The expression, ‘Out with the old, in with the new’ takes on new meaning for Umbrella Stage Company’s dynamic musical, Head Over Heels, a gender-bending jukebox musical comedy which includes a case of mistaken identity that integrates the renaissance with contemporary themes and the 80s in Arcadia, a land that thrives on a beat. If that seems like a lot, it’s because this ambitious show tackles a lot in its approximately 2-hour time frame.
With resourceful direction by Brian Boruta, The Umbrella Stage Company presents Head Over Heels the Musical live and in person at the beautifully-renovated Umbrella Arts Center, 40 Stow Street in Concord, MA through Sunday, May 8. This show may not be appropriate for young children. Click here for more information at for tickets.
Who else to handle a beat but the Go-Gos! Following a string of jukebox musicals such as Jersey Boys, Mamma Mia! (featuring music from Abba), Movin’ Out (featuring music from Billy Joel), Good Vibrations (featuring music from the Beach Boys), Moulin Rouge and Priscilla, Queen of the Desert(both which deliver covers of contemporary pop songs), 80s pop princesses the Go-Gos handle this production’s unique beat. This lighthearted show highlights many of the Go-Gos snappy, feel-good numbers such as Vacation, Our Lips are Sealed, Head Over Heels, and We Got the Beat along with some lesser known tracks that don’t land as well.
Head Over Heels is lively and cheerful in presentation from overhead neon lights, versatile surrounding white columns, and a live band veiled behind translucent curtains onstage by set designer Janie Howland to bold and bright period costumes in pink, green, and yellow weaving 80s glam with a rock-n-roll edge by Brian Simon and Johnny Cagno to the rollicking, up-tempo choreography by Lara Finn Banister.
Based loosely on Sir Phillip Sidney’sThe Arcadia, Head Over Heels is a farce that follows a few Arcadian love stories with one taking a cue from Shakespeare as love struck shepherd Musidorus, portrayed by John Breen, must disguise himself in order to gain approval to marry Princess Pilocleas, portrayed by Temma Beaudrea. Beaudrea and Breen have a brimming, awkward, and excitable chemistry as they fight not only the royal rules, but the predictions from a mysterious oracle that ultimately sees the kingdom’s demise unless things change. Meanwhile, Philocleas’s sister, Pamela, portrayed with humorous narcissism by Bri Ryder, is proclaimed fairest in the land, but a groom might not be what she has her sights on after all.
Damon Singletary as King Basilius brings gravitas and humor to the king’s bombastic nature while Kate Pickett’s flirty and dry sarcasm makes Gynecia a scene stealer. Robert Saoud as Dametas portrays the sympathetic and seemingly sole voice of reason. While the majority of the characters are so fixated on what each of them wants, Dametas and Kai Clifton, a commanding presence as Pythio, may be the only ones capable of seeing the bigger picture. Singletary and Saoud deliver some amusing scenes together as they share differing outlooks on this kingdom’s shaky ground.
The humor ranges from irreverent to absurd to charming. Head over Heels makes some deliberate and clever points in its storytelling, but can get more fixated on what each character stands for rather than giving the characters more depth. However, If you enjoy a frivolous farce dipped in 80s nostalgia, this “trifle” as Sir Phillip Sidney has called his prose, this one may be for you.
The Umbrella Stage Company presents Head Over Heels the Musical live and in person at the beautifully-renovated Umbrella Arts Center, 40 Stow Street in Concord, MA through Sunday, May 8. This show may not appropriate for young children. Click here for more information at for tickets.
One thing rings true: No good can come from a dying phone.
A dark highway and a last minute errand kick off the world premiere of Hub Theatre Company of Boston’s family-friendly supernatural thriller Solitaire Suite, a rich, engaging play by Trent England that explores a family’s strange occurrence over one evening. With a dreamlike and tense score that underlies its various twist and turns, Solitaire Suite’s relatable cast are just part of what makes this as alluring a zoom production as it would be a stirring podcast.
Directed by Daniel Bourque, Solitaire Suite is nestled between two Shakespearean productions in Hub Theatre Company of Boston’s current season. While Shakespeare’s Much Ado about Nothing thrilled audiences last year and next is Shakespeare’s Love’s Labour’s Lost in the spring, Hub Theatre Company of Boston took a break from soliloquies and bravado for this psychological thriller continuing on Hub Theatre’s YouTube page on live stream and on Hub Theatre’s Facebook page through Saturday, February 27. Tickets are on a pay-what-you-can basis. Click here for more information.
