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.

 

REVIEW: Warmth and humor reign in Company Theatre’s traditional ‘Steel Magnolias’

One of my favorite lines from Robert Harling’s classic comedy drama, Steel Magnolias is stated by sarcastic and dour Ouiser, portrayed here by Ellen Peterson. “I do not see plays, because I can nap at home for free. And I don’t see movies ’cause they’re trash…and I don’t read books, ’cause if they’re any good, they’re gonna make ’em into a miniseries.”

This type of straight shooting and self deprecating humor is what has made Steel Magnolias thrive over the last 30 years.  Steel Magnolias has been adapted so many ways from stage to screen, but what Ouiser leaves out is her unmitigated opinion about a partial true story.

Company Theatre Steel Magnolias

Company Theatre continues with the comedy drama ‘Steel Magnolias’ through Sunday, February 16.  Photo courtesy of Company Theatre

Robert Harling’s Steel Magnolias originated as a screen play in 1987 and is based off of real people Harling knew in Louisiana.  In the popular 1989 film (which included a parade of famous actresses including Dolly PartonOlympia DukakisDaryl Hannah,  and Shirley MacLaine), M’Lynn was portrayed by Sally Field and Julia Roberts was Shelby.  Harling based M’Lynn on his own mother and Shelby (whose real name was Susan) on his sister.

In that same vein, who better to direct Steel Magnolias than someone native to this popular play’s southern setting?  Directed with local flair by Natchitoches native Johnny Nichols, Jr, The Company Theatre presents Steel Magnolias through Sunday, February 16 at the Company Theatre in Norwell, Massachusetts.   Click here for more information and tickets.

Unlike the film, the play is set entirely in Truvy’s Beauty Spot in 1980’s Louisiana.   This bittersweet tale follows a group of vastly different women who find strength in each other through hardships and triumphs with a great deal of understanding, humor, and hairspray.

Director Johnny Nichols, Jr not only adds local attributes unique to the show’s setting such as the voice of local DJ Rick Terrell, but the 80s come alive with music distinctive to the era and various references such as Princess Grace, Cher, and Elizabeth Arden.  Costume designer Paula Ninestein and Wig Master Ryan Barrow emphasize the era with fringe and florals highlighting each woman’s distinct personality while Truvy’s is an expansive salon that includes a boom box and  a wall to wall mix of pastel floral and lace on busy wallpaper and curtains.  However, what was most refreshing about this era is to look back at a time before the internet where people shared time, recipes, and hair tips in person.

Company Theatre Steel Magnolias cast 2

From L to R: Juliana Dennis as Clairee, Ellen Peterson as Ouiser, Karen Cavallo as M’Lynn, Stephanie Wells as Truvy, Hannah Cunniff as Annelle, and Abilgail Chase as Shelby (center) Photo courtesy of Company Theatre

Though other productions have put a daring spin on Steel Magnolias over the years, Company Theatre’s production is traditional, warm, and thrives on the growth between these primarily outspoken southern women.  With her signature blond locks and a gift for gab and gossip, Stephanie Wells depicts fun loving salon owner, Truvy.  As a big fan of the movie, it is hard to imagine this part for anyone other than Dolly Parton, but in a black fringe blouse and pumps, Wells puts her own spin on sweet, welcoming, and confident Truvy.  Her scenes with Hannah Cunniff as mysterious and humble Annelle make for some quirky, heartwarming moments.  Wearing an awkward smile, Cunniff portrays Annelle with quiet unpredictability.

Ellen Peterson’s sardonic and darkly amusing Ouiser delivers some of the most entertaining moments in the show.  A bit softer than other productions but no less amusing, Peterson depicts Ouiser more dramatic than sour.  Ouiser has a casual style, but costume designer Ninestein make an intriguing statement by having her also wear a distinctive string of pearls, showing Ouiser may not be quite who she seems. Her sarcastic facade rings true with the priceless line, “I’m not crazy.  I’ve just been in a bad mood for forty years.”

Widow Clairee, portrayed with warmth and stylishness by Juliana Dennis, is a down to earth perfectionist with an interest in keeping up with the times while Ouiser couldn’t be bothered.  With good intentions and a knowing smile, Clairee amuses herself by teasing Ouiser and their exchanges create their own spark.

However, the most compelling relationship exists between Karen Cavallo as M’Lynn and Abigail Chase as M’Lynn’s daughter Shelby.  Though Sally Field depicted M’Lynn with a tough sadness, Cavallo’s M’Lynn exudes a sweet demeanor and quiet anxiousness. Cavallo is impressive navigating this complicated character.  Chase as Shelby seems cast on the younger side, but exhibits growing maturity as the show progresses.  It is easy to see why they are mother and daughter and not just by their remarkable resemblance.  Cavallo is sensible while Shelby is impulsive and as with any mother-daughter relationship, one minute they exchange nagging barbs and the next, nurturing affection.

