REVIEW: Fueled by a nostalgic rock soundtrack and a charismatic storyteller, Merrimack Repertory Theatre’s ‘Wild Horses’ a lively and momentous tale

Nothing brings back memories quite like a song.

The power of music is in full force in Merrimack Repertory Theatre’s (MRT) production of Alison Gregory’s Wild Horses streaming on demand through Sunday, October 17.  Merrimack Repertory Theatre previously offered the production in person from September 15 through October 3 at Western Avenue Studios in Lowell, Massachusetts.  The show contains mature language and some adult themes. Click here for more information and tickets to this virtual performance.

Directed with heart and humor by Courtney Sale, Wild Horses delves into the life of the mother of a teenage daughter, portrayed with a blend of lively charm and excitable nervousness by Leenya Rideout, as she gets wrapped up recalling her story of a special California summer during her 13th year in the 70s while onstage at an open mic night.  Rideout evokes a sense of adventure during this musically-fueled Moth Radio Hour featuring lyrics from 70s greats Rolling Stones, Heart, Van Morrison, America, and more.

Having delivered a likable performance in the 2020 indie film, Love, Repeat, Rideout further showcases her dynamic range in this meatier Wild Horses role with a humorous, heartfelt and sometimes raunchy performance.  See what Sleepless Critic had to say about Rideout in Love, Repeat here

With a love for music almost as much as horses, Rideout sings, strums an acoustic guitar, and proves an energetic and engaging storyteller sharing her experiences from a studious perfectionist to a teenager not afraid to break a few rules with the encouragement from her daring friends.   With no shortage of excitement, scandal, humor, and heartache, Rideout’s onstage demeanor switches from responsible mother in need of a night out to wide eyed, youthful innocent with all the angst that goes with it.  She blends what she remembers with her current wisdom, dwelling in the sacredness of youth. Ranging from teenage pranks to rites of passage, Rideout recalls these stories with wistfulness and passion, interacting with the audience like old friends.

Costume designer A. Lee Viliesis has Rideout ready to rock in an animal print scarf, Fender T Shirt, and ripped jeans and accompanied by guitarist Rafael Molina, she slips right into this adolescent spirit longing to be wild and free.  All that is necessary is a little courage.

Here’s to the ‘freedom takers’ with Merrimack Repertory’s production of Wild Horses continues streaming through Sunday, October 17.  Click here for more information and to get a closer look on MRT’s new season.

REVIEW: A Far Cry makes a luminous and powerful onstage debut at South Shore Conservatory with ‘Circle of Life’

Forgive me for being excited.  This was the first music concert the Sleepless Critic has attended since 2020 and by none other than a Grammy-nominated group during the final days of summer.  For A Far Cry, it was not only this renowned chamber orchestra’s debut at the South Shore Conservatory, but their first set of live performances to kick off their 15th season after last season was done entirely virtually. 

Elegantly dressed in flowing dresses and suits, this Boston-based group of musicians couldn’t have been more thrilled to take the outdoor stage in front of a live audience again as the skies grew dark, the crickets chimed in, and the Amphitheater’s twinkling lights began to burn. 

Tackling life’s tumultuously journey from sweeping birth to a peaceful end, A Far Cry opened their new season with Circle of Life at South Shore Conservatory’s Jane Carr Amphitheater on Saturday, September 18 in Hingham, Massachusetts.  Click here to find out where A Far Cry will perform next.

Gearing up for A Far Cry that evening Photo courtesy of the South Shore Conservatory

A Far Cry’s Grace Kennerly offered a warm introduction as all 18 ‘criers’ took the stage for their opening work arranged by Alex Fortes of Bela Bartok’s Traditional Lullabies and For Children arranged by Leo Weiner.  This work of sweeping, wondrous, and charming lullabies also delivers bursts of foreboding and urgency through a solo violin.  Its soft, soothing strings create a dreamlike quality as the movement gallops toward exuberance and a sense of adventure.

A particular highlight of the concert lies within Franghiz Ali-Zaheh’s Shyschtar:  Metamorphoses for String Orchestra which is described as ‘the development of oneself in the teenage years.’  Instantly captivating, Metamorphoses evokes strife and a mysterious urgency, almost sounding like something borrowed from Hitchcock.  The carefully-timed violin plucking, occasional vocalizing, and haunting tapping enhances the work’s thrilling and suspenseful rhythms as the work builds to a searing climax before it takes an unexpectedly poignant tone and draws toward its eerie conclusion. 

A Far Cry’s Jason Fisher introduced Antonin Dvorak’s stirring Serenade for Strings.  This work carries its own quiet excitement as Dvorak wrote it while he and his wife were expecting.  It has occasional undertones similar to a wedding march and like Lullabies, a dreamlike quality and a gentle building of anticipation.  The lengthiest movement, Serenade for Strings delivers chirping peacefulness and quiet interludes with a touch of melancholy as it builds to an uproarious, gallivanting glee.

