REVIEW:  Umbrella Stage Company unveils riveting musical, ‘The Color Purple’

How does one find faith when everything falls apart?

Based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by Alice Walker, The Color Purple is a powerful and thought provoking historical drama that examines life’s true meaning, redemption, transformation, and the search for faith and love when all seems lost.

With stirring direction by BW Gonzalez, Nathanael Wilkerson’s lively music direction, and instinctively choreographed by Najee A. Brown, Umbrella Stage Company continues the Tony award-winning musical, The Color Purple by Marsha Norman through Sunday, June 4 live and in person at the Umbrella Arts Center in Concord, MA.  The show has two acts with one intermission and contains some mature themes.  Some package shows also offer walking tours.  Click here for more information and tickets.

Shy’Kira Allen as Celie and cast Photo by Jim Sabitus

Umbrella Stage Company could not have chosen a better time to bring this particular musical to the stage this year.  The Color Purple celebrated the 40th anniversary of the acclaimed novel last year and the 1985 film directed by Steven Spielberg featured an all star cast including Whoopi Goldberg, Danny Glover and Oprah Winfrey.  It garnered several Oscar nominations including Best Picture. This December, a musical film adaptation of The Color Purple will premiere featuring a multitalented cast including Taraji P. Henson, Halle Bailey, Fantasia Barrino, and H.E.R.

Having never read the book or seen the film, The Color Purple was an eye opening experience.  It holds turmoil, peril, and cruelty, but it is also an extraordinary tale of miracles, transformation, humor, and unyielding hope exclaimed by a mesmerizing cast of powerful voices each with their own challenges to overcome.  Walker’s dynamic characters possess a wealth of depth and complexity that deliver some astonishing twists and turns.  The Color Purple features a powerful and Grammy award-winning score that infuses gospel, ragtime, jazz, and blues. The uplifting Our Prayer is gripping right from the start and the tapestry of moving numbers that follow makes the musical all the more enthralling.

‘Our Prayer’ from The Color Purple Photo by Jim Sabitus

SeifAllah Salotto-Crisobal’s impactful lighting design meticulously sets the tone in creative and multicolored pastels transforming Janie E. Howland’s modest wooden set equipped with whips and a silver barrel.  Covering a 40 year range, costume designer Danielle Dominigue Sumi navigates various eras with finesse including culturally appropriate attire from muted to kaleidoscopic colors.

Shy’Kira Allen as Celie and Kayla Leacock as Nettie Photo by Jim Sabitus

In 1909 rural Georgia, Celie at 14 is about to give birth.  She finds solace in her buoyant and discerning sister Nettie in a beautiful depiction by Kayla Leacock.  Their genuine camaraderie is sheer joy to witness as Celie navigates her own unmerited suffering.  Nettie is one of many spiritually strong and often challenged women surrounding inquisitive, naïve, obedient, and shy Celie depicted remarkably by Shy’kira Allen, that teach her about resilience and fortitude.  Kai Clifton is a powerful force as daring Sofia with a trailblazing attitude and demeanor rare of a woman in the early 1900’s as demonstrated in a sage and commanding rendition of Hell No!  Crystin Gilmore holds her own power as captivating and liberated performer Shug Avery who breezes into Georgia on a whim bringing excitement, scandal, and humor to the town as demonstrated in an alluring rendition of Push the Button.  However, Gilmore truly shines in quieter moments with her tender rendition of Too Beautiful for Words as well as the show’s heartfelt title track.

Crystin Gilmore as Shug Avery and cast Photo by Jim Sabitus

Shy’Kira Allen rises to the challenge as complicated Celie and though Allen has many memorable scenes with the cast, her most powerful scenes are the ones she must stand on her own such as in Lily of the Field, Dear God, and a brilliant rendition of I’m HereBrian Demar Jones is impressive and deceptively charismatic as short sighted and egocentric Mister while Jordan Aaron Hall is likable as compassionate yet impressionable Harpo.  Rural Georgia is an area not without its gossip and keeping the mood light in the midst of the show’s most difficult moments are the humorous and ever knowing Church Ladies, their clever vocal styling slick for Shug Avery Coming to Town and Uh Oh.

Kai Clifton as Sofia and cast Photo by Jim Sabitus

Umbrella Stage Company delivers Alice Walker’s message with such collective fervor, make time to witness this Color Purple

Umbrella Stage Company continues the Tony award-winning musical, The Color Purple though Sunday, June 4 live and in person at the Umbrella Arts Center in Concord, MA.  The show has two acts with one intermission and contains some mature themes.  Click here for more information and tickets.

REVIEW: The Huntington’s bold and savory comedy, ‘Clyde’s’ serves up the works

Talk about mouthwatering fare.

