Awake and Sing II
              created 7/09, end 12/11
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Guys and Dolls @ Ogunquit Theatre, Ogunquit Me
        This is the first show of the 2009 season I got to see at Ogunquit due to terrible weather all of June and early July. When the weather finally turned good in mid July, I made three trips to Maine in four weeks all overlapping the four week run of this show, so saw it three times (2nd row each time!): opening preview, middle of run, last week of run.

        At the preview the Ogunquit executive director asked (from the stage) for feedback on the show. I thought the show was excellent except for Liz Larsen playing Adelaide. I emailed Ogunquit that I had seen a 9th grade girl (at Stoneham young company) do a better job with Adelaide's lament ('give you a cold') than Larsen. But in the later shows I saw Larsen was great, balancing out the cast well, a huge improvement. I sent 2nd email commenting on the huge improvement. (On preview night Larsen must have had an off night or insufficient rehersal, because her reseme shows she has been in many Broadway shows.)

        This is a terrific production. The audience loved this show. Excellent principals, excellent casting and singing in the 2nd rank roles and a large corp of good dancers, good orchestra. Visually a stunner with different color technicolor suits worn by the gamblers (modeled after 1992 Broadway run). Christian Hoff, one of the original Jersey Boys on Broadway and Tony winner, was terrific. Richard Kind well known comedy actor on TV as Sky Masterson and he has a voice too. Glory Crampton with a fine soprano voice did a good job as the 'mission doll'. Tag line at end of 1st act: What kind of doll are you anyway? I'm a mission doll!

        As usual at Ogunquit even the secondary and tertiary roles are well cast. Blake Hammond, who I had seen as Edna in Hairspray on Broadway and who was in the quartet of Music Man on Broadway, brings the house down as Nicely Nicely Johnson. He is well balanced with two other good singers (as a group far better than the movie trio) James Paterson and Matt Jones. John Little as the mission head gets to sing a song and has a nice voice and manner.

        Seems to me the Ogunquit schedule is brutal with matinees three (or sometimes four?) days a week (Wed, Thur, Sat, Sun) for a total of nine to ten shows a week (vs 8 a week on Broadway).

Blake Hammond as Nicely Nicely Johnson in Sit Down Your Rocken the Boat
Guys ? Dolls, Ogunquit Theatre (July 2009)

Christian Hoff, Glory Crampton
Guys ? Dolls, Ogunquit Theatre (July 2009)

Richard Kind as NathanDetroit, Liz Larsen as MissAdelaide
Guys ? Dolls, Ogunquit Theatre (July 2009)

Video of the excellent 2009 Ogunquit Guys ? Dolls production here:

shows in six days in NYC (8/09)

Tin Pan Alley Rag @ Round About Laura Pels Theate on 46th, NY (8/09)
         I stumbled onto a gem of a show in NY (Aug 2009), The Tin Pan Alley Rag, produced by RoundAbout Theatre Company, a subscription group that has two (or three) theaters and does limited runs mostly for New York people, not tourists. It was in their small theater on 46th, far underground.

         It's a fairly new play (with music) about an imaged meeting between Scott Joplin and Irving Berlin around 1915. They were both 'kings of ragtime' and both had wives who died within weeks of their marriage. This made for a good plot line when added to stories about how they both got started. (Berlin says it's true he writes hit songs and can't read music. He plays them on the piano (self taught) and he pays someone to notate them.) I've long loved Scott Joplin. When his rags, drags, etc are well played in classical style on a good piano, it's some of the most elegant piano music ever written.

        The play got relatively bad reviews I was told, and I know some audience members near me were neutral, but I loved it as did a girl I talked to who worked at the theater. The key I think is whether or not you liked Joplin (everybody knows Berlin's songs). Watching it on Wed mat I was thinking I could see this again, so on leaving I bought a ticket for Sat mat. When weather gave me an extra day in NY, I went back for Sun mat, 3rd time!

      When I got home,  I checked the reviews and found them mixed. This is case somewhat like Pirates this spring at the Huntington, a huge disagreement amoung reviewers and audience members. The NYT review by Isherwood was pretty negative and some others were put off by some of the teachy and bio dialog, but all the reviewer recognized the strong cast and excellent music. A long list of reviewer comments were uniformly positive (standing ovations).

        Frankly the teachy and bio sections I liked. I liked learning a little something about the mechanics of ragtime, music publishing in the early 20th century, and their backgrounds. But for me it was the exquisite beauty of the Joplin excerpts performed (oh, so rarely) on stage that brought me back again and again.

        New to me were excerpts from Joplin's opera, Treemonisha, that were sung/danced by a superb cast (top to bottom) of 12 on a stage just feet away. Michael Theriault (as Berlin) and Michael as Boatman (as Joplin) were both terrific. (Theriault looked so familiar, but from his bio I can't place him. His personal reviews were always great.) Pianos on stage faced away from the audience with the playing done live by excellent pianists offstage (with speakers in the pianos). The show has moments of pure poetry, especially a quiet Joplin slow drag played on piano (Bethena?) and the show's finale with a sung drag from Treemonisha.

Michael Boatman (as Scott Joplin) and Michael Theriault (as Iriving Berlin)
RoundAbout Theatre production of Tin Pan Alley Rag (8/09)

Michael Boatman with James Judy                             Michael Theriault with Mark Ledbetter

        Video of the show within a TV review (NY1) that I agree with.

Savannah Disputation @ Speakeasy Stage Company, Boston MA
        A wonderful little play and the 2nd play I have seen in three years that makes reference to the biblical verse "Awake and Sing". Billed as an off Broadway hit (two week run). Here the 'resurrection of bodies' is actually featured in the play. A young peppy Pentecostal missionary is trying to convince two (non nun) sisters who are died in the wool Catholics that their religion is all wrong. Yup, a play all about religion (no other subplots), a play about (as the Globe says) the "finer points of Roman Catholic doctrine". It's funny, intellectual, engaging, perhaps in large part because it was so very intimate, I was front row center about six feet from the actors, and because it was beautifully acted by some of Boston's best actors: Nancy E. Carroll and Paula Plum, along with Timothy Crowe (90 productions! at Trinity Repertory in RI) and newcomer Carolyn Charpie (fresh out of BC) who held her own.

Paula Plum and Carolyn Charpie (10/09)

Nancy E. Carroll                                    Timothy Crowe (from Trinity Repetory)
                                                         as priest

 New York production of "The Savannah Disputation" (March 2009 at Playwrights Horizon, 416 West 42nd Street)
Marylouise Burke, Kellie Overbey and Dana Ivey

        Good Boston Globe review and NYT review by Charles Isherwood

        In the following weeks in talking with seat neighbors at other performances the the Savannah Disputation came up and everyone had liked it. Later I read this production was nominated for several awards.

Boston Ballet's Giselle @ Boston Opera House, Boston MA
        Beautiful dancing by Nelson Madrigal ? Erica Cornejo with Katheleen Breen Combs as queen of willies and whole company in opening night of Giselle (1841) at the BB's new home, the nicely restored Boston Opera House (2,600 seats). Pairing of Madrigal (age 33) and Cornejo (age 30) was a little unusual because both principals are married to two other principals (Madrigal to Lorna Feijoo and Cornejo to Carlos Molina). Even though Madrigal joined the company in 2003 I have not seen him dance much. On reason I think is that he is pretty much restricted to classic works with his Cuban/Russian training, which removes him from about half the stuff the company has been doing in recent years, but here he was a first rate prince. Cornejo did some amazingly fast turns around the stage.

Erica Cornejo and Nelson Madrigal in Boston Ballet's 'Giselle' (10/09)
(taken in rehersal for Giselle by Boston Globe)

        Stumbled across this YouTube pirated video (below) of Nelson Madrigal dancing a pas de deux (unknown) maybe in Cuba with a very good technician Viengsay Valdes (she start off a long fouette sequence with 6 turns!). She has a Wikipedia bio which starts with "Viengsay Vald?s is a world-renowned Cuban ballerina and actress". She has been the National Ballet of Cuba prima since 2003. Madrigal left Cuba for USA in 2001 (age 25), so this might be before he left Cuba. (Video is poor technical quality, but dancing is first rate.)
  (9 min)

        The company size for the 2009/10 season is 40 with 11 principals (vs 7 last year). The new pit is very wide (rows AA to CC are gone and there is wide aisle in front of row A) so even though I was in the 3rd row it's a long way to the stage. Story in the Globe says when BB music director, Jonathan McPhee, got a look at the orchestra pit in 2004 after the 38 million dollar restoration of the abandoned Opera House he lost hope. The old big pit used by the opera orchestra was partially covered with concrete and seats. He needs to see the stage while conducting and it was not possible. So to make the Opera House the BB home (30 year lease on the Opera House), a half million was spent to bring back the old big pit (for 46 in the ballet orchestra).

        I had an unpleasant ticket experience at this performance, which I shrugged off, but when I read later that BB had just taken over ticketing (from either TicketMaster or Telecharge) and was keeping the service charge for themselves, I send the following email (via BB web site):

        I had a series of ticketing problems last Thur, opening night of Giselle. I am writing because I read BB has taken over ticketing from Telecharge (or TicketMaster) and my experience Thur shows you have some bugs in your system. I bought single seat C109 ($132) online the morning of the performance. At Will Call a little before the performance the ticket was not there. It had not been printed. I often buy theater tickets late, so not having it printed is a minor problem. I see this a lot. However once I was in my seat things went downhill fast.
        Someone else soon arrived with a ticket also for C109. The usher looked at both tickets (I did not see the other ticket) and apparently finding them the same, did the right thing and passed the problem off to a senior usher to resolve. She came down yelling to see whoever had C109 (apparently it never occurred to her to look to C109 for that person, me). Looking at my ticket she then proceeded to say in a loud voice that I was in the wrong seat, my ticket was for row O,  not row C. Since she had the ticket several seats away, I was able only to respond weakly that I had bought it online as C109. I told her also that I had bought it that morning. My seat neighbors then spoke up saying they had turned in seat C109 on Wed the day before, so I had support. (I later noticed my online confirmation in my pocket, which I normally thow away when I get a ticket because it should no longer be needed, and it confirmed that I had bought C109.)
        She now demanded my ticket saying she was going back to the office. My seat mates on both sides said don't give it to her without marking it, but I didn't have anything to write with, so I gave it to her. My seat neighbors on both sides (strangers to me) were now were talking about her lack of people skills. As she waltzed off with my ticket, I yelled I want it back. I got it back just as the performance was beginning, but with no apology or explanation. When I got the ticket back, I could see it was marked clear as a bell 'C' and both of my seat neighbors agreed. I went out at intermission to the box office, but it was closed. Clearly the other C109, a young girl, got screwed.
        I writing not because I want anything, but only to help you out with your ticketing. Selling the same seat twice is sure to ruin two peoples' evenings and that appears to be what happened here. If BB is going to run ticketing, you better figure out how to do it.
(no response from BB)

All Shook Up @ Ogunquit Playhouse, Ogunquit, ME
        I was pleasantly surprised by this show. I'm not a big Elvis fan and going in I thought this was probably the show assembled from songs on Broadway a few years ago that (as I remembered it) had gotten stinko reviews. Well I was wrong. The stinko show I remembered reading about on Broadway was a musical based on the Beach Boys music. This show (even though I have no memory of it on Broadway) ran six months or so in 2005. It weaves together 24 of Elvis' songs into a story line (in comparison to Ma Mia this plot is Hamlet!) by Joe Dipietro (I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change) that is light hearted, fun and clever and does make it into a show not just a musical concert. Bottom line -- fun show with lots of Elvis songs well sung by strong voices woven into sort of crazy light hearted plot, but without (here) any real (professional level) dancing, the ensemble just jumped around.

        Show had a strong center with Elvis character played by Todd DuBail plus Jen Cody (Shrek on Broadway), Cady Huffman (Pirates this spring at Huntington and Tony Award winner for Producers), and Sally Struthers. Almost all of 10 or so of the principals had very strong voices, some outstanding. I ended up sitting next to a lady who from her reactions I figured out (she confirmed) that she was the mother of a young guy who one of lesser of the principals. Struthers works at lot at Ogunquit and consequently was billed as the star of this show, but in reality she had quite a small part.

Ogunquit Playhouse production of All Shook Up (9/09)
        Todd DuBail, (tiny) Jen Cody, and Sally Struthers

3 min video of the Ogunquit production with snippets of many of the songs

Kiss Me, Kate @ Lyric Stage, Boston MA
        Lyric opened its 2009/10 season with a big 1948 Cole Porter musical that it fit into its tiny stage. I had seen this show before (couple of times) a few years ago when it played on Broadway. This must be a budget buster because this show requires a very large, highly skilled cast + a seven piece orchestra offstage: The musical numbers are distributed among a lot of cast members. The show needs: very strong singing/acting middle aged couple 'So in Love', 'I Hate Men', who are at the leads, a younger couple that sing 'I'm Always True to You Darling in My Fashion' and dance, two older comedy actors that can stop the show singing 'Brush up your Shakespeare', a black singer/dancer for 'Too Darn Hot', a Douglas McArthor type, a singling maid 'Another Op’nin, Another Show',  plus a large number of singer/dancers for the corp. This is huge for this small theater and must have been difficult to cast, but well cast it was. Terry Teachout came in from NY and had some nice things to say out it in the Wall Street Journal (review shared by Amadeous in St. Louis).

        Two key leads were Peter Davenport ? Amelia Broome, neither of whom I had ever seen before. They both fit their roles very well, physically ? vocally and provided a strong core for the show. Broome's bio says she now teaches acting in Boston (Emerson?) Her is Iris Fanger's description of them

        "Peter Davenport, a compact-sized performer with a large voice, in the tradition of Alfred Drake, the original lead, gives Graham the authority and oversized ego of a thespian who loves his image in the mirror almost as much as his shrinking circle of fans. Amelia Broome, of the operatic soprano, adds a sheen of self-indulgence as the aging actress afraid of looking over her shoulder at the cuties a decade younger, thrusting her out of the spotlight."
        The two Shakespeare hoods, stopping the show as required, were Neil A. Casey and J.R. Turner. I saw Casey in the quick change 'Mystery of Ira Veep' last season at the Lyric, where he was one of the two actors playing all the roles. J.R. Turner was new to me.

Amelia Broome with  Timothy John Smith (Oct 2009)

 J.R.Turner ? Neil A.Casey                                R. Patrick Ryan (left) and (bosomy) Michele DeLuca

female dancing corp with Mary Callanan and R. Patrick Ryan

Boston Ballet World Passions (repertory) @ Boston Opera House, Boston MA
        Spectacular BB repertory program last night. Huge cast (bulk of the company) in two terrific long ballets, beautifully danced, sandwiching two short interesting (world premier) pas de deux. First long piece was Paquita (originally 1846) a classical spectacular with Lorna Feijoo and her husband Nelson Madrigal with a pas de trois featuring Erica Cornejo plus a featured quad along with several corps. Billing was a little strange. Billed as World Premier with choreograph after Petipa by Pino Alosa (who was on stage during curtain). I did not know who Pino Alosa was, but I find he is been a BB ballet master (one of two) for the last couple of years and was formerly a dancer in Italy. Globe reviewer says Alosa has distilled out a pure dance version of Paquita from the story ballet.

        Second long piece was Carmen/Illusions done by resident (Finish) BB choreographer Jorma Elo, first performed in 2006. Carmen it's fair to say is on the opposite end of the ballet spectrum from Paquita! It's a dramatic and athletic spectacular, where the men of the company in particular get to do all their incredible dance tricks. Super dramatic and always interesting, even if there are some mysterious goings on with two double story  metal tubes that presumably have something to do with a well hidden 'plot' (presumably have these been filling up some warehouse since 2006). Globe reveiwer says this piece has been reduced from the original 2006 version, which was evening length.

        The two pas de deux were new and interesting too. The first  (Tsukiyo) an exotic piece by favorite BB choreographer Helen Picket. Here for the first time Lia Cirio (with strange teeth) looked in her element and did a fine job. She was also featured in Carmen. The second (Rhyme), except for a corny frozen lights start is also interesting, by Viktor Plotnikov (former BB dancer and husband of the company's prima, Lirissa Ponomarenko) with Heather Waymack (from the corp) and Altar Dugaraa (from Mongolia!), who has his own rank as the only 2nd Soloist. (Globe reviewer says this piece was first done last year.)

        Standing ovation by most of the audience on opening night, which is unusual at BB. Good Globe review (Thea Singer).

        As usual no good hi-res pictures available from BB, but at least they are now providing some video. Nice 3 min video (probably from dress reheasal) of World Passions (some of Rhyme, Paquita and Carmen).

Pavel Gurevich, Erica Cornejo and Jaime Diaz in Paquita (10/09)

BB Paquita

Sarbi Varga and Kathleen Breen Combes in BB Carmen

BB Playbill cover (10/09)

Boston Ballel 2009 Night of Stars
        As they have in the last three years BB opened 2009/10 season with a one night (totally sold out) gala. Good 2 min video (with closeups) showing excerpts of three of the dozen or so pieces

The Sparrow @ Stoneham Theatre, Stoneham MA
        Highly stylized, full of action and surprises with an energetic young(ish) cast of 13. This is 'The Sparrow', an import from House Theatre of Chicago and much of the Chicago production team (director, choreographer,  and the important projection, sound and scenic designers, as well as lead actress) came to Boston to mount it. Uses a basketball type floor as scenery combined with elaborate sound effects and full screen projections and tiny models to suggest other locations. Always interesting, plot twists unpredictable, the magic of theater!


Stoneham's Sparrow Dillan Arrick in from of rear projection (10/09)

Stoneham production of The Sparrow  (rt Dillan Arrick and Elizabeth Erwin)

Carolyn Defrin (as Emily Book) in original Chicogo production of Sparrow (2007)

        Here's a really positive review of the Stoneham production (by Howie Green of Edge)

        "Just when you think you’ve seen everything that live theatre has to offer along comes a play that is so cleverly staged and imaginatively presented that it could very well make you rethink everything you know about theatrical productions."

Dead Man's Cell Phone @ Lyric Stage, Boston MA
        Writing this 9 months after I saw the play and I remember it was different and interesting, but it didn't leave much of a lasting impression. A  Sarah Ruhl play. A lot of the production photos don't now ring a bell, but I do remember the paper scene below. The excellent Liz Hayes was the lead.

Jeff Mahoney and Liz Hayes
Lyric Stage's production of Dead Man's Cell Phone (10/09)

don't remember this scene, but nice photo
Beth Gotha, Bryn Jameson, Liz Hayes, Jeff Mahoney

BSO Open Rehearsal @ Boston Symphony Hall, Boston MA
        As is my custom for the last three years I go to the Boston Symphony once a year, to an open rehearsal in Jan (this year 2010). The price is right $19, open seating.

        BSO ticketing still does not handle open rehearsals correctly. Ticketing online you must buy a specific seat. Only when you pick up the ticket do you see the ticket is marked 'open seating'. I'm coming to realize it's largely a waste of time providing feedback on ticketing. I emailed BSO a couple of years ago about this (and they sent back a long reply), but nothing ever seems to change. It isn't necessary to change the guts of the ticketing for open rehearsals. All they would need to do is add a line to one screen saying 'Open Rehearsal seating is Open Seating'.
        One of the things I like about open rehearsals is you change your seat. In past years capacity was about 50% so there was a lot of flexibility and you could get pretty close. This year, however, YoYo Ma, was playing the Haydn cello concerto #1 and all four of his performance were sold out, so I expected it would be tight, and it was probably 90 to 95% of capacity. Sat in middle of 3rd balcony (from row) for cello concerto and in rear corner 2nd balcony for Schubert's Unfinished Symphony. The volume in the rear corner is too low to really enjoy the music.

        Program notes said while Haydn's cello concerto #1 had long been known to exist only in 1961 did a Haydn researcher find a copy of it (in Prague). It had enough virtuoso runs to allow YoYo to show his stuff. There's, of course, always a little drawback to open rehearsals. Last year one piece was skipped. Here the negative was the guest conductor (Tom Kooperman from Holland) went on and on (all inaudible) with notes after every piece.

Christmas Carol @ Stoneham Theatre, Stoneham MA
        An old Christmas chestnut and not my favorite, only my second theatrical Christmas Carol production. I saw it first last year at the New Rep in Watertown where the production is filled with music. Here the focus is literary focusing on language that Dickens is famous for (plus a couple of brief songs and dances). This production owes a lot to the Public Theater in Boston. The director and several actors are from there. The director (Diego Arciniegas) is credited with the adaptation.

        Nicely done production. Very large and polished cast (21), large wood frame, two story set across the whole stage, and nice atmospheric lighting (? even briefly a sea effect in the background), big costume budget (costume designer Toni Elliott). Strong (Shakespearean background) actor for Scrooge: Nigel Gore.

        One aspect of Christmas Carol in the theater must be tricky: magic/special effects needed for the ghosts, especially on a tight budget. Here the face on the door was nicely done (even from front row it was not clear how this was pulled off). The ghost in chains was less successful. Leigh Barrett was one of the ghosts, but her musical talents were largely wasted.

Nigel Gore (scrooge) with Tiny Tim (Michael Sticca)
Stoneham Theatre production of Christmas Carol (Dec 2009)

        This review by Jennifer Bubriski in the Edge aligns nicely with my thoughts on the production.

