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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

REVIEW: Singer-songwriters Natalie Price and Grace Pettis share resilience through struggle and the joy of performing live onstage again

It is no surprise that guitar strumming singer-songwriters Natalie Price and Grace Pettis recently brought a mix of emotional weight to the Club Passim stage in Cambridge, MA.  Not only in the great joy of performing for an audience again, but the heartache, loss, and reflection in their music as a result of these past couple of complicated years.  However, within this sadness lies resilience for thriving again.  

Grace Pettis and Natalie Price Photo credit to Natalie Price

Singer-songwriter Natalie Price debuted at Club Passim and opened for returning Club Passim favorite Grace Pettis on Thursday, April 14 in person and on live stream for one night only.  Click here to see where Pettis will perform next and here for more on Price.  Click here for more on Club Passim, their educational programs, upcoming events, and how to support local music.

A smattering of spotlights lit the Club Passim stage as Dallas-born Natalie Price delivered a mix of reflective, sorrowful, and playful love songs during her brief opening set.   Price’s sound has a tinge of Natalie Imbruglia or Lisa Loeb as she shares her experiences.

These Days is a clever track about the memory of escaping an unhealthy relationship and if the timing of that relationship were any different, Price might not have escaped.  Price sings, ‘I’m so glad I wasn’t younger when we met’ and ‘The heaviness, strangled me/A songbird in a cage.’  Its seemingly lighthearted chords contrast a returning and complex memory that changes over time.

Another highlight was The Island, a song performed entirely with a music box-sounding Kalimba instrument.  It is a melodious track about the euphoria of new love while Done is another clever piece that delves into the erratic and frantic feelings of unsteady love.  Price ends the set with a catchy and cheerful tune about devotion.

Natalie Price’s music can be found on Band Camp or on her website.

Grace Pettis Photo credit to Nicola Gell

Before taking the stage alone, Grace Pettis joined Price for an unconventional and sweet lullaby Pettis wrote and performs for a Ukrainian child living with Pettis and her family in Ireland called Sleepy Lobster.  Pettis had a table set up that evening to support Ukraine.

Florida-born Grace Pettis delves into a collection of powerful, somber, and soulful tunes, a reflection of some of the complex, life-changing experiences Pettis endured over the last two years.  In a burgundy shirt and black pants, Pettis is an unassuming presence with a certain personable charm and expressed her gratefulness to be back at Club Passim sharing her music with a crowd again.

Her passionate and powerful vocals in Pick me Up and Never Get it Back from her new album, Working Woman from MPress Records, has universal appeal with the latter a bittersweet message on the importance of living in the present and the former finding the strength to keep going in spite of life’s hardships.   Though Pick me Up could simply be interpreted as a love song, it could also apply to a larger message about faith and finding loyal support through life.

Pettis mused in Rain’s lyrics, ‘I don’t know how to be happy’ when she recalled being tasked with writing a song about sunshine.  The somber track was inspired by November rain in Ireland.

So many of Grace’s work addresses strength through struggle.  Mean Something also from Working Woman has a soothing quality about finding hope while Birthright, which is a Nobody’s Girl song, reveals the struggles of living with the pain of the past.  Pettis is an apt songwriter reflecting on the end of a life-changing relationship. She sings, ‘Brace myself for unwanted advice…I’m the box forgotten in the attic.’

However, one of my favorite tracks is Corner, a complex love song about unconditional loyalty, the pain thick in Grace’s voice.  Though the show had its share of solemn musings, Pettis ends the set with Working Woman’s fiery and meaningful title track, her powerful belt demonstrating though hardship, Grace Pettis has thicker skin than that.

Click here for more information on Grace Pettis and where she is touring next.  Learn more about Natalie Price here and click here for more on Club Passim, their music classes, upcoming concerts, and how to support local music.

REVIEW:  Greater Boston Stage Company’s well-timed ‘Incident at Our Lady of Perpetual Help’ a comical trip down memory lane

Greater Boston Stage Company chose the perfect time to debut Incident at Our Lady of Perpetual Help.  Nestled right through St. Patrick’s Day during Lent (for Catholics), this engaging family comedy delves into the lives of the quirky lower middle class Irish-Catholic O’Shea family during a chaotic and pivotal week in their lives in the 1970s.  It’s a memory play…with a few amusing twists.

