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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

REVIEW: Tensions run high at sea in Moliere in the Park’s searing ‘pen/man/ship’

Aboard a whaling ship in 1896, two powerful forces cross paths that could cause a disaster of their own doing.  Christina Anderson’s pen/man/ship is a rich, quietly tense production that deepens within the intriguing script’s discourse and reflections and flows into the production’s dark setting.  Self-righteousness, dominance, and trust carry heavy weight as Anderson’s multi-faceted characters become more complex as the plot thickens.

Skillfully directed by Lucie Tiberghien in English with French subtitles, Moliere in the Park’s theatrical film, pen/man/ship continues live streaming for free through April 24.  RSVP is required and the show is two hours with a five-minute intermission.  Click here for more information and how to stream the show.

Aboard the Ship in ‘pen/man/ship’ Photo courtesy of Moliere in the Park

Capturing the illusion of being on a ship without the cast actually being on one is no easy feat, but attractive visual illustrations by Rocco DeSanti and effective sound effects by Daniel Williams depict large groups and cast members sitting side-by-side do not look out of place or jarring to the flow of the story.  Subtle technical details such as the gentle sway of the ship seem natural with the cast aboard.  One particularly innovative moment shows Jacob reflected in a mirror next to Ruby to make it appear as if he is standing in front of her.  The film flows so well from scene to scene without the quirks that zoom can sometimes cause. 

Kevin Mambo as Charles Photo courtesy of Moliere in the Park

Widow Charles Boyd (Kevin Mambo) and his son Jacob (Jared McNeill) embark on their first maritime voyage to Liberia when Jacob meets seasick Ruby Heard (Crystal Lucas-Perry) and is immediately attracted to her mysterious ways.  Mambo as Charles pens reflections on his voyage by candlelight but his real motivations are unwritten. 

Pen/man/ship boasts an impressive cast including Kevin Mambo as obstinate, domineering, and manipulative Charles and Crystal Lucas-Perry as mysterious, headstrong, blunt, and stubborn Ruby sterling in their portrayals.   Both of these strong characters are more alike than they care to admit.  Mambo and Lucas-Perry are eloquent in their discourse and both have a commanding presence in their own unique way.  Their slights and verbal exchanges become riveting as the show progresses.  One is persuaded by faith and the other by facts, but both seem too emotionally invested for that to be entirely true.

Jared McNeill as Jacob Photo courtesy of Moliere in the Park

Jared McNeill delivers an amiable performance as modest, shrewd, loyal, and sympathetic Jacob who struggles with his heart and his head.  McNeil and Lucas-Perry’s chemistry is earnest, yet complex and McNeill and Mambo have a warm and wary father and son camaraderie.  McNeill is particularly shrewd at seamlessly evoking his inner conflict with Mambo, evident right across McNeill’s face.

Bearded and dressed as a crew member faithful to the period, Postell Pringle portrays humble, fair-minded, and altruistic crew member Cecil.  Pringle has a welcoming presence as Cecil who often defuses tension as the show progresses.  Forthright, experienced, and respectful, he is well-spoken and has the discernment to navigate each character just as well as any ship.

Postell Pringle as Cecil and Crystal Lucas-Perry as Ruby Photo courtesy of Moliere in the Park

Pen/man/ship is a thought-provoking exploration of what motivates people who have the best intentions and how stubbornness, isolation, and fear can wield an ugly course and a stunning revelation. 

Moliere in the Park’s theatrical film, pen/man/ship continues live streaming for free through April 24.  Click here for more information and how to stream this free show.

REVIEW: Celebrity Series of Boston @home presents mesmerizing musical trio Dreamers Circus

One of the main attractions of virtual concerts is being able to discover new music anywhere in the world.

Inside Copenhagen’s iconic Round Tower that houses a church, library, and an astronomical observatory, three musicians deliver a mesmerizing musical experience as Dreamers Circus.  Warmly introduced by violinist Rune Tonsgaard Sorensen, this performance was filmed in Round Tower’s immaculate library as Swarm, a floating exhibit created by female Denmark artists Baskets4Life, contributes to the concert’s surreal setting.