Fabuloso @ Merrimack Theater, Lowell MA
        Screwball comedy about two nutjobs who come to visit and never leave, a relatively new play (2008) by John Kolvenbach. Enjoyable. I was at first preview performance (not planned) and found out that Merrimack always invites audiences to stay and talk to the director and production people (not actors) for a few minutes after the first preview. High energy performances from the cast of four.

Fabuluso at Merrimack Theatre 1/10

Hockey Mon, Hockey Dad@ Stoneham Theatre, Stoneham MA
        Some of the humor of the evening is in the program notes. Weylin deadpans he was going to do this show in a real hockey ring passing out blankets and hot chocolate to the audience, but when he found out ice time in Jan is hard to come by, he and the creative team figured out how to bring the rink into the theater... The young skaters in the show can really skate on the artificial ice. This is a small, slice of life, Canadian (unfortunately downplayed here) play that never develops very much. My seat neighbor thought the show 'cute'. Terry Byrne's Review in the Globe is spot on. Personally I felt a little let down when the play ended rather abruptly without the couple skating on the ice, which had been hinted at during the play. Don't miss the last line of Danielle Perry's bio.

Danielle Perry and Gabriel Kuttner
in Stoneham Theatre’s production of “Hockey Mom, Hockey Dad. (1/10)
(photo -- Neil Reynolds)

Bryne's Globe review

[title of show]@ SpeakEasy Stage Company, Boston MA
        [title of show] is a very clever, original, fun musical/review. Here's the hook --- Two guys decide to write a musical for a festival whose deadline for submission is three weeks away. They decide to put in everything they are saying 'right now' into the musical which makes for a lot of fast funny jokes. In the paperwork where it says 'title of show' they write 'title of show'. Song are all light, listenable and fun, if not memorable.

        This is a 2009 show with book by Hunter Bell and songs by Jeff Bowen who was one of the cast of four in its NY run. Cast here is Jordan Ahnquist, Joe Lanza, Val Sullivan, Amy Barker with Will McGarrahan playing keyboard on stage. NYT had good words about original: "A zesty, sweet, charming musical"

        Set was amazingly simple and clever (never saw anything like it). It looked like just four chairs and white brick wall with a couple of insets. But with lights dimmed amazingly realistic scenes were (front) projected onto the brick wall, even dancing images at one point. (can't find set designer or lighting designer credits in playbill)

 Val Sullivan, Joe Lanza, Jordan Ahnquis, and Amy Barker
in SpeakEasy production of [title of show] Jan 2010

Joe Lanza (top) and Jordan Ahnqui (bot)

Les Miserables --- Young Company performance @ Stoneham Theatre, Stoneham MA   (Feb 2010)
        I look forward to the kids performance at Stoneham Theatre that occur twice a year. The big shows feature a big cast, well prepared and coached, and there's generally some real talent to be spotted. And over time you see the same faces again and again. Last summer it was a very difficult show, Sweeny Todd, done by the high school students. I approached that performance with some dread, but was amazed that lead by some strong principals the kids pulled off a very credible performance. I approached this year's very difficult work (it's totally sung), Les Miserables, also with dread, but here the high school kids did better than credible, it was a wonderful performance!

        First act ends with the rousing climax at the barricades and the waving of the red flag. (Whatever that means, the plot of this show escapes me!) During intermission there was a real buzz: 'this performance is really good'. At the end the show the capacity crowd rose almost as one cheering their heads off (granted there's probably a lot of family and friends).

        The show had about eight strong principals, led by a terrific performance of Stoneham senior Angelo McDonough in the lead role (Jean Valjean). He can both really sing and act this role. McDonough's bio indicates he is serious about musical theater. He has been performing in the Stoneham Youth since the 7th grade and he intends to study music theater in college. I remembered, and made note in my review, of his strong performance in a small, but featured, role (italian, Adolfo Pirelli) last summer in Sweeny Todd.

        Old faces back again among the principals was Zoey Michaels (Eponine, sings 'On My Own'), now 15 at Stoneham High, she was a standout performer even at 13 when she sang Adelide's Lament in Guys and Dolls. Master of the House (Th?nardier) and his wife (Madame Th?nardier) were familiar: David Travis and Samantha Cunha. She was the female lead (Mrs. Lovette) in Sweeny Todd last year and gets by more on her acting than singing. He was Tony in last years West Side Story. Both are seniors at Melrose High. Doing a good job in the role of Javert, who pursues  Jean Valjean, was Steven Gordon, junior at Reading HS. His bio says in was in Sweeny Todd also (Judge Turpin), which I don't really remember, but his face was vaguely familiar.

        Two new finds were the young pair Allsun O'Malley (Cosette) and Kyle McAdam (Marius). O'Malley is only an 8th grader (Winchester middle school) and is developing a good soprano voice. McAdam is a little guy with a big voice. He is only 14 years old from North Andover. He appears to be serious about theater having been already in several mainstage Stoneham productions (child roles) and his bio says he has a vocal teacher. A good job too by Clara Logan (Fantine, sings 'I dreamed a dream') who is a 17 year old senior at Pingree school (South Hamilton, MA, a long drive), and this is her 10th youth show at Stoneham. Big credit for a great production has to go to director, Chris Carcione.

Cats --- Young Company performance @ Stoneham Theatre, Stoneham MA (Feb 2010)
        Cats is a weird show. One kid leaving asked his mother what the show was about and she said it was about types of cats. OK, that's as good an explanation as any. The large very young cast (all elementary school students) was very well prepared. Credit for this goes to Caitland Lowans, a staple at Stoneham. (Her bio says she will be directing the upcoming My Fair Lady on mainstage.)

        The only good song in the show, Memories, was very well sung by Alexandra Berube (Grizabella), a 6th grader from Methuen. A couple of the girls who were dancers (? singers) were featured did a nice job, but who knows what cats they were, so I can't for sure tie them to names in the program. But two girls are listed as dance captains, and one of these is Victoria, who Wikipedia says her solo dance begins Jellico Ball, so the two dancers are probably Erica Nork (Victoria), who is a 6th grade student in Andover, and Bianca Baldassaro (Jemima), whose bio doesn't say where she lives.

North Shore Music Theatre @ Berverly MA (update 3/17/10)
        1,500 seat theater in the round North Shore Music Theatre after 54 years in operation went dark in 2009. The theater had long been directed by Jon Kimbell, but after he retired (?) and operation passed into other hands it failed within one year. The failure was brought about by a combination of high debt (10 million) due to a large 2005 fire and a disastrous programming error at Christmas season 2008. The annual Christmas show was replaced with a long run (5-6 weeks) of High School musical II, which sold only 1/4 as many tickets as expected. The natural audience of North Shore is seniors (they come by the bus loads), but Disney's HS Musical II is a kids show and not even a good one.

        Reading the stories in the Salem News some of the back story of the transition is revealed. Jon Kimbell prior to the sale had been working for months with business man William Hanney, who finally bought the theater in Feb 2010. Hanney paid 3.6 million for the theater plus its 26 acres and two other buildings on site, acquiring it from the Citizens Bank who had acquired it in 2009 at a bankruptcy auction for the same price. The property is assessed by the town at 12 million. The theater in the past was non-profit. The mayor says it will for the first time begin to pay taxes to the town. Hanney is talking of setting up for profit company to own the 26 acres and a non-profit company to run the theater.

         Kimbell will not to be the new artistic director, but he will be coming back as director of the Christmas show. The new artistic director is Evans Haile, described as long time Artistic Director of the Cape Playhouse (Dennis MA on Cape Cod). His background may be conducting since Evans Haile is an usual name, and a decade ago a Evans Haile was the leading candidate (after Keith Lockhart) to take over the Boston Pops. One news story says he is also to remain the artistic director of Cape Playhouse. I don't know how this is going to work, as it's a long nasty drive between them, and there has to be a ton of work to do at North Shore as an entire staff must be hired. In a check of the Cape Playhouse web site I cannot find the name of the artistic director and several of the shows, including the first show in June, are 'tba', not a good sign (maybe there will be some sharing of shows between North Shore and Cape Playhouse.)

        The theater announced a summer/fall 2010 season of four musicals + the Christmas Carol.

                      GYPSY                                                                                                   July 6 - 25
                      JOSEPH ? THE AMAZING TECHNICOLOR DREAMCOAT        August 3 - 22
                      DIRTY ROTTTEN SCOUNDRELS                                                      September 21 - October 10
                      CHORUS LINE                                                                                      November 2 - 21

        At town council meetings Hanney says he plans to reopen the restaurant too as well as bring back the children's programs. The plan he says is pretty much to operate the theater as before but with a scaled down staff, less than the 60 full time employed before. He's talking only 6 to 8 full time with rest temperaries ("literally hundreds"). Originally there was talk of North Shore sharing productions with the 500 seat Theatre by the Sea that Hanney owns in RI, but in fact only one of the 2010 productions is common (Chorus Line) with months separating them (costumes for Chorus Line will be shared).

Haile in 2008 at Cape Playhouse, Dennis MA

        None of the news stories mention how subscribers who paid for a 2009 season will be treated. (Also no mention of how many there are, except that it's "thousands".) Of course, they should take a loss (as I did as a contributor), but I bet a lot of them will expect free 2010 seats. This could be a big problem as a lot of people may get pissed off and may never return.

Legacy of Light @ Lyric Stage, Boston MA
        A play about two pregnant woman scientists one of whom is Emile du Chatelet, who I first leaned about from a segment of the terrific two hour play about Einstein on PBS and her lover, who is of all people was Voltaire. Emile du Chatelet stands out in scientific history, not as a great scientist, but as the very rare woman scientist in the early days (1706 to 1749). She translated Newton's Principia into French (the translation still used today) and is credited for advancing the idea (not her idea originally) that the energy in an object varies not linearly with speed, but as the square of speed. (Newton had earlier laid out the equations for force and motion, but the concept of energy lay in the future. The 17th century play is intercut with a modern story of a woman scientist. Emile du Chatelet is in her 40's and pregnant during the play and will die from its complications, and the modern scientist is also older and hires a surrogate to have a baby. The play has a few science scenes, but they are secondary to the main action. The play is clever, nicely done and interesting.

Diego Arciniegas (Voltaire), Sarah Newhouse (Emile du Chatelet), and Jonathan Popp
Lyric Stage's production of Legacy of Light (2/10)

Adding Machine:a Musical @ Speakeasy Stage Company, Boston MA
        This is not your warm and cozy musical. A dark, dark, near opera requiring a lot of the best musical theater voices in Boston to pull it off, which they do. Some of it (like the beginning) is pretty hard to take, but it has a lot of power and originality. I could see it a 2nd time. An imaginative set and staging. The plot can only be described as bizarre and over the top. Music by Joshua Schmidt and libretto by Jason Loewith and Joshua Schmidta it is a 2008 musical adaptation of a 1923 play by Elmer Rice.

Brendan McNab (Mr. Zero) and Liz Hayes (Daisy)
SpeakEasy Stage Company’s production of “Adding Machine: Musical" (3/10)

        Short video excerpts from the SpeakEasy production

        Boston Globe review starts off --- "Elegantly stylized and wonderfully cast, SpeakEasy Stage Company’s production of “Adding Machine: A Musical’’ gives this off-Broadway hit a sterling Boston premiere." Boston Herald: " It’s difficult to watch, but impossible to turn away."

Becky Shaw @ Huntington Theatre Company, Boston MA
        Play about a blink date of what appears to be two mismatched people, but who at the end are still together.

The Last Days of Mickey ? Jean @ Merrimack Repertory Theater, Lowell MA
        This is a new play by Richard Dresser commissioned by this suburban theater! Good for them. And it's a pretty interesting play too. This is something like the 7th play of Dresser's Merrimack has done over the years.
One of the leads is Jack Wetherall, whose bio says played the lead in 'The Elephant Man' on Broadway.

Jack Wetherall and Rae C. Wright
Merrimack Repertory Theatre’s ‘The Last Days of Mickey ? Jean’

Opus @ New Repertory Theater, Watertown MA
        A very interesting play about an usual topic and done in an unusual, musical style. All five characters are members of a top string quartet and we see them performing, rehearsing, auditioning, arguing over musical nuances, and follow them in their struggles to get through various crises and hold the quartet together. Written by Michael Hollinger, who trained as violist and is now a theater professor. During performance, which is a lot of the play, the actors face the audience and bow, but basically just hold their hand on the fingerboard while the music is played though the sound system. Seems like it might look phony, but theatrically this device works fine.

Michael Kaye (left) and Benjamin Evett (left)
New Repertory Theatre’s production of 'Opus' (4/10)

Shelley Bolman, Becky Webber, Benjamin Evett, Michael Kaye, and Bates Wilder
New Repertory Theatre’s production of 'Opus' (4/10)

NYC Primary Stages 2007 production of 'Opus'

        I liked this play. Something very different, stylish, high class and well acted and directed. There was no history of the play in the Playbill, but a little Googling shows it to be a new play performed at Primary Stages (E 59th) in NYC in 2007. I can see in the picture above that in the New York production the actors were older than Boston and look more credibly as being a world class quarter than the younger Boston actors. Good Globe review and pretty good NYT review too.

Boston Ballet company class (4/6/10)
        I just returned from seeing company class of a great ballet company, the Boston Ballet. It was a full company class (not a warm up class) taught on the stage of the Boston Opera House two days before the opening of Balanshine's version of Coppelia. This was a rare opportunity. The last time anyone could remember the Boston Ballet allowing in visitors to company class was 1993. It was offered to those who had contributed to the company for ten straight years and about 20 - 25 attended. I got to watch class from front row center of the orchestra.

        The class was taught by Pino Alosa, one of the three Ballet Masters, who bio shows him to have been an principal dancer in Italy. Other two Ballet Masters currently are Anthony Randazzo (since 2002) an American who was a principal at  National Ballet of Canada and San Francisco ballet, and Shannon Parsley, another American, who bio indicates she only recently retired from dancing. She joined BB in 2002 (I don't remember her) while continuing to dance for Suzanne Farrell Ballet.

        As an added bonus the full ballet orchestra was rehearsing in the open area below the lobby creating a wonderful rush of sound up the stairway. And I got to chat with some of the other attendees one of whom, lady with long hair who wears evening gowns, I have often seen sitting in the first row. Several told me they were volunteers who had been working on costumes until late last night. And the early blooming trees were in their glory in the Public Garden and up Commonwealth Ave. And I saw four girl who were obviously dancers leaving the stage door of the Wang, who turned out to be auditioning for the Rockettes. And I walked to Chinatown and bought a whole Peking duck, whose skin after being warmed was delicious.

        The bar was a little free form with everyone doing the combinations in their own way, some very pliable and others more stiff. Things got more interesting in the center, where the company initially divided into two groups. The grand allegro at the end of the class was terrific, especially the spectacular jumping with clean beats of all the men within complex combinations. One big guy, who I did not recognize, was truly spectacular in the jumping combinations.

Boston Ballet's Coppelia @ Opera House, Boston MA
        Coppelia is not my favorite ballet. This was Balanshine's version (with Danilova) , a new production for the BB. Balanshine added his own all dancing 3rd act to the traditional story of the ballerina impersonating a toymakers doll with whom he is in love.  It was beautifully dance by principal Melissa Hough, with whom I was not familiar even though she has been with the company since 2004, and she was partnered by soloist Jamie Diaz (since 2004 from Colombia), who was looked the part and had a good jump who did a good job with Balanshine's oh so tricky men's variations. However the choreography is somewhat of a mishmash. While it has a lot of nice pieces, there's a lot of village character dancing, and really strange is a section called 'Discord and War' with a huge number of dancers (men and women) in a spirited dance carrying huge sticks. This looks like some piece of schmaltz from the 19th century that Danilova must have remembered, and it should have stayed in the 19th century! It was bizarre and tasteless. Also strange is the 3rd act starts with a long series of female solos, which makes the ballet unbalanced since the 2nd act is nearly all Swanilda and her friends.

        This is a huge production in terms of cast and costumes. I talked with someone (before the company class) who was helping out at the costume shop and she was telling me about all the costumes. In addition to most of the company (minus principals) plus about seven from BBII there were about 20 little girls (around age 10) who had an enormous amount of dancing to do as they were on stage for about 20 minutes. The kids were prepared by Melanie Atkins, recently retired from the company, and who bio says she is married to soloist Sabi Varga.

My Fair Lady @ Stoneham Theatre, Stoneham MA
        My Fair Lady ran concurrently with an amateur production of She Loves Me in Arlington in April 2010. I saw each of these wonderful productions three times in the span of a month always with greats seats (sometimes first row).

        Stoneham's My Fair Lady is an excellent production. It has of necessity been scaled down a little to fit a suburban theater. The ballroom scene is gone, and while there is lots of choreographed stage action, there is little real dancing. My Fair Lady requires three strong leads, and it has them in Robyn Elizabeth Lee as Eliza Doolittle, Timothy John Smith as Prof Henry Higgins, and Paul Farwell as Alfred P. Doolittle. Paul Farwell (formerly of Stoneham) is a standout as he struts around the stage while grabbing his ass and various other body parts to the amusement of the audience. Smith and Lee are both strong actors and good singers and Robyn Lee handles the dialect nicely. They are well supported by a large cast totalling 17 actor/singers, a small orchestra, and a handsome, beautifully detailed set.  The whole cast singing and standing silently on stage at the Ascot races is very effective.

        Many in the supporting cast will be familiar to Stoneham regulars including Steve Gagliastro (Sisters of Swing and Sparrow), Shannon Lee Jones (Gypsy), Ann Marie Shea (Christmas Carrol and Then There were None), and Ilyse Robbins (Sparrow and choreographer of many Stoneham shows). Some of those in smaller roles here have been the lead in other shows that I have seen like Neil Casey in Irma Veep at the Lyric, Shannon Lee Jones as Mama Rose in Gypsy at the Seaport Rep, and Angelo McDonough, a senior at Stoneham HS, who was the lead in the Stoneham youth company production of Les Mis this winter. (two paragraph review above posted on Stoneham web site)

        My first look at My Fair Lady on stage was two years ago in two excellent and very different productions: US national tour of an English production directed by Trevor Nunn with memorable choreography by Matthew Bourne and an excellent production at the Ogunquit Playhouse with Jefferson Mays (as Henry Higgins), who I had earlier seen in a one man show on Broadway. In both of these productions Tim Jerome played the father!

Robyn Elizabeth Lee (Eliza Doolitle) and Timothy John Smith (Henry Higgins)
in Stoneham Theatre production of 'My Fair Lady' (4/10)
(photo credits: Carla Donaghey)

Timothy John Smith

Timothy John Smith and Robyn Elizabeth Lee

Paul Farwell (as father, far right) with chorus (including Russell Garrett, Neil Casey, Angelo McDonough,, Steve Gagliastro)

  Russell Garrett (Colonel Pickering), Robyn Elizabeth Lee (Eliza Doolitle), Timothy John Smith (Henry Higgins)

She Loves Me @ AFD Theatre (Arlington Friends of the Drama), Arlington MA
        I never heard of 'She Loves Me' until the Huntington did it in 2008 starring the incomparable Kate Baldwin, who just had a big success on Broadway this winter with Finian's Rainbow. At first I was a little put off by the show's low key nature, but I soon came to love it. I must have seen that production 4 or 5 times. I remember sitting high up in the Huntington boxes because the theater was nearly sold out. Arlington was my 2nd chance to see the show. Until this year I had never heard of a theater company in Arlington. I guess there are a lot of these small amateur theater companies around, but I have paid little attention to them. In fact prior to Arlington the only one I have been to was Quannopapowitt (in Reading), but somehow I stumbled across AFD early in the 2009/10 season and saw they were doing 'She Loves Me', so I noted it on my calendar. Used my navigation system to find the theater, and what do you know I barely made curtain even though I should have had tons of time because the streets the navigation system kept directing me to were closed due to a (goddamn) Patriot's day parade in Arlington. Their 4:00pm Sun show fits nicely with my Sun schedule.

        This is big show for local amateur suburban theater. Running concurrently with this show in April 2010 was My Fair Lady in Stoneham, which needs three strong principals, but She Loves Me needs eight strong singers, all of whom have are at least one solo song. And Arlington had assembled a dream cast, not only vocally but who looked the part and acted well too. I saw both shows three times in the span of a month.

        This was my first time at the Arlington theater. I was not expecting much with tickets at $20 and a lot of empty seats. I figured a piano and passable amateurs. Wrong!  I was bowled over. Well, they may be amateurs, but every member of the cast had a terrific voice and they were also good actors. Miked principals. And to top it off backstage they had an excellent sounding 10 piece orchestra!  (And this in a ex-church small theater with only 3 performance/weekend and $20 tickets.) Director of the orchestra was quoted in the program as saying this was his favorite Broadway show. Nice little compact set and was surprised to see it was on a turntable, so they could easily switch between the several sets needed for this show: front of the store, back room of the store, cabaret, and bosses sick room and Amalia's bedroom. This theater company is in it 87th!! year, one of the longest running community theater companies in the country. They own their own 192 seat theater need Arlington center, a converted small church. They do about five productions a year, three plays, small musical and a big musical. They did a favorite play of mine 'Proof' in Feb with the Odd Couple the next production.