Don’t arrive to Clyde’s hungry as Lynn Nottage’s illustrative script is not only a feast for the senses, but Clyde’s is where the sandwich is undeniably king in every sense of the word.  For a group of enigmatic employees struggling to get out from under a scant Pennsylvania trucker stop, the sandwich is the key to all things great.  However, with a tyrannical boss at the helm, Clyde has plenty to say over whom or what reigns supreme.

Harold Surratt as Montrellous and April Nixon as Clyde in Lynn Nottage’s Tony award nominated play Clyde’s Photo by Kevin Berne

Directed intuitively by Taylor Reynolds, The Huntington, in a co-production with Berkeley Repertory Theatre, presents captivating, Pulitzer Prize-winning and Tony award-nominated dramedy Clyde’s through Sunday, April 23 live and in person at the Huntington Theatre in Boston, Massachusetts.  The show is one hundred minutes with no intermission.  Click here for more information and for tickets.

Clyde’s is a fascinating, no holds barred yet comedic look into the hectic lives of Clyde’s employees and the mysterious reasons why they are there.  Nottage’s sterling script balances the heartache of home life and arduous work when the cards are stacked with the dream of pursuing perfection. 

Louis Reyes Mcwilliams as Jason and Cyndii Johnson as Letitia in Lynn Nottage’s Tony Award nominated play, ‘Clyde’s’ Photo by Kevin Berne

The cast does an amazing job collaboratively building surprising comedic moments within a show rife with tension and serious themes.  Harold Surratt epitomizes wise and discerning Montrellous as he poetically describes the art of the sandwich with ‘intangible grace and aromas’ and deems artichokes as ‘grace notes.’   Surratt, unconventional in multicolored and kaleidoscopic garments, portrays amiable Montrellous as the calm within a fiery storm.   Surratt’s warm smile and soothing vocals can charm almost anyone into discovering the joy in life’s simplicity.  Wesley Guimaraes as sous-chef Rafael share some of that optimism and grace striving to achieve the peace that Montrellous seemingly exudes.  Guimaraes shares some refreshing, playful, and flirtatious scenes with Cyndii Johnson as Letitia on prep.  Their remarkable chemistry is a highlight of the production.  Johnson enthusiastically captures the outspoken, fast talking, and sympathetic Letitia who is both caring yet not to be trifled with while Louis Reyes McWilliams searingly portrays guarded Jason, building his own tension with every careful move.

Cyndii Johnson as Letitia and Wesley Guimarães as Rafael in Lynn Nottage’s Tony award- nominated play ‘Clyde’s’ Photo by Muriel Steinke

However, the prime source of unease can be found in Clyde, a force to be reckoned with depicted glacially by April Nixon.  From Montrellous’s unique ensembles to Leticia’s exuberant headscarves, costume designer Karen Perry creates incredible and vampy ensembles that exude Nixon’s egotistical, booming, and militaristic Clyde.  Tiger prints, multicolored, scalloped sleeves, sparkling pumps, and astounding incandescent wigs by Megan Ellis help bring out Nixon’s spicy Clyde in and out of the kitchen.  Nixon’s gusto is evident from the very first scene, channeling the kitchen’s mood under Clyde’s manicured fingertips.

April Nixon as Clyde and Harold Surratt as Montrellous in Lynn Nottage’s Tony award-nominated play ‘Clyde’s’ Photo by Kevin Berne

Aubrey Dube’s catchy and upbeat sound design fuel this bustling and rustic kitchen designed by Wilson Chin.  Plants, boom box, storage boxes, utensils, silver gleaming fridge, grill, Tupperware, and to go boxes are reminiscent of the authentic clutter out of The Bear or Kitchen Nightmares.  The flashy and vibrant monument sign, fueled by lighting designer Amith Chandrashaker, work spectacularly with the show’s memorable score and its fast paced setting.

As Montrellous muses, ‘over complication obscures the truth’ so take a trip to Clyde’s for a bold and powerfully- charged dramedy where aspiration is never off the menu.

The Huntington, in a co-production with Berkeley Repertory Theatre, presents captivating, Pulitzer Prize-winning and Tony award-nominated comedy Clyde’s through Sunday, April 23 live and in person at the Huntington Theatre in Boston, Massachusetts.  The show is one hundred minutes with no intermission.  Click here for more information and for tickets.

REVIEW:  Down True Repertory Theatre’s winding and thought provoking ‘Rabbit Hole’

Grief is just love with nowhere to go.

It can be getting too close while saying too much and then not enough.  Holding on too tight or letting go too fast.  What to do not knowing what to do and finding where to meet in the middle.