From L to R: Vin Vega as Becky, Maureen Keiller as Theresa “Terri” Carmichael, Amy Barker as Jo O’Shea, and Autumn Blazon-Brown as Linda O’Shea Photo courtesy of Greater Boston Stage Company

A semi-autobiographical play written by Katie Forgette and directed by Weylin Symes, Greater Boston Stage Company presents Incident at Our Lady of Perpetual Help virtually and at Greater Boston Stage Company in Stoneham, Massachusetts through March 20.  The show is 1 hour and 45 minutes with intermission and recommended for children ages 13 and up.  Click here for more information and tickets.

It is fascinating how memories work when they are retold, recalled, and recollected.  A fuzzy little detail here and a little change there may make a big difference.  Some of the production’s characters are a bit over the top, but so was the 70s.  Every detail of this show rewinds the clock to a simpler time before the internet, cell phones, and other technological distractions took over.  Deirdre Gerrard pulls together a wonderfully nostalgic and mismatched array of 70s attire from corduroy to bold patterns to star-studded bellbottoms. 

From L to R: Vin Vega as Becky, Autumn Blazon-Brown as Linda, Amy Barker as Jo O’Shea, and Maureen Keiller as Theresa “Terri” Carmichael Photo courtesy of Greater Boston Stage Company

Incident at Our Lady of Perpetual Help is full of candidness, warmth, and quick pacing much due to the cast’s authentic and believable chemistry as a relatable, flawed, and dysfunctional family.  Tempers flare, judgments are passed often, and the O’Shea family is set in their routines within a meticulously-detailed and functioning wood paneled kitchen plucked straight out of the 70s.  From an afghan blanket on a chair to knickknacks on shelves to photos and notes smattered on a corkboard to greenery gathering in a kitchen window, set designer Shelley Barish’s remarkable blast from the past kitchen lies in the details.

A bossy grandmother, a cheapskate father that works too hard, an exhausted but nurturing mother, a shoot-from-the-hip aunt, and an impressionable daughter all vie for the spotlight breaking the 4th wall and well aware they are in the play.  It flows more like a slice-of-life documentary with most characters eager to speak to the “camera.”

Vin Vega as Becky and Autumn Blazon-Brown as Linda O’Shea Photo courtesy of Greater Boston Stage Company

At the center of this play is somewhat reliable narrator Autumn Blazon-Brown as adorably spunky women’s-lib teenager Linda O’Shea.  Smart yet adventurous, Blazon-Brown shows charming charisma as Linda who, in a moment of frustration, is obnoxious to her impressionable sister Becky to the chagrin of those around her including intimidating Fr. Lovett portrayed with self-righteous glee by Barlow Adamson.  Chaos ensues.   

Amy Barker as Jo O’Shea and Autumn Blazon-Brown as Linda O’Shea Photo courtesy of Greater Boston Stage Company

Adamson is an apt comedian with a wealth of opportunities to show off his dynamic skills during this production.  Vin Vega portrays film-obsessed and imaginative Becky who seems the most sensible among this amiable cast and often along for the ride within the O’Shea high jinx.  Amy Barker portrays a relatable every mom as exhausted but nurturing matriarch Jo O’Shea, but Maureen Keiller, a familiar face having delivered solid past performances in Boston such as in Between Riverside and Crazy, Admissions and The Women, is a gem as Theresa “Terri” Carmichael.  Wisecracking, bold, and often blunt, Keiller shows under Terri’s complicated and tough façade is a loneliness and vulnerability with a fierce loyalty to her family.   A better aunt you will never find.

Greater Boston Stage Company presents Incident at Our Lady of Perpetual Help virtually and at Greater Boston Stage Company in Stoneham, Massachusetts through March 20.  The show is 1 hour and 45 minutes with intermission and recommended for children ages 13 and up.  Click here for more information and tickets.

REVIEW:  Gorgeously filmed, Boston Lyric Opera and Opera Philadelphia’s ethereal ‘Svadba’ a vivid and dreamy celebration of treasured moments before a wedding

As Atlantic Ocean waves lap along the shore, renowned vocalists Chabrelle D. Williams, Brianna J. Robinson, Maggie Finnegan, Vera Savage, and Hannah Ludwig provide an intense and inspired a cappella chorus for an idyllic beachside cottage as a bride, what appears to be the mother of the bride, and bridesmaids prepare for a beautiful wedding.  A wedding can stir up a myriad of powerful emotions from bitter sweet to pure joy as a couple starts a new life together and in a way, leaves the former one behind.  Filled with rich traditions, rituals, and cultural customs, the days leading up to a wedding can provide life’s most unforgettable moments.

