REVIEW: Led by powerhouse vocals, SpeakEasy Stage Company’s engaging ‘Songs for a New World’ a memorable musical experience

We are all hearing soon.  Soon we will be back together in the theatre for a wonderful live theatrical experience.  How it has been missed! 

However convenient it is sitting in front of a computer for a virtual show, there is nothing quite like the anticipation of live theatre in person with an audience in a shared experience.  SpeakEasy Stage Company’s remarkable concert musical benefit show, Songs for a New World, accomplishes quite a bit in its hour and a half runtime.  Through clever cinematography that still adheres to Covid guidelines, SpeakEasy Stage Company recreates the thrill of seeing actors together onstage and it is easy to see each cast member’s excitement through their own extraordinary performances.  We’re not quite there yet, but this is getting ever closer.

‘A New World’ featuring the entire company Video courtesy of SpeakEasy Stage Company

Directed by Paul Daigneault and musically-directed by Jose Delgado, SpeakEasy Stage Company continues their 30th anniversary season with John Robert Brown’s Songs for a New World streaming through June 8.  The show was filmed onstage at the Calderwood Pavilion in Boston, Massachusetts.  Click here for more information and tickets.  Discount tickets are also available.  Click here for more information on SpeakEasy Stage Company’s recently announced 2021-22 season.

It is difficult to describe the anticipation of seeing SpeakEasy Stage Company’s concert musical benefit, Jason Robert Brown’s Songs for a New World.   The last Jason Robert Brown musical I witnessed was a film adaptation of The Last Five Years.  It was a glorious, resonating tear jerker featuring reliable talents Jeremy Jordan and Anna Kendrick

Songs for a New World explores a variety of characters that are faced with the ultimate, sometimes humorous and other times harrowing life-changing decisions and deciding what to do next.  With simple staging and an onstage band conducted by Jose Delgado, Songs for a New World has humor and heartache enhanced by some of Boston’s most recognizable vocal powerhouses.

Rashed Al Nuaimi sings ‘She Cries” Video courtesy of SpeakEasy Stage Company

From the inspiring, tremendous, and relatable opening number, A New World featuring powerful, upbeat harmonies between Dwayne P. Mitchell, Davron S Monroe, Mikayla Myers, Rebekah Rae Robles, Alexander Tan, Victor Carillo Tracey, Laura Marie Duncan and Rached Al Nuaimi, this production proves to be something to behold.  A New World/Time to Fly gives the audience a glimpse into the shared experience of what each character is feeling and the hope their decisions will turn out right.

Songs for a New World is full of powerful performances and each song is as strong as the last, but here are a few highlights.  One standout performance is a tender and stirring rendition of On the Deck of a Spanish Ship, 1492 as Monroe exclaims, “Have Mercy Lord” while the cast embarks on a harrowing, life-changing journey.  Dressed in a long fur coat, Laura Marie Duncan is wildly entertaining as a scorned woman in an extreme situation in Just One Step.  Duncan’s expressive personality and her sheer energy drive this amazing performance. 

‘I’d Give it All for You’ Jennifer Ellis and Dwayne P Mitchell Video courtesy of SpeakEasy Stage Company

Jennifer Ellis performs some vocal gymnastics as Mrs. Claus for Sweabaya Santa, reimagining Santa as an absent, judgmental husband whose love is as fleeting as his sleigh.  Dwayne P Mitchell literally rises from the ashes of his childhood in this boastful, self-assured rendition of The Steam Train.  Ellis and Mitchell have sweet chemistry in a beautiful duet about the complexity of love in I’d Give it All for You.

Rached Al Nuaimi demonstrates zany, emotional turmoil and building frustration in She Cries and Jennifer Ellis delivers a bold and anguished performance in The Flagmaster, 1776.

SpeakEasy Stage Company’s Songs for a New World also boasts an incredible finale not to be missed with Hear My Song.  Glad to add John Robert Brown’s Songs for a New World as another memorable musical experience. 

SpeakEasy Stage Company continues streaming Songs for a New World through June 8. Click here for more information, tickets, and how to support the SpeakEasy Stage Company.

REVIEW: Merrimack Repertory Theatre’s ‘Until the Flood’ a raw, complex, and gripping docu-drama

Until the Flood begs the question, “How do you want to be remembered?”

Director Timothy Douglas frames a poignant, moving portrait of a community in pain with Merrimack Repertory Theatre’s virtual docu-drama Until the Flood continuing through Wednesday, May 5. The content of this program is not recommended for youth under age 16.  This program was originally commissioned by The Repertory Theatre of Saint Louis.  Click here for more information on Merrimack Repertory Theatre and how to stream the show.

