Company Theatre’s Michael Hammond reveals his favorite part of theatre, a secret project, and ‘Fun Home’

Just prior to the pandemic, an award-winning, intriguing production not only made its debut but closed in one night on the Company Theatre stage in Norwell, Massachusetts over a year ago.  Onstage as the meaty role of Bruce, Company Theatre’s Director of Development Michael Hammond experienced that incredible and bittersweet night and what it meant to the cast of the musical memoir Fun Home. Click here for our full podcast conversation.

Aimee Doherty as Alison, Michael Hammond as Bruce, and Riley Crockett as Small Alison Photo courtesy of Zoe Bradford/Company Theatre

The Company Theatre is offering a chance to see Fun Home for the full run they had originally intended in October.  Michael talks about his experience as Bruce, his favorite part of theatre, and a secret upcoming project. 

Click here for Sleepless Critic’s Fun Home review and here for tickets and further information about the Company Theatre.

Sleepless Critic: So you’ve been in theatre since you were a kid and now that we have had the pandemic, what was your favorite part of the theatre before and was there a change in your favorite or what you miss the most when we had a break?

Michael Hammond: I think we take a lot for granted in life.  We forget how much fun it is to sing with an orchestra or to perform on a beautiful set someone built.  Ryan Barrow does amazing sets at Company Theatre and it’s thrilling to perform on one of his sets.  It’s thrilling to perform with Steve Bass conducting an orchestra and thrilling to perform Sally Forrest’s choreography under Zoe Bradford’s direction. 

I think we take that for granted in some ways and as much as I enjoy it and maybe as I got from show to show to show, I think I just liked performing specific roles for the experience of getting to know a new cast.  I did a Christmas show at Company Theatre and just recharged my energy to be around such beautiful people and exciting kids and talent.  You’re in a flow and you are doing shows and enjoying it. 

The cast of Company Theatre’s ‘A Christmas Carol’ Photo courtesy of Zoe Bradford/Company Theatre

You get what you get out of it, but when the pandemic was coming, I was doing Fun Home with an extremely talented cast.  Riley Crockett was playing the youngest Alison.  I was re-experiencing theatre through her eyes and she had never been on a big stage or performed with an orchestra which is shocking because she is so talented.  She would ask me, ‘Are you nervous for your solo tonight?’  I would say, ‘I am a little.’  She would say, ‘Good, now you know how I feel.’  Ok, she needs a little more support and encouragement in that moment. 

Then we were standing on top of a staircase and we were about to walk down for our first entrance and she said, ‘Michael, I’ve never performed on a set like this.  This is a big deal.’  I said, ‘Yes, it is a big deal.  You are right. This is a beautiful experience and you’re about to sing live with an orchestra for the first time in a big theatre on a beautiful set.’  It made me look at what we are doing and not take it for granted. 

So we were fortunate to open and close Fun Home on the exact same night because the pandemic had really hit.  That day everyone was cancelling their performances but we went on because we had a feeling this would be it.  I’m so glad we did because it was one of the most exciting and electric experiences of my life.  People were rebellious and excited.  They knew this might be the last time they ever saw this show and Fun Home is not a super positive and happy experience.

Riley Crockett as Small Alison and Michael Hammond as Bruce Photo courtesy of Zoe Bradford/Company Theatre

SC:  It is melancholy.

MH:  Right, but the audience treated it like it was a rock concert! 

SC:  Yes, I was there to review your first and final performance.  I felt so comfortable and wonderful and I had saw this show in Boston before.  What I liked about watching this particular show is that you can make it so different every time you perform it.  The parts can be portrayed very differently and you can do so much with the show.  In a way, if you had to say goodbye to theatre for awhile, I felt like that was such a poignant thing to do in that moment.

MH:  It was.  It was one of the most beautiful experiences I think I ever had and it was just so bittersweet because it was the last show with Jordie.  How thrilled and grateful am I that I got to have Jordie’s final show be Fun Home and I got to be a part of it. It was just such a fantastic experience and she loved the show. It was such a joy to go through that process with her. 