JUST BEFORE HER WEDDING CEREMONY BEGINS, MILICA (VICTORIA L. AWKWARD) SHARES A GRATEFUL MOMENT WITH LENA (JACKIE DAVIS) IN “SVADBA.” Photo courtesy of Boston Lyric Opera

Gorgeously filmed, seamlessly conducted by Daniela Candillari, and insightfully directed by Shura Baryshnikov (the daughter of legendary dancer and choreographer Mikhail Baryshnikov),  Boston Lyric Opera presents in collaboration with Opera Philadelphia Channel, Svadba by Ana Sokolovic streaming now on Operabox.tv.  The film is just under an hour.  Click here for streaming access and more information.

(L.-R.) VICTORIA L. AWKWARD AS MILICA AND JACKIE DAVIS AS LENA IN “SVADBA.” Photo courtesy Boston Lyric Opera

Svadba, which is Serbian for ‘wedding,’ contains all the anticipation and beauty of the days building up to the big day.   It is a pivotal time in a couple’s life, especially these times when family and friends gathering can be a hesitant and tricky venture.  The glow of the bride-to-be is resplendent in Victoria Awkward as Milica, the loving stares of love and pride shine in Jackie Davis’s eyes as Lena and the beautiful bridesmaids excitedly bonding create a dreamy and ethereal presence in this picturesque setting.

What also makes Svadba so alluring is the intimacy among the group.  From Victoria Awkward as bride Milica and Jackie Davis as Lena’s first encounter, it is easy to see the precious nature of a mother and daughter relationship, though the film does not specify the connection between them.  Davis treats Awkward delicately, taking her hand and getting her ready while presenting to her family and cultural customs and heirlooms leading up to this big day.  The sunlight peers into the cottage, illuminating the treasure trove of precious objects.  There is a quiet outpouring of love between the two of them as Davis prepares Awkward for the future.

Costume designer Albulena’s Borovci’s dynamic costumes vary from traditional and intriguing to unconventional with fantasy and flair.  Sparkling, translucent, and understated gowns adorn bridesmaids Sasha Peterson as Maid of Honor Ljubica, Emily Jerant-Hendrickson, Sarah Pacheco as Zora, and Jay Breen as Danica.  The pale green and coral complements the serene beachside landscape while a bride’s vivid daydream unleashes brighter and bolder attire.

JAY BREEN (AS DANICA, L.) AND VICTORIA L. AWKWARD (AS MILICA, IN WHITE) DANCE AS OTHER BRIDESMAID’S LOOK ON IN “SVADBA.” Photo courtesy of Boston Lyric Opera

Much of this opera symbolizes togetherness, the progression of growing up and finding where a woman fits in the world from the bride’s whirlwind feelings to family and friends perspectives.  The choreography at times feels so intense that the dancers look like they are being taken over by the chorus’s powerful vocal harmony.  From spontaneous frolicking to wild and intense dance rituals set to heavenly, trilling, and rhythmic vocals that narrate, navigate, and reveal the complicated feelings when one weds, Svadba is a spirited snapshot to this tumultuous and extraordinary rite of passage and a beautiful celebration of the future.

MILICA (VICTORIA L. AWKWARD, CENTER) AND HER BRIDESMAIDS RETURN TO THE COTTAGE AFTER GATHERING DECORATIVE FLORA IN “SVADBA.” Photo courtesy of Boston Lyric Opera

Boston Lyric Opera presents in collaboration with Opera Philadelphia Channel, Svadba streaming now on Operabox.tv.  The film is just under an hour.  Click here for streaming access and more information.

REVIEW: Celebrity Series of Boston presents ‘What Makes it Great?’ with Rob Kapilow and the brilliance of Broadway’s Lerner and Loewe

What elements contribute to a great song?

At just beyond his 25th year, NPR’s popular composer, conductor, and music commentator, Rob Kapilow continues to captivate audiences with his vast musical knowledge, sense of humor, and careful analysis of what makes the best songs tick.  Though music styles and genres inevitably change, these classic tunes may make you see your favorite songs in a whole new light.