Based on real life accounts gathered in 2014 by Pulitzer prize-winning finalist Dael Orlandersmith, Until the Flood delves deep into the emotional and complicated perspectives and recollections of this community and how it affected each person following the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. 

Maiesha McQueen in one person show ‘Until the Flood’ Photo courtesy of Kathy Wittman/MRT

A colorful, makeshift memorial is strewn on a chain link fence shrouded in a blue, haunting darkness.  Sirens ring out in the distance amid tingling and powerful music.  Merrimack Repertory Theatre’s Until the Flood sets a foreboding undertone through Lindsay Jones’s chilling sound design and Bill Clarke’s haunting and true-to-life set pieces.

Encapsulating all the anguish, uncertainty, doubt, fears, and hope is Maiesha McQueen in a tour-de-force performance onstage as she takes on eight individual composites drawn from real life interviews in this one person show.  From a 17 year-old teenager to a 75 year-old retired police officer, McQueen digs into the heart of each individual and delivers the kind of multi-layered performance that flows with each individual.  From a subtle head tilt and a tumult of emotion brewing in her eyes to the careful movements and creaking in her bones as she takes on the persona of an ailing senior to the confident swagger of a teenager that feels like he can take on the world, McQueen writhes and broods with each character.  Dressed in colorful and consistent street clothes by Yao Chen, each perspective and recollection made by each individual is fleshed out and brought together by McQueen as she pours herself into each character and makes each stand on their own.  Her pliability transforms her stature, stance, rage, compassion, sadness, and anger “like the flood” over the state of the world. 

Until the Flood provides not only each individual account of what they heard, saw, or experienced of the Michael Brown shooting, but a deeper look into how each person lived their life before and after this harrowing incident within this community.  It is a raw, gripping look at how ugly and how beautiful a society can be and how easily friendships can change when people do not see eye-to-eye.  It delves into anger that can be unleashed too easily, anguish, sadness, harrowing fear, and unbridled hope in fellow human beings in spite of life’s sorrowful circumstances.  Most of all, it presents a fairly even handed, but complex account of what truly motivates human nature and how fear and hope takes shape.

Merrimack Repertory Theatre, located in Lowell, Massachusetts continues streaming Until the Flood through Wednesday, May 5.  Click here for more information and tickets.

Amid peerless Castle Hill and candlelight, Boston Lyric Opera delivers exquisite ‘Winter’s Evening’ on Operabox

One this is for sure, Boston Lyric Opera can achieve elegance anywhere.

Boston Lyric Opera (BLO) had two remarkable debuts for their virtual concert, A Winter’s Evening.  Directed sublimely by Nathan Troop, Boston Lyric Opera’s ‘A Winter’s Evening’ not only made its virtual debut on Operabox, but soprano Gabriella Reyes also made her effervescent debut with the Boston Lyric Opera, an event which she calls “a dream come true.”

BLO’s ‘A Winter’s Evening’ continues streaming through Sunday, January 10.  Click here for more information.  Boston Lyric Health Task Force helped coordinate the virtual performance to meet safety standards.

Surrounded by the gorgeous grounds at Castle Hill at the Crane Estate in Ipswich, Massachusetts, Miss Massachusetts 2020 Sabrina Victor, adorned in black fur over a glittering white gown, hosted this lovely evening with warmth and poise.

Boston Lyric Opera’s ‘A Winter’s Evening’ continues streaming on Operabox through Sunday, January 10. Photo credit to Boston Lyric Opera

Boston Lyric Opera also weaved in elements of hearth and home blending classic opera and festive classic songs as Gabriella Reyes and Sabrina Victor shared personal remembrances of holidays past.  The show is the height of elegance, not only in the couture, but inside the Crane Estate’s majestic ballroom embellished with candlelight and Christmas trees. 

Impressively accompanied by pianist Brett Hodgdon, Reyes, adorned in a black gown, showcased her broad range with a dynamic selection of songs that included a serene, bi-lingual version of Silent Night/Nochede Paz, passionate Quando M’en Vo from Puccini’s La Boheme, stirring Nana by Manuel De Falla, a dreamy and heartfelt When You Wish Upon a Star with lyrics by Ned Washington and music by Leigh Harline, and the inspirational classic Harold Arlen song, Over the Rainbow featuring its rarely sung introduction.  Reyes masters the operatic selections, her light and powerful vocals make it all look easy.

Guitarist Zaira Meneses accompanied Reyes for a portion of the evening with a selection of songs that are meaningful to both of them including Grever’s Alma Mia and Sandoval’s Gracias a la Vita.  Meneses’s vibrancy and flair, putting her entire body into her music with Reyes’s eloquence made for a stirring pair.

