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.

Americana Theatre Company’s Michael Kirkland and Jennifer Martin talk bringing epic musical ‘Man of La Mancha’ to the South Shore

Americana Theatre Company is taking the South Shore on an epic quest in the multiple Tony Award-winning musical, Man of La Mancha at Spire Center for Performing Arts in Plymouth, Massachusetts through Sunday, July 29.  Starring TV personality Scott Wahle, a fascinating cast, and featuring a memorable score that includes the classic number, The Impossible Dream, Man of La Mancha is based on Cervantes’ masterpiece Don Quixote.

American Theatre Company’s Jennifer Martin and director Dr. Michael Kirkland discuss going through 500 audition tapes, their current season, and why Man of La Mancha sometimes felt like a farce.  Click here for more information and for tickets.

Sleepless Critic:  This is your first time directing Man of La Mancha.

Michael Kirkland:  It is, but it is also my seventh La Mancha.  I’ve been blessed to portray Sancho Panza four times professionally.  I’ve also played The Barber, have choreographed the combat and violence in the show maybe six of the seven times, but have always longed to direct it.

SC:  Doing a show that many times makes you that much more prepared of what works and what doesn’t.

MK:  Directing the show is a real blessing because I have formulated well germinated ideas about the piece and I finally have an opportunity to experiment with those ideas, but I never lock myself out of the possibility of change.

SC:  Although Man of La Mancha is a comedy, Americana Theatre Company’s past production of The Three Musketeers also featured swordplay and took place in a similar time period.  Did the actors train the way they did for The Three Musketeers?

MK:  Yes, it is a physical show with combat fighting ranging from realistic to stylized to serious to comical narratives and techniques.  Similar challenges but different than swordplay.  Swordplay has more rules and challenges that come with it.  This is all hand to hand and found weapons, which are objects laying around that become unusual weapons.

SC:  Man of La Mancha’s The Impossible Dream in itself is epic.  So how did Americana decide to take on this show?

Jennifer Martin:  This is our third foray into musical theatre having taken on Grease and Lucky Stiff previously.  We try to choose stories that we believe matter, have great entertainment value, make our community better, and are ensemble driven.  Man of La Mancha is a storytelling, ensemble-driven show that works well with our company.  This show is great for that because Cervantes enters the prison and uses the prisoners to tell his story.

American Theatre Company Man of La Mancha

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

SC:  TV personality Scott Wahle stars as the Man of La Mancha.  He’s been in a few shows in the area such as Reagle Music Theatre of Greater Boston’s Guys and Dolls and Company Theatre’s Paragon Park.  He has a certain charisma and comic timing that fits Man of La Mancha.  How was the audition process?

JM:  We posted the audition on Backstage for our New York auditions and viewed about 500 audition videos for Aldonza, Sancho Panza, and Don Quixote (Cervantes).  After reviewing those videos, we traveled to New York and we did a full day of five minute audition slots.  We found Aldonza and Sancho Panza, but we still didn’t have our Man of La Mancha.  Americana’s President Peter Martin suggested his friend Scott Wahle.  Finding the Man of La Mancha was our actual quest and once we found him, everything fit into place.

SC:  What has been the show’s biggest challenge?

JM:  The first rehearsal process and making sure that above all, the words and richness of what was written is experienced by the audience while moving quickly.  The other challenge unique to our company is our four company members performing in the show are wearing multiple hats.  Managing Director David Friday plays The Governor and The Innkeeper while being the set builder and designer.  We’re doing a comedy, but sometimes it feels like a farce.

MK:  The concept we had settled upon affords an exploration of layers.  What I’m trying to communicate in this particular interpretation is even Cervantes does not completely understand the power of what he has written and it takes these prisoners and him watching how his story redeems them that truly brings home the power.

SC:  Man of La Mancha has something for everyone, but I think men will especially enjoy it.

MK:  It is a show with depth, substance, and great heart.  It also has some bite to it and aspects of it might be border line uncomfortable for people to experience.  I always think we can tell redemptive stories of girl scouts or in this particular instance, prostitutes.  The show makes a powerful statement by the end of this story.

Americana Theatre Company Man of La Mancha bow

The complete cast Photo credit to Denise Maccaferri

SC:  What’s been your favorite part of putting the show together?

