REVIEW: Let loose and laugh a lot about life with inventive musical comedy ‘The Other Josh Cohen’

What if life could nudge you in the right direction when nothing seems to be going right?  The romantic musical comedy The Other Josh Cohen inventively and comically explores this concept and more continuing at the Westside Theatre in New York, New York through April 7.  This production is 90 minutes without an intermission.  Click here for more information and tickets.

Imagine a studio apartment being robbed on a holiday with Grinch-like stealthiness, perhaps even the thief figuratively “taking the last can of Who Hash” which in this case is unceremoniously a radio.  However, rather than it taking place on Christmas Eve, it’s on Valentine’s Day, and what little the thief does leave behind becomes your most treasured possession – a certain CD.  It’s easy to relate to this scenario because my own car was robbed once and I knew kids were probably responsible because they left the movie soundtrack to Titanic behind.  Ah, kids today.

The victim in this robbery is Josh Cohen, portrayed with lovable earnestness by Steve Rosen as Narrator Josh, portrayed with confidence and charm by David Rossmer, looks on.  It seems that nothing is going quite right for Josh until an unforeseen circumstance just might turn his life around.

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Steve Rosen and David Rossmer as The Other Josh Cohens Photo courtesy of Caitlin McNaney/The Other Josh Cohen

This multi-layered musical comedy is as ambitious as it is hilarious.  Not only does the show take off right away and I’m not just talking about most of the set, but it plays with time frames, utilizing a small, but ceaselessly hardworking, multi-talented cast capable of playing several characters at the drop of a dime.  How many shows can say that the cast is also the band and it all runs like clockwork?

With orchestrations by Dan Lipton and David Rossmer, The Other Josh Cohen is packed with catchy, insightful, comical, and frequently optimistic tunes about life and isn’t afraid to get occasionally silly.   The lighthearted, rock and roll and pop soundtrack includes Hang On, The Other Josh Cohen, What If, Change a Thing, and Samuel Cohen’s Family Tree which come highly recommended.   The Other Josh Cohen star-studded CD soundtrack features the voices of Hank Azaria, Sutton Foster, Sarah Bishop, and Richard Kind to name just a few.

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From L to R Louis Tucci, Kate Wetherhead, Luke Darnell-Hannah Elless Photo courtesy of Caitlin McNaney/The Other Josh Cohen

There is a great deal of natural chemistry among this small cast and though they seem to be improvising at times, it is an entirely scripted show punctuated by timely pop culture references.  Cathryn Wake, Jane Bruce, Luke Darnell, Louis Tucci, and Megan Loomis all make portraying several roles look easy as glittering Aunt Bea, Josh’s neighbor who is part of the “she” street band, the superintendent, Josh’s father, and the dentist are particular highlights.

 

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So The Other Josh Cohen is funny, inventive, semi-interactive, and has a multi-talented cast, but what makes this show special?  Even when life shows its dark side, there is always hope.  It’s good to laugh a little (or a lot) and through its catchy, sometimes self-deprecating songs, everything in life just might turn out ok.  That makes for more than just a fun night out.

The Off-Broadway, romantic musical comedy, The Other Josh Cohen continues at the Westside Theatre at 407 W 43rd Street New York, New York through April 7.  Click here for more information and tickets.  Click here for further details on that star-studded soundtrack.

 

 

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.

Beautiful cast

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.

 

 

 

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: Park the car at the Company Theatre for their bustling, meaningful musical ‘Ragtime’

Oh, how that music rolls along.  Much like the show’s polished Ford Model T, Company Theatre’s Ragtime the Musical hums like a well oiled machine, driven by its marvelous music, veering into life’s complicated pursuit of happiness.

Composed of an energetic, 15 piece live orchestra led by Music Director Steve Bass, this bustling, message-driven musical portrays America through many different sets of eyes, an America full of expectations, hope, and disappointment.  Many looked to America for answers and some discovered it was not quite what they expected.  Some realized the answers were there all along, and some took their comfortable world for granted.  As each impressive note swells, another day dawns to face fears, work harder, and support your neighbor.  You might even find yourself singing a new song.

Company Theatre kicked off their 40th season with Ragtime the Musical on Friday, July 27 and continuing Sunday, August 19 at the Company Theatre in Norwell, Massachusetts. Click here for more information and for tickets.

Company Theatre Ragtime through August 19

Courtesy of Company Theatre for the Arts

Ragtime the Musical explores America from many different perspectives from Eastern European immigrants, people of Harlem led by a successful jazz musician, and the upper-class residents of New Rochelle, New York.  Much of Ragtime is a historical story told.  Narrated with gravitas in part by Jeffrey Sewell as Younger Brother, the catchy, rich, and stirring vocals combined with the complex, interweaving tale is the real magic of this piece. With a cast brimming with sensational voices, Ragtime delivers one spine-tingling song after another.

With the bulk of the cast frequently onstage, costume designer Brianna Plummer carefully orchestrates a bold statement into each costume, painting her own distinct portrait from white lace and pearls to bowler hats and colorful suits faithful to the era.  Behind a white parasol and a string of pearls, Paula Markowitz portrays privileged, yet compassionate New Rochelle resident, Mother.  Markowitz’s silvery soprano vocals soar with the heartfelt numbers, Goodbye, My Love and Back to Before.  It is a privilege to see Markowitz depict her character on a transformative journey, torn between her pensive pauses and her impulsiveness.