        The real star of this production was Kristin Jenko (Amalia Balish). She had a wonderful voice (if a touch operatic) and according to her bio has been the lead in more than half a dozen musicals. But upon repeat viewing I see Jim Fitzpatrick (as Georg) is pretty much Jenko's match. Jenko has a distinctive look (attractive with red hair) and she looked familiar, but I don't know where I have might have seen her before. Also excellent were Daniel Rabone (Kodaly) with a great voice and Ann McCoy as Ilona. James Grana (Mr. Maraczek) did a great job with his featured song, 'Days Gone By'. Excellent cast top to bottom. They told me at the box office that all the performers in all Arlington shows are amateurs.

        'She Loves Me' has one big production number, 'A romantic atmosphere', which small productions sometimes cut. I am glad it was included here, because it adds a lot to the show, and even on this small stage it was nicely done. It included a real dancer (Matthew Kossack) who I have seen before at the Reagle players. Here are the names of the excellent singing amateurs featured in this show to watch for in future:

                                                   GEORG            Jim Fitzpatrick
                                                    AMALIA          Kristin Jenko
                                                    KODALY         Daniel Rabone
                                                    ILONA             Ann McCoy
                                                    SIPOS               Doug Desilets
                                                    MARACZEK    Jim Grana
                                                    ARPAD             Matthew Torrance
                                                    WAITER           David Herder
                                                    BUSBOY          Matthew Kossack (dancer)

Kristin Jenko as Amalia and Jim Fitzpatrick as Georg (4/10)

Arlington's 'She Loves Me' (4/10)
Kristin Shoop Jenko as Amalia Balash (left) and Jim Fitspatrick as Georg (right)
Doug Desilets as Ladislav Sipos (left)

Ann McCoy as Ilona (left) and Daniel Rabone as Steven Kodaly (right)

James Grana as Mr. Maraczek (middle) and Matthew Torrance as Arpad Laszio (right)
Jim Fitspatrick (left)

YouTube 1 min excerpts of Huntington She Loves Me
            Days Gone By (Dick Latessa) ---
            Romantic Atmosphere ---

        After seeing this production, I wanted the CD, but couldn't decide on which version, so I bought the 1963 original and the 1993 revival CD. My comparative Amazon review of the two CDs is here:

(She Loves Me) email to my nephew John Fulton (5/8/2010)
          (John is soon to become well known, as he is the host of a new series 'Mad about Cats' on Animal Planet beginning Feb 2011.)

What's new with me? You may have heard I like theater...

         I made an interesting discovery about amateur theater. Virtually all my theater going has been professional theater, until a month ago I had only been to one fully amateur production. A couple of years ago I discovered the (1960's) musical 'She Loves Me' when the Huntington in Boston did it, prior to this I had never heard of it. The program notes said many people consider it to be a 'perfect musical', and it's now one of my favorites. When I noticed last fall that an amateur company in Arlington was going to do it, I noted it on my calendar. Tickets only $20 and they sold maybe 75-100 tickets for most shows. I went expecting so so singing with maybe a piano.

         I was blown away: Ten piece orchestra and eight incredible singers who fit their roles were also good actors. I went every week for its three week (9 performance) run. I am coming to realize that there is hokey amateur theater, all the kids on stage, like a school play for grownups (Colonial Chorus Players??), and then there is serious amateur theater. The serious companies have been around for a long time, usually they own their own small theater. 'Arlington Friends of Drama' (terrible name) is in their 87th season! They bought an old small church to which they added a tiny stage with a turntable for quick scene changes. They do a 5 or 6 show season (two musicals four plays). Within walking distance from me is a similar group in Reading, who also own their own theater, and I have discovered a couple of more serious looking amateur companies west of Boston that I will check out. You learn something new every day....

Blithe Spirit @ Lyric Stage, Boston MA
        I was looking forward all year to Blithe Spirit because I had read somewhere that Present Laughter, which I loved, was Noel Coward's 2nd best play, and that Blithe Spirit was his best. Well, I was disappointed in Blithe Spirit. I found the play silly and slow. Where was the wit?

        Maybe the play is just dated. A visible/invisible sprit might have been a new clever gimmick in the 40's. There is even a seance in the show, which probably reflected the still lingering popularity of spiritualism at the time the play was written. In the 20's it was big news when Houdini was exposing mediums, and in the mid 30's, when Houdini's widow held a famous seance on the 10th anniversary of his death, it was broadcast live on the radio.

        Paula Plum was the 1st wife and sprit and her real life husband (Richard Snee) was the husband. Anne Gottlieb wife #2 and Cathy St. George was featured as the crazy medium. The production was up to the usual high standards of the Lyric.

Anne Gottlieb (2nd wife) and Paula Plum (1st wife), Photo: Mark S. Howard
Lyric Stage production of Noel Coward's Blithe Sprit 5/10

Paula Plum and Richard Snee (5/10)

Ultimate Balanshine and Black and White @ Boston Ballet, Boston MA (4/10)

Prelude to a Kiss @ Huntington Theatre, Boston MA (5/10)
        The plot, such as it is, is that when an old man shows up at our couple's wedding unannounced and kisses the bride, and (we are supposed to figure out) that he has morphed into the brides body (for the most of the 2nd act). I just did did not get this show. It was just silly. What passes for plot devices is the husband puzzled because his new wife won't do certain sex acts that she used to do and is not critical of exploitation of workers on their honeymoon. Just stupid. Again I was amazed to find this turkey had a pretty good Broadway run. As usual a polished Huntington production, but I think one thing turning me off is Huntington's recent tendency to cast ordinary looking people is starring roles. Here the young female lead had (to be blunt) fat legs, and one of the female leads in Becky Sharp this season was also not good looking. (I sorry, but this is professional theater, we need to look at these people for an extended time.)

Gaslight @ Stoneham Theatre, Stoneham MA
        Going in I wasn't expecting much. Gaslight? Something about a husband trying to drive his wife mad? A dreary old melodrama? The theater marquee says it's Victorian. When I got a peek into the technical rehearsal (donor perk), things started looking up. Wow, good acting. Marianna Bassham is the wife. She was one of the stars of the terrific 'Streetcar Named Desire' I saw at the New Rep a couple of years ago. Robert Serrell, who played the creepy psychopath in Stoneham's Strangers on a Train in 2009, is back as the husband again creeping us out, and the third excellent principal is Christopher Webb.

        The play starts off (as I had expected) with an extended scene between the husband and wife, but soon there's a clever plot twist and the play turns into an interesting thriller holding our attention right to the end. The action on stage is well supported by an effective abstract set and atmospheric lighting and sound. Big crowd opening night, a side benefit perhaps of the big success Stoneham just had with 'My Fair Lady' (or as I later found out it was 'Pay what you want night'!). This show clearly was a big hit with the opening night audience (and with me). Standing ovation.

Play background --- Although set in 1880's, this play was written in 1938 and ran for three years on Broadway in the 40's. The printed play is subtitled "A Victorian Thriller in Three Acts". Wait, there was only one intermission.  Did we lose an act?  Probably not. No wonder the first act is long, it's Acts 1 and 2 combined.

Marianna Bassham (wife) and Robert Serrell (husband)
in Stoneham Theatre's production of Gaslight (5/10)
(photo credits: Carla Donaghey)

Marianna Bassham (wife) and Christopher Webb (policeman)

Robert Serrell and Jepson (maid)

Robert Serrell and Marianna Bassham

        On the weekend after seeing Stoneham's Gaslight PBS ran the 1940's Gaslight with Ingrid Bergman and Charles Boyer, so of course I had to watch it, if for nothing else, just to see how it differed from the play. What a coincidence! I don't think this movie has been on TV for 30 to 40 years. Movie has basically the same plot as the play, but it's significantly expanded with the interaction of the detective with wife, which drives the play, cut way back. The movie loses something in that it's too realistic. For example, in that in the play you hear and have to image the husband searching the attic whereas in the movie you see him searching.

Nunset Boulevard @ Arundel Barn Playhouse, Arundel ME (6/10)
        Another Nunsense show, one of seven(!), but just the thing for a beautiful, early summer ME night in a 19th century barn, especially with a first row center seat. This time the sister of Hoboken arrive in Hollywood thinking they are booked into the Hollywood Bowl, only to find it's the Hollywood Bowl-a-rama. High energy, polished performance by the five resident young theater hopefuls. No clinkers, but no real standout vocally. One dance number with two sisters dresses as bowling pins was really funny.

Producers @ Arundel Barn Playhouse, Arundel ME (6/10)
        Some free cheese provided by Nomantum for opening night of Producers, 2nd show of season and good crowd (even a big bus). Reasonable effort by a large young cast on this big show. Mostly a new cast, the only returning principal from the nun show was Kayla Ricker (reverend mother => Ulla!).  The lead (Deon Oliverio as Max Bialystock) singing voice was a little weak (not a belter), but he had the right timing and zest and did a good job on the manic recapitulation number in the 2nd act. Bloom (Chris Dwan) was very good and could both sing and dance. The two gays (Chapman Riedel and Harrison Post) were pitch perfect and hilarious, also nice job by the German author and the local older guy who auditioned to be Hitler. Cast was about 11 summers pros supported by a chorus of 5 to 6 locals. No outstanding talent on display this season, but Chris Dwan is very good and Allison Frenzel has a winning manner. She was Sister Anne and an usherette here.

Deon Oliverio and Chris Dwan
in Arundle's Playhouse Producers (6/10)

Into the Woods @ Reagle Music Theatre of Greater Boston (new name for Reagle Players), Waltham MA (6/10)
        The Reagle players summer season this year (2010) includes two of my favorite shows (Music Man and Hairspray), but unfortunately it started with Sondheim's 'Into the Woods'. Excellent production, but bad show. I had never seen this show before, only a few excerpts on TV, so I was not sure if I would like it or not. I saw the current production of Sondheim's 'A Little Night Music' in NYC in March 10 and liked it a lot. I did not like 'Into the Woods'. I am astounded to see it ran three years on Broadway. At the opening (Thur mat) performance there was only about half the people Reagle usually gets, almost no buses, and I saw more than one person leaving after the (almost 1 1/2 hours) first act. That was enough Sondheim for them!

        Huge cast (I counted 17 on stage at one time) each featured and zero dancing. Some cute business scattered though the show, but I didn't hear a single musical number I liked, and a few of the 2nd act numbers trying to draw huge lesson of life seemed really pompous.  Rachel York 'starred' and while her acting was sharp, her talents were largely wasted. Shannon Lee Jones, who was just in My Fair Lady at Stoneham and was in Stoneham's Gypsy earlier, is a steady performer and had a major role (baker's wife). Allison Russell, who was until recently a staple in the Stoneham Young company and who is now studying theater at BC in Boston, had a featured role (Little Red Riding Hood), and Stoneham Theater sent out an email noting this. The technical rehearsal for this show must have been really something (and time consuming).

Sound of Music @ Ogunquit Playhouse, Ogunquit ME
        First time I have ever seen this show. (terrific seats, 2nd row, center and 5th row center) This was the last Rogers and Hammerstein show, as Hammerstein had cancer and died within the year. As usual a first rate production by Ogunquit with a large cast of great singers and some nice production effects. Gail Bennett, who was a star of Ogunquit's 2008 My Fair Lady (Eliza), is back and is the real star of this show. She is a very good singer and is excellent in Julie Andrew's roles. Top billing goes to Rex Smith, who was Frederick in the Delecort Theater Pirates of Penzance I have from about 30 years ago, but this role doen't have all that much singing and what there is low key. 'Climb Every Mountain' was given a stirring rendition by Meg Bussert (Head of Abby), who I read in a review is something of a specialist in this role. I don't know her, but her bio says she got a Tony nomination for Brigadoon. An attractive, well trained group of kids (some of whom are drawn from the Ogunquit's kids shows). I saw 2nd performance on it's first preview day and it was very polished. (Only boo boo on preview night was the Nazi banner in the singing contest fell down.)

        I vaguely remember the old Boston critic Eliot Norton talking about this show. He had reviewed the show prior to Broadway in its Boston's try out (when I think the show might have had a different name). My memory is that he thought the show was weak and needed work. I think the book is pretty flabby. (On repeat viewing the book is about 80% taut, but it has a 20% saccharine overlay) There's too many jumping around, happy time numbers with the kids. Great songs, unfinished book. I checked Wikipedia and found the 1959 reviews were mixed. Walter Kerr (New York Herald Tribune) I think was right on target and is quoted thusly:

        "Before The Sound of Music is halfway through its promising chores it becomes not only too sweet for words but almost too sweet for music", stating that the "evening suffer(s) from little children"
Music trumps all
       On repeat viewing the music trumps all! The music and performances of this show are so glorious that the weakness in the book can be forgiven. July was blazingly hot and I went to ME every week, so I ended up seeing this show once a week during its run, a total of five performances! And I loved every one of them.

        Gail Bennett is a wonder, the kids are great, the nuns are outstanding with Meg Bussert bringing down the house at every performance ('Climb Every Mountain'), the oldest 'child' (Ashley Dawn Mortensen) has a beautiful voice, and even the actress playing the supporting role of Elsa (Crista Moore) has a dancer's body and a terrific voice. Virtually all the women on stage are great singers. The key men, Rex Smith (von Trapp), Alan Shaw (Rolf) and Dick Decareau (Max) are not the vocal powerhouses the women are, but sing well enough and fit right in. Everyone acts up a storm too, including the kids.

        For such a superb singer/actress Gail Bennett's bio is quite thin. "One of her favorite roles" is usherette/Lick-me Bite-me in the Producers (North Shore ? Vegas), which is a small supporting role.  She looks fine, but is not a great beauty. She starred (Elisa) at Ogunquit in My Fair Lady in 2008. Recently she was probably the understudy in the national tour of Mary Poppins ("performed the title role 60 times").
Again with the Bushes
       At the last performance of Sound of Music George and Barbara Bush with a bunch of grandchildren were there sitting in the row behind me. This is the 4th time in recent years I have been at the theater with the Bushes.

Gail Bennett (as Maria), Rex Smith (as Captain von Trapp), Nathan Ladd and Crista Moore (on stairway, as Elsa)
in Ogunquit's Sound of Music (7/10)

Rex Smith and the kids. Oldest 'kid' (right) is Ashley Dawn Mortensen

Gail Bennett singing with children

Dick Decareau as Max, Rex Smith as CaptainvonTrapp, Crista Moore as Elsa

Here's a video with excellent sampling of the Ogunquit production:

Gypsy @ North Shore Music Theatre, Beverly MA
        The North Shore Theater reopened this week (under new management) after being dark for a year and a half. It's almost like it was in a time capsule and re-emerged. Pretty much everything is the same. Similar size and quality orchestra in the pit, same theater name, same web site, same parking, same Christmas shoow. Outside grounds have been spruced up and Bill Haney (who came out on stage the night I was there) said the restaurant is being spruced up too and will reopen in a couple of weeks. Haney even announced onstage that David Coffee was coming back (after two years) to star as he did for years in the Christmas show. The person who I bought my ticket from told me she worked there before.

        Articles about Haney have focused on how he has cut back the theater full time staff from about 57 to 7, but that was not evident when I was there. In fact there seemed to be excess people standing around in the lobby during intermission. And there was the usual big crowd of black shirted backstage staff (maybe these are the lobby people?), and the same number of parking people. It must have been a huge effort assembling all this staff in just six months.

        The one area where I thought quality may have slipped is in the casting for Gypsy. Now Gypsy takes a huge cast and most of the principals were fine (Vicky Lewis as mama, Catherine Walker as Louise, Amanda lea LaVergne as June), but the little kids and older kids were left something to be desired. None were good dancers, even the actor playing Tulsa was not much of a dancer. Now much of this is understandable given the time line of the theater's reopening and having no continuing kids program to draw on. Stoneham's Baby June, for example, a couple of years ago, was more talented than the girl playing baby June here. The bio of the older June here (Amanda LaVergne) says she was Kathy Seldon in Ogunquit's Singing in the Rain (which I saw) and she was in Grease on Broadway.

Vicky Lewis as mama in (new) North Shore's Gypsy (7/10)

Amanda lea LaVergne as June in (new) North Shore's Gypsy (7/10)

Music Man @ Regal Players, Waltham MA (7/10)
        The Regal Players mounted a spectacular production of the Music Man as part of its 2010 season (saw it three times, twice from 1st row and then 2nd row). Scott Wahle and Sarah Pfisterer were the leads Harold Hill and Marian Paroo (reprising their performances from a 2004 Music Man at Regal, which I did not see). Scott turned out to be a pretty good singer (better than the original Harold Hill) and could hold his own with Sarah, who is a regular at Reagle and who starred in the 'King and I' a couple of years ago. Scott and Sarah provide a strong core for the show.

        However, what makes this production outstanding are the many production numbers, which have been meticulously cast, choreographed and prepared (choreographer is Susan Chebookjian). As my seat neighbor said, "every expression is perfect" referring to the fact that in production numbers with up to 30 on stage everyone is perfect. Several huge, complex, dance numbers (9 boy + 9 girl dancers) recreate the detail choreography seen in the movie to spectacular effect. The featured players were all strong: Andrew Purdy (as Winthrop), Anelise Allen (as Amaryllis), Ellen Peterson (as Widow Paroo), Mark Linehan (as Marcellus Washburn), Bob Freschi (as Charlie Cowell and he was also the director of the show), Jerry Walker (as Major Shinn), Matthew Cossack and Rachael Berton (as lead dancers Thomy Djilas and Zaneeta Shinn) plus a pretty good barbershop quartet. For some reason there's no bios in the program of the dancers or singers. The dancing boys were so good (all clearly trained dancers) and well matched that I suspect they were (mostly) hired in NY and my guess is that the girl dancers are local.

Scott Wahle and Sarah Pfisterer
(from 2004 Reagle Music Man)

 HairSpray @ Regal Players, Waltham MA(8/10)
        I've seen four previous productions of HairSpray, so this production at Reagle makes the 5th, and a spectacular production it is. HairSpray ran on Broadway for seven years, and I always made a point to see it each summer when I visited NYC, so I saw this production quite a few times. I have also seen the production at North Shore and national touring productions at Boston and Lowell.

        Reagle productions mix professionals and amateur drawn from their large team. As best as I can figure from the bios (which is difficult, because lately there have been no bios of many in the ensemble) and my familiarity with past productions, only a few of the large HairSpray cast (29) came from the Reagle stable of players. Most bios said this was their Regal debut. Some are amateurs from the Boston area, some up and coming professionals. Many of the young leads and dancers appear to have been recruited from the Boston Conservator.

         Two of the leads were HairSpray specialists with impressive credentials: Merissa Perry, who played Tracy Turnblad on Broadway and Angela Birchett, who play Motormouth Maybelle in a national tour (I think I remember seeing her). The two co-directors/co-choreographers (Todd Michel Smith and Judine Somerville) were also brought in as Hairspray specialists, both were in the original Broadway production (Smith says he was one of only two who played the full seven year run (!) and Somerville was one of the Dynamites). The only ones from the Reagle amateur stable that I recognized was R. Glen Mitchell, who played Principal/Mr. Pinky, etc, Angela Richardson, prison matron, and one of the male dancers. Five are members of Actors Equity: Perry, Birchett, Dan Dowling Jr., who played Edna Turnblad, Davron Monrow, who played Seaweed Stubbs, and Kami Smith, who played one of the Dynamites. Edna Turnblad and Wilbur Turnblad were both very good. Edna (Dowling) bio says he works making science films at Boston Museum of Science, and Wilbur Turnblad (John Macero) runs the Winthrop school of Performing arts.

        The result one terrific cast and a super production. Everyone in this large cast was standout. Jerry Mitchells original choreography was recreated and as usual at Reagle a large professional orchestra was in the pit. I missed the first week of the run due to a trip to NYC, but caught it twice in its 2nd week.

Sunset Blvd @ Ogunquit Playhouse, Ogunquit, ME
        The less said about this lugubrious horror the better. Most of the songs were poor, and even though there was a large supporting cast there was no real dancing. Stephanie Powers as Norma Desmond with Sal Mistretta as Max. Even though I was in ME almost every week all 2010 summer, once was enough for this show.

Sal Mistretta as Max in Ogunquit Sunset Blvd (July 2010)

Spamalot @ Ogunquit Playhouse, Ogunquit, ME
        It took a repeat viewing for me to warm to crazyness of this show. I had seen it once before in NY and not been very impressed. Ogunquit as usual pulled together a strong cast and an excellent production. Stars were Charles Shaughnessy (formerly of show Nanny) and Rachel York. Rachel York is an excellent singer and here sang the fun song "A song that goes like this" with what I think is her new husband. I am familiar with Rachel not only from the London TV production of Kiss Me Kate, but she starred in a couple of shows with Reagle Players in Waltham in the last couple of years. Another old face in the show was Denman? (in photo just to left of Shaughnessy) from 'Crazy for You' at Northshore a few years back.

Charles Shaughnessy (Nanny) as KingArthur and Rachel York as Lady of the Lake (Aug 2010)

Perfect Harmony @ Stoneham Theatre, Stoneham MA
        A musical with a large cast as the first show of the Stoneham 2010/11 season. Weylin Symes explains in the playbill that Stoneham is co-producing Perfect Harmony as a warm up for its Oct 2010 NY Off Broadway run (at 45 Bleeker).  The show features a large cast of very talented young performers who do all the singing in the show a cappella. It is directed by its co-author Andrew Grosso. I would describe it not so much as musical comedy, but as a comedy/satire with music. It is in the vein of 'The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee' or 'Glee', but here the theme is not spelling but a cappella singing. We get to meet a bunch of high school misfits (singing fanatics) sans teachers or parents. The cast of ten (five girls, five boys) appear to be NY based, and although they are playing high school students, they are probably in their 20's since their bios often show national tours and all are members of Actors Equity. Kudos to David Barlow, who has been part of the creative team from the beginning, and who plays two over-the-top characters including a hilarious geek singer with canker sores and a mouth piece. Good fun.

