REVIEW SpeakEasy Stage’s ‘Once’ a celebration even within its quiet moments

Dancing fiddlers and a rollicking music celebration is only the beginning.  Directed by Paul Melone and adapted from the 2007 romantic musical film of the same name, The SpeakEasy Stage Company presents the Tony Award-winning musical, Once extended through Sunday, April 7 at the Calderwood Pavilion in Boston, Massachusetts.  Click here for more information and for tickets.

Welcoming early arrivals to the show is a lively, comical, pre-show band that is also part of the talented Once cast.  Each cast member is also a musician and they all get their moment to shine.  With naturally flowing choreography by Ilyse Robbins, stomping guitarists and dueling fiddlers joyfully romp in a freestyle dance with the drummer.  The band has such personality and the performance is a wonderful preface to a quietly beautiful love story about a pair of lonely musicians who long for their place in the world.

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Eric Levenson’s absorbing set design enhances the production’s soulful atmosphere, featuring instruments hanging around a brick arch while musicians pop up sporadically during the production.  Though Once is set in Dublin, takes a lot at Czech and Irish traditions.  Guy is a lonely, sensitive street performer from Northside Dublin.  Portrayed with tight lipped earnestness by Nile Scott Hawver, Guy expresses his raw emotion through his songwriting, immediately leaving an impact with his first number, Leave.

Guy meets Girl, a talkative Czech pianist portrayed with quirky charm by Mackenzie Lesser-Roy.  Their immediate, humorous chemistry and her heartening, compassionate demeanor toward him is a particular highlight only topped by their remarkable duets, heightened during the show’s signature song, Falling Slowly.

Hawver does an impressive job portraying Guy’s gradual vulnerability while showing off his comic chops, especially during the song Broken Hearted Hoover Fixer Sucker Guy, but it is Lesser-Roy who shines, her chiming voice delivering a stirring rendition of The Hill and If You Want Me.  She carries a longing and loneliness she recognizes in Guy and her plucky, irrepressible optimism leaves a mark on everyone she meets.

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Once also has its share of amusing moments.  Billy Butler is hilarious as hot blooded, macho music shop owner, Billy.  Jeff Song is a delight as Bank Manager in a wildly enthusiastic version of Abandoned in BandonJacob Brandt and Kathy St. George are charming as perpetual dreamer Andrej and as candid, strong-willed Girl’s mother Baruska respectively.

The songs on Once’s acoustic, fiddle-laden soundtrack contain timeless, contemplative messages and the ensemble certainly contributes to its playful moments, but Once’s greatest strength is its subtle nuances and the impalpable stillness within this simple tale, most evident in the ensemble’s lovely, a capella version of Gold.  Love can a simple, quiet declaration that lingers long after the show is over.

SpeakEasy Stage presents the Tony Award-winning musical, Once extended through Sunday, April 7 at the Calderwood Pavilion, 539 Tremont Street in Boston, Massachusetts.  Click here for more information and for tickets.  Click here for a closer look at the SpeakEasy Stage and its 2019 season.

Flutist Sarah Paysnick delves into Grand Harmonie’s rollicking ‘March Madness’ concerts

For a musician, choosing the right instrument is the key to success.  For Grand Harmonie flutist and co-founder Sarah Paysnick, family and Sesame Street played a big part in her choosing the right one.  When a group of successful musicians got together to pursue something new and exciting, the innovative and eclectic music ensemble, Grand Harmonie was born.

Grand Harmonie group pic

Grand Harmonie in action Photo courtesy of Sarah Paysnick

Grand Harmonie will deliver March Madness, two exciting and inventive concerts that mixes a little bit of everything.  Featuring conductor Scott Allen Jarrett and soprano Jacquelyn Stucker with horn by Yoni Kahn, March Madness kicks off on Friday, March 24 at Arts at the Armory in Somerville, Massachusetts at 7:30 p.m.  On Sunday, March 26, March Madness will take the stage at the Second Church of Newton in West Newton, Massachusetts at 3 p.m.