SC:  It is one of those shows that sneak up on you unexpectedly.  You’re experiencing the show and you enjoy it, but once it’s over, it is really thought-provoking. 

MH:  I saw it on Broadway and loved it.  I thought that I don’t necessarily need to see it again.  It was beautiful and moving and I think of it like a beautiful film.  You watch it and then you watch another film.  When this opportunity came around to work on the show, I have such a great appreciation for it.  I think it’s just one of the greatest things ever written where you’re dissecting and it personally and really in the trenches on it.  It’s so much more brilliant than I realized. 

SC:  It has such multi-layered performances as well. 

MH:  I was thinking today that there were so many things about Bruce,  I almost feel like I just left my body.  I personally couldn’t be any part of this character because it just wasn’t anything like me.  Sometimes I think about it and it feels really difficult to do it again because I remember it as ‘What did I even do?’  I feel like something else took over and performed the role for me.

SC:  I don’t often see you play parts like that.  Not to reveal anything, but your character is very complicated.

MH:  Then to hear compliments like you should do roles like that more often is such a compliment because people think of me as a song, dance, and musical theatre man.  Not that I shy away from roles like that, but it was very gratifying to play that part especially opposite such a talented cast.  It’s unbelievable.

SC:   I know you’ve written a few works with Jordie and Zoe over the years.  Please tell us how that came about.

MH:  I co-wrote Paragon Park the Musical with Zoe, Jordie, Sally, and Michael Joseph for the first production and Steve Bass for the second who worked on the music.  I love amusement parks and I loved Paragon Park. I went there so many times in my life. 

When I heard that Zoe and Jordie were thinking of writing a musical about Paragon Park, I selfishly just wanted to see it.  I had no inkling that I would be involved or that they would want me involved.  I just wanted to see that production so it got mentioned many times over the years and one summer I designed a poster Paragon Park the Musical coming summer of whatever year it was.  It was a long time ago. 

One day Zoe decided years after the poster even to start doing some research.  She said, ‘Why don’t you come with me?  We’ll get lunch.’  We went to the Hull Library which was incredible.  They put us in a private room and provided us with access to microfiche, boxes of memorabilia, and photographs.  They were so generous.  It just snowballed from there.  We just couldn’t stop.  We were researching and loved what we found.  It did not end up being the musical we thought we were going to write because the ideas we had in mind turned out to be completely not true.  It all got shifted.

We thought maybe there was this seedy underbelly to the park and that once the park was closed, things happened at night.  It was going to be dark and mysterious and then we find out from the park owners that ‘Oh no, we locked that place, sealed it like a drum at 11 pm, and went out for Chinese food.’  Nothing happened at the Park after hours.  So much for that, but the Stone Family provided us with so much information that we were able to write a really interesting and factual musical.  It was 80% true except for the love story we incorporated. 

SC:  Not only did you write it the first time around, but when it came back around, you got to star in it too. 

MH:  I did and it was a thrill!  The nicest feeling about that show and being in it is to be putting on a costume and as I’m by myself getting dressed, I would hear people walk down the hallway singing the songs or they would say that they get to do that scene they love now.  There was so much positivity and to realize we wrote a show that was really fun to perform.  Some of the kids were in Ragtime and we used to make these funny backstage videos.  So I said, ‘Why don’t we make videos during Paragon Park?’  They said, ‘Michael, you and Zoe wrote a show where there is no time to make videos.  When would we do that?’  It was nice to know we had a hand in creating this really fun experience.   It was quite thrilling to be able to perform something that I helped write.

Michael Hammond in Company Theatre’s ‘Paragon Park the Musical’ Photo courtesy of Zoe Bradford/Company Theatre

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

MH: I’m devoting all my time to Company Theatre and Zoe and I thought, ‘Why not write another musical?’ It’s a completely different project from Paragon Park and we can’t quite announce yet what it is, but Zoe is incredibly inspired by this project. 

