REVIEW: Embrace SpeakEasy Stage Company’s illuminating ‘English’

Learning a new language brings all kinds of emotions to the surface.   One is swept out of one’s own element and that can be as exciting as it is daunting. It can also become a long and awkward struggle to capture the essence of a new culture while steeped in a new language. Though one is gaining something new, one might also be losing a bit of themselves.

Thoughtfully directed by Melory Mirashrafi, Speakeasy Stage Company continues Sanaz Toossi’s English at Calderwood Pavilion in Boston, Massachusetts live and in person through Saturday, November 19.  The performance reviewed was audio described and one hour and 45 minutes with no intermission. Click here for more information and tickets.

The company of English. From left: Deniz Khateri, Josephine Moshiri Elwood, Lily Gilan James, Zaven Ovian, and Leyla Modirzadeh. Photo by Nile Scott Studios.

One of the most fascinating messages in SpeakEasy Stage Company’s English is the realization that one can learn many languages, but can only know one. That one native language is the foundation for all the rest.  In learning to speak a new language, it can reshape what comes naturally.

English delves into the lives of four students living in Iran who are learning the English language for TOEFL, a standardized test that stands for Test of English as a Foreign Language. The production is mostly in the English language with no subtitles.  It takes a moment to catch on, but Mirashrafi cleverly depicts when characters are speaking in their native tongue.

Leyla Modirzadeh as Roya in SpeakEasy’s production of English. Photo by Nile Scott Studios.

This multi-generational cast has various and deep seated reasons for learning English and this production resonates universal truths of having to learn a new language whether by choice or necessity. English does explore the political climate of learning English in Iran, but what is most memorable are the hardships, victories, competitiveness, and the often flustered frustration of learning a peculiar new facet of life.  Each individual demonstrates a different degree of longing to belong. It is not difficult to relate to this small and dynamic cast in their obstacles, earnestness, but most importantly, in the strength in who they are.  Deniz Khateri depicts complicated Marjan, who seems to firmly place herself in the world of the language she teaches. In a multi-layered performance, Khateri as Marjan is engaging and encouraging, but also firm and mysteriously guarded.  She lends to the show’s tension and subtle humor and has unique chemistry with each student. Lily Gilan James portrays wide-
eyed and optimistic Goli with effervescent candor. She stands on her own mistakes while earnestly articulating the nature of her wishes. 

The company of English. From left: Deniz Khateri, Josephine Moshiri Elwood, Lily Gilan James, Zaven Ovian, and Leyla Modirzadeh. Photo by Nile Scott Studios.

Leyla Modirzedeh as wise and headstrong Roya is strongly urged to learn English to communicate with new members of her long distance family.  A sympathetic character, Modirzedeh powerfully evokes Roya’s sincerity and her struggle between her heritage and this new way of communicating.   Zaven Ovian depicts Omid with easygoing charm and he shares some compelling scenes with Khateri as Marjan and with witty, outspoken and understandably frustrated Elham, a standout performance by Josephine Moshiri Elwood.  Elham is a complex individual who is as compassionate as she is bold and is often hardest on herself.

Josephine Moshiri Elwood as Elham in SpeakEasy’s production of English. Photo by Nile Scott Studios.

Nina Vartanian’s culturally sound and vivid costumes pop in Janie E Howland’s realistic classroom staging and enhanced by an elegant, multicolored portrait in teal, orange, red, brown, and beige.   

English is an honest, straightforward, warmly funny, and universally relatable journey of discovering a new language and in all of its difficulties, deciding whether or how to embrace it.  See English and embrace its life lessons. 

Deniz Khateri (left) and Zaven Ovian in SpeakEasy’s production of English. Photo by Nile Scott Studios.

SpeakEasy Stage Company presents Sanaz Toossi’s English live and in person at the Calderwood Pavilion in Boston, MA through Saturday, November 19.  Click here for more information and for tickets.

REVIEW: Greater Boston Stage Company’s ‘The Legend of Sleepy Hollow’ a family treat and delivering more surprises than things that go bump in the night

Under a glimmering moon, fog rolls in as a candle burns. 

Near a tattered fence and curtains behind a pedestal table sits The Legend of Sleepy Hollow’s author Washington Irving, portrayed by Boston-based actor Paul Melendy.  Poised to share his gothic novel, Washington Irving is just one of several personas Melendy charismatically manifests for Greater Boston Stage Company’s semi-interactive, one man performance of Halloween classic, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.