Having seen a few of Hub Theatre Company of Boston’s productions, it is refreshing to see them present such a vast array of work over the years from period pieces to dark fantasy to southern rom-coms and now what is deemed twilight zone meets zoom.
Marty Mason bears most of the weight of this production as Celeste, a former city-lover turned suburban mother whose mysterious son keeps her guessing. She delivers a natural and nuanced performance, sharing the evocative, lively, and multi-layered account of her family’s evening. Cristhian Mancinas-Garcia is charismatic as Celeste’s quick-witted and laidback husband Pete and Michael Lin portrays their introverted and mysterious son, Tiger.
Solitaire Suite veers off into different directions and each detail is a window into each character’s psyche. The dramatic and haunting cinematography, with sound design and digital design by Kyle Lampe and Justin Lahue respectively, contributes to the production’s ominous and suspenseful tone that takes on not only some supernatural aspects, but the tension brimming just beneath the surface within this seemingly close family.
Solitaire Suite unpacks a lot within its under an hour runtime and though all your questions might not be answered, the production is thought-provoking well beyond the production’s close.
Solitaire Suite continues through Saturday, February 27 and is also available on Hub Theatre Company of Boston’s Facebook page. Click here for more information and their current production. Hub Theatre’s next production is Shakespeare’s Love’s Labour’s Lost this spring.
Shakespeare was no stranger to the times we are living in today. He watched theatres close during the Great Plague of London in the 1600s and used his time wisely, writing King Lear, MacBeth, and Antony and Cleopatra during that time of isolation. Tailoring this romantic comedy into 2020 isn’t too far of a stretch, especially in the humorous and clever manner in which Hub Theatre approaches these changes, not taking themselves too seriously.
Hub Theatre Company of Boston offered live streamed performances of Shakespeare’s Much Ado about Nothing until November 21 on a pay-what-you-can basis. Astutely directed and adopted by Bryn Boice, the virtual performance is still available to watch on Hub Theatre Company of Boston’s Facebook page. Click here to learn more about Hub Theatre Company of Boston and their future productions.
It is difficult to put together a show in the best of circumstances so Hub Theatre of Boston smartly steered into the skid by presenting this classic production, developing what theatre would have considered obstacles into strengths using the power of Zoom. Romantic partners kiss (offstage), couples and groups schedule rendezvous in breakaway rooms, and masks are weaved right into the story varying from silly animals to refined Venetian costume masks.
Part of what keeps Much Ado about Nothing a relevant, insightful, and easily modern piece is its foundations inspired endless inspiration for contemporary rom-coms. Adding tech talk and Covid-speak such as ‘turn off the cameras,’ ‘swipe right,’ ‘privacy issues,’ ‘your mic is on,’ and ‘venmo to payment’ does not seem too out of place onstage or on a laptop. Its exuberant and mischievous tone steeped in romance, gossip, tricks, and trappings have universal and timeless appeal.
This lively cast zealously adapts the production’s modern charm as they deliver wit, humor, and ripening drama in equal measure. As Hero (Micheline Wu) is getting ready to marry Claudius (Jaime Hernandez), mutual friends decide to do some matchmaking of their own with sworn singles Benedick (Jon Vallente) and Beatrice (Lauren Elias).
Wu is natural, charming, and sympathetic as blushing Hero and she shares sweet chemistry with Hernandez who delivers a robust performance as lofty and serious Claudio. Sarcasm, wit, and banter are not lost on outspoken, headstrong, and stubborn Elias and Vallente, who exhibit crackling chemistry as Beatrice and Benedick. One favorite line Hub Theatre gloriously did not change was when Benedick asks Beatrice, “You take pleasure then in the message?” Beatrice replies, ‘Yea, just so much as you may take upon a knife’s point.’ Their bickering is as biting as ever.
Nettie Pickering brings gravitas to her portrayal as Don Pedro and providing contemporary comic relief are the hackers or in traditional terms the Watchmen led by officer Dogberry (John Kinsman) boasting a Boston accent. Kinsman’s conceited and controlling Dogberry is amusing on his own, but shines in scenes with his watchman, portrayed with streetwise sass by Borachio (Lorraine Kanyike) and Conrade (Jessica Golden).