From the GBH’s Fraser Performance Studio in Boston, Massachusetts and directed by Bob Comisky, Celebrity Series of Boston presents What Makes it Great? with Rob Kapilow streaming through January 27.  Featuring an array of classic Broadway songs by American lyricist and librettist Alan Jay Lerner and Austrian composer Frederick Loewe, Kapilow delves into each song’s appeal and emotional undertones through its carefully selected musical notes. 

NPR’s Rob Kapilow and his piano Photo courtesy of Celebrity Series of Boston

Part teacher, humorist, and historian, Kapilow proves once again just how fascinating a song can be through a mix of sophistication and an easy to follow delivery.  Click here for more information and how to get access to this virtual production and follow along by downloading the show’s program.  The virtual performance includes a short question and answer session.  Click here for more on NPR’s What Makes it Great?   

Though often speaking to a large audience, Rob Kapilow possesses such a personal, relaxed and friendly quality during his talks, it often feels like a one-on-one session on a baby grand piano.  He is so popular with the Celebrity Series crowd that he usually makes a couple of Celebrity Series of Boston appearances per season tackling everything from swing to dance to classical to Broadway music revealing each song’s inherent brilliance.

Rob Kapilow Photo Credit: John Johansen

Calling on a couple of Broadway love songs, Kapilow was accompanied by soprano Emily Albrink and stirring singer, actor, and musician Ben Jones.  In a flowing floral dress, Albrink brims with excitement evident is her soaring vocals as she delivers a charming rendition of My Fair Lady’s I Could Have Danced All Night.  In a black jacket and tie, Jones masters the complex and emotional weight of Camelot’s If Ever I Should Leave You with a bold finish.  Together, Jones and Albrink depict the playful and lighthearted chemistry for Brigadoon’s Almost Like Being in Love and Heather on the Hill where at one point, Jones takes Albrink’s hand. 

Delving into the Golden Age of Broadway as well as Lerner and Loewe’s dynamic history, Kapilow chose a selection of lighthearted and dreamy songs as well as pivotal numbers from musicals that leads to a character’s imminent transformation.  With humor and grace, Kapilow also reveals what each song might have sounded like without its individuality and as he peels back each layer, What Makes It Great? becomes an eye-opening experience. 

From classic songs and American Standards such as It’s Almost like Being in Love from Brigadoon to the high-spirited I Could Have Danced All Night from  My Fair Lady to a humorous and not to be missed I Remember it Well from Gigi, Rob shows how compulsive American lyricist Lerner of the famed retail stores and poverty-raised and frugal Austrian composer Loewe poured themselves and their imagination into their music to create some real Broadway magic.

What Makes it Great? with Rob Kapilow streams through January 27.  Click here for more information and how to access the show.  Click here to see what is next during Celebrity Series of Boston’s digital and in person season.

REVIEW:  Boston Ballet’s virtual ‘The Gift’ spins retro Nutcracker gold

If there wasn’t enough time to see The Nutcracker over the holidays or even if you have and would like to see more, the Boston Ballet is offering a spin on The Nutcracker Duke Ellington-style choreographed by Boston Ballet dancers right from your home.

With special commentary by jazz-enthusiast Eric Jackson nicknamed the ‘Dean of Boston Jazz Radio’ and host of GBH’s Eric in the Evening who rewinds the clock to take a peek at the inspiration behind Ellington’s timeless, progressive Nutcracker Suite, Boston Ballet along with Boston Ballet II and Boston Ballet School post graduates choreograph a lively program from 2020 that highlights and spins some of the Nutcracker’s best moments with their own vibe.

Viktorina Kapitonova and Tigran Mkrtchyan in The Gift; photo by Brooke Trisolini; courtesy of Boston Ballet

The Gift is a dynamic program where each dancer seems they are being moved by the music more than moving to the music.  As much as I am a fan of Boston Ballet’s classic works, there is something even more thrilling when it is infused with upbeat and contemporary flavor. 

From sleek and sophisticated flair to casual and carefree fun, Boston Ballet presents this virtual holiday treat The Gift through January 9 which includes behind the scenes footage and runs approximately 50 minutes.  Click here for more information and access to the show.