Watching her, it’s almost like she is channeling something like I’ve never seen.  She’s a beautiful artist and I’m obsessed with the way she draws and paints.  So she just took out a magic marker and a gigantic pad of paper and drew what she saw in her head for the plot of this show and it was quite impressive to watch.  Her ideas are flowing through her.  It is unbelievable so we’re hoping that will probably be the summer of 2023. 

A celebration of life for Company Theatre co-founder Jordie Saucerman. Visit companytheatre.com to learn how to be part of this tribute. Photo courtesy of The Company Theatre

Company Theatre, 30 Accord Park Drive in Norwell, Massachusetts, is presenting Fun Home in October as well as devoting a night to their late co-founder, Jordie Saucerman, in November.  Click here for more information and check back to find out about Company Theatre’s mystery original production.

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: ‘The Mom Show’ a moving recollection of survival and resilience

Michael Levin’s Polish Jewish mother hated one man shows.  Jenny Graubart didn’t think there was anything interesting about someone standing on stage talking through an entire performance.  However, what is so rewarding about Michael Levin’s The Mom Show is not just his reflections and a collection of family photos.  It has wisdom, tragedy, resilience, love, disaster, music, and a cast of multi-faceted relatives existing during one of the most harrowing parts of history.  Accompanied by a collection of original songs performed and composed by Levin (with the exception of one), The Mom Show is an intimate and engaging portrait of a survivor whose son still wonders how she did it all.

Written, composed, and performed by New York Times bestselling author and Tanglewood Festival Chorus tenor Michael Levin, The Mom Show continues live at the Regent Theatre in Arlington, Massachusetts Sundays through July 18 at 7 pm.  It was the first in person theatre production to open in Massachusetts and it follows Covid guidelines.  The show runs 80 minutes without an intermission.  Click here for more information and tickets. 

Unlike Levin’s mother, I think there is something endearing about one man shows if they are delivered with heart, finesse, and has a solid story to tell.  The production explores three generations from 1908 Poland right into the present day exploring Levin’s family’s experiences as they ventured into different parts of the world to escape the Holocaust and ultimately settling in Queens, NY.  Through their ever changing locations, Graubart’s versatility, worldliness, and resourcefulness shine through while overcoming difficult hardships and triumphs that will not be revealed here. We’ll let Levin tell the tale.

Levin is an engaging storyteller, adding humor and spontaneity to this emotional journey.  Musically directed by Nancy Loedy, The Mom Show delves into various musical genres from rockabilly to the blues to a Cuban lullaby.  What We Remember is a particularly stirring piece.   Levin’s sincerity and heartfelt vocals add a lighthearted gleam that keeps in step with each segment of the production.  Levin’s mom was also a big fan of musicals before her death in 2018 and The Mom Show is worthy of her approval. 

The Mom Show continues live at the Regent Theatre, 7 Medford Street in Arlington, Massachusetts Sundays through July 18.  Click here for more information and tickets. 

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 quintessentially local ‘A Woman of the World’ fascinating and full of surprises

Scandalous secrets unfold and things are not what they seem in Merrimack Repertory Theatre’s  (MRT) quintessentially local and fascinating production of A Woman of the World by Rebecca Gilman streaming on demand through Sunday, May 30.  Partnering with the Emily Dickinson Museum and directed cleverly by Courtney Sale, this one-woman show led by Massachusetts native Denise Cormier lights up the stage with natural charisma as enigmatic lecturer and historical figure Mabel Loomis Todd. She claims to bring insight into the real life of the late, renowned poet Emily Dickinson, but what she unveils is so much more. 

It was wonderful to see another production from MRT filmed onstage.  A Woman of the World also offers plenty of local references such as Harvard, MIT, the New England Conservatory, Boston, Amherst and the surrounding areas.  The show contains some hinted adult themes.  Click here for more information and for tickets.

Denise Cormier in MRT’s ‘A Woman of the World.’ Photo: Kathy Wittman/Merrimack Repertory Theatre

Scenic designer Bill Clarke and Original Music/Sound Designer David Remedios seamlessly combine the inviting comforts of home with the sights and sounds of a serene Maine setting.  However, don’t let the serenity of this island home fool you.   Mabel gears up for a quiet storm as the sound of the wind and crickets fill the air.

