REVIEW: SpeakEasy Stage Company’s ‘Heroes of the Fourth Turning’ delves deep

A fire pit and backyard party in the deep woods of Landon, Wyoming seems the perfect setting for fun and good conversation.  What could go wrong?

Certainly a relatable situation in contemporary society, Heroes of the Fourth Turning knows how to tackle difficult discussions in a heady and thought provoking way, but leaving the conversation between these five distinct individuals unscathed is seldom a realistic scenario.

Dayna Cousins, Nathan Malin, and Jesse Hinson in ‘Heroes of the Fourth Turning.’ Photo by Nile Scott Studios.

Directed by Marianna Bassham who previously directed SpeakEasy’s acclaimed People Places and Things, SpeakEasy Stage Company presents Will Arbery’s Heroes of the Fourth Turning through October 8 live and in person at the Calderwood Pavilion in Boston, Massachusetts.  This show has adult themes.  Click here for more information and tickets.

One of the greatest strengths of Heroes of the Fourth Turning is its multifaceted approach to each of its characters.  Each individual is complex and struggling in some way, but are rarely stereotyped and the production is not approached in a divisive way.  The show is most effective by keeping an open mind.

It is satirical and darkly humorous from its opening scene with Justin, in hunting gear and a plaid shirt, moments away from shooting a deer.  This scenario may seem indicative of some the preconceived notions of conservative thinking and the nature of its forthcoming characters, but it gradually thwarts any preconceived expectations.  Its strength is not in the black and white, but delves into the gray corners of each of its characters.

Arbery’s script does not shy away from hot button and controversial issues and the atmosphere can get realistically heated and uncomfortable as it would at any gathering in contemporary society.  It offers a glimpse of each character’s unique perspective while their struggle unfolds as well as their flaws.

Dayna Cousins, Nathan Malin, and Jesse Hinson in ‘Heroes of the Fourth Turning.’ Photo by Nile Scott Studios.

This cast of well rounded characters and their easy camaraderie is a convincing depiction of a group that has known each other for years, especially between Dayna Cousins as Teresa and Nathan Malin as Kevin.  The quirks they know about each other demonstrate their long history.  Visiting her hometown from New York, Teresa is the seeming intellectual of the group.  Portrayed with nerve and intensity, Teresa has adapted a way of know-it-all thinking that makes her cold and unable to see another viewpoint, stereotyping whoever is unlike her.  As she boldly discusses her opinions on the world, she lets loose an air of authority, waiting to be challenged.

Dayna Cousins, Nathan Malin, and Jesse Hinson in ‘Heroes of the Fourth Turning.’ Photo by Nile Scott Studios.

Nathan Malin, who showed off his impressive dark comedic skills previously in SpeakEasy’s Admissions and The Sound Inside, portrays comical, chatty, and tormented Kevin.  Always ready for a party and deep conversation, Kevin longs to know the real secret of happiness in life as he contends with deep seated guilt and loneliness.

Justin, host of the party and veteran, is portrayed with a mix of sympathy and an air of mystery by Jesse Hinson.  A seemingly compassionate individual and clearly affected by his past experiences, it doesn’t take long to see there is much more to his story.

Jesse Hinson, Dayna Cousins, and Karen MacDonald in ‘Heroes of the Fourth Turning.’ Photo by Nile Scott Studios.

Battling physical ailments is Emily, an angelic portrayal by Elise Piliponis.  Emily is sweet and nonjudgmental, but with her own strong and compassionate views.  Bearing the brunt of her daily challenges, Emily is insightful and introverted and would like to do anything but argue. 

Emily’s mother and much admired Gina, portrayed with charisma and decorum by Karen MacDonald, is no stranger to complex characters such as in SpeakEasy’s The Children and as Erma in Merrimack Repertory Theatre’s Erma Bombeck:  At Wit’s End.  MacDonald thrives here too, depicting a complicated political figure that has impacted each of the other character’s lives.

Jesse Hinson, Dayna Cousins, and Karen MacDonald in Heroes of the Fourth Turning. Photo by Nile Scott Studios.

Heroes of the Fourth Turning is a fascinating, darkly humorous, and concerning look at human nature and though the ending seems outlandish, the clever script offers an interesting perspective on what happens even among the supposed like minded.

SpeakEasy Stage Company presents Will Arbery’s Heroes of the Fourth Turning through October 8 live and in person at the Calderwood Pavilion in Boston, Massachusetts.  This show has adult themes.  Click here for more information and tickets.

REVIEW: OBIE Award-winning New Ohio ICE Factory’s ‘Isla,’ ‘Acheron: The River of Tragedy’ and ‘Body Through Which the Dream Flows’

The OBIE-Award winning New Ohio ICE Factory is celebrating its 29th year and has been presenting a number of innovative works each summer that continue through August 20 live and in person at New Ohio Theatre, 154 Christopher Street in New York City.  Virtual shows are available through August 27.  Isla, Acheron:  The River of Tragedy, and Body Through Which the Dream Flows are just a few of works presented during this annual festival.  Click here for further details, how to stream, and for tickets.