BLO’s ‘A Winter’s Evening’ continues on Operabox through Sunday, January 10.  Click here for more information and how to subscribe to Boston Lyric Opera’s current season.

REVIEW: Concord Players make ‘It’s a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play’ savvy, vintage entertainment

Before we tackle this vintage holiday favorite, I would be remiss not to mention the acclaimed founder of the Concord Players.  Fans of Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women know of the beloved drama club that was established in the book as well as the Pickwick Papers, the title a nod to Charles Dickens.  Beloved author Louisa May Alcott founded the Concord Players and Little Women has been staged annually as Concord Players reached their centennial year.  Perhaps the drama club in the book was part of her inspiration.

Speaking of Charles Dickens, A Dramatic Reading of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol read by Johnny Kinsman will be the next Concord Players streaming event on YouTube Friday, December 18th at 7 p.m. Click here for more information on the event and how to support The Concord Players.

Classic holiday entertainment resurfaces the way mistletoe suddenly hovers over unsuspecting lovebirds at just the right moment.  One of the holiday season’s most anticipated classics is Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life, a 1946 film about life’s joys and struggles culminating on Christmas Eve starring Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed.  It returns to the television screen every year with several opportunities to watch.

Directed commendably by John Pease, The Concord Players presented this beloved classic in November with a novel and nostalgic twist.  Rewinding the clock to Radio’s Golden Age in the 1940s on a dark, snowy night in Manhattan, NY, Concord Players streamed Joe Landry’s It’s a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play staged as a live radio broadcast on fictional station WCPR for a limited time on Broadway on Demand from Friday, November 20 through Sunday, November 22. 

The bright and festive studio stage was adorned in Christmas lights, garland, and a Christmas tree while a group of voiceover artists included Freddie Filmore as Announcer, Lana Sherwood, Sally Applewhite, Eileen Rivera, and Jake Laurette as George Bailey recreate the show on vintage sterling microphones, portraying a number of roles in the process.  Rachael Rabinovitz’s authentic and colorful costumes set a cheerful tone as performers dress in their festive Sunday best for the radio.

Optimistic George Bailey’s faith in life and humanity is challenged as he desperately struggles to figure out life’s meaning as a certain angel is vying for his very own set of wings.  Touching, poignant, and darker than one would expect, It’s a Wonderful Life is a timeless family production that reminds audiences what truly matters.  Foley artist and sound effect expert Elizabeth Havenor’s technical wizardry is a scene stealer as Concord Players bring new perspective to this classic tale.

The cast masters the tricky task of portraying 1940’s voiceover artists, while also embracing a number of beloved characters in the production.  Navigating between each individual character while voicing multiple characters young and old within the play take particular skill.  Craig Howard brings warmth and charm to wise, yet bumbling Clarence and it was fascinating to watch Howard change his voice to Sam Wainwright by placing a glass against his mouth.

It was refreshing to see Jay Newlon portraying dreamy George Bailey not with Jimmy Stewart directly in mind in a good natured, earnest, adventurous portrayal, though he needed a bit more fire during the show’s more climactic moments.  A particular highlight was witnessing the torment in George’s face as he struggled with leaving his hometown behind while also feeling obligated to stay.  His scenes with heartwarming and hopeful Rachael Rabinovitz as Mary Hatch and with Jenn Bubriski as Rose Bailey have beautiful candor.

John Alzapiedi delivered a versatile performance as a winning narrator, skillfully depicts Potter’s booming narcissism and menacing gravitas, and brings sympathetic Mr. Gower to life.

Sound designer Tim Powers was behind the show’s authentic vintage sound which included the organ-tinged, melodramatic music and jingles of old and a couple of engaging commercials “from our sponsor.”

Foley artist and sound effect coordinator Elizabeth Havenor seamlessly kept the show rolling as her busy hands maneuvered every sound seamlessly.  Allen and Anne Bantly must have brought new meaning to providing the appropriate props to keep Havenor up to speed.  She rang every bell, blew each whistle, and slammed every door while also creating an impeccably-timed ringing telephone to a wild storm to popping champagne.  It was amazing to see how all of it was done during radio’s golden age.  It’s a Wonderful Life is such a timeless show and yet translates so well into a live radio play that it never misses a beat.  

Concord Players will soon present A Dramatic Reading of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol read by Johnny Kinsman will be the next Concord Players streaming event on YouTube Friday, December 18th at 7 p.m. Click here for more information on the event and how to support The Concord Players.

REVIEW: Reagle Music Theatre of Greater Boston captures virtual musical magic with ‘Entr’acte’

Like many of us, I miss theatre.