Company Theatre photo booth

Company Theatre’s Beauty Spot photo booth in lobby Photo courtesy of Jeanne Denizard

Rewind the clock and take a trip south to Truvy’s for Company Theatre’s Steel Magnolias at Company Theatre, 30 Accord Park Drive in Norwell, Massachusetts through Sunday, February 16.  Click here for more information and tickets, here for details on their upcoming “Galentine’s Day” and here for more on their 2020 season.

 

 

REVIEW: SpeakEasy Stage Company and Front Porch Arts Collective delivers a no holds barred, twist-filled ‘Pass Over’

The setting could be anywhere.  However, that feeling of impending doom cannot be shaken as SpeakEasy Stage Company and Front Porch Arts Collective presents the twist-filled, semi-interactive, and award-winning Pass Over by Antoinette Nwandu continuing through Sunday, February 2 at the Calderwood Pavilion in Boston, Massachusetts.  This show is not appropriate for young children for explicit language and adult themes.  Pass Over is an hour and a half with no intermission.  Click here for more information and tickets.

Directed cleverly by Monica White Ndounou, Pass Over is part absurdist drama that tackles a number of social issues including racism and police brutality and weaves them together into a culturally meaningful narrative. Its theatre-in-the-round and semi-interactive setting helps pull the audience into the drama and never lets go.

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Hubens “Bobby” Cius and Kadahj Bennett in SpeakEasy Stage’s production of ‘Pass Over’ Photo by Nile Scott Studios

Alternating swiftly from humorous to harrowing,  Pass Over mixes the real with the seemingly imagined, often leaving you wondering whether what you are seeing onstage is actually happening.  Kathy A. Perkins’s lighting and pulsing sound by Anna Drummond seamlessly navigates the distinct, intense mood of this piece.

This suspenseful tale comes with simple staging by Baron E. Pugh and Wooden Kiwi Productions with only a nondescript lamp post and chain link fencing.  Anything more than that would be distracting.  Costume designer Chelsea Kerl keeps Kitch and Moses local with Red Sox caps and Celtics gear.

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Hubens “Bobby” Cius and Kadahj Bennett in SpeakEasy Stage’s production of ‘Pass Over’ Photo by Nile Scott Studios

The joint charisma of the two main characters is what hinges on the show’s credibility and they have that in spades.  The magnetic camaraderie, natural rhythm, and gift for physical humor between pensive Moses, portrayed by Kadahj Bennett, and funny, fast-talking Kitch, portrayed by Hubens “Bobby” Cius, gives this show its intriguing vibe as they joke, dream, plot, and wait on a deserted street corner.  They keep each other strong as they dream of rising up to their full potential and escape what is holding them back.  “Pass Over” means freedom.

Lewis D. Wheeler’s over-the-top performance enhances the palpable tension in this production.  As Mister, he plays an intricate part and takes on more than one role in this thought provoking tale.  In a beige suit and panama hat while carrying a wicker basket, Mister’s back story faintly resembles little red riding hood as he creates an impossible situation.

Speakeasy Stage - Lewis-as-Mister

Lewis D. Wheeler in SpeakEasy Stage’s ‘Pass Over’  Photo by Nile Scott Studios

Without being preachy, Pass Over delivers a powerful message while exploring some of the darker, hypocritical sides of human nature and treats its serious themes with sensitivity.

SpeakEasy Stage Company and the Front Porch Arts Collective present Pass Over through Sunday, February 2 at the Calderwood Pavilion at the Boston Center for the Arts, 527 Tremont Street in the South End of Boston, Massachusetts.  Click here for more information and tickets and here to learn more about the Front Porch Arts Collective. The Children and Bright Star still coming up as part of SpeakEasy Stage Company’s 2020 season.

REVIEW: Merrimack’s Repertory Theatre’s ‘Maytag Virgin’ a captivating mix of sweetness and substance

Maytag Virgin has a charming way of airing out the laundry.

Loss and laundry is just the tip of the iceberg in Audrey Cefaly’s moving romantic comedy, Maytag Virgin.  Poignantly directed by Eleanor Holdridge and presented by Merrimack Repertory Theatre (MRT) Maytag Virgin continues through Sunday, February 2 at Liberty Hall in Lowell, Massachusetts.  This show is not suitable for young children.  Click here for more information and tickets.

Merrimack Repertory Theatre's 'Maytag Virgin' set

‘Maytag Virgin’s’ inviting set Photo courtesy of Jeanne Denizard

Though this romantic comedy may at first seem as fluffy as its laundry, Maytag Virgin is full of honesty, raw humor, and substance featuring just two cast members as seemingly enigmatic widowed neighbors with enough sassy chemistry and smart dialogue to keep the show on spin.  Sound designer Scott Stauffer’s upbeat, fiddle-laden score effectively enhances the show’s humorous and bittersweet story line.

Merrimack Repertory Theatre Brazda and Adkins in lights

Kati Brazda and David Adkins. Photo by Meghan Moore.

Set in Southern Alabama, Maytag Virgin focuses on next door neighbors who find common ground despite their vast differences.  Kati Brazda is engaging as outspoken, sensitive, and newly widowed Lizzie, a goldmine of chatter who suffers from the unfamiliarity of living alone.  In a messy updo, Brazda captures Lizzie’s awkward anxiousness and need to control her surroundings through her frank and excitable demeanor.  Having only lost her husband only a month ago, it is easy to see how her grief and loneliness is seeping into her everyday life.

