Equally Divided @ Merrimack Repertory Theatre, Lowell
A moderately interesting play by a prolific and successful British playwright and screenplay writer, Ronald Harwood, acted by four pros, including Boston's Will Lyman. Good character study, and interesting tale about estates valuation, but some scenes and plot twists are pretty obviously contrived, and some plot devices like the missing yellow 'will' featured in act I just go nowhere and appear to be little more than filler. Nice set (by Bill Clarke) of a converted railcar home on coast of England, long and low with gray seaside in winter outside.
Merrimack Repertory Theatre's production of Equally Divided (March 2014)
showing wonderful 'converted railroad car home' set
Jill Tanner, Anthony Newfield, Felicity La Fortune (now there's a name!), and Will Lyman
by Ronald Harwood
Something's Afoot@ Stoneham Theatre, Stoneham
A show from the musical archive I had never heard of. A light hearted, murder mystery musical spoof of Agathie Christie from 1973 very well done in high camp style by a cast of 10 at Stoneham. Had a short two month run on Broadway in 1976, and a longer run in London. Some old favorites return: Stephanie Granade (Dorothy from Thoroughly Modern Millie) with just the right manner and operatic type voice for the ingenue, Margaret Ann Brady (pianist from Full Monty), Russell Garrett (col Pickering from My Fair Lady), Ceit Zweil (42nd Street and New Reps Little Shop of Horrors), Cathy St. George (Stoneham staple), Nick Sulfaro (Photograph 51 at Central Sq) and Mark Linehan (Lumberjacks in Love).
Some nicely choreographed production numbers (Ceit Zweil is choreographer here as well as playing the maid). All the special effects worked on opening night including an exploding staircase and a (tricky) lifting of a scarf by a drop down claw. Music is no great shakes, but serviceable, played by pianist on stage. Everyone in character, full British accents, full farce mode. Nice polished production directed by Caitlan Lowans. Nice set by Jenna McFarland Lord, one of Boston's better scenic designers.
Having seen this show now several times I am liking it more and more. It takes a repeat viewing to follow the plot and to pick up on all the clever, often saucy one liners. It takes repeat viewings to appreciate the score and the dancing. I now find most of the 11 songs of the show to be quite good, all very singable, plot relevant with just plain clever lyrics, like the 'butler didn't do it' (after the butler is the first one murdered). A particularly fun saucy little number is 'I've got a lovely little dinghy' (official title: Problematical Solution (The Dinghy Song)), beautifully sung and danced by John Davin (caretaker), who I have never seen before, and Ceit Zweil (maid and choreographer) in the British musical hall tradition.
Loosely based on Agathie Christie's 'Ten Little Indians', a show done at Stoneham a few years ago, where all ten characters in an isolated house get killed off one by one. There are surprising bits of business built into the set adding to the craziness: exploding stairs, gas exploding from phone, old gramophone appearing from behind a picture, plant rise up and shoots poison dart set, moving wall fixtures which kill off two characters. In every performance I saw all these effects worked perfectly.
Margaret Ann Brady, Andrew Oberstein, Mark Linehan, and Stephanie Granade
in Stoneham Theatre's production of Something's AFoot (March 2014)
Margaret Ann Brady
7 of 10 cast members: J.T. Turner, Cathy St. George, Mark Linehan, Stephanie Granade, Russell Garrett, John Davin, Ceit Zweil
Stephanie Granade site photo
Video clip of Good Speed Opera house production of Something's
Boston Ballet's 'Pricked' @ Boston Opera House, Boston
Wonderful program superbly danced. Started with one of my favorites Etudes by Harold Lander. This is a 1948 word by Lander, a Danish dancer, for the Royal Danish ballet. Wikipedia says it is his most famous work, considered a homage to classical ballet. It starts with several scenes of girls at the bar doing quick sharp combinations in very stark lighting with the dancers in shadow and only their legs lit. And it builds and builds to one bravura scene after another. Wonderfully danced Misa Kuranga, Jeffry Cirio and (replacement) Isaac Akiba (I think). In about the only misstep of the evening Kuranga alone on center stage looked like she was supposed to start with a plie without a bar (always difficult), but as she headed down, so bailed, covering nicely, so probably few noticed.
The other two works were new imports from Europe and both interesting: DMJ 1953-1977 by Petr Zuska (Czech ballet) and the really clever Cacti by Alexander Ekman (Holland). This used something I had never seen before, fast spoken dialog (either recorded or offstage) that was incredibly timed to the action on stage.