Talented cast of Perfect Harmony @ Stoneham Theatre (9/10)
Back Row: Robbie Collier Sublett, Kobi Libii, Jarid Faubel, Clayton Apgar, David Barlow
Front Row: Faryl Amadeus, Kate Morgan Chadwick, Kelly McCreary, Dana Acheson, Marie-France Arcilla
(photo credits: Carla Donaghey)

Kelly McCreary and Dana Acheson

Jarid Faubel and Kate Morgan Chadwick

Kobi Libii (left)

David Barlow (center)

        The wildest, most over the top characters (singer with canker sores and Albanian brother), are played David Barlow (above) who has been with the show from the beginning and shares writing credits.

Chicago @ Ogunquit Playhouse, Ogunquit, ME
        Chicago was another strong production by Ogunquit. Stong leads, Rachelle Rak as Velma Kelly and Angie Schworer as Roxie Hart, and a good dancing ensemble. Chicago has a lot of good numbers, but as a show its cold and not my favorite. Since my neice wanted to see Chicago in NYC this summer, this was the 2nd production of Chicago I had seen in three months. As they 'joke' (it's true) in Forbidden Broadway (seen summer of 2010 at Arundle Barn), this show has no scenery! It's a dancing show with singing in front of the orchestra that occupies the whole stage. The song Cellephane, which is not quite a show stopper, but can be a real highlight, was done as well in either 2010 production as I have seen in done in the past.

        Sally Struthers is also in the show and was effective in single the duet 'Nobody's got no class". One of her entrances is through the audience and I got a good look at Sally's (heavily lined) face from about two feet away. I was in the front row and she stopped almost in front of me to grab and hug my seat neighbor.

Angie Schworer as Roxie Hart, Ogunquit production of Chicago (Sept 2010)

Rachelle Rak as Velma Kelly

In the Next Room (or the vibrator play) @ SpeakEasy Stage, Boston MA
        This is a new play by Sarah Ruhl that ran on Broadway about a year ago, billed as 2010 Pulitzer Prize Finalist. I've seen one or two other plays by Sarah Ruhl (Clean House and Dead Man's Cell Phone) and liked them. I almost missed this play because from the title I had figured it was some sort of boring feminist play. Wrong! It's a fun, interesting, clever play about the early days of electrify and sex 1880's.

        The SpeadEasy set is an authentic looking doctor's office circa 1880's, and the it features a really impressive looking piece of antique electrical apparatus that is the focus of the play. The fun of the play is that this thing, which is a whizz bang new electrical device, one of the new wonders of the age, is a vibrator. I had a first row seat right in front of the large impressive looking machine. The doctor uses this new electrical wonder device to treat (revive and energize) ‘hysterical’ women by giving them organisms, which from their reactions we soon learn they have never experienced before in their marriage love making. Only the black servant girl seems to understand about organisms. Excellent cast: Marianna Bassham, Anne Gottlieb, and Derry Woodhouse. Marianna Bassham was excellent as the wife in Gaslight at Stoneham Theatre last season. Semi-gratuitous nudity at the end, but it was not one of the women, it was the doctor!

Marianna Bassham, Lindsey McWhorter, and Anne Gottlieb in SpeakEasy Stage Company’s production
of 'In the Next Room (or the vibrator play)' Sept 2010

Bassham and Gottlieb checking out the new machine

Bassham and Gottlieb enjoying the new machine
(on cover for 2012 season mailing)

Excellent Globe Review
         "Superb production"  "The prim physician has no idea that the patient’s resulting 'paroxysms',  as he calls them, reflect anything other than her being restored, treatment by treatment, to mental health. Which in a way is true." "For one of them, the answer is a surprise, one we learn in a riveting final scene that produces the kind of electricity that only human beings — and great theater — can generate."

Turn of the Screw @ Stoneham Theatre, Stoneham MA
        Weylin Symes seems to like dark mystery plays as there is one every season. This season it's a two character 1898 melodrama played entirely in low key lighting on a raised, heavily raked and weirdly shaped stage that extends over the first row of seats. Other than the stage itself the only scenery is a single chair and a network of ropes hung from ceiling. 85 minutes with no intermission.

        Show holds your attention by its elegant language and strong, intense, and (at times) quirky acting. Play is adapted from a novella by Henry James, and was directed by Caitlin Lowans. Stars are Molly Schreiber and Ryan Landry. Both handle the language well. Schreiber is the intense strong core and around flutters Ryan Landry, who continually switches between several characters (no costume change). Landry from the shadows even does excellent bird calls.

        I had never heard of Ryan Landry, but apparently he has a reputation in the Boson/Provincetown area as a wild, over the top character. My understanding is that Stoneham took a chance with him, and he has come through nicely. From background stories he appears to be deeply enmeshed in the local gay scene and gay theater scene (one commenter says he often performs in drag), but in his bio he says he lives with his wife and three children. Not sure if this is a joke or the truth.

        I first saw the play from way over the side, but enjoyed it much more on a 2nd viewing from (effectively) first row center, where the intensity of the acting (from just a few feet away) could be enjoyed. I like good acting, and that is what these two deliver. Another background story is that the two actors didn't know each other very well, but prior to coming in they got together and worked on the play and then auditioned for the play together. I was also unfamiliar with Molly Schreiber, a Boston actor, who looks quite young. She is a member of Actors Equity, whereas Landry, who is older, is not.

 Ryan Landry and Molly Schreiber in Stoneham Theatre production of Turn of the Screw (Oct 2010)

Good review in Boston Globe by Terry Byrne

        "This 90-minute play is primarily an opportunity for actors to shine, and director Caitlin Lowans guides her two terrific actors without getting in their way. Schreiber is amazing and intense as the governess, starting as an innocent young woman eager to be loved by both the Master and his young niece and nephew, before growing increasingly frightened, neurotic, and finally determined.

        Landry, best known as a writer and performer with his own Gold Dust Orphans, has built a reputation for performances that are anything but subtle. So it is a thrill to see him work every angle of the emotional spectrum, delivering a seductive Master and a mischievous young boy, with a practical female housekeeper in between. Opportunities to go over the top abound, but Landry always underplays, suggesting just a hint of danger in the Master, a glimpse of a manipulative child, a whiff of righteous indignation from the housekeeper."

Plot summary (from Stoneham Sun)
        "The basic story follows a young governess, hired by the uncle of two orphaned children – Flora and Miles – and set on a remote country estate in Essex. The uncle instructs the governess never to bother him, no matter what troubles arise – leaving her struggling for sanity when it appears two ghosts are haunting the estate and the children. The ending evokes multilayered horror, but leaves audience members with few conclusions about the fantasy or reality of what they’ve just witnessed."

Night of Stars, 5th Annual Boston Ballet gala @ Boston Opera House, Boston MA
        Three hour spectacular by the Boston Ballet to kick off the 2010/11 season. Company has several new dancers, including two new soloists and one new principal, Lasha Khozashvili from Russian Geogia, who were featured. Company finances must have improved too as the announced they have increased the size of the company by five (recovering from the cut back of a couple of years ago.) From the program notes I count 47 dancers now in the company.

        Opening was the famous Kingdom of the Shades from La Bayadere, which the company will open the season with. I had never seen it before (live), though I am familiar with it since it is the opening few minutes of the 'Turning Point'.

Kingdom of Shades, Boston Ballet 5th Annual Night of Stars (Oct 2010)

        Two new soloists (Adairys Almeida and Joseph Gatti) were spectacular in the bravura Le Corsaire pas de deux. Gatti is a fantastic jumper, you hear the whooos from the audience.

        "Two new soloists, Adiarys Almeida and Joseph Gatti, have been added as well, both coming from Spain’s Corella Ballet. Partners on-and offstage. The Cuban-born Almeida, a former dancer with the National Ballet of Cuba, has been praised for the purity of her technique. Gatti, a gold medalist in the 2007 World Ballet Competition with training from the Royal Ballet School and American Ballet Theatre, has been lauded for his fluidity."

New solists Joseph Gatti and Adiarys Almeida performing Vakhtang Chabukiani's "Le Corsaire

        The outside guests were to be two dancers from Paris Opera Ballet, but strikes in Paris kept them home, so last minute substitute was Wendy Whelan from NYC ballet (she must be in her 40's) dancing with Damian Smith from San Francisco ballet. They did a piece I had never seen (or heard of) Christopher Wheeldon's 'signature pas de deux 'After the Rain', which I liked. A clever bit of gala programming was the Don Quixote pas de deux that alternated two couples. The only choreographic disaster (in my opinion) was a new piece by Helen Pickett (Layli O Manjnun), which unfortunately is billed as a taste of a longer piece to come this season. The BB galas are very popular and the Opera House was literally sold out, filled to the top row of the balcony. I think there may have even been standees up there. Company dancing was splendid all evening.

Wendy Wheelan of the New York Ballet and Damien Smith of the San Francisco Ballet perform 'After the Rain'

Kathleen Breen Combes and Pavel Gurevich in an excerpt from George Balanchine's 'Apollo'

New principal Lia Cirio as one of two couples in 'Don Quixote'

        A curiosity was my seat neighbor. A very exotic looking woman (beaded dress, fur piece), who looked like she could be Egyptian. She watched the whole performance looking through a veil. It was not a face covering Muslim veil, but a veil with an open weave, like sometimes seen in church. She didn't wear it (or any head covering) at intermission, but when the performances started in the dark, she pulled it down. Strange.

Chorus Line @ North Shore Music Theatre, Beverly MA
        North Shore as their 4th offering in their reopening season has mounted a very good production of Chorus Line (in the round!). All the cast were excellent singer/actors and pretty good dancers too with and all the required body and ethic types required for this show. I sat in the front row. With dancers about 6-8 feet from me this is about as close to a dance show as you can get (without being in it).

        Chorus Line is famous for it's dancer standing in a  'line', but North Shore's theater and stage are round! The adaptation of Chorus Line by the theater staff to the round was done very well. When a line is needed, it's done at various angles with dancer's alternating direction. Much of the show works naturally with dancers sitting around the edge of the stage as dancers answering questions, instead of stepping forward as usual, here just step to the center, and it works nicely too when the featured dancer has a dance. For the finale with the mirror, here the mirror comes up in the center with the dancers in a circle. Works fine, as shown in picture. Good costumes too.

North Shore Theater (Berverly MA) production of a Chorus Line (in the round) Nov 2010

Christmas Carol - A Musical Ghost Story @ North Shore Music Theatre, Beverly MA
        As a closer for the re-opening 2010 season, North Shore wisely brought back the the Christmas show they have been doing for about 20 years. This is a big production (I count 18 principals + 12 supporting including children) with lots of special effects (including flying!). Very nicely done. An adaptation of Dickens Christmas Carol with lots of music done by its former artistic director Jon Kimbell, who I think has been working closely with the new management this year, directed this year. Also many of the long time cast member, specifically David Coffee as Scrooge, and Cheryl McMahon were back too. I was sitting in 1st row, which abutted the stage, and shook hands with David Coffee as he circled the stage after the bows.

New management
       The new management team of Hanney (owner) and Haile (artistic director) did a splendid job in 2010 pulling this season together so quickly. Don't know anything really about theater management, but it seems to me this is something of a miracle. They had less than six months to plan and cast four or five shows, while at the same time they had to search out and rehire the orchestra, full backstage creative and technical team (who in the 18 months the theater was closed must have scattered), not to mention ticketing, ushering, web site, etc. Even the restaurant was reopened. When I was doing end of year charity donations, I could find no donor info on the North Shore web site. The reason is, which I found from a news search, is that Hanney has set up the new North Shore as a for profit organization.

        I saw Cheryl McMahon this fall in a reading of a new play at Stoneham Theatre, and in in her bio she notes her daughter, Bonnie Fraser, now clearly grown up and a pro, is in the Christman Carol too. I checked out Bonnie Fraser's web site. While she seems to be just beginner her career (thin resume), she got really excellent notices from top NYC critics when she played the lead in Meet Me in St Louis (never seen), which ran off-Broadway.

Jersey Boys @ Colonial Theatre, Boston MA
        The national tour of Jersey Boys is making a long stop in Boston (six week run) at the Colonial Theater, which seems to be dark a lot these days. I had seen Jersey Boys in NYC a few years ago well into its long NYC run from not too good seats. I usually don't go if I can't get good seats, but I was with my nephew (John Fulton) in summer and he really wanted to go. A check of the National Tour schedule shows the tour started more than a year ago, and is booked into 2012. Jersey Boys is still running in NYC after five years (won Tony in 2006), and there is a Las Vegas company too (at Venetian).

        This time, while the theater was nearly sold out, a limited view seat in the 3rd row orchestra was available, so I bought it ($90 with all the fees). Yikes, rip off. Generally a limited view seat means you can't see the near corner (or edge) of the stage, but here I found (with no exaggeration) that I could probably see less than half the stage. All I could see was the front of the stage and the left wing. The reason was a monstrous speaker system 10 to 15 feet high sitting on the orchestra floor jammed right against two seats in the row in front of me (these seats were not sold), and as a result I didn't see maybe a quarter to third of the show. Clearly my seat (and probably the one behind me too) were so blocked by the speakers that they should not have been sold, or sold at a huge discount, which clearly they were not. On top of this the sound from the speakers was so loud (on occasion) that my chest was thumping. I should as a matter of principle write a protest letter. Probably the worst obstructed view seat ever (well once I was sitting behind a pole, but even then you could stretch and see around it), but here stretching did no good.

        This show is half musical and half concert. The cast and production were both excellent, lots of energy and varied 'moves' when the four Seasons were at the microphone singing. On the night I was there the two most important Jersey's boys (including Frankie Valli) were played by the 2nd cast. The notification of this was handled in a strange way I thought. There was an insert that the role of Tommy DeVito (narrator in the early part of the show) was being played by an understudy, but there was no insert for the key role of Frankie Valli. I thought I was seeing (first cast) Joseph Bwarie, but only after the show when reading his bio did I realize that the night I was there Valli was played by (2nd cast) John Michael Dias. This was noted under the Cast listings, but this was easy to miss and I did, so only after the show was over, did I realize that Frankie Valli had been played by Dias, confirmed by checking the pictures. He was very good and comfortable on stage, important since in the later part of the show he is alone on stage for a considerable time singing. He's a Boston Conservatory guy and starred in the Chicago version of Jersey Boys. Dias must be well rested because unlike virtually everyone else in the company, he does'nt perform that much.

        The audience was interesting too. It was a Thur evening (week between Christmas and New Years) and I could see from the seating chart that (except for a handful of scattered seats) it was a sold out house, meaning the last row of the 2nd balcony virtually at the ceiling was sold. What was interesting about the audience was that it looked like many had escaped from the Supranos. Clearly the Italian community in Boston (many very well dressed) were out in force.

Jersey Boys national tour (early tour photo)
Bwarie (Valli) is left, but of the four I saw only the guy on the right Steve Gouveia ('Ringo') looks familiar

        After reading the Boston Globe review that focues mostly on Bwarie, I wish I had seen him.

        "Ah, but when that next song arrives and Joseph Leo Bwarie grabs the mike.  Well, talk about high notes, in every sense of the phrase. ... The Emerson College grad doesn’t simply channel Valli; he inscribes the role with a breath-catching artistry of his own as he soars, without seeming effort, into the upper reaches of the human voice."  (Don Aucoin in Boston Globe)
        Video link (Las Vega company)

Young company winter festival @Stoneham Theatre, Stoneham MA (Jan 2011)
        Twice a year (summer and winter) the excellently prepared kids of the Young Company are given the stage of Stoneham Theater to do full scale productions. This year (Jan 2011) the HS kids are doing 'Oklahoma', the middle school kids '13' and the elementary school kids 'Joseph and his Technicolor Coat'. I have been going to these shows for three or four years, and there are two pleasures. One, seeing again those you remember from past years as they grow up, and two, discovering new talent. I saw all three shows and the best of the shows ('13') twice. The shows have all had good musical support (not always the case): two keyboards in 'Oklahoma' (led by John Howrey) and four pieces in '13' led by Steven Bergman, whose daughter Emma Bergman (Charlotte) is in the show.

'13' - Middle school
        I had never heard of the show '13', but chatting with Jon White-Spunner of the theater he told me that Weylin Symes (artistic director), had just seen '13' and said it was really good. I saw it and I agree. A little Googling shows the show came out of LA in 2007 and ran for four months on Broadway in 2008 with a cast made up entirely of kids. (Billed as the only show with an all teen cast every on Broadway.)

        This is a fun musical and here features a standout cast of middle school students. The plot is pure 13 with kids angling to get their first kiss (with 'tongue'), about jocks, geeks, a cripple, plus an added Bar Mitzvah jewish angle. This production has 8 to 10 polished featured performers well supported by a strong chorus. This is a high energy show with several dance numbers. At the curtain call, in a nice move, three of the girls with relatively minor roles in the show were featured in a rousing numbers. Only a couple of familiar faces in this show. The bio's show that some had been in Les Mis last year but except for a few principals it's impossible to remember who was in that large cast (on an often dark stage).

        As soon as the show starts it's clear the central role is being played by a very polished performer (new to me, though he had been in Les Mis last year) who commands the stage and both acts and sings very well: Kyle McAdam (Evan). Unfortunately the bios this year often have little to no info about where performers live or in what grade they are in. McAdam's bio shows he must be serious about theater as he has performed with several theaters (he was young Scrooge in North Shore Christmas show in 2007). One performer, Colin Budzuna (here Eddie), lives in Newburyport, which is a serious commitment by him and his parents in commuting to rehearsals and performances.

        A review of the bios yielded some interesting info and a big surprise. The big surprise was Isabelle Miller (here Lucy, no idea she was in the cast Lucy was except she was one of the three featured girls), who I have seen before. When she was 10 (she just turned 13) she played the lead in Reagal's terrific Annie. I have have had a large picture of her on my site in my review of that show since that time. Her bio says she is going to be in the upcoming Rimers of Eldritch at Stoneham. Emily Pinto (here Cassie) was Baby Louise in 2008 in Stoneham's (mainstage) Gypsy. Sirena Abalian (here Lola) won a 2009 IRNE award for most promising child actor. '13' directed by directed by Caitlin Lowans.

Kyle McAdam (Evan, lead) in Stoneham's Young Company '13' (Jan 2011)

left, Isabelle Miller, center (blue) Bernie Baldassaro (as Brett)

        My image and memory of the show is much improved on a repeat viewing (a week later). One purpose in going back was to figure out who in the show was Isabelle Miller, so impressive in 2008 as a 10 1/2 year old in Reagle's Annie. Going in I didn't have a clue. It turns out she played Lucy, the school slut, and has one of the featured roles. Her bio says she just turned 13, but clearly she's no longer a little girl, and if I didn't know from her bio she was Annie, I would never guessed it was her. This whole company is very impressive. Here's a list of the featured players:

                    Brett -- lead jock                    Bernie Baldassaro, high energy, can dance up a storm
                    Eddie ? Malcolm -- Brett's friends,    both do a nice job and can move
                                                                     Colin Budzyna (Newburyport), Ben Hull

                    Kendra  -- good girl               Lexi Orphanos  (I have seen her before)  comfortable on stage
                    Lucy      -- slut                        Isabelle Miller (former Reagle Annie) polished
                    Casie, Charlotte ? Molly -- featured in curtain call number
                                                                    Emily Pinto, Emma Bergman, Tessa Storm

                    Evan -- jewish narattor ? show center, really impressive (in about half the numbers)
                                                                     Kyle McAdam
                    Patrice -- Evan's friend          Coco Rich (stage name?) only a freshman, nice job, three solos
                   Archie -- cripple                      Sam Witts  (nice acting job)

Oklahoma -- High school
        This production of Oklahoma is well done, but is missing the gravitas (some of it is the show of course) and standout performances I have seen in recent years at the HS level at Stonham. I am thinking of Company, 42nd Street, Les Mis, and even Wonderful Town done by the middle school kids. The strongest performer in this 'Oklahoma' I think was by Emma Fienberg (as Aunt Eller), who has a has good stage presence, is a good naturalistic actor and provides a strong core to the show. She doesn't have much singing in the show, but at curtain I could here she has a fine voice.

        Several familiar performers in this show. Zoey Michaels (here Ado Annie) I have seen in several shows, beginning with when she stole the show a couple of years ago in Guys and Dolls with Adilaide's Lament.) Here she is good, but I have seen her do better. I see she is singing with a mouthful of wire (as were quite a few others), which must be difficult. The lead Curly (Jeff Seigel, junior at Stoneham HS) I remember well from Guys and Dolls, where he was one of the featured gamblers. He and Olivia Miller (as Laurey) handle their roles OK, but neither is a standout. Seigel is not a great singer and though Miller has a stronger voice, her acting is a little weak.

        Later found out that Olivia Miller is the older sister of Isabelle Miller (Reagle's Anne) from Melrose when both were featured in the 'Rimers of Eldritch' (March 2011).
        CJ Diorio does a good job as Ali Hakim as do Daniel Began (Will Parker, not much dancing) who looks familiar and Peter Vaiknoras as Jud Fry. The finale Oklahoma is well done by the entire cast at curtain. Directed and choreographed by Chris Carcione who came up with a way to fake (rather than cutting) the dream ballet without real dancers! Also worthy of note was the girl who played the character with the annoying laugh, very nicely done! Via Wikipedia I tracked down the name of this character as Gertie Cummings, so it was played by Molly Goddard.