Paul Melendy in Greater Boston Stage Company’s ‘The Legend of Sleepy Hollow’ Photo credit to Nile Scott Studios

With lively direction by Weylin Symes, Paul Melendy aptly bares the weight of this local, legendary, and family-friendly tale live and in person at Greater Boston Stage Company in Stoneham, Massachusetts as well as virtually through Sunday, November 6.  This show is just under 90 minutes with no intermission.  Click here for more information and tickets.

Already proving to be a wonderful talent in Greater Boston Stage productions such as The 39 Steps and Miss Holmes Returns, Paul Melendy captures the spirit of Sleepy Hollow through a frenzy of distinct personalities, rapid fire mannerisms, and occasional scares.  This version has a historical and contemporary context, delivering more family- friendly and comedic content than a fright fest.

Paul Melendy in Greater Boston Stage Company’s ‘The Legend of Sleepy Hollow’ Photo credit to Nile Scott Studios

Melendy’s Icabod Crane is an eccentric, bumbling, and polite schoolmaster in love with the lovely Katrina and sets out to impress her and her family, but rumor has it that something ghostly just might be lurking through Sleepy Hollow.  Feeding off the audience while drawing comedic inspiration and wide- eyed vigor reminiscent of Jim Carrey or Jerry Lewis, Melendy’s pliable features transform into a number of characters ranging from the elegant Katrina to a tough guy New Yorker to the mysterious Mister Knickerbocker.  A cross between a recollection and a retelling, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow treats the audience to an assortment of dynamic characters who roam through this secluded valley along the Hudson River.

Melendy is an animated and quick-witted storyteller on this partially introspective journey as David Remedios’s chilling sound effects highlighted by a wild horse whinnying, Katy Monthel’s haunting scenic design, and Deirdre Gerrard’s eerie lighting elevate the production’s mysterious and uneasy tone.  Add Melendy’s exuberance to the mix and audiences are in for an enjoyable ride.

The cast and creative team for Greater Boston Stage Company’s ‘The Legend of Sleepy Hollow’ Photo courtesy of Nile Scott Studios

Greater Boston Stage Company presents The Legend of Sleepy Hollow live and in person in Stoneham, Massachusetts as well as virtually through Sunday, November 6.  This show is just under 90 minutes with no intermission.  Click here for more information and tickets.

REVIEW:  Greater Boston Stage Company’s family comedy ‘Popcorn Falls’ zippy, lighthearted fun

Two dynamic actors take the stage for some wacky fun in Popcorn Falls, a wild, improv-inspired tale about a small, provincial New Hampshire town brimming with zany townspeople of all ages affectionately called, “kernels.”  From a feline-loving librarian with a flair for the dramatic to jack-of-all-trades Joe, Popcorn Falls must find a way to save itself from bankruptcy before it’s too late.

Christopher Chew and Sarah Elizabeth Bedard in ‘Popcorn Falls’ Photo courtesy of Greater Boston Stage Company

Written by James Hindman and directed warmly by Lisa Rafferty, Greater Boston Stage Company presents quirky, family-friendly comedy, Popcorn Falls live and in person through October 2 at Greater Boston Stage Company in Stoneham, MA.  This show is 90 minutes with no intermission.  Click here for more information and for tickets.

Sarah Elizabeth Bedard and Christopher Chew in ‘Popcorn Falls’ Photo courtesy of Greater Boston Stage Company

Doing the heavy lifting is Christopher Chew depicting a set of unique characters including the Town Mayor and Sarah Elizabeth Bedard who portrays other wild characters including Joe.  They are more than up for the challenge of keeping the pace of this lively production from a broken mic wire to journeys unknown.  From shifting voices to lightning-fast wardrobe changes thanks to dynamic Properties Designer Sarajane Mullins and Costume Designer Deirdre Gerrard, Bedard’s ability to transform into a wide spectrum of characters from seductress to meet cute to smarmy sometimes in mid-sentence is amusing to say the least.  The kernels can make a lot of noise and the audience is in on the joke rooting on each shifting character.  Christopher Chew largely portrays the straight man with few exceptions, enduring the eccentricities of each alternating character in stride while putting his own twist on his changing persona.

‘Popcorn Falls’ full cast and artistic team Photo courtesy of Greater Boston Stage Company

Kristin Loeffler’s inviting town hall set up including a brick backdrop, a chalkboard, and a town flag does little to reveal the path this duo is about to embark on while sound designer Caroline Eng enhances each running gag.  Popcorn Falls doesn’t take itself too seriously, but each prop, sound, and set piece lends itself to the production’s playful and zany antics. 

