REVIEW: Greater Boston Stage Company’s intriguing ‘Onegin’ offers vodka, love at first sight, and a whirlwind of surprises

Combine an onstage rock band nicknamed the Ungrateful Dead with a storytelling cast in 19th century St. Petersburg, Russia.  Throw in love at first sight, a duel, add some vodka, and a few winks to today’s technology and it is quite the tale…and that’s not even the half of it.

Expect the unexpected at Greater Boston Stage Company’s unique performance of Onegin, a semi-interactive musical that blends the traditional with the contemporary in surprising ways.  It explores how far one would go for love while its rock and roll vibe and comic moments show it doesn’t take itself too seriously.

Based on Alexandr Pushkin’s poem of the same name and Tchaikovsky’s opera, Greater Boston Stage Company continues Onegin’s United States debut at the Stoneham Theatre in Stoneham, Massachusetts through Sunday, March 31.  Click here for more information and tickets.

Onegin - cast

From L to R: Michael Jennings Mahoney as Vlaimir Lensky, Music Director Steve Bass (on piano), Mark Linehan as Evgeni Onegin, Josephine Moshiri Elwood as Olga, Sarah Pothier as Tatyana, and Peter Adama as Prince Gremin Photo by Maggie Hall Photography/Greater Boston Stage Company

Onegin pushes quite a few boundaries within its two hour time frame.  The show inhabits a myriad of genres and occasionally breaks the fourth wall, but underneath it all is a moving tale of love and loss and what it means when destiny is out of your hands.  The contemporary flair of this period piece may not appeal to staunch traditionalists, but the show has heart.

Katheryn Monthei’s open set design topped with sparkling brass chandeliers and silk backdrops mixed with Deirdre Gerrard’s detailed costumes and Ilyse Robbins’ dynamic choreography depict a romantic, yet edgy vibe indicative of this strong and versatile cast.

Onegin Lensky

Michael Jennings Mahoney as Vladimir Lensky Photo by Maggie Hall Photography/Greater Boston Stage Company

Opening with the rollicking number A Love Song, these singing storytellers describe a man irretrievably in love and one who is roguishly indifferent to it. Michael Jennings Mahoney portrays excitable and lovelorn poet, Vladimir Lensky.  Lensky could have been a one note character, but Mahoney gives him dimension and makes him much more than he seems.   He is taken with Olga, portrayed with complexity and practicality by Josephine Moshiri Elwood.  Enter Evgeni Onegin, portrayed with a deep vibrato and roguish charm by Mark Linehan.  Linehan is charismatic, but also possesses a cynical, world-weary look on life while Tatyana, portrayed with pensive idealism by Sarah Pothier, may just change everything.

ONEGIN at GBSC

Sarah Pothier as Tatyana and Mark Linehan as Evgeni Onegin Photo courtesy of Nile Hawver/Nile Scott Shots

A few highlights include Sarah Pothier’s commanding performance of Let Me Die and stunning performances of In Your House and My Dearest Comrade by the cast.   Expect the unexpected at Onegin and like this engaging cast, prepare to have a little fun.

Directed by Weylin Symes, Greater Boston Stage Company’s musical drama Onegin continues through Sunday, March 31.  Click here for more information and tickets.  Click here for a closer look at Greater Boston’s Stage Company’s recently announced season.

 

 

 

 

 

REVIEW: As clever as it is insightful, make time for Americana Theatre Company’s compelling ‘Man of La Mancha’

“When life itself seems lunatic, who knows where madness lies?”

In the midst of action, suspense, heartbreak, and humor in multiple Tony award-winning musical, Man of La Mancha, lies Don Quixote author Miguel de Cerventes’s wise words, one of many timeless reflections declared during Americana Theatre Company’s moving, insightful musical, Man of La Mancha at the Spire Center for the Arts in Plymouth, Massachusetts through Sunday, July 29.  This show is not for children.  Click here for more information and for tickets.

Based on the classic tale, Don Quixote, Americana Theatre Company’s Man of La Mancha by Dan Wasserman is steeped in theatrical riches from its strong, edgy cast, powerful voices, a hint of Monty Python humor, and diverse combat scenes, but the real heart of this work is found in Cervantes himself, a beacon in dark times.  Americana Theatre Company prides itself on its stellar storytelling and this one is for the ages.

American Theatre Company Man of La Mancha

Scott Wahle as Don Quixote and Bethany Lauren James as Aldonza with Ruben Navarro as Sancho Panza

Directed by Michael Kirkland, Man of La Mancha addresses the everlasting battle between idealism and realism through a play-within-a-play.  With the exception of Sancho Panza, portrayed with wide-eyed optimism and unflinching faithfulness by Ruben Nevarro, each character depicts a dark side in humanity, but not without redemption.