Celebrity Series of Boston welcomes award-winning musical trio Dreamers Circus streaming through Thursday, April 15.  The concert premiered as a live streamed concert on Friday, April 9 and includes a Q & A with the group.  Click here for more information and for tickets. 

Comprised of violinist Rune Tonsgaard Sorensen, pianist and accordionist Nikolaj Busk, and Ale Carr on Nordic Cittern, Dreamers Circus draws from classical, Swedish, and Nordic rhythms to weave a collection of playful, breezy, and mesmerizing selections well suited to the band’s name while providing a haven in this dark time.

Among the many highlights of this performance is the quirky originality and chipper rhythms in their telling song, The World is Waiting from their latest album, White Gold.  The sunny piano and whistling medley exudes a lighthearted anticipation of what’s to come.  Pentamime delves into hypnotic rhythms, suspense, and building intensity while City Gardens, from their album Rooftop Sessions, offers a fascinating and intricate mix of soothing rhythms, bright notes, as well as haunting, eclectic, and electronic sounds that brings out the song’s unique vibrancy.

Busk introduces Kitchen Stories, a rich number that fluctuates between lively and tranquil while showcasing Sorensen’s nimble artistry with the violin and Busk’s switch to an accordion before joining together for a memorable folk reel.  

Hjerter To/Fangden Og Hans Pumpestok has a bright, catchy, and fanciful medley as Busk pulls double duty performing on the piano and the accordion.  Introducing what Carr calls “a poor man’s viola,” Carr duets with Sorensen for traditional Swedish song, Folkrothvalsen.

The concert builds to a thrilling finale with A Room in Paris and Prelude to a Song.  While A Room in Paris delivers an upbeat and joyful urgency, Prelude to the Sun provides a perfect blend of sonic and dreamlike harmony.

Not to be left out is the engaging and laid back camaraderie between the musicians as they take the audience on an intriguing and inviting musical journey that could suit any musical taste. Celebrity Series of Boston @home presents Dreamers Circus on demand through Thursday, April 15. Click here for more information and tickets.

Celebrity Series of Boston will present their annual Stave Sessions kicking off on Wednesday, April 21. Click here for a closer look at their season and ways to support Celebrity Series of Boston.

REVIEW: Christmas Revels 50th virtual anniversary delivers mirth, merriment, and reflection

For what marks its 50th year, Christmas Revels has been entertaining audiences by delving into vast cultures and recreating historical moments and holiday traditions with drama, dance, humor, and song.  Christmas Revels made its debut in 1971 and though it is limited to the screen this year, this engaging production brought a mix of new material while glimpsing some of their best performances in their long history. 

Father Christmas makes an appearance in The Christmas Revels annual “Mummers Play” Photo courtesy of Revels

Having never seen Christmas Revels before, it was a lot to take in and quite a feat to encapsulate the best moments in such a broad time frame.  Catching glimpses of some of their special guests, returning favorites, and new faces was an innovative way to recap a half century of productions, but it also had me longing to see more, especially as I glimpsed some of their best, most enduring performances.

Christmas Revels is still available to stream on-demand through Thursday, December 31.  Click here for more information and how to support future Revels productions.  The 50th Anniversary of Christmas Revels is also available as a 2-CD set.  Click here for more information.

Statues: Paula Plum as James Otis and Richard Snee as Josiah Quincy Photo courtesy of Revels

Harvard University’s Sanders Theatre is as majestic and welcoming as ever even as it fills for a virtual audience.  The dark, wooden stage is softly-lit with two stately, marble Greek statues sitting on each end as a grand, dimly-lit bronze chandelier floats overhead.  Hosted by acting dynamos Paula Plum and Richard Snee as James Otis and Josiah Quincy who were immortalized as those legendary statues on the Harvard University stage and the only souls who have seen every Revels performance and then some, Christmas Revels blends humor, stirring moments, and a wistful trip down memory lane to witness some of Revels’ earliest performances as it gradually became what it is today.  

From humorous moments to joyful carols such as 1984’s Yorkshire Here We Come A Wassailing, Go Tell it On the Mountain with Janice Allen and Joy to the World featuring choruses from Christmas past and virtual Christmas present, and a serene Dona Nobis Pacem featuring renowned cellist Yo-Yo Ma, Christmas Revels does not predictably explore its past in sequence, but in clever moments such as merging a past and more recent performance of a song  by various performers, setting a different tone to its enduring meaning.