Photo courtesy of New Ohio Theatre

Bikes fly, a plane takes off, and cars zoom as a world unfolds in interactive shadows.  Produced by Hit the Lights Theatre, Isla is a documentary experience which combines shadow puppets, photos, animation, and live action to depict the warmth of Samantha Blaine’s homeland and the realities of the Cuban invasion she grew up in.  Her unique and personal journey with her mother and two free spirited sisters integrates nature and song to demonstrate the realities of invasion, family, and how everything is connected.  Featuring strong vocals as well as heartwarming and wistful performances by Samantha Blain, Marlena Mack, Tiffany Ortiz, Kristopher Dean, Mikayla Stanley, Claron Hayden, and Casey Scott Leach,  Isla is a fascinating production that explores heartache, division, political turmoil, pollution, and how Blaine’s world was shaken by communism. 

‘Isla’ Photo by Claron Haydon

A car crash and a tense, mysterious encounter lead to much more than either of these characters bargained for at a river at the Mexican-US border.  Directed by Martin Balmaceda, Spanish language production Acheron:  The River of Tragedy serves up a wealth of twists and turns in this sordid and at times clever tale.  This production has mature themes and is not for children.

A secretive and menacing presence, portrayed by Cinthia Perez Navarro, has entered the life of Leonardo, portrayed with strained intensity by Aline Lemus Bernal, a nattering, impulsive, and yet perpetual optimist who dreams of freedom as soon as that tumultuous river is crossed.  However, there is a heavy price for that dream and neither are savory characters.  Navarro’s searing intensity and cryptic glances make for some skittish moments while Bernal’s jaunty moves and brisk chatter never quite distract from Navarro’s distressing wrath.  Cinthia Perez Navarro and Aline Lemus Bernal are also behind the show’s sharp choreography.  Acheron:  The River of Tragedy is a gritty tale about the darker side of humanity in the pursuit of happiness.

Acheron ©Hugo Freeman With Aline Lemus Bernal (left) and Cinthia Perez Navarro (right)

Body Through Which the Dreams Flows also explores what it takes to achieve a dream.  In this case, it is achieving the Olympic dream as past footage of Olympic champions kick off the production.  Part documentary and part stage performance, creator Soomi Kim and company takes a look at the incredible world of gymnastics and the corruption and tragedy that has seeped into the sport and the lives of young girls in training.  What does it take to be a champion?  Sometimes the price is too steep.

What is really compelling about Body Through Which Dreams Flow are the reenactments of some real life footage as well as Soomi Kim and Alexandra Beller’s beautiful choreography, the sheer athleticism, and interpretation from athletes Lucy Meola, Olivia Caraballoso, Madison Rodriguez, Shayna Wilson, Nora Avci, and Ai Clancy.  Enhanced by Amanda Ringger’s haunting lighting, Body Through Which the Dream Flows is a stirring and eye opening production addressing the pressures and what seems like the impossible expectations from coaches while focusing on what past athletes have endured.  It also delivers a powerful message on the importance of a child having the chance to be a child.

New Ohio BTWtheDF Full cast_ Ai Clancy, Soomi Kim, Madison Rodriguez, Nora Avci, Shayna Wilson, Lucy Meola, Olivia Caraballoso

The New Ohio ICE Factory 2022 continues live and in person at the New Ohio Theatre through August 20 with virtual availability through August 27.  Click here for more information and tickets.

REVIEW:  Company Theatre’s rock musical ‘Hair’ a meaningful trip

Before cell phones, the internet, and alternate forms of digital communication invited people to text and talk on a computer screen as an alternative to seeing someone in person, Hair highlights the value of in person camaraderie, especially when things seem to be falling apart.  Set in war torn 1968 and focusing on a tribe of hippies that could possibly be drafted, emotionally and physically holding onto each other helps them cope in a world gone mad.

Company Theatre’s ‘Hair’ Shane Cunniff-of Quincy and Gilbert Dabaddy of Rockland Photo courtesy of Zoe Bradford/Company Theatre

Directed astutely by Zoe Bradford with bold musical direction by Robert McDonough, Company Theatre continues the 1960’s rock musical Hair through August 21 live and in person at the Company Theatre, 130 Accord Park Drive in Norwell, Massachusetts.  This show has mature themes and not appropriate for children.  Click here for more information and for tickets.

What is so prevalent in Company Theatre’s production of Hair is the natural camaraderie between cast members tackling a work that requires the cast to engage so closely and without reservations.  Hair is at times an immersive experience with some interaction with the audience and cast members occasionally marching down the aisles.   An entire cast warmly together onstage is uplifting albeit still a tad bit strange to witness.  It provides an escape from the world today with social distancing still not quite a thing of the past.