Secret Garden @ Stoneham Theatre, Stoneham MA
This the big (budget) musical for the spring at Stoneham Theater: 14 wonderful singers (mostly new to Stoneham's stage) + five piece orchestra led by the excellent Jim Rice. This show was totally unknown to me, I had never even heard of it. A little research shows it ran on Broadway nearly two years in the early 90's (before I started going to NYC). From what I read in the reviews the 1911 novel on which this show is based may be a famous children's book. Weylin said that that one attraction of this show, which had a good run and was nominated for best musical, was that it has been so little done since that time.
It paints a mystical, fantastical world in Edwardian England in a big mansion on the moors with a hunchback owner and an orphan girl, who is taken in as he is her uncle and all her family died (overnight) in India from cholera. The show spins out its mystical, almost dreamlike atmosphere, with nearly continuous singing, making you forget the plot is just a wisp about the girl wanting to get into a locked (secret) garden. In the 2nd act up pops a dying boy, who recovers from the attention of the girl and getting out of his room to the garden. Yup, that's the plot, but it really doesn't mater, the production and excellent singing sustains the atmosphere beautifully. Directed by both Waylin and Caitlin. Three week run.
Big featured role for Brigit Smith, 11 years old, who sings, acts, and even dances too (serious Irish dancer says her bio). And a surprise is in a supporting role was Andrew Barbato, who was the most intense HS actor at Stoneham a few years ago. He has clearly been interested in becoming a pro, but unfortunately he is short. His bio says he played Peter Pan for 7 months on a cruise ship, and has written two children's musical shows so he is hanging in there.
I like it better after seeing it a second time, mainly because knowing the story I could follow the plot. On first viewing the flash backs and mystical scenes that popup with a lot of new actors on stage gets pretty confusing. I had heard some reviews were good and some not so good. I was puzzled as to what fault critics could find. The Globe review praised the singing and staging. It's main complaint was the slow pacing, but seems to me it's the nature of the material.
Christopher Chew and Brigit Smith in Stoneham Theatre production of “The Secret Garden” (May 2014)
Anything Goes @ North Shore Music Theatre, Beverly
I saw this show twice in NYC with Sutton Foster and later with her replacment. A cornball plot, cornball jokes, but a lot of great Cole Porter songs and a tap dancing spectacular. In NYC the stage is filled with tap dancers and Sutton Foster was a good (if not better) as any of them. A lot smaller dancing corp here, but individually (men especially) were very good tap dancers. The lead (Sutton Foster role), Danette Holden, is a little rumpled looking, but sang well (good belt) and surprisingly was a good enough tap dancer to pull it off. The secondary leads (young couple), Eric Ulloa and Alessa Neeck, as you can see below are very attractive and were good singers.
Globes Terry Byrne was very positive: Holden 'tears down the walls with her vocal power' and Ulloa has a 'stunning voice'. The only name in the show Eddie Mekka (Lavern and Shirley?) didn't appear, his role was played by the understudy, and the Bill Haney in his intro doesn't even mention it. I love this, you bill a (minor) star, and they don't even mention when (for whatever reason) he is not on stage.
Danette Holden (as Reno Sweeney) Eric Ulloa, Alessa Neeck
North Shore Music Theatre production of Anything Goes (June 2014)
Beautiful bold graphics
Here's a 5 min video of the great 'Anything Goes' tap dance number with Sutton Foster and the Broadway company recorded at 2011 Tony's and below that North Shore's video of their June 2014 'Anything Goes'.
Grease @ Ogunquit Playhouse, Ogunquit ME
Like most people I remember a few of the famous numbers from the movie Grease with John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John. I had seen the show once on Broadway (from a bad seat) a few years ago, but it left no distinct memory. The Ogunquit production, like most of their productions, has a talented cast and polished production. What became immediately clear in the opening minutes is that Grease is not in any real sense a 'musical comedy', it's a musical review, dressed up to look like a musical. It has no real plot, not even a wisp, it has characters, distinctly drawn cartoon characters (no subtly here), who each get featured in a number or two. The first few minutes of dialog whose purpose it to introduce the characters, it's so cornball it is painful to watch (mostly I looked away). Only when the singing starts does the show develop any life. Grease is both a terrible show and fun at the same time.
Matthew Ragas (as Danny) and Mary Little (Sandy) are the leads. The only 'name' in the show is Mo Gaffney who plays a teacher, a relatively minor role. She looked familiar, but I could not place her. Turns out she was a regular on the 70's Show for three years playing Joanne Stupack, one of Bob's girlfriends. She is apparently a well know comedian with two HBO specials. Matthew Ragas in the John Travolta role I thought did a great job and he looked familiar too. Turns out he was in Legally Blond at Ogunquit (as Warner) a couple of years ago and was in Joseph at Ogunquit last summer, a show I skipped. He has remarkably little footprint online considering how good he is. Mary Little is a recent musical theater graduate.