Yo-Yo Ma with Audience: Cellist Yo-Yo Ma performs the peace round “Dona Nobis Pacem” with members of the Revels Virtual Audience Photo courtesy of Revels

One of the best and most exciting examples of this was in 1997’s and 2015’s Lord of the Dance featuring David Coffin, Neena Gulati, and Patrick Swanson as they explored eastern and western Hindu traditions.  Audience members were on their feet as enthusiastic performers led audience members to spill out into the Sanders Theatre’s lobby singing along.  1993’s Kukko dance featuring the Karelian Folk Ensemble stood out as one of the more exotic cultures while 1997’s Niska Banja featuring the Revels Women, New England Romanian Ensemble, and Cambridge Symphonic Brass Ensemble revealed beautiful and distinctive garb.  2007’s Shopsko, choreographed by Petre Petrov with Mladost Folk Ensemble, The Village Band, and Cambridge Symphonic Brass Ensemble offered memorable upbeat and bustling Bulgarian dance. 

Johnny Nichols, Jr. and Carolyn Saxon perform the spiritual “Hold On” in a segment linked to Maya Angelou’s poem “Still I Rise”, exploring the ongoing journey towards justice and equality Photo courtesy of Revels

 Janice Allen and the Silver Leaf Gospel Singers took the stage in 2000 for a stunning, acapella version of Amazing Grace while 1986’s impressive Appalachian Clogging with Ira Bernstein and the Big Gap String Band and Jean Ritchie delivered a captivating Kentucky folk carol, Christ Was Born in Bethlehem.  Another indelible moment rested in a powerful medley of 2000’s Underground Railroad featuring Sheila Kay Adams and Janice Allen, Jordan Ashwood, and Cyrus Brooks, Silver Leaf Gospel Singers, Roaring Gap Chorus, Rocky River Children, Carolyn Saxon, and Johnny Nichols, Jr.

Christmas Revels’ ever changing repertoire is too numerous to mention every highlight, but there are plenty of surprises.

The detailed, rustic sets and the meaningful, meticulous costumes ranged from festive to humorous to haunting.  It was marvelous to witness the virtual technology that was such a big part of this production.  The virtual choir delivered moving, crisp carols and seeing the creators including founder John Langstaff and Revels Directors Patrick Swanson and George Emlen united in present time without actually being onstage provided some comfort that technology can still make some things possible. 

Christmas Revels is still available to stream on-demand through Thursday, December 31.  Click here for more information and how to support future Revels productions.  Click here for more information on The 50th Anniversary of Christmas Revels available as a 2-CD set. 

REVIEW: GBH’s inviting virtual ‘A Christmas Celtic Sojourn’ maintains warmth and tradition in 2020

2020 has been many things, but traditional is not one of them.  However, this year’s virtual A Christmas Celtic Sojourn brought back holiday traditions, beautiful performances, reflections, stirring carols, and dare I say a bit of normalcy to 2020.

With a selection of live performances and an option to watch on-demand, GBH’s A Christmas Celtic Sojourn was brought into your home in a warm, inviting, and spirited atmosphere.  From a majestic, candlelit cathedral in Ireland to a festive outdoor step dance in Ottawa, Canada, it unconventionally included all the elements of what is beloved about this annual New England show and somehow broadened its possibilities worldwide. 

Host Brian O’Donovan and fiddle player Jenna Moynihan at Rockport Music Photo credit to Dan Jentzen

Brilliantly directed by Jenna Worden, A Christmas Celtic Sojourn offered seven live streaming opportunities to watch virtually from your home Tuesday, December 15 at THE VETS in Providence, RI, Wednesday, December 15 at Hanover Theatre in Worcester, MA, Thursday, December 17 at The Zeiterion Performing Arts Center in New Bedford, MA, Friday, December 18 at Shalin Liu Performance Center in Rockport, MA, Saturday, December 19 at The Cutler Majestic Theatre in Boston, MA, and Sunday, December 20 in GBH Studios in Boston, MA  These locations are usually where A Christmas Celtic Sojourn tours annually.  A bonus encore presentation also occurred on Christmas Eve. 

