REVIEW: Greater Boston Stage Company’s intriguing ‘Onegin’ offers vodka, love at first sight, and a whirlwind of surprises

Combine an onstage rock band nicknamed the Ungrateful Dead with a storytelling cast in 19th century St. Petersburg, Russia.  Throw in love at first sight, a duel, add some vodka, and a few winks to today’s technology and it is quite the tale…and that’s not even the half of it.

Expect the unexpected at Greater Boston Stage Company’s unique performance of Onegin, a semi-interactive musical that blends the traditional with the contemporary in surprising ways.  It explores how far one would go for love while its rock and roll vibe and comic moments show it doesn’t take itself too seriously.

Based on Alexandr Pushkin’s poem of the same name and Tchaikovsky’s opera, Greater Boston Stage Company continues Onegin’s United States debut at the Stoneham Theatre in Stoneham, Massachusetts through Sunday, March 31.  Click here for more information and tickets.

Onegin - cast

From L to R: Michael Jennings Mahoney as Vlaimir Lensky, Music Director Steve Bass (on piano), Mark Linehan as Evgeni Onegin, Josephine Moshiri Elwood as Olga, Sarah Pothier as Tatyana, and Peter Adama as Prince Gremin Photo by Maggie Hall Photography/Greater Boston Stage Company

Onegin pushes quite a few boundaries within its two hour time frame.  The show inhabits a myriad of genres and occasionally breaks the fourth wall, but underneath it all is a moving tale of love and loss and what it means when destiny is out of your hands.  The contemporary flair of this period piece may not appeal to staunch traditionalists, but the show has heart.

Katheryn Monthei’s open set design topped with sparkling brass chandeliers and silk backdrops mixed with Deirdre Gerrard’s detailed costumes and Ilyse Robbins’ dynamic choreography depict a romantic, yet edgy vibe indicative of this strong and versatile cast.

Onegin Lensky

Michael Jennings Mahoney as Vladimir Lensky Photo by Maggie Hall Photography/Greater Boston Stage Company

Opening with the rollicking number A Love Song, these singing storytellers describe a man irretrievably in love and one who is roguishly indifferent to it. Michael Jennings Mahoney portrays excitable and lovelorn poet, Vladimir Lensky.  Lensky could have been a one note character, but Mahoney gives him dimension and makes him much more than he seems.   He is taken with Olga, portrayed with complexity and practicality by Josephine Moshiri Elwood.  Enter Evgeni Onegin, portrayed with a deep vibrato and roguish charm by Mark Linehan.  Linehan is charismatic, but also possesses a cynical, world-weary look on life while Tatyana, portrayed with pensive idealism by Sarah Pothier, may just change everything.

ONEGIN at GBSC

Sarah Pothier as Tatyana and Mark Linehan as Evgeni Onegin Photo courtesy of Nile Hawver/Nile Scott Shots

A few highlights include Sarah Pothier’s commanding performance of Let Me Die and stunning performances of In Your House and My Dearest Comrade by the cast.   Expect the unexpected at Onegin and like this engaging cast, prepare to have a little fun.

Directed by Weylin Symes, Greater Boston Stage Company’s musical drama Onegin continues through Sunday, March 31.  Click here for more information and tickets.  Click here for a closer look at Greater Boston’s Stage Company’s recently announced season.

 

 

 

 

 

CAEG’s ‘Princess Zhaojun’s’ Yang Donglin envisions how one woman united a nation

Continuing with the theme of International Women’s Day is a show about real life heroine.  During the Han Dynasty, an amazing, intelligent woman considered one of the four beauties of Ancient China left the world she knew to marry Huhanye in order to achieve peace on the Northern Border of China.

Princess Zhaojun, presented by China Arts and Entertainment Group (CAEG), is a compelling dance drama and features detailed, beautiful sets and costumes.  The Sleepless Critic interviewed accomplished costume designer Yang Donglin about his work and what is was like to visually bring the Han Dynasty and this story to life.

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China National Opera and Dance Drama Theatre present Princess Zhaojun for one weekend only at the Boch Shubert Theatre in Boston, MA March 16-17.  Its mission is to share traditional and contemporary Chinese performing arts around the world.  Click here for more information and tickets.

Yang Donglin

Accomplished costume designer Yang Donglin Photo courtesy of China Performing Arts Agency

Sleepless Critic:  Is this your first time working with the China Performing Arts Agency and what other shows have you worked on?

Yang Donglin:  For China Performing Arts Agency I was costume designer for the dance drama Confucius when it toured the US in 2017 and Dragon Boat Racing in 2016 and 2018.  I have also worked in dance drama for Du Fu, Chinese Orphan, Lotus and Li Bai and Opera for Jianzhen Crosses the Ocean to Japan, Turandot, The White-Haired Girl and Peasant Takes a Wife.

Princess Zhaojun. China National Opera & Dance Drama Theater. (20)

Princess Zhaojun. Photo courtesy of China National Opera & Dance Drama Theater

SC:  The China Performing Arts Agency has a reputation for featuring the most beautiful costumes and scenery I have ever seen and Princess Zhaojun is no different.  I saw the Soaring Wings production last January and it was stunning.  This show serves as a piece of Chinese history and Princess Zhaojun is a real person who lived during the Han Dynasty.  Please tell me about how you selected and put together the costumes for this show.

YD:  I added proper contemporary interpretation of the piece instead of simply copying and restoring what it looked like in history.  We need to constantly deny ourselves and make textured clothing that can keep abreast of the body language expression of our actors. Taking Zhaojun for example, we have tried to change at least 5-6 kinds of fabrics to make a sample, and the director has even personally tried it on for rehearsal action until the most satisfactory texture and effect comes out.