(update) Two months later (Aug 2014) Grease opened at North Shore. Again Mathew Raga was the lead Danny (he owns this part), and this time paired with Ephie Aardema (Sandy), who I remember fondly as the (excellent) lead in Stoneham's Throughly Modern Mille last season.
Go Greased Lightning
Matthew Ragas (Danny) Jamison Stern and Jillian Gottlieb (Beauty School Dropout)
Mo Gaffney (Ms. Lynch) Mary Little (Sandy) Madeleine Barker (Rizzo)
Jillian Gottlieb (Teen angel)
rest of the cast
Billy Elliot @ Ogunquit Playhouse, Ogunquit ME
The big production of the summer at Ogunquit is Billy Elliot. This is the first region production of the show following its Broadway and national tour. It is very good with some of the same people as the Broadway production or the national tour. This is one of my favorite shows. Whereas Broadway had three (or four) Billies for its 8 shows a week, this show has only two Billies and Ogunquit has a punishing schedule of 9 shows a week (mat on Wed, Thur, Sat with only Mon off). This show rises or falls on Billie and both Billies are very good: Noah Parents, who was in the National tour 12-13, but still looks very young, and Sam Faulkner, Teen Mr Dance, North Carolina.
Anastasia Barzee, who plays Mrs Wilkinson, is really excellent, the best Mrs. Wilkenson I have seen. Excellent actor, nice singer, and thin dancer body. (Her bio says her two boy are they only boy in their ballet class.) She has been on Broadway in a lot of productions, but apparently this is her first time in Billy Elliot. Billy's older brother, Tony, Anthony Festa, is also an excellent actor. His bio says in played Tony in West Side Story in West End. Armand Schult (dad) and Joel Blum (George) were in the national tour. Older Billy, Stephen Hanna, was in the original Broadway cast. Dale Soules (grandma) does a nice job. Her bios says she was one of the ten actress in I Remember Mama this sping in NYC, that I wanted to see, but had closed.
My plan was to see the show every week, and after missing the first week due to flue, I saw it during each of its remaining four weeks, three times from terrific seats (1st and 2nd row center). And during the last week when word of mouth caused most performances to be fully sold out (standing room only), I was half way back. Even during the final week I just missed a close row seat, I hesitated for five minutes and it was gone.
At one performace I was sitting next to a worman who I later found out was a flight attendant. She told me she didn't go to theater much, had never heard of this show and was there only because she knew one of the ballet girls. We hadn't spoken before curtain, but half way through the first act (after four slam bang numbers) she grabed my arm and whispered in my ear 'this show is really fantastic.' And so it is! (The fact that she knew a cast member and was sitting in front row, and at two other packed performances there were a couple of empty seats in front row makes me suspect these row seats are reserved for the cast.)
Trivia --- Joel Blum who here plays George (and in national tour) is in his 60's now, but in his younger days he was a (tap) dancer. At age 24 he was in the ensemble of the original Broadway cast of 42nd St where he understudied the lead role of Billy Lawlor, so he must have been pretty good. And I stumbled on to the fact that he was one of the male tap dancers in the finale of the 1976 cult film 'First Nudie Musical' (women were nude, the men wore tuxes).
whole cast of Ogunquit production of Billie Elliot (July 2014)
Joel Blum (George) Alec Shiman (Michael)
Anastasia Barzee (Mrs. Wilkinson) with fan girls
Billy Elliot version of keystone cops
Anastasia Barzee and Noah Parets
Noah Parets in rage dance
Noah Parets in classic ballet position (with chair)
Anthony Festa (Tony) and Dale Soules (grandma) with Noah Parets
Armand Schult (dad) and Noah Parets
Miners prepare to go down
nice picture of whole cast (two Billies 2nd row, right)
Mary Poppins @ Ogunquit Playhouse, Ogunquit ME
This was the first time I have seen this show. It played for a long time in NYC, but I always avoided it, thinking it was a children's show and that's pretty much right. This show is a light weight (certainly not in the class of Billy Elliot !) with a weak, cartoon-like plot. The score is pleasant and has a couple of well known (corny) songs but is not really distinguished. This describes the choreography too, though the large contingent of Ogunquit dancers are very good giving it all they have.
