REVIEW: One con deserves another as South Shore Theatre Works continues with lively ‘Chicago the Musical’

With the recent premiere of the highly-anticipated FX biographical miniseries, Fosse/Verdon about the sizzling creative and romantic partnership between legendary filmmaker and choreographer Bob Fosse (Sam Rockwell) and spectacular Broadway dancer Gwen Verdon (Michelle Williams), it seems Fosse and Verdon’s influence is still everywhere.  So, it is not surprising that South Shore Theatre Works (SSTW) is taking on what SSTW’s Executive Director and President Richard Bento called, “a dream production of mine to direct,” Chicago the Musical continuing through Saturday, April 20 at Abigail Adams Middle School in Weymouth, MA.  This show is not for young audiences.  Click here for more information and tickets.

One of Fosse’s most popular creations was a dark satire dealing with corruption and murder during the Jazz age called Chicago the Musical.  This Tony award-winning production continues to thrill audiences as one of the longest running Broadway musicals and its most recent 2002 film adaptation was the 2002 Academy award-winning film starring Renee Zellwegger (Roxie), Catherine Zeta-Jones (Velma) and Richard Gere (Billy Flynn) garnered a few Academy Awards.

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The cast of ‘Chicago the Musical’ Photo by Annabella Valle/South Shore Theatre Works

How has Chicago the Musical earned its longevity?  The proof is in its clever, satirical storytelling that isn’t afraid to occasionally shock, its sizzling choreography, memorable characters, catchy music, and its frank, timeless message about humanity.  With an impressive, semi-interactive fifteen-piece orchestra led by conductor Doug Gerber that elevates the action onstage plus additional songs not featured in its most recent film adaptation, this darkly humorous production is off to a good start.

With a modest set featuring vintage theatre lights that illuminate the stage, director Richard Bento keeps this production in classic Fosse form dressing his dancers in black. The close-knit, tight choreography by co-choreographers Richard Bento and Amy Valle Wallace includes some dance crazes of the Jazz Age that make for some visual sizzle.  Though the classic number Cell Block Tango needs a bit more snarl, clever Razzle Dazzle boasts some sleek staging.

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Headlining this colorful cast is Stephanie Wallace as desperate, hot tempered and fast-living Roxie Hart.  With a great scowl and energetically navigating Roxie’s myriad of emotions, it is easy to see how Wallace relishes this character.  She is never better than during her natural and engaging signature song, Roxie Hart.

Jaclyn Cleary lends a mix of sharp sophistication and mayhem to Velma Kelly, a former dancer turned criminal.  Her wild, light eyes reveal a smugness and unsteadiness that will keep you guessing her next move.  Having seen Chicago the Musical quite a few times, I admire Jaclyn Cleary’s sleek vocals and not so by-the-numbers rendition of All That Jazz.  She and Matron Mama Morton, portrayed charismatically by Hanna Ford, have great chemistry.  They are two sides of the same coin in their rendition of Class.

Staring down her glasses with an ironically sophisticated air is Hannah Ford as Matron Mama Morton.  With a belt that certainly packs a punch, her rendition of When You’re Good to Mama clearly shows she knows how to pull some strings and depicts Mama in a different and refreshing way.

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Wielding a cane, Aaron Stolicker masterfully navigates the cast and the audience as suave, shrewd, and debonair Billy Flynn, sharply dressed in a black tuxedo.  He’s full on smirking charm in the number, All I Care About is Love and quite the storyteller in his rendition of They Both Reached for the Gun, a complex, energetic number with strong choreography.  J. Merlo adds some humor and some serious pipes as journalist Mary Sunshine.

South Shore Theatre Works continues Chicago the Musical through Saturday, April 20 at Abigail Adams Middle School, 89 Middle Street in Weymouth, MA.  Click here fore more information, tickets, and how to support South Shore Theatre Works, an organization that recently celebrated its third anniversary.  Click here for more information about South Shore Theatre Works and its Executive Director and President, Richard Bento.

 

Sleepless Beyond the Stage: Building a dream with Richard Bento, President of South Shore Theatre Works

Building a dream always has its share of surprises and challenges. However, with determination, hard work, and more than a touch of luck, those sought after dreams can become a reality.  Sleepless Beyond the Stage explores the reality of making that dream come true, whether by building an organization, finally bringing that dream production to life, or starting a group that makes a difference.