Company Theatre’s ‘Hair’ Julia Violet of Hanover Janaysia Gethers of Weymouth Elizabeth Nunnery of Hanover Shane Cunniff of Quincy and Tim Bevens of Hingham Photo courtesy of Zoe Bradford/Company Theatre.jpeg

Though the musical took place almost 55 years ago, there are clearly some parallels with contemporary society.  In a world with increasing protests, questions on gender, environmental concerns, women’s lib, the realities of war, racism, social injustice and societal division, Hair addresses many of these issues through song, humor, activism, and somberness.  It also features some silly and sometimes unnecessary content, but the intrinsic nature of its most popular songs give it a poignancy and relevance that the musical isn’t always given enough credit for.

Hair takes place, as the famous song proclaims, in the Age of Aquarius where one is destined for either greatness or madness.  With all the turmoil in the world, Hair seems to be embracing a bit of both. From Aquarius to Easy to Be Hard to Good Morning Starshine to Let the Sunshine In to its memorable title track, Hair delivers an energetic and steady stream of versatile music almost from beginning to end. 

Company-Theatre-Hair-Peter-Kirby-of-Norwell portrays Claude and Julia Violet of Norwell as Sheila the protest leader Photo courtesy of Zoe Bradford/Company Theatre

Not only does this young cast have strong vocals, but they also fit naturally into this era having done meticulous research with Bradford on the time period.  Some historical footage is sporadically shared during the production.  Charismatic Nolan Donato as Berger, the Tribe’s outspoken leader, is an engaging storyteller for the catchy song Donna.  Fun-loving Peter Kirby as mysterious Claude delivers a humorous rendition of Manchester, England, but Claude’s inner turmoil is what truly brings out Kirby’s dynamic performance.  Kirby also shines with the Tribe for I’ve Got Life.  Julia Violet is wonderful as the free spirited Sheila and offers a moving rendition of Easy to Be Hard.  Wearing slick 60s sunglasses, Jeff John-Phillipe as Hud candidly leads the Tribe in an affecting Colored Spade and later alone for Abie, Baby.  Shawn Verrier gets a lot of laughs as historical and controversial Margaret Mead.

The-Company-Theatre’s ‘Hair’ Jeff Jean Phillipe as Hud Peter Kirby as Claude and Shawn Verrier as Margaret Mead Photo courtesy of Zoe Bradford/Company Theatre

Love triangles are rampant and depicted quite humorously featuring Julia Violet as Sheila, Olivia Valianti, Emma Bergman, Amelia Kirshon, and Cate Healey in I Believe Love.  He’s in love with her and she’s in love with him and he’s in love with someone else.  Sally Aston Forrest’s funky and flowing choreography is at its best for the psychedelic Walking in Space enhanced by Dean Palmer Jr’s florescent lighting.

From beads to fringe to bell bottoms to slick 60s sunglasses to multi-pattered and flowing garments, costume designer Hannah Schuurman with set designer Ryan Barrow creates that groovy 60’s vibe featuring an embellished 60s theme truck, beaded passageways, and oriental rugs lining the stage.

Company Theatre’s rock musical Hair shows an era where people are anxious about the future and wondering where their destiny lies.  It does not stray too far from today’s struggles, but peace, love, and happiness are not a thing of the past.  Depicted by this young cast in a powerful, emotionally-charged rendition of Let the Sunshine In, perhaps the most important thing is holding onto each other.

Company Theatre’s ‘Hair’ Berger leader of the Tribe portrayed by Nolan Donato of Scituate and Sheila the protest leader portrayed by Julia Violet of Norwell Photo courtesy of Zoe Bradford/Company Theatre.jpeg

Company Theatre continues the 1960’s rock musical Hair through August 21 live and in person at the Company Theatre, 130 Accord Park Drive in Norwell, Massachusetts.  This show has mature themes and not appropriate for children.  Click here for more information and for tickets.

REVIEW:  Spectacular and uplifting, the world premiere of ‘The Neil Diamond Musical:  A Beautiful Noise’ is anything but a song sung blue

After watching The Neil Diamond Musical:  A Beautiful Noise, one thing is clear.  Every story should be told with brilliant swing backup dancers.

Directed shrewdly by Michael Mayer, The world premiere of The Neil Diamond Musical:  A Beautiful Noise continues its pre-Broadway run at Emerson Colonial Theatre in Boston, MA live and in person through August 7.  The show is two hours and 30 minutes including an intermission.  Click here for more information and tickets.