Chelsea Kerl’s dynamic, edgy costumes and Justin Lahue’s bold digital design keep the show bright and buoyant even in its darkest moments…and there are a few. Michael John Ciszewski has a flair for portraying dastardly characters and his elitist, tyrannical depiction of Don John is no exception.
The revelations hold up and pay off in Hub Theatre Company of Boston’s modern adaptation of Much Ado about Nothing. A recorded version is still available on Hub Theatre Company of Boston’s Facebook page. The production is on a pay-what-you-can basis. Click here for more information on Hub Theatre Company of Boston and their eighth season.
It is no surprise that Theatre KAPOW added Peter Josephson’s A Tempest Prayer, based on Shakespeare’s The Tempest, to their 13th season entitled, ‘We Can Get through This.’ Having lived through the Great Plague of London, Shakespeare was sadly familiar with the anguish of isolation and solemnity that encapsulates a person during a pandemic and the closing of theatres. It is a perfect choice for this indelible year.
Peter Josephson’s A Tempest Prayer, a solo retelling of William Shakespere’sThe Tempest also starring Peter Josephson, was live streamed at various times from Theatre KAPOW’s studio in Manchester, NH from November 13 through November 15. Click here for more information on season 13 and how to support them on Giving Tuesday on December 1.
Theatre KAPOW company member and award-winning actor Peter Josephson takes on quite a lot capturing the essence of a Shakespearean classic while displaying a full range of emotions not only as Prospero, but as other mystical figures. It is a harrowing journey within a man’s psyche stranded with his daughter on a mystical Mediterranean island imprisoned by his thoughts. He knows there is a way to escape, but must come to terms with himself in order to find freedom. If the show’s surroundings and lead actor’s struggles do not seem a bit familiar in this odd year of 2020, maybe you’re adjusting better than you might expect.
Though A Tempest Prayer is a solo retelling, Josephson portrays other mystical characters on the island in innovative ways while simultaneously making him look that much more unhinged. He uses marionettes for the illusion of interaction and Prospero’s daughter Miranda looks lifelike in a moving CGI portrait. Multiple camera angles, the dark and ominous island setting, and stirring sound effects by Matt Cahoon, Tavya Young, and Jake Hodgins all contribute to Peter’s captivating torment.
Josephson gives a fierce and gripping performance as Prospero expressing his inner turmoil as he struggles to forgive, the weight of his ills threatening to drive him mad unless he can let go. He’s menacing, fearful, shrewd, and human. It is easy to witness this turmoil and have empathy while he is wracked by loneliness and confinement. He paces and ponders the insignificance of life as he attempts to propel himself into a brave new world and appreciate what he does have.
Perhaps you are your own worst enemy. Perhaps more than anyone surrounding you, the unbearable truth is that the biggest struggles are the ones you endure within yourself. Letting go is the key to making things better if only it were that easy.
Sleepless Critic had the honor of interviewing Peter Josephson on a past production he performed with Theatre KAPOW. Click here for the interview.
Theatre KAPOW’s 13th season is underway. Click here for more information about Theatre KAPOW, their mission, and how you can support them on Giving Tuesday on December 1.
Dan has a complicated relationship with his estranged family.
Directed by Christian Parker and written by playwright and actor Dan O’Brien, Dan embarks on more than just a spiritual journey in The House in Scarsdale: a memoir for the stage. The House in Scarsdale is the third play within Potomac Theatre Project(PTP/NYC’s) virtual series that has been running each weekend from September 24 through Sunday, October 18.
In what can be described as a play within a prospective play, The House in Scarsdale visits the darkest of dysfunction as Dan, a journalist, visits various family members and others to learn more about his family’s past for his upcoming autobiographical play. Audiences travel alongside Dan on his journey from the Garden State Parkway to as far as Europe as he investigates a possible family secret. What makes this show unique is not only is it a mystery, but as the details unfold, how much of the truth do you really want to know about your family? Every family has their problems, but some secrets cannot be fathomed.
The House in Scarsdale stars the show’s own playwright Dan O’Brien as Dan and Alex Draper portrays several dynamic characters throughout the production. Draper seamlessly sinks right into each role, navigating an assortment of colorful characters from Dan’s resentful grandmother to his eccentric uncle. Draper is expressive and spirited, clearly enjoying each transition. His conversations with O’Brien have moments of dark humor, relatable family banter, and a good dose of stark, stirring honesty.
