What is it like for you to attend a festival where your production is featured?

SILighthouse International was the best film festival I’ve attended. Each year, the festival champions a selection of new, often unrecognized films from the US and around the world to compete in the festival and for audience award categories, which screen alongside award-winning spotlight films from Sundance, Cannes, SXSW, Toronto and Tribeca. I saw pre-released films and met other NYC filmmakers, sparking collaboration for future projects.

After the screenings, there were Q&A’s with the filmmakers.  We had our world premiere of Bruce Loves You where the shorts programmer, Chip Parham, ran a stellar screening. It was wonderful to have a captive audience interested in knowing more about our film making process and about of course, Bruce the ghost.

'Bruce Loves You' cast at Lighthouse International film fest

‘Bruce Loves You’ team at the 2017 Lighthouse International Film Festival Photo courtesy of Darin Quan

SC:  As you attend these festivals, do you feel like you get better at the process or is every festival different?  What was it like to win at the festival?

SI:  Every festival is different. We’ve started to call it ‘Game of Festivals’ where you win or die and 99% of the time you die. It’s all so subjective and such a gamble, depending upon who’s watching your submission if your submission was actually watched, at what time of day, and what the viewer’s own personal values and tastes are.  When you are actually accepted out of thousands of submissions, it feels like a real lottery win.

I met one of my closest friends and collaborators at a film festival where our film, Catslaughter had been rejected. After speaking with her, it turned out we had the same exact film except hers was about a sweater and ours was about a cat. She had submitted early and was already accepted when we submitted late.  Timing is everything. A rejection doesn’t necessarily mean your film was bad.  There are a number of factors involved and in this case, they had already programmed a similar film. However, it turned out to be a huge blessing because she and I clicked creatively and have gone on to work together on multiple projects.

Stephanie Iscovitz with Cinder Chou

Filmmaker Cinder Chou at 2016 Big Apple Film Festival Photo courtesy of Stephanie Iscovitz

SC:  What is the message that you hope to deliver through your work?

SI:  I really want to drive social change through storytelling and that begins with representation on film, particularly through the female lens and experience.  I hope to enlighten while helping audiences feel a little less alone.

Tickets are still available to this year’s New York New Works Theatre Festival.  Click here for more information and tickets.  New York New Works Theatre Festival is also on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.  Click here for more on Stephanie Iscovitz and her upcoming projects.

Stephanie Iscovitz new role

Stephanie Iscovitz’s new project Photo courtesy of Rutledge Customs