Stoneham's Young Company Oklahoma, Jan 2011

Olivia Miller (Laura) and Jeff Siegel (Curley)
in Stoneham's Youth Company Ohlahoma (Jan 2011)

Joseph ? Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat -- Elementary school
        I had never seen this show before. It's a pretty frothy light hearted concoction, and fun, and well suited to young kids. I go to the elementary kids performance not expecting much, but am repeatedly surprised (but shouldn't be: think Annie).  Nice job led by 11 and 12 year olds: Michael Saracco (below) as Joseph provides a strong core to the show as Joseph along with the three girl narrators: Katie Roeder, Claire Kiewra, Grace Goddard (in her bio she thanks her two voice teachers Maureen Brennan and Andrew Barbato!) Most of these kids have already been in several shows.

 Michael Saracco (Joseph)
in Stoneham's Youth Company Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat (Jan 2011)

Griffin Museum of Photography gallery @ Stoneham Theater, Stoneham MA
        Griffin Museum of Photography (Winchester, MA) has an auxiliary gallery at Stoneham Theatre. During Jan 2011 on display were 20 or to pictures by Eva Timothy all featuring historic scientific instruments, scientists and old text many with lens or eyeglasses. My favorite was The Astronomer, which I recognized as Galileo 'looking' at his drawing of the terminator of the moon showing mountains and valleys that he was able to see using his first telescope. Online at either the Griffin site, or another gallery that features Timothy's work, only one on or two of the twenty or so prints were shown, but one of them was 'The Astronomer'. Below is an image capture (with attached copyright notice). This is actually quite a bit clearer than the displayed print, which was quite subdued and understated, apparently to give it more atmosphere.

'The Astronomer' photography by Eva Koleva Timothy
(subject -- Galileo and his drawing of the terminator of the moon in Sidereus Nuncius)
on display in the Griffin Museum of Photography gallery at Stoneham Theatre (Jan 2011)

Hysteria @ Central Square Theatre, Cambridge MA
        The Central Square Theatre is relatively new theater (two years old) in a narrow new building located in Central Sq Cambridge, within easy walking distance of MIT and a mile from Harvard. Several companies are in residence. This play was my first visit to the theater. The full title of the play, by Terry Johnson, is 'Hysteria, or Fragments of an Analysis of an Obsessional Neurosis' presented by the Nora Stage Company. This is a 1992 play from a well known UK playwright.

       The thesis of Hysteria sounded weirdly interesting. Supposedly inspired by a real meeting between Sigmund Freud (near the end of his life) and Salvador Dali. I am writing this about six weeks after seeing the play, but my memory is that Salvador Dali was not at all central to the plot of the play, but was there for comic relief and to provide witty repartee. He was played brilliantly by John Kuntz, who is on the faculty of Boston Conservatory and is also a playwright. Dali though served as the hook for a totally surprising and clever trick with the set. After discussing one of his drooping clock paintings, all of a sudden the set began to 'melt' as cloth wall drapings were slowly lowered. Set designer was Janie Howland, who does a lot of the best sets I see around Boston.

        The real plot is about a girl who sneaks into Freud's office to find about an analysis he did years ago on her mother. I was surprised to see this girl, in a difficult acting part, was played by Stacy Fischer who just a few weeks earlier was in a light as air part of the mother in the 'Best Christmas Pageant Ever' at Stoneham Theatre.

        I was a annoyed by the gratuitous nudity. Near the end, virtually unrelated to the plot, a young girl walks out on the front of the stage totally nude. She has only a few lines. Still a student studying acting at a local college in the playbill she notes she is "incredible grateful for this opportunity". Oh, yea.

Central Sq Theater Jan 2011

Richard Snee as Sigmund Freud and John Kuntz as Salvador Dali
“Hysteria’’ at Central Square Theater Jan 2011

Richard Snee and Stacy Fischer

Sunfish @Stoneham Theatre, Stoneham MA
        Only saw the first act (dress rehearsal, donor perk) of world premier of Sunfish, but that was enough. The book aye! The bad character (left below) has scene after scene to show she is just really really bad, aye!!  Terry Byrne of the Boston Globe after saying nice things about Stoneham Theatre being adventuresome for doing a world premier musical, nails it: "Unfocused storytelling sinks ‘Sunfish’".

Vanessa Schukis as Madame Omi, Ara Morton as the King, Rocio Del Mar Valles as Aheh,
David L. Jiles Jr. as her father in Stoneham Theatre’s “Sunfish.’’ Feb 2011 (Carla Donaghey)

The Exceptionals @ Merrimack Theatre, Lowell MA
        At the same time as Stoneham was doing the world premier of the musical Sunfish, a few miles up the road Merrimack Theatre was doing the world premier of a new play by Bob Clyman, The Exceptionals. The Merrimack here had much more success with its premier than did Stoneham. I liked Clyman's new play a lot (as did the Boston Globe reviewer, Terry Byrne).

        This play is not a comedy, not dark, not light, not personal. It's sort of quasi-science fiction, about a future that does not yet exist, but might. It's about mother getting mothers at a clinic devoted to raising a crop of super smart kids. They previously had gotten sperm for their kid from there, and now they visiting to see if they can get their kid into a special school the clinic is starting for their geniuses. This is the basis for a play? Yup, Clyman has thought about this a lot and keeps it rolling nicely. One father wonders if maybe their next kid should be like him, one mother is an academic, another mother is a biker type, and presiding is an icy clinic worker, Judith Lightfoot Clarke, who does a wonderful job, is impeccably dressed and provides a strong center to the play.

     Joseph Tisa, Catherine Eaton, Judith Lightfoot Clarke and Carolyn Baeumler
(The Exceptionals at Merrimack Theatre, Feb 2011)

Globe review by Terry Byrne

Edwards Twins (appearing at) Stoneham Theatre, Stoneham MA
        Stoneham rents out the theater to traveling shows in down times. Last night I saw the Edward Twins, billed as "Two (identical) brothers -- 100 Stars, Direct from Las Vegas".  Both impersonators, one doing men and the other women, who dress and sing as an amazing number of stars. They have performed at Stoneham before, but this is the first (? probably last) time I have seen them. They are doing 7 shows in a week at Stoneham, and the night I was there HBO was there with multiple cameras recording the show.

        I thought I would write a little commentary because of the amazing tackiness of the show. First, these guys are in fact quite talented, especially the female impersonator, Eddie Edwards. I up in the balcony (orchestra was nearly sold out), and from there the costuming and mannerisms were spot on, but what was really impressive was the singing by both. They are both good singers, always on key, and holding the 'voice' while singing to a recorded sound track. You have to assume that a man singing as many different women is the much greater achievement. Their web site says Eddie toured for years with the La Cage aux Folies (caberet act) doing Bette Midler and Cher and later formed an act with his brother.

        Now the tackiness
        -- Tacky curtain and tacky looking stage. All through the show random bits that would be used only at the end just sat there. Junk under the piano in a laundry basket, a table with its own tacky little curtain sitting on the right edge of the stage.

        -- Sound volume. Overwhelmingly loud in the balcony. Was hurting my ears, was thinking of leaving at intermission, but it got turned down a little. This was not opening night. I don't know how these guys have any eardrums left. There were speakers they had brought scattered all over the stage.

        -- Entrances were all tacky. At one point 'Cher' just disappears through the curtain (thought maybe something had gone wrong) and sound continues on blank stage for a minute or two only to have him reappear in a famous skin tight ass revealing costume Cher once used.

        -- Mostly the show is singing but the little patter and announcements were tackiness personified. Phony... At one point one even said (without a trace of smile) that they had traveled the world and had found one of great restaurants of the world next door, then stumbled over the name. Sounded like a plug for a free dinner.

        -- "Direct from Las Vegas"  The only reference I could find for them in Las Vegas is that they once performed in a small casino in downtown Las Vegas (not the strip). They are in fact a regular (many months) at a [restaurant + show] place in Providence RI. In 2006 they did 6 months at a hotel in Nassau.

Eddie Edwards of Edwards Twins from their web site
(I saw Streisand, Cher, Midler March 3, 2011 @ Stoneham Theatre)

Screen captures from their promo video

Botelliceli and Steisand

Sonny and Cher (costume caused a lot of ohhh's)

Anthony Edwards as Elton John

        Here they are singing, first is Eddie Edwards as Barbra Streisand. Second is a polished promo video from YouTube with lots of impersonations. At the end you can hear that they both really can sing well. Third Eddie Edwards as Barbara Steisand, quite amazing. Virtually all of the 53 commentors agree, a man with a better Steisand voice than most female impersonators.

Reasons to be Pretty @ Speakeasy Stage, Boston MA
        This is the 3rd 'body' play by Neil LaBute (other were Fat Pig and Shape of Things), billed as an "incendiary drama", supposedly this play was performed on Broadway. Some plays have look away moment, this play had a lot of them (in the 2nd row of the Speakeasy the audience is only feet from the actors). The worst was the dialog (language too, scenes of continual swearing) that had no crafting, so style, totally inane. I could believe the script has scenes with no dialog where the actors are told to improvise, because that is what large parts of the play seemed like. It makes you wish for a little Shakespeare with words (even if arcane) that have been shaped, styled and crafted.

Ben Branley likes it!
       Doing a little searching not only did I find a good review of the play by Ben Brantley of the NYT (play was at the Lyceum in 2009), but he says this, "it may turn out to be the sentimental sleeper of a season". Yikes! Of the grunting dialog he say "LaBute asks us to listen carefully to the way people speak in the early 21st century .. and .. Even more than when I saw it last June, 'Rreasons' flows with the compelling naturalness of overheard conversation." Well that's one way to put it. Swearing scenes he calls, "polluted streams of invective'. I am baffled.

I noticed there were comments attached to Brantley's review. The first commenter had the same reaction I did:

        I don't believe I've seen a poorer excuse for a play in quite some time. What's even more astounding is that Ben Brantley praises it in this way, and that it has been nominated for a Tony. The level of communication between the characters in this play is adolescent at best, and pre-adolescent in many instances. How this way of talking to others is representative of anyone except people who like to rant and rave and hold on to grudges indefinitely and then make nicey-nice at the end of it all, is beyond me. I know no adults who communicate in this way to each other, and I am thankful for it. What a waste of time, money and effort, on my part and on the part of those involved with this production. I will make a point, in the future, not to lend nearly as much credence to a New York Times theater review as I used to. Simply unbelievable that this is considered well-done contemporary American theater. What a sad commentary that is, if indeed it is the perception of many. Please don't waste your well-earned money and valuable time on this.
— Anonymous
        Oh and the set. The NYT says the set conveyed 'blue-collar bleakness', so I guess that's why the SpeakEasy set looked like a warehouse, which while unattractive to looks at for two hours, was cleverly done.

Andy Macdonald, Angie Jepson, Danielle Muehlen, and Burt Grinstead
Reason to be Pretty @ SpeakEasy Stage (3/11)

        I got an email from the Speakeasy marketing director asking for comments about this production, so I sent him the above Brantley comment, saying I largely agreed with it. Weeks later I get a voucher for two free tickets to Speakeasy from him thanking me for the feedback.

Two Jews Walk into a War @ Merrimack Theater, Lowell MA
        'Two Jews Walk into a War' rescued the week begun with 'Reasons to be Pretty'. This is a two year old play by Seth Rozin that was inspired by a column in the NYT about the jewish community in Kabul Afganistan being down to two members who hated each other. It has had a few regional productions. Mixes broad jewish comedy with war and musing on being a religious jew. I liked this play. Serious and not serious done by two excellent Boston actors: Jeremiah Kissel and Will LeBow. I first saw (and was impressed by) Jeremiah Kissel in 'The Scene' at the Lyric in 2008 with Georgia Lyman. Will LeBow is a regular at the Huntington. This must be a marathon effort for the actors as it is a two person play and done without intermission.

        About half way in the action of the play turns to writing a Torah (first five books of bible?), which starts with broad comedy. Kissel does very well a classic Ed Norton bit from the old Jackie Gleason show fidgeting for minutes while preparing to write. One of the the gimmicks in the Torah section is about having to start over and over again (stage fills with paper) to get the punctuation right, but it came out in the post play discussion that there is no punctuation in the torah! (I have seen sections of the Torah on TV and yup no punctuation.) The torah writing goes on too long seemingly extended to fill out the play's length.

        In a discussion after the play with the director and design staff it came out that (background) gun shots were used throughout the play as (joking ending) rim shots. Several in the audience said they got it when it happened the second time. I spoke out that I never got it, and later the woman sitting next came up to me and thanked me for saying this. The set had what looked like realistic broken marble. I asked the set designer how this was done and he said foam.

Jeremiah Kissel in Merrimack Theater production of
Two Jews Walk into a War (March 2011)

Will LeBow in Merrimack Theater production of
Two Jews Walk into a War (March 2011)

The Rimers of Eldritch @ Stoneham Theatre, Stoneham MA
        Thur 3/24/11 I am at opening night of 'The Rimers of Eldritch' by Landford Wilson at Stoneham Theatre. I know nothing about the play nor the playwright, though I have heard of him. As far as I can remember this will be the first play I have ever seen by Landford Wilson. At the end of the pre-performance (shut off your cell phone) speech it is announced that Landford Wilson died during this day. Sure enough next day's NYT has an article on his death at age 73.

        -- "Lanford Wilson, a Pulitzer-Prize winning playwright best known for “The Hot L Baltimore,” “Fifth of July” and “Talley’s Folly,” died Thursday morning of complications from pneumonia at the Kindred St. Joseph Hospital in Wayne, N.J., according to Marshall Mason, a friend and frequent collaborator. Mr. Wilson was 73 and lived in Sag Harbor, N.Y." (NYT 3/24/11)
        All I know about the play going in is that it has a huge cast (17), which is really huge for a medium size regional, suburban theater, that includes some of best actors in Boston. Later a check of Wiki shows 'The Rimers of Eldritch' is from 1966. Over the years it has had two short (one month) runs in NYC (off Broadway) and was shown on PBS in 1974. The Wikipedia entry is very short. This is one of Wilson's early plays. I put this mini-review on the Stoneham web site:
        A huge cast (17) of some of Boston's finest actors, on stage all the time, in a well crafted, dark and brooding small town drama.  Think 'Our Town', but darker, tauter and with a mystery to be decoded. This is an early play by Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Lanford Wilson, who it was announced during the pre-curtain speech on opening night had died that very day.
        Wonderful acting by the whole cast. The big names, like Marianna Bassham, Georgia Lyman, Bobbie Steinbach ? many others, are here working in an ensemble that also includes feature roles for a skilled group of younger actors, many still in HS who have performed with Stoneham Youth Company, like Isabelle and Olivia Miller and Annabel Stevens. Weylin Symes directs and provides a nice introduction to the play in the playbill. Go and enjoy.
        In the playbill Weylin Symes, who directs here, says this play was a favorite of assistant artistic director Caitlin Lowans, and he got to love it when it was done by the HS student in the Stoneham Young Company in 2006. Set was just an angular jutting stage with a raised section on right (used mostly for testimony in court) and a few chairs. Quick lighting changes provided support to occasional theatrical touches, like multiply repeated lines.

        Extra kudows to Isabelle Miller (from Melrose), who only 13-14 had one of the major roles in the play (limping 13 year old) and was terrific. I first saw her in Reagle's Annie, where at 10 1/2 years old she already commanded the stage and could really sing, and just two months ago saw here again when she was featured in '13' the best show of the 2011 winter Young Company season. From the playbill I learned that Olivia Miller, who had the lead (as Laurie) in the 2011 Young Company Oklahoma is her older sister (junior in HS). Another impressive younger member of the ensemble was Annabel Stevens (Stoneham Young Company Les Mis) who played the car loving prissy girl.

        Disappointingly, but not surprising with such a large ensemble cast, the talents of  superb actress like Marianna Bassham and Georgia Lyman were largely wasted in relatively small roles.

        Looking for a review of the show I stumbled onto an article about the Miller sisters (Isabelle and Olivia) in the local Melrose paper. The interview with them says they are 13 and 17, daughters of profession ballet dancers, and both are intterested in pursuing theater.

sisters Olivia Miller 17 and Isabelle Miller 13 of Melrose
appearing in Stoneham Theatre's production of 'The Rimers of Eldritch' Mar 2011
(source Melrose Patch)

Boston Ballet's Midsummer Night's Dream @ Boston Opera House, Boston MA
        For its 9 week spring season BB is doing four ballets in sequence with barely a break between. I missed the first 'Elo Experience' dedicated entirely (I think) to works of BB resident choreographer Jorma Elo, who I read danced 15 years with the Netherlands Dance Company. Coming up 'Bella Figura' (Kylian, Forsythe, Picket) and 'Balanchine/Robins (Robins: Afternoon of a Faun, Antique Epigraphs, Balanchine's: Divertimento No. 15, Symphony in Three Movements).

        Last night was the opening of Balanchine's version of Midsummer Night's Dream. This is a huge production with not only most of the company, BB2, but a huge number of kids (25) from the school featured throughout, and a six soprano chorus in the pit. (I chatted with mother of one of the kids, who said her daughter was a 'bug'.) A major cost saving (I assume) was that all the costumes and (non-descript) hangings were borrowed from Teatro alla Scalla of Milan.

        I had an excellent seat A32, first row side in orchestra, where I am not only as close as anyone to the stage, but from the side I had a clear view of the orchestra and singing soloists. (This seat is in the 4th from the top in price, approx 1/3rd the top price. Seats slightly further to the side (raised) are sold as 'obstructed view' and are another way to sit close cheap.)

        I saw this production a few years ago done by BB. It's not one of my favorite Balanchine pieces. It has a lot of very nice dancing, but in toto I find the choreography somewhat unfocused and repetitive. The plot, what there is of it, is also strange. Balanchine crams the whole of the plot into the first act, with the 2nd act almost unrelated to the 1st. It was, however, superbly prepared and beautifully danced by the huge cast. John Lam (as Oberon), who I know to be a powerful compact dancer, has a solo with (what looks like) a series of extremely difficult beating combinations. No embarrassment here, but no sparkle either as his beats were often not very clean or clear. (Principal James Whiteside is also cast in this role.)

        I quote from Thea Singer's review in the Boston Globe with which I totally agree:

        -- Jeffrey Cirio’s Puck is a sprite on a mission. He’s light as air and propelled by prankish delight. But he also has a conscience — not all that common among Pucks — and his awareness of the consequences of his actions adds depth to the role. (his excellent acting holds the plot together)

        -- Robert Kretz as Bottom (with Ass's head) is priceless; he is understated, not hammy, as he struggles to return Titania’s attentions but can barely keep his animal nature in check. When she (Lorna Feij?o) hooks her arms under Bottom’s and rests her head on his back, you can’t help but smile. (The 'ass' sequences were very nicely done)

        -- The essence of Balanchine’s ballet — what “A Midsummer Night’s Dream’’ means to him — lies in Act II, a wedding Divertissement pas de deux par excellence. Larissa Ponomarenko (partnered by James Whiteside) owns the rest of the night here, with her luscious renderings of arcs so deep they nearly snap and ankle taps that have the clarity of a bell.

John Lam and Lorna Feijoo
in Boston Ballet's Midsummer Night's Dream (4/2011)

Breaking the Code @Central Square Theater, Cambridge MA
        A quasi-technical play about Alan Turing written by Hugh Whitemore presented in association with MIT. In talk back after the show it came out this is not a new play it is from 1982 and was produced in England. Turing's life has built-in drama. He plays a huge role in winning the war for England by breaking the Enigma code, but even after the war it's a secret and no one knows about it. He does pioneering work on the theory and engineering of computers, and for both of these accomplishments he is well remembered. And, of course, he is (openly) gay in England at a time when this is a crime. He gets arrested and convicted for this, finally at age 41 committing suicide. If this isn't enough, he gets arrested only because he goes to the police to complain that one of his young lovers stole a few pounds from him, eventually telling the police he is gay! This is where the play starts in 1953 with him reporting his place was burgled.

        While I was not surprised, I was a little disappointed that his code work (hey, the name of the play is 'Breaking the Code'!) got so little time in the play. It wasn't until near the end that a few minutes was (finally) taken to explain how the enigma code had been broken. And, while it was alluded to, it was never made clear that he was not allowed to talk about it, and no one in England knew what he had done for the country. (I think it was only years later, long after Turing's death, that the details of breaking the Enigma code were revealed.)

        Presented in the round (really rectangle) in the relatively small performance space of Central Square Theater featuring Allyn Burrows, who I have not seen before and who's bio shows he has done a lot of Shakespeare, as Alan Turing. The excellent Liz Hayes (Three Tall Women at Lyric couple of years ago) plays his quasi-girlfriend. Well done by all the cast. The web site features this quote from Boston Herald review:

        "Boasts the finest ensemble acting of any local company this season. Allyn Burrows is brilliant as Turing in what feels like the role of a lifetime!"  -- Boston Herald

Allyn Burrows as Alan Turing
in Underground Railroad Theater (Central Sq Theater) production of
Breaking the Code (April 2011)

        Got to see an Enigma machine (recreation by Swiss after the war) in the lobby. The keyboard was QWERTY except that Y and Z were reversed. I asked about this at talk back and the suggestion was this is a typical German keyboard.