Tony Award® nominee Will Swenson as Neil Diamond – Then and the Swings Photo credit to DCM O & M/Emerson Colonial Theatre

Kicking off with surprising, self-deprecating humor, A Beautiful Noise might have been just what one would expect from a musical biopic, but Neil Diamond takes it to the next level.  Diamond’s music beginnings are a bit reminiscent of Carole King’s journey from creative songwriter delivering hits such as I’m a Believer to songwriter solo act. Part riveting, sing-along concert within a musical, part dive into Diamond’s past, but yet there is so much more to this solitary man.  Even if Neil Diamond’s songs aren’t at the top of your playlist, this wonderful musical helmed by Will Swenson’s stellar performance as then Neil Diamond just might end up being music to your ears.

Tony Award® nominee Will Swenson as Neil Diamond – Then Photo credit to DKC O & M/Emerson Colonial Theatre

One of the best selling musicians of all time and yet Neil Diamond is not what one might expect.  Now Diamond, portrayed with pensive fortitude by Mark Jacoby, is a rather gruff and unassuming man who does not like to talk about himself.  Many deep thinking individuals steeped in the pressures for success seem to also have what Neil Diamond calls ‘clouds’ and the show does not shy away from that, but this musical is much more of a celebration. 

Neil Diamond’s hit songs are explored, but on a more comprehensive and personal level.  Much of the production is a luminous foray into how songs like catchy Cherry, Cherry, Song Sung Blue, America which delves into Diamond’s Polish heritage, traditional Boston Red Sox song Sweet Caroline met with rousing applause and many others factor into this revered songwriter’s remarkable journey. 

Tony Award® nominee Will Swenson as Neil Diamond – Then and Tony award nominee Robyn Hurder as Marcia Photo credit to DKC O & M/Emerson Colonial Theatre

Charismatic and charming, it is difficult to imagine a better Then Diamond than Will Swenson.  A compelling singer with a dry sense of humor, Swenson has an indelible stage presence from the moment he first appears with his guitar.  He and Jessie Fisher as optimistic and sympathetic Jayne Posner have endearing chemistry and deliver a powerful and tense duet for Love on the RocksRobyn Hurder gives an electrifying performance of Forever in Blue Jeans as charming and soulful Marcia Murphey.  Bri Sudia in a dual role is comic gold as outspoken and caring record producer Ellie Greenwich from her very first line with Swenson as Then Diamond. Their snappy chemistry creates some of the production’s funniest and most inspiring moments.

Tony Award® nominee Will Swenson as Neil Diamond – Then with Swings Photo credit to DKC O & M/Emerson Colonial Theatre

Whether soaked in beautiful shadows or in a multi-colored glow on a concert stage, lighting designer Kevin Adams exacts each mood-induced scene masterfully.  Emilio Sosa’s lively and glittering costumes have a retro feel delving into the wild, vibrant patterns of the late 60’s and onward while Diamond’s progressive stage presence flaunt his signature fringe, suede, leather, and glittering sequins.  David Rockwell’s inviting and eye-catching set design enhances this dazzling musical experience which includes dynamic hanging light fixtures and a stunning, innovative multi-tiered, spot-lit band richly conducted by Sonny Paladino and Sinai Tabak.

Tony Award nominee Mark Jacoby as Neil Diamond – Now, Linda Powell as Doctor, and the Swings Photo credit to DCM O & M/Emerson Colonial Theatre

A Beautiful Noise is a clever, eloquent, and illuminating look at Diamond without taking itself too seriously.  Now to those incredible swing dancers that accompany Diamond on his journey.  Fueled by Steven Hoggett’s upbeat, athletic, and era-driven choreography, the Swings brightened each scene even its darker moments to make this effervescent musical journey feel so good.

The world premiere of The Neil Diamond Musical:  A Beautiful Noise continues at Emerson Colonial Theatre in Boston, MA live and in person through August 7.  Click here for more information and tickets.

REVIEW: Tension mounts for an endearing couple in Lyric Stage’s meaningful production, ‘The Light’

One night can change everything.

Genesis and Rashad think they know each other well.  This lovable couple jokes, knows each other’s likes, quirks, habits, and dreams, and yet in one night, they start to see each other in a new and unfamiliar way.

With multi-layer direction by Jacqui Parker, Lyric Stage Company presents Loy A. Webb’s The Light through June 26 at Lyric Stage Company live and in person in Boston, Massachusetts.  The show is 70 minutes long with no intermission and is Lyric Stage’s final show of the season.  This show contains mature topics.  Click here for more information and tickets.

Dominic Carter as Rashad and Yewande Odetoyinbo as Genesis in ‘The Light’ Photo by Mark S Howard

Surrounded by Baron E. Pugh’s inviting apartment setting which includes a purple couch, teal chairs, and colorful accents by Lauren Corcuera while sketches of Beyoncé, Maya Angelou, Michelle Obama and Ruth Bader Ginsberg hang overhead, Genesis and Rashad know this isn’t just any night.  It’s their anniversary.