Karl Doty’s Castles, though it is Circle of Life’s shortest work, packs a no less powerful punch.  It has a vibrancy and incandescence that comes together in a rush.  With its occasional vocalizing, it evokes vitality, strength and a degree of reminiscing as this piece was written when Doty returned to his childhood home.

To complete the Circle of Life, A Far Cry performed Beethoven’s String Quartet No. 16 in F Major, Op. 135.  It’s a combination of a quiet musing, searing rhythm, and an intangible foreboding of the inevitable.  However, this piece also evokes a settling and resignation of what is to come.

Kicking off their 15th season on a powerful note with the exploration of life’s journey, A Far Cry will continue in October.  Click here for A Far Cry’s upcoming performances and here for more information on South Shore Conservatory’s upcoming events.

Company Theatre’s Director of Development Michael Hammond discusses returning to indoor theatre and the power of positivity to conquer your next audition

Michael Hammond may change the way you look at life.  Are you afraid of the audition?  He’ll show you a way to succeed.  Having a bad day?  He’ll show you a way to lift your spirits.  As the new Director of Development at the Company Theatre, a role he calls a lifelong dream, his positivity may help others the way Company Theatre has helped him since childhood. 

The Company Theatre, located at 30 Accord Park Drive in Norwell, Massachusetts, joyously held their first indoor production since their absorbing musical, Fun Home early last year.  Rock of Ages was an edgy and energetic rock jukebox musical that took place last month.  See Rock of Ages review here and click here for Sleepless Critic’s full podcast.

Sleepless Critic:  Please tell me what it was like to be back in the indoor setting for Rock of Ages

Michael Hammond: It’s so fantastic.  It’s emotional, exciting, and the energy in the air was just electric.  You were there.  You saw it.  People were cheering and screaming.

The show starts with Sally Forrest’s voice doing her standard announcement which we are all accustomed to hearing.  It was such a welcome back and to hear her voice and I think people cheered over her entire announcement.  Just to be back inside, hear that familiar voice, and to know we’re about to see a really fun and exciting show was just great.

SC:  I know this was the opening weekend for indoor theatre, but you did have some outdoor theatre experiences like Avenue Q before this show. 

MH:  Avenue Q was incredible.  The kids were so talented.  Their commitment to what they were doing and their characters were dynamic.  It was Broadway-type quality coming out of these kids on the outdoor stage of the Company Theatre out back.  We have had other things like Divas with a Twist and Donny Norton’s band, The New Band there.  That’s been a really nice addition to the Company Theatre as well as now being back inside.

SC:  So getting back to Rock of Ages, you had your opening weekend and you felt like everything went as smooth as can be?

MH:  Absolutely!  So many new people in this show and as is typical of the Company Theatre, they are already saying this is my new home.  It’s this overwhelming feeling that you’re home and you found your family at the Company Theatre even if you did one show and you never come back, it still feels that way.  I’ve been involved since I was 19 years old. 

Shane Hennessey as Stacee Jaxx Photo courtesy of Zoe Bradford/Company Theatre

SC:  I was going to say that you are familiar with that feeling.

MH:  I’m very familiar with that feeling.  I don’t know what my life would have been like without Company Theatre.  I would have taken a completely different path. 

SC:  It’s hard to replicate the kind of friendly and welcoming atmosphere you have when you’re in theatre.

MH:  Absolutely!  Such a nice group of people too that do theatre especially the teens.  They just stay out of trouble.  They have a common goal they are working towards and they enjoy each other’s company and make lifelong friendships.  I can’t say enough about it.

I’ve just seen so many kids, even this summer just come through the doors and they leave just completely changed and confident and more themselves.  It’s just a beautiful thing to witness.

SC:  When you said you had been with Company Theatre pretty much your whole life, you said it was a lifelong dream to do something like this as the Director of Development now.  I’m really excited for you.

MH:  Thank you!  Like a lot of people during the pandemic, you start to question ‘Am I doing what I want with my life?  Is this fulfilling and rewarding?’  Like many people, I came to the conclusion that what I was doing was not for me anymore. 

It had run its course and I needed something new and Jordie Saucerman, one of the founding partners of the Company Theatre, had passed away and that really accelerated my thought process because her wake was attended by so many people.  I thought ‘Look at all the lives that she touched.’  The impact that Jordie had on people is immeasurable.  Even if I make just a little sliver of that impact on people, I would feel great about my life.  That set the wheels turning. 

