REVIEW: ‘Rock of Ages,’ Company Theatre’s grand return to the stage, is packed with big dreams, spectacle, and wry rock nostalgia

If you decide to visit Hollywood, California, stop by the Bourbon Room, a real bar and nightclub inspired by the legendary fictional bar and nightclub in jukebox musical Rock of Ages.  The Bourbon Room opened last year in honor of the show’s 20th anniversary and if it contains half the wild antics of this edgy musical, it will be worth the trip.

The excitement was tangible as the Company Theatre prepared for their return to its signature indoor stage for the debut of Rock of Ages on Saturday, August 7.  The crowd was pumped for an uproarious good time as the booming sounds of 80s hits enlivened the stage and nostalgia took over not only for hair bands and jelly bracelets, but for a live show in person and in glorious color.

Caitlin Ford as Justice and Janis Hudson as Denise Dupree Photo courtesy of Zoe Bradford/Company Theatre

Directed by Zoe Bradford, musically directed by Steve Bass, and choreographed by Sally Ashton Forrest, The Company Theatre presents Rock of Ages without an intermission through Sunday, August 22 at The Company Theatre, 30 Accord Park Drive in Norwell, Massachusetts. This show is not for young kids. Please note this show run has some rotating cast members.  Click here for more information and for tickets.

Packed with colorful characters doused with a mix of rock raunchiness and self aware humor, Rock of Ages holds a mirror up to the era of excess and distinct self expression.  Steering this club is Brad Reinking as Lonny, the Bourbon’s impulsive no-holds-barred co-owner, resident storyteller, and narrator.  According to Company Theatre’s Director of Development Michael Hammond, Reinking improvised a portion of the dialogue with local references and contemporary quips the audience and not even the cast saw coming.   Reinking shines as Lonny, his strong voice and penchant for dark humor work well in a script that never takes itself too seriously.

Part love story, part rebellion, and mostly musical, Rock of Ages is set in the 80s on the Sunset Strip where idealistic Sherrie (Emily Lambert) and guitar strumming dreamer Drew (Braden Misiaszek) long for stardom and are not sure where to start.  They set their sights inside the fledgling Bourbon Room, an aging nightclub and bar in danger of being shut down unless someone takes action.

Shane Hennessey as Stacee Jaxx Photo courtesy of Zoe Bradford/Company Theatre

Performed by an intimate group of musicians led by Steve Bass, Rock of Ages is fueled by a wide range of 80’s hits that are clearly a trip down memory lane for some including Journey, Bon Jovi, REO Speedwagon, and Foreigner enhanced by Forrest’s intense choreography.   Emily Lambert boasts powerful vocals as wide-eyed yet determined Sherrie and does a terrific job teaming up with Caitlin Ford as complex yet confident Justice in a powerful medley of Quarterflash’s Harden My Heart and Pat Benatar’s Shadows of the Night.  Lambert also shines in a sweet yet intense rendition with Misiaszek for Extreme’s More than Words, Bad English’s To Be with You, and Warrant’s Heaven medley.   Melissa Carubia as spunky and resourceful renegade Regina is all spirit and heart for Twisted Sister’s We’re Not Gonna Take it and light and amusing rendition of Starship’s We Built this City and Styx’s Too Much Time on My Hands

Shane Hennessey makes a big entrance as mysterious Stacy Jaxx (in a nod to another famous 80s rocker) to Bon Jovi’s Dead or AliveRyan Barrow’s vibrant set design is on point especially one scene in a nightclub bathroom.  It is easy to feel the grime watching that signature nightclub bathroom from the audience.  Janis Hudson portrays compelling Denise Dupree with a tough façade, dry humor, and a Joan Jett vibe while Christopher Spencer offers some refreshing and sometimes goofy comic relief as Franz.

