REVIEW: Take a seat for SpeakEasy Stage Company’s clever and thought-provoking comedy, ‘Admissions’

Admissions is not a mystery, but this clever comedy is as tense and thought-provoking  as any mystery could be and takes an unexpected turn that keeps the audience guessing until the very end.  Partly taking place at Hillcrest, a New Hampshire boarding school, award-winning play Admissions tackles many tough and occasionally uncomfortable topics such as white privilege, diversity, and more.  It has a dark sense of humor and nonetheless hilarious, but may leave you at times wondering whether laughing is the right thing to do, inviting the audience to skew their outlook on the world.

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Nathan Malin, Maureen Keiller, and Michael Kay in SpeakEasy Stage’s ‘Admissions’ Photo courtesy of Maggie Hall Photography/SpeakEasy Stage Company

With fascinating direction by Paul Daigneault, SpeakEasy Stage Company continues Admissions by Joshua Harmon through Saturday, November 30.  Click here for more information and tickets.

With a well constructed wooden staircase, an island kitchen, and a well-furnished and fold out set, Props Master Matthew Robert and Wooden Kiwi Productions create an inviting household and faculty office which alternate throughout the show.

Nathan Malin delivers an intense, witty, and complex performance as Charlie Luthur Mason, a Hillcrest student distraught and frustrated over his deferment to Yale despite his stellar grades and dedicated work ethic.  Hillcrest’s Headmaster Bill, portrayed by Michael Kaye and Dean of Admissions Sherri, depicted by Maureen Keiller, are Charlie’s parents.  Charlie believes there are other forces at work.

This intriguing show features a small and mighty cast, leaving the audience plenty of time to get acquainted with these multi-faceted characters.  Each character represents a different perspective and offers a carefully balanced view of the show’s topics while the show may leaves you wondering which side it represents.

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Cheryl McMahon and Maureen Keiller in SpeakEasy Stage’s ‘Admissions’ Photo courtesy of Maggie Hall Photography/SpeakEasy Stage Company

Admissions is quick-witted and funny right from the start as Roberta, portrayed by Cheryl McMahon, shares a humorous story on her plans for Christmas break.  McMahon is candid, animated, and glorious as Roberta, a staff member at Hillcrest eager to please, but marginally on her own terms.  McMahon’s chatty demeanor and sharp comic timing with Maureen Keiller as Sherri make for some eye opening and captivating moments.

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Marianna Bassham and Maureen Keiller in SpeakEasy Stage’s ‘Admissions’ Photo courtesy of Maggie Hall Photography/SpeakEasy Stage Company

Maureen Keiller, who was also impressive in SpeakEasy Stage’s Riverside and Crazy, delivers another excellent performance as Sherri.  Sherri juggles her life as a wife, mother, and a frustrated but proud Dean of Admissions.  She strives to be inclusive and politically correct, but her confidence is waning lately as she is forced to look at her work from a different angle.  The show examines some signs of helicopter parenting as Sherri is overwhelmingly concerned with Charlie’s emotional state and fixing it any way she can.  However, she also demonstrates reason and compassion as she faces some intense moments with Charlie, Michael Kaye as her patient and accomplished husband Bill, and Marianna Bassham as Sherri’s open and honest best friend, Ginnie.  Kaye and Bassham also hold their own in compelling performances.

What makes this show so intriguing is each character struggle to understand each other while each are convinced they are right.  One of the production’s most memorable scenes involves Nathan Malin’s Charlie as he delivers a powerful, effective, and perplexing diatribe on how he sees the world.  The speech is as amusing as it is controversial and Malin gives it all the gusto it deserves.

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Michael Kaye, Maureen Keiller, and Michael Kaye in SpeakEasy Stage’s ‘Admissions’ Photo courtesy of Maggie Hall Photography/SpeakEasy Stage Company

Admissions is as uncomfortable as it is riveting, cleverly and uniquely addressing some tough topics while delivering more than its fair share of humorous moments.  It harbors an important message about genuinely striving to make a difference in the world while acknowledging that looks can be deceiving.