Artistic creation is neither restoring history nor making things up. We have incorporated more dramatic elements into the traditional Han dynasty clothing, and many of the costumes are inspired by the wooden terracotta figures, Han portrait stones, and bricks portraits in the ancient Han dynasty tombs. At the same time, costumes are endowed with different souls according to the personalities and fates of the characters. For example, the overall cool color of the Han dynasty palace and the warm orange color on the grassland have all indicated the change in the character of the protagonist.

Princess Zhaojun. China National Opera & Dance Drama Theater. (12)

Princess Zhaojun. Photo courtesy of China National Opera & Dance Drama Theater

SC:  What has been the most difficult part of putting this show together and what has been the best part?

The most difficult part is finding the balance between the communication of the main actors’ images and the restriction of their dance movements in single, double, or triple dance.  The most satisfying is the characteristics of each costume are exactly the same as the director’s ideas such as the leashed called dance, free Zigui dance, and bold pouring wax dance full of exotic flavors. Each has its own traits, but together they have a unified style to construct distinctive aesthetic style on the stage.

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SC:  What do you like best about being a costume designer?

YD:  I like the creativity.  I like the feeling of swimming freely in the ocean of creation.

Witness Yang Donglin’s exceptional costume design and experience China National Opera and Dance Drama Theatre’s Princess Zhaojun for one weekend only at the Boch Shubert Theatre at 265 Tremont Street in Boston, MA March 16-17.  Click here for more information and tickets.  Click here for more about China Arts and Entertainment Group and their future productions.

 

REVIEW: Athletic grace, intensity, and enchanting beauty drive The Boston Ballet’s debut of ‘Obsidian Tear’

Featuring an enthralling, unconventional start, renowned choreographers depict a rich array of contrasting tones as The Boston Ballet opened its 2017-18 season with the captivating, North American debut of Obsidian Tear continuing through Sunday, November 12 at the Boston Opera House in Boston, Massachusetts.  What is particularly intriguing about this program is its delicate balance of triumph, suspense, sorrow, and beauty in a blend of traditional and contemporary artistry featuring two revered works by composer Jean Sibelius.  Click here for more information and tickets.

The Boston Ballet strikes an impressive, emotional balance with the combination of a special, orchestral performance of Finlandia by Jean Sibelius, Obsidian Tear, and Fifth Symphony of Jean Sibelius.  Led by guest conductor Daniel Stewart, the Boston Ballet opened with a stirring orchestral performance of the Finnish National song, Finlandia, composed as a tone poem by Jean Sibelius.  Magnificently led by conductor Daniel Stewart, Finlandia is a triumphant, gripping masterpiece from its ferocious open to every subtle, enchanting note in between.

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Boston Ballet in Wayne McGregor’s Obsidian Tear; photo by Rosalie O’Connor, courtesy Boston Ballet

The Boston Ballet added to its fervent tone with the North American debut of Obsidian Tear followed by the elegant, world premiere of Fifth Symphony of Jean Sibelius.  Choreographed by Wayne McGregor and accompanied by the haunting and evocative rhythms of Esa-Pekka Salonen’s Lachen verlernt and Nyx from violin soloist, Christine Vitale, Obsidian Tear builds to a palpable sense of urgency as each of the nine male dancers, including Daniel Cooper, Derek Dunn, Samivel Evans, John Lam, Alexander Maryianowski, Eric Nezha, Patrick Palkens, Desean Taber, and Junxiong Zhou, appear.

Obsidean Dress Rehearsal

Irlan Silva in Wayne McGregor’s Obsidian Tear; photo by Rosalie O’Connor, courtesy Boston Ballet

Surrounded by a warmly-lit stage and minimal black backdrop, each dancer exhibits their own, distinct appearance and style, gliding in long, sweeping movements.  Often dividing into pairs, their athletic prowess drives each complex step as exuberance, mischief, cooperation, and combativeness, flood an increasingly busy landscape.  Thrilling and poignant, Obsidian Tear is a thought-provoking, mesmerizing journey about belonging and the darkness within.

New Jorma Dress Rehearsal

Boston Ballet in Jorma Elo’s Fifth Symphony of Jean Sibelius; photo by Rosalie O’Connor, courtesy Boston Ballet

The world premiere of Fifth Symphony of Jean Sibelius, gorgeously choreographed by Jorma Elo, evokes the light, romantic tone of traditional ballet.  The pure, delicate beauty of the ensemble in pale pastel envelops the stage in graceful splendor as a single black halo hovers above.  In elegant costumes designed by former Dutch National ballet dancer Yumiko Takeshima, Fifth Symphony of Jean Sibelius delivers its own sophisticated rhythm, building into a flurry of circular motion and blossoming lifts.  As some divide into attractive pairs, dancers soar, leap, and float joyfully to a soft, urgent rhythm.  A particular highlight depicts the dancers lying sideways across the stage as a pair nimbly twirls into pirouettes and refined lifts.  As Obsidian Tear often focuses on individuals, this performance is much more an ensemble piece, forming dazzling soft color portraits in a breezy, jovial state.

New Jorma Dress Rehearsal

Boston Ballet in Jorma Elo’s Fifth Symphony of Jean Sibelius; photo by Rosalie O’Connor, courtesy Boston Ballet

Click here for tickets, call 617-695-6955, or visit the Boston Ballet box office at 19 Clarendon Street in Boston, Massachusetts. All performances take place at the Boston Opera House, 539 Washington Street in Boston, Massachusetts. Subscriptions and group rates are also available. Follow the Boston Ballet on Facebook and Twitter.