Richard Bento, Executive Director and President of South Shore Theatre Works (SSTW) checked in with Sleepless Critic a few years ago as the theater was just getting on its feet.  Boasting a successful run of Seussical in December, SSTW’s upcoming productions include Blithe Spirit, Ordinary Days, and Chicago.  Richard Bento talks about how this Massachusetts theater has grown in a short time.  Click here for more information, auditions, and for tickets.

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Past performances of ‘Seussical the Musical’ December 2018

Sleepless Critic: Please tell me about your background and what inspired you to start South Shore Theatre Works?

Richard Bento:  I’ve participated in community and semi-professional theater throughout Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Georgia, and San Francisco.  One of my goals was to have a group of my own who share the same mission and passion I had for the arts.

A few years ago, I decided to participate in theater here and assist another community theater group.  I fell in love with the people.  We shared the same passion.  When we were at a crossroads needing to decide whether we were going to bring this other group to another level or start our own with other people who shared that same drive, I decided to put together South Shore Theatre Works.

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South Shore Theatre Works presents ‘Blithe Spirit’ February 15-17 in Randolph, MA Photo courtesy of South Shore Theatre Works

JD:  What would you say to those who are considering starting a community theater?

South Shore Theatre Works proudly presents stirring spring musical, ‘Children of Eden’

A little over thirty years ago, a new musical was born, loosely sharing the story of the world’s first family.  Based on the book by John Caird with music and lyrics by Academy Award-winning composer Stephen Schwartz, South Shore Theatre Works (SSTW) proudly presents the beloved spring musical, Children of Eden for one weekend only from Friday, May 12 through Sunday, May 14.  All performances take place at Stetson Hall in Randolph, Massachusetts.  A VIP reception will take place on opening night.  Click here for more information and for tickets.

Directed by Richard Bento and musically directed by Henry Buck, Children of Eden, a musical loosely based on the book of Genesis, explores in a humorous and bittersweet way, the universal and ever complex relationship between parents and children. Children of Eden features well-known songs from the musical such as Generations, Strangers to the Rain, and Let There Be.

Performances for Children of Eden will be held on Friday, May 12 and Saturday, May 13 at 7:30 p.m.  One Sunday matinee will be held at 5 p.m.  Discount tickets are available for groups, seniors, and students.  Click here for tickets and more information.

South Shore Theatre Works is always looking for volunteers for a wide range of tasks including sewing, the box office, hanging up or designing a flyer or poster, or with media.  Click here for upcoming fundraisers and here on how to support South Shore Theatre Works.  Join their mailing list and learn how to become a member.  South Shore Theatre Works is also on Facebook.

 

‘Steel Magnolias’ and ‘Children of Eden’ part of the exciting premiere season of South Shore Theatre Works

From Sondheim’s enchanting fall musical, Into the Woods to the upcoming beloved spring musical, Children of Eden, South Shore Theatre Works (SSTW) in Holbrook, Massachusetts, is having a stellar premiere season.  With a group of dedicated volunteers and Board of Directors, Executive Director and President Richard Bento is thrilled about South Shore Theatre Works’ promising future.  In a “sink or swim” sort of industry, Benton says South Shore Theatre Works is “Michael Phelps-ing” it.  Click here for more information on auditions, how to support and becoming a member of South Shore Theatre Works, and more on upcoming performances.

 Jeanne Denizard:  Your first musical was Sondheim’s Into the Woods.  For a first show, that must have been quite an undertaking.  I understand you had a very good turnout though.

Richard Bento:  Yes, we had about 64 people from across Massachusetts and Rhode Island that came and auditioned. Into the Woods is a very difficult show acting-wise because it’s about relationships. It’s about relationships between mothers and daughters, husbands and wives, children and their grandparents, brothers, and new found love.  It’s a very challenging piece, not just vocally, but we wanted to do a production that shows people we’re really out to play. We want to be on the map as one of the best community theaters in the area, and doing a show like Into the Woods really put us out there. You know, it’s one of those “sink or swim” shows and we didn’t just float.  We definitely Michael Phelps-ed it and we swam successfully.

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The cast of ‘Into the Woods’ Photo courtesy of Rachel Nope Beasley

JD:  To start the New Year, you presented the musical comedy, The Big Bad Musical.  Please tell me about that.