Starring and insightfully directed by Victoria Bond, True Rep Theatre’s latest production was David Lindsay-Abaire’s Pulitzer Prize and Tony award-winning play, Rabbit Hole which was onstage for one weekend only from Friday, March 24 through Sunday, March 26 at the Beal House in Kingston, Massachusetts.  Hope Floats in Kingston partnered with True Repertory Theatre for Rabbit Hole.  Click here for more information and for more about True Rep Theatre.

Victoria Bond as Becca and Julie Butler in True Rep’s ‘Rabbit Hole’ Photo credit to True Repertory Theatre

Rabbit Hole examines the aftermath of an unimaginable tragedy for a struggling family and all who are connected to it on a journey through loss.  It explores a variety of ways in which conflict can arise from miscommunication, loneliness, and the uncertain future.  It also has moments of humor, but Lindsay-Abaire’s meaty script seems to have metaphorically placed everyone on their own grieving life raft as each individual attempts to keep each other afloat.

Songs by Al Green, Florence and the Machine, Matt Alber, Damien Jurado and Gary Jules are just a few of the artists that enhance the show’s complicated beauty and the semi-immersive set draws the audience further into its engrossing content.  The Beal House, without a bad set, features a functioning kitchen which flows seamlessly through each of True Rep’s distinctive productions.  Colin Gaynor’s sweet vocals lends to the show’s stirring sound design.

Rabbit Hole features an intimate cast that delivers powerful and intense performances and it is difficult to imagine these actors not feeling emotionally depleted after each show.  Victoria Bond both directs and stars as Becca, a normally levelheaded wife devastated over the sudden death of her young son. 

Some of Rabbit Hole’s eloquence is that it does not take place prior to a tragedy, but months later on a day not unlike any other day.  This renowned play is a mass of subtle intricacies that seem small, but pack a wallop.  With a somewhat slumped walk and a reticent and sullen voice, Bond melts into the role of an anxious and irritable perfectionist Becca with ingenuity and a creeping tension just below the surface.  It is a relatable portrait of a worn mother struggling to hold on while searching for a way forward.

Victoria Bond as Becca and Donald Sheehan in ‘Rabbit Hole’ Photo credit to True Repertory Theatre

Donald Sheehan depicts Becca’s husband Howard who is coping with his son’s death differently.   With a feigned smile and with greater openness than his wife, Sheehan treads carefully for Becca’s sake.  Having seen the 2010 film of the same name, Howard was depicted as less likable than in this production.  However, Sheehan brings patience and greater understanding of his wife’s needs to the role, though their marriage is not without conflict.  Sheehan and Bond’s complicated relationship ebbs and flows unsteadily. 

On a lighter note, Julie Butler portrays Becca’s tough, aimless, but caring sister Izzy.  With blue, pink, and red hair and bold fashion sense, Butler’s blunt and edgy charm makes for some entertaining and comedic moments.  Butler has great chemistry with each dysfunctional family member and is a breath of fresh air within the show’s heavier content.  Lisa Caron Driscoll as Becca’s chatty and nagging mother Nat makes it easy to see where Izzy gets her outspoken demeanor.  However, Nat is also a pillar of strength and though Nat’s grief seems buried deep, Driscoll impressively unravels this multi-layered character inch by almost unendurable inch.   

Lisa Caron Driscoll as Nat and Victoria Bond as Becca Photo credit to True Repertory Theatre

Patrick McCarthy depicts sympathetic Jason with humbleness and an innate sincerity.  Through a shared persistence, McCarthy and Bond poignantly develop a bizarre and bittersweet connection on this heartrending journey.

True Rep Theatre’s latest production was David Lindsay-Abaire’s Pulitzer Prize and Tony award-winning play, Rabbit Hole which was onstage for one weekend only from Friday, March 24 through Sunday, March 26 at the Beal House in Kingston, Massachusetts.  Hope Floats in Kingston partnered with True Repertory Theatre for Rabbit Hole.  Click here for more information and for more about True Repertory Theatre.

REVIEW:  SpeakEasy Stage Company offers a shrewd and exceptional ‘Fairview’

Mama is about to have a birthday bash no one will soon forget.

Prepared by Yewande Odetoyinbo as Beverly and Dominic Carter as Dayton who delivered playful and endearing chemistry previously seen in Lyric Stage Company’s production The Light, SpeakEasy Stage Company’s brilliant production of Fairview is an impactful and evolving show that has so much to say, but yet so little should be said before witnessing it.  Its humor ranges from conventional to absurd to acerbic and should be watched, understood, and thought over.