Sarah Elizabeth Bedard and Christopher Chew Photo courtesy of Greater Boston Stage Company

Quite a tale develops as this play kicks off in mid-action as the audience must piece together what exactly is happening onstage and what “kernel” the audience is sure to meet next.  Popcorn Falls is a feel-good show for the whole family that will keep the audience guessing at each unpredictable turn.  It is endearing and funny journey that saves the big, eye opening reveal for last.

Greater Boston Stage Company presents quirky, family-friendly comedy, Popcorn Falls live and in person through October 2 at Greater Boston Stage Company in Stoneham, MA.  This show is 90 minutes with no intermission.  Click here for more information, discount tickets, and more.

REVIEW: SpeakEasy Stage Company’s ‘Heroes of the Fourth Turning’ delves deep

A fire pit and backyard party in the deep woods of Landon, Wyoming seems the perfect setting for fun and good conversation.  What could go wrong?

Certainly a relatable situation in contemporary society, Heroes of the Fourth Turning knows how to tackle difficult discussions in a heady and thought provoking way, but leaving the conversation between these five distinct individuals unscathed is seldom a realistic scenario.

Dayna Cousins, Nathan Malin, and Jesse Hinson in ‘Heroes of the Fourth Turning.’ Photo by Nile Scott Studios.

Directed by Marianna Bassham who previously directed SpeakEasy’s acclaimed People Places and Things, SpeakEasy Stage Company presents Will Arbery’s Heroes of the Fourth Turning through October 8 live and in person at the Calderwood Pavilion in Boston, Massachusetts.  This show has adult themes.  Click here for more information and tickets.

One of the greatest strengths of Heroes of the Fourth Turning is its multifaceted approach to each of its characters.  Each individual is complex and struggling in some way, but are rarely stereotyped and the production is not approached in a divisive way.  The show is most effective by keeping an open mind.

It is satirical and darkly humorous from its opening scene with Justin, in hunting gear and a plaid shirt, moments away from shooting a deer.  This scenario may seem indicative of some the preconceived notions of conservative thinking and the nature of its forthcoming characters, but it gradually thwarts any preconceived expectations.  Its strength is not in the black and white, but delves into the gray corners of each of its characters.

Arbery’s script does not shy away from hot button and controversial issues and the atmosphere can get realistically heated and uncomfortable as it would at any gathering in contemporary society.  It offers a glimpse of each character’s unique perspective while their struggle unfolds as well as their flaws.

Dayna Cousins, Nathan Malin, and Jesse Hinson in ‘Heroes of the Fourth Turning.’ Photo by Nile Scott Studios.

This cast of well rounded characters and their easy camaraderie is a convincing depiction of a group that has known each other for years, especially between Dayna Cousins as Teresa and Nathan Malin as Kevin.  The quirks they know about each other demonstrate their long history.  Visiting her hometown from New York, Teresa is the seeming intellectual of the group.  Portrayed with nerve and intensity, Teresa has adapted a way of know-it-all thinking that makes her cold and unable to see another viewpoint, stereotyping whoever is unlike her.  As she boldly discusses her opinions on the world, she lets loose an air of authority, waiting to be challenged.

Dayna Cousins, Nathan Malin, and Jesse Hinson in ‘Heroes of the Fourth Turning.’ Photo by Nile Scott Studios.

Nathan Malin, who showed off his impressive dark comedic skills previously in SpeakEasy’s Admissions and The Sound Inside, portrays comical, chatty, and tormented Kevin.  Always ready for a party and deep conversation, Kevin longs to know the real secret of happiness in life as he contends with deep seated guilt and loneliness.

Justin, host of the party and veteran, is portrayed with a mix of sympathy and an air of mystery by Jesse Hinson.  A seemingly compassionate individual and clearly affected by his past experiences, it doesn’t take long to see there is much more to his story.

Jesse Hinson, Dayna Cousins, and Karen MacDonald in ‘Heroes of the Fourth Turning.’ Photo by Nile Scott Studios.

Battling physical ailments is Emily, an angelic portrayal by Elise Piliponis.  Emily is sweet and nonjudgmental, but with her own strong and compassionate views.  Bearing the brunt of her daily challenges, Emily is insightful and introverted and would like to do anything but argue. 

Emily’s mother and much admired Gina, portrayed with charisma and decorum by Karen MacDonald, is no stranger to complex characters such as in SpeakEasy’s The Children and as Erma in Merrimack Repertory Theatre’s Erma Bombeck:  At Wit’s End.  MacDonald thrives here too, depicting a complicated political figure that has impacted each of the other character’s lives.

Jesse Hinson, Dayna Cousins, and Karen MacDonald in Heroes of the Fourth Turning. Photo by Nile Scott Studios.

Heroes of the Fourth Turning is a fascinating, darkly humorous, and concerning look at human nature and though the ending seems outlandish, the clever script offers an interesting perspective on what happens even among the supposed like minded.