The show is figuratively and literally on a journey to learn more about Dan’s troubled family, a family so dysfunctional that poor Dan has been cast out of his family circle hence its ironic opening quote by John Cheever, ‘Come back, come back, my wretched, feeble and unwanted child.’ Dan understandably wants to know why. As Dan’s extended family recall his family’s wild tendencies and various psychoses, Dan’s low key and unassuming demeanor makes one think that perhaps he has been through much more than he lets on.
Dan is a quiet, inquisitive soul and depicts his emotional detachment with a skilled subtlety. His conflicted nature between trepidation and yearning is fascinating as he ventures deeper into his family history becoming so invested and anxious about what he might find, he even visits a psychic. Some of his family recollections are universal and lighthearted and every family has a degree of unhealthy dysfunction, but other memories are dreadfully concerning.
So, as some answers come to light and more questions arise, how much is Dan like his family and how much of the story can be trusted? The House in Scarsdale lures you in and leaves you engrossed in its outcome, hoping for a light at the end of this tunnel.
Potomac Theatre Project or PTC/NYC is located at 330 West 16th Street in New York City. Click here for more information and how to support PTP/NYC’s current and upcoming productions.
The cast of Theatre@First’s ‘Hamlet’ Photo courtesy of Johanna Bobrow/Theatre@First
Directed purposefully by Elizabeth Hunter, Theatre@First continues Shakespeare’s Hamlet through Saturday, November 23 at Unity Somerville in Somerville, Massachusetts. Click here for more information and tickets.
Not a bad seat in the house as the audience gathered in Unity Somerville’s church basement for Theatre@First’s Hamlet. The show is an immersive experience as the production expands beyond the stage and cast members can enter from anywhere in the venue.
Shakespeare’s Hamlet is about a Prince of Denmark who discovers his mother has married his uncle after his father has been murdered. An urgent message inspires Hamlet to believe “something is rotten in the state of Denmark.”
Theatre@First’s Hamlet is a stylish, compelling drama that boasts some iridescent and impressive special effects as a translucent figure paces from a mysterious location. It is not revealed which actor portrays that particular figure, but his moving and affecting presence is a highlight of the production.
Clowning…. Nathan Phillip Johnson as Laertes, Andrew Harrington as Polonius and Evelyne Cardella as Ophelia Photo courtesy of Johanna Bobrow/Theatre@First
The show also blends the contemporary with the historical through its more casual tone and costume choices while Shakespeare’s alluring text and action sequences remain the same. Carolyn Jones’s and Katie Caroll’s costume design nods to the late Middle Ages setting in Elsinore, Denmark while also boasting a contemporary flair. For example, Hatem Adell portrays Hamlet wearing stone washed jeans and a crown on his t-shirt while Gertrude, depicted by Ron Lacey, wears a gown more faithful to the historical time period. Makeup artists Meg Boeni, Mack Caroll, and their assistants did an extraordinary job transforming the cast into their respective roles.
Hamlet features a capable cast that occasionally engages the audience. The dialogue can be a bit rushed at times in its conversational tone which lessens the gravitas of Shakespeare’s eloquent text. Andrew Harrington is an unforgettable presence as Polonius. Wearing a beard and a bow tie, Harrington has natural comic timing with a distinctive voice and lighthearted demeanor. A bit of a scene stealer, he humorously engages the audience with his offhanded and frank observations while offering wisdom and insight to his children.
Evelyne Cardella as Ophelia and Hatem Adell as Hamlet Photo courtesy of Johanna Bobrow/Theatre@First
Evelyn Cardella glows as Ophelia with a wide smile, bright eyed virtue, and complete infatuation with Hamlet. Playful and charming, Cardella has a sweet chemistry with Nathan Phillip Johnson as her brother, Laertes and Andrew Harrington as their warm and wise father, Polonius. Cardella navigates the character with vulnerability and heartfelt poignancy as her emotions turn on a dime.
Nathan Phillip Johnson as Laertes and Myra Hope Eskridge as Claudius Photo courtesy of Johanna Bobrow/Theatre@First
Hatem Adell certainly has exacted the alarming rage expected of Hamlet in the face of betrayal. Adell delivers the famous “To Be or Not to Be” soliloquy with finesse. He also excels at Hamlet’s darkly playful demeanor, especially in a powerful scene alone with Ophelia. Nathan Phillip Johnson also gives a memorable performance as valiant and forthright Laertes, infusing a natural charisma in each scene.