The Rock of Ages cast Photo courtesy of Zoe Bradford/Company Theatre

That is just a taste of the wide range of rock numbers in store.  A jukebox rock musical, Rock of Ages is best enjoyed as an extended MTV music video at a time when music was mainly performed on MTV. The rock medleys have cheek and sass and in the real world oozing with serious drama (where to start) Rock of Ages is meant as pure entertainment and each fun loving character a representation of a lighter time. You may find yourself bobbing your head, singing along, or both to the catchy tunes you may or may not have lived through, but nonetheless have stood the test of time in their own vibrant way.

Prior to the Rock of Ages musical on opening night, Company Theatre offered a VIP pre-show that featured plenty of 80s nostalgia and delicious treats including Pop Rocks, shrimp cocktail, cheese and crackers, vintage-style cupcakes, and a special Ecto Cooler cocktail.

The Company Theatre presents Rock of Ages without an intermission through Sunday, August 22 at The Company Theatre, 30 Accord Park Drive in Norwell, Massachusetts.   Click here for more information, upcoming events, and tickets.

REVIEW: Concord Players make ‘It’s a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play’ savvy, vintage entertainment

Before we tackle this vintage holiday favorite, I would be remiss not to mention the acclaimed founder of the Concord Players.  Fans of Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women know of the beloved drama club that was established in the book as well as the Pickwick Papers, the title a nod to Charles Dickens.  Beloved author Louisa May Alcott founded the Concord Players and Little Women has been staged annually as Concord Players reached their centennial year.  Perhaps the drama club in the book was part of her inspiration.

Speaking of Charles Dickens, A Dramatic Reading of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol read by Johnny Kinsman will be the next Concord Players streaming event on YouTube Friday, December 18th at 7 p.m. Click here for more information on the event and how to support The Concord Players.

Classic holiday entertainment resurfaces the way mistletoe suddenly hovers over unsuspecting lovebirds at just the right moment.  One of the holiday season’s most anticipated classics is Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life, a 1946 film about life’s joys and struggles culminating on Christmas Eve starring Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed.  It returns to the television screen every year with several opportunities to watch.

Directed commendably by John Pease, The Concord Players presented this beloved classic in November with a novel and nostalgic twist.  Rewinding the clock to Radio’s Golden Age in the 1940s on a dark, snowy night in Manhattan, NY, Concord Players streamed Joe Landry’s It’s a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play staged as a live radio broadcast on fictional station WCPR for a limited time on Broadway on Demand from Friday, November 20 through Sunday, November 22. 

The bright and festive studio stage was adorned in Christmas lights, garland, and a Christmas tree while a group of voiceover artists included Freddie Filmore as Announcer, Lana Sherwood, Sally Applewhite, Eileen Rivera, and Jake Laurette as George Bailey recreate the show on vintage sterling microphones, portraying a number of roles in the process.  Rachael Rabinovitz’s authentic and colorful costumes set a cheerful tone as performers dress in their festive Sunday best for the radio.

Optimistic George Bailey’s faith in life and humanity is challenged as he desperately struggles to figure out life’s meaning as a certain angel is vying for his very own set of wings.  Touching, poignant, and darker than one would expect, It’s a Wonderful Life is a timeless family production that reminds audiences what truly matters.  Foley artist and sound effect expert Elizabeth Havenor’s technical wizardry is a scene stealer as Concord Players bring new perspective to this classic tale.

The cast masters the tricky task of portraying 1940’s voiceover artists, while also embracing a number of beloved characters in the production.  Navigating between each individual character while voicing multiple characters young and old within the play take particular skill.  Craig Howard brings warmth and charm to wise, yet bumbling Clarence and it was fascinating to watch Howard change his voice to Sam Wainwright by placing a glass against his mouth.

It was refreshing to see Jay Newlon portraying dreamy George Bailey not with Jimmy Stewart directly in mind in a good natured, earnest, adventurous portrayal, though he needed a bit more fire during the show’s more climactic moments.  A particular highlight was witnessing the torment in George’s face as he struggled with leaving his hometown behind while also feeling obligated to stay.  His scenes with heartwarming and hopeful Rachael Rabinovitz as Mary Hatch and with Jenn Bubriski as Rose Bailey have beautiful candor.

