REVIEW: Boston Lyric Opera’s delivers sleek and searing ‘Fellow Travelers’

It is an affair that is anything but simple.

Buried in an era of high times, unyielding tradition, and a booming economy lay a secret struggle.  From the first few notes of the lingering, lovely, and progressive score which is equal parts bright notes and mounting doom, Boston Lyric Opera’s (BLO) Fellow Travelers is a resplendent journey rooted in the booming 1950s, where two travelers meet on a park bench and their lives are forever changed.

Based on the novel of the same name by Thomas Mallon, Gregory Spears and Greg Pierce’s Fellow Travelers made its Boston debut in a limited, one weekend engagement which concluded with a matinee performance that paid tribute to the late Boston Conservatory President Richard Ortner on Sunday, November 17 at the beautiful Emerson Paramount Center.  Click here for more information about the Boston Lyric Opera and future events.

Boston Lyric Opera Fellow Travelers Office Party Photo by Liza Voll

Michelle Trainor as Miss Lightfoot toasts the Christmas party. Also pictured is David McFerrin as Estonian Frank, Jesse Blumberg as Hawkins Fuller, Chelsea Basler as Mary Johnson, Brianna J. Robinson as Lucy, and Vincent Turregano as Tommy McIntyre Photo courtesy of Liza Voll/Boston Lyric Opera

Fellow Travelers is a fictional tale rooted in historical events during the Lavender Scare at the center of the nation’s capital.  It frankly explores the rigid outlook on men and women struggling under the harsh light of government and society’s expectations and the desperate lengths they will go to keep up appearances while pursuing their own vision of success.  This well paced production challenges love, faith, and humanity in an age of McCarthyism, communism, behind-the-scenes interrogations, misogyny, and American idealism.

Sara Brown’s symbolic and sweeping set, Liz Printz’s wigs and makeup, Trevor Bowen’s definitive costumes, and Mary Shabatrua’s opaque, emotionally-charged lighting combined to create a perfect vintage setting right out of Mad Men.  From the elegant, shimmering gowns, perfectly coiffed wigs, pearls, and dapper fedoras to the vintage set that included classic typewriters and towering marble columns, Fellow Travelers successfully rewound the clock to the roaring hustle of 1950’s Washington DC.  Vincent Turregano as wiseacre Tommy McIntyre winding a yo-yo was a nice touch.

Boston Lyric Opera Fellow Travelers Chelsea Basler as Mary Johnson and Michelle Trainor as Mrs. Lightfoot Photo by Liza Voll

Jesse Darden as Timothy McLaughlin, Chelsea Basler as Mary Johnson, and Michelle Trainor as Miss Lightfoot Photo courtesy of Liza Voll/Boston Lyric Opera

Greg Pierce’s libretto exacts the lingo, expressions, and the camaraderie of its time reflected in this compelling and brilliant cast.  Fellow Travelers follows the immediate attraction between quick-witted and charismatic Hawkins Fuller, portrayed by a suave Jesse Blumberg and timid and naive Catholic intern Timothy Laughlin, depicted with virtuous charm by Jesse Darden.  Baritone Blumberg and Tenor Darden have playful, impressive chemistry as Blumberg affectionately calls Darden “Skippy”  and their scene about Bermuda is a significant highlight.

Exceptional soprano Chelsea Basler breathed the part of compassionate, kind, and well-meaning Mary.  She reflects that sweet nature and performs vocal gymnastics in I Worry That’s All.  It is fascinating to watch her interact with nosy office gossip Miss Lightfoot, portrayed with humor and gusto by Michelle TrainorDavid McFerrin, Simon Dyer, and James Maddalena all seamlessly navigate through their multiple, dynamic and pivotal roles.  With silvery vocals, Brianna J. Robinson is picture perfect as idealistic Lucy, longing for that 1950’s American Dream complete with family, yard, and picket fence.  However, not all dreams are meant to be.

Boston Lyric Opera Jesse Blumberg as Hawkins Fuller and Brianne J. Robinson as Lucy Photo courtesy of Liza Voll

Jesse Blumberg as Hawkins Fuller and Brianna J. Robinson as Lucy Photo courtesy of Liza Voll/Boston Lyric Opera

Fellow Travelers, which followed a successful run of the classic Italian opera Pagliacci, is only part of what Boston Lyric Opera has in store this season.  Click here for BLO’s complete season and follow them on Facebook for all their latest updates.

REVIEW: Theatre@First delivers a compelling and haunting ‘Hamlet’

According to the Guinness Book of World Records, William Shakespeare’s work has garnered the most screen adaptations of any author in history in any language.  Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet boasts the most screen adaptations, but it’s hard to imagine Hamlet being far behind.

Shakespeare’s Hamlet has taken the stage and screen by storm from looser adaptations such as Disney’s stunning The Lion King in musical, animated, and live action form to Shakespeare on the Common to several films starring everyone from Laurence Olivier to Mel Gibson to Benedict Cumberbatch.  Why?  It’s a thrilling classic tale beloved by many about love, betrayal, and retribution with a haunting twist.