When not working on the next house project, the last few months have brought many opportunities as an avid television and film fan to stream from home.  From Knives Out to the Netflix hit, To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, settling into the living room has been convenient and strongly advised.

However, theatre belongs in a separate category.  It’s not only the buzz of anticipation from an exhilarated crowd as the lights dim, but live theatre begins a journey into a different world upon a unique and dynamic stage as I let the new setting settle into my psyche.   Whatever may come of theatre over the next months or year, a live venue and the slow murmur as the curtain goes up has become more valuable to me than it ever has before.

Theatre has survived everything in history from World Wars to disasters to pandemics.  It has transformed and overcome every obstacle it has faced.  This time will be no different.  Ah, but that glorious feeling.

In the meantime, virtual streaming broadcasts have made their way to center screen.  New content seems to be popping up every day from theatre to music groups that are hoping to keep things afloat and longing to perform for an audience – even if it is one they cannot hear or see.   Some are short, some are interactive, and some don’t translate well.  Virtual award shows have also popped up in the last few months.

Perhaps I’m feeling more nostalgic than usual because each summer, Reagle Music Theatre of Greater Boston sets the stage for a trio of summer musicals ranging from classic to contemporary.  This time last year, Sleepless Critic reviewed Reagle Music Theatre of Greater Boston’s musical classic, The Sound of Music.  It was a glorious production flanked with sprawling sets and an enchanting cast that left you humming the timeless soundtrack long after the show’s moving finale.  Click here for the full review.

Reagle Music Theatre The Sound of Music So Long, Farewell

Mark Linehan as Captain von Trapp, Aimee Doherty as Maria and the Von Trapp children

A few of The Sound of Music’s promising talent lent their voices to Reagle Music Theatre of Greater Boston’s live, theatrical fundraiser Entr’acte that premiered on Sunday, June 28 and is still available on Reagle’s website.   Hosted by Reagle veterans JT Turner and Mark Linehan and directed by Marisa Diamond, Reagle Music Theatre of Greater Boston lifted the virtual curtain and offered a glimpse of summer musical magic featuring a showcase of musical favorites, familiar local and renowned talent,  and some interactive fun while delving into Reagle’s rich history.

Reagle Music Theatre of Greater Boston La Cage aux Folles J.T. Turner as Georges

J.T. Turner as Georges Photo courtesy of Reagle Music Theatre of Greater Boston

Among the many highlights were Jennifer Ellis who reprised her award-winning role in My Fair Lady with a soaring, blissful rendition of I Could Have Danced All Night.  The Von Trapp children from The Sound of Music delivered their own number and youth performer Kimora Yancey delivered a powerful rendition of I Know Where I’ve Been from Hairspray. Pier Lamia Porter, who has been doing her own wonderful charity work for Covid 19, also shared her flourishing vocals for If I Loved You from Carousel, Reagle’s premiere musical in 1969.  Scott Wahle brought his usual charisma for Music Man’s 76 Trombones, Leigh Barrett reprised her role for It’s Today from Mame, and Dwayne Mitchell sang, I am What I Am from last year’s La Cage Aux Folles.  Found Robert Eagle also shared some of Reagle’s vivid history.

Reagle Music Theatre Entracte performers

Reagle Music Theatre of Greater Boston’s ‘Entr’acte’ performers Photo courtesy of Reagle Music Theatre of Greater Boston

Beloved musical duo Sarah Pfisterer and Rick Hilsabeck were among the many presenters that popped up during the musical benefit.

Reagle's Rick and Sarah

Rick Hilsabeck and Sarah Pfisterer Photo courtesy of Reagle Music Theatre of Greater Boston

Reagle Music Theatre recently celebrated its 50th season and Sleepless Critic has cheered their outstanding work for musicals over the years such as Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, La Cage Aux Folles, Wonderful Town, Me and My Girl, and their annual show, ChristmasTime, which has become a traditional favorite.  Without these musical productions though the summer season and the live shows they put on throughout the year, Reagle needs support in order to keep going.

Virtually, they are all singing to that man, woman, or child behind the computer screen, phone, or on television.  While this is flattering, it also makes me a bit sad.  I miss hearing them sing while I quietly sing along, upstaging my performance in every way.  How I have missed most steps in the dance…but can’t see their feet.

From the heart thumping 42nd Street to the cool cats in Guys and Dolls to Singin’ in the Rain to their annual, stunning production of ChristmasTime, their shows must simply go on and spark another 50 years.

Click here for more on Reagle Music Theatre of Greater Boston located at 617 Lexington Street in Waltham, Massachusetts.  Their virtual youth theatre workshops are happening now and their second workshop session will start on July 20.