John Alzapiedi delivered a versatile performance as a winning narrator, skillfully depicts Potter’s booming narcissism and menacing gravitas, and brings sympathetic Mr. Gower to life.

Sound designer Tim Powers was behind the show’s authentic vintage sound which included the organ-tinged, melodramatic music and jingles of old and a couple of engaging commercials “from our sponsor.”

Foley artist and sound effect coordinator Elizabeth Havenor seamlessly kept the show rolling as her busy hands maneuvered every sound seamlessly.  Allen and Anne Bantly must have brought new meaning to providing the appropriate props to keep Havenor up to speed.  She rang every bell, blew each whistle, and slammed every door while also creating an impeccably-timed ringing telephone to a wild storm to popping champagne.  It was amazing to see how all of it was done during radio’s golden age.  It’s a Wonderful Life is such a timeless show and yet translates so well into a live radio play that it never misses a beat.  

Concord Players will soon present A Dramatic Reading of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol read by Johnny Kinsman will be the next Concord Players streaming event on YouTube Friday, December 18th at 7 p.m. Click here for more information on the event and how to support The Concord Players.

Go green with Cohasset Dramatic Club’s sci fi horror comedy musical ‘Little Shop of Horrors’

Cohasset Dramatic Club’s comedy horror rock sci fi musical, Little Shop of Horrors, offers two very important life lessons.  Don’t feed the plants and everyone’s life should be narrated by a streetwise, Greek chorus.  Punctuated by the sweet, sassy sounds of female Greek chorus trio Chiffon, Crystal, and Ronnette, Cohasset Dramatic Club opened its 98th season with Little Shop of Horrors in all of its zany, outrageous glory on the Cohasset Town Hall stage in Cohasset, Massachusetts continuing through Sunday, November 18.  Click here for more information and tickets.

Cohasset Dramatic Club Little Shop of Horrors cover

Directed by Lisa Pratt, ‘Little Shop of Horrors’ continues through November 18! Photo courtesy of Cohasset Dramatic Club

Little Shop of Horrors, based on John Cullier’s short story Green Thoughts from 1932, has gone on to become a cult classic, with actors such as Jack Nicholson, Bill Murray, Rick Moranis, Steve Martin, and John Candy stepping into its various film adaptations.  A remake is in the works as it celebrates its 60th anniversary in 2020.

It’s a seemingly simple tale about young love on Skid Rowe in a fledgling flower shop that houses a curious, unique breed of plant.  Some critics compare it to the campy tone of the another cult classic, Rocky Horror Picture Show, but Little Shop of Horrors offers a more subtle brand of campy charm.

The show has a gift for funny, ironic contrasts right down to the bright, cheerful set design by Mark Bono with scenic artist Denise Feeney.   An ode to vintage 50s films of its time, Mr. Mushnik’s beautiful and pastel Floral Shop front seems hardly a place that belongs on Skide Row or Gutter as the name of a bar.  With few exceptions, the music, with lyrics by award-winning composer Alan Menken, has a catchy, rock n roll vibe, some tunes an ode to 60s girl groups.  From plaids to shimmering gowns, Colleen Craig as Chiffon, Michelle Margulies as Crystal and Cara Lee Chamberlain as Ronnette form a taut, humorous, street-smart trio, unveiling the real ins and outs of Skid Rowe through harmony, kicking it off with the catchy, signature track, Little Shop of Horrors.

With a distinctive, comedic voice and dark reading glasses, Jonathan Markella is a natural as Mr. Mushnik.  Shrewd, sensible, and a bit dour, Markella’s take on the firm, yet fidgety Mr. Mushnik is a memorable one.  He showcases his comedic chops best with Jordan Reymolds as Seymour in the clever number, Mushnik and Son.