From welcoming to haunting, Carolina Ortiz Herrera’s soft, dynamic lighting not only transforms each mood in an instant, but does more so with Cormier.  At first Denise Cormier as Mabel seems a lively, well-to-do speaker with well coiffed blond hair, but as the show progresses, the subtle lighting reveal tinges of gray. 

Denise Cormier in MRT’s ‘A Woman of the World’. Photo: Kathy Wittman/Merrimack Repertory Theatre

Though it is a one-woman show, other “cast members” such as Mabel’s daughter Millicent is addressed offstage.  Delivering a multi-layered performance, Mabel’s charm to win over her audience first comes off as egotistical, but gradually becomes earnestness and she soon seems like an old friend.  Nothing short of a captivating showman, a warm and inviting presence, but the guarded moments intertwined in her storytelling is the stuff that keeps you hooked and her drifting reflections are when the show truly hits its stride.  Having had a stroke, Mabel is also somewhat an unreliable narrator in more ways than one. 

Denise Cormier in MRT’s ‘A Woman of the World’. Photo: Kathy Wittman/Merrimack Repertory Theatre

The show tackles relatable issues on feminism and Cormier as Mabel may make you root for her one moment and against her the next.   However, she’s a survivor and an enigma ahead of her time. 

Merrimack Repertory Theatre’s production of A Woman of the World by Rebecca Gilman is streaming on demand through Sunday, May 30.  Following the production is a short interview between director Courtney Sale and Denise Cormier on the inspiration behind the show.  Click here for more information, tickets, and for more about the Merrimack’s Repertory Theatre’s season.

REVIEW: SpeakEasy Stage Company’s ‘TJ Loves Sally 4 Ever’ a striking satire

It’s hard to miss the message behind TJ Loves Sally 4 Ever, a bold, semi-interactive satire that takes a deep dive into prominent social issues such as racism and sexual harassment by putting a contemporary spin into troubling pieces of history.  Taking cues from Dear White People, TJ and Sally 4 Ever is anything but a love story and highlights the frustration evident within each of its characters as they attempt to convey their own point of view.

Directed by Pascale Florestal, SpeakEasy Stage Company presents TJ Loves Sally 4 Ever virtually through Thursday, May 13.  The show run 1 hour and 35 minutes without an intermission and is not suitable for children. Viewer discretion is advised.  Click here for more information and tickets.  Resources for this production can also be found on speakeasystage.com and a panel discussion is available here after seeing the production.

Jared Troilo and Tah-Janay Shayone in ‘TJ Loves Sally 4 Ever’ Photo courtesy of SpeakEasy Stage Company

Speakeasy Stage Company’s TJ Loves Sally 4 Ever heeds social distancing guidelines through some careful blocking and innovative technology.  Though a couple of frames look a little awkward, the majority of the show flows naturally.

Sally, portrayed with levelheaded wit by Tah-Janay Shayone, portrays a college student who is starting a job under obnoxious, egotistical, controlling (and much more) Dean Jefferson.  Flailing about with a subversive glint in his eye, Jared Troilo delivers an unabashed, grimly humorous performance as Dean Jefferson.  Dru Sky Berrian as Pam and Sadiyah Dyce Stephens portray Sally’s caring, protective, and partying sorority sisters and Jordan Pearson as blunt and tenacious Harold will do just about anything for change.

Jared Troilo and Jordan Pearson in ‘TJ Loves Sally 4 Ever’ Photo courtesy of SpeakEasy Stage Company

Though this satire at times misses its mark, TJ Loves Sally 4 Ever’s unconventional premise and delivery distinctively portrays Sally and the cast’s exasperation as they bring to light the hypocrisies and arrogance within our society as each try to forge a path toward a brighter future.  Choreographed cleverly by Kira Cowan Troilo, a particular highlight involves a dance sequence between Pearson and Troilo that quite literally drives home the scene’s inherent message.  Rachel Padula-Shufelt’s colorful and detailed costume design from Sally’s symbolic outfit to a scene featuring colonial gowns enhances the production’s strong and serious subject matter.