SpeakEasy Stage Company presents Will Arbery’s Heroes of the Fourth Turning through October 8 live and in person at the Calderwood Pavilion in Boston, Massachusetts.  This show has adult themes.  Click here for more information and tickets.

REVIEW: Gloucester Stage’s ‘Paradise Blue’ a savvy and intriguing noir experience

Paradise, a longtime 40s Detroit Jazz Club, holds many secrets.  As those secrets gradually unfold, nothing is as it seems.

With multi-faceted direction by Elise Joyner and Logan Pitts, Gloucester Stage Company presents Dominique Morisseau’s noir drama Paradise Blue through Sunday, September 18 live and in person at Gloucester Stage, 267 E Main Street on Cape Ann in Gloucester, MA.  The show has some adult language.  The half moon stage and intimate venue does not have a bad seat in the house.  Click here for more information and for tickets.

Gloucester Stage’s ‘Paradise Blue’ Darian Michael Garey as P-Sam, Destiny Deshuan Washington as Pumpkin, and Dereks Thomas as Corn Photo Credit to Jason Grow

Though the show’s main focus didn’t seem immediately clear, many revelations piece the production together for its stunning conclusion that may leave you thinking about it long after the show is over. 

Paradise Blue focuses on a group of people tied in one way or another to a jazz club/boarding house called Paradise, run exclusively by no-nonsense Blue, portrayed with guarded complexity by horn player Durrell Lyons.  Now in danger of closing, the club has its own mysterious roots in Detroit and everyone in Blue’s world has a stake in the club’s future.

Gloucester Stage’s ‘Paradise Blue’ Darian Michael Garey as P-Sam and Dereks Thomas as Corn Photo Credit to Jason Grow

Paradise Blue taps into the cast’s multilayered personas as each character makes surprising choices as the show progresses.  This complex and unpredictable production boasts strong performances with particular standouts from Destiny Deschaun Washington as Pumpkin and Alexandria Danielle King as Silver. Destiny Deschaun Washington infuses Pumpkin with warmth, humbleness and compassion towards everyone while consistently putting others first at times to her own detriment.  Pumpkin’s maternal nature endears her to each cast member as she shares bittersweet and complicated moments with Blue and a natural camaraderie with James Ricardo Milord who only recently joined the cast, but kept up with the best of them as trusting and steadfast piano player Corn. 

Gloucester Stage’s ‘Paradise Blue’ Alexandria Danielle King as Silver, Durrell Lyons as Blue, Darian Michael Garey as P-Sam, and Dereks Thomas as Corn, Photo credit to Jason Grow

Chatty, curious, and hardworking, Pumpkin is the seeming antithesis to new tenant Silver, portrayed with blunt and worldly shrewdness by Alexandria Danielle King.  Both Silver and P-Sam, depicted with agitated energy by Darian Michael Garey, possess a learned tenacity and restlessness from bitter past experiences.  Darian Michael Garey exudes palpable energy while King simmers.  Seeing these characters face conflict in their own unique way is a fascinating character study, but due to vastly differing perspectives, Pumpkin and Silver are particularly intriguing with each interaction.

Gloucester Stage ‘Paradise Blue’ Destiny Deshuan Washington as Pumpkin and Alexandria Danielle King as Silver Photo Credit_Jason to Grow

Paradise Blue itself exudes its own restlessness in the Black Bottom neighborhood of Detroit which society considers the club a ‘blight.’  Word travels fast and gossip carries its own weight in this enigmatic neighborhood.  Paradise Blue succinctly carries the tense and rueful undertones through Toni Sterling’s stirring lighting and Aubrey Dube’s soulful and bluesy sound design.  Nia Safarr Banks’s sharp vintage suits and distinctive and colorful dresses pop against Janie Howland’s modest and earthy-colored set.

‘Paradise Blue’ Stage set Photo Credit to Jason Grow

Paradise Blue is a powerful drama with grit and gall as each character pours their hopes into Paradise for a brighter future unsuspecting of what lies ahead.

Gloucester Stage Company presents Dominique Morisseau’s noir drama Paradise Blue through Sunday, September 18 live and in person at Gloucester Stage, 267 E Main Street on Cape Ann in Gloucester, MA.  Click here for more information and for tickets.

REVIEW:  Available on Amazon Prime Video, Unlikely friendships and big dreams fuel indie dramedy METHOD

The pandemic put life on pause for awhile and for some, it has an interesting way of putting life into perspective and mull over what really matters.  Perhaps it is to cherish time with family and friends or to realize that the future is now.  It might have prompted regrets and an eagerness to fix the future in any way possible. 