GBH’s virtual A Christmas Celtic Sojourn is still available.  Click here for more information and to enjoy the show on-demand through January 2, 2021.  A Christmas Celtic Sojourn would also like to hear what you thought of the program by visiting their Facebook page.

Celtic harpist, pianist, and Assistant Music Director Maeve Gilchrist Photo credit to Dan Jentzen

Though a portion of the performers were at home, audiences were treated to harmonies created from multiple locations nationally and internationally while enjoying festive, international scenery.  For a person who has lacked the chance to travel the world this year, it was a more than welcome opportunity to take a glimpse and to share in some international traditions. 

From the stirring, candlelit opening of beloved carol, O Come Emmanuel sung in Latin by Cathy Jordan from gorgeous Sligo Cathedral in Ireland, A Christmas Celtic Sojourn transported audiences to Ireland and to other places around the world as they were unable to bring Ireland to the stage.  The show also boasted dueling harmonies simultaneously sung from Vermont, Scotland, and various parts of Massachusetts. 

Host Brian O’Donovan brought a mix of humor, melancholy, and wistful reflections toward this difficult year, engaging storytelling, and fond tidings.  Though this year has presented its challenges, A Christmas Celtic Sojourn still managed to keep the rituals and long-awaited music right at your fingertips delivering jubilant, soulful moments while still embracing winter’s dark and sacred stillness.

Music Director and multi-instrumentalist Seamus Egan with fiddlers Jenna Moynihan and Maura Shawn Scanlin Photo credit to Dan Jentzen

Thanks to Rockport Music, multi-instrumentalist and Music Director Seamus Egan, Assistant Music Director, Celtic harpist, and pianist Maeve Gilchrist, Bouzouki and Harmonium player Owen Marshall, guitarist Conor Hearn, and fiddle players Jenna Moynihan and Maura Shawn Scanlin returned to perform cheerful medleys and energetic jam sessions filmed in Rockport Music at Shalin Liu Performance Center in Rockport, Massachusetts.  Seamus Egan’s brilliance shone through as he reached for multiple instruments for separate songs and at one point reaching for a banjo for a joyful freestyle. 

Fiddle players Jenna Moynihan and Maura Shawn Scanlin with Bouzouki and Harmonium musician Owen Marshall Photo credit to Dan Jentzen

A traditional wassail in Edinburgh, Scotland, rollicking sing-along carols and dance from A Christmas Celtic Sojourn’s past, a peerless lullaby carol involving a newborn, original song and stirring new renditions of classic carols, a lighthearted percussive dance from Michigan by Nic Gareiss, and returning step dancer and choreographer Cara Butler reveling in her backyard to a jubilant tune in Ottawa, Canada are just some of the highlights of this carefully-executed, moving production.  There were plenty of welcome surprises not to be revealed here.

Spending an awful lot of time at home and not in the car, music is less of a tradition in my house.  GBH’s  A Christmas Celtic Sojourn created a haven of holiday comfort in song that though we are far apart, some rituals and traditions can still stay the same.

GBH’s virtual A Christmas Celtic Sojourn is still available.  Click here for more information and to enjoy the show on-demand through January 2, 2021

REVIEW: Hub Theatre Company of Boston makes virtual ‘Much Ado about Nothing’ something special

It was love in the time of Covid.

Hub Theatre Company of Boston puts a 2020 twist on Shakespearean romantic-comedy classic, Much Ado About Nothing.  This lighthearted production not only battles the perils of love, but a modern-day pandemic. 

Shakespeare was no stranger to the times we are living in today.  He watched theatres close during the Great Plague of London in the 1600s and used his time wisely, writing King Lear, MacBeth, and Antony and Cleopatra during that time of isolation.  Tailoring this romantic comedy into 2020 isn’t too far of a stretch, especially in the humorous and clever manner in which Hub Theatre approaches these changes, not taking themselves too seriously.

Hub Theatre Company of Boston offered live streamed performances of Shakespeare’s Much Ado about Nothing until November 21 on a pay-what-you-can basis.  Astutely directed and adopted by Bryn Boice, the virtual performance is still available to watch on Hub Theatre Company of Boston’s Facebook page.  Click here to learn more about Hub Theatre Company of Boston and their future productions.