The star is the excellent Gail Bennet, a wonderful singer, who was the lead in Ogunquit's Sound of Music and in Ogunquit's 2010 My Fair Lady. She has done this role quite a lot, apparently as the 2nd in a national tour, and just came off a different production two weeks before this show opened. I was in the 2nd row and it's clear every gesture of hers (and there are a lot of little hand gestures in this show!), even at the first preview, is clean and polished. The male lead (Tony Mansker, chimney sweep), who really doesn't seem to have a lot to do, is out of the NYC production. Unfortunately this show has too long a run, occupying the stage of Ogunquit the whole month of August.
Spamalot @ Hackmatack Playhouse, Berwick ME
On the same trip to ME I saw how good a large cast of amateurs (or almost amateurs) can be. I am referring to Hackmatack's wonderful 2014 production of Spamalot. This is the 3rd time I have seen Spamalot, having seen in on Broadway a few years ago and at Ogunquit. Much of it is pretty clever, but not being a true blue Monty Python fan, I find a few bits, like the giants that say Neipe and want the knights to find a shrubbery, pretty stupid. But this is a detail, most of the show is good fun, and the show has a very nice score too that includes the wonderful 'The Song that Goes like This'.
Except for the six 'laker girls' and the Lady of the Lake all (or nearly all) the cast is men, and as the show goes on you can see what a talented bunch they are. They all appear to be having a ball onstage. I gather they are paid a token, but pretty much they work for free. Many take their vacations in ME so they can work at Hackmatack having fun onstage and coming back year after year. (Three week run, five performances a week, Wed thu Sat with mat on Thur). The only one I really know is Scott Smith. That guy can play any role from the lead in LeMis to Edna Turnblad.
Saw the show a second time and even more fun. Five piece orchestra for this musical crammed into their tiny side pit. A lot of skill among the performers, especially notable is the singing and stage presence of the Lady of Lake, Jen Batchelder, and Herbert, gay son of the king in 2nd act, Jerard-James Craven, whose bio says he does designs at Hackmatack. He has a ball with this role vamping around the stage and singing in a remarkably high range.
Young Company Summer Festival, 2014 @ Stoneham Theatre,
I like how Stoneham theatre strongly supports its young company with a big set, two separate playbills and mailings. I saw four of the five shows, three of which I was unfamilar with. First weekend it was middle school kids in Children of Eden, a musical by Stephen Schwartz. I skipped the little kids that weekend who did Xanadu, which I remember from Broadway as (roller skating) piece of fluff. Second weekend was the HS students with a play (Argonautika) and two musicals (Spamalot and Picnic at Hanging Rock).
Children of Eden
Very nicely done stylized musical, religious propaganda by Stephen Schwartz about garden of Eden and Noah. Huge cast, all girls, very well prepared. A good vehicle to stretch acting and movement skills.
This show (developed by Lookingglass Theatre company, Chicago) is the equivalent of Bernada Alba last year, a show to stretch acting skill. And it looks like it must have been a challenge, a highly stylized retelling of an ancient Greek tale, 25 scenes, most with intricate synchronized physical action, often by large groups, Shakespearean like speeches, elaborate lighting. The acting was something to behold, and these are north of Boston HS kids. I can't fathom how much rehereasal time there must have been for this, not too mention a skilled director (Sarah Gazdowicz) assisted by 'movement director' Kate Paulsen. The only cast member I recognized was Rebecca Lerman, who has been doing shows at Stoneham since she was 10 or so and is now 17 and will be senior next year.
Picnic at Hanging Rock
I suspect this musical was selected for the student for the same reason as Bernada Alba and the play Argonautika, to stretch the students performing ability. Again the kids were beautifully prepared. When the ten or so girls are all riding together in the carriage going to Hanging Rock wonderful interaction among them all. Nearly continuous sing-song type score (must have been difficult to memorize). The plot, such as it is, in the later half of the show was difficult to follow. I didn't recognize any of the cast members.
With Spamalot the kids had a ball and did a great job. I went back a second time to see it. Eric Idle, one of the original Monty Python members, is credited with book and lyrics and is co-composer. Spamalot has a very nice score with a lot of catch songs, some simple [find your grail, always look on the bright side of life, all for one] and some with very clever lyrics [song that goes like this, diva's lament, i'm not dead yet, you won't succeed on broadway (without jews), i'm all alone]. Leight Barrett directed.
I recognized many of the men in this show. Many of them have done a lot of shows at Stoneham, and the bios say many were in Winessburg Ohio last year. Can't remember which knight is which, so hard to connect faces with bios, but with a little research I am figuring it out. One knight (biggest) I remember from middle school young company performances where he was much bigger than everyone else. I think this is Steven Doucette who plays Sir Galahad and sings 'The song that goes like this' with the Lady of the Lake (Caitlyn Burns). He will be a senior next year and now others have caught up in size.