Rebecca Lachmansingh as Amy Photo by Andrew Quach/Method

College students Lydia and Amy are at a pivotal point in their lives.  Both are ambitious with big dreams, but approach their goals in different ways.  Amy decides to shake up her world while Lydia pursues her interests with her feet planted firmly on the ground.  Their peculiar and abrupt chance meeting and awkward dialogue takes a moment to latch onto as if these two distinct young women speak different languages.  Their observances and approaches to life are in such stark contrast, it is a wonder how they get along. 

METHOD, an indie dramedy directed and co-written by Darya Amirshahi with Matthew Choi, is available now on Amazon Prime Video and other streaming services. The film is just under 90 minutes.  Click here for more information.

First time director Darya Amirshahi captures the essence of the pandemic with this small cast spending much of their time in solitude and hints at the restlessness of this time.  This quiet life has Amy crawling out of her skin while Lydia dares not to dream.

Jacqueline Yushkov as Lydia Photo by Andrew Quach

The title suggests multiple meanings in this film, but what first comes to mind is Amy’s dream to become an actress, a career she pursues impulsively and with some reckless abandon.  Serious and steadfast, Jacqueline Yushkov as hardworking Lydia does not seem to indulge in anything other than sensibility and gawks at Lydia’s impulsiveness.  Gradually, Lydia tempers Amy’s lofty goals. 

Sharon Juhasz amiably depicts Amy’s worried mother and voices her concerns, but Amy is resolute.  Rebecca Lachmansingh as controlling and occasionally harsh Amy makes some questionable decisions in the film, but Lachmansingh also brings naïve and idealism that garners some sympathy for her character.

Rebecca Lachmansingh as Amy Photo by Andrew Quach/Method

Two unlikely friends discover with a little faith, less reckless abandon, and a few hard lessons, there is hope.  The dialogue is farfetched at times and can benefit from having a bit more subtlety, but Yushkov and Lachmansingh work out its believability through their quirky chemistry and gradual understanding of each other.

METHOD, an indie dramedy directed and co-written by Darya Amirshahi with Matthew Choi, is available now on Amazon Prime Video and other streaming services.  Click here for more information

REVIEW:  Hub Theatre Company of Boston’s zany and immersive dinner comedy ‘Slow Food’ survival of the hangriest

Having to wait for food isn’t easy, but the crazy antics that result are quite extraordinary in Slow Food, a wild comedy that focuses on a long time married couple on their anniversary vacation who finds themselves in pursuit of their meal.  It’s a good thing that Hub Theatre Company of Boston cleverly sets this production in a dinner theatre setting because not only does the show address love, marriage, manipulative food service and more, but most importantly, the very art of being frustratingly hangry.

With witty direction by Daniel Bourque, Hub Theatre Company of Boston presents Slow Food through Saturday, July 30 live and in person at Club Café Boston at 209 Columbus Ave in Boston, MA.  This show is 90 minutes with no intermission and tickets are on a pay-what-you can-basis.  Club Café offers a discount on the menu when attending Slow Food.   Click here for more information and for tickets.

Jyoti Daniere as Irene, Victor L. Shopov as Waiter Stephen, and Steve Auger as Peter Photo courtesy of Lauren Elias/Hub Theatre Company of Boston

Club Café’s backroom was once artfully transformed into a hair salon setting for Steel Magnolias, one of Hub Theatre Company of Boston’s lighthearted past productions held at Club Café Boston.  Though a Palm Springs Greek restaurant setting is less of a stretch, set designer Justin Lahue’s subtle candlelit setting, vine adorned walls and framed photos onstage flow with the candlelight and Ukraine flags that frame Club Café while sound designer Ted Kearnan’s inviting Greek soundtrack sets the mood. 

Slow Food’s immersive and interactive vibe continues as Jyoti Daniere as Irene, Steve Auger as Peter and Victor J. Shopov as Stephen the Waiter wander through Club Café at various times, making it easy to engage in the frustrating hilarity of this pair as they attempt to navigate a stubborn, preoccupied waiter and each other through it all. 

Jyoti Daniere as Irene, Victor L. Shopov as Waiter Stephen, and Steve Auger as Peter Photo courtesy of Lauren Elias/Hub Theatre Company of Boston

Slow Food features a small and strong cast with dialogue that is pretty snappy at times.  Shopov pushes all the right buttons and stealthily builds tension as a nosy, savvy and neurotic waiter that doesn’t know his boundaries. With a dry sense of humor, natural chemistry, and a gift for pushing each other’s buttons, Daniere and Auger make a likeable and relatable couple. Daniere as perceptive, exasperated, and sympathetic Auger as business minded, occasionally distracted and blunt Peter know they must rally to negotiate a good meal if they can get past their personal grievances as secrets gradually unfold along the way.