Cohasset Dramatic Club Little Shop of Horrors Seymour

Jordan Reymolds as Seymour and Audrey II Photo courtesy of Cohasset Dramatic Club

With black glasses and a sweater vest, Jordan Reymolds is splendid as Seymour, a sympathetic, conflicted botanist.  With a bit of a crackly speaking voice and a light city accent, he is ever the shy, unassuming nerd that actor Rick Moranis stepped into in the 1986 film adaptation.  He shines in the darkly tender number, Grow for Me and his awkward adoration for Audrey, portrayed with stylish, effervescence by Adina Lunquist, exudes comic charm, at one moment he’s hoping to take her to “a fancy dinner at Howard Johnson’s.”  Linquist is wonderful, her silvery soprano vocals carrying a lullaby or a soulful belt with equal skill.  She shares her simple, 50s domestic dreams in Somewhere That’s Green and with Seymour who deliver a powerful rendition of Suddenly Seymour.

Brendan Smith rises to the occasion playing several roles including the outrageous, narcissistic biker dentist.  Having portrayed The Monster in Young Frankenstein, his pliable, animated features master a multitude of roles in stride.

The real spectacle is Audrey II, the sly soulful plant that changes everything.  With deep, soulful, animated vocals that harness a bit of Elvis and Robin Williams and skillfully manipulated by Mike Nakashima whose theatre history includes a part in Cohasset’s Avenue Q, Audrey II is an impressive specimen right down to its shiny, dangling teeth.

Directed by Lisa Pratt, Cohasset Dramatic Club presents Little Shop of Horrors through Sunday, November 18 at Cohasset Town Hall, 41 Highland Avenue in Cohasset, Massachusetts.  Click here for more information and tickets.  Learn more about Cohasset Dramatic Club by following on their Facebook page.

REVIEW: With comic wit and vintage flair, Boston Ballet’s ‘Genius at Play’ is an exhilarating dance celebration

Honoring the centennial birthdays of legendary choreographer Jerome Robbins and composer Leonard Bernstein, The Boston Ballet opened its 55th season on a joyous, lighthearted note on Thursday, September 6 with Genius at Play continuing through Sunday, September 16 at the Boston Opera HouseGenius at Play certainly lives up to its name, a production with glimpses of Robbins and Bernstein’s signature dance moves, music, and lively banter sure to leave the audience in carefree spirits.  Click here for more information and for tickets.

Accomplished conductor Beatrice Jona Affron opened the show, leading the orchestra with Leonard Bernstein’s sparkling and triumphant masterpiece Overture to Candide, first performed in 1957.  Much of Genius at Play celebrates the very nature of dance and its playful competitiveness and Overture to Candide quite fittingly sets the tone.

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Boston Ballet in Jerome Robbin’s Interplay; photo by Rosalie O’Connor; courtesy of Boston Ballet

Interplay, with choreography by Jerome Robbins, rewinds the clock as women pile on high ponytails in casual, colorful costumes by Santo Loquasto.  As the mischievous, upbeat rhythm of Morton Gould’s American Concertette plays, dancers Maria Alvarez, Dawn Atkins, Chyrstyn Fentroy, Dalay Parrondo, Isaac Akiba, Paul Craig, Sun Woo Lee, and Lawrence Rines take part in some friendly competition.  Creativity runs wild as dancers perform lifts, spins, and high leaps while also paying subtle homage to Robbins as they rhythmically snap their fingers and playfully shake their hips.

With choreography by Jerome Robbins and jazz-infused music by Leonard Bernstein, Fancy Free is the source material for what became the hit Broadway musical and Academy award-winning film, On the Town, a tale about three sailors portrayed here by Irlan Silva, Derek Dunn, and Michael Ryan, who are on shore leave in New York City.  Taking a page from the old movies with cheerful 40s costumes by Kermit Love, these sailors realize they are in over their head when they meet three passers-by portrayed by Emily Entingh, Viktorina Kapitonova, and Dawn Atkins.  With a multi-dimensional, romantically-lit set equipped with a vivid, leaning lamp post, these sailors depict a wonderful camaraderie as they embark on an amusing night with plenty of surprises.