It is difficult to put together a show in the best of circumstances so Hub Theatre of Boston smartly steered into the skid by presenting this classic production, developing what theatre would have considered obstacles into strengths using the power of Zoom.  Romantic partners kiss (offstage), couples and groups schedule rendezvous in breakaway rooms, and masks are weaved right into the story varying from silly animals to refined Venetian costume masks.

Part of what keeps Much Ado about Nothing a relevant, insightful, and easily modern piece is its foundations inspired endless inspiration for contemporary rom-coms.  Adding tech talk and Covid-speak such as ‘turn off the cameras,’ ‘swipe right,’ ‘privacy issues,’ ‘your mic is on,’ and ‘venmo to payment’ does not seem too out of place onstage or on a laptop.  Its exuberant and mischievous tone steeped in romance, gossip, tricks, and trappings have universal and timeless appeal. 

This lively cast zealously adapts the production’s modern charm as they deliver wit, humor, and ripening drama in equal measure.  As Hero (Micheline Wu) is getting ready to marry Claudius (Jaime Hernandez), mutual friends decide to do some matchmaking of their own with sworn singles Benedick (Jon Vallente) and Beatrice (Lauren Elias). 

Wu is natural, charming, and sympathetic as blushing Hero and she shares sweet chemistry with Hernandez who delivers a robust performance as lofty and serious Claudio.  Sarcasm, wit, and banter are not lost on outspoken, headstrong, and stubborn Elias and Vallente, who exhibit crackling chemistry as Beatrice and Benedick.  One favorite line Hub Theatre gloriously did not change was when Benedick asks Beatrice, “You take pleasure then in the message?”  Beatrice replies, ‘Yea, just so much as you may take upon a knife’s point.’  Their bickering is as biting as ever.

Nettie Pickering brings gravitas to her portrayal as Don Pedro and providing contemporary comic relief are the hackers or in traditional terms the Watchmen led by officer Dogberry (John Kinsman) boasting a Boston accent.  Kinsman’s conceited and controlling Dogberry is amusing on his own, but shines in scenes with his watchman, portrayed with streetwise sass by Borachio (Lorraine Kanyike) and Conrade (Jessica Golden).   

Chelsea Kerl’s dynamic, edgy costumes and Justin Lahue’s bold digital design keep the show bright and buoyant even in its darkest moments…and there are a few.  Michael John Ciszewski has a flair for portraying dastardly characters and his elitist, tyrannical depiction of Don John is no exception.

The revelations hold up and pay off in Hub Theatre Company of Boston’s modern adaptation of Much Ado about Nothing.  A recorded version is still available on Hub Theatre Company of Boston’s Facebook page.  The production is on a pay-what-you-can basis.  Click here for more information on Hub Theatre Company of Boston and their eighth season.

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

Like many of us, I miss theatre.

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

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

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

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

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

Reagle Music Theatre The Sound of Music So Long, Farewell

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

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

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

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

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

Reagle Music Theatre Entracte performers

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

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

Reagle's Rick and Sarah

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

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

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

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

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

 

REVIEW: A compelling, trailblazing journey through Boston Ballet’s rEVOLUTION

Having been thrilled with Boston Ballet’s Full on Forsythe at around this time last year (see the review here), it was with great excitement to witness Boston Ballet’s rEVOLTION, a dynamic performance featuring three innovative works that transformed ballet forever.

From catchy R&B to electronica to soul, Full on Forsythe was a showstopper, dispelling any preconceived notions about ballet.  Truly ‘dance on the edge,’ Boston Ballet’s rEVOLUTION explores three works in ballet’s history where visionary and brilliant choreographers paved the way toward a new and unforgettable form of ballet, breaking a few rules along the way.  Each versatile piece in rEVOLUTION builds in intensity while progressively becoming more contemporary and well deserving of the audience’s thunderous applause at its conclusion.

Boston Ballet continues rEVOLUTION through Sunday, March 8 at Citizens Bank Opera House in Boston, Massachusetts.  The show runs two hours including two intermissions. Click here for more information and tickets.