With a firm, bearded frown, Peter S. Adams portrays seemingly controlling Father as unyieldingly practical, astute, and always driven by what he thinks are good intentions.  Adams and Markowitz have a familiar chemistry that takes on the earmarks of an old married couple.  They move together with a comforting predictability.  Adams’s melodious, rich vocals are especially poignant during the number, New Music.

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Peter S. Adams as Father and Owen Veith as The Little Boy with cast in the number, ‘What a Game’ Photo courtesy of Company Theatre for the Arts

Owen Veith portrays their chatty, wise, and precocious Little Boy.  Not only is he an adorable addition to the cast, but Veith has some real comic timing as he innocently spouts out truth at the most inconvenient times.

Michael Hammond delivers warmth and enthusiasm as Jewish immigrant, Tateh.  He is a seemingly jubilant hard worker, often hiding his pain.  He has a sweet compatibility with Hannah Dwyer as The Little Girl as they discover a new world and is especially charming during the imaginative number, Gliding.

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(L to R) Barbara Baumgarten, Cristian Sack, Hilary Goodnow, Brenna Kenney, Finn Clougherty, Jillian Griffin, with Hannah Dwyer as Little Girl and Michael Hammond as Tateh Photo courtesy of Zoe Bradford

Introduced fittingly by the infectious tune Henry Ford, The Ford Model T is something to behold and is its own character.  With working headlights, the Ford Model T is suburb, much like the character driving it.  Last seen as the Wizard in Lyric Stage Company’s The Wiz, Davron S. Monroe as Model T owner and successful Harlem jazz musician Colehouse Walker Jr. embodies the role with charisma, dignity, and sympathetic earnestness.  One could also listen to his velvety vocals all day.   Arielle Rogers delivers a moving performance as Sarah, punctuated by her pained, heart rendering version of Daddy’s Son.  Together, they perform a magnificent version of Wheels of a Dream.  Get in the car, park it at Company Theatre, and witness that magic.

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Devron S. Monroe as Colehouse Walker Jr. in ‘Ragtime’ with cast Photo courtesy of Company Theatre for the Arts

The show is not without its moments of satirical humor delivered by over the top, flirtatious showgirl, model, and actress Evelyn Nesbit, portrayed with a wink and a smile by Sarah Kelly.  Along with James Fernandez as spectacular Hungarian immigrant illusionist Harry Houdini, these two historical figures shine the light on what the world aspires to.

Company Theatre’s Ragtime the Musical continues through Sunday, August 19 at Company Theatre for the Arts, 30 Accord Park Drive in Norwell, Massachusetts. Click here for more information, tickets, and how to support Company Theatre’s future.  Also follow Company Theatre on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter to learn all about their milestone 40th season.

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Jars of Clay, TobyMac, and For King and Country part of ‘Soulfest’s’ 20th anniversary concert celebration

Soulfest Full lineup

Credit to Gunstock Mountain Resort and Soulfest

Nestled in the White Mountains is a concert experience unlike any other.  Beautiful and uplifting, Soulfest is celebrating its 20th anniversary as a haven for fellowship and the Christian music scene in the stunning mountain setting from Thursday, August 3 through Saturday, August 5 at Gunstock Mountain in Gilford, NH.  In addition, this anniversary concert weekend will also include the Soulfest Kickoff Concert as well as the late night screening of the film, Priceless on Wednesday, August 2.  Click here for an inside look at this anniversary concert experience.

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Soulfest concert scene Photo credit to Soulfest

Co-founded by Dan Russell in 1998, Soulfest annually features an incredible repertoire on multiple stages, featuring 80 musical guests and inspirational speakers over a three day weekend in August.  With this year’s theme entitled ‘Music, Love, Action,’ the Soulfest Kickoff Concert includes performances by Grammy and Dove Award winners Jars of Clay, The Violet Burning, Rachel Taylor, and Dan Russell.  A few highlights spread out over the Inside Out, Mercy Street, and Revival stages are For King and Country, TobyMac, Crowder, Derek Minor, Moriah Peters, Lacey Sturm, Kardia, Project 86, Epic Season, The Light of Hope, as well as acoustic performances on the Mountain Top stage from Chasing the Light, Christopher Williams, Big Kettle Drum, and more.  Click here for this year’s milestone lineup and for tickets.

Soulfest Kickoff Concert

Kickoff concert lineup Photo courtesy of Soulfest

Not only is Soulfest a monumental musical event, it is also packed with exciting and informative workshops by Grammy-winning singer-songwriters, professors, New York bestselling authors, and much more.  This year, the Justice Center stage includes Morning Worship hosted by The Salvation Army and Soulfest Open Mic, the Inside Out stage features Musician’s Workshop with Paul Colman as well as Catholic Mass with Matt Maher, and the Mercy Street stage features a few performers in The Songwriters Circle.  Soulfest also offers an opportunity to meet some of the acclaimed performers in the Meet and Greet/VIP Lounge.

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Photo credit to Soulfest

Soulfest performers

Photo credit to Soulfest

Attendees are also invited to participate in activities onsite including Zip Line, Mini Golf, Paddleboats, Hiking, Mountain Biking, Kayaking, and more.  Kids’ activities zone includes an archery tent, video game hub, and there will also be a children’s ministry in front of a campfire.  Click here for more information.

Soulfest candlelight service

Candlelight service, part of Soulfest’s 20th anniversary celebration Photo credit to Soulfest

Soulfest is always looking for volunteers and are in need of 500 in order to run this three day festival.  Benefits of volunteering include free admission, free camping in volunteer section, and one free meal a day.   To learn about requirements and to register, click here.

Click here for full three day tickets, day passes, and evening passes.  Follow Soulfest on Twitter and Facebook for more details.