Yewande Odetoyinbo as Genesis and Dominic Carter as Rashad in ‘The Light’ Photo by Mark S Howard

Elmer Martinez’s expressive lighting enhances the evocative nature of this production.  It is a meaningful show hinging on the strengths of its leads and Yewande Odetoyinbo as school principal Genesis and Dominic Carter as firefighter Rashad are more than up to the task.  While both characters are stubborn, Odetoyinbo’s grounded and witty nature as Genesis strikes an important balance with Carter’s optimistic and playful sense of humor as Rashad.  Carter is charismatically charming and leads in some of the production’s funniest moments while Odetoyinbo as Genesis is best as the tension builds.  It is a joy to watch as they zing each other, tease, dream about the future, debate, and share some of their most treasured memories together.  Their innate and compelling chemistry attract such a fondness for this couple that it is easy to get lost in what seems like their complete compatibility.

Dominic Carter as Rashad and Yewande Odetoyinbo as Genesis in ‘The Light’ Photo by Mark S Howard

However, realizations and revelations run deep on this special night. Webb’s clever script invites the audience into this couple’s intimate relationship in all its charms with some passing notes of underlying resentment while carefully laying its cards on the table and raising the stakes through every twist and turn.  Odetoyinbo and Carter are a true force as they approach the humor, tension and the difficult and serious topics with compassion. 

Yewande Odetoyinbo as Genesis and Dominic Carter as Rashad in ‘The Light’ Photo by Mark S Howard

The Light makes the most out of its 70 minute run time.  It has good pacing and escalates quickly, fueled by Odetoyinbo and Carter’s natural chemistry as the show veers toward its powerful conclusion.

Lyric Stage Company presents Loy A. Webb’s The Light through June 26 at Lyric Stage Company live and in person in Boston, Massachusetts.  The show is 70 minutes long with no intermission and is Lyric Stage’s final show of the season.  This show contains mature topics.  Click here for more information and tickets.

REVIEW:  NPR storyteller Kevin Kling reflects on the wonders of childhood in Merrimack Repertory Theatre’s lively and humorous ‘Best Summer Ever’

How can a childhood fib possibly be part of the best summer ever?

Amid Carter Miller’s vivid and dynamic lighting against a cloud covered sky as multi-instrumentalist and sound effect aficionado Robertson Witmer stands over a grill in an apron and sunny yellow sneakers ready to serve a hot dog, Merrimack Repertory Theatre’s Best Summer Ever might give you the urge for summer to arrive a little sooner.  Rowan Doyle’s breezy set design is not the alone in setting up the carefree days of summer.  In a button down shirt, dark pants and striking red and white sneakers relaxed in a lawn chair, popular storyteller and NPR contributor Kevin Kling is an open book ready to share an engaging, wild, and moving account of incredible hijinks during the life changing and unforgettable summer he experienced at 9 years old.

Kevin Kling and Multi-instrumentalist Roberson Witmer in Merrimack Repertory Theatre’s ‘Best Summer Ever’ Photo by Megpix/Meghan Moore.jpg

With compelling direction by Steven Dietz, Merrimack Repertory Theatre presents the east coast premiere of Best Summer Ever through Sunday, May 22 live and in person at Merrimack Repertory Theatre in Lowell, MA.  There will be no virtual show available and the show runs 70 minutes with no intermission.  Click here for more information and for tickets.

Kevin Kling knows how to tell a great story.  Full of liveliness and spontaneity, what sets Best Summer Ever apart from other productions is Kling’s unique and distinctive touch.  He shares personal anecdotes with plenty of asides, quirky details, and having experienced the show on Mother Day, it is easy to tell each tailored performance is fueled by the interaction and enthusiasm in the audience.  He has a great rapport with Rob who dives head first into some of the production’s sillier moments of Vikings, a purple snow cone gone awry, and chilling ghost stories.  Both seem a kid at heart and they work succinctly as Rob provides the soundtrack and dynamic mood-setting sound effects at a sometimes thrilling pace. 

MRT’s Best Summer Ever – Kevin Kling Photo by Megpix/Meghan Moore

Kling strikes a clever balance of adult reflection and falling right back into his childhood mindset of growing up in Minnesota.  He uses the phrase, ‘unstructured time’ and equating that with ‘boredom’ or in speaking about his farming grandparents, Kling exclaims, “If Grandpa could cut it off, Grandma could pickle it.”

The show also has its share of heartwarming family moments and explores the wonder and imagination of childhood that just might take you back too.

Silly moments with Kevin Kling and Roberson Witmer in MRT’s ‘Best Summer-Ever’ Photos by Megpix/Meghan Moore

Merrimack Repertory Theatre presents the east coast premiere of Best Summer Ever through Sunday, May 22 live and in person at Merrimack Repertory Theatre in Lowell, MA.  There will be no virtual show available and the show runs 70 minutes with no intermission.  Thursday, May 19 will be a Q and A Ask the Artists night.  Click here for more information and for tickets.