Joshua Harmon’s Admissions continues through Saturday, November 30.  Click here for more information and tickets.  SpeakEasy Stage Company’s current season also features upcoming performances of Passover, The Children, and Bright Star.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Urban Improv, celebrating its 25th anniversary, presents annual, celebrity-filled improv fundraiser, ‘Banned in Boston’

Urban Improv is celebrating its 25th anniversary and presenting their annual fundraiser, Banned in Boston, an evening of delicious food from top restaurants, celebrity improv, and much more on Friday, April 7 at House of Blues in Boston, Massachusetts at 6 p.m.  This is a 21+ event.

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Photo courtesy of Urban Improv

Hosted by Jim Braude and Margery Eagan, this year’s celebrity roster is once again brimming with acclaimed faces in entertainment such as WGBH’s Jared Bowen and Emily Rooney, Matt Siegel from Kiss 108, WCVB’s JC Monahan, Tom Hamilton from Aerosmith, and musician Sally Taylor.  Political leaders such as Governor Charlie Baker and Mayor Marty Walsh, arts and educational leaders will be present such as Matthew Teitelbaum of Museum of Fine Arts and Anita WalkerMassachusetts Cultural CouncilEnjoy delicious food from a wide array of restaurants such as Mei Mei, Roxy’s Grilled Cheese, East Coast Grill, Eastern Standard, and Area FourClick here for the full guest list, ticket information, and more.

Cissa Campion, Marketing Director of Urban Improv, offers a closer look at Urban Improv, its mission, and why their annual musical revue Banned in Boston is the funniest fundraiser of the year.

Jeanne Denizard:  The annual Banned in Boston fundraiser provides educational workshops guiding youth on how to best deal with tough, real life situations such as racism, violence, and bullying.  Please tell me more about the workshops.

Cissa Campion:  Banned in Boston is Urban Improv’s only annual fundraiser.  Urban Improv’s highly effective, interactive drama programs help young people explore challenging situations in their lives. We work with kids from 4th grade through high school. Whether it is peer pressure, cyber bullying, racism, homophobia, or violence, students role-play scenarios based on their own choices and experience the consequences of their actions in a safe environment.

Our atmosphere of openness and respect allows students to express themselves, leading to stronger self-esteem and improved conflict resolution, cooperation, and leadership skills.  Urban Improv helps students grapple with issues they face every day and equips them with the skills they need to become leaders who communicate our messages of nonviolence, tolerance, and respect. We call it “A Rehearsal for Life.”

Urban Improv has presented to thousands of students at schools and community groups throughout Boston, New England, and beyond.  It has been able to provide thousands of free workshops to Boston schools since its inception in 1992, 25 years ago.

JD:  What would you say is the best reason one should attend Banned in Boston?

CC:  Come for the laughs and because it’s such a good time. It’s a one-night-only event on Friday, April 7. We have this incredible roster of celebrities under one roof and all bets are off!  No rubber chicken and boring speeches at this fundraiser and enjoy delectable food provided by the city’s top restaurants.  Support a great cause that is having a powerful effect in this city.

Click here for more information and tickets to this hilarious, one night only event starting at Lansdowne Pub for a cocktail reception at 9 Lansdowne Street at 6 p.m.  Banned in Boston musical revue at House of Blues, 15 Lansdowne Street kicks off at 7:45 p.m.

Urban Improv is located at 670 Centre Street in Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts.  Click here for more information on Urban Improv, its upcoming events, and how to support this dynamic organization.

Massasoit Theatre Company presents the insightful, award-winning play, ‘A Raisin in the Sun’

Sometimes waiting for a new life to start can be the most important thing in the world.  Massasoit Theatre Company proudly presents A Raisin in the Sun, an award-winning, insightful play, and chosen for its poignant themes that speak to today’s society.  Adapted into the 1961 film starring Sydney Poitier, a musical, a TV movie, and revived on Broadway in 2014, Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry has made a significant impact over the years since its Broadway debut in 1959.

Massasoit Theatre Company’s A Raisin in the Sun will take the stage for one weekend only from Thursday, March 9 through Saturday, March 11 at Buckley Performing Arts Center in Brockton, Massachusetts.  A talk back will take place after the performances on Saturdays.  Click here for more information and for tickets.