Yewande Odetoyinbo and Dom Carter. Nile Scott Studios

SpeakEasy Stage Company presents Jackie Sibblies Drury’s Pulitzer prize-winning Fairview live and in person at Calderwood Pavilion in Boston, Massachusetts through Saturday, March 11.  Powerfully directed by Pascale Florestal, Fairview boasts an excellent and dynamic cast.  Fairview runs one hour and 45 minutes with no intermission and contains adult themes.  Click here for more information and tickets.

Lyndsay Allyn Cox, Yewande Odetoyinbo, and Victoria Omoregie. Nile Scott Studios

Amid an Obama family portrait on the left and a Langston Hughes poem on the right with upscale furniture and a dangling crystal chandelier overhead by Erik D Diaz, the production opens to an inviting and seemingly affluent household as Beverly, attempting to quell her nerves, begins to dance while peeling a carrot for Mama’s birthday dinner.  Soon joined by Dayton, Lyndsay Allyn Cox as Beverly’s sister Jasmine and Victoria Omoregie as Beverly and Dayton’s daughter Keisha, Fairview reveals a dysfunctional family gearing up for a big night for Mama.  Beverly’s only wish is for everything to be perfect.

Fairview addresses the nature of observing and perspective in a unique, palpable and unpredictable manner and it is quite a wild ride to its astonishing conclusion, so be still and observe.  This may be unlike anything witnessed before onstage and most assuredly worth the journey.

SpeakEasy Stage Company presents Jackie Sibblies Drury’s Pulitzer prize-winning Fairview live and in person at Calderwood Pavilion in Boston, Massachusetts through Saturday, March 11.  Fairview runs one hour and 45 minutes with no intermission and has adult themes.  Click here for more information and tickets.

REVIEW: Merrimack Repertory Theatre’s ‘Until the Flood’ a raw, complex, and gripping docu-drama

Until the Flood begs the question, “How do you want to be remembered?”

Director Timothy Douglas frames a poignant, moving portrait of a community in pain with Merrimack Repertory Theatre’s virtual docu-drama Until the Flood continuing through Wednesday, May 5. The content of this program is not recommended for youth under age 16.  This program was originally commissioned by The Repertory Theatre of Saint Louis.  Click here for more information on Merrimack Repertory Theatre and how to stream the show.

Based on real life accounts gathered in 2014 by Pulitzer prize-winning finalist Dael Orlandersmith, Until the Flood delves deep into the emotional and complicated perspectives and recollections of this community and how it affected each person following the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. 

Maiesha McQueen in one person show ‘Until the Flood’ Photo courtesy of Kathy Wittman/MRT

A colorful, makeshift memorial is strewn on a chain link fence shrouded in a blue, haunting darkness.  Sirens ring out in the distance amid tingling and powerful music.  Merrimack Repertory Theatre’s Until the Flood sets a foreboding undertone through Lindsay Jones’s chilling sound design and Bill Clarke’s haunting and true-to-life set pieces.

Encapsulating all the anguish, uncertainty, doubt, fears, and hope is Maiesha McQueen in a tour-de-force performance onstage as she takes on eight individual composites drawn from real life interviews in this one person show.  From a 17 year-old teenager to a 75 year-old retired police officer, McQueen digs into the heart of each individual and delivers the kind of multi-layered performance that flows with each individual.  From a subtle head tilt and a tumult of emotion brewing in her eyes to the careful movements and creaking in her bones as she takes on the persona of an ailing senior to the confident swagger of a teenager that feels like he can take on the world, McQueen writhes and broods with each character.  Dressed in colorful and consistent street clothes by Yao Chen, each perspective and recollection made by each individual is fleshed out and brought together by McQueen as she pours herself into each character and makes each stand on their own.  Her pliability transforms her stature, stance, rage, compassion, sadness, and anger “like the flood” over the state of the world. 

Until the Flood provides not only each individual account of what they heard, saw, or experienced of the Michael Brown shooting, but a deeper look into how each person lived their life before and after this harrowing incident within this community.  It is a raw, gripping look at how ugly and how beautiful a society can be and how easily friendships can change when people do not see eye-to-eye.  It delves into anger that can be unleashed too easily, anguish, sadness, harrowing fear, and unbridled hope in fellow human beings in spite of life’s sorrowful circumstances.  Most of all, it presents a fairly even handed, but complex account of what truly motivates human nature and how fear and hope takes shape.

Merrimack Repertory Theatre, located in Lowell, Massachusetts continues streaming Until the Flood through Wednesday, May 5.  Click here for more information and tickets.

REVIEW: Moliere in the Park’s ‘The School for Wives’ a twist-filled comedy of scheming proportions

What truly makes one person love another? 