REVIEW:  The Game is Afoot for Greater Boston Stage Company’s world premiere of ‘Miss Holmes Returns’

Set in Victorian England, 221B Baker Street London is once again shrouded in a murder mystery.  However, the famous detective has another face this time…the lovely Miss Holmes.  With darting eyes taking in every last deduction in an ornate red and black waistcoat, this poker faced beauty seems incapable of being distracted from a case.  Portrayed with steely charisma by Marge Dunn with a knack for deadpan humor, Miss Holmes carries herself with ceaselessly logical and observational prowess, but this particular case just might be over her head. 

Richly written by Christopher M. Walsh and meticulously directed by Weylin Symes, Greater Boston Stage Company with Don Fulton New Works Project presents the world premiere of psychological murder mystery thriller Miss Holmes Returns live and in person at Greater Boston Stage Company in Stoneham, MA and now available virtually through Sunday, May 8.  The show is approximately 2 hours and 15 minutes with one 15 minute intermission.  Click here for more information and tickets.

The cast and crew of Greater Boston Stage Company’s ‘Miss Holmes Returns’ Photo credit to Nile Scott Studios/Greater Boston Stage Company

In the tradition of Sherlock Holmes or most murder mysteries, Miss Holmes Returns begins immediately with a murder as David Ramedios’s suspenseful violin-tinged score haunts the scene.  A man is murdered and Sherlock and Watson must assess the case as a mysterious woman associated with a group with a seemingly checkered past portrayed by Shubhangi Kuchibhotia, flees the scene.

Boasting an esteemed cast, the dynamic between each character remains faithful to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s classic characters.  Sherlock is not quite complete without a Watson and Shonna Cirone fits the bill as good humored, intuitive, and sharp Dr. Dorothy Watson.  The show shrewdly uses the flipped gender of this duo to its advantage. Both outspoken and resolute feminists, Dunn and Cirone share some fascinating and fun moments observing how these two differing, yet complementary personalities approach attempting to solve the crime.  They complement each other much like the classic Holmes and Watson duo and their untimely friendship. 

Alexander Platt as Mycroft Holmes and Marge Dunn as Miss Holmes Photo credit to Nile Scott Studios/Greater Boston Stage Company

Alexander Platt, in a dual role, depicts Sherlock’s stern and demanding brother Mycroft with a mysterious and villainous air.  Platt’s darker take on the character makes him much more fascinating. Cheryl McMahon, who was a delight in SpeakEasy Stage Company’s clever Admissions, is wonderful in a dual role which includes the feisty and humorous Mrs. Hudson, the landlady of 221B Baker Street.

Paul Melendy, who led the stellar cast of Greater Boston Stage Company’s recent The 39 Steps, impressively portrays warm and quirky Adam Worthington while Joshua Wolf Coleman as Inspector Geoffrey Lestrade of Scotland Yard assigned to the case, is enthralled by Sherlock’s keen observations on the scene.

Marge Dunn as Miss Holmes and Paul Melendy as Adam Worthington Photo courtesy of Nile Scott Studios/Greater Boston Stage Company

Fans of previous Sherlock adaptations will appreciate the various Easter eggs subtly scattered around set designer Katy Monthei’s vintage and stately scenery which includes colorful, vintage lamps, a selection of well worn books, double tier shelving, and floral-adorned furniture.  From Worthington’s rich green cravat to Lestrade’s black bowler hat to the detailed lace and velvet costumes to Sherlock’s amazing Victorian boots, costume designer Deidre McCabe Gerrard brilliantly captures the sophistication of Victorian England.

Miss Holmes Returns boasts fastidious dialogue as well as clever and comical moments as the plot thickens.  The show may be a bit lengthy in its deductions, but its various twists and turns are well worth finding out whodunit.

Greater Boston Stage Company with Don Fulton New Works Project presents the world premiere of psychological murder mystery thriller Miss Holmes Returns live and in person at Greater Boston Stage Company in Stoneham, MA and now available virtually through Sunday, May 8.  Click here for more information and tickets.

REVIEW:  Comparing music biopic ‘Respect’ and anthology series ‘Genius:  Aretha Franklin’

Maybe it was because I went in with the highest of expectations. 

When casting was announced for the Aretha Franklin film biopic, Respect, the anticipation for this film soared.  A cast that included Academy award-winner Forrest Whittaker, multi-Tony award winner Audra McDonald and starring Academy Award-winning Jennifer Hudson as Aretha, it seemed this film could do no wrong.  In many ways, it didn’t and in other ways, it did.  The movie has my respect, but can’t quite pinpoint exactly why it wasn’t as spectacular as it should have been.