When I look at the bio's I am surprised to see three of the fellows must be brothers (or maybe cousins) because they all have the same last name: Doucette -- Steven (Sir Galahad) the oldest, Ben (Patsy), Nick (Sir Bedevere), however they all go to different schools (Malden Catholic, Stoneham, Sudbury Valley). Caitlyn Burns was the lady of the lake and has a nice voice. Max Murphy did a great job as Prince Herbert (? Not Dead). Eddie Pizzano nicely kept the show centered as the king and sings the 'I'm all alone song'. Pictures of the summer production are hard to come by, but I found this picture of two of the knights that come from North Reading: Andrew Vontzalides (Sir Robin, sings the 'jews' song), Joe Ferri (Sir Lancelot, the "fairy"), both of whom I remember from previous shows. (Joseph Ferri in the past tended to pause before he speaks. I always suspected he was working to overcome a studdering or speech impedimen problem. He has clearly improved from past shows.)
Two Spamalot knights from North Reading
Joseph Ferri (Sir Lancelot) and Andrew Vontzalides (Sir Robin)
Having seen Spamalot four times in the last month (Aug 2014) in two fun production (Hackmatack and Stoneham youth) I found myself really liking the score. This show has now become one of my favorite musical comedies. Musically the tunes are (or seem) simple, but they can be stirring or evoke pathos, much of this come from Eric Idle's very clever lyrics. I had seen the show on Broadway sometime during it long run, but was not too taken. I saw it again at Ogunquit a few years ago.
Wikipedia says Idle wrote the show in 2004, and after a try out in Chicago, it opened on Broadway in 2005 running 1,500 performances (3.6 yr), it later ran three year in West End. There have been three US national tours. Mike Nichols was the director, and it won the emmy for best musical, originally starred Sara Ramirez (won Emmy), and Tim Curry (king Author), Hank Azaria (Sir Lancelot), Christian Borle (prince Herbert), Michael McGrath (Patsy), David Hyde Pierce (Sir Robin), and Christopher Sieber.
Spamalot Broadway cast (2005)
I bought the Broadway cast CD and as a bonus Amazon 'throws in' pre-ripped MP3s of all the songs. Here are mp3 of some of my favorites from the show.
The song that goes like this
Find your grail
Twice in every show (reprise)
Chorus Line @ Arundle Barn Theatre, Arundle ME
Many of the same large cast of recent theater graduates performed in three large shows in a row, each with a two week run, starting with Chorus Line, followed by My Fair Lady and Legally Blond. Did I see this show? If I did, it didn't leave a lasting impression.
My Fair Lady @ Arundle Barn Theatre, Arundle ME
Competant production with Michael Sheehan as professor and xxx as Eliza. 'On the street where you live' nicely sung by xxxx.
Legally Blond @ Arundle Barn Theatre, Arundle ME
Legally Blond is one of my favorite shows, one of the best new musicals of the last decade or so. This is the 4th production of the show I have seen (Broadway several times, Ogunquit, wonderful amateur at Arlington Friends of Drama). Even though the weather was chancy I had to see this production a 2nd time (in its only two week run), paying with a nerve rattling drive home on the expressway in a driving rain.
A lot of talent in the cast and a good production. Especially notable were Ashten Banister (Paulette), who just radiates personality and whose bio says she is still a theater undergraduate. Also Nic Casuala, who does a great job in multiple roles (dad, harvard admission officer and jump roping dancer). Michael Sheehan, who was the professor in My Fair Lady, has a somewhat older look and here does a competant job as Callahan. Kate Turner, as Elle, was pretty good in this demanding role, but the poorest of the four Elles I have seen. I wish she had been a little stronger and (as the lyric says) worn better shoes! This show needs a strong personality, singer, dancer in this role. It looks like it takes a lot of energy, a lot of strenuous dance moves by most of the cast throughout. Danae DeShazer (Viviane) and Nic Casuala are two in the production who have web sites.
Danae DeShazer (at Arundle summer 2014 Vivane in Legally Blond and one of four Wonderettes)
(left as Hedy LaRue in How to Succeed in Business)
Nic Casuala (right)
(father, ensemble, in Legally Blond, Alphi (father) in My Fair Lady, Greg in Chorus Line)
Emilie: La Marquise du Chatelet Defends Her Life Tonight
@ Central Sq Theatre, Cambridge MA
Play done in high style about Marquise du Chatelet who was the leading woman physicist (maybe the only woman physicist) of the 1700. She was also Voltaire's mistress and collaborator. She translated Newton's Mathematica Principia from the latin to French