With music by Philip Glass and choreography by Jerome Robbins, Glass Pieces is quite the gem.  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.  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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Lia Cirio and Paulo Arrais in Jerome Robbin’s Glass Pieces; photo by Rosalie O’Connor; courtesy of Boston Ballet

With comic wit, vintage flair, and renowned choreography, The Boston Ballet proudly presents Genius at Play through Sunday, September 16 at the Boston Opera House.  Click here for more information and for tickets.  For future events and more, follow Boston Ballet on Facebook and Twitter.

Music Director Jamie Kirsch talks Chorus pro Musica’s concert version of comedy musical, ‘Of Thee I Sing’

A spectacular evening of comedy, romance, and award-winning music is in store with Chorus pro Musica’s concert version of Gershwin Of Thee I Sing on Saturday, May 13 at Robbins Memorial Town Hall in Arlington, Massachusetts at 8 p.m.  In the spirit of the show, concert attendees are encouraged to dress in 30s-inspired attire for a costume contest.  Click here for full details and tickets.

Jamie Kirsch is in his fourth year as Music Director of Chorus pro Musica and loves his work.  He offers a closer look into Of Thee I Sing, his incredible work with Chorus pro Musica, and more.

Chorus Pro Musica Jamieinaction

Chorus pro Musica’s Music Director Jamie Kirsch in action Photo courtesy of Alonso Nichols/Tufts University

Jeanne Denizard:  What I absolutely love about Gershwin Of Thee I Sing is it is part concert and part theatrical production.  It has comedy and romance as well.

Jamie Kirsch:  Yeah, writers definitely have called it a work.  It is a unified single where there’s no instantly recognizable tune in this show in the way one would recognize other Gershwin’s most famous songs from musicals that can be extracted and don’t have anything necessarily to do with the plot.  They don’t appear in the best of Gershwin albums because for the most part, everything is tied to that story.  There might be one or two songs that someone might recognize such as the title song of Of Thee I Sing and certainly people have recorded the song, Who Cares, but no song that would be on people’s top ten list of pieces they know because they bought a greatest hits album or a Michael Feinstein album.  They are wonderful songs, but they are all tied to the book.

JD:  I also understand that this is the first musical to win a Pulitzer Prize.

JK:  It did win the Pulitzer Prize in 1932.  Everyone won the Pulitzer except for George Gershwin because there was no Music Pulitzer at the time.  Ira, Kaufman, and Ryskind got it.  I think actually it was awarded to George posthumously where there finally was a music Pulitzer.

JD:  Of Thee I Sing surrounds the election of John P. Wintergreen and deals with politics in a humorous and lighthearted way.  I understand you really were excited about this particular piece to add to the season more for the music than for its political statement though we had a heated election just recently.

JK:  Yes, it doesn’t make a political statement one way or another.  There is no political party mentioned, making fun of both sides equally.  We also picked the piece well over a year ago.  The current players in the real world were still in the primaries and no one had any inkling of what was to transpire and how unexpected it would be.

Numerous colleges and universities did the show right around the election.  It is remarkable how many across the entire country, even major schools of music.  The University of Michigan did it in October and November knowing what was going on.  We had the same idea, hoping it would be a relevant topic but we didn’t plan for any outcome either way.  Separate from the political stuff, it happens to be a musical dominated by choruses and it made perfect sense to do it with our chorus.

JD:  Now, are you going to be performing a lot of scenes from the show?

JK:  Yes, it is a concert version.  We’re doing most of it, just without the staging.

JD:  I understand it has some comedy and a bit of romance as well.

JK:  Absolutely, there are elements common to musical theatre.  People talk about how different it is from anything else Gershwin wrote, but the other side of that coin is a love triangle.  Certainly plenty of musicals have love triangles and also present is an element of the exotic where a French ambassador arrives in the second act and that happens throughout many other musicals.  It’s new, but it has ties to the standard, more traditional musical theatre.