Though Respect is no longer in theatres, it is streaming on HBO Max, VOD, and other platforms.  National Geographic’s Genius:  Aretha Franklin is available on Hulu

This is not to say that Jennifer Hudson did not deliver a phenomenal performance.  Her dynamic vocal range could run circles around almost any singer today.  Just to see her take on the theme song to TV classic, The Jeffersons for Live in front of a Studio Audience:  All in the Family and The Jeffersons, her sass and brilliance shines through even for those select few minutes.  On a larger scale, she performed The Color Purple on Broadway plus watching her sing a live Prince tribute to Purple Rain alongside Cynthia Erivo (who also went on to embody the Queen of Soul in Genius:  Aretha Franklin) the night Prince passed away was probably one of the most endearing versions I have ever heard next to the Purple one himself.

It was the kind of vocals needed to match Aretha Franklin’s superlative falcon soprano voice that mastered an aria for Luciano Pavoratti during a live performance at the 1998 Grammy Awards to the bluesy Chain of Fools to the magnificence of her version of Amazing Grace.

 Jennifer Hudson is unquestionably an incredible talent and yet, watching Respect, it was difficult to envision Aretha Franklin.  Perhaps if Hudson was a less recognizable or not such an established talent in her own right, it might have been easier to picture it.  After watching Respect and Genius:  Aretha Franklin back to back, it was easier to envision Cynthia Erivo in the role of Franklin.  Not only does Erivo look more like Franklin and her distinct vocals a bit closer to Aretha’s, but she also possesses that determination and sass that Aretha was well known for.  However, Erivo also had a lot more room to flourish during an entire season.

Though both adaptations are worth watching, it seems like Genius had too much time to tell Franklin’s story and Respect did not have enough.  Respect sometimes seemed choppy and there are scenes that were featured in Genius that would have been better explored in RespectRespect was once a 3 hour film cut down to 2 hours and 25 minutes, but it would have better with more time.  Genius had plenty of time to tell its story, but some parts lingered on events a bit too long.

Hudson delivers a surprisingly subdued performance compared to the strong presence Franklin displayed in life.  Hudson masters more of Franklin’s natural instinct and wisdom into music as she navigates the music industry from her early misses to her meteoric success from Franklin’s version of the hit song, Respect (which is an Otis Retting song that Franklin undoubtedly made her own). 

Both Respect and Genius:  Aretha Franklin feature epic casts.  A notable portrayal was that of the young version of Franklin, portrayed by Skye Dakota Turner in Respect.  Turner possessed more of the charm, spunk, and valor that Aretha was known for.  It is easy to see Aretha has a song in her heart from the very first scene, especially due to director Liesl Tommy’s vivid cinematography.  Marc Maron delivers an amazing performance as legendary and steadfast music manager Jerry Wexler though the part is not a great departure from other roles he has delivered over the years.  Forrest Whittaker in Respect and Courtney B. Vance in Genius:  Aretha Franklin skillfully portray Franklin’s fiercely protective, stubborn, and seemingly strict preacher father.  Each actor hones in on different aspects of C.L. Franklin’s strong character.  Audra McDonald is dynamite as Barbara Franklin even within her brief screen time.  She delivers a memorable performance at the piano with young Aretha for Irving Kahal’s I’ll Be Seeing You.

Respect is also set up like the standard biopic rather than choosing an unconventional way of sharing excerpts from Franklin’s life.  Much like recent biopics such as Walk the Line, Bohemian Rhapsody, and Judy, Respect uses this narrative structure from fame to childhood and in sequence and in this instance, surrounded by depictions of Martin Luther King Jr, Barry White, Smokey Robinson, Dinah Washington and Sam Cooke along the way.  Though it is an effective formula, it is a bit of a clichéd one.  Genius:  Aretha offers a fresher and unconventional perspective into Franklin’s life delving into an experience Franklin and her father survived together, leaving the viewer to guess what could be next. 

Both biopics have their strengths, but if you are looking for a fresher and more believable take featuring some lesser known experiences on Franklin, dive into Genius:  Aretha Franklin.   Respect features an incredible cast worth watching for its masterful songs featuring a paramount scene featuring Aretha Franklin recording her signature Amazing Grace not to be missed.  Either way, the Queen of Soul’s dynamic life is worth telling twice.

REVIEW:  ‘Aimee Victoria’ love beyond boundaries

Since the pandemic started, loneliness has increased exponentially.  People have been scrambling to find a fulfilling form of communication since quarantine took effect in 2020 and any miscommunication or absence of a loved one quickly became fear and worry of their well being.  Even today, people are still struggling with how best to communicate and see each other in person without the fear of illness.  For Aimee and Victoria at the start of the pandemic, communication had to come more from the heart than from the head as they celebrate their anniversary apart.