David Adkins is amiable as stoic and good humored Jack, Lizzie’s new neighbor she politely calls Mr. Key.  He is quiet and more familiar with solitude.  They discuss everything from neighborhood gossip to religion to their sad stories.  Both are stubborn and guarded, dealing with their grief in different ways.  However, what makes these two fascinating is not so much in the things that they say to one another.  It is what they reveal about each other through slight and subtle actions that could easily go unnoticed, but Brazda and Adkins do well to reveal more about themselves in a glance or a long pause much more than in their insightful dialogue.

Kris Stone and Katie Scibelli’s memorably stylish scenic design puts its own spin on white picket fences featuring pristine transparent houses that add dimension and vastness to the surrounding southern Alabama neighborhood.  Gleaming props mixed with Karen Perlow’s beautiful lighting create some compelling landscapes.

Merrimack Repertory Theatre Brazda and Adkins Christmas

Kati Brazda and David Adkins. Photo by Meghan Moore/Merrimack Repertory Theatre

Lizzie has never used a dryer and Jack doesn’t know what to do without one.  It’s never to too late to start again.

Maytag Virgin’s opening night featured a pre-talk with author Audrey Cefaly and a post show reception featuring food by Mill City Barbeque as well as crackers, beverages, and various desserts.

Merrimack Repertory Theatre continues the romantic comedy ‘Maytag Virgin’ through Sunday, February 2 at Liberty Hall, 50 East Merrimack Street in Lowell, Massachusetts.  Click here for tickets and upcoming special performances during the show’s run.  Click here for more information on Merrimack Repertory Theatre’s 2019-2020 season.

 

 

 

REVIEW: Mikko Nissinen’s ‘The Nutcracker’ remains a visually-stunning journey for all ages

With enchanting special effects and performances that would endear any holiday pessimist, Mikko Nissinen’s The Nutcracker once again returns with an entire world seeped in the fondest of daydreams for adults and children alike. With the enhancement of internationally-renowned Finnish lighting designer Mikki Kunttu and Tchaikovsky’s classic score conducted by Misha Santora, The Nutcracker is as picturesque as ever, emphasizing its mark as an annual holiday institution.

Boston Ballet The Nutcracker cast Photo by Liza Voll

The 150 dancers making up ‘The Nutcracker’s’ spectacular cast. Photo credit to Liza Voll/Boston Ballet

The castle on a cloud is only the prelude to an enchanting journey as Mikko Nissinen’s The Nutcracker returns to the Citizens Bank Opera House with new surprises.  An elegant party, a valiant battle, and a variety of spectacular toys springing to life is just part of Clara’s exquisite journey when she is gifted an intriguing Nutcracker for Christmas.

The Boston Ballet takes the stage for Mikko Nissinen’s The Nutcracker continuing through Sunday, December 29.  The Boston Ballet features discount youth pricing. Click here for more information and for tickets.

The Boston Ballet The Nutcracker

Stage view Photo courtesy of Jeanne Denizard

Robert Perdziola’s meticulously-detailed set and costume design not only create an inviting atmosphere whether inside a fire lit, multi-dimensional living room with a towering, emerald-lit Christmas tree or surrounding an outdoor fire pit where locals can keep warm, but also creates a pristine wintry wonderland where you can almost feel the chill.  The ornate period costumes are gorgeous as women are adorned in velvet, silk, and ribbons and the men are dressed to the nines. Sweet, sophisticated, yet playful Clara, portrayed impressively by Emma Blake, is lovely in her pale blue coat, bonnet hat, and fur hand warmers.

Boston Ballet The Nutcracker Party Scene by Liza Voll

Party scene. Photo credit to Liza Voll/Boston Ballet

Christmas Eve is a magical time, especially for children.  Paulo Arrais unveils some of that magic as charismatic and confident showman, Drosselmeier.  Mustachioed Arrais is a grand presence as he delivers visions sprung from the imagination, showing children anything is possible.

Boston Ballet Nutcracker Ricardo Santos and Ji Young Chae by Rosalie O Connor

Harlequin Doll and Ballerina Doll. Photo credit to Rosalie O’Connor/Boston Ballet

Among the most memorable moments is a Soo-bin Lee’s convincing portrayal as a Ballerina Doll, her rigid movements out of the box a fascinating sight.  Tyson Clark’s Harlequin Doll and Sun Woo Lee’s life size, exotic bear are exuberant, playful, and among the most highly- anticipated scenes in this production.

The appearance of the Nutcracker Prince, depicted by a chivalrous and gallant Derek Dunn, is extraordinary surrounded by bright, multicolored, shimmering ornaments in a magnificent tree.  His appearance highlights one of the most spectacular and exciting special effects of the production that will not be revealed here.  His encounter with Alec Roberts’s bold and at times humorous Mouse King is thrilling and partially what makes The Nutcracker a children’s classic.