A Raisin in the Sun is hailed for its gripping insight on poverty, racism, and inner turmoil.  Directed by Corinne Mason and produced by Mark Rocheteau, ‘Raisin in the Sun’ focuses on the Youngers, an African-American family who are struggling to survive, but dreams of better things to come.  With the entire family living in a tiny apartment, Amber Smith as Ruth, Keion Lugay as Walter Lee, Kadisha Harris as Travis, and Arial Wigfall as Beneatha all have their own individual dreams of making a new start.  However, life has its unexpected turns.

See A Raisin in the Sun for four performances only on March 9, 10, and 11 at 8 p.m.  One Saturday matinee performance takes place on March 11 at 3 p.m.  All performances will be held at Buckley Performing Arts Center, One Massasoit Boulevard in Brockton, Massachusetts.  Discounted student, senior, and group rates are all available.  Call 508-427-1234 or click here for tickets and further information.  Follow Massasoit Theatre Company on Facebook for upcoming events and more.

New England Philharmonic President Ann Teixeira talks anniversary concert, NEP’s future plans, & more

New England Philharmonic President Ann Teixeira is often encouraging music lovers to broaden their horizons.  From taking field trips to see the Detroit Symphony Orchestra to becoming the President of the New England Philharmonic (NEP), Ann became a music lover at a young age having been exposed to a variety of music throughout her life.  The NEP offers a unique blend of contemporary and traditional classical music, which has enraptured audiences for decades.

The New England Philharmonic has a great deal to celebrate.  Led by Music Director Richard Pittman, who is starting his 20th anniversary year, New England Philharmonic presents its 40th Anniversary Concert:   A Child of Our Time. This exciting concert, featuring a number of special guests, soloists, and musicians, takes place at the Tsai Performance Center at Boston University on Saturday, March 4 at 8 p.m.  Click here for more information and for tickets.

Ann Teixeira gives an inside look at the NEP orchestra, shares her music background, fond memories with the New England Philharmonic, and NEP’s future plans.   The New England Philharmonic thrives on the support of the community.  Click here to support the NEP, sign up for their newsletter for upcoming performances, and more.

Jeanne Denizard:  What first inspired your love for music and what led you to pursue a career in the music industry?

Ann Teixeira:  I was fortunate to grow up in a suburb of Detroit, Michigan with an excellent and well-funded school system.  We took field trips to Detroit to hear the Detroit Symphony, attend plays, and visit the art museum.  I participated in music and art classes at school and had friends who took piano lessons, ballet, and acting.  That gave me a great deal of exposure to the arts and I found myself attracted to music.

By the time I was in junior high school, I was part of a music club and we attended performances.  I also took piano lessons until my piano teacher told my parents it was not a good use of their money.  That didn’t dampen my interest in music, but it did puncture a hole in my balloon.  Growing up in the 1950s, I was always exposed to classical music and the only contemporary or popular music I heard was on the radio.

JD:  Please tell me how you first got involved with New England Philharmonic.

AT:  At intermission at the Boston Symphony, I often chatted with a man I worked with a number of years ago and he was on the NEP board.  Seeing me at Symphony, he thought I might be interested in joining the board of an orchestra and asked if I’d be interested.  He told me about NEP and the rest is history.

I had been a member of the Board of Overseers of Opera Boston which had closed down about a year before and was wondering how I might get involved with another music organization.  That was spring 2012, and the New England Philharmonic had distinctive programming like Opera Boston, so I thought it would be a good fit for me.

JD:  What is it like as President of NEP?  I’m sure being part of the arts everyday is an exciting venture with its share of surprises.

AT:  It is interesting, challenging, gratifying, and demanding.  Having a Composer-in-Residence program with a volunteer orchestra, a Call for Scores competition, and a Young Artist Competition, NEP is unusual if not unique.  In Boston’s rich music environment, NEP’s programming, which includes composers and compositions without wide-name recognition and premieres of new works during almost every concert, makes it a constant challenge to attract an audience.  Though reviewers laud the challenge, creativity, and interest of NEP’s programs, it is challenging to fill the hall with people willing to try something new.

The surprise has been the success of the Chamber Players small ensembles from within the orchestra who have been welcomed by major institutions in the area to present chamber concerts, such as the Boston Athenaeum, the Peabody Essex Museum, the Children’s Museum, King’s Chapel, the Newton Library, and the Harvard Business School Chapel among others.  These ensembles are greatly expanding the audience for the NEP, and the musicians love the opportunity to prepare pieces written for quartets, quintets, and septets.