Grand Harmonie Scott Allen Jarrett conductor

Grand Harmonie conductor Scott Allen Jarrett Photo courtesy of Scott Allen Jarrett

Sarah Paysnick discusses her music career, Grand Harmonie’s educational outreach, the excitement behind Grand Harmonie, and a closer look into March Madness.  Click here for more information and for tickets.

Jeanne Denizard:  What first sparked your interest in music and what inspired you to pursue it as a music career?

Sarah Paysnick:  In kindergarten, many of my friends started learning piano.  They would teach me what they were learning, so I begged my mom for piano lessons. I remember wanting to quit after a short time, but my mom told me I had to finish the year. A few years later, many of my friends started learning string instruments.  I have a cousin my age that played the violin and she’d teach me when we got together. When I told my mom I also wanted violin lessons, she said that I have two cousins who play the violin and I should pick something else. Watching Bob on Sesame Street and because another cousin was learning it, I decided on the flute.

In 4th grade, when asked what we wanted to be when we grew up, I said I wanted to be a cantor because Judaism and music were important to me.  I didn’t have proper training as a singer.  Something told me, over the next few years, it would exclusively become a music career even though Judaism is still important to me. I never really thought about doing anything outside of music, though my music path has taken me in a variety of directions.  Ultimately, it led me to historical performance on flutes and teaching piano to children.

JD:  How did you become a founding member of Grand Harmonie and what do you enjoy most about this group?

SP:  I knew Yoni Kahn, our horn player and soloist for this concert!  With Yoni Kahn and a couple of other founding members, we were interested in starting something new and exciting. Though my favorite music to perform falls a bit earlier than Grand Harmonie’s core repertoire, I am constantly inspired by my colleagues who push me every day to be a better musician and honored to be an organizing member of the kind of ensemble people enjoy working with. Everyone has such a positive, generous attitude and it’s infectious!

Yoni Kahn Horn

Yani Kahn, horn Photo courtesy of Grand Harmonie

JD:  Grand Harmonie is very versatile and can transform from a symphony orchestra to an opera orchestra, or even become a chamber ensemble.  Is the unexpected part of what sets Grand Harmonie apart from other groups?

SP:  Yes, Grand Harmonie is a bit of a moving target.  People attempt to put us into a box and we don’t fit into one.  Every performance is different, but it also makes anything possible!

JD:  Grand Harmonie will be touring through Somerville and Newton on March 24 and 26 for March Madness.  Is this Grand Harmonie’s first time performing March Madness?  Where did the idea come from?

SP:  This is our first time doing this performance as well as splitting up the movements of a symphony and sprinkling them throughout a concert. In the 19th century, performances were quite different than they are today. Maybe a full symphony wasn’t performed or it was performed in its entirety but not straight through.  Perhaps a small chamber ensemble gave listeners a break from the big symphonic sound or a soprano would delight everyone with her beautiful voice.

Grand Harmonie Jacquelyn Stucker Soprano

Jacquelyn Stucker, soprano for March Madness Photo courtesy of Jacquelyn Stucker

These concerts were a social event and audiences didn’t remain silent as they think they are expected to today. Grand Harmonie wants to break the tension and allow people to clap when they want to, explore the space around them, and enjoy the concert without fear of getting stared down if they clap at the wrong moment or make a noise during the music.

On Friday night, the cash bar at the Somerville Armory will be open all night. Through a generous donation from Aeronaut Brewing Company, the first 30 ticket purchasers will receive one free beer!  On Sunday in Newton, we encourage people to relax and enjoy themselves, but the concert will not include alcohol and will be a more traditional performance.

JD:  This concert will be a particularly intimate and uplifting concert experience since it will take place in-the-round. Additionally, Grand Harmonie will deliver classical pieces in an entirely unique and rollicking way. Putting something like that together must have been a lot of fun.