Boston Ballet 'The Nutcracker' Mouse King and Wooden Soldiers by Liza Voll

Alec Roberts as the Mouse King and a valiant battle Photo credit to Liza Voll/Boston Ballet

Seo Hye Han and Tigran Mkrtchyan are visions as The Snow Queen and King on a sparkling silver sleigh as surrounding dancers joyfully flock and frolic in a glorious scene.  Seo Hye Han and Tigran Mikrtchyan have a sweet chemistry as they join together in a captivating dance.

Boston Ballet The Nutcracker Snow fairies by Liza Voll

An enchanted winter wonderland. Photo credit to Liza Voll/Boston Ballet

Under glimmering chandeliers is a group of remarkable, electric performances which is less story progression and more showcase driven presented by the iconic and sparkling Sugar Plum Fairy, portrayed with finesse by Chisako Oga.  Two pairs of Spanish dancers portrayed by Ekaterine Chubinidze, Haley Schwan, Daniel Cooper, and Benji Pearson, sway and twirl in a dazzling spectacle.  Chyrstyn Fentroy and Paul Craig receive a rousing applause as a pair of exotic and athletic Arabian dancers while Desean Taber, Daniel Durrett, and Fuze Sun show off their flexibility and athletic prowess as a trio of leaping Russian dancers.

Among the most humorous scenes is an adorable appearance by Bo Peep accompanied by a mischievous black sheep and Graham Johns as towering and surprising Mother Ginger.

Boston Ballet The Nutcracker By Liza Voll

Clara, portrayed by Mia Steedle, Nutcracker Prince portrayed by Tigran Mkrtchyan, and reindeer by students of Boston Ballet School Photo credit to Liza Voll/Boston Ballet  

Whether seeing Mikko Nissinen’s The Nutcracker for the first time or returning to enjoy it all over again, The Boston Ballet is as elegant and magical as you remember with enough refreshing additions to endure as a splendid holiday treat for the entire family.

The Boston Ballet takes the stage for Mikko Nissinen’s The Nutcracker continuing through Sunday, December 29 at the Citizen Bank Opera House, 539 Washington Street in Boston, Massachusetts.  These performances feature group rates and discount youth pricing.  Click here for tickets and for more information on Boston Ballet’s 2020 season.

 

 

REVIEW: Greater Boston Stage Company’s classic ‘Miracle on 34th Street’ delivers a gentle nudge of holiday cheer

Miracle on 34th Street is a simple tale with a big message.

During this time of year, faith is a predominant theme within many holiday productions such as faith in humanity, in God, and in a “right jolly old elf.”  From Twas the Night Before Christmas to A Christmas Carol, the holiday spirit shines through, a temporary feeling that really should last all year long.

Directed with charm by Ilyse Robbins, based on the book by Valentine Davies, and adapted by Mountain Community Theatre, Greater Boston Stage Company’s Miracle on 34th Street continues through Sunday, December 22 at Greater Boston Stage Company in Stoneham, Massachusetts.  Click here for more information and tickets.

Set in New York City, Miracle on 34th Street is about a mysterious man who becomes a last minute replacement for Santa Claus at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.  He befriends Susie Walker, a precocious little girl portrayed with grace and charm by Addison McWayne, who is far too sensible for childish things including believing in Santa Claus.  Natalie Wood rose to fame in her role as Susie Walker with Maureen O’Hara as Doris Walker in the beloved 1947 film.

Greater Boston Stage Company Miracle on 34th Street cast

Jon Savage’s vibrant set design includes a lovely, towering, and whimsical Christmas tree that contributes its own unique part in the tale.  The famous parade is just one of the events that take place in the aisles during this semi-immersive production.

Though this production of Miracle of 34th Street is not considered a musical, it does have its share of musical moments.  From gift wrapping to sweeping the store shelves, the store workers do more than whistle while they work, swaying and lifting their voices in a variety of spontaneous Christmas carols such as The 12 Days of Christmas, Sleigh Ride, and The Nutcracker Suite led by the mirthful vocal stylings of David Jiles Jr. as Mr. Adams.

Packed with a likeable cast of characters including a lively and noteworthy performance by Gary Thomas NG as Alfred, Miracle on 34th Street shows it is sometimes better to see with the heart rather than the head.  Gary Thomas NG is captivating as Alfred, a humble and gleeful janitor full of holiday cheer.  NG depicts Alfred with a song in his heart as he spontaneously leaps for joy across the stage.  His comic scenes with William Gardiner as gentle, jovial and unfailingly forthright Kris Kringle are a particular highlight as they compete in board games and engage in candid conversations.  With warm charisma and that signature twinkle, William Gardiner fills Kris Kringle’s red suspenders with finesse and of the many iconic conversations he has with McWayne’s Susie, their playful dialogue about imagination is just wonderful.

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In a red coat and distinctive 50s red lipstick, Sara Coombs portrays Doris Walker, an astute and shrewd businesswoman.  It is amusing to watch Walker and her “mini-me” daughter Susie as they inadvertently duplicate each other’s mannerisms.  Susie is seemingly as mature, confident, and shrewd as her elegant mother.  Showing a great rapport with each cast member, Michael Jennings Mahoney is refreshing as fun loving and laid back Fred.  Barlow Adamson exacts Macy store manager Mr. Shellhammer’s nervous and priceless tense expressions prevalent during the holiday season.