JD:  Do you have any exciting or memorable stories over your time in NEP that you’d like to share?

AT:  Several experiences stand out.  In April 2013, the NEP played former Composer-in-Residence Michael Gandolfi’s Chesapeake: Summer of 1814 which culminated with The Star Spangled Banner which was written in the summer of 1814, a piece just written that summer.  The chorus sings the verse we are know very quietly, and then sings three unfamiliar verses, rising in volume along with the orchestra for each subsequent verse.  It still gives me goose bumps.

Gunther Schuller, a good friend of our Music Director, Dick Pittman, whose music the NEP often played, continued to attend performances throughout his life.  In 2014, he was named NEP Composer Laureate.  The last time he attended a concert and spoke with the audience, he was in a wheelchair and quite weak.  His appearance at our concert may have been his last public appearance.  He died six weeks later.

I remember their fondness for the NEP and the generosity of former Composers-in-Residence who contributed compositions, fanfares to start the three principal concerts this season.  Robert Kyr, the first Composer-in-Residence, wrote a lovely tribute to the longevity of the NEP, its commitment to contemporary music, and the fact that there is only ‘one music.’

I am also so proud  for the NEP that The Boston Globe recognized NEP’s 2012 War Requiem by Benjamin Britten as the ‘best classical performance of 2012’ and ArtsFuse called NEP ‘best local musicians’.

The NEP Chamber Players emerged as a new component of the NEP, enthusiastically supported by musicians who already hold full-time jobs outside the NEP, play in the NEP and sometimes in other orchestras as well.  They have families and are still willing to take on new music in new ensembles playing in new venues, all for NEP’s benefit.

JD:  I understand part of what sets NEP apart from other orchestras is it is an all-volunteer orchestra with a composer-in-residence.  The NEP sets great stock in original, contemporary work and commissions a new work each season from its resident composer.

AT:  Yes, NEP is one of a few all-volunteer orchestras.  Ours is made up of trained musicians, many of them from major university schools of music and nationally-known conservatories who make their living in another profession including research scientists, physicians, a pilot, sales people, music teachers, and many other professions.  Dick Pittman’s challenging music programming requires substantial personal practice between orchestra rehearsals and sometimes section rehearsals.  Their time commitment to the NEP is mind-boggling and impressive.

The Composer-in-Residence and Call for Scores programs were established in 1985. The Call for Scores is an open competition.  Composers are invited to submit a recently composed work without regard to any theme or other programmatic criteria. The Composer-in-Residence writes a new composition each season to be premiered by the NEP, and he judges the compositions submitted to the Call for Scores competition, selecting finalists for review by the Music Director and their joint decision on a winner.

The winner almost always attends and speaks to the audience about the winning piece, when it is performed during the following season.  Thus the Composer in Residence program ensures a minimum of two premieres each season, one a world premiere and the other a Boston or U.S. premiere.

However, it is not unusual for each program during the season to a premiere of a recently composed piece.  Consistent with the NEP’s tagline: ‘Innovation and Tradition in Concert,’ every program includes several contemporary classical music and typically one lesser known or less frequently performed traditional classical piece.

JD:  Please tell me what other works you are looking forward to this season and what are NEP’s future plans?

AT:  Our final concert of this season is on April 29.  We are particularly looking forward to Concertmaster Dani Maddon’s annual performance as soloist for a violin concerto.  This year, it will be the world premiere of Current Composer-In-Residence David Rakowski’s Violin Concerto No.2 written for her to perform on this occasion.  Andy Vores and Bernard Hoffer also have written pieces for Dani to perform.

We also look forward to performing the Boston premiere and Call for Scores 2016 winner, Liliya Ugay’s Oblivion.  Former Composer-in-Residence Peter Child is also contributing a world premiere fanfare to open the concert.

The program is rounded out by Aaron Copland’s Orchestral Variations, Sebastian Currier’s Microsymph and Zoltan Kodaly’s Peacock Variations.  This program should be a wonderful end to the 40th Anniversary season.

New England Philharmonic presents the 40th Anniversary Concert:  A Child of Our Time at the Tsai Performance Center at Boston University on Saturday, March 4 at 8 p.m.  Click here for tickets, how to become a subscriber, and more.