SP:  Friday’s show is a really exciting experiment in how to make a “classical” concert more accessible and we can’t wait to experience it with our audience! Sunday’s show will be more traditional with the audience in pews and the orchestra in front, but we still expect it will be a rollicking good time!

JD:  For March Madness, Grand Harmonie weaves Mozart, Beethoven, and Weber into one big concert.  You have a unique way of breaking up Beethoven’s First Symphony during this “in the round” concert experience.

SP:  It may sound unique to split up a symphony today but this was not unusual in the 19th century! Sometimes even a single movement was chosen for a particular program.

JD:  Grand Harmonie also participates in educational outreach.  Please tell me about that.

SP:  Grand Harmonie has given master classes at the Longy School of Music at Bard College, MIT, and Harvard, among others. We have also given informational lecture/demonstrations at MIT and Yale’s Lewis Walpole Library. We love sharing what we’ve learned with musicians and music enthusiasts young and old!  Audience members are very curious about our instruments and we are happy to engage with them.

JD:   A few Grand Harmonie concerts are coming up before the end of the season.  Please tell me about Grand Harmonie’s future plans.

SP:  March Madness is the official close of our season, but we have plenty coming up!  We will be performing Haydn’s The Creation with Edward Jones and the Harvard University Choir and Mendelssohn’s Symphony No. 2 Lobgesang with Edward Jones and the Harvard-Radcliffe Chorus. We have loved working with Ed at least once a year since we began and it’s fair to say we have a mutual admiration for each other.  In NYC, we will be partnering with On Site Opera to perform a wind octet Harmonie arrangement of Mozart’s The Secret Gardener by our own Yoni Kahn on horn and Thomas Carroll on clarinet. Also, keep an eye out for us during the Boston Early Music Festival the second week in June!

Grand Harmonie Group photo

Grand Harmonie group Photo courtesy of Hannah Shields

Click here for all of Grand Harmonie’s upcoming concerts and here for more on Grand Harmonie’s educational outreach.  Follow Grand Harmonie on Facebook and Twitter for upcoming events and more.

REVIEW: Boston Ballet presents William Forsythe’s brilliantly compelling ‘Artifact’

World-renowned choreographer William Forsythe, dressed in a baseball cap and modest attire, addressed an eager, mesmerized audience in a post-show talk with Boston Ballet’s acclaimed Artistic Director Mikko Nissinen after the evening performance of William Forsythe’s Artifact on Saturday, March 25.  Mikko Nissinen introduced Forsythe with enthusiasm and said that working with him has been a lifelong dream fulfilled.  William Forsythe and Boston Ballet’s Artistic Director Mikko Nissinen have a five-year partnership, working together to establish each season’s performances, highlighting one of Forsythe’s exceptional works each year.

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The Boston Ballet Photo courtesy of Rosalie O’Connor/Boston Ballet

Friendly and unassuming, Forsythe spoke about his beautifully-unconventional production, Artifact, a piece he created over 30 years ago and a work that audiences and critics alike have embraced ever since.  Veiled on the Boston Opera House stage and enhanced with minimal props, lies a complex, timeless, and thought-provoking masterpiece which makes a powerful statement on the essence of the art of ballet.  Shown in its full length, Forsythe revised Artifact’s finale specifically for the Boston Ballet, which is a thrilling, compelling spectacle that blends classical and contemporary dance in a unique way.

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Boston Ballet presents ‘Artifact’ Photo courtesy of Rosalie O’Connor/Boston Ballet

Boston Ballet presents William Forsythe’s Artifact through Sunday, March 5 at the Boston Opera House.  Click here for tickets, call 617-695-6955, or visit the Boston Ballet box office at 19 Clarendon Street in Boston, Massachusetts.  Take a closer look at William Forsythe’s Artifact here.

Blending humor, philosophy, drama, and a wide range of traditional and contemporary ballet, William Forsythe’s Artifact, since the show was introduced, set a significant precedent in the inspiring works that followed.  A production packed with a wide range of welcome surprises, each distinct character offers their own insight into this mysterious tale.  Featuring a shimmering backdrop that matched the majestic, glittering black gown worn by Dana Caspersen, a statuesque woman in grey portrayed by Caralin Curcio, and a dapper, yet frustrated older man with megaphone portrayed by Nicholas Champion, Artifact is an intensely fascinating work from its start.