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With music by revered Russian composer Igor Stravinsky, choreography by George Balanchine, and colorful staging by Paul Boos, Agon seems traditional featuring a live orchestra conducted by Mischa Santora.  However, right down to the simple costuming including streamlined white shirt and black tights and accompanied by Agon’s triumphant, horn-infused rhythm, it becomes a piece unlike anything traditional ballet has seen before. More artistically-focused than plot driven, agile dancers shift into impressive and sometimes jaw dropping shapes while spinning joyfully.  Each piece features athletic and daring moves, but the Pas de Deux between Lia Cirio and Paula Arrais is a particular highlight as they curve and move together en point and as one.  It ends like it begins and stands as its own work of art.

Ballet takes a bit more of an eclectic, modern tone in Glass Pieces with choreography by Jerome Robbins and music by Philip Glass.  From Jennifer Tipton’s dramatic lighting to the expressive and colorfully rich costumes by Ben Benson, Glass Pieces is still the gem it was when it premiered during Boston Ballet’s Genius in Play in 2018.  Taking place in what looks like a subway station, Glass Pieces has a palpable rhythm and urgency as dancers are unleashed into a celebration of dance in the city.  In ordinary life, there is joy.

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Lia Cirio and John Lam perform a tender and stirring duet while dancers move in shadow during Glass’s romantic song, Facades.  However, it is easy to see Robbins’s influence during Glass’s catchy, drum-infused Funeral as male and female dancers urgently form two groups before encircling each other and coming together.  Robbins also choreographed the musical classic, West Side Story.  From a plain landscape into a spectrum of color, Glass Pieces transforms into a splendid piece of artistry as dancers perform in a variety of styles in silhouette, reflective, and in unison.

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As silver headphones dangle from the ceiling aloft a black backdrop as starting with a jolt, it’s clear that In the Middle Somewhat Elevated would take ballet to another level.  Featuring music by Dutch composer Thom Willems in collaboration with  Lesley Stuck, thrilling lighting by Jennifer Tipton, and choreographed by William Forsythe, In the Middle Somewhat Elevated is a cutting edge masterwork clearly ahead of its time.   The industrial, tribal feel of Thom Willems music as dancers shift in shadows create a haunting intensity.  Featuring vigorous, jaw dropping footwork bending in what seems like impossible angles, this fast paced performance keeps you riveted from start to finish.  Lia Cirio, Patrick Yocum, Chyrstyn Fentroy, Maria Alvarez, Ashley Ellis, Lawrence Rines, Irlan Silva, Mallory Mehaffey, and Abigail Merlis seem part of a seamless machine as dancers spin and swing, hitting every last eccentric beat.

Boston Ballet Warm Up

Boston Ballet’s The Warm Up Photo by Jeanne Denizard

The Boston Ballet continues to offer an opportunity to learn more about ballet through The Warm Up, an interactive display located in the lobby.

The Boston Ballet continues rEVOLUTION at the Boston Opera House, 539 Washington Street in Boston, Massachusetts through Sunday, March 8.  Click here for more information and tickets.  For future events and more, follow Boston Ballet on Facebook and Twitter.

REVIEW: Celebrity Series of Boston presented John Pizzarelli Trio and Veronica Swift for Nat King Cole tribute and more on Valentine’s Day

Since Jazz and love doesn’t follow a set of rules, they came together for Valentine’s Day.

Love lit up Harvard University’s Sanders Theatre in Cambridge, Massachusetts on Valentine’s Day as Celebrity Series of Boston presented ‘For Centennial Reasons: 100 Year Salute to Nat King Cole’ on Friday, February 14 at 8 p.m.  Whether longing for love, falling in love, or losing in love, Veronica Swift and the John Pizzarelli Trio brought a jazz-infused twist to classic love songs and American Standards from Gershwin, Billie Holiday, Cole Porter, and especially Nat King Cole for one night only.

Veronica Swift and John Pizzarelli are currently on tour.  Click here for Swift’s upcoming shows and here for John’s future tour dates.  Click here for more on Celebrity Series of Boston and their upcoming events.

Festive purple curtains embellished Sanders Theatre’s beautiful, softly-lit stage.  Dressed in an effervescent pink jumpsuit that changed shades in different lighting, jazz vocalist Veronica Swift kicked off the evening with a drum-infused rendition of Cole Porter’s breezy classic, Let’s Do It (Let’s Fall in Love).  Each musician had an opportunity to show off their stellar talent which included pianist Julius Rodriguez, bassist Phillip Norris, and drummer Aaron Kimmel.