JD:  It sounds like there will be lots of surprises.

JK:  Yes, there will be musical surprises.  It has a Gershwin, jazzy sound and Gershwin rhythms and syncopation, but it is really unique.  There are scenes that go on and on and mostly music for a good ten minutes.  It’s kind of like Gilbert and Sullivan in that way.  That is an example of a piece of music that cannot be extracted.  You are not going to perform that at a musical theatre cabaret as you would with another Gershwin tune.

JD:  You will have featured artists such as Margot Rood, Christina English, and David McFerrin.

JK:  They are three of the best singers around town and the city and I have worked with a couple of them before.  They are just wonderful, so flexible, and able to handle this repertoire and style as easily as they are able to handle early and baroque music.  They are so incredibly versatile, talented, and wonderful actors.  Having them on board for this production is very special.

JD:  You are also the sixth Music Director of Chorus pro Musica.  The chorus has existed close to 70 years.  What is it like to conduct this chorus?

JK:  It’s a joy.  The musicians are incredibly hard working, love challenging themselves, conquering major works, and striving for excellence.  They are so supportive of each other, collegial, and just wonderful people.  They care so much about the product and each other, the chorus, and its history.

Chorus Pro Musica

Chorus pro Musica group shot Photo courtesy of Eric Antoniou

I’m very grateful to be able to do the things that we do with Chorus pro Musica.  In this season alone, we have done maybe the greatest work by Beethoven and some of the greatest works by Mahler.  Then we move on to Gershwin.  We are dealing with pretty amazing people.  I’ve written some amazing music and this chorus is up for the challenge to perform these pieces at an extremely high level while also keeping a good balance of fun while we do it.

JD:  This is your fourth year with Chorus pro Musica, but I understand that you are involved in a lot of projects.  You’re a busy man in music.

JK:  Yes, I am fortunate enough to be on the music faculty at Tufts as my main job and finishing my seventh year there.  It’s a wonderful job and I work with amazing colleagues who are at the tops of their field and teaching theory and musicology.  I teach in a beautiful building with supportive faculty and administration and wonderful students.  We recently did the Mozart C Minor mass.  Yes, between Chorus pro Musica and Tufts, I’m a pretty lucky person.

Chorus Pro Musica Boston City Singers

Family Holiday Concert 2014 Boston City Singers Photo courtesy of Chorus pro Musica

JD:  Do you have a favorite piece of music you like to conduct or a piece you are hoping to conduct with Chorus pro Musica?

JK:  One of the great things about the Chorus is that they are able to handle everything from a candlelight Christmas concert to Beethoven’s greatest works to Gershwin to new, modern pieces.  One of our strong suits is commissioning new works so we are commissioning brand new works by new composers.  They are able to handle any style, genre, and that is what I like to do.  It keeps things interesting for me and for the singers to switch gears from month to month.  Just to be able to be flexible in that way so the chorus matches my strength and my wanting to keep exploring, pushing, challenging, finding new, undiscovered music, create new music, commission new music, so I think in that way, it’s a very good match.

Chorus Pro Musica NE Philharmonic and Providence Singers

Chorus pro Musica with the New England Philharmonic and the Providence Singers, performing Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem, March 14, 2012 in Boston’s Cathedral of the Holy Cross.

JD:  You’ve also worked with a few Boston organizations and collaborated with them in the past.

JK:  We collaborated with the Boston Philharmonic a number of times and we will continue to do so.  We have a wonderful relationship with Ben Zander and the Boston Philharmonic Orchestra and with Richard Pittman and the New England Philharmonic.  We did a number of wonderful collaborations with Richard Pittman.  We are always seeking out new collaborations because they are always great fun, enhance the groups, and work out well for everybody.

Click here for tickets to Gershwin Of Thee I Sing on May 13 at 8 p.m.  It will be an exciting evening that includes a post-concert reception.  Click here for more on Chorus Pro Musica and how to support their mission.