Myra Hope Eskridge as Claudius delivers a suave poker face, but lacks the devious nature expected of the character. Claudius is a calculating character and leaves little room for sympathy. A brief exchange with Laertes later in the production showed just a glimpse of Claudius’s true nature.
Hamlet is not complete without the appearance of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, portrayed with fresh humor by Chantelle Marshall and Julia Kennedy respectively. They make a seeming pair of jolly, dimwitted bookends as Hamlet’s childhood friends, dressed identically and interchangeably. However, they are more than meets the eye.
Hatem Adell as Hamlet joined by Chantelle Marshall as Rosencrantz and Julia Kennedy as Guildenstern Photo courtesy of Johanna Bobrow/Theatre@First
Get thee to Theatre@First’s final performances of Hamlet through Saturday, November 23 at Unity Somerville, 6 William Street in Somerville, Massachusetts. Click here for more information, tickets, and how to support Theatre@First.
Over the years as a critic, taking notes during the show has been a ritual and now pretty much a reflex these days. When Disney’s The Lion King musical amazed audiences over 20 years ago on Broadway at the Nederlander Theatre, it was a larger than life spectacle that was as impressive to the eyes as it was to the heartstrings. Seeing it for the first time back then, it was probably one of the most glorious theatre experiences in memory.
One would think that as time passed, the technology and the sheer artistry of the show would become a bit dated. However, it hasn’t aged a bit unveiling richer interpretations of songs from the film such as I Just Can’t Wait to Be King and The Circle of Life and including additional songs such as Shadowland and They Live in You not included in the film. It is also the one show that was too enthralling to take notes.
Directed by Julie Taymor, Lexus Broadway in Boston presents Disney’s Tony award-winning musical, The Lion King through Sunday, October 27 at Citizens Bank Opera House in Boston, Massachusetts. Click here for more information and tickets and click here to see where the show is touring next.
The Lion King is based on Disney’s 1994 Academy award-winning film of the same name which is also an adaptation of Shakespeare’s Hamlet. It is about a cub prince named Simba who must grow up fast after being exiled from his home by his scheming uncle. Bursting with color, comedy, jaw dropping special effects, a classic soundtrack by Elton John and Tim Rice with important lessons about growing up, it puts an entirely new spin and depth into in this extraordinary tale, giving this musical new dimension and heart.
With scenic design by Richard Hudson, lighting by Donald Holder, and Steve Canyon Kennedy on sound, it brilliantly navigates Citizens Bank Opera House’s space to stage some of the film’s vast landscapes which includes the breathtaking and encompassing opening sequence. The show manipulates movement and height with strategically placed moving props and the Julie Taymor and Michael Curry’s mask and puppet design representing members of the animal kingdom are visionary marvels.
The entire cast is as impressive as their visually stunning surroundings. Bursting with color, I Just Can’t Wait to be King is a celebration with zany, eye popping color and wild shapes combined with Walter Russell the III’s enthusiastic vocals as Young Simba. Buyi Zama is intense and hilarious as the wise Rafiki, her mesmerizing interactions with the cast unpredictable and endlessly amusing while delivering the emotional impact that the part entails. She stands out in the stirring number, Nao Tse Tsa and every scene at Rafiki’s Tree. Gerald Ramsey has a commanding, yet nurturing presence as Mufasa as he interacts with energetic and adorable Walter Russell III.
Adding a wealth of comic relief is Nick Cordileone as Timon, his compelling puppetry bringing the character to life in a new way. With Ben Lipitz as a wild haired Pumbaa whose expressions channel John Belushi, the two make a sidesplitting pair as they deliver the catchy classic, Hakuna Matata.Greg Jackson is impressive as he navigates Zazu’s jittery angst in a sprawling bird.
Lexus Broadway in Boston presents The Lion King musical through Sunday, October 27 at Citizens Bank Opera House, 539 Washington Street in Boston, Massachusetts. Click here for tickets and here to see where The Lion King will perform next on their national tour. This mesmerizing hit musical continues to reign on Broadway at the Minskoff Theatre in New York City.
Lexus Broadway in Boston has an amazing lineup in store as they continue their 2019-2020 season which includes Disney’s Anastasia, Mean Girls, and their next musical, Come From Away. Click here for their entire lineup and follow them on Facebook for updates and much more.