I approached Zoe one day and said, ‘I will be your janitor.  I basically don’t care what you have me do, if there is a spot for me here, I am coming.’  That seed was planted awhile ago and it sort of blossomed into Director of Development.  I’m so excited to try new things and just give back what I got from this theatre. 

SC:  Not only that, but you have a similar positive way about you like Jordie had.  Where do you get your positive outlook from?  Where do you draw it from considering I’ve also seen videos of you on social media?

I’m not attempting to fill Jordie’s shoes in any way.  That’s not a task that anyone could accomplish.  She is a unique individual who I feel is still around in the atmosphere and in the joy of the theatre.  If I’m upset or have a bad day, it makes me feel better to brighten someone else’s day.  That is such a nice feeling to buy someone in line a coffee or just compliment someone or encourage someone to do something they didn’t think they could do.  I live off of that.  If I am having the worst day of my life and I do something nice for somebody, I instantly feel recharged.  I think that’s how I basically go through life.

SC:  I hear that from a lot of comedians as well.  It makes them feel better to make someone else laugh even if they are upset or having issues.

MH:  I tried standup comedy once.  I did it more for the writing aspect, but I did perform.  It was an interesting experience because you come out onstage and you look at a sea of faces who want you to succeed because if you succeed, they have a fantastic time.  You have an overwhelming amount of support that you just want to hold onto and it was an incredible feeling.

SC:  What did you did before this that you wanted to walk away from and join the Company Theatre?

MH:  I was the station manager at a local cable television station.  I was so grateful because it was also a non-profit.  I probably learned so many skills that I could apply to this job I didn’t necessarily have before.  Just the behind the scenes stuff, the QuickBooks, the budgets, and managing a non-profit was extremely helpful and then also applying my video experience to the job as well.  Filming and creating events and learning special effects. 

So all of that which at the time was a perfect job for me, but nine years later I felt like I needed a change and so I am going to apply what I learned there and bring it to the Company Theatre.  We can offer acting for camera classes and improv for camera classes. 

I’ve been on auditions and in commercials.  We want to provide those skills to kids who like to act and be on camera.  We want them to be able to go into an audition and know how to slay what they are going to be asked to do and be prepared for anything.

I actually started with a class over the summer.  Some of the kids were auditioning so they got immediate training for those auditions. When they came back, they would tell the other students that they did just what Michael showed us.  I asked if they felt more prepared.  Did you do a better job with the audition?  Their faces lit up and they said, ‘Absolutely!’  That was a nice thing.

We want to get in touch with the local casting agencies which we already have a good relationship.  We want to create a talent database where you can see video auditions and we can send those out so we kind of want to be a bridge between the local movie and theatre scene.  We’ll provide students with the training.  They’ll have the skills to go out and nail professional auditions and maybe get cast in movies and commercials.  We just really want everyone to have new and exciting opportunities to excel in a career in film and theatre if that is something that they are interested in. 

‘Ragtime’ (L to R) Barbara Baumgarten, Cristian Sack, Hilary Goodnow, Brenna Kenney, Finn Clougherty, Jillian Griffin, with Hannah Dwyer as Little Girl and Michael Hammond as Tateh Photo courtesy of Zoe Bradford/Company Theatre

SC:  Let’s face it – the audition process is the most nerve-wracking and hardest part I think to convey right off the bat because in your head, you are saying,’ I know what I can do for you’ but then you get up there and it is not exactly what you picture. 

MH:  Having directed before, people come in and they are nervous. The reality is the casting company is nervous and they have roles to fill.  So, the second you come in, put them at ease, and they know they have options, they feel better.  I always say in my mind when I got into an audition, ‘Here I am!  You can relax.  I am going to be that person you need.’  I think it’s an interesting way to keep yourself calm to think I am exactly what you need instead of I hope I’m what you need.

SC:  I never really thought of it like that.

MH:  Think about it.  You have a reputation.  You have a project.  You want to cast the right people because that makes you look good as well.  If you find the right people not only are you confident about the project, but it brings excitement. 

When I direct a show, I’m not very excited about it until I know who is in it and then I can tailor their performances to their talents. It is such a thrill to watch people blossom. 

Please tell me about the projects you are working on now and upcoming projects.

I don’t think I’ll be directing anything for a little bit.  I’ll probably take on some projects here and there.  I definitely can’t leave that part behind.  I’m really going to focus on the video classes.  I’ll be working with Christie Reading.  She is extremely talented with anything video related.  So, I will be teaming up with her teaching improv for camera, acting for camera, and getting people ready for auditions. 

I think it will be really exciting if we get someone cast in a major motion picture which has happened at Company Theatre.  Andrew Mackin was in Mystic River, Jonathan Togo is on CSI, Michael Morlani is the casting director for Disney.  There are a lot of success stories that come out of this theatre. 