Having last seen Juliet Bowler in an affecting performance at Flat Earth Theatre’s Not Medea, it is no surprise that Bowler show off her talents as insecure, strict and secretive Leslie Sawyer.  Her cold disdain and devious manipulations reach Grinch-like proportions.  Sara Gazdowicz also takes an amusing turn as a fast talking, accent-rich NYC cop.

Greater Boston Stage Company Miracle on 34th Street Leslie, Kris, and cast

Juliet Bowler as Mrs. Sawyer, Barlow Adamson as Mr. Shellhammer, Sara Coombs as Doris Walker, and William Gardiner as Kris Kringle Photo courtesy of Nile Scott Studios/Greater Boston Stage Company

While some performances demonstrate holiday spirit in pomp and spectacle, Greater Boston Stage Company delivers that feeling with a gentle nudge of heartwarming cheer.  Greater Boston Stage Company’s Miracle on 34th Street through Sunday, December 22.  Click here for more information and tickets.  Click here to learn more about Greater Boston Stage Company and their upcoming 2020 productions.

REVIEW: Company Theatre’s ‘A Christmas Carol’ immersive, haunting, and filled with holiday spirit

The Company Theatre’s haunting, immersive, and meaningful A Christmas Carol is a frequent holiday tradition with good reason.  So much more than the Charles Dickens classic, the Company Theatre calls on the holiday spirit through subtle nuances in story and song and the exceptional festivities only become more fervent each December it takes the stage.  Sure, the Company Theatre weaved in the holiday spirit in other December productions such as last year’s Charles Dickens classic, Oliver the Musical (featuring Matt O’Connor as Oliver who returns as adorable Scrooge as a young boy) but this thought-provoking tale of charity, compassion, and forgiveness is the pinnacle holiday treat.

Company Theatre A Christmas Carol

Company Theatre’s ‘A Christmas Carol’ is sold out! Photo courtesy of The Company Theatre

The Company Theatre presents the Charles Dickens classic A Christmas Carol now through Sunday, December 22 at the Company Theatre in Norwell, Massachusetts.  This show is sold out.  Click here for their recently announced 2020 theatre season and how to support The Company Theatre.

A Christmas Carol is the classic tale of Ebenezer Scrooge, a wealthy, penny-pinching old miser who has no use for Christmas until his past comes back to haunt him on Christmas Eve.

With LED lighting and cinematography, heightened special effects, singing Carolers flooding the aisles,  enviable costumes by Kathryn Ridder, and snow glimmering over that bright, familiar cobblestone street where Scrooge must face his worst fears, A Christmas Carol is certainly a feast for the eyes.  The uplifting overture, orchestrated by Steve Bass and arranged by Steve Rogers, is tinged in popular Christmas carols, a preview of the wealth of carols and additional songs added to this festive production.  Ding Dong Merrily on High, O Come O Ye Faithful, Hark the Harold Angels Sing, Joy to the World, and Noel are among the production’s musical highlights.

Company Theatre A Christmas Carol Owen George as Tiny Tim as Bill Carter as Bob Cratchit

Owen George as Tiny Tim and Bill Carter as Bob Cratchit Photo courtesy of Zoe Bradford/Company Theatre

Directed by Zoe Bradford and Jordie Saucerman, The Company Theatre’s production of A Christmas Carol also sets itself apart by weaving in the beauty of the season within the excitement of its joyous ensemble cast.  Each cobblestone street character is as enthralling as the immediate cast, each with their own individual story and holiday motivation within the context of this beautiful London setting.  The action is so immersive that it can hide the immediate cast a bit.  One of the most endearing moments is the return of a lively trio running around the London streets holding up mistletoe for kisses as well as the uplifting and rollicking period dance numbers choreographed with style by Sally Ashton Forrest.

This production boasts a lively cast led by Phillip Hebert as miserly Ebeneezer Scrooge.  Hebert exacts Scrooge’s deep, searing signature growl, his sterling vocals cutting into the soul.  Scrooge toils, scowls, and his dire sense of humor is not lost on his cheerful and generous nephew Fred, portrayed with a crisp accent and inviting demeanor by Christopher Spenser.  In spectacles and a sour huff, Hebert is best in his dark gruffness. However, his overall interpretation becomes jollier as the show progresses as his arms stubbornly swayto the music, offering a lighter, increasingly heartening Scrooge.

Company Theatre A Christmas Carol Owen George as Tiny Tim and Philip Hebert as Scrooge

Owen George as Tiny Tim and Philip Hebert as Ebenezer Scrooge Photo courtesy of Zoe Bradford/Company Theatre

Bill Carter portrays humble, guarded, and sympathetic Bob Cratchit.  Hebert and Carter skillfully develop palpable tension as Carter, leery, speaks to Scrooge out of turn.  Kris Connolly portrays loyal and eternally patient Mrs. Cratchit.  Connolly and Carter deliver heartwarming scenes with their large, beautiful family including sweet Owen George as Tiny Tim as their voices lift for the bright and original song, Noel.