It is not difficult to see why A Midsummer Night’s Dream is one of Shakespeare’s most performed and beloved plays. It is everything but tragic. It features magic, mischief, romantic comedy, action, and under a harvest moon, a haunting twist perfect for October and Halloween.
This particular play holds historical significance to the Company Theatre because it was the first show they ever produced 40 years ago when they were working with very little money. Company Theatre’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream is an opportunity to transform the production into what they have always hoped it to be and what a dream it is.
Cleverly directed by Steve Dooner, Company Theatre’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream continues through Sunday, October 20 at the Company Theatre in Norwell, Massachusetts. Click here for a closer look at show and here for more information and tickets.
Samantha McMahon as Queen Titania and fairies Photo courtesy of the Company Theatre
Under a gigantic moon, Ryan Barrow’s enchanting set design and Zoe Bradford’s beautiful art design unleash a picturesque, woodland world full of frolicking fairies, sword fights, romance, and more surrounded by a moving and glittering landscape. The show’s fanciful Ravel and Mendelssohn-infused soundtrack, some high flying special effects, Paula Ninestein and Anna Splitz’s authentic costumes with a bit of a contemporary edge, and Ethan R. Jones’s stirring lighting design seamlessly combine to enhance this captivating work.
Dan Kelly as Theseus and Sarah Dewey as Hippolyta Photo courtesy of the Company Theatre
A Midsummer Night’s Dream has multiple story lines, but the cast translates Shakespeare’s work with gravitas and humor. For those hesitant about understanding Shakespeare’s work, this production is lively, lighthearted, and manageable to follow.
Part play within a play, part intrigue, part comedy, and part mystery, A Midsummer Night’s Dream essentially explores love in all of its forms from unrequited to true love to romantic comedy to love potions. This production is the source of some of Shakespeare’s most famous reflections on love such as “True love does not see with the eyes, but the mind,” and “The course of true love never did run smooth.” The show’s witty dialogue is a wonderful reminder that Shakespeare’s story lines are timeless and can translate into any contemporary story line.
Though A Midsummer Night’s Dream boasts a dignified and dynamic cast, it also excels at improvisation, hilarity, and absurdity. Dan Kelly is a regal and charismatic Theseus and Sarah Dewey a radiant Hippolyta. They glide onstage like today’s royal family. Declan Dunn delivers a remarkable performance as wild, mischievous, and mighty Puck and his conspiring moments with Jermaine Murray as King Oberon make for a clever and cunning pair.
The women in this production are strong, beautiful, and fierce. Ariel Wigfall portrays sympathetic, yet courageous Hermia while raven-haired Joan Raube-Wilson is virtuous and stunning as Helena. Samantha McMahon is as glamorous as she is amusing as Queen Titania.
‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ also has a wealth of wonderful, improvisational moments. Suraj Ranhbhat as headstrong Demetrius, Bryant Marshall as Lysander, and especially Marco Zenelli as the energetic, bombastic, yet benevolent Nick Bottom along with his group of madcap, merry Mechanicals all demonstrate some excellent physical humor, improvisation, and zany comic relief. Where would today’s humor be without these classic comedic moments which stand as the foundation of what we are all laughing about today.
From L to R: Marco Zanelli as Nick Bottom, Declan Dunn as Puck and Caroline Kautsire as Peter Quince
Company Theatre’s classic A Midsummer Night’s Dream continues through Sunday, October 20 at the Company Theatre, 30 Accord Park Drive in Norwell, Massachusetts. Click here for more information, tickets, and how to support Company Theatre’s future. Also follow Company Theatre on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter to learn all about their upcoming events.
From exploring live theatre and music to nature to science to space as well as taking on racism, climate change, and many more important topics all involving a vast array of community members, organizations, and performers, Boston Landmarks Orchestra is so much more than a beautiful free Wednesday night concert outing at the Esplanade. Boston Landmarks Orchestra Gala will celebrate 90 years of free concerts on the Esplanade in October.
WCRB is a media partner for the Boston Landmarks free concert series. Click here for Boston Landmarks Orchestra’s complete summer schedule at Boston’s renowned Hatch Shell and here for further details on the upcoming Gala.
It was an honor to speak with Christopher Wilkins, Boston Landmarks Orchestra’s conductor and Music Director, who took time out of his busy schedule to discuss the highlights of the Boston Landmarks Orchestra’s summer season and what is coming up.