Man of La Mancha kicks off without a hitch, showcasing a wide range of comic, stylized, and clever combat scenes by Derek Martin that often take the audience by surprise.  With just two onstage guitars and an offstage piano, the music accompaniment is delightfully subtle and intimate as the musicians melt into the background.  From colorful gypsy costumes and corset dresses to detailed, embroidered vests and leather armor, costumer Brian Kenerson zealously captures the beautiful and harsh Reformation era.

Americana Theatre Company The Barber

Brian Kenerson portrays The Barber as is also the Costumer for the show Photo Courtesy of Denise Maccaferri/Americana Theatre Company

Scott Wahle steps into Cervantes/Don Quixote’s brown leather boots with a natural assurance.  Finding himself among a group of prisoners, author and poet Miguel de Cervantes creates a defense in the form of a play in order to keep his possessions and potentially save his own life.

Wahle has a long history being a charismatic, relatable storyteller as a local television personality and in theatrical roles such as Walt Disney-esque Paragon Park creator George A. Dodge in Company Theatre’s original musical, Paragon Park or as smooth-talking Nathan Detroit in Reagle Music Theatre’s slick musical, Guys and Dolls.  He draws from that and more to deliver a powerful, emotionally-charged, multi-layered performance as a sympathetic admirer in the tender song, Dulcinea to a valiant hero in epic numbers such as The Impossible Dream and Man of La Mancha.  Alongside such dark characters, he is idealistic and compassionate, but hiding a secret.

Americana Theatre Company Don Quixote

Jennifer Martin performs a memorable dance as a Moorish dancer Photo courtesy of Denise Maccaferri/Americana Theatre Company

The chemistry between the cast members crackle, but most notably between Scott Wahle as Cervantes/Don Quixote and Ruben Nevarro as his unfathomably loyal squire, Sancho Panza.  It is a vivid, nurturing friendship every true friendship should strive to be.  Nevarro has his own set of crisp vocals in a warm rendition of I Really Like Him and comical A Little Gossip.

Americana Theatre Company Aldonza

Bethany Lauren James as Aldonza Photo courtesy of Denise Maccaferri/Americana Theatre Company

Wahle shares sweet chemistry with Bethany Lauren James, who delivers a brilliant performance as uncouth, harsh, suspicious, and yet compassionate spitfire Aldonza.  Surrounded by menacing muleteers, she first appears strained and exasperated in a red corset dress for the comical and fiery number, It’s All the Same.  A hard realist who can’t imagine otherwise, James is a wonderful foil for Wahle and holds her own among a cast of powerful characters.  She masters the meaty role and her expressions are a complex web of emotions, her character constantly torn between what to think and how to feel.

Derek Martin is intriguing as a quietly distressed Padre.  Dressed in rust colored robes, Martin is torn by what is right and what is ultimately good for the human spirit, offering a tender and reflective rendition of To Each His Dulcinea.  With vivid, comical expressions and a deep baritone, David Friday is hilarious as a panicked Innkeeper.  Caitlin Skinner as Antonia, Derek Martin as Padre, Erin Friday as Housekeeper, and Jesse Sullivan as Dr. Carrasso lend their impressive vocals to the multifaceted number, I’m Only Thinking of Him.

Americana Theatre Company Man of La Mancha bow

The complete cast Photo credit to Denise Maccaferri

A clever tale with deeper meaning, Man of La Mancha kicked off Americana Theatre Company’s eighth season and continues through Sunday, July 29 at Spire Center for the Arts, 25 1/2 Court Street in Plymouth, Massachusetts.  In October, Americana Theatre Company continues its season with a one man production of Sleepy Hollow and The Gifts of the Magi in time for the holidays.  Click here for ticket information, fall classes, and more.  Click here to find out how to support Americana Theatre Company’s mission and be sure to follow them on Facebook and Twitter.

For Performing Arts news, interviews, reviews, and much more in Boston and beyond, follow us on Facebook @sleeplesscritic and subscribe.

 

REVIEW: WGBH’s annual ‘A St. Patrick’s Day Celtic Sojourn’ offered humor, inspiration, and vibrant performances

Lighthearted tales of green porridge, an inspirational insect, a hilarious song about classical Greek to more serious fare such as historical anti-war songs, punctuated with the stirring song, Siúil a Rún, sung a capella, highlighted this year’s WGBH’s A St. Patrick’s Day Celtic Sojourn.  This captivating show concluded its run at Harvard University’s famous Sanders Theatre on Saturday, March 18.  The majestic stage has been affectionately likened to a “roll up desk.”  The beautiful, dark wooden stage was softly-lit with two stately, marble Greek statues sitting on each end as a grand, dimly-lit bronze chandelier floats overhead.