Adorned in a gorgeous lit crown and veil, Nicole Hall delivers warmth, yet a foreboding quality as the Ghost of Christmas Past.  Serene and gentle, she brings out the best in Scrooge’s curmudgeonly soul.  Majestic in a crown of holly and carrying a cornucopia, Dave Daly glides across the stage as charismatic, jolly and larger-than-life Ghost of Christmas Present and the equally endearing Mr. Fezziwig.  Lilly George and Brynn Hsu also shine as giggling Christmas sprites.  Covered in hazy light, Dan Kelly is remarkably ghoulish and crazed as Jacob Marley with some very impressive special effects.

Company Theatre’s A Christmas Carol pulls off a couple of surprises to this classic tale in the finale, and cannot leave out Megan Boutilier’s expressive and hilarious depiction of The Laundress.  She is marvelous.  If the holiday season is not spreading the joy that is should this year, Company Theatre’s A Christmas Carol will certainly encourage that heartwarming feeling, indeed.

The Company Theatre continues A Christmas Carol at the Company Theatre, 30 Accord Park Drive in Norwell, Massachusetts through December 22.  The show is sold out, but click here for their exciting 2020 season.

REVIEW: Theatre@First delivers a compelling and haunting ‘Hamlet’

According to the Guinness Book of World Records, William Shakespeare’s work has garnered the most screen adaptations of any author in history in any language.  Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet boasts the most screen adaptations, but it’s hard to imagine Hamlet being far behind.

Shakespeare’s Hamlet has taken the stage and screen by storm from looser adaptations such as Disney’s stunning The Lion King in musical, animated, and live action form to Shakespeare on the Common to several films starring everyone from Laurence Olivier to Mel Gibson to Benedict Cumberbatch.  Why?  It’s a thrilling classic tale beloved by many about love, betrayal, and retribution with a haunting twist.

Theatre@FIrst Hamlet cast Johanna Bobrow

The cast of Theatre@First’s ‘Hamlet’ Photo courtesy of Johanna Bobrow/Theatre@First

Directed purposefully by Elizabeth Hunter, Theatre@First continues Shakespeare’s Hamlet through Saturday, November 23 at Unity Somerville in Somerville, Massachusetts.  Click here for more information and tickets.

Not a bad seat in the house as the audience gathered in Unity Somerville’s church basement for Theatre@First’s Hamlet.  The show is an immersive experience as the production expands beyond the stage and cast members can enter from anywhere in the venue.

Shakespeare’s Hamlet is about a Prince of Denmark who discovers his mother has married his uncle after his father has been murdered.  An urgent message inspires Hamlet to believe “something is rotten in the state of Denmark.”

Theatre@First’s Hamlet is a stylish, compelling drama that boasts some iridescent and impressive special effects as a translucent figure paces from a mysterious location.  It is not revealed which actor portrays that particular figure, but his moving and affecting presence is a highlight of the production.

Theatre@First Hamlet Laertes Nathan Phillip Andrew Harrington as Polonius and Evelyne Cardella Ophelia Johanna Bobrow

Clowning…. Nathan Phillip Johnson as Laertes, Andrew Harrington as Polonius and Evelyne Cardella as Ophelia Photo courtesy of Johanna Bobrow/Theatre@First

The show also blends the contemporary with the historical through its more casual tone and costume choices while Shakespeare’s alluring text and action sequences remain the same.  Carolyn Jones’s and Katie Caroll’s costume design nods to the late Middle Ages setting in Elsinore, Denmark while also boasting a contemporary flair.  For example, Hatem Adell portrays Hamlet wearing stone washed jeans and a crown on his t-shirt while Gertrude, depicted by Ron Lacey, wears a gown more faithful to the historical time period.  Makeup artists Meg Boeni, Mack Caroll, and their assistants did an extraordinary job transforming the cast into their respective roles.

Hamlet features a capable cast that occasionally engages the audience.  The dialogue can be a bit rushed at times in its conversational tone which lessens the gravitas of Shakespeare’s eloquent text.  Andrew Harrington is an unforgettable presence as Polonius.  Wearing a beard and a bow tie, Harrington has natural comic timing with a distinctive voice and lighthearted demeanor.  A bit of a scene stealer, he humorously engages the audience with his offhanded and frank observations while offering wisdom and insight to his children.

Theatre@First Hamlet Hatem Adell and Evelyne Cardella Ophelia Johanna Bobrow

Evelyne Cardella as Ophelia and Hatem Adell as Hamlet Photo courtesy of Johanna Bobrow/Theatre@First

Evelyn Cardella glows as Ophelia with a wide smile, bright eyed virtue, and complete infatuation with Hamlet.  Playful and charming, Cardella has a sweet chemistry with Nathan Phillip Johnson as her brother, Laertes and Andrew Harrington as their warm and wise father, Polonius.  Cardella navigates the character with vulnerability and heartfelt poignancy as her emotions turn on a dime.