The Sleepless Critic: The season kicked off on July 10 with the second annual “Season Tune-Up” party. What was that like?
Christopher Wilkins: It was a gorgeous night with a great turn out. Lots of children attended and we introduced our audience to many of our partner organizations which include musical organizations, music educational schools, and partners like the New England Aquarium and the Museum of Science. The “Season Tune-Up” Party featured fun games, a performance from the Everett High School band, and our Maestro Zone where kids can step up at the podium, wave the baton, look at a score, and get a conducting lesson. We offer Maestro Zone at our regular concerts as well.
The Maestro Zone with Maestro Zone Assistant Conductor Shuang Fan
SC: We’ve been blessed with some beautiful nights this summer. You have been the Music Director and conductor for the Boston Landmarks Orchestra since 2011. What has it been like for you collaborating with different theatres and new works each year?
CW: Our mission is to engage as many Bostonians as possible from all walks of life and one of our strategies is to develop partnerships. They feature an array of organizations to get their fans, their folks, and their constituency excited to come to a concert and work with us.
One of our best strategies is to create composer residencies in different neighborhoods around Boston so people who might not ever encounter an orchestra can develop some way of making music or dancing or some other performing art that they can bring to our stage and perform with the orchestra. We have a lot of inexperienced young performers throughout the summer and some who have never been onstage before. We do all that along with an eclectic lineup of Dvorak, Broadway, symphonies, and a great choral repertoire.
SC: It must be an incredible experience to see how everybody interacts with each other and how it turns out onstage.
CW: It’s wonderful to perform it in the Hatch Shell because it is an iconic venue, people associate it with orchestral music, and it is in the heart of the city. The Hatch Shell is also quite enormous. We can fit 5,000 people or more at our concerts and that is typically what we draw when the weather is nice.
SC: Such depth in a free event.
CW: It’s important to many people that can’t afford to come otherwise. It’s also a powerful emblem of the idea of universal access. Everybody is welcome.
We just think about access barriers, which are not only economic. Cultural assumptions in a community can cause people to stay away. At Landmarks, we think deeply about what those barriers are and do what we can to get rid of them.
SC: Yes, and you have held many events so far this season. For example, you recently celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Moon Landing with Symphonic Space Odyssey. How did you pay tribute to this historic event?
CW: We performed that in Jordan Hall because it was a stormy night. Jordan Hall is one of the most beautiful venues in America and the sound indoors just rattles your bones. We didn’t have to change the program at all, just the venue.
The Moon Landing is one of the most amazing achievements in the history of mankind. It was an awesome night and we celebrated it with the Museum of Science which was perfect because they have had an exhibition ever since the moon landing occurred. The Museum of Science prepared fabulous video footage relating to the moon landing, space travel, rockets, and deep space taken from materials produced in house at the Hayden Planetarium for their full dome experience.
SC: What are you most looking forward to this season?
CW: Each week is so over the top that it’s hard to pick a favorite. We have a wonderful collaboration on August 14 with the New England Aquarium featuring some remarkable video material that will be synchronized live to the orchestra.
Boston Landmarks Orchestra partners with the New England Aquarium for a free concert on August 14 Photo courtesy of Boston Landmarks Orchestra/New England Aquarium
The subject is climate change and we’re performing Vaughan Williams Symphonia Antarctica which is originally a film score, but now set to a more recent film made by Natural History New Zealand featuring all shots from Antarctica.
Then we have a beautiful photographic sequence put together by Boston Globe writer David Arnold called “Above and Below.” He’s taken Brad Washburn’s iconic aerial photographs of glaciers and coral reefs mostly from the 1930’s and then taking the same shots today. Of course what you see is a devastating record of loss set to Adagio for Strings. The program also includes optimistic shots from Boston Harbor and other places from then and now which shows tremendous improvement environmentally and send the message that we can do something about climate change.
We did an extremely interesting panel discussion recently which has some caused useful and in depth panel conversation called “Who Should Sing Ol’ Man River?” around race and the portrayal of racial themes at WBUR CitySpace. Our moderator was Emmett G Price III, a celebrity in Boston and a wonderful musician, historian, pastor, and radio personality. It was a wonderfully experienced and informed panel who weighed in on a lot of these questions and shaped how we put together the following week’s concert.
Bass Bariton Alvy Powell Photo courtesy of Boston Landmarks Orchestra
SC:Ol’ Man River from Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “Showboat” is such an amazing song and I’ve seen it done is so many different ways.