The exuberance and sparkling elegance of Viktorina Kapitonova and Tigran Mktrchyan accompanied by pianist Alex Foaksman bring to life the Snow Queen and King’s triumphant Pas de Deux.  All in sepia and crème, they move with a dreamlike sway culminating in a joyful and fanciful reunion.  Some other highlights within the striking variety of dances from Duke Ellington’s upbeat and catchy Nutcracker suite include Overture with choreography by Chyrstyn Fentroy as the number explores the mystery behind The Gift as a package hangs overhead and the dancers gradually get swept away by the song.  Toot Tootie Toot or Dance of the Reed Pipes with choreography by Gabriel Lorena is a brief sashaying escapade as dancers in flowing skirts strut and prance to Ellington’s light and airy rhythms enhanced by an intricate and memorable collective pose.  Peanut Brittle Brigade with chorography by Haley Schwan infuses swing and other dance styles to the beat of Ellington’s bluesy composition.

Boston Ballet in The Gift; photo by Brooke Trisolini; courtesy of Boston Ballet

Arabesque cookie or Arabian Dance with chorography by Haley Schwan, John Lam, Chyrstyn Fentroy, Paul Craig, and My’Kal Stromile, has a bustling rhythm and a retro feel as the number opens with a soloist’s fancy footwork.  It has urgency, poise, and athleticism as each soloist slides in shadow to a transforming color backdrop.  The Voga Vouty or Russian dance with choreography by John Lam showcases savvy and sophistication steeped in black and white as they perform a striking sequence in a spotlight. Chinoserie or Chinese Dance with choreography by Arianna Hughlett is full of mischievous and lighthearted fun as dancers creep and freestyle to the rhythm of Ellington’s chiming beat parting and uniting in shadow.

The finale culminates in a beloved Boston Ballet location worth waiting for.

The Boston Ballet’s virtual holiday treat The Gift continues through January 9 which includes behind the scenes footage.  Click here for more information and access to the show.

REVIEW:  ‘Christmas Revels In Celebration of Winter Solstice’ a clever and inviting return to the stage

Performing for a full and enthusiastic crowd and dedicating the performance to Revels friend Julie Smith, this year’s Christmas Revels offers a lot to its audience, but most importantly, it ushers in the excitement and gratefulness of being together again with a sing-along as well as emphasizing helping those in need.   

Christmas Revels’ audience sang live in Sanders Theatre in Cambridge, Massachusetts and now until January 9, you are invited to sing along virtually from your own living room.  Be sure to download the program first and follow along to songs from the middle ages to classic Christmas carols to contemporary classic songs.   Directed cleverly by Patrick Swanson, The Christmas Revels in Celebration of Winter Solstice is approximately 90 minutes with no intermission.  Click here for more information and how to see this year’s show.

Scene from the Mummers Play (William Forchion as The Dragon, Regie Gibson as the MC/referee, and Mark Jaster as Saint George) Photo courtesy of Shep Ferguson

From last year’s selection of new songs mixed in with some of their greatest performances over Christmas Revels’ 50-year run, Christmas Revels is back to a bit of storytelling and theatrics while still tying in the past with the present day – pandemic times, masks, and all.  An unconventional battle with a dragon is only portion of this wild and peculiar tale where traditions are challenged and life today takes an unexpected turn for this lively cast during a caroling and Christmas party. 

It also weighs in the vintage with the contemporary while infusing its own share of lighthearted humor and enough fantastical elements to create a concise and innovative story.  Acknowledging our present woes, Christmas Revels offers insight and hope into how to best help each other through these difficult times. 

Christmas Revels boasts a large, collaborative cast which includes the lighthearted return of Paula Plum and Richard Snee’s quick-witted observational skills.  With dynamic chorography by Kelli Edwards, Tony Tucker, and Gillian Stewart, charismatic David Coffin returns as Master of the Revels leading an uplifting rendition of Lord of the Dance and beautiful a cappella harmonies for Donna Nobis Pacem.  Alex Cumming and the Revels Morris dancers also impress with the traditional and eclectic Pudding Jig.

The Elizabethan’s arrive! (William Forchion, Regie Gibson, Mark Jaster) Photo courtesy of Shep Ferguson

William Forchion portrays pub owner Joe with Carolyn Saxon as his wife.  Forchion is affable and charismatic keeping a cool head as the pub experiences some unexpected surprises.  He shows off some fancy footwork in a drum-infused sword dance and his smooth vocals are also put to the test in a dual role that is anything but cool.  Regie Gibson portrays sophisticated and no nonsense Reginald while Sabrina Selma Mandell amusingly delivered cheerful comedic nonsense as Flunky, a seemingly dimwitted jester. 