MK:  I love to collaborate.  We had collaborative sessions on the telephone before we ever got here, just kicking around ideas then settling upon how we are to realize the conceptualization of the piece.  Then we start working with those people on a day to day basis bouncing ideas off each other, then trying things, and then trying them on the performers.  Theatre affords you what some more isolated performing arts don’t.  Theatre is created and performed in community.  Good ideas are great, and once it is on the stage, it’s not mine.  It’s ours.

SC:  The current season includes Man of La Mancha, Sleepy Hollow, and The Gifts of the Magi.  How do Americana select each season?

JM:  We look at what would be good for the town of Plymouth based on audience feedback of what they respond to, interested in, what they love, and what they are longing for.  We chose Man of La Mancha because we love the story, thought we could tell it well, and saw that it hasn’t been told for awhile in this area.

Our selection process takes about four months of thought and steady, hard work.  The Legend of Sleepy Hollow was chosen because we realize this area values holidays and traditional stories.  We thought of doing a one man version of Sleepy Hollow.  Our founding director Derek Martin is currently working on adapting the script and our Managing Director, David Friday, will be performing it.  We’re excited about performing an old, beautiful story in a simple, straight forward and creative manner.

The Gifts of the Magi is a lovely, six person musical so dear and true to the holiday season.  We wanted to tell a holiday story and keep the cast small in the wintertime because we want to perform it in the Center for the Arts, a small space.

SC:  Studio Americana youth program delves into a lot of big fantasy productions such as Peter Pan, Cinderella, The Wizard of Oz, and Alice in Wonderland.  I understand fall registration is still open.

JM:  Yes, registration is still open.  At Studio Americana, we work with each child individually which is why we keep the shows intentionally small so each student has an equal amount of time.  A lot of students say it’s the best part of their summer.

Studio Americana

Photo courtesy of Studio Americana

SC:  What do you envision the future of Americana Theatre Company?

JM:  We still are a bit of a secret in the South Shore.  We are blessed to have consistent five star reviews from people who come.  When people finally come, they say I can’t believe I’ve missed you guys.  We’re expanding our season with a cabaret and fundraiser in March, a show through July and have offerings in October. 

We’re a 501(c)3 company and have some great community sponsors.  As we get more support, we’d love to expand to a six show season where things are constantly happening.  People who come to Plymouth get the highest level of theatre across the United States, but we want our residents and guests to feel like this is also their hometown theater company.

Americana Theatre Company proudly presents Tony award-winning musical Man of La Mancha through July 29 at Spire Center for Performing Arts, 25 ½ Court Street in Plymouth, MA.  Click here for more information and tickets.  Click here for how to support Americana Theatre Company.  Follow Americana Theatre Company on Facebook and Twitter.

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Lexus Broadway in Boston presents musical spectacle ‘Wicked,’ returning by popular demand

A simple hat can make quite a statement.  Back by popular demand with its astounding sets, phosphorescent costumes, and multi-faceted story, Wicked is the Grammy and Tony award-winning musical spectacle that may make audiences reject those ruby slippers because Oz feels like home.  The award-winning musical Wicked, presented by Lexus Broadway in Boston, sweeps into the Boston Opera House once again on Wednesday, June 7 and will remain there through Sunday, July 23.  Click here for tickets and more information on Wicked.

Wicked Elphaba and Glinda Joan Marcus

Glinda and Elphaba Photo by Joan Marcus

Could Glinda the Good and young, ambitious, and somewhat naive Elphaba, before she became the Wicked Witch, actually have been friends?  What did happen before Dorothy and Toto arrived?   Based on Gregory Maguire’s best-selling book, Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West, the splendid musical adaptation, Wicked, introduces an entirely new way of interpreting L. Frank Baum’s classic tale, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.

Featuring a mix of beloved, familiar Oz characters while also introducing new ones, many parts of Wicked turn Oz on its ear in a clever and beguiling way, unraveling its own set of mysteries.  It also introduces a darker side to Oz, revealing deep, relatable issues of prejudice and balancing that with hope, love, and treasured moments of welcome humor.

Wicked arrives at the Boston Opera House, 539 Washington Street in Boston, Massachusetts from Wednesday, June 7 through Sunday, July 23.  Click here for more information and tickets.  Subscriptions and group tickets are also available. Click here for a closer look at Lexus Broadway in Boston’s 2017-18 season and follow Lexus Broadway in Boston on Facebook and Twitter.