Moliere in the Park begs this question while addressing gender stereotypes and takes an at times tongue in cheek look at what makes a good wife in The School for Wives, a classic comedy by French playwright Moliere first making its stage debut in 1662.  Translated by Pulitzer Prize-winner Richard Wilbur with French subtitles, this virtual romantic comedy in five acts has plenty of twists and turns on the road to love and made its live streaming debut on October 24 with the recording available through October 28 on Moliere in the Park’s YouTube channel. 

The cast of Moliere in the Park’s ‘The School for Wives’ Photo courtesy of Moliere in the Park

Moliere in the Park is dedicated to inclusive, just, and free theatre.  Click here for more information.

Set in Brooklyn, NY, Moliere in the Park’s The School for Wives uses its creative technical wizardry to meet Covid-19 standards with enhanced, virtual sets by Lina Younes transporting actors from a regal city garden to a carefully-detailed bedroom to an inviting cafe.  At one point, it also gives the illusion that the characters are all together.  Ari Fulton’s colorful costumes stay faithful to the time period while providing a certain modern edge.   

Kaliswa Brewster (Horace), Mirirai Sithole (Agnes) Photo courtesy of Moliere in the Park

Directed insightfully by Lucie Tiberghien, ‘The School of Wives’ is punctuated by its intriguing and catchy dialogue as well as its flipped gender roles.  Older and wealthy Arnolphe (Tonya Pinkins) thought he has his love life figured out until Horace (Kaliswa Brewster) makes him rethink his road to love with sweet and virtuous Agnes (Mirirai Sithole).  Each character is well developed, but what truly shines is the fleshed out philosophies and misconceptions of what makes a good woman and a good wife while exemplifying what truly makes a good man and husband.   

Tony Pinkins skillfully depicts the well-spoken and arrogant Arnolphe as a myriad of emotions cross Pinkins face in a single scene.  From a biting temper to soft chuckling to a Cheshire smile, Pinkins seamlessly illustrates Arnolphe’s constant inner conflict.   Ever the focused manipulator, Arnolphe’s vibrant scene-stealing gravitas keeps you engaged no matter how complicated his situation becomes.

Kaliswa Brewster (Horace), Tonya Pinkins (Arnolphe) Photo courtesy of Moliere in the Park

Kaliswa Brewster’s thousand-watt smile brings glowing charisma to young Horace, his youth shining through his outspoken candidness and confidence.  Pinkins and Brewster are best as they hide their veiled intentions from each other, carefully holding all their cards at bay.

Virtue takes form in Mirirai Sithole as Agnes, a wide-eyed, sympathetic creature who hides a secret.   Sithole’s carefully delivered dialogue and angelic, learned mannerisms keeps her fascinating and complicated in a demure pink headpiece and dress.

Tonya Pinkins (Arnolphe), Mirirai Sithole (Agnes) Photo courtesy of Moliere in the Park

Peasants Georgette (Tamara Sevunts) and Alain (Corey Tazmania) offer comic relief as frenzied servants of Arnolphe.  Anxious, obedient, and scrambling to meet Arnolphe’s demands, they are a fanatical and sympathetic pair whose often bewildered expressions makes one think they may have just ended up in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Tamara Sevunts (Georgette), Tonya Pinkins (Arnolphe) and Corey Tazania (Alain) Photo courtesy of Moliere in the Park

Moliere in the Park’s The School for Wives takes an enlightened look at love while the play unquestionably sets the foundation for today’s romantic comedy tropes.  Its rich, inherent message never lacks humor or sincerity when it comes to the unpredictable path to true love. 

REVIEW: Lively and insightful, Lyric Stage Company’s award-winning play, ‘The Wolves’ howls

Woven into the lush, green indoor turf is a unique narrative with the clever earmarks of adolescence in Sara DeLappe’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play finalist, The Wolves.  Framed as a soccer match, this unconventional ensemble drama kicks off like a rocket, luring the audience into the tumultuous chattering of a competitive, all-girls soccer team who are about to learn a few valuable lessons about life and themselves in and out of the game.

Directed by A. Nora Long, Lyric Stage Company’s The Wolves continues through Sunday, February 3 at 140 Clarendon Street in Boston.  The show is 90 minutes with no intermission and contains some mature themes.    Click here for more information and tickets.

The Wolves play

Photo courtesy of The Lyric Stage Company of Boston

Taking place entirely in an indoor soccer arena, Shelley Barish and Elizabeth Cahill’s exciting setting fits into the team’s boundless energy.  Sports fans take note:  Trained by soccer consultant Olivia Levine, The Wolves are the real deal, showing off authentic as well as physically complex moves throughout the performance.