Carolyn Saxon bringing the house down at the George and Dragon’s annual carol party Photo courtesy of Shep Ferguson

Carolyn Saxon gives an amazing performance every time she lifts her voice.  Her vibrant vocals shine in her warm delivery of Oh Happy Day, her heartfelt rendition of Lean on Me, and inspiring Someday at Christmas accompanied by the entire cast.

The Ha’Penny Wassail Children also do a splendid job as they join together for a festive “zoom” to We Wish You a Merry Christmas, their own sweet rendition of Someday at Christmas with harp accompaniment, and leading off a glorious Wassail medley while decorating a tree.

Elizabethan’s strut their stuff (dancing) Photo courtesy of Shep Ferguson

Heidi Hermiller’s colorful costumes varies from humorous ugly Christmas sweaters to festive pub wear to resplendent, gold embroidered and delicately laced gowns.  Jeremy Barnett’s hospitable and festive pub setting includes subtle sparks of hope and encouragement weaved into the surroundings such as a ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ sign by the bar.  With a glowing fireplace in the background, the warm atmosphere boasts a festively decorated room enhanced with lit evergreen trim wrapped around the entire theatre as Jeff Adelberg innovative lighting flashes to the beat as the live onstage Pickled Eggs House Band showcase a variety of music styles led by Music Director George Emlen and Associate Music Director Edmar Colon.

The Christmas Revels in Celebration of Winter Solstice continues its virtual run through January 9.  Click here for more information and how to see the show.

REVIEW:  Greater Boston Stage Company’s ‘All is Calm:  The Christmas Truce of 1914’ moving and miraculous

Witnessing a phenomenon is a rare and precious thing.  It was nothing short of miraculous watching Greater Boston Company’s All is Calm:  The Christmas Truce of 1914 which details that short period in history where enemies united briefly during the depths of War War I on Christmas Eve 1914.  Disillusioned and missing their loved ones, soldiers demonstrated compassion and the mercy of the human spirit as both sides sang carols, exchanged goods, and mutually wished for the war to end.

In the Greater Boston Stage Company’s lobby. Authentic combat uniform and gear from the Veteran Association of the First Corps of Cadets and Museum Photo courtesy of Greater Boston Stage Company

Directed poignantly by Ilyse Robbins and compellingly written by Peter Rothstein, Greater Boston Stage Company presents the award-winning documentary musical,  All is Calm:  The Christmas Truce of 1914 through December 23 as a digital performance and live in person at Greater Boston Stage Company, 395 Main Street in Stoneham, Massachusetts.  The show is approximately 70 minutes with no intermission.  Click here for more information and tickets.

It is surprising that The Christmas Truce of 1914 is not more widely known.  Joyeux Noel, The Christmas Truce, various documentaries, and this show are a few of the ways that this short historical period is recorded.  It should be an annual tradition like How the Grinch Stole Christmas, Frosty, Rudolph or A Charlie Brown Christmas.  It stands as a significant reminder of a Christmas Eve miracle that occurred only once during War World I’s long and grueling four year time span.  Most soldiers first joined thinking the war would end by Christmas. 

The cast of ‘All is Calm: The Christmas Truce of 1914’ Photo credit to Nile Scott Studios/Greater Boston Stage Company

A dimly lit, bare stage is all that is revealed at the start of All is Calm, but what transpires as the show progresses is a rich landscape of moonlight, song, and memories.  Though this show features musical interludes, it is not a traditional musical.  It is more like a documentary that features stunning music and carols inviting the audience into the warmth, spirit, sacrifice, and the true meaning of the season.

Comprised of ten cast members who take on several identities during the production as they recollect that time period, All is Calm boasts powerful and silvery harmonies chiming into the wintry night sung a cappella without a band.  Music Director Matthew Stern does a sensational job with Erick Lichte and Timothy Takach’s vocal arrangements which includes popular carols such as Silent Night, O Holy Night, We Wish You a Merry Christmas, Angels We Have Heard on High, and Auld Lang Syne.