Sons of the Prophet@Huntington's Wimberly Theater, Boston MA
        This is a new play by the young playwright, Stephen Karam, author of Speech ? Debate. This play is essentially a NYC tryout, with a big name (Joanna Gleason), written on commission for the Roundabout Theater, on their fall schedule at the Roundabout's underground 46th theater. (What are the odds -- two days after writing above, Arthur Laurents has just died, and I am reading his obit in the NYT, and in there I find a tidbit about Joanna Gleason. Turns out she was the star in Laurents' biggest flop, a 1991 musical called 'Nick and Nora', it ran 9 performances.)

        I remember seeing Speech ? Debate awhile back at the Lyric, but unfortunately I didn't write it up. I remember it only as an usual, kind of off the wall play about misfit HS students. I looked up Speech's  NYT review. It was a very positive, dated 2007, saying it had been produced by a Roundabout program for young playwrights (Karam was then 27). Karam says in the playbill he has been working on this new play for several years (since 2007). (Karam is also the co-author of Columbinus, which the Stoneham young company produced this winter, but I didn't see it.)

        I don't know what to make of this play. I went to see it near the end of its run (sitting in a not very good seat) when I saw Joanna Gleason was in it, but Gleason is not the star, just a member of the ensemble, and I think frankly wasted. The play situation develops a ton of possibilities (killed father, racist uncle, bad knees, Lebanese in Penn, two gay sons, etc), but nothing seems to get developed much, at the end its all loose ends. It's billed as a comedy, it does have a lot of funny lines, but dramatically it's all over the place. It's impossible to predict what the NYC critics will say, but I wouldn't be surprised if they are bad.

Dan McCabe and Joanna Gleason in Huntington/Roundabout 'Sons of the Prophet' (4/2011)

        After writing above, I found two Boston reviews. One said said the subject matter was not funny, the other had much the same reaction I did:

        "There are a lot of ideas at work in Sons of the Prophet, Stephen Karam’s new play about family, pain, homosexuality, race, politics, religion, geography, America, Lebanon and Khalil Gibran. Feeling stuffed already? Us too. The thing is, Sons of the Prophet is so gosh-darn likeable that it’s hard to mind what a jumble it is. Now getting its world premiere from the Huntington Theatre Company with a cast that includes Tony-winning Broadway vet Joanna Gleason, the play is headed to NYC’s Roundabout Theatre later this year. (Paul Marotta in TimeOut Boston)
        In Oct 2011 John Lahr reviewed the play in the New Yorker:
        Ravishing ... At once deep, deft and beautifully make... Play's poignant comedy makes us see that facing grief is one way to ease its terrible grip... Karam's bittersweet touch is as rare as his compassion.
I guess he liked it.

42nd St @ Stoneham Theatre, Stoneham MA
        42nd St is a big show, a tap dancing spectacular, so for a suburban theater it must perforce be scaled down. So the question going into 42nd St was could Stoneham Theatre pull it off? They had done a good job last year with another big show, My Fair Lady, so I was hopeful. The answer is yes! They have indeed they have pulled it off very well, casting some talented newcomers, some old hands, some Boston Conservatory students and some former young Stoneham performers with choreographer Ilyse Robbins given direction of a show for the first time. Working smoothly together like a precision watch this large cast delivers a polished, high energy, and yes nuanced performance of a classic fun happy show.

         New record --- I will have seen this fun show, which is just down the street, 7 times (3 times from 1st row)!

Russell Garrett as Julian Marsh, Kathy St. George as Dorothy Brock
in Stoneham's 42nd St, May 2011
(Photo credit John Howrey)

         Weylin Symes (Artistic director) did a great job casting this show, and is probably the major reason it works and is a lot of fun. This show has a (budget busting) cast of 20 and must be difficult to cast because it needs a huge number good tap dancers who also need to sing well. In 42nd St all the ensemble and three of the principals must be tap dancers, which in this production is 13 of the 20 cast members (other cast members 'move' , i.e. do to a few time steps). Tap dancing must be (I suspect) somewhat of a specialty as over the years in has gone in and out of fashion. Tap dancing musicals are relatively few, on Broadway at any given time only a few shows will include it.

        The energy level goes way up every time Stoneham's medium size stage fills with the excellent tap dancing ensemble doing the standard 42nd St choreography. All the ensemble and principals sing well too. Ephie Ardema as Peggy Sawyer is a strong tap dancer, a good singer and looks the part. From her bio it looks like she is a relative newcomer, her strongest credit is a national tour of Sound of Music (as Liesl). A local performer, who I don't remember ever seeing before, is the very impressive Margret Ann Brady (as Maggie Jones) paired with the always good Neil Casey (Bert Barry). She is a good actress and singer and it production numbers in the back did some real (or simulated) tap dancing too. Russell Garrett, returning from My Fair Lady last year, does a good, slightly understated Julian Marsh, and sings well too. As expected Cathy St. George, a Stoneham regular, was fine as Dorothy Brock, but her tiny size slightly diminished her presence (high heels would have helped). A strong personality in the ensemble (as Ann Reilly) was Ceit Zweil, who I have seem somewhere before, a strong tapper and singer too and somewhat older than the others. The other four girls of the ensemble were excellent (Laura Graczyk, Sarah Coombs, Hannah McDonald, and Deirdre Burke). Two are Boston Conservatory students.

        The men of the ensemble were strong dancers too. The only slightly weak spot was Andy McLeavey as Billy Lawlor. He sang fine, but his dancing sometimes looked a little wooden. I am not sure if it was him or the choreography. In the his featured dance number (we're in the money) he gets by, but there is no dance fireworks that this number is really meant to feature, but in his 42nd street duet with Peggy Sawyer on the staircase he did fine.

        A smart choice to keep the cost down was to use a three piece band (piano, drums, bass), but to compensate for that by hiring a talented polished cabaret pianist (Jim Rice) playing the Stoneham grand piano and with the band featured on stage. Rice has played piano for Cathy St. before, including her one woman show at Stoneham, and his site says he has also worked with Russell Garrett (Julian Marsh) developing a show for his Worcester Foothills Theatre. (His bio says he will be playing at Ogunquit's Front Porch this summer, but I don't see him listed as a piano bar pianist on the Front Porch site.)

Foreground: Ephie Aardema (Peggy Sawyer), Arthur Waldstein (Abner Dillon), Kathy St. George (Dorothy Brock)
Russell Garrett (ulian Marsh), and Margaret Ann Brady (Maggie Jones)
Ensemble in background: Ceit Zweil, Sarah Coombs, Laura Graczyk, Hannah MacDonald, and Deirdre Burke
in Stoneham Theatre production of 42nd St May 2011
(photo credits: Carla Donaghey)

Foreground on "large dime": Andy McLeavey (Billy Lawlor)
Foreground on floor, either side of Billy Lawlor: Ceit Zweil (“Anytime Annie” Reilly) and Ephie Aardema (Peggy Sawyer)
Ensemble in background: Mark Linehan, Deirdre Burke, Hannah MacDonald, and Laura Graczyk

Foreground on "large dime": Andy McLeavey (Billy Lawlor)
Foreground on floor, either side of Billy Lawlor: Ceit Zweil (“Anytime Annie” Reilly) and Ephie Aardema (Peggy Sawyer)
Ensemble in background on "large dimes": Sarah Coombs, Deirdre Burke, Hannah MacDonald, and Laura Graczyk
Ensemble in background on floor: Mark Linehan, Brandon Timmons, and Zachary Gregus

        Deirdre Burke is a graduate of the Stoneham Youth program. I remember seeing her in 42nd Street at Stoneham in 2008 when she was in HS (as Peggy Sawyer, see below). She is apparently not looking to be a theater pro, bio says she is a biology major at UMass Boston, but is also president of their student theater group, and is as a good a dancer and singer as the other girls.

 Allison Russel (as Dorethy Brock) and Diedre Burke (as Peggy Sawyer)
from Stoneham Young Company 42nd St (summer 2008)

Link to Stoneham Theatre hi-res photos
        While hi-res (press) photos of three seasons of Stoneham Theater are available online, there is no link to them on the Stoneham site that I can find. This is probably because there is no .html overview with miniatures, just a list of photo links. By Googling the photographer credited for 42nd  Street photos, Carla Donaghey, I was able to dig out a link to the parent directory.

Boston Ballet's Bella Figura, @ Boston Opera House, Boston MA
        BB described the program this way: "The program features the work of three contemporary choreographers, all exceedingly relevant, significant and alive." All the publicity prior to opening was about the 3rd work on the program, Jiri Kylian’s Bella Figura, and BB is the first American company to present this work. Mikko Nissinen, Artistic Director, was telling everyone, "Seeing Jiri Kylian Bella Figura was one of the most spectacular theatre experiences I have ever had.  Bella Figura will have audiences rethinking everything they know about ballet”. Well that's pretty strong! And it got me into the theater. But it is not how I and a few other dance types I talked to responded. In my opinion Mikko Nissinen really oversold the Kylian piece.

        Kylian directs the Nederlands Dans Theater and Bella Figura is from 1995. This is something like the 6th Kylian ballet to be added to the BB repertoire. No bras for the woman in sections of this piece (sometimes in dim light).

Puffy red skirts for men and women in the work Bella Figura by BB (May 2011)
(newspaper has chosen a shot that just happens to cover the braless breasts...)

        The other two works on the program were William Forsythe’s The Second Detail (BB premiere) and three short works by Helen Pickett. While Bella Figura was interesting and had a lot of unusual and clever stage craft, the piece that I (and the others I talked to) were blown away by was the first piece of the evening, the Forsythe piece 'The Second Detail'. A European quirky dance piece that was athletic and spectacular, with everyone saying 'Wow' when it ended. Another BB program beautifully danced in a power house program.

        William Forsythe is described in BB notes as an american dancer and choerographer. I thought he was a European, and when I google him, I find he has in fact worked most of his life in German (for a while director of the Frankfort Ballet). His 'Second Detail' was created for the National Ballet of Canada in 1991, and the notes describe it this way: "An electrifying display of classicism and physicality for an ensemble. The work is noted for Forsythe’s use of crisp movement and playful spirit."

Bo Busby, Erica Cornejo and Rie Ichikawa
in Boston Ballet's "Second Detail" (May 2011)
(Photo credit for this and most of the pictures of this performance: Gene Schiavone)

Second Detail, Lia Cirio, Whitney Jensen, Rie Ichikawa

Second Detail, Bradley Schlagheck (corp)

Second Detail, Kathleen Breen Combes and Isaac Akiba

BB picture gallery
        I looked all over the BB site for pictures and could not find any, so I scoped up the one or two I could find attached to newspaper reviews. But there is a large gallery of photos on the BB site (hiding somewhere) that I stumbled on using google. The link below has a slide show of dozens of images from the 2010/11 season:

BB porn?
        Not really, the chests of male and female ballet dancers look pretty much the same! Below, creen captures from the BB link above.

Sarah Wroth

Rie Ichikawa

Larissa Ponomarenko retiring
        Since 1993 Larissa Ponomarenko from the Ukraine has been the BB prima. She is still dancing extremely well and was a featured dancer this evening (in The Second Detail I think). But poking around the BB web site I find an announcment that after 18 years dancing with the company she is retiring from the stage, but will continue on the company as a Ballet Master.

Boston Ballet Balanchine/Robbins @ Boston Opera House, Boston MA
        A week later and BB has transitioned from European style modern ballet to classic American ballet with a program of (new to Boston) works by the two major New York City ballet masters, George Balanchine and Jerome Robbins. Bracketing the two intimate Robbins works were two large cast classical works by Balanchine. The opening work was Balanchine's Divertimento #15 (music my Mozart) and the closing with Balanchine's Symphony in Three Movements (music by Igor Stravinsky). The center section of the program was two of Robbin's smaller and (I guess) famous pieces, Afternoon a Faun and Antique Epigraphs, neither of which I had ever seen before. The latter was mentioned in a PBS film about Robbins. Another BB program beautifully danced in a well put together evening.

Animal Cracker @ Lyric Stage, Boston MA
        Animal Cracker was a broadway musical in 1928 with the Marx Brothers before they did for the movies. This is the 1928 musical slightly reconfigured a few years ago so 9 actors can play 20 roles. Total zaniness with a few nice songs and soft shoe dancers from a talented cast. Reliable Leigh Barrett in Margaret Dumont role and Ed Hoopman (from Brookline) as Groucho, Hoopman was terrific, both in voice, delivery and physical comedy. As one critic said, Who knew Hoopman could do Groucho! Two excellent singers were Merissa Czyz (very thin, from Boston Consevator, now living in NYC) and Aimee Doherty, who I have seen at the New Rep. I took note of Alycia Sacco a couple of years ago when she captured the stage (as a college student) in a tiny role in Miracle on 34th St @ Stoneham. Here she is Harpo, a difficult clown role (I assume), but I was disappointed I did not see any real sparks from her. Some critics said good things about her, but one, who I agree with, said she was not up to the task.

 Leigh Barrett ? Ed Hoopman
in Lyric Stage's Animal Crackers (May 2011)

Same guy.....
Here's Ed Hoopman (our Groucho!) a couple of years ago in the Lyric's 'The Importance of Being Earnest'
As one review said, Who knew Ed Hoopman could do Grocho!

Merissa Czyz, Calvin Braxton, Alycia Sacco, and Aimee Doherty

Aimee Doherty and Jordan Ahnquist

Table Manners @ Arlington Friends of Dram, Arlington MA
         Table Manners, a 1973 british comedy by Alan Ayckbourn, is another nice production by the amateurs of Arlington Friends of Drama (their 417th !! production said the introducer). A funny little play about an extended family on a weekend visit to ma's house. About half the play is the six characters sitting around eating dinner and breakfast (hence the title)! It played on Broadway in 2009 and won the Tony for best play revival. Ayckbourn was new to me, but I see he has long been the artistic director of a british playhouse for which he was written and produced 73 plays. The playbill introduction to this play is a real grabber:

        Table Manners is one of three plays that comprise the well crafted trilogy known collectively as the 'Norman Conquests'. The action of all three plays takes place simultaneously, but in different areas of the same home, yet each play is a full and complete play unto itself. Brilliant!

        Wikipedia says --- The plays are at times wildly comic, and at times poignant in their portrayals of the relationships between six characters. Each of the plays depicts the same six characters over the same weekend in a different part of a house. Table Manners is set in the dining room, Living Together in the living room, and Round and Round the Garden in the garden. Each play is self-contained, and they may be watched in any order. Some of the scenes overlap, and on several occasions a character's exit from one play corresponds with an entrance in another.

Melissa Sine (Sarah) and Shelley Brown (Annie)
in AFD production of 'Table Manners' (first of 'Norman Conquests' trilogy) (May 2011)

        Cast: Melissa Sine (Sarah), Jon Nuquist (Tom), Dayle Ballentine (Ruth), Glen Doyle (Reg),  Shelley Brown (Annie),  Glenn Ryan (Norman).

Drowsy Chaperone @ Speakeasy Stage Company, Boston MA
        I saw this show in NYC a few years ago and this kind of silly show is not my favorite, but SpeakEasy's production got excellent reviews so I went. All is forgiven. While this show is basically a musical review loosely packaged as a musical, its narrator thread is clever and funny and (pretty much) holds the nonsense together giving it structure. And this gimmick does lead to a lot of unexpected very funny moments scattered through the show.

        The key to this show is the quality of the cast and SpeakEasy has done a terrific job pulling together a large fantastic cast, many of whom I have never seen before. Two ART stalwarts here put on their funny hats and contribute mightily to nonsense,  Karen McDonald as the chaperone, and especially Thomas Derrah (119 ART productions!) as the lover Aldolpho. He was fantastic, at one point creating a sensation by showing and rubbing his 'man breasts'. Marriage couple (totally new to me) were McCaela Donovan (in Sutton Foster role) a strong performer and David Christensen, a good singer and tap dancer listed as recent graduate of Boston Conservatory. Favorites Kerry Dowling and Robert Saoud do the spit takes scene. Holding it all together, in a role tailor-made for him, is Will McGarrahan as 'man in chair'.

        And surprise, a familiar face from the Stoneham youth performances showed up. Michael Coup, listed as a junior at Boston Conservator in musical theater, was in the ensemble. Many others in the cast are still students or recent graduates of the Boston Conservatory.

Will McGarrahan as 'man in chair'
in SpeakEasy production of Drowsy Chaperone May 2011

Robert Saoud, Thomas Derrah, Joe Longthorne, McCaela Donovan, Karen McDonald, Sarah Drake, Ryan Halsaver,  Kerry Dowling
in SpeakEasy production of Drowsy Chaperone May 2011

Brian Swasey and David Christensen

Trip to NYC June 2011
         In a week long trip to NYC (June 2011), where I met my nephew from LA (John Fulton, who is the host of the Animal Planet TV show 'Must Love Cats'), I had a chance to see a lot of shows (nearly all from excellent seats). Two new shows (not surprisingly) were impossible to get into: Book of Mormon, sold out all summer, and Everything Goes with Sutton Foster, only a handful of seats in dead back of theater available.

How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying
        Big show with lots of high energy dance numbers, but a little flat. Best was John Laraquette, whose won the Tony (derserved). The weakness, besides the plot being paper thin, is it is not well cast. The star, former Harry Potter, just doesn't have the impish grin of Bobby Morse in movie. Also the supposed sex bomb girlfriend, just was too ordinary looking.

How to Succeed (2011 tony award capture)

Ma Ma Mia
        Mon show was one my nephew had never seen. Ma Ma Mia is a fun show and always brings the crowd to its feet for the rousing finale, but it always bothers me that the set is so damn cheap (and looks it).

Spiderman, Turn off the Dark
        If I was alone, it's unlikely I would have chosen Spiderman. This was the new version of the show, just one week before the official opening. Looks like two different shows tacked together, the tone of the show changes completely at the beginning of the 2nd act (2nd act was reworked by the circus guy who replaced Traymor). The show has no director, just a 'former' director and a 'creative consultant'. Both my nephew's view and I though that it is unredemable mess. Brantley of the NYT, reviewing it a week later, said in its latest incarnation it had morphed from having an incoherent plot to being just a bore, suitable for a 10 year old if he not too precocious! That about nails it.

        The flying is technically spectacular, probably far more advanced than flying ever before in a show. Two characters fly high over the audience at same time, and are able to briefly join up (to 'fight') without getting tangled. This can't have been easy to design and perfect, which they have. The problem is that I didn't find it all that effective theatrically. For one thing it's stuntmen flying with masks over their faces (there are like 8 Spider stuntmen!) not the actors in the show, and the cables are very visible. However, the popup sets of the city as seen from the top of buildings are really something. The sets, some of the costumes, and a few Traymor clever scenes are probably the only reason to see this show. The score is unmemorable, and all the high school kids in the show basically contribute nothing to the show.

Billy Eliot
        This is the 'go to' show in last couple of years. Every trip to NYC I have to see this show (past years it was HairSpray). It never disappoints. The first time I saw it two or three years ago I was not very taken with it and a little put off by all the razzle dazzle of virtually every number, but I have grown to love this show. Later in the week when I noticed online that a 2nd row isle seat was available I went again. This allowed me to see more than one of the boys in the lead. These boys are really young, only about 11. When they come out after, you can see how small they are. What a burden carrying the whole show, which they do, at such a young age, and having to do difficult steps when they are still just young kids. Still this show never disappoints. The first boy was a little weak technically (weakest I think of all the boys I have seen in the role over the years), but the 2nd boy (from NH) was much better.

Ode to Billy Eliot
        Easily lost in this show, and one of its major strengths, is that this is not just a show about Billy Eliot a young dancer. It's also a powerful story about the miners of Northern England (200,000 men they say in the show) and how their way of life collapsed 20-30 years ago. The show covers a year when they went on strike and Maggie Thatcher is presented as the enemy. The introductory film shows the coal mines being nationalized after World War II, which I guess gave the politicians the power to shut the mines down when oil was discovered in the North Sea. The discovery of North See oil is never mentioned in the show, but I assume that this what undercut the economics of coal (and also maybe that it has been mined for 200 years). The North Sea discovery gave England cheap oil and gas too just off its coast, at least for a couple of decades.

        The miners' scenes (nearly half the show) have a lot of (stylized) realism and grit. The final mining scene is really powerful stuff. All the lights go off and the miners switch on their headlamps. They march to the back of the stage and face the audience. The lamps are the only thing visible Then a very loud clanking metal gate is heard and the back of the stage slows drops taking the miners 'underground' while they sing one of Elton John's stirring miner anthems ('We will always stand together'). This wonderful theatrical effect gives me chills.

Flying Billy
        A note on flying Billy. I came across an article by one of the Times dance critics (Isherwood?) saying how his heart sinks when they attach a cable to Billy and he flys around the stage. His point is that this is a cheap theatrical trick inserted in a stirring dance number with Billy and older Billy. It struck me as false note too when I first saw it. But now that I am quite familiar with the show, I think there is probably a good practical reason for it. Granted every number in this show is theatrical to the max, and it is in that vein, but I think it solves a practical problem.