We want to nurture and encourage that.  That is kind of my goal.  It’s to really push people to excel in any way that they can.

SC: You can’t forget about Boston Casting.  How convenient is that!  There are all kinds of films going on in the state.

MH: Exactly and literally a mile down the road they are making motion pictures.  So how can we not be a part of that?  They are working on the new Jon Hamm movie in Cohasset.  I know Angela at Boston Casting who is an incredible woman and I don’t know how she does everything she does, but with all those films going on, eventually they will run out of actors. 

We get casting notices all the time and I’m forwarding them off to everybody I know that I think fits.  For example, I sent a buddy of mine a notice yesterday.  They were looking for an actual butcher with acting experience and I happen to know a butcher with acting experience.  I’m thinking he might get it.

SC: I know. Some of the requirements are so wild.

MH: It’s so specific, but every once in a while I’ll say, ‘Wait a minute, that is me.’ 

Company Theatre is offering theatre classes in the fall. Click here for the full schedule and upcoming events.

REVIEW: Somber, funny, bleak, and hopeful, PTP/NYC’s ‘Standing on the Edge of Time’ waxes political and poetic

Opening with a remarkable reflection connecting theatre to the human heart, a bare stage shows signs of life once again.

Potomac Theatre Project (PTP/NYC) opened their virtual summer play series earlier this month with Lunch, a clever show that unconventionally explored the art of conversation.  Directed judiciously by Cheryl Faraone, Standing on the Edge of Time waxes both political and poetic in conversation as it explores the bleak yet hopeful state of the world through a selection of works from different authors. 

Standing on the Edge of Time is the second of three summer virtual plays presented by PTP/NYC and continues through July 27.  Viewings are free and donations are encouraged.  This show was filmed adhering to Covid guidelines, runs approximately 90 minutes, and has mature themes.  Click here for more information, how to view the show, and how to support PTP/NYC’s mission.

From the haunted balconies of an old, empty theatre, even the dead wrestle with their wild, melancholy, and world-weary experiences in Mac Wellman’s Crowbar.  This segment provides the perfect framework leading into various works that delve into contemporary issues from freedom, frustration, road rage, and relationships to downsizing, grief, sex, and paranoia. 

Mac Wellman’s ‘Crowbar’ Alex Draper as Mr. Rioso Photo courtesy of PTP/NYC

Though each segment is written by different authors, its engaging format provides a flow that rarely veers off course.   The show boasts poetic and timely musings such as Mornings at the Lake with Madison Middleton and Spell of Motion by Stacie Cassarino with Stephanie Janssen featuring some beautiful outdoor cinematography as well as haunting James Saunders’ Next Time I’ll Sing to You with Tara Giordano.  Though the majority of Standing on the Edge of Time is thought-provoking, these quieter segments provide respite from the production’s heavier topics and satirical themes.

Stacie Cassarino’s ‘Mornings at the Lake’ with Stephanie Janssen Photo courtesy of PTP/NYC

Some highlights include Dominique Morisseau’s relatable and occasionally humorous Skeleton Crew, the zany and unique ideas presented in David Auburn’s What Do You Believe about the Future, and the surprising facts revealed of history repeating in Constance Congdon’s Tales of the Lost Formicans

The cast portray a myriad of roles, but apart from Crowbar, do not seem like they are playing particular characters for the most part.  The lively cast seems like a semblance of individuals exploring contemporary issues, fears, and unique ideas of the future.

David Auburn’s ‘What Do you Believe about the Future?’ (L to R) Stephanie Janssen, Christopher Marshall, Madison Middleton, Gabrielle Martin, Aubrey Dube, Becca Berlind, Wynn McClenahan, Maggie Connolly, Francis Price and Gibson Grimm Photo courtesy of PTP/NYC

PTP/NYC’s Standing on the Edge of Time continues streaming through Tuesday, July 27.  Click here for more information.  Please note there is a final segment following the production’s credits.  PTC/NYC will present their final virtual summer show, A Small Handful from August 13-17.

REVIEW: PTP/NYC’s ‘Lunch’ rich, searing, and absorbing

Two people, immediately intrigued by the sight of each other, hesitate to speak to one another.  Yet they have such remarkable things to say. 

Steven’s Burkoff’s Lunch takes off from the start in fascinating and dense musings as Mary, portrayed with perceptive shrewdness by Jackie Sanders and Thomas, depicted with charm and gall by Bill Army sit listening to the sea’s crashing waves as their lives unfold.

Jackie Sanders as Mary and Bill Army as Thomas Photo courtesy of PTC/NYC

Directed meticulously by PTP’s Co-Artistic Director Richard Romagnoli, Potomac Theatre Project (PTP/NYC) presents Lunch virtually through Tuesday, July 13.  The play contains some mature themes and is free to watch.  Click here for more information and how to support Potomac Theatre Project.