What makes this show particularly interesting is the remarkable way the story is told.  With a 90 minute running time matching the length of an average soccer match, a horn blaring not only kicks off the latest match within the performance, but sometimes humorously ties in to interrupt a heated conversation.  As the audience as spectators peek into this team’s lives, the progressive nature in which they learn discipline, tolerance, and how to listen to each other is subtle, yet one of the most powerful parts of this compelling narrative.

The Wolves with orange slices

Cast consists of Lydia Barnett-Mulligan, Sarah Elizabeth Bedard, Simone Black, Olivia Z. Cote, Chelsea Evered, Grace Experience, Julia Lennon, Valerie Terranova, and Jurielle Whitney Photo courtesy of Lyric Stage Company

These teammates have a natural and at times, rumbling chemistry in their uninhibited conversations.  Whether they are delving into gossip around school, technology, getting their driver’s permits or scandalized by their maturing bodies, their viewpoints stay consistent with their level of maturity (right down to the abuse of the word, “like”) which can sometimes be insightful and other times, hilarious.

Though each cast member exhibits their own distinct personality in their matching uniforms, Valerie Terranova, who is making her debut on the Lyric Stage with this show, is a particular highlight as serious, optimistic player #25.  The wise, unassuming way she leads the team shows that while the other girls may only see what is right in front of them, #25 sees where the game might take them, united, one victory at a time.


The Wolves may even serve as a nostalgic trip down memory lane, when you were a teenager and everything was the best thing in the world or the worst, the raging excitement of life.  It may even leave you scratching your head, trying to recall if being a teenager girl was really like this.  The undeniable answer, for the most part, was yes.

The Lyric Stage Company continues Sara DeLappe’s The Wolves through Sunday, February 3 at 140 Clarendon Street in Boston, Massachusetts.  Click here for tickets and more information.  Subscriptions and dinner packages are also available.  Follow The Lyric Stage on Twitter and Facebook for their upcoming productions and more.

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.

Between Riverside and Crazy - Dinner with Audrey and Dave_083web

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.

Between Riverside and Crazy - Lulu and Junior Roof_207web

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.

Between Riverside and Crazy - Lulu Pops Caro Clash_355web

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.

Between Riverside and Crazy - Pops Meets The Church Lady_272web

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.

Amanda Pekoe of NYC’s The Pekoe Group, shares her Tony Awards predictions and sheer love of theatre


The 71st annual Tony Awards, hosted by Academy Award, Golden Globe, and Tony award-winning actor and singer Kevin Spacey, are coming up on Sunday, June 11 and will be broadcast live at Radio City Music Hall in NYC and on CBS at 8 p.m.  It is always an honor to speak to Amanda Pekoe, founder of NYC’s The Pekoe Group, about her thriving business and her sheer love for all things theatre.

Each year, Amanda offers her Tony predictions for theatre’s biggest night! Click here for more on the nominees and here for further information on the Pekoe Group.

Tony Awards 2016

Another shot of Amanda Pekoe, Christopher Lueck, and the Pekoe Group at the Tony Awards/Photo courtesy of Amanda Pekoe/The Pekoe Group

Sleepless Critic:  It’s a very exciting time for The Pekoe Group and your team.  The Pekoe Group recently celebrated its eighth anniversary.  How are you feeling about year eight?

Amanda Pekoe:  I’m really excited about our team and the high level of work we are doing.  Our digital department has expanded and we’re seeing huge ticket sales results from our digital campaigns.  We also won an award this year for the poster design for the Off-Broadway musical, The View UpStairs.

SC:  Congratulations!  It’s an especially busy time leading up to the Tonys every year.  Please tell me how the Tonys impact your business.

AP:  Awards season is such a busy and magical time of year.  I love when shows and artists are recognized for their tremendous work and talent. This year is particularly exciting because there are so many new musicals and different points of view being expressed in the writing on stage. I’m very grateful to continue to be a part of the social conversation.


SC:  The 71st annual Tony Awards, hosted by award-winning actor and singer Kevin Spacey, will be held on Sunday, June 11.  This is a special year as the Tony Awards is returning to its traditional venue, Radio City Music Hall.  It was at the Beacon Theatre last year.  It must be nice that it has returned to its roots.

AP:  I am looking forward to it being back at Radio City Music Hall. It’s such a large and beautiful venue, and so many people get to actually be in the theatre for the awards.

SC:  Kevin Spacey is a wonderful and unexpected choice to host.  He is not only an award-winning actor, but has proven to be a song and dance man many times over.  It is surprising that this is his first time hosting.

AP:  I think Kevin Spacey will have a great time hosting the Tony Awards. I’ve never met him in person but I think he’s so talented.  I love him in House of Cards!

SC:  It is wonderful to have an insider at the Tony Awards each year and you’ve been predicting the winners for about five years now.  Groundhog Day the Musical, Come from Away, Dear Evan Hansen, and Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812 are the nominees for Best Musical.  What nominated show do you think stands out to win this year?