 RB:  The Big Bad Musical is part of our junior production season for young performers under the age of 19.  It was a great production. I think it really piggybacked on the production of Into the Woods with some of the characters, like Little Red Riding Hood and the Big Bad Wolf, and brought it to a different world.  It had a lighter side that Into the Woods does not necessarily have and brought a sense of humor to the fairy tale stories.  It introduced other characters like The Boy Who Cried Wolf and the Three Little Pigs. The Big Bad Musical was an exciting adventure to work with young children and see how they grow.  It’s amazing how they step up to the plate. With an adult who is performing in community theatre, you expect to have a certain level of professionalism and respect for the craft, but to see these kids who are young adults doing a show unknown to most people, doing music that people don’t know, and having to do a show that has so much dialogue, and really putting it on themselves, is something great to be a part of.  I’m honored to be a part of it.

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Rehearsal for the musical comedy, ‘The Big Bad Musical’ Photo courtesy of Rachel Nope Beasley

JD:  Please tell me how can someone participate in these educational workshops?

RB:  Our Junior Workshop programs are for anyone under the age of 19 who want to participate in a youth production. We not only teach them about the acting side of dramas and musicality of musicals depending on the show, but also what it is like to put on a show and be involved from beginning to end. We are very fortunate for our summer junior workshop. This summer, we’ll be performing Disney’s The Little Mermaid, Jr.  Keep a lookout on our website, and join our email list for updates.  Auditions would be in the late spring for this August production. It’s open to anyone under the age of 19 who wants to participate, have some fun, learn, and improve their skills.

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South Shore Theatre Works dress rehearsal for youth production, ‘The Big Bad Musical’ Photo courtesy of Rachel Nope Beasley

JD:  Now, South Shore Theatre Works is producing the lauded play, Steel Magnolias, a classic story featuring a much smaller cast.  When does that show kick off?

RB:  We had auditions for that show right after Into the Woods in November and we’ve been rehearsing throughout the holiday season. We’re really focusing on it now that it is the New Year. It’s a great, well-known show, not just for the play, but also for the movie. They’re very similar to one another, but also extremely different because the play only takes place at Truvy’s Hair Salon. It really involves the six actresses on stage connecting with the audience on a different level that they would be if it was a different type of show. The show is about emotion, the interaction between friendships, and also the interaction between all different kinds of relationships. I think the motif of South Shore Theatre Works 2016-2017 season has been about relationships.

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‘Steel Magnolias’ from Friday, February 17 through Sunday, February 19

JD:  South Shore Theatre Works runs fundraising campaigns, most recently with the restaurant, Not Your Average Joes.  In what ways can people support South Shore Theatre Works?

 RB:  We partner up with local restaurants and local businesses throughout the year.  We’re very fortunate to have the support of The Chateau in Stoughton, who held a fundraiser for us last year. Uno’s Chicago Bar and Grill helped us out as well. We had our good friends at Five Below on the Stoughton/Brockton line continually help us out with our endeavors by holding numerous fundraisers for us, which is greatly appreciated. Not Your Average Joe’s, the last one we just did in the month of December, was a great way for people to be able to go out to eat like you normally would and support a great cause. We’ll be continuing to do this with other restaurants in the area. Another one is scheduled for February in Holbrook. It is a great way to get some extra revenue in and for people to participate without having to do lot of work while you are putting on a full season.

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South Shore Theatre Works Play Reading Committee led by Richard Bento Photo courtesy of Kelly Webber

We here at SSTW are very ambitious!  We technically have been putting on a main stage and junior season, two seasons simultaneously.  To be able to do that financially, we need the support of the community.  Not just by supporting us on these fundraising events, but helping us with sponsorships and ads.  If there’s someone in the community who would like to support the arts and see it continue in their community, check out our website to see how they can assist us, whether it’s a program ad or a sponsorship.  Someone once told me it takes a village to raise a child. It’s the same thing with a community theater. It takes the town and the surrounding communities to raise and bring up a successful community theater.

Volunteers are always needed, whether you can sew, help with the box office, hang up or design a flyer or a poster, or with media.  Volunteer your talents, whatever that talent may be.  You can start off assisting a stage manager or helping on a crew and by the next show, you can get more and more involved.  We would greatly appreciate it.

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South Shore Theatre Works present the beloved musical, ‘Children of Eden’ Photo courtesy of South Shore Theatre Works

Click here to get involved with South Shore Theatre Works, join their mailing list, and learn about their upcoming productions.  South Shore Theatre Works is also on Facebook.