        The practical problem I see is that Billy is just young dance student of 11 or 12. He is on stage more than half the show, he sings, he acts, he has several long dance numbers that he must carry often alone. His ballet dance with older Billy probably takes these kids to near their technical dance (and energy) limit. The ballet dance cannot be longer or more demanding, because these little kids don't have the resources, they are not (yet) professional dancers. The producers choice therefore was likely a short (weak) scene or to stretch it out with a trick (flying). For plot reasons they want this scene to be a dramatic high point, pointing to Billy's future as a dancer, so they opted to add the flying to double its length and add an applause moments. They are forgiven. It's a little compromise from the ideal driven by the practical reality of have a kid carrying the entire show. I could be wrong, but I think the flying (after a little practice and getting over the fear factor) is probably easy from the kid's point of view.

        On the kids the show is full of little girls too. I had assumed they were like Billy (? his friend Michael) and that were several groups of girls that rotate in and out, but now I don't think so. The girls did not seem to change during the week, and there no hint in the playbill of other sets of girls. Also their bio's seem to indicate they are profession children. I wonder if they are able to go to regular school with performances every night and Wed afternoon too.

House of Blue Leaves
       Good acting seen close up with Ben Stiller (first time on Broadway in 30 years), Edie Falco (Suprano's) and Jennifer Jason Leigh, about a want to be songwriter living in a terrible apartment in Queens. My ticket said row C, but it turned out the stage projected to a point into the audience, so in effect I was first row center! Bravura acting by Edie Falco, playing doped up crazy wife of Ben Stiller. From the first row I could see the distant stare she held for long periods of time. Stiller had been in this play 30 years ago, playing the role of the crazy son, who builds a bomb onstage.

Edie Falco and Ben Stiller (tony award capture)

        I have seen some of Stopperd's stuff before and it's so tricky, wordy, quasi-intellectual that I am not sure if I like it. I read that this is considered his best play. Done by an English cast. Even though I was sitting in 2nd row, with some actors I missed some words (I don't think they were amplified, which is hard to believe) due to stylized dialog delivered in English accents of the 1700's. This is unfortunately fatal to a Stoppard work where you need to hear clearly for try and follow him. I kept thinking I would need to read this play to really understand it. Still it was fun and cleverly done, not too arcane.

Death Takes a Holiday
        On my last day in NYC (Sat mat) I generally take a chance on a more unusual or unknown work. This time it was a brand new musical deep under ground at the Roundabout's medium size (420 seat) house on 46th. Over the years I have seen a lot of good work there from the the Roundabout, including last summer's wonderful 'Tin Pan Alley Rag' about Scott Joplin and Irving Berlin. The poster said a brand new musical 'Death Takes a Holiday'. That's all I knew going in. It's first preview performance was Fri of my week in NYC, so I was at its 2nd performance.

        It turned out to be, what I would call a chamber musical, almost no dancing and one set, but with a large cast. Beautifully cast and sung. An attractive, old fashion (no rock!) romantic musical. An interesting plot too, about death (in human form) decides to take a weekend holiday in an Italian villa with a family to understand people. And while he is on 'holiday', no one in the world dies. The book is from two old Broadway hands who (separately) have written some of the top shows on Broadway in the last 20 years (Hairspray, Producers, 1776, etc) and the music is by the composer of Nine and Titanic. The only person I recognized in the cast was Rebecca Luker, who has been one of my favorites since she was Marian in Music Man with her clear as a bell soprano voice. Of course, it's ten years since Music Man and now she's older and plays the mother. Watch for the reviews.

Mara Davi and Julian Ovenden (death) in "Death Takes a Holiday"

        Background story on the show (7/13/11). Julian Ovendan (death), said after working at this theater for two months he was beginning to feel like a Chilean miner.

        The NYT general view was this was a somewhat fussy musical, but, as I had noted, beautifully sung by the whole cast.

Sisters of Swing @ Stoneham Theater, Stoneham MA
        The wonderful Stoneham Theatre's Andrew Sisters bio show from a couple of years ago (reviewed earlier) was brought back for a return engagement summer 2011 with the original excellent cast.

Kimberly Robertson, Laura DeGiacomo and Kerri Jill Garbis (with Steve Gagliastro) (July 2011)

Howie Green at Edge Boston
        "Sisters of Swing, now playing at the Stoneham Theatre. It pays tribute to the ladies, tells the story of their lives and best of all recreates the sound of their harmony with remarkable accuracy through the live performances of Laura DeGiacomo, Kerri Jill Garbis and Kimberly Robertson. The girls are joined on stage by a live band and the multi-talented Steve Gagliastro who plays a variety of roles including the sister’s music producer, Bing Crosby, Carmen Miranda and many others. Hearing the Andrews Sisters’ close impeccable 3-part harmony on record is one thing, but hearing it done live, and perfectly, is a rare treat."
Music Man @ Ogunquit Theater, Ogunquit, ME
        The Music Man is one of my favorite shows. I had seen the movie of course back in the 60's, when it first came out, and loved it. The first time I saw in in theater was around 2000 in NYC. Unfortunately its run was cut short by the theater closures brought on by the Sept 11 arab attack on NYC in 2001. I saw this production several times, never with a really good Harold Hill, but always with Rebecca Luker, who was wonderful. Last year (2010) the Regal Players mounted an excellent production (see review above), whose strength being a combination amateur/pro production is that they are able to put on stage a huge corp (18) of trained and beautifully prepared dancers.

        The 2011 Ogunquit production of the Music Man is splendid. I have seen it twice (last night from 2nd row center). Wonderful large cast. Peter Scolari (age 55) as the Music Man is the 'name' in the show. He a spirited, believable con man and he sings OK, but his performance, while energetic (must be hard as Ogunguit has a grueling schedule), is a little quirky. He seems to throw away the famous lines about piling up a lot of empty yesterdays. The core of the show is the outstanding Julia Burrows, as Marian Paroo. She looks to be an up an comer with a strong regional bio (PaperMill Playhouse, Goodspeed Opera House). She is beautiful, good actress, and was beautiful clear soprano voice. The ending of her big number,  "My White Night", is a show stopper. (This song was missing (or replaced) in the movie. Was Shirley Jones not able to sing it?)

        The production numbers are terrific. Dancers, only 8 of them (vs 18 at Reagle), but they look the part (young) and all the dancing is really clean and high energy. Especially good were Bryan Cortes as Tommy Djilas and Becca Lee as Zaneeta. Jeffry Denman (Crazy for You star at NorthShore) was the choreographer. The quartet is great. The two Shins are terrific, the mayor's wife (Beth McVey) pitch perfect, William McCauley as the mayor. The ladies core is six strong individuals, good singers, expressive and wonderfully costumed.  Linda Cameron (was General Cartwright in Guys and Dolls) does a good job as widow Paroo.

Splendid production
        Having now seen this production now 3 or 4 times I am coming to realize what a splendid production this is. The casting is superb: the barbershop quartet (powerful), the six ladies (all distinct personalities), Major Shin and his wife (perfect), Marian's mother (great), anvil salesman (terrific), even small roles like the sheriff and pianola girl are well cast with strong actors, of course the dancers who look young and also all sing well are great, Tommy Djilas and Zaneeta (pitch perfect), the huge number of kids, with a strong core provided by Julia Burrows (love her) and Peter Scolari.

        As time goes on Scolari has filled out the Music Man with more 'business'. I suspect this is a difficult role to play. I saw 2 or 3 actors in the 2000 NYC production and none of them were very good (Rebecca Luker's Marion was the real star of the NYC show.) The playbill says the beautiful customs in this production are actually from the 2000 NYC production, maybe the sets too (this was not too clear).

        Finally the kids. An army of them, what 20 or 25?  In production numbers their numbers compensate nicely for the somewhat reduced dance corp. I recognize a couple of the kids from last year who last year were the Trapp family kids. Glad they are back. They must think this is fine summer job. Must be an army of parents at the theater every day. Don't know how this works out with matinee days (2:00 to 10:30) three or four days a week. An interview with the 11 year old girl playing Amaryllis, her first professional show, in the tourist newspaper has her mother asking you, "You do understand what you are letting yourself (and me!) in for? She was fine.

        The only thing about this production I wish was a little better is the sets. Partly this is the limitations of the theater, budgets and its only a one month run. The railroad car set was fine, but many of the sets (Paroo home) were skimpy and there was a lot of pushing stuff on/off stage, which you expect in a smaller theater.

high energy Ogunquit Muic Man dancers (July 2011)

Julia Burrows (Marian the Librarian) and Linda Cameron (Mrs. Paroo)

Peter Scolari as Harold Hill
(Scolairi's understated performance shows in this photo)

      Search of 'Julia Burrow' turned up a few items on YouTube including two from Ogunquit. Julia singing My White Night (rehersal). Lida Rose (sung by Julia with quartet on a boat), and an actors interview (smells like a series) of her (all of 66 views). She looks like she is quite young.

Young company summer festival @Stoneham Theatre, Stoneham MA (Aug 2011)
        Twice a year (summer and winter) the excellently prepared kids of the Young Company are given the stage of Stoneham Theater to do full scale productions. The 2011 summer festival is again under the aegis of Caitlin, who is also directing The Rose and The Rime. A mixed bag of shows for the summer. The elementary kids are doing Bugsy Malone, Jr. Middle school kids are saddled by two not very good musicals (Mystery of Edwin Drood and Curtain). The HS kids have a challenge in a big singing/dance show, Chicago, what I have heard is a dark and difficult show by Sondheim (Assassins), and The Rose and The Rime (new play by the Chicago team that did wild and interesting Sparrow in 2009. I got to as many as I could, but Bugsy Malone (little kids) I had to miss, but see it was directed by Alycia Sacco

Mystery of Edwin Drood
        I had seen this show once before in a Boston production a couple of years ago and find it a weak show, a frothy malange that doesn't hold my interest. It has some fun musical hall elements and banter, but I can never follow the Dickens plot (such as it is), and fatally for a musical the music is not good, not really bad, but not good, not one distinctive or memorable song in the whole show. I am surprised to see it had a good run in NYC and won some emmys.

        But you go to see the kids, and as usual at Stoneham it was a nicely polished, well prepared production by a large team of young performers. No breakout performer in this show, no soaring vocal talent spotted. The strongest performance was by CJ Diorio as the narrator (chairman). He is on stage for much of the show and must have had a huge number of pages to memorize, and he delivers it all in a winning manner with an English accent. Diorio is between the 8th and 9th grade and I had noted his nice performance (above) as Ali Hakim in Oklahoma this winter. The other principals do a nice job, including a regular in Stoneham shows since she was a little girl, Rebecca Lerman (as Edwin Drood, played by a female impersonator), who will be entering 9th grade in Stoneham. Also Francessca Rizzo (Rosa Budd, music student and Drood's fiancee) and (tall) Stephen Doucette (as Jasper music tudor). Rebecca Lerman in her bio credits Andrew Barbato (star of Young Company few years ago) for helping her to expand her vocal range! Nice lighting effect with spooky underlit faces for some scenes near the end. Difficult from the program to figure out who is who, because each character has two names, the song list using one, and the real names of the kids tied to the other.

Mystery of Edwind Drood (Aug 2011)

Francessca Rizzo (as Rosa Budd)

        Second middle school show (maybe some younger kids too) was Curtains. I saw this show in NYC, also a weak show. What I came away remembering from the NYC show was that some of the production numbers are unrelated to the plot! Weak writing, though this production team has good credits: music and lyrics by Kander and Ebb with Peter Stone credited with the original idea. Again no breakout performer or soaring vocal talent spotted, but several very good performances here. The best comic acting (great facial expression) was by Joanna Tarlach, playing the older theater producer (Mrs Bernstein). She is between 8th and 9th grade and bio says she has been in the Stoneham program for 8 years (it shows). Another strong performance, very polished, looked the part and sings pretty well was by Stephen Zubricki (as Lt. Cioffi, the role played by David Hyde Pierce). He is doing his first theater work outside of a couple of school plays. He is also entering 9th grade. As usual nerly the whole large cast was well prepared and confident on stage. I saw the last of the three performance.

Stephen Zubricki (Lt. Cioffi) and Cassi Kacoyannkais (Niki) Curtains, Aug 2011

Renee Carraggi, Lauren Donald, Riley Moriarty, Autumn Blazon-Brown, Olivia Scioletti and Sarah Bendell

(top) Liberty Tsitos, Sarah Bendell, Emma Blumsack, Becki Zama, Cassi Kacoyannakis, Autumn Blazon-Brown (Bambi)
Olivia Scioletti, Lauren Donald and Nicholas Doucette.
(bot) Frankie Cervone, Natalie Daniels, Melissa Gilson, Daria Contino and Phillip Dragone

enthusiastic younger kids in Curtins

        A nice final touch (unrehearsed) was that the actors called the directors and choreographer up on stage with them to share the bow. One of the co-directors who came on stage I recognized from her many roles with the Young Company a few years ago, Allison Russell, now entering her senior year at BC where she is studying theater and (a marketable skill) marketing. It was clear the kids all consider the half summer (four weeks) they spend in theater classes and rehearsing their show (cost 1,000+) to be great fun. A big commitment by the parents too, not just in money, but time.

Caitlin Lowans, Dir of Education, Bryan Miner and Allison Russell,'Curtains' co-directors

        I saw the same thing at Ogunquit theater this summer. There must be 20 kids in their month long run of Music Man. Interviews with the kids in the tourist newspaper show they consider this a really fun, if hard work, summer job. For the parents a really big commitment of time. Ogunquit performs 6 days a week with three days having two shows. This means getting to the theater by 1:00 pm and not leaving until about 11:00 pm. In the newspaper story one local parent of an 11 year old, after she was selected for a major role during auditions, kept asking her, "Do you understand what you are letting yourself in for? But I seen in the ensemble of Music Man at least two of the kids who had major roles for a month last summer in the Sound of Music. They are back for more. It must be a fun.

        Wow, by the time they reach HS a lot of the kids interested in theater have been in a lot of productions and it shows. Chicago is nearly all song and dance and requires a lot of confident, skilled performers and here they were on stage. A lot of them I remember from previous shows. The six leads were all great: Zoey Michaels (Velma Kelly),  Lexi Orphanos (Roxie Hart), Adam Arsenault (Billy Flynn), Sarah Reid (Mama Morton), Emma Feinberg, (Mary Sunshine), Daniel Begin (Amos Hart).

         Was first was impressed by Zoey Michaels in Guys and Dolls when she was only in 8th grade and have seen her in several shows. Her well matched female partner was Lexi Orphanos, who I remember from '13' last winter. They both are featured in several numbers and both have great stage presence and are pretty good singers. I was pleasantly surprised to see them dance the original choreography of the famous final duet. A standout was Adam Arsenault (as Billy Flynn) who looked the part and acted well. I didn't remember him from earlier shows and the reason is that he hasn't been at Stoneham for six years. The best voice and bubbly personality belongs to Emma Feinberg (as Mary Sunshine). She was Aunt Ella in in last winter's Oklahoma. Sarah Reid (as Mama Morton) was fine, another confident performer and pretty good singer. I remember her too (but here bio is blank, so don't know from where). Another familiar face was Daniel Begin (as Amos Hart) who did a fine job acting and with his big number 'Mr. Cellophane'. He was Will Parker in last winter's Oklahoma.

        Chris Carcione was the director and choreographer. To support them the theater sprung for several musicians (including violin and trumpet), which greatly improved the show. Also a lot of nice custumes and even large feather fans for the Billy Flynn number.

Far and wide
        Adam Arsenault (Stoneham), Melissa Bardi (Winchester), Daniel Begin (Medford), Ryann Ciardi (Winchester), Emma Feinberg (Lexington), Ryan Feir (Winchester), Jill Harrison (Melrose), Benjamin Hull (Billerica), Victoria Isotti (Melrose), Lexa Leadbetter (Winchester), Madeline Liakos (Wakefield), Devin McCall (Melrose), Zoey Michaels (Stoneham), Lindsey Moran (Billerica), Max Murphy (Billerica), Lexi Orphanos (Lynnfield), Rachel Peterson (Stoneham), Sarah Ried (Melrose), Sarah Ruemenapp (Medford), Sydney Soucy (Melrose), Caroline Ver Planck (Winchester), Sarah Warrick (Winchester), Julie Webb (Wakefield), and James Zissulis (Marblehead).
        This is a Sonheim show I had never seen before and about which I knew little, only that it was about people who had assassinated, or tried to assassinate, US presidents, so I was not expecting a light comedy! Doing a little research I found this play had started off-Broadway (1990) and had later (2004) had a limited (2-3 months) Roundabout production on Broadway to not fair reviews (won Tony for best musical revival). Actually I found the play quite interesting. And it is more of a play (by John Weidman) than a musical with only 10 musical numbers, it could even be considered a play with music.

        This show was very well done by the HS kids. A lot of excellent acting, very impressive performance by all the assassins,  and some pretty fair singing. One familiar face was Bernie Baldassaro, who in Jan 2011 (see above) was dancing up a storm in '13', here was acting up a storm as a heavily accented, clumsy immigrant who had tried to kill FDR. The play starts with John Wilkes booth, stark realism with him screaming about being shot in the leg. The play generally takes a sympathetic view allowing the assassins to explain their actions. In some cases their arguments are reasonable and in other cases, like the two Manson women that try and kill Jerry Ford, they are clearly flakes. All 10 (7 men, 3 women) principals in this show do a great job acting. I was really impressed. The music in not very memorable, but it fits perfectly the mood of the play.

                        Alyssa Lograsso (Stoneham)                 Balladeer
                        Nicholas Preziosi (Stoneham)              John Wilkes Booth (Lincoln)
                        Colin Murphy (Billerica)                       Charles Guiteau (Garfield)
                        Ted Wiesen (Melrose)                           Leon Czolgosz (McKinley)
                        Bernie Baldassaro (Peabody)                Giuseppe Zangara (FDR attempt, but killed Mayor of Chicago)
                        Ryan Pensavalle (Winchester)              Lee Harvey Oswald (JFK)
                        Corey Farrow (Billerica)                       Sam Byck (Nixon attempt via plane crash into white house)
                        Coco Rich (Winchester)                        Lynette 'Squeaky' Frome (Ford attempt)
                        Adele Leikauskas (Stoneham)               Sara Jane Moore (Ford attempt)
                        Jeffrey Siegel (Stoneham)                     John Hinkley (Regan attempt, shot aid in head)

Legally Blond @ Ogunquit Theatre, Ogunquit Me
        Following on the heels of the Music Man Ogunquit has put on stage another first rate, beautifully cast, high energy production of Legally Blond. Most of this cast didn't need much rehearsal, almost all the principals, I think I read ten, have performed Legally Blond for years either on Broadway or the two year National tour. The cast is led by Becky Gulsvig, who has improved since I saw her years ago. Good stage presence, carries the show nicely, strong singing voice, moves pretty good, but is no dancer like Laura Bell Bundy was. On the first preview I had a close up front row seat and I though she looked a little chubby (busty with a little tummy). I thought she might be pregnant, then I read that she has just had her first baby. Where she really fudges is the 'bend and snap' move. It requires bending over with one leg extended, doesn't look that hard, but she fakes it every time. Strange.

I meet Becky Gulsvig father!
        A week or so after writing above, I am at another performance of Legally Blond (3rd row) and chatting with my seat neighbor (a big guy). He says he has never been at Ogunquit before (the playhouse's long history impresses him), and says the reason he is here is because he is the father of one of the cast members. I ask who, and he says Elle Woods! He wasn't kidding because at the curtain Becky was pointing and waving to him.

        I ask if Becky is a trained dancer, and he says (surprisingly) yes. She started dance classes at age 4 with an assistant and his wife of Bob Fosse in Fargo ND!  No one else in the family is musical, but she loved the dance classes and at 17 took off for NYC. She got her first job after about six months and has worked pretty steadily since. After Hairspray (not original cast he tells me), she was the understudy to Laura Bell Bundy on Broadway and did about 25 performances (I think I may have seen one), then two years on tour with Legally Blond as star. He has seen her in a lot of different productions of Legally Blond (going back to work shop days prior to Broadway), and he commented that the Ogunquit orchestra was very good, better than the national tour, which only travelled, he said, with four musicians, hiring the rest locally.

        She is now 29 and had her baby only 4 months ago (which explains her extra weight). He said she wasn't sure she would be ready to do the show in Ogunguit. He tells me the role she would really like to get and has been auditioning for (a finalist) is the non-green witch in Wicked. (Maybe it's the role, but I was noting that compared to many of the girls in the Greek Chorus, who all stand out as individuals, Becky has a pretty, but bland face.)

        The actor playing Callahan (Michael Rupert) originated the role on Broadway (won tony). The Legally Blond regulars were joined by Sally Struthers, as hairdresser, and even though about 20 years too old she an old pro and pulls it off and she can sing too. The actress playing Brook Windom (Coleen Sexton), Gulsvig's boyfriend she follows to Harvard (Matthew Ragas), and his Harvard girlfriend are all very good and Legally Blond regulars. Nikos (Ken Arpino) another Legally Blond regular. Gulsvig's love interest Emmett (Barry Anderson), I think is new to the show (his bio says he was in Legally Blond too on Broadway, but in another role), but also very likable. All the Greek chorus and dancers very good, even a lot of them have been in the show before. The choreographer and director are also veterans of the show.

Becky Gulsvig (as Elle Wood) in Ogunquit's Legally Blond (Aug 2011)

Warner's (Matthew Ragas) entrance

Michael Rupert sings 'Blood in the Water' (sharks or chum)

Is he gay or European?