AP:  All four of these shows are so terrific and so terrifically different from one another. It’s been such a well-rounded season of new musicals and they all offer something very special. I think Come from Away and Dear Evan Hansen are neck-in-neck, but I’m rooting for Dear Evan Hansen. I think the music is incredible and the story is extremely relatable for anyone who has ever felt like they’ve been on the outside looking in and not being seen.  I know I sometimes do.

SC:  Best Play nominees include Indecent, A Doll’s House Part 2, Oslo, and Sweat. Which ones do you think will prevail?

AP:  The plays are tough because they are all so good.  Sweat is a Pulitzer-Prize winner!  Of all the shows, I think my favorite would have to be Oslo.  I thought it was one of the most well-written plays I have watched this season and the topic was fascinating. The play’s rhythm moved so well and featured tremendous performances.

SC:  Denis Arndt for Heisenberg, Chris Cooper for A Doll’s House Part 2, Corey Hawkins for John Guare’s Six Degrees of Separation, Kevin Kline for Present Laughter, and Jefferson Mays for Oslo are all up for Best Actor in a Play.  Cate Blanchett for The Present, Sally Field for The Glass Menagerie, and Jennifer Ehle for Oslo, Laura Linney for Lillian Hellman’s The Little Foxes, and Laurie Metcalf for A Doll’s House Part 2 are up for Best Actress in a Play.  Who do you think are the big standouts?

AP:  These actors and actresses are all so great in these roles.  My personal favorites have been from the great and hilarious show, Present Laughter‘s Kevin Kline and Jefferson Mays in Oslo.  As for the actresses, Laurie Metcalf in A Doll’s House Part 2 and Jennifer Ehle in Oslo.

SC:  The nominees for Best Actor in a Musical are Christian Borle for Falsettos, Josh Groban for Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812, Andy Karl for Groundhog Day the Musical, Ben Platt for Dear Evan Hansen, and David Hyde Pierce for Hello, Dolly!  Best actress nominees in a musical include Denee Benton for Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812, Christine Ebersole for War Paint, Patti Lupone for War Paint, Eva Noblezada for Miss Saigon, and Bette Midler for Hello, Dolly!  Patti Lupone and Bette Midler in the same category!  Who do you think will win?

AP: I’m in love with Ben Platt in Dear Evan Hansen.  At every performance, he barely leaves the stage and sings his heart out. As for the actresses, it’s really hard for me to say. Patti LuPone and Christine Ebersole are forces of nature in War Paint and Bette Midler, well, there are no words.  These are three greatest of the greatest performers all gracing the Broadway stage in the same season and how awesome is that!  I think Denee Benton and Eva Noblezada are both so talented and very strong singers. This really is a tossup.  The category features some of the most gifted actresses and all of their performances are stunning.  I wish they could all win together.

SC:  What is The Pekoe Group’s specialty and what goals do you have for The Pekoe Group’s future?  I’ve noticed you often offer marketing advice to those who follow you on social media.

AP:  Our specialty is working with experienced producers, finding new audiences, and new ways to talk to traditional audiences.  Click here to check out our blog for marketing tips and pointers.

Besides our work, Christopher Lueck and I have been co-teaching a marketing class for CUNY Baruch College’s Masters Program in Arts Administration and that’s been really fulfilling.

Looking ahead, we hope to connect even more new audiences to theatre productions they’ll love.

SC:  What is the best or easiest way a business can contact the Pekoe Group?

AP:  Reach out to us on facebook or twitter: @ThePekoeGroup

REVIEW: Hingham Civic Music Theatre’s compelling musical, ‘Oklahoma’ a stompin’ good time

From the first few angelic notes from one of Oklahoma’s most popular songs, Oh What a Beautiful Morning sung a capella by Jack Cappadona as charismatic Curly, it is easy to see that Hingham Civic Music Theatre’s (HCMT) spring musical is something special.  Celebrating its 75th anniversary, Hingham Civic Music Theatre’s Oklahoma! combines elegant costuming, an impressive, distinctive cast, and an interactive set that makes the audience settle into its own home on the range.  With its wealth of historical references weaved into Rodgers and Hammerstein’s classic soundtrack capturing the spirit of the time, it is no wonder that Oklahoma! won the Pulitzer Prize for musical composition in 1944 and remains relevant today.  Hingham Civic Music Theatre delivers the show’s joyous zest for life, comedy, and, make no mistake, dark moments with zing and suspense.