Left to Right: Dru Sky Berrian, Tah-Janay Shayone and Sadiyah Dyce Stevens in ‘TJ Loves Sally 4 Ever’ Photo courtesy of SpeakEasy Stage Company

The show effectively takes a hard, long look tying in the past, present, and is ultimately optimistic for a compassionate future.  Speakeasy Stage Company’s TJ Loves Sally 4 Ever continues virtually through Thursday, May 13.  Click here for more information, tickets, and how to support the SpeakEasy Stage Company.

REVIEW: Michael John Ciszewski’s ‘The Sun is Sleeping’ dwells in dreamlike introspection in 2020

To some, the sun is an adversary.  To fast-living insomniac Simon, portrayed by Michael John Ciszewski, the sun is sleeping just when he is waking up.  Michael John Ciszewski’s second solo project, The Sun is Sleeping, is a personal, contemplative piece though Simon wants to be anything but contemplative.  He’d rather escape than be alone in his thoughts and his isolation, always looking for a quick fix as he dreams, loves, and parties big.

Having seen Ciszewski in other projects such as Lyric Stage Company of Boston’s The Little Foxes and his latest Hub Theatre Company of Boston’s virtual Much Ado about Nothing, Ciszewski has a strength for portraying intense, multi-faceted characters and Simon is no exception.  Steeped in city views, sunsets, and the crack of dawn, The Sun is Sleeping is a beautifully shot, relatable journey during these difficult times. 

Michael John Ciszewski in ‘The Sun is Sleeping’ Photo credit to Michael John Ciszewski

Click here for more information and how to watch The Sun is Sleeping, a one hour avant-garde film.

The Sun is Sleeping is part confessional, part introspection, and part escape, featuring a myriad of mixed emotions as Simon and other characters face a pandemic.  As Simon fantasies about an eternally happy existence and doubt seeps in, the audience is privy to each character’s meandering perspectives in their sheer yearning to bond with other people in any way they can.

For the actors themselves facing an arts ‘intermission’ of this magnitude, it’s the thrill of the audience, lack of that type of expression, and entire way of life turned upside down that contributes to their unsettling uncertainty.  Pier Lamia Porter as Sam and Rachel Belleman as Caroline unite in a wistful zoom call that could speak to anyone right now.  It’s the longing and joy of being together.  Some of the show has a sense of humor, but much more of it is reflection showing we all have too much time on our hands and yet the sun still shines.

REVIEW: PTP/NYC presents enthralling family mystery, ‘The House in Scarsdale’

Dan has a complicated relationship with his estranged family.

Director Christian Parker of ‘The House in Scarsdale’ Photo courtesy of PTC/NYC

Directed by Christian Parker and written by playwright and actor Dan O’Brien, Dan embarks on more than just a spiritual journey in The House in Scarsdale: a memoir for the stageThe House in Scarsdale is the third play within Potomac Theatre Project(PTP/NYC’s) virtual series that has been running each weekend from September 24 through Sunday, October 18.

 Dan O’Brien’s The House in Scarsdale streamed from Thursday, October 8 through Sunday, October 11 and Caryl Churchill’s Far Away continues through Sunday, October 18 on PTC/NYC’s YouTube channel.   Viewings are free, but donations are welcome to support PTC/NYC with ten percent of the proceeds supporting The National Black Theatre.  Click here for the complete list of productions in PTP/NYC’s virtual series.

 In what can be described as a play within a prospective play, The House in Scarsdale visits the darkest of dysfunction as Dan, a journalist, visits various family members and others to learn more about his family’s past for his upcoming autobiographical play.  Audiences travel alongside Dan on his journey from the Garden State Parkway to as far as Europe as he investigates a possible family secret. What makes this show unique is not only is it a mystery, but as the details unfold, how much of the truth do you really want to know about your family?  Every family has their problems, but some secrets cannot be fathomed. 