Jyoti Daniere as Irene, Victor L. Shopov as Waiter Stephen, and Steve Auger as Peter Photo courtesy of Lauren Elias/Hub Theatre Company of Boston

Slow Food is only the name of the show and Club Café delivered quick and attentive service.  Try the delicious Raspberry White Chocolate Cheesecake for dessert.

Hub Theatre Company of Boston presents Slow Food through Saturday, July 30 live and in person at Club Café Boston at 209 Columbus Ave in Boston, MA.  This show is 90 minutes with no intermission and tickets are on a pay-what-you can-basis.  Club Café offers a discount on the menu when attending Slow Food.   Click here for more information, tickets, and for more about Hub Theatre Company of Boston.

REVIEW:  Spectacular and uplifting, the world premiere of ‘The Neil Diamond Musical:  A Beautiful Noise’ is anything but a song sung blue

After watching The Neil Diamond Musical:  A Beautiful Noise, one thing is clear.  Every story should be told with brilliant swing backup dancers.

Directed shrewdly by Michael Mayer, The world premiere of The Neil Diamond Musical:  A Beautiful Noise continues its pre-Broadway run at Emerson Colonial Theatre in Boston, MA live and in person through August 7.  The show is two hours and 30 minutes including an intermission.  Click here for more information and tickets.

Tony Award® nominee Will Swenson as Neil Diamond – Then and the Swings Photo credit to DCM O & M/Emerson Colonial Theatre

Kicking off with surprising, self-deprecating humor, A Beautiful Noise might have been just what one would expect from a musical biopic, but Neil Diamond takes it to the next level.  Diamond’s music beginnings are a bit reminiscent of Carole King’s journey from creative songwriter delivering hits such as I’m a Believer to songwriter solo act. Part riveting, sing-along concert within a musical, part dive into Diamond’s past, but yet there is so much more to this solitary man.  Even if Neil Diamond’s songs aren’t at the top of your playlist, this wonderful musical helmed by Will Swenson’s stellar performance as then Neil Diamond just might end up being music to your ears.

Tony Award® nominee Will Swenson as Neil Diamond – Then Photo credit to DKC O & M/Emerson Colonial Theatre

One of the best selling musicians of all time and yet Neil Diamond is not what one might expect.  Now Diamond, portrayed with pensive fortitude by Mark Jacoby, is a rather gruff and unassuming man who does not like to talk about himself.  Many deep thinking individuals steeped in the pressures for success seem to also have what Neil Diamond calls ‘clouds’ and the show does not shy away from that, but this musical is much more of a celebration. 

Neil Diamond’s hit songs are explored, but on a more comprehensive and personal level.  Much of the production is a luminous foray into how songs like catchy Cherry, Cherry, Song Sung Blue, America which delves into Diamond’s Polish heritage, traditional Boston Red Sox song Sweet Caroline met with rousing applause and many others factor into this revered songwriter’s remarkable journey. 

Tony Award® nominee Will Swenson as Neil Diamond – Then and Tony award nominee Robyn Hurder as Marcia Photo credit to DKC O & M/Emerson Colonial Theatre

Charismatic and charming, it is difficult to imagine a better Then Diamond than Will Swenson.  A compelling singer with a dry sense of humor, Swenson has an indelible stage presence from the moment he first appears with his guitar.  He and Jessie Fisher as optimistic and sympathetic Jayne Posner have endearing chemistry and deliver a powerful and tense duet for Love on the RocksRobyn Hurder gives an electrifying performance of Forever in Blue Jeans as charming and soulful Marcia Murphey.  Bri Sudia in a dual role is comic gold as outspoken and caring record producer Ellie Greenwich from her very first line with Swenson as Then Diamond. Their snappy chemistry creates some of the production’s funniest and most inspiring moments.

Tony Award® nominee Will Swenson as Neil Diamond – Then with Swings Photo credit to DKC O & M/Emerson Colonial Theatre

Whether soaked in beautiful shadows or in a multi-colored glow on a concert stage, lighting designer Kevin Adams exacts each mood-induced scene masterfully.  Emilio Sosa’s lively and glittering costumes have a retro feel delving into the wild, vibrant patterns of the late 60’s and onward while Diamond’s progressive stage presence flaunt his signature fringe, suede, leather, and glittering sequins.  David Rockwell’s inviting and eye-catching set design enhances this dazzling musical experience which includes dynamic hanging light fixtures and a stunning, innovative multi-tiered, spot-lit band richly conducted by Sonny Paladino and Sinai Tabak.