CW: It’s a showstopper. Our base Alvy Powell has sung Ol’ Man River in the White House for the last six sitting Presidents in a row. He sang it at George H.W. Bush’s funeral at President Bush and his wife Barbara’s request. He also sang it at Gerald Ford’s funeral. If anyone should sing Ol’ Man River, it’s Alvy Powell and he performed it that night.
SC: What kind of conversation sprung from that panel?
CW: That’s a good question. We got into questions of language, dialect, the history of black music, and cultural appropriation. Quite an interesting segment was when we were looking at where we go from here. One of our panelists was Ashleigh Gordon, founder of an organization that has attracted a lot of praise and attention called Castle of Our Skins. It celebrates African American composers and performers. She’s done an amazing job furthering the discussion and coming up with creative ways of producing eye catching programming.
The musicians learn something they know so well and are able to put it into the context of the play while the actors now can play off a symphony. Now how often does that happen? It is amazing for the performers and the audience.
SC: You’ve performed all over the United States. What do you like best about your time with the Boston Landmarks Orchestra?
CW: I love our mission. It’s readily understandable to most people in the community which I think is why we are receiving increasing levels of support from all quarters from individuals and foundations and from political reps because we are using great music with its level of complexity, depth, and emotional appeal and a first class professional orchestra as a means to gather community together.
I don’t know another orchestra that has a mission defined in this way. I learn a lot and meet all kinds of interesting people doing interesting work. We get to come together in a musical setting and it’s almost guaranteed everybody has a wonderful time.
Sit back and enjoy the Boston Landmarks Orchestra free every Wednesday night. Click here for the full schedule and how to support future concerts.
As a fan of the twist-ending, they have been nothing short of fascinating. Directed by Michael Hisamoto, Flat Earth Theatre continues King of Shadows through June 22 at the Mosesian Center for the Arts in Watertown, Massachusetts. Click here for more information and tickets. This show may be haunting for children.
The setting of Flat Earth Theatre’s ‘King of Shadows’ Photo courtesy of Flat Earth Theatre
Much like Riverdale, an ordinary setting withholds extraordinary secrets. Grounded in the reality of missing children in San Francisco, King of Shadows delves into the lives of four distinct characters, all affected by their dark past. The haunting set and intimate, encompassing staging, especially PJ Strachman’s light design, Bram Xu’s sound design, Stage Manager/Puppeteer Amy Lehrmitt, and scenic designer Ryan Bates, create an immersive, unsettling atmosphere for what is about to unfold.
Compassionate and ambitious Berkeley graduate student Jessica, portrayed with finesse by Laura Chowenhill, may be in over her head when she meets Nihar, a mysterious, wise-beyond-his-years homeless teenager portrayed by Trinidad Ramkissoon. Ramkissoon’s penetrating gaze and inquisitive nature give Nihar an edgy charisma. He has a fuzzy past, but that does not stop Jessica from her perpetual desire to help others.
Logical and protective policeman Eric Saunders, portrayed impressively by Matt Crawford, is suspicious that Nihar may have a dangerous agenda. Crawford’s Eric is a great foil for Chowendill’s pensive and conflicted Jessica, setting the stage for some sparks. Jessica’s resentful and impulsive younger sister Sarah, portrayed with sarcasm and sass by Abigail Erdelatz, is capable of anything as she longs for a different life.
Flat Earth’s multi-layered production, King of Shadows is best seen without revealing too many details. Though it’s an increasingly outlandish tale, King of Shadows has more than its share of suspense, leaving the audience constantly wondering where each character’s loyalty truly lies.
Trinidad Ramkissoon as Nihar Photo courtesy of Flat Earth Theatre
Flat Earth Theatre’s final production of its 13th season, King of Shadows continues through Saturday, June 22 at the Black Box at the Mosesian Center for the Arts, 321 Arsenal Street in Watertown, Massachusetts. Click here for more information and tickets.
Partially surrounded by a lush green lawn that gives it a campus feel, The Mosesian Center for the Arts houses a number of productions, concerts, and exhibits during the year. Offering free parking and next door to Panera Bread, Earful and Gilly Assuncao are among the featured concerts this month while The Wizard of Oz and the opera, La Cenerentola, are among the upcoming theatrical productions. Click here to see all that Mosesian Center for the Arts has to offer.