The House in Scarsdale stars the show’s own playwright Dan O’Brien as Dan and Alex Draper portrays several dynamic characters throughout the production.  Draper seamlessly sinks right into each role, navigating an assortment of colorful characters from Dan’s resentful grandmother to his eccentric uncle.  Draper is expressive and spirited, clearly enjoying each transition.  His conversations with O’Brien have moments of dark humor, relatable family banter, and a good dose of stark, stirring honesty. 

The show is figuratively and literally on a journey to learn more about Dan’s troubled family, a family so dysfunctional that poor Dan has been cast out of his family circle hence its ironic opening quote by John Cheever, ‘Come back, come back, my wretched, feeble and unwanted child.’ Dan understandably wants to know why. As Dan’s extended family recall his family’s wild tendencies and various psychoses, Dan’s low key and unassuming demeanor makes one think that perhaps he has been through much more than he lets on. 

Dan is a quiet, inquisitive soul and depicts his emotional detachment with a skilled subtlety.  His conflicted nature between trepidation and yearning is fascinating as he ventures deeper into his family history becoming so invested and anxious about what he might find, he even visits a psychic.  Some of his family recollections are universal and lighthearted and every family has a degree of unhealthy dysfunction, but other memories are dreadfully concerning. 

So, as some answers come to light and more questions arise, how much is Dan like his family and how much of the story can be trusted?  The House in Scarsdale lures you in and leaves you engrossed in its outcome, hoping for a light at the end of this tunnel.

Potomac Theatre Project or PTC/NYC is located at 330 West 16th Street in New York City. Click here for more information and how to support PTP/NYC’s current and upcoming productions.

REVIEW: Theatre Kapow delivers a clever and engaging ‘Feast’

You are part of this feast as an honored guest.

Megan Gogerty’s interactive and dynamic Feast makes you part of this production and it won’t be long until you get reeled into dinner conversation.  New Hampshire’s Theatre Kapow brings back theatre in a unique way all while delivering real dessert (and a little extra) and as a person starved for the arts, Megan Gogerty’s Feast will leave you full while remaining behind the computer. 

Directed by Matt Cahoon who offers an insightful introduction, Theatre Kapow presented Megan Gogerty’s Feast live with select performances from Friday, September 25 through Sunday, September 27.  This show contains mature content and has its own share of dark notes.  Click here to learn more about Theatre Kapow’s 13th season, We Can Get through This and much more.

Feast is an intriguing blend of the classic and contemporary featuring to-the-minute pop culture references while unraveling an ancient mystery.  Cleverly self-aware through its philosophies and contextual principles, Carey Cahoon is the hostess of this part conversation and part confessional one-woman show in 75 minutes – no small feat for one person.  Opening night had a few technical glitches, but Carey didn’t miss a beat, picking up the moment she left off.

Feast acts as much a warning as a mystery and does not shy away from raw and difficult topics, but Carey’s candor makes these subjects easier to swallow.  From government to grief, Feast is not preachy or “political” per se, but you’d be remiss if the conversation doesn’t cause you to look inward.

Carey Cahoon is refined, biting, powerful, but most of all compelling as Agathae, an upper-class socialite getting to know the company she is keeping.  She handles this complex personality with zeal through her gripping, slow-burn performance and combined with Megan Gogerty’s innovative script, keeps the tension rising as revelations are unveiled.

The show could have been one note and a bit long, but Matt Cahoon’s discerning staging and Tavya Young’s ominous lighting made interesting use of the limited space and various props, especially for an evocative scene involving a curtain.  Multi-faceted, shrewd, and on its own calculated mission, Feast also markedly holds onto the famous proverb, ‘Revenge is a dish best served cold.’

Theatre Kapow presents Lauren Gunderson’s ‘Natural Shocks’ from October 23-25 Photo courtesy of Matthew Lomanno Photography/Theatre Kapow

Theatre Kapow continues its 13th season with a live stream of Lauren Gunderson’s Natural Shocks from October 23 – 25.  Click here for more information and for tickets.