Theatre@First Hamlet Nathan Philip Johnson as Laertes and Myra Hope Eskridge as Claudius Johanna Bobrow

Nathan Phillip Johnson as Laertes and Myra Hope Eskridge as Claudius Photo courtesy of Johanna Bobrow/Theatre@First

Hatem Adell certainly has exacted the alarming rage expected of Hamlet in the face of betrayal.  Adell delivers the famous “To Be or Not to Be” soliloquy with finesse.  He also excels at Hamlet’s darkly playful demeanor, especially in a powerful scene alone with Ophelia.  Nathan Phillip Johnson also gives a memorable performance as valiant and forthright Laertes, infusing a natural charisma in each scene.

Myra Hope Eskridge as Claudius delivers a suave poker face, but lacks the devious nature expected of the character.  Claudius is a calculating character and leaves little room for sympathy.  A brief exchange with Laertes later in the production showed just a glimpse of Claudius’s true nature.

Hamlet is not complete without the appearance of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, portrayed with fresh humor by Chantelle Marshall and Julia Kennedy respectively.  They make a seeming pair of jolly, dimwitted bookends as Hamlet’s childhood friends, dressed identically and interchangeably.  However, they are more than meets the eye.

Theatre@First Hamlet Hatem Adell Rosencrantz Chantelle Marshall and Guildenstern Julia Kennedy Johanna Bobrow

Hatem Adell as Hamlet joined by Chantelle Marshall as Rosencrantz and Julia Kennedy as Guildenstern Photo courtesy of Johanna Bobrow/Theatre@First

Get thee to Theatre@First’s final performances of Hamlet through Saturday, November 23 at Unity Somerville, 6 William Street in Somerville, Massachusetts.  Click here for more information, tickets, and how to support Theatre@First.

REVIEW: Take a seat for SpeakEasy Stage Company’s clever and thought-provoking comedy, ‘Admissions’

Admissions is not a mystery, but this clever comedy is as tense and thought-provoking  as any mystery could be and takes an unexpected turn that keeps the audience guessing until the very end.  Partly taking place at Hillcrest, a New Hampshire boarding school, award-winning play Admissions tackles many tough and occasionally uncomfortable topics such as white privilege, diversity, and more.  It has a dark sense of humor and nonetheless hilarious, but may leave you at times wondering whether laughing is the right thing to do, inviting the audience to skew their outlook on the world.

Speakeasy Stage Admissions Family-Toast-146

Nathan Malin, Maureen Keiller, and Michael Kay in SpeakEasy Stage’s ‘Admissions’ Photo courtesy of Maggie Hall Photography/SpeakEasy Stage Company

With fascinating direction by Paul Daigneault, SpeakEasy Stage Company continues Admissions by Joshua Harmon through Saturday, November 30.  Click here for more information and tickets.

With a well constructed wooden staircase, an island kitchen, and a well-furnished and fold out set, Props Master Matthew Robert and Wooden Kiwi Productions create an inviting household and faculty office which alternate throughout the show.

Nathan Malin delivers an intense, witty, and complex performance as Charlie Luthur Mason, a Hillcrest student distraught and frustrated over his deferment to Yale despite his stellar grades and dedicated work ethic.  Hillcrest’s Headmaster Bill, portrayed by Michael Kaye and Dean of Admissions Sherri, depicted by Maureen Keiller, are Charlie’s parents.  Charlie believes there are other forces at work.

This intriguing show features a small and mighty cast, leaving the audience plenty of time to get acquainted with these multi-faceted characters.  Each character represents a different perspective and offers a carefully balanced view of the show’s topics while the show may leaves you wondering which side it represents.

Speakeasy Stage Admissions Roberta and Sherri

Cheryl McMahon and Maureen Keiller in SpeakEasy Stage’s ‘Admissions’ Photo courtesy of Maggie Hall Photography/SpeakEasy Stage Company

Admissions is quick-witted and funny right from the start as Roberta, portrayed by Cheryl McMahon, shares a humorous story on her plans for Christmas break.  McMahon is candid, animated, and glorious as Roberta, a staff member at Hillcrest eager to please, but marginally on her own terms.  McMahon’s chatty demeanor and sharp comic timing with Maureen Keiller as Sherri make for some eye opening and captivating moments.

Speakeasy Stage Admissions Over-A-Glass-of-Wine

Marianna Bassham and Maureen Keiller in SpeakEasy Stage’s ‘Admissions’ Photo courtesy of Maggie Hall Photography/SpeakEasy Stage Company

Maureen Keiller, who was also impressive in SpeakEasy Stage’s Riverside and Crazy, delivers another excellent performance as Sherri.  Sherri juggles her life as a wife, mother, and a frustrated but proud Dean of Admissions.  She strives to be inclusive and politically correct, but her confidence is waning lately as she is forced to look at her work from a different angle.  The show examines some signs of helicopter parenting as Sherri is overwhelmingly concerned with Charlie’s emotional state and fixing it any way she can.  However, she also demonstrates reason and compassion as she faces some intense moments with Charlie, Michael Kaye as her patient and accomplished husband Bill, and Marianna Bassham as Sherri’s open and honest best friend, Ginnie.  Kaye and Bassham also hold their own in compelling performances.