Theatre@FIrst Hamlet cast Johanna Bobrow

The cast of Theatre@First’s ‘Hamlet’ Photo courtesy of Johanna Bobrow/Theatre@First

Directed purposefully by Elizabeth Hunter, Theatre@First continues Shakespeare’s Hamlet through Saturday, November 23 at Unity Somerville in Somerville, Massachusetts.  Click here for more information and tickets.

Not a bad seat in the house as the audience gathered in Unity Somerville’s church basement for Theatre@First’s Hamlet.  The show is an immersive experience as the production expands beyond the stage and cast members can enter from anywhere in the venue.

Shakespeare’s Hamlet is about a Prince of Denmark who discovers his mother has married his uncle after his father has been murdered.  An urgent message inspires Hamlet to believe “something is rotten in the state of Denmark.”

Theatre@First’s Hamlet is a stylish, compelling drama that boasts some iridescent and impressive special effects as a translucent figure paces from a mysterious location.  It is not revealed which actor portrays that particular figure, but his moving and affecting presence is a highlight of the production.

Theatre@First Hamlet Laertes Nathan Phillip Andrew Harrington as Polonius and Evelyne Cardella Ophelia Johanna Bobrow

Clowning…. Nathan Phillip Johnson as Laertes, Andrew Harrington as Polonius and Evelyne Cardella as Ophelia Photo courtesy of Johanna Bobrow/Theatre@First

The show also blends the contemporary with the historical through its more casual tone and costume choices while Shakespeare’s alluring text and action sequences remain the same.  Carolyn Jones’s and Katie Caroll’s costume design nods to the late Middle Ages setting in Elsinore, Denmark while also boasting a contemporary flair.  For example, Hatem Adell portrays Hamlet wearing stone washed jeans and a crown on his t-shirt while Gertrude, depicted by Ron Lacey, wears a gown more faithful to the historical time period.  Makeup artists Meg Boeni, Mack Caroll, and their assistants did an extraordinary job transforming the cast into their respective roles.

Hamlet features a capable cast that occasionally engages the audience.  The dialogue can be a bit rushed at times in its conversational tone which lessens the gravitas of Shakespeare’s eloquent text.  Andrew Harrington is an unforgettable presence as Polonius.  Wearing a beard and a bow tie, Harrington has natural comic timing with a distinctive voice and lighthearted demeanor.  A bit of a scene stealer, he humorously engages the audience with his offhanded and frank observations while offering wisdom and insight to his children.

Theatre@First Hamlet Hatem Adell and Evelyne Cardella Ophelia Johanna Bobrow

Evelyne Cardella as Ophelia and Hatem Adell as Hamlet Photo courtesy of Johanna Bobrow/Theatre@First

Evelyn Cardella glows as Ophelia with a wide smile, bright eyed virtue, and complete infatuation with Hamlet.  Playful and charming, Cardella has a sweet chemistry with Nathan Phillip Johnson as her brother, Laertes and Andrew Harrington as their warm and wise father, Polonius.  Cardella navigates the character with vulnerability and heartfelt poignancy as her emotions turn on a dime.

Theatre@First Hamlet Nathan Philip Johnson as Laertes and Myra Hope Eskridge as Claudius Johanna Bobrow

Nathan Phillip Johnson as Laertes and Myra Hope Eskridge as Claudius Photo courtesy of Johanna Bobrow/Theatre@First

Hatem Adell certainly has exacted the alarming rage expected of Hamlet in the face of betrayal.  Adell delivers the famous “To Be or Not to Be” soliloquy with finesse.  He also excels at Hamlet’s darkly playful demeanor, especially in a powerful scene alone with Ophelia.  Nathan Phillip Johnson also gives a memorable performance as valiant and forthright Laertes, infusing a natural charisma in each scene.

Myra Hope Eskridge as Claudius delivers a suave poker face, but lacks the devious nature expected of the character.  Claudius is a calculating character and leaves little room for sympathy.  A brief exchange with Laertes later in the production showed just a glimpse of Claudius’s true nature.

Hamlet is not complete without the appearance of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, portrayed with fresh humor by Chantelle Marshall and Julia Kennedy respectively.  They make a seeming pair of jolly, dimwitted bookends as Hamlet’s childhood friends, dressed identically and interchangeably.  However, they are more than meets the eye.

Theatre@First Hamlet Hatem Adell Rosencrantz Chantelle Marshall and Guildenstern Julia Kennedy Johanna Bobrow

Hatem Adell as Hamlet joined by Chantelle Marshall as Rosencrantz and Julia Kennedy as Guildenstern Photo courtesy of Johanna Bobrow/Theatre@First

Get thee to Theatre@First’s final performances of Hamlet through Saturday, November 23 at Unity Somerville, 6 William Street in Somerville, Massachusetts.  Click here for more information, tickets, and how to support Theatre@First.