A St. Patrick’s Day Celtic Sojourn always strikes a delicate balance between the rollicking and a sweet lullaby.  Wearing coordinated black dresses, Scottish musicians Jenna and Mairi Chaimbeul struck the first chords for an afternoon of celebration, comedy, rebellion, and joy wrapped up in the roots and branches of Irish music.  A high energy number greeted the enthusiastic crowd as the rest of this dynamic ensemble took the stage including returning Music Director and multi-instrumentalist Keith Murphy, The Karan Casey Band, fiddle champion Liz Carroll, and the Miller Family with the Goulding School of Irish Music.  Joined by host WGBH’s Brian O’Donovan, A St. Patrick’s Day Celtic Sojourn was brought to a thrilling start as it traditionally does each year.

Dressed in a black and red dress, Karan Casey’s vocals soar with a tone a bit reminiscent of Linda Ronstadt.  She embraced Buile Mo Chroí’s passionate lyrics such as “the palm of my hand” and “the beat of my heart” accompanied by a concertina, blues guitar, and piano.   She also gave an enthralling performance later as Brian O’Donovan shared how the Irish spontaneously sings in public places.  Karan Casey then offered an impromptu a cappella version of Siúil a Rún as the audience fell into hushed tones before bursting into applause.

All Ireland fiddle champion Liz Carroll, dressed in a red shirt and black pants, offered some welcome comedic storytelling before each of her performances.  Hailing from Chicago, she humorously named a song she’s written on her slide-style fiddle after her brother’s leading film role in The Relic.  She also talked about composing songs for seven rooms in a Chicago art museum containing ceramics, musical instruments, and metal.  Her dry sense of humor combined with her uplifting, toe-tapping songs were wonderful to witness.

Liz was joined by Keith Murphy, who spoke of green porridge on St. Patrick’s Day, for two songs, one amusingly called Barbara Streisand Trip that had the mounting energy and pulsing rhythms of a moving train.  From Newfoundland, Keith Murphy’s performances are always stellar, with a song named after a Tennyson poem about seafaring and the great beyond. He was accompanied by harpist Jenna Moynihan.  His rich, resonant, smooth sound, which possesses a hint of James Taylor and John Denver, is always remarkable.

As for the inspirational insect, Scottish fiddler Jenna Moynihan and harp player and composer Mairi Chaimbeul, competing in a harp festival in April, judged that a particular song was good by an insect that made its presence known after the song, Dancing in Absence was completed.  With the chime of the harp distinct over the fiddler’s subtle rhythm, the energetic tune built into a quick step.

Sam Miller, athletic and blindingly swift, kept the energy high as he performed solo with high leaps, kicks, and complicated stepping.  The Miller dancers and the Goulding School of Irish Music, in coordinated black traditional garb, offered their own moments of comedy, one involving a hat.  They also skillfully navigated though a slip jig and hornpipe reel, showing just why they ranked 5th place at the Glasgow competition traditional set dance.

 

A St. Patrick's Day Celtic Sojourn

Past photo of ‘A St. Patrick’s Day Celtic Sojourn’ Courtesy of A St. Patrick’s Day Celtic Sojourn/WGBH

Keeping up with tradition, Brian O’Donovan, with his wife and the ensemble took the stage to pay tribute to The Clancy Brothers with the catchy tune, The Leaving of Liverpool.

The second half tackled anti-war songs, immigration, and its fair share of comedy mixed in.  Not only did Brian O’Donovan proudly share a comedic song on classical Greek and education at Harvard University accompanied by fiddler Kevin Burke, but on a solemn note, also paid a compelling tribute to the late Leonard Cohen with a song about rebellion called The Partisan.  Brian and Keith Murphy created beautiful harmony, enhanced exquisitely by Mairi Chaibeul’s harp.

The afternoon also boasted collaborative jam sessions that brought the audiences to a stomping rhythm and ending with Karan Casey leading a sing-along on immigration with the entire ensemble, showing how music always makes a difference in the world.

A Celtic Sojourn presents their summer Roots and Branches concert in July, A Christmas Celtic Sojourn, and other events during the year.  For a taste of Irish and Celtic traditions each Saturday afternoon, click here to tune in to A Celtic Sojourn hosted by Brian O’Donovan on 89.7 FM WGBH from 3 – 6 p.m.  Follow A St. Patrick’s Day Celtic Sojourn on Facebook for updates and much more.