Natasha Ofili as Aimee and Stephanie Noguras as Victoria Photo courtesy of Olivia Long/Aimee Victoria

Directed aptly by Chrystee Pharris and written by Hannah Harmison and Mikail Chowdhury, Aimee Victoria is a short film created entirely remotely during the pandemic in 2020.  The film is approximately 10 minutes long.  Click here for more information and how to view this film.

Aimee Victoria explores how Natasha Ofili as Aimee and Stephanie Nogueras as Victoria, a deaf couple, cope with being separated by the pandemic on their first anniversary.  As many have difficulty communicating their feelings under the best of circumstances, Aimee and Victoria tackle this obstacle in a sweet depiction of love beyond boundaries. 

Stephanie Nogueras as Victoria Photo courtesy of Olivia Long/Aimee Victoria

Through the film’s isolating setting and circumstances, Pharris navigates panic, depression, and struggle in these characters as they readjust to this new way of living.  For example, Aimee struggles just to get out of bed at a loss for what is next as so many have felt in the past couple of years.

Natasha Ofili as Aimee Photo courtesy of Olivia Long/Aimee Victoria

Aimee Victoria transcends not only the journey of these two people, but the significance of love beyond any obstacles and expressing to anyone, whether friend, family, or significant other, what is truly important.  Finding a way to carry that love with them no matter where they are.

Aimee Victoria is available now on streaming platforms and in theatres.  Click here for more information on how to view this short film.

REVIEW:  ‘Freestyle Love Supreme’ an astounding good time

A roaring crowd greeted hip-hop comedic dynamos, Freestyle Love Supreme opening night at the Emerson Colonial Theatre in Boston on Friday, March 18.  Packed with plenty of self-proclaimed Freestyle Love Supreme super fans, witnessing this unique, interactive, Tony award-winning production feels more like attending a rock concert.  The anticipation leading up to it was palpable and I immediately got the sense I was in for a truly remarkable experience.    

Before In The Heights or Hamilton, there was Lin Manuel Miranda’s Freestyle Love Supreme which continues live and in person at the Emerson Colonial Theatre, 106 Boylston Street in Boston, MA through April 2.  The show is approximately 90 minutes with no intermission. Click here for more information and tickets.

L to R: Lin-Manuel Miranda, Kaila Mullady AKA Kaiser Roze, Anthony Veneziale AKA Two Touch and Aneesa Folds AKA Young Nees Photo credit to Joan Marcus

No wonder Freestyle Love Supreme is beloved seeing that the show still features some of the founding cast members since the group started in 2004 and went on to be featured in the self-titled Hulu documentary and on Broadway.  Founding member Chris Sullivan AKA Shockwave wows with phenomenal hip hop beats (and seemingly impossible) sound effects, Aneesa Folds AKA Young Nees can perform powerful vocal gymnastics to anything that is thrown Young Nees’s way, and founding member Anthony Veneziale AKA Two Touch is a great and welcoming host.  Not only can every cast member deliver clever quips at the drop of a hat, but the show is friendly, interactive, and inclusive.

From L to R: Chris Sullivan AKA Shockwave, Richard Baskin Jr AKA Rich Medway, Anthony Veneziale AKA Two Touch and Aneesa Folds AKA Young Nees Photo credit to Joan Marcus.

Is Freestyle Love Supreme a big party?  A resounding yes, but every performance is unique so it is best enjoyed just knowing the basics.  Don’t feel pressure to participate, but the more enthusiasm and participation, the better the show.  Trust me.  Even in masks which Freestyle Love Supreme deems ‘consonant killers,’ the audience is invited to demonstrate what they are saying in creative and amusing ways.  It is fun, has heart, and there wasn’t a dull moment.

The show is tailor made for the locals boasting a slew of signature Boston and pop culture references.  Listen closely for the inventive and masterful delivery of these brilliant, high-speed rappers.  The possibilities are endless.  They also aren’t shy about what they say onstage.  This may sound a bit like Whose Line is it Anyway and Wayne Brady was part of the cast at one point, but accompanied by an intimate live band, Freestyle Love Supreme is just on another level.  For example, one audience member suggested the word, ‘Yankees’ and it was amazing to see how just many ways that one word was demonstrated led by the vocal styling of hilarious Jay C. Ellis AKA Jellis J.

The cast of ‘Freestyle Love Supreme’ Photo credit to Joan Marcus

Freestyle Love Supreme is hilarious, relatable and brilliantly fast-paced, but what makes the show most endearing was not so much the spectacle, but how much the cast does not hesitate to share their personal experiences as each show is shaped into a carefully tailored crowd pleaser. To think for the first time ever, the show’s full set was not delivered by opening night!  I can’t imagine having a better time.

Freestyle Love Supreme continues live and in person at the Emerson Colonial Theatre in Boston, MA through April 2.  Click here for more information and tickets.