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Raina Sawai as Woman in Gray and Nicholas Champion as Man with Megaphone

Caspersen’s performance is  full of jubilance and inquisitiveness from the moment she welcomed the audience with a peerless smile.  Curcio delivers a haunting, athletic, and captivating non-verbal performance, her movements sharp, poised, and vigorous while she appears in unexpected places.  Dignified and authoritative, Champion’s dynamic performance boasts comedic moments, especially in his interaction with Caspersen.  While Champion’s musings are incomprehensible and muffled, Caspersen’s seem philosophical and poetic.

Artifact, divided into four parts like a symphony, features piano by Margot Kazimirska and delves into a full range of emotions as the piano seems to have a mind of its own, often breaking convention.  The music, featuring J.S. Boch: Chaconne from Partita Nr. 2 BWV 1004 in D-Minor by Nathan Milstein, Sound Collage by William Forsythe, and music from composer and pianist Eva Crossman-Hecht, progresses from playful to somber then frantic to rhythmic.

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Sao Hye Han and Paul Craig in William Forsythe’s ‘Artifact’ Photo courtesy of Rosalie O’Connor

Dressed in rich, vibrant color and launching into choreography ranging from romantic and sweeping to freestyle to stiff and regimented, the Boston Ballet often break convention under the direction of Curcio.  A few of the highlights are ballet dancers breaking away into romantic, sweeping duets as they spin, sway, and soar.  With a verbal countdown, they perform intrinsic dance combinations such as a row of dancers drop to the floor in unison, embracing.  Another thrilling highlight is the ballet directs the curtain to lift and close, creating snapshots of various, choreographed scenes.  As Artifact culminates into an unpredictable, uplifting, and magnificent finale, unified dancers are as mesmerizing as the dancers breaking away into frantic, dynamic arrangements, performing pirouettes to a wild rhythm, blossoming into a new entity.

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Seo Hye Han and the Boston Ballet in ‘Artifact’ Photo courtesy of Rosalie O’Connor/Boston Ballet

Click here for tickets, call 617-695-6955, or visit the Boston Ballet box office at 19 Clarendon Street in Boston, Massachusetts.  Subscriptions and group rates are also available. Follow the Boston Ballet on Twitter.

The Boston Ballet’s 2017-18 season boasts masterful works such as Kylian/Wings of Wax from March 23 through April 2, Robbins/The Concert from May 5 through May 27, Obsidian Tear from November 3 through November 12, and the return of Tchaikovsky’s beloved holiday classic, Mikko Nissinen’s The Nutcracker from November 24 through December 31, 2017.  Click here for a closer look at all of Boston Ballet’s 2017-18 season highlights.

Cohasset Dramatic Club will welcome 4th annual play festival, ‘Briefs’

Why follow one story when Cohasset Dramatic Club offers several stories in two consecutive evenings?  Cohasset Dramatic Club proudly presents their fourth annual show, Briefs a variety of ten-minute plays on February 3 and 4 at 7:30 p.m.  Briefs takes place every February with different directors that include drama, comedy, and much more.  Click here for the full list of plays and for tickets.

Directed by Lisa Pratt, Brian Chamberlain, Kelly Hines, Andrew Lemieux, and Barbara Baumgarten, Briefs features a large cast of characters and audiences can enjoy cabaret-style seating serving snacks and beverages included in the ticket price.  All performances are held at Cohasset Town Hall, 41 Highland Ave in Cohasset, Massachusetts.  Call 617-922-0280 or click here for tickets, which will also be available at the door.

The Cohasset Dramatic Club’s debut of the innovative, romantic musical, If/Then is coming in March.  Follow Cohasset Dramatic Club on Facebook for more information and updates.