What makes this show so intriguing is each character struggle to understand each other while each are convinced they are right.  One of the production’s most memorable scenes involves Nathan Malin’s Charlie as he delivers a powerful, effective, and perplexing diatribe on how he sees the world.  The speech is as amusing as it is controversial and Malin gives it all the gusto it deserves.

Speakeasy Stage Admission Parents-vs-Charlie

Michael Kaye, Maureen Keiller, and Michael Kaye in SpeakEasy Stage’s ‘Admissions’ Photo courtesy of Maggie Hall Photography/SpeakEasy Stage Company

Admissions is as uncomfortable as it is riveting, cleverly and uniquely addressing some tough topics while delivering more than its fair share of humorous moments.  It harbors an important message about genuinely striving to make a difference in the world while acknowledging that looks can be deceiving.

Joshua Harmon’s Admissions continues through Saturday, November 30.  Click here for more information and tickets.  SpeakEasy Stage Company’s current season also features upcoming performances of Passover, The Children, and Bright Star.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

REVIEW: Juggling is more than an act in TCAN’s madcap British comedy, ‘One Man, Two Guvnors’

One man seems to have his work cut out for him.

The last time TCAN Players delved into a comedy seeped in mistaken identities, a twist-filled plot, and a wealth of physical humor was for romantic farce, First Things First.  In TCAN’s One Man, Two Guvnors, things get wilder, semi-interactive, and injected with unmistakable British flair.

Directed insightfully by Kevin Groppe, TCAN Players present the 60s madcap British comedy, One Man Two Guvnors by Richard Bean through Sunday, November 17 at The Center for the Arts in Natick, Massachusetts.  This show contains adult humor and innuendo not suitable for kids.  Click here for more information and for tickets.

TCAN Players One Man Two Guvnors dance scene

A 60s dance party Photo courtesy of TCAN Players

A quirky romp defined by British humor, TCAN’s One Man Two Guvnors was derived from the 1743 Italian comedy, A Servant and Two Masters.  Actor, comedian, and television host James Corden also won a Tony Award for his role as fumbling and scheming Francis.  Set in 1963 Brighton and featuring popular Beatles songs that enhance the plot, Francis, a meaty, comedic role portrayed by Nicholas Magray, stumbles upon an opportunity to serve two bosses and potentially reap twice the profit.  However, he is in for a lot more than he bargained for.

TCAN Players One Man Two Guvnors Nicholas Magrey as Francis

Nicholas Magrey as Francis Photo courtesy of TCAN Players

Peter Watson and Tom Powers’s sliding, transforming set manages to combine elements from the Italian comedy and British adaptation by demonstrating a retro feel from colorful, double diamond walls flanked with British flags and a portrait of the queen while two popular characters from Italian comedy look on.  Dustin Todd Rennells skillfully combines a smorgasbord of 60s designs featuring colorful ties, florals, and plaids faithful to that celebrated era in Britain while reflecting each character’s distinctive style.

With mystery, romance, and more than its fair share of silliness, One Man Two Guvnors is fueled by a dynamic cast who will do just about anything for a laugh as they take on a wealth of improvisation and timely, physical humor.  It’s a madcap, jazzy, feel-good sort of show that does not consistently stay with the plot, but not to worry, Francis will redirect the audience momentarily.

The one man that leads this comedic charge is Nicholas Magrey’s turn as Francis, a calculating, advantageous, and constantly hungry individual who not only juggles his veritable tasks onstage, but also acts as a part time narrator.  It is easy to see James Corden in this role, but Magrey’s performance is no imitation.  With lively blue eyes and sharp comic timing, Magrey rises to the occasion at every erratic turn.

One Man Two Guvnors Sonya Richards as Pauline and Robert Slotnick as Alan

Sonya Richards as Pauline an Robert Slotnick as Alan Photo courtesy of TCAN Players

Just a few highlights from the cast include hilarious pair Sonya Richards as dim-witted and spoiled Pauline and Robert Slotnick as aspiring actor Alan.  Slotnick’s over dramatic Alan embraces every exaggerated pose to the hilt and it is equally amusing to watch Sonya as ditzy Pauline who takes a moment longer to catch on.

TCAN Players AJ Masiello as Alfie and Nicholas Magrey as Francis

AJ Masiello as Alfie and Nicholas Magrey as Francis Photo courtesy of TCAN Players

Quinton Kappel goes to great comedic lengths as stern yet sensitive Stanley, one of Francis’s bosses.  A.J. Masiello also goes above and beyond in his role as elderly trainee Alfie.  Kappel as Stanley and Magrey as Francis have a few humorous scenes as they trade places depicting the straight man in each scene.   Danielle Wehner shows off her comedic chops with a couple of roles that will not be revealed here.  Kim MacCormack is wonderful as flirtatious and cheeky Dolly, swaggering across the stage with a knowing smile.

Give it a go and have a good laugh with TCAN Players production of One Man Two Guvnors continuing through Sunday, November 17 at the Center for the Arts in Natick, 14 Summer Street in Natick, Massachusetts.  Click here for more information, tickets, and upcoming productions.