Lunch makes the most of every moment of its approximately 40 minute runtime through Berkoff’s rich and enthralling script and groundbreaking style of dialogue.  Letting the audience into each person’s thoughts and conversation, what makes Mary and Thomas mysterious while thoroughly engaging is the distinct contrast between what they say and mean.  Their lively imaginations and their tantalizing and sometimes searing observations of one another seem unhinged amid their marginally polite discussions at first.  Sanders is particularly astute at capturing Mary’s detachment while Army’s boyish and meandering charm make for some unique chemistry as their encounter escalates into a surprising conclusion.

Jackie Sanders as Mary and Bill Army as Thomas Photo courtesy of PTP/NYC

Passionate, blunt, vivid, and occasionally shocking, Lunch also delves into earnestness and loneliness in a most unexpected way. Lunch continues through Tuesday, July 13.  Click here for more information and PTP/NYC’s upcoming events in their 34 1/2 season.

REVIEW: Boston Children’s Chorus’ free virtual concert “Lift Every Voice: At the Table” ends season on a vibrant and hopeful note

Transitions have been a strong theme over the past year and a half and with that brings forth a tumult of emotions.  Staying true to this season’s theme, “Waves of Change,” the Boston Children’s Chorus depict a vibrant range of emotions through songs of comfort, pressing contemporary issues and dreams of hope of everyone together again in their final concert of the season, Lift Every Voice:  At the Table.

Photo courtesy of Boston Children’s Chorus

Featuring special guest composers Sydney Guillaume, Omar Shahryar, and Layth Sidiq, Lift Every Voice:  At the Table was live streamed for free on Sunday, May 30, but is still available to watch on their Facebook page, and YouTube channel.  The concert also delivers information about their upcoming summer outdoor concert series, We Sing as well as information about the Kiser Scholarship, a memorial scholarship focused on community building and social healing.    

Though each song offers its own message of hope and change, Natalie Hemby, Lori McKenna, and Brandi Carlile’s uplifting Crowded Table and Omar Shahryar’s The Journey of Feelings portrays the dream of unity while reflecting on uncertainty and the exhaustion of the journey through this pandemic from a child’s point of view.  Crowded Table brings to life the dream and comfort of finally being together again at the table without worry by a roaring fire.  It’s a sweet, joyous, and memorable song that you may never want to end.

The Boston Children’s Chorus Virtual Choir Photo courtesy of the Boston Children’s Chorus

Omar Shahryar’s catchy The Journey of Feelings has its amusing moments, but underneath the beat paints a startlingly perfect expression of what kids are feeling from day-to-day over the course of the pandemic.  It’s an upbeat and urgent song providing insight into intense and overwhelming feelings and yet delivers a precocious sense of maturity expressing hope of life returning to normal.  Omar Shahyar’s There’s a Change A-Coming further enhances this sense of gradual change as they navigate through these uncertain times. 

Moving backdrops and colorful, innovative zoom cinematography enhance each song and it is wonderful to hear from Boston Children’s Chorus members from all levels and their reflections on the world.  It is also a treat to see the chorus outdoors from bridge to beach to city singing together at various times over the concert’s duration, but this is especially wonderful to watch for Mavis Staples’s inspiring Build a Bridge and Layth Sidiq’s spiritual, haunting, and rhythmic Reflection.

John Mayer’s popular song, Waiting on the World to Change brings its signature insightful flair but BCC enhances this poignant song with a moving dedication to emergency workers and glimpses of the state of the world during the pandemic such as the closure of theatres, empty trains, and elbow bumps instead of hugs.  Mayer’s timeless lyrics resonate profoundly while the world is in transition.

Photo courtesy of Boston Children’s Chorus

Delving into multiple languages and a unique, moving open, The Boston Children’s Chorus also reflects hope and uncertainty through the eyes of Migrants with Joel Thompson’s America Will Be as the BCC proclaims, “I lift my lamp beside the golden door.”  Dany Rivera’s charismatic and powerful vocals depict struggle and determination with Gregory Porter’s Running (Refugee Song).

The Boston Children’s Chorus encapsulates distinctly what many are feeling at this time through their evocative vocals and strong messages while leaving this season on a hopeful note. 

Click here for more information on how to join and support the Boston Children’s Chorus, their upcoming events, and digital offerings.