HCMT Oklahoma Peddler and the Territory Boys

Michael Andre as Ali Hakim and the cast of ‘Oklahoma’ Photo courtesy of Eileen McIntyre/HCMT

Directed by Nathan Fogg and musically directed by Sandee Brayton with choreography by Tara Morrison, Hingham Civic Music Theatre offers two remaining performances of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s musical, Oklahoma! on Saturday, April 29 and a Sunday matinee on April 30 at the Sanborn Auditorium in Hingham, Massachusetts.  Click here for more information and for tickets.  Tickets are also available at the door.

Based on Lynn Riggs’ play, Green Grow the Lilacs, an interactive, colorful, and rustic set rewinds the clock to the Oklahoma Indian Territory at the turn of the century, equipped with softly flickering lanterns, vintage photos, bales of hay, colorful blossoms, lush greenery, and interactive props hanging on the walls.  In this particular production, the lighting is its own character, effectively setting the mood from a soft, rising sun to a nightmarish hue.

The splendid costumes, by Kathryn Ridder, are meticulously-detailed from gold embroidered shirts, brightly-colored satin costumes to delicate, richly-designed dresses with thick bows and petticoats.  Whether it is a cow scarf adorning an outfit or a carefully matched wicker hat, those details wonderfully capture the authenticity of the time.

Ruggedly dressed in suede chaps over khaki pants with a button down shirt and cowboy boots, Jack Cappadona portrays Curly McLain with an imaginative streak and a confident and at times, a mischievous smile.  Whether engaging C.J. Hawes as Laurey in a whimsical carriage ride during the playful song, The Surrey with the Fringe on the Top or musing about life in Oh What a Beautiful Morning, with silvery vocals, Jack slides right into the role as Curly with a natural charm.  With curly red hair and green striped overalls, C.J. Hawes portrays sassy, levelheaded Laurey with great comedic timing and sardonic wit.  Jack as Curly and C.J. as Laurey are enchanting together and their soaring vocals make beautiful harmony.

HCMT Oklahoma Laurey and Curly

Jack Cappadona as Curly and C.J. Hawes as Laurey Photo courtesy of Eileen McIntyre/HCMT

With thick curly hair, bright eyes, and a deep drawl, Rylan Vachon portrays Will as fun loving, somewhat hotheaded, and spontaneous.  Will’s rendition of the song, Kansas City, has never been more fun with lively vocals and slick choreography as The Territory Boys stomp, slide, and perform various stunts.  The entire cast captures the distinct spirit of Oklahoma! in all its stomping, sweeping joy.

HCMT Oklahoma Ado Annie and Will

Rylan Vachon as Will Parker and Jess Phaneuf as Ado Annie Photo courtesy of HCMT

Jess Phaneuf as Ado Annie brings a wild-eyed vivaciousness to the role.  She seems to know how to take command of any room she is in one way or another with a wink and a grin.  Her interaction with any cast member is fascinating and her comic timing is infallible.  Her chemistry with both Will and Michael Andre as bewildered peddler Ali Hakim, have their own distinct charm.  Michael Andre as Ali Hakim does a great job of balancing a dynamic character with comedy and cleverness.

HCMT Oklahoma Ado and Peddler

Jess Phaneuf as Ado Annie and Michael Andree as Ali Hakim Photo courtesy of Eileen McIntyre/HCMT

Athan Mantalos portrays disheveled, hired hand Jud with a slow burn and deep, compelling, operatic- sounding baritone.  Athan masters this role in the quiet moments, adding tension and making his character that much more mysterious.  His scenes with Curly are especially powerful and their vocals have seamless harmony.

HCMT Oklahoma Jud and Curly

Athan Matalos as Jud Fry and Jack Cappadona as Curly Photo Courtesy of Eileen McIntyre/HCMT

With spectacles and a high collared dress, Kate Fitzpatrick brings sensibility and a bit of sarcasm to the role of Aunt Eller, who is much wiser than she lets on.  Emily Gouillart as Gertie Cummings is a great deal of awkward fun with an unmistakable laugh.

Hingham Civic Music Theatre’s Oklahoma!  offers its share of romance, comedy, and plenty of uproarious moments, but dark moments as well.  Rodgers and Hammerstein wrote their second musical, Carousel, shortly after Oklahoma’s success and both shows share some of the same themes.  Hingham Civic Music Theatre delicately weaves in the themes of loneliness, temptation, and violence effectively, balancing this timeless tale.

Hingham Civic Music Theatre offers two remaining performances of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s musical, Oklahoma! on Saturday, April 29 and a Sunday matinee on April 30 at the Sanborn Auditorium in Hingham, Massachusetts.  Click here for more information and for tickets.  Tickets are also available at the door.  Be sure to follow Hingham Civic Music Theatre on Facebook and click here to learn how to support HCMT’s upcoming productions.