Tony Award nominee Mark Jacoby as Neil Diamond – Now, Linda Powell as Doctor, and the Swings Photo credit to DCM O & M/Emerson Colonial Theatre

A Beautiful Noise is a clever, eloquent, and illuminating look at Diamond without taking itself too seriously.  Now to those incredible swing dancers that accompany Diamond on his journey.  Fueled by Steven Hoggett’s upbeat, athletic, and era-driven choreography, the Swings brightened each scene even its darker moments to make this effervescent musical journey feel so good.

The world premiere of The Neil Diamond Musical:  A Beautiful Noise continues at Emerson Colonial Theatre in Boston, MA live and in person through August 7.  Click here for more information and tickets.

REVIEW: Reagle Music Theatre of Greater Boston makes an exciting return to the stage with a moving and remarkable ‘West Side Story’

‘I’ve just met a girl named Maria/And suddenly that name/will never be the same/to me.”

Having seen the classic musical West Side Story from the stage to the 1961 film adaptation to Spielberg’s recent Oscar worthy film, Reagle Music Theatre’s Blake Du Bois as Tony’s moving rendition of the classic song, Maria is a must see.  Many Tonys have floated through this number with surprise, naiveté, and the excitement of attraction while blinded by love, but Du Bois’s delivery evokes a more meaningful perspective.  Enhanced by his extensive vocal range, this soulful rendition depicts not naiveté, not necessarily blindness, but an overwhelming feeling of love for Maria and the fear of what that means.  So overcome by love that he must move forward in spite of it. It was like understanding Maria anew.

Eevie Perez as Maria and Blake Du Bois as Tony in Reagle Music Theatre of Greater Boston’s ‘West Side Story’ Photo by Herb Philpott/Reagle Music Theatre of Greater Boston

Sharply directed and choreographed by Rachel Bertone with seamless musical direction by Dan Rodriguez, Reagle Music Theatre of Greater Boston delivered powerful and clever performances as it kicked off its summer musical season with West Side Story continuing through July 16 at Reagle Music Theatre of Greater Boston live and in person in Waltham, MA.  This show is not intended for children under 13.  Click here for more information and for tickets.

Based on Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, West Side Story is the timeless tale of the Sharks and the Jets, two rival gangs who cannot seem to coexist in Manhattan without a fight.  However, when Blake Du Bois as streetwise Tony and Eevie Perez as idyllic Maria lock eyes, everything quickly becomes complicated.

Helmed by a captivating cast, Reagle Music Theatre’s West Side Story is intriguing from the start as it lays out mischief, antics and petty outrage over owning the streets.  A broad city landscape, chain linked fences, a retro jukebox and detailed drug store are just part of Janie Howland’s retro, rolling set that successfully rewinds the clock back to the 1950s. 

The cast of West Story Photo by Herb Philpott/Reagle Music Theatre of Greater Boston

A great deal of West Side Story hinges on its sharp dance and fight choreography and director and choreographer Bertone hits the ground running.  Along with Fight and Intimacy Director Angie Jepson, the high-kicking choreography blurs the lines between dance and fighting as the gangs intertwine in innovative and precise movements.  A leap becomes a punch and aggressiveness turns graceful…all in the same move.  Jack Mullen delivers an intense performance as the tough talking, swaggering Jet leader Riff, especially during a catchy and memorable rendition of Cool as each tense moment pops to Franklin Meissner, Jr’s intricate lighting.  Mullen as Riff and Du Bois as Tony share some affable camaraderie as they do with their fellow Jets and their fair share of united animosity toward the Sharks.  Nate Walsh stood out as hot head Action, on edge and ready for a fight while Gracin Wilkins delivers a stirring performance as outcast Anybodys.

Bianca Rivera-Irions as Anita with the Shark Girls performing ‘America.’ Photo by Herb Philpott/Reagle Music Theatre of Greater Boston

Eevie Perez is charming and spot on as Maria, her chiming vocals and naiveté especially evident with Ana Viveros as Consuela, Marissa Pineda as Rosalia, and Karina Gonzalez as Tesesita in the exuberant and playful number, I Feel Pretty and in a gorgeous duet with Du Bois as Tony for One Hand, One Heart.  Tall and distinctive, charismatic Bianca Rivera-Irions as Anita knows how to make an entrance in a show stopping red dress, just one of the many rich, vintage, and vibrant costumes provided by Tiffany Howard.  A lively dancer, Rivera-Irions as Anita stands out in any room as only Anita can.  Rivera-Irions as Anita and Diego Klock-Perez as proud and protective Shark leader Bernardo share lighthearted and steamy chemistry.  The dynamic cast performs an exhilarating rendition of Tonight, their robust sound and stirring harmonies build the anticipation and excitement of a night that will change everything.