Michael Jennings Mahoney and the cast of ‘All is Calm’ Photo credit to Nile Scott Studios/Greater Boston Stage Company

 All is Calm is a beautiful ensemble piece and each cast member rises to the occasion, but when a renowned German tenor leads a stirring rendition of Franz Gruber’s Stille Nacht in No Man’s Land, it is difficult to pinpoint a more memorable moment. 

Dressed in muted military uniforms and kilts faithful to the era’s period and culture by Bethany Mullins, the collaborative cast demonstrates heartwarming chemistry and yet simultaneously depicts each soldier’s growing isolation in sorrow, fear, turmoil, and anguish as they progressively experience war’s cruel reality.  Integrating direct quotes from soldiers, narration, and uplifting carols such as Wassail as well as exceptional and heartrending songs such as I Want to Go Home, many times moved me beyond words. 

Though the extraordinary harmonies are a large part of the production, the production’s real mastery also resides in its stillness.  That brief interlude during a harrowing time where friendships were forged and sweet peace was nestled in the silence of enemies who joined together in the joy of the season and the sadness in their hearts for what was in store.

Greater Boston Stage Company presents the award-winning documentary musical, All is Calm:  The Truce of 1914 through December 23 as a digital performance and live in person at Greater Boston Stage Company in Stoneham, Massachusetts.  The show is approximately 70 minutes with no intermission.  Click here for more information, tickets, and a look at their upcoming events.

REVIEW:  Boston Ballet off to a brilliant ‘reSTART’

Boston, it’s time to reSTART.

Embarking on a journey from beloved local landmarks to overseas to inside the Boston Ballet studios, Boston Ballet’s reSTART amps up the excitement of their highly-anticipated return live onstage in time for the holidays.

With a versatile lineup that includes recently filmed jazz-infused contemporary dance, classic tales, traditional dance, and a season preview as well as a full range of costumes including street wear by Yin Yue and Jens Jacob Worsaae and Judanna Lynn’s spectacular royal fashion, Boston Ballet’s virtual reSTART, available through November 7, delivers an elegant and dynamic show for dance lovers everywhere.  Click here for more information and for Boston Ballet’s full season.

Boston Ballet in Yin Yue’s A Common Movement, photo by Brooke Trisolini; courtesy of Boston Ballet

Over the past year and a half, the renowned Boston Ballet has become much more than a force onstage.  It has been inspiring to see this sophisticated and athletic company in various settings, using creative and unconventional methods to evoke their passion for their extraordinary work.  Lighthearted, romantic, and refreshing, Boston Ballet’s season premiere reSTART demonstrates a brilliant new season to come.

It all starts right in the city of Boston.  Renowned contemporary choreographer Yin Yue delivers jazz-infused spirit into the Boston Common as fifty dancers brighten this beloved October landscape in A Common Movement.  In comfortable and modest attire, the dancers come together in a joyful and sweeping dance as horns blare creating a vintage vibe under a peerless sun.  With catchy tunes performed by Quincy Jones and Alice Coltrane, these charismatic dancers take over the Common with a swift beat in a smooth, mischievous, and calibrated performance enhanced by a slick dance by Maria Alvarez, Louise Hautefeuille, Lauren Herfindahl, Sangmin Lee, Ao Wang, and Patrick Yocum on the Boston Public Garden Foot Bridge.

Haley Schwan and My’Kal Stromile in Yin Yue’s A Common Movement, photo by Brooke Trisolini; courtesy of Boston Ballet

Clever choreography and digital technology bring together pairs Ji Young Chae and Tyson Clark and Haley Schwan and My’kal Stromile in an unexpected way for a fascinating performance in the Public Garden.

Boston Ballet delves into a classic tale with fantasy flair featuring Soo-bin Lee and SeokJoo Kim, a stunning duo as they perform a deeply romantic Pas de Deux in an excerpt from Romeo and Juliet.   Angelically adorned in a halo of ribbons and flowing gown by Song Bohwa and Hanna Kim, Lee is a vision in an idealistic dark forest.  Despite a hint of foreboding, Prokofiev’s score is uplifting and glorious as Lee and Kim enchant each other building into bursts of joy, seeming to move as one into an embrace.

Addie Tapp and Lasha Khozashvili in Jorma Elo’s Ruth’s Dance, photo by Brooke Trisolini; courtesy of Boston Ballet

From classic tale to classic dance, another highlight of reSTART features Bach’s soothing, piano-driven rhythms as Addie Tapp and Lasha Khozahvili perform a tender and delicate dance as Khozahvili quite literally sweeps Tapp off her feet.  