REVIEW: Celebrity Series of Boston at Home’s free concert, ‘Quartet Kalos: The Songs We Make’ makes meaningful debut

This virtual concert ended with a laugh.  On Thursday, February 25, Celebrity Series of Boston at home’s free weekly Neighborhood Arts concert series featured the soothing and unique rhythms of Quartet Kalos: The Songs We Make livestreamed on Celebrity Series of Boston’s website, Facebook Live and YouTube at 7:30 p.m.  The concert was filmed at Futura Productions in Roslindale, MA and included a Q & A with the group. Click here to see the full concert on demand.

Introduced by Celebrity Series of Boston’s Associate Director of Community Engagement Robin Baker, this livestreamed concert was particularly meaningful for this skilled quartet.  Not only did they make their Celebrity Series of Boston debut as a group though they have all performed for Celebrity Series individually since 2017, it was the first time performing live together onstage since the pandemic and they couldn’t have been more delighted.

Composed of Maria Finkelmeier on marimba, Angela Shankar on clarinet, Francesca McNeeley on cello and soprano Mary Mackenzie all in masks, Quartet Kalos provided a blend of eclectic, original, enigmatic, playful, and intriguing rhythms that provide a soulful respite from the pressures of the world today.

A portion of Quartet Kalos’s music is Swedish-inspired due to members of the group having lived there and these particular concert selections took some time to deliver their take on classical music and hymns. 

Their lively and inquisitive opening number, Solstice, is an instrumental piece blending soprano Mary Mackenzie’s silvery and versatile vocals.  Mackenzie’s operatic range has a brilliant and natural shine, even when delivering the spoken word.

Dreamlike and experimental, Beau Kenyon’s I Will is melodic and smooth in its building intensity.  Aaron Copeland’s timeless Appalachian Spring is easily recognizable within Quartet Kalos’s upbeat arrangement to Shaker tune Simple Gifts.  Quartet Kalos also provides a unique and memorable blend on the Swedish tune, Uti Var Hage with timeless hymn, I’ll Fly Away (arr. Angela Shankar) in a sea of galloping rhythms with a special dedication.

Maria Finkelmeier’s original and spirited composition, Clone has an urgency and mischievousness filled with rhythmic stops, starts, and lively moments.

However, the real standout was Swedish tune, I denna ljuva sommartid (arr. Sanna Andersson), a glorious, uplifting song about summer’s great beauty which is particularly missed in the depths of winter.  This lively number is further enhanced by its stirring acapella harmony.

Quartet Kalos:  The Songs We Make is still available for viewing here.  Celebrity Series of Boston’s free virtual Neighborhood concert series will next present Hub New Music on Thursday, March 11 at 7:30.  Click here for more information and for all that Celebrity Series has to offer this season.

REVIEW: ‘Star Wars: A New Hope in Concert’ with live orchestration from the Boston Pops a thrilling cinematic achievement

No better way to witness a galaxy far, far away.

It has become a beloved Boston Pops tradition to exhibit the finest films in cinema history enhanced by the stellar sounds of the Boston Pops, an immersive film experience performed so eloquently, one may never watch the film quite the same way again.  In the past few years, The Boston Pops has inventively breathed new life into film classics such as ‘The Wizard of Oz,’ ‘West Side Story,’ ‘Singin’ in the Rain,’ ‘Psycho,’ ‘Home Alone,’ ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark,’ and ‘Nosferatu‘ through stunning live orchestration and Star Wars lives up to that sterling reputation.

The re-mastered, extended version of ‘Star Wars: A New Hope in Concert‘ with live orchestration by the Boston Pops was held at Symphony Hall earlier this spring and then recently in the Koussevitzky Music Shed at the Tanglewood in Lenox, MA on August 16.  The ninth film and epic conclusion of the Star Wars series, ‘Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker‘ arrives in theatres in December and what better way to welcome the end than by remembering the beginning.

John Williams at Tanglewood (Hilary Scott)

John Williams conducting Film Night at Tanglewood Photo credit to Hilary Scott

Academy award-winning composer John Williams has been the name on everyone’s lips at Tanglewood for the past couple of weeks with ‘Star Wars: A New Hope in Concert‘ on Friday, August 16 and then the ever-popular ‘Film Night’ on August 24, an annual tribute concert featuring just a few of the acclaimed film scores of John Williams.  Not only did John Williams make an appearance at the end of the August 16th performance, but Patriots owner Robert Kraft was also in the audience.  Click here for more information, tickets, and a look at Tanglewood’s full schedule.

Keith Lockhart Leads the Boston Pops at Tanglewood (Hilary Scott)

Keith Lockhart leads the Boston Pops at Tanglewood Photo courtesy of Hilary Scott

Conducted by acclaimed Boston Pops conductor Keith Lockhart, The Boston Pops launched an enthusiastic audience into that beloved galaxy with ‘Star Wars: Episode IV A New Hope,’ the first film in what would become a beloved series of films in 1977.  The rising swell of the perilous, suspenseful, triumphant, and Academy award-winning Star Wars Main Theme from John Williams was just the start of this exciting film that has been thought to be a touchstone to future films in that genre while also possessing some classic Shakespearean roots.