Reagle Music Theatre of Greater Boston presents musical classic West Side Story continues through July 16 at Reagle Music Theatre of Greater Boston live and in person in Waltham, MA.  This show is not intended for children under 13.  Click here for more information and for tickets.

REVIEW: ‘Who Killed Jazz’ and ‘Deadguy: Killing Music’ an unusual combination at the New York City Indie Film Festival

What does an angry, vaguely defined metal band and classic jazz have in common? 

Though there doesn’t seem to be much, one thing is certain…both move to beats all their own.  At one time, live music was the way of the world, but with the impact of surging technology, the expansion of creativity and simultaneously the lack of original ideas, the use of sampled music and a vast array of music influences, music is a constant evolution.

Photo credit to Ben Makinen

What hasn’t changed is the effect is has on its listener.  Who Killed Jazz explores the art of jazz, a respected, quintessential genre defined by its clever improvisation, and how it fits into the contemporary world.  Deadguy Killing Music is a peculiar authorized documentary on Deadguy, a band that hinges on chaotic improvisation.  Both were featured in the documentary 13 series at the recent New York City Indie Film Festival at New York City’s Producers Club.

The New York City Indie Film Festival featured a variety of films from shorts to narratives to documentaries curated with common themes.  Sleepless Critic had the opportunity to review screenings on music, small businesses, love, connection and much more. 

Co-founded by Executive Director Dennis Cieri and Director Bonnie Rush, this renowned festival has screened thousands of films since it was first launched in 2010.  Click here for more information, film submissions for next year, and click here to see what we had to say about NYC Indie Film Festival’s Narrative 14 series,  here for film reviews in the Documentary 12 series, and here for a film review of 34 Carmine Street, part of the Documentary 14 series.

Skillfully written, directed, and produced by Ben Makinen and inspired by Makinen’s Jazztown documentary on Vimeo, on iTunes/Apple TV and Google Play Christmas Day, and soon on Amazon and Vudu, Who Killed Jazz is a comprehensive and fascinating analysis of jazz’s exciting history and how the value of it has changed over the years through the eyes of musicians who have lived and are living through it.  Becoming a jazz musician is more of a risk than it has ever been before as television, disc jockeys, and pre-recorded music take over the clubs and today’s club owners are paying musicians less.  Jazz is an extraordinary and complex genre as well as a standard in music education and yet, it struggles.

Filmed in Colorado and Indonesia with eye-catching cinematography that delivers vintage flair, Who Killed Jazz captures fascinating perspectives, memorable stories, and concert footage from renowned musicians such as Dianne Reeves and various insights from contemporary musicians like Esperanza Spaulding.  It takes a hard look at the industry and how jazz and jazz culture has changed to fit in, but in the process, is it losing what made jazz great in the first place?

Photo credit to the NYC Indie Film Festival

Foo Fighters front man David Grohl once advised wannabe musicians to go a yard sale, buy an old drum set, get in a garage, and just suck.  Deadguy is a 90s New Jersey metal band that started in a basement who claimed they didn’t care how they sounded and to some, that was part of the appeal.

After all, they had just about given up before they really got started.  Before selling some albums, performing with the Misfits or even before the release of their debut album, they had split up.  It was a band that almost lived up to their name.

Written, directed, and produced by William Saunders with mature themes, Deadguy: Killing Music is a unconventional, authorized, and fan-focused documentary about Deadguy, a self-proclaimed anti-establishment band with punk influences that seemed to self-destruct before their music raged on.  It is a by-the-numbers 90-minute documentary that could have easily gotten away with being a tighter 60 minutes if not for its occasional meanderings and side stories.

If you were a fan of this group, you’ll be satisfied by never-before-seen footage, the band’s self destructive and wildly absurd antics, songwriting, storytelling and just how they created their debut album, Fixation on a Coworker.  However, the sheer chaos of the band’s sound as well as their impulsive and rage-fueled delivery can be off putting even if the lyrics have some substance.  Having reunited in 2021, it is ironic that they have returned to sing anti-establishment songs while living the suburban life they so rallied against in a house with a mortgage, jobs, kids, and all. Maybe this time they really have something to be frustrated about.

Who Killed Jazz and Deadguy: Killing Music were both featured in the Documentary 13 series at the recent New York City Indie Film Festival which took place live and in person at the Producers Club in New York City.  Click here for more information about this annual event, film submissions, and more.