 But they bring their boys up different there.
 It's culturally diverse.
 It's not a fashion curse.
If he wears a kilt or bears a purse.
('bears a purse' moment, above, which lasts all of one second, I captured by frame stepping video)

Becky with her 'Greek chorus'

Thoughts on show Legally Blond
      I now know this show pretty well. In its one month run in Ogunquit, I saw the show four times, once on each weekly visit to Maine, always from first three rows. Saw it maybe three time during its Broadway run a few years ago (maybe one time with understudy, Becky Gulsvig) and later one time when the National Tour come to Boston (with Gulsvig).

        The writing and music in this show have a lot of clever, funny moments. The music is so well integrated into the show in a lot of places it's operatic with the text/plot lines being sung. Lots of jokes, which nearly all work (like the running joke about being from Malibu, 'cheerleaders scare me'). The song 'Love' come around three times, each time with different lyric: first by Becky mooning about Warner, later as 'Law' after the bulldog is rescued for Paulette, and a 3rd time sung by Emmett as he tells Elle he loves her.

        The writing has high class touches too with with Elle having her 'Greek Chorus', which is explained, 'we are not really here, we are in you head', wicked satire like the lyrics about the east cost sung by Elle's father ('they all have different noses'), Paulette sings they (Irish) 'dance without moving their arms', and the 'Irish keep fighting until everyone's dead', following with ''I don't know where this metaphor's going, I just thought it had to be SAID''. Cheerleader to Paulette: 'Do you know how cheerleaders command respect?', (Paulette) 'By jumping around and showing your panties?' (Cheerleader) 'Well yes'...     The 'Gay or European' number is a very clever, show stopping ensemble piece, above photo captures its one second 'beares a purse' moment, which flashes by so fast it's hard to see.

        And even though it's a lighthearted show, it stays grounded because at its core is a strong (uplifting) story of a 'pretty girl' who leans she can be so much more as she learns to work hard. And it's a love story too with the pretty girl realizing it's not the glamour boy she wants but the scruffy lawyer with the good heart.

(from Wikipedia)
        Legally Bonde musical -- strong score with music and lyrics by Laurence O'Keefe and Nell Benjamin, book by Heather Hach. Ran a year and half on Broadway (2007 and 2008 summers). National tour thru 2010. Jan 2010 West End production opened to rave reviews and sold out audiences.

Steel Magnolias @ Stoneham Theatre, Stoneham MA
        Very strong cast in a good production of a show I had heard of, but never seen, for opening of the Stoneham 2011/12 season. 1987 play by Robert Harling (made into a movie two years later). All female cast, takes place entirely in Truvy's beauty salon set in rural Louisiana. A sisterhood show but done in a southern, down home style. Beside the relationship banter among the six the plot concerns a young girl who is (seriously) diabetic. As the play opens she is getting her hair done, and later she has a baby against the advice of her doctors, eventually dies from kidney damage. The 1989 movie cast: Sally Field, Dolly Parton, Shirley MacLaine, Daryl Hannah, Olympia Dukakis and Julia Roberts.

        Kerry Dowling (as Truvy) (seen often in singing roles) provides a strong center for the play and Marie Polizzano as the young bride is excellent. Wonderful set by Jenna McFarland Lord (previously 'Guys on Ice and Mousetrap at Stoneham), direction by Paula Plum. (At intermission I saw Nancy Carroll, one of the best actresses in Boston, talking to Paula.)

Stoneham Theatre production of Steel Magnolias, Sept 2011
Kathy St. George (bride's mother), Marie Polizzano (bride, sitting) Kerry Dowling (as Truvy), Sarah deLima (rich lady in town)
(photo credit: Carla Donaghey)

Sheriden Thomas (standing, center), Lydia Barnett Mulligan (standing, right)
(photo credit: Carla Donaghey)

Candide @ Huntington Theatre Company, Boston MA
        If you live long enough, you can get to see some of the classic shows you have always heard about. Huntington opened the 2011/12 season with a production of Leonard Berstein's Candide. Huge (budget busting) production with 19 in the cast and an orchestra (in pit) of 14. " Directed and new adapted from Voltaire" by Mary Zimmerman says the program and also "book adapted from Voltaire" by Hugh Wheeler. Zimmerman works in Chicago and had previously directed Candide at the Goodman with most of the same principals.

        What a production! Huge number of great costumes (I had closeup view from 1st row). The technical rehearsals must have been something (some of the entrances and exits are via trap doors and a bathtub rises on a platform). Really excellent cast, both acting and singing. Super theatrical through out. There are two great little bits. A super slow motion fight scene perfectly done, and about eight 'wretched' people lining up to be interviewed, all eight different and very funny, made funnier by being done at break neck speed.

        The plot is a loose, goosey affair with a lot of different scenes (hence all the different costumes) as Voltaire travels the world from Germany to Holland to Argentine to Paraguary to Vienna. Stars Lauren Molina as Cunegonde (she has the most famous song in the show) and Geoff Packard as Voltaire. Both of them were on Broadway in Rock of Ages, and both of them did Candide at the Goodman with Zimmerman. Featured are Larry Yondos (as Dr. Pangloss) and Timothy John Smith, who was Henry Higgens at Stoneham Theatre's 'My Fair Lady' last season. Yondos and Erik Lochtefeld (as Cunegonde's foppish and very funny brother) also came in from Chicago with Zimmerman. Looks like she pretty much brought the whole cast with her! This is their 2nd time doing Candide outside Chicago.

Lauren Molina (as Cunegonde) and Geoff Packard (as Voltaire) in Huntington Theater (Mary Zimmerman) Candie, Sept 2011

Larry Yondos (as Dr. Pangloss, left), who teaches 'This is the best of all possible worlds'
Erik Lochtefeld (as Cunegonde's foppish brother, right)

'Glitter and be gay'

Production number featuring Cheryl Stern (as old lady)

Great reviews
        Surprisingly the show didn't sell particularly well. It's been a long time since I saw a show at the Huntington, not sure I saw any last season, saw one too many plays there with weak writing. For this show row A seat.

        -- "Lauren Molina is just wonderful as Cunegonde. She brings comic zest to Cunegonde's aura of self-delight and heart-rending poignancy to her downfall. Take Molina's show-stopping performance of 'Glitter and Be Gay.'" — The Boston Globe

        -- "THOROUGHLY ENTERTAINING! Glorious, clever, and theatrical. A superb cast. This Candide deserves a chance to charm Broadway audiences!" — The Christian Science Monitor

South Pacific @ Boston Opera House, Boston MA
        This is the national tour based on the Lincoln Center South Pacific, in Boston only one week. I saw the Lincoln Center South Pacific right near the end of its run, probably in 2009, when most of the original cast returned in preparation for a Live from Lincoln Center broadcast in its last week. The touring production is of course a little scaled down (well, not that scaled down, when I count the cast members in the program I get 50!), but its the same show as at Lincoln Center and it is very well done. Strong cast: Katie Reid (Nellie) and Marcelo Guzzo (south american sings with Houston Opera), also Shane Donovan (from Abington, MA) good as Lt. Cable. The guy playing Billis was fine, but didn't have quite the twinkle in his eye that the original (below) had. Orchestra only has about 10 people, but sounded lush (don't know how they managed it). A few less men on stage, but still a big cast with about 15 sailors and 6 nurses (add a dozen more for servants and officers, but where all the 50 are, don't know). Same huge text before show and same huge map. I read Boston is the "launch of the tour", then I find it played in Waterbury, CT the previous week. What was that the out of town tryout?  Row A seat at 2nd Boston performance.

New York cast of South Pacific (video captures)
Touring South Pacific in Boston, Sept 2011

Last moment of South Pacific

Miss Saigon @ Ogunquit Playhouse, Ogunquit ME
        Ogunquit ended its long 2011 summer season with a huge production of Miss Saigon that extended through most of Oct. It was picked based on 2010 customer input. I had never seen this show, written by the team that wrote Le Mis (Schonberg and Boublil). As usual excellent production, mostly asian cast, very good singers. Jennifer Paz was Miss Saigon. As the engineer (night club owner and fixer), Raul Aranas, who specializes in this role, was very good. Helicopter effect (removing people from roof of US embassy about to fall) is terrific. And probably not too hard technically as it relies on lights, a large chain fences and loud rumbling sound effects.

        But this melodramatic show is just not my cup of tea. Had a fantastic run of ten years in NYC. When I was in ME a week or so later and could have seen it again, I didn't. It has a few pretty good songs a couple of distinctive dances, but musically is no match for Le Mis.

Buddy Cop 2 @ Stoneham Theatre, Stoneham MA
        New, low key, little offbeat, slice of life play about three cops that play racket ball. Tricky story telling with a surprise ending, all too easy to not fully grasp. I got most of it. I agree with NYT that this play is sneakily funny. It doesn't seem to have any real action (except racket ball in background) in that the cops do what cops do at the police station for an hour and a half (no intermission), yet curiously it's not boring. Must be good writing. No one ever comes in, the door bell rings and Christmas presents are delivered, that is about the extent of the action in the play. Oh, they make coffee, chat, read, answer the phone, fix shelves.

        Developed in NY by a small group that jointly writes and acts in their plays. NYT gave a good review and it was a NYT theater pick. (Apparently) Weylin saw it in NY and loved it. On opening night two of the NY team were there, and there was an interesting talk back with them and the cast about the history of the play, and I had a chance to ask about the final plot twist. This was the first time it has been produced outside NYC, said Weylin (but not true, pictures of a couple of regional production in spring 2011 are online), and one of the author/actors said this was the first time he has never seen any of his plays because he is always in them. These two were introduced to the actors, so apparently they had just come in from NY for the opening.

        None of the three (adult) actors, Melissa Baroni, Paul Yarbarough, and Jerry Bisantz, were familiar to me. As you can see from the photos, the actors cast are all regular looking people, who could be cops. Two 13-14 years old girls in the play I have seen before. The girl who cuts her hair (upper left panel) was Francessca Rizzo (14, freshman at Melrose). She played Rosa Budd in Edwin Drood this summer' Young Company (picture above). The sick girl (upper right) was Emily Sheeran (8th grade Wakefield), whose bio says she played Baby June in Gypsy at Stoneham two or three years ago. I remember the girl who played Baby June was very good.

Paul Yarbarough, Melissa Baroni, and Jerry Bisantz in Stoneham production of Buddy Cop 2 (Oct 2011)
(Stoneham press photos by Carla Donaghey)

Melissa Baroni and Jerry Bisantz

Jerry Bisantz and  Emily Sheeran

        Pictures of the NY production show the Stoneham set and casting of the actors is very close to the NY production (see below). I was at the tech rehearsal for this show and learned that they were able to use most of the original lighting program.

NY production of Buddy Cop 2 (2010)

        "This downtown gem, full of minor-key revelations and offhand epiphanies, roots its quirky charm in an earnest and surprising realism. Charming, offbeat, sneakily funny. CRITIC’S PICK" -- The New York Times
Hair @ Arlington Friends of Drama, Arlington, MA
        Had never seen this show, passing up a chance to see it in NYC a couple of years ago. This was an amateur version of Hair, but done by one of the oldest amateur theaters in the USA, and they do good work in Arlington. I support the theater. In terms of the production was not disappointed. A large young cast (20 or so) with five musicians. The two male leads were excellent, both good singers and looked the part in their long wigs (or hair), and this young cast was well costumed and all had the look of having spent a lot of time onstage. I recognized one from Stoneham Youth productions.

        I left at intermission, something I have only done once or twice in my life. Not because it was bad, or I was bored, or the music was bad, but there is only so much flower power baloney a person can take. The show is a rambling mess. And at 90 minutes for the first act, I had seen a full show's worth of material. According to the program I missed the "Let the sun shine in", the last song of the show, but I got to hear a lot of the famous songs and to see the famous nude scene, which I was surprised to see closed the 2nd act. Amateur production or not about half the cast were arrayed in a line at the front of the stage undressing (in dim light) until fully nude.

Legally Blond @ North Shore Music Theater, Beverly MA
        I love this show (book by Heather Hatch, music by Laurence O'Keefe and Nell Benjamin). This is the 4rd production of Legally Blond I have seen. I went every week this summer to see the excellent Ogunquit Maine production (with Becky Gulsvig and most principals Legally Blond Broadway and tour veterans), where it ran the whole month of Aug 2011. I had seen the orginal Broadway production a few years ago several times and later the national tour when it went through Boston. This production is somewhat scaled down from Ogunquit, partly because scenery is sparse as it theater in the round and stage is a little small, but it has a very good cast (22) and a good size orchestra, so I squeezed in a third visit on its (short) two week run. North Shore runs are only two weeks this year (and next) because they are still rebuilding their audience after the theater went dark for a year and a half.

        The Globe review excepts (below) summarize my feelings. I dug out the London reviews and one critic said beforehand he really wanted to knock this show, but he said he couldn't, it is so much fun. Having seen it so many times, I see how tight the show is. Every moment, every line, has been carefully tuned and crafted to maintain the pace. The show never drags, even for a moment. All the very clever songs work and a lot of the show is sung too. The surprising, sudden change of pace in 'Is he gay or European' song is witty, brilliant.

        "More fun than 'Legally' possible! High grades for cleverness! So dazzling, it is impossible not to be charmed! It's a joyous romp that will send you out singing!"
        Elle is on stage almost the whole show, much of the show is on her shoulders. Elle here is played by Kelly Felthous and she is wonderful, a triple threat: very good looking and personable, clear distinctive singing voice (perfect for this role), and she dances up a storm (even in blazingly high heels). I think she young, probably 23 to 25. (Figure this from bio, which says in 2006 she played role of Cathy Selden at North Shore in tap dancing show Singing in the Rain, and a comment she made that this may have been her first role as an adult.) Also very good is Gaelen Billiland (Paulette) and Barrett Hall as Emmett (in spite of twice flubbing a line). First three pictures below are promos, the others I captured from a hi-res video North Shore put on YouTube.

Kelly Felthous (Elle) with Will Ray (Warner) in North Shore's Legally Blond (Nov 2011)

 Timothy Hughes (Kyle) and Gaelen Billiland (Paulette) in quasi-Irish dance

Kelly Felthous at Harvard admission

Kelly Felthous

Tiffany Engen (Serena), Will Ray (Warner), Kelly Felthous, Kate Loprest (Vivienne, in black wig), Allysa Shorte (delta nu sister)
Tiffany Engen was also in Ogunquit production, her twin, Brooke Engen, here was the D.A.

Tayrn Darr as Brooke Windom (notice -- no jump ropes)

Barrett Hall and Kelly Felthous (in 'Back to the Shore' duet)

Excellent HD video of the North Shore production

Footnote on the dogs
        The chiuia, Bruiser, in this production is the same dog who was in the Broadway production. At curtain the two dogs take the first bow walked by their 'dog wrangler'. At a talk back the dog wrangler explained he is not their owner/trainer, he is hired by the owner/trainor to take care of the dogs on the road. When the dogs go to a new production, during rehearsal period they have sleepovers with the new Elle and other key actors to bond. The wrangler said they can be temperamental. I am sure this theater in the round was hard for them as it was probably totally different from every other theater they have worked in.

        At the start of the show Bruiser normally runs out and excitedly barks on command of the actress who holds out her hand as a bark signal. Twice he was fine, but at the last performance I saw he ran out and just laid down an stage and didn't bark. No problem the actress has a fall back where she pretends he is talking to her.

The Nutcracker (not the ballet) @ Stoneham Theatre, Stoneham MA
        Another fun, clever show (a play with music) out of Chicago, which only now and then got a little too kidsy (but after all this is a story about mice!). Crafted by Jake Minton, Phillip Klapperich, Kevin O'Donnell, and Tommy Rapley of House Theater of Chicago. Start is an engaging long dance/pantemine scene without words with a surprise, dramatic climax. Cast of ten with special kudos to Sirena Abalian (Clara) and Danny Bryck (Fritz, marine and nutcracker). Show has very nice original music (by O'Donnell and Minton) played backstage by four musicians led by Matthew Stern. Choreography by Ceit Zweil, who I remember as Anytime Annie in Stoneham's recent 42nd Street. Had a nice chat with 83 year old seat neighbor, also from Everett and a former principal in Malden schools.

 Danny Bryck (Fritz) and Sirena Abalian (Clara)
in Stoneham production of 'The Nutcracker' Dec 2011

whole Nutcracker cast (minus Fritz)
(left) William Gardiner, Mark Linehan, Meagan Hawkes
(center) Sirena Abalian
(right) Grant MacDermott, Nick Sulfaro, Alycia Sacco
(front, right) Molly Geaney, Julian Schepis

La Cage 2011 National tour @ Shubert Theatre, Boston MA
        The 2011 national tour of La Cage played a one week run in Boston at the Shubert. It's been a long time since I have been to the Shubert, which does do a lot of business anymore. Its twin, the Colonial, in last couple of years has been dark for months at a time. Tour started in Oct 2011 (next Chicago, St Louis, Washington DC) and continues to at least Sept 2012. The tour schedule shows they normally close on Sun and open on Tues in a new city, however, the Tues performance I saw followed two weeks off.

        The name star of this production is George Hamilton (age 72), but of course the real star is the other member of the duo (Albin) here Christopher Sieber. Hamilton is largely a cipher. You can hardly call it acting, he has a weak voice with maybe half an octave range, and he ended one song with a long note spectacularly off key. Sieber can hold the stage, does a terrific job in the show stopping end of second act ('I Am What I Am') with his strong singing voice. I don't think I have ever seen him before. His bio lists a lot of Broadway shows including La Cage, but I saw the Broadway production of La Cage with 'Frasier' a couple of years ago and it was not him. Kelsy Grammer and Douglas Hodge were the original cast of the 2010 Broadway revival, but for the last two months of the run Fierstein and Sieber replaced them. But, and this is a surprise, I can see from pictures of the production that Sieber played Hamilton's role, now that's a switch!

        This is a good show (music by Jerry Herman of Hello Dolly fame) and the cast delivers, but there is some strange casting here. The actor playing the son is a weak singer. His girlfriend (Ann, small role) bio says this is her first professional show. The woman playing Jacqueline (Gay Marshall) is tiny, probably well under five feet in heels.

George Hamilton in La Cage national tour 2011

left: Hamilton and Sieber (Albien) in natiional tour 2011
right: Sieber and Fierstein (Sieber playing George) Broadway 2011

Boston Ballet Nutcracker @ Boston Opera House, Boston MA
        Scored a first row seat for the Boston Ballet Nutcracker (Dec 2011). Terrific production (well honed over the years) and fantastic dancing by the whole company. BB is a world class company. Lia Cirio and James Whiteside were the Sugar Plum Fairy and cavalier, as I read they were on opening night.

        First row not only provides the closest unobstructed view, but you get to both watch and hear the large orchestra directly in the pit below. One little high light, rarely seen, was in Chinese the male dancer let his mulitple pirouettes wind to a dead stop and then he held balance for an added second or two. The company is advertising this is the last year to see this production. Why they are changing it, I can only guess is NIH (not invented here).

 Bradley Schlagheck and Rie Ichikawa
Boston Ballet Nutcracker Dec 2011


A Christmas Story @ New Rep, Watertown MA
        Got my 2011 fix of 'A Christmas Story' from a 1st row seat at New Rep. Didn't see it on TV this year, because apparently TBS has the rights and while they ran for like 24 hours straight, TBS is not one of my cable channels, but like most audience members I know the story by heart. This is the second time I have seen it in the theater, Stoneham did it a few years ago.

        Cast principals here were all excellent: Owen Doyle, as the old man, Stacy Fischer, as the mother, and Barlow Adamson, as the narrator. I remember Stacy Fischer last year as the mother in Stoneham's Christmas show (Best Christmas Pageant Ever), and in a demanding roles in the play Hysteria about Sigmund Freud at Central Sq. Curiously Jean Sheppard here is not credited as an author, his name showing up only in a tiny footnote about the movie. In a background story the director, Diego Arciniegas, seems to say the same design team (director, set designer and sound designer) did the big Christmas Carrol at Stoneham a couple of years ago.

        A brief turn by Margaret Ann Brady (listed as ensemble, playing the school teacher) stopped the show. In early scenes she is the dowdy 1940's middle age school teacher, but later for a few minutes in a fantasy scene she is center stage in fishnet stocking and impossible high heels swooning over Ralphie essay on why he wants a Red Ryder BB gun (with applause on her exit). Turns out I have seen her before. She was featured (and was excellent) in Stoneham's 42nd St last year as the female author of the show.

 Stacy Fischer as Mother, Andrew Cekala as Young Ralphie, Owen Doyle as the Old Man in New Rep's production of 'A Christmas Story', Dec 2011
Photo credit: Andrew Brilliant

Flick (Charlie Brodigan) with his tongue stuck to the flagpole, Lexi Ryan as Esther Jane
Photo credit: Andrew Brilliant

Three Pianos at ART, Cambridge MA
        A wild import from the downtown/Village theater scene in NYC by three original artists and creators of the show (Rick Burkhardt,  Dave Malloy, and Alec Duffy), all excellent pianists and all crazy people. The play is billed this way: 'Three Pianos' is about three friends who get together one night and play through “Winterreise,” a 24-song cycle by Franz Schubert. The pictures give the flavor of the show, which did end with some (all?) of the Shubert song cycle being played.

 Rick Burkhardt,  Dave Malloy, and Alec Duffy,
creators and pianists of 'Three Pianos' at ART (Dec 2011)

May 2013 (update)
        One of these three, Dave Malloy, is getting a lot of press in NYC as the author and performer of a new show "Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812" for which a new performance space in the village was built.