Muses take on full form as Paul Arrais beguiles inspiration as bold and fresh faced Apollo in a pivotal classic work which first brought choreographer Balanchine and composer Stravinsky together.  What is particularly captivating about Balanchine’s choreography is the mechanical synchronization between muses Lia Cirio as majestic Terpsichore, Viktorina Kapitonova as mysterious and foreboding Calliope, and Chryrstyn Fentroy as jubilant and charismatic Polyhymnia.  Their dance is meticulously precise as they rhythmically pivot in unison, at one point forming a beautiful silhouette until each have a chance to portray their own distinct chemistry with Arrais’s mesmerizing Apollo.  They join together, hinging onto each other and one might wonder who is in control.

The Boston Ballet kicks off their new season with virtual reSTART continuing through Sunday, November 7.  Click here for more information and a closer look at Boston Ballet’s new season.

REVIEW: Boston Lyric Opera’s season opener ‘Cavalleria Rusticana’ a passionate and magnificent affair

Not even Easter Sunday can stop a scandal in the Sicilian countryside.

Featuring distinct, eye-popping costumes, a glorious Opera Chorus led Brett Hodgdon, and a full orchestra, Boston Lyric Opera (BLO) opened their season on a grand scale with the renowned one act Italian libretto, Cavalleria Rusticana for just two performances on October 1 and 3.  Boston Lyric Opera was greeted by an enthusiastic crowd anticipating BLO’s return to a live venue for 18 months.  Delivered on a concert scale, Cavalleria Rusticana was presented under Leader Bank Pavilion’s open air tent in the Seaport District in Boston, Massachusetts.  It ran for 1 hour and 10 minutes with no intermission.

JAVIER ARREY AS ALFIO WITH DANCERS VICTORIA L. AWKWARD, MICHAYLA KELLY, AND MARISSA MOLINAR Photo by Liza Voll/Boston Lyric Opera

Loyalty, love, honor, and faith are tested among this group of passionate players.  Led by Music Director David Angus, the seemingly joyous overture delivers an exciting rush woven into a sense of foreboding, hinting at turmoil among still waters on the holiest of days, Easter Sunday.  Introducing the libretto is an interactive and unparalleled performance of Pagliacci’s Prologue by Javier Arrey.  Taking a reflective, humorous, and philosophical tone addressing the audience over what they are about to see, Cavalleria Rusticana becomes a passionate and cautionary tale, pleading about the affects of love and the human spirit.

Julia Noulin-Merat’s standalone set pieces, including overturned chairs piled high in pale pink as well as bright yellow chairs lining the stage, pop as does Gail Astrid Buckley’s distinct, vivid costumes with blooming flowers set against the orchestral backdrop depicting the emergence of a Sicilian spring. 

CHELSEA BASLER AS LOLA WITH DANCER MICHAYLA KELLY Photo by Liza Voll/Boston Lyric Opera

It is easy to get invested in these headstrong characters and Cavalleria Rusticana hits the ground running steeped in a complex love affair as the sacredness of Easter surrounds them, emphasized by ethereal dancers Victoria Awkward, Michayla Kelly, and Marissa Molinar and the swelling of the Boston Lyric Chorus’s powerful and spiritual lyrics.

Michelle Johnson as conflicted Santuzza leads this magnificent cast, delivering a splendid, heartrending performance.  Filled with sorrow and longing, Johnson’s tremendous vocals and her searing confrontation with Turiddo, portrayed with a charismatic yet manipulative mystique by Adam Diegel, show Johnson is a force to be reckoned with.  Chelsea Basler depicts alluring and complicated Lola with infuriating and masterful charm and the heart of the show lies with loyal and compassionate Nina Yoshida Nelsen as Mamma Lucia who observes it all much like the audience, with bated breath.

The show is delivered entirely in Italian and with subtitles at significant parts of the production.  However, for someone who does not know Italian and with a production so captivating, it is difficult having to forego not knowing every single word spoken from this enthralling cast.

Cavallaria Rusticana takes place in 1900’s Sicily and yet this opera is as timeless as any contemporary story told today and a perfect choice to open Boston Lyric Opera’s new season which includes virtual and live and in-person performances including jazz-themed opera Champion and Svadba through operabox.tv.  Click here for more information and a closer look at BLO’s new season.