The intense score, each crisp note from the orchestra, the sound that thundered in the Koussevitzky Shed was nothing that can be relived in front of a television screen or in a movie theatre.  It felt like being in the studio with the cast, enhancing their already outstanding performances, and scoring the film for the first time.

Star Wars A New Hope

Mark Hamill as Luke Skywalker, Carrie Fisher as Princess Leia, and Harrison Ford as Han Solo in ‘Star Wars: A New Hope’ Photo credit to Disney/Lucasfilm

The lively audience was clearly composed of some of the most devoted Star Wars fans cheering   not only the opening of the film, but each major character as they were first introduced onscreen.  Familiar faces such as the twinkling eyes and swaggering charisma of Harrison Ford’s Han Solo, Peter Mayhew’s towering presence as Chewbacca, Carrie Fisher’s holographic appearance as Princess Leia as she utters the classic line, “Help me, Obi-Wan Kenobi.  You’re my Only Hope,” Alec Guinness as the wise and mysterious Obi-Wan Kenobi, Mark Hamill’s naïve Luke Skywalker, and James Earl Jones as the timeless voice of Darth Vader were all greeted with rousing applause.

Set on the planet with two suns, the subtle humor, the scheming, the epic adventure, George Lucas’s marvelous characters, the dazzling technology of its time, the bickering between R2-D2 and C-3PO and between Han Solo and Princess Leia are all recaptured in this unforgettable cinematic experience.

The Lawn at Tanglewood 2016 (Hilary Scott)

The Lawn at Tanglewood 2016 Photo credit to Hilary Scott

Located in the Berkshires at 297 West Street in Lenox, Massachusetts and now year-round, Tanglewood’s outdoor venue is a must see, whether under the tent at Koussevitzky Shed or under the stars for a lawn picnic.  Click here for Tanglewood’s full schedule follow them on Facebook.

Exploring theatre, nature, space and more, Boston Landmarks Orchestra’s Christopher Wilkins talks depth and diversity in free summer concert series

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.

Boston Landmarks Orchestra Maestro Zone Assistant Conductor Shuang Fan

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 New England Aquarium

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.

Boston Landmarks Orchestra Alvy Powell

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.

They are opening a permanent set of offices at the Boston Center for the Arts.  We are collaborating with Ashleigh, Castle of Our Skins and Anthony Green, a composer she works with frequently on the Esplanade on August 21 for our Landmarks Dance Night.  The project surrounds the music and dance of Haiti because we are also including the Jean Appolon Expressions Dance Company.

Boston Landmarks Orchestra Jennifer Ellis Matthew DiBattista, Maesto Wilkins, and One City Choir

Christopher Wilkins with Jennifer Ellis Matthew DiBattista, Maesto Wilkins, and One City Choir Photo courtesy of Boston Landmarks Orchestra

It’s often our best vehicle for showcasing the diversity of traditions and types of cultural expression.  I grew up here, but the city is infinitely more diverse now than it was when I grew up.

SC:  Absolutely.  What have you liked most over your time with the Boston Landmarks Orchestra?

CW:  We’ve had lots of great moments over the last eight or nine years.  My first concert was conducting Beethoven’s 9th at Fenway Park so that is pretty hard to top.  We did an amazing night celebrating the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s I Have a Dream Speech with Governor Deval Patrick as our narrator and featuring a lot of video and photographic imagery.

We did a memorable collaboration with the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum when their director, Peggy Fogelman, first arrived in Boston.  Another highlight was a series of programs with Commonwealth Shakespeare Company.  We performed full productions of musicals or a Shakespeare play such as “Midsummer Night’s Dream” with Mendelssohn.

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

REVIEW: Hub Theatre Company of Boston’s ‘Steel Magnolias’ boasts humor, heartache, and hairspray

A good story is usually rooted in truth.

Robert Harling’s ‘Steel Magnolias’ is partially based on a true story.  Harling wrote the play, ‘Steel Magnolias’ in 1987 and based it off of real people he knew in Louisiana.  In the popular 1989 film (which included a parade of famous actresses such as Dolly Parton, Olympia DukakisDaryl Hannah,  and Shirley MacLaine), the part of M’Lynn was portrayed by Sally Field and Julia Roberts was Shelby.  Harling based M’Lynn on his mother and Shelby (whose real name was Susan) on his sister.

Directed by Paula Plum, Hub Theatre Company of Boston celebrates the 30th anniversary of the 1989 film with comedy drama ‘Steel Magnolias’ continuing at Hub Theatre Company of Boston’s summer home, Club Cafe through Sunday, August 3.  This show is on a pay-what-you-can basis.  Click here for more information and tickets.