Swift offered a casual, low key presence as she shared childhood stories of growing up touring with her jazz singer mother, Stephanie Nakasian and her father, bebop pianist Hod O’Brien.  Swift’s versatile set had its share of joyous and stirring moments which included a poignant version of Ella Fitzgerald’s Everytime We Say Goodbye dedicated to her father as her voice swelled in quiet emotion.  She skimmed the scales in an electrifying version of Billie Holiday’s Come Rain or Come Shine and an anguished Prisoner of Love.

Veronica Swift and pianist Julius Rodriguez Photo credit: Robert Torres

At just 25 years old, she is a spirited and contemplative performer.  Jazz aficionados would appreciate her natural ability for scatting showcased in a fast paced, ebullient rendition of Billie Holiday’s I Can’t Believe that You’re in Love with Me.  Though I am not a big jazz fan, it is easy to appreciate the liberties jazz takes to transform these classics into a refreshing, eclectic new sound.

With a great deal of humor, a relaxed atmosphere, and in a sharp gray suit, avid storyteller John Pizzarelli delved into the history of Nat King’s Cole music while sharing some of his own history along the way.  He revitalized a few of Nat King Cole’s hits and shared a few anecdotes in tribute to Nat King Cole’s centennial.  American Jazz singer-songwriter and musician Nat King Cole was one of the most successful artists on Capital Records’ roster and his music has inspired generations.

Pizzarelli is currently on tour for John Pizzarelli Trio’s most recent album For Centennial Reasons:  100 Year Salute to Nat King Cole.  The title seems a subtle play on Nat King Cole’s I Love You (For Sentimental Reasons) which Pizzarelli performs tenderly later in the show.  Aside from Pizzarelli who can no less shred on guitar, Pizzarelli was joined by spectacular musicians Isaiah Thompson on piano and Mike Karn on bass.  The John Pizzarelli Trio’s collective sound had the rhythm of a moving train.  Each piece came alive as the instruments seem to “chat” with each other especially during Hit That Jive, Jack and a lively rendition of Honeysuckle Rose.

Celebrity Series of Boston presented the John Pizzarelli Trio and Veronica Swift at Sanders Theatre.

Bassist Mike Karn, John Pizzarelli, and pianist Isaiah Thompson Photo credit: Robert Torres

The trio explored Lorraine as Pizzarelli shared a legendary story about how the song turned Nat King Cole from a pianist into a singer, though it is a rumored tale.  Nat King Cole was part of the Nat King Cole Trio and it was nice to see Pizzarelli reflecting that with his own John Pizzarelli Trio, each member getting their own chance to shine.

Pizzarelli’s delivered an uplifting set which included a few love songs.  His guitar hummed during a cheerful rendition of Nat King Cole’s Make Believe as lightning fast pianist Isaiah Thompson commanded the keys.  Pizzarelli showed off his side winding guitar style in his own song titled Nat King Cool and his scatting skills during Nat King Cole’s Frim Fram Sauce.  The evening’s lighthearted vibe continued with the humorous Save the Bones for Henry Jones, the vibrant I Would Do Anything for You, and one of Nat King Cole’s most popular singles, Straight Up and Fly Right.

Celebrity Series of Boston presented the John Pizzarelli Trio and Veronica Swift at Sanders Theatre.

John Pizzarelli, bassist Mike Karn, and pianist Isaish Thompson Photo credit: Robert Torres

Swift returned to the stage for a few Gershwin classics that included a wistful Someone to Watch Over Me.  She and Pizzarelli delivered a wonderful rendition of They Can’t Take That Away from Me, I Got Rhythm, and their lauded encore Route 66.

As a big Nat King Cole fan, I would have liked to have heard Nat King Cole’s Stardust and his mega-hit Unforgettable, but it simply didn’t fit into an evening consisting of mostly the brighter side of love and its boundless possibilities.

Celebrity Series of Boston is just getting 2020 started with a number of performing arts musicians that includes Bobby McFerrin, Milos, the Jason Palmer Quartet, Lyon Opera Ballet, and the return of Alvin Ailey.  Click here for the full list of upcoming events.