The Sleepless Critic also recently spoke to Hub Theatre of Boston Artistic Producing Director’s Lauren Elias about ‘Steel Magnolias,’ the future of Hub Theatre Company of Boston, and more.  Click here for the podcast.

Set entirely in Truvy’s Beauty Shop in Chinquapin, Louisiana in 1985, this bittersweet tale follows a group of vastly different women who find strength in each other through hardships and triumphs with a great deal of understanding, humor, and hairspray.  Though it has its share of serious themes, ‘Steel Magnolias’ offers more humor and relatable moments seeped in a wealth of 80s references that include mentions of Jane Fonda, and Elizabeth Arden.

Hub Theatre Company of Boston Steel Magnolias full cast 2

From L to R: Maureen Adduci as Ouiser, Liz Adams as M’Lynn, Oye Ehikhamhen as Shelby (center), Lauren Elias as Annelle, June Kfoury as Clairee, and Catherine Lee Christie as Truvy Photo courtesy of Hub Theatre Company of Boston

With bold costumes by Chelsea Kerl and Wig Master Caroline Clancy, the show impressively rewinds the clock into the 80s big hair era and memorable fashion sense while highlighting each woman’s distinct personality.  It is also refreshing to look at back at life at a time before the internet where people shared time, recipes, and hair tips in person.

Directed impressively by Paula Plum, ‘Steel Magnolias’ also thrives through its smart casting and the developing chemistry and growth between these primarily outspoken southern women, keeping this popular show fresh.  With a gift for gab and gossip, Catherine Lee Christie portrays Truvy Jones with charm and sass.  As a big fan of the movie, it is hard to imagine this part for anyone other than Dolly Parton, but Christie, in an array of distinct, sparkling, and mismatched fashion, rises to the occasion.  Her scenes with Lauren Elias as mysterious and humble Annelle make for some quirky, heartwarming moments.

Hub Theatre Company of Boston Steel Magnolias full cast

From L to Right: Maureen Aducci as Ouiser, Liz Adams as M’Lynn, Oye Ehikhamhen as Shelby (center), Lauren Elias as Annelle, June Kfoury as Clairee, and Catherine Lee Christie as Truvy Photo courtesy of Hub Theatre Company of Boston

Maureen Adduci’s sardonic, frank, and darkly amusing Ouiser delivers some of the most entertaining moments in the show.  Adduci’s exhausted scowl alone in Truvy’s cheery beauty salon is enough to crack a smile.  Her sarcastic facade rings true with the priceless line, “I don’t see plays because I can nap at home for free…and I don’t read books because if they are any good, they are going to make them into a miniseries.”  June Kfoury as Clairee, a stylish and gossip-driven widow with good intentions and a knowing smile, amuses herself by teasing Ouiser and their exchanges create their own spark.

However, the most captivating relationship is the family dynamic between Liz Adams as M’Lynn and Oye Ehikhamhen as M’Lynn’s daughter Shelby.  The push and pull between the two make it easy to see them as mother and daughter.  As in any mother-daughter relationship, one minute they exchange nagging barbs and the next, nurturing affection.

Hub Theatre Company of Boston Steel Magnolias Liz Adams as MLynn and Oye Ehikhamhen

Liz Adams as M’Lynn and Oye Ehikhamhen as Shelby Photo courtesy of Hub Theatre Company of Boston

Liz Adams portrays M’Lynn with a quiet, palpable tightness and a bundle of suppressed feelings.  It is easy to feel the weight of the world on her shoulders.  This M’Lynn has a bit of a tougher edge and a dry sense of humor as she meticulously looks after everyone but herself.  Though M’Lynn and Shelby are both dramatic and stubborn, Oye Ehikhamhen as Shelby is a ceaselessly optimistic force where happiness is a requirement, not an option.  With a broad smile and easy chemistry with the entire cast, Oye as Shelby shines in a charismatic, compassionate performance.

Club Cafe’s stage is an air-conditioned, intimate space that includes tables set up for food and drinks.  In honor of the production, Club Cafe offers themed specialty cocktails such as Truvy’s Twister, Blush and Bashful, Wack-A-Ouiser, and Chinquapin Parish Punch.

Directed by Paula Plum, rewind the clock and take a trip south to Truvy’s for Hub Theatre Company of Boston’s ‘Steel Magnolias’ at Club Café  at 209 Columbus Ave through Saturday, August 3. This show is on a pay-what-you-can basis.  Click here for more information about Hub Theatre and tickets.  Hub Theatre Company of Boston is also taking donations of beauty products and toiletries at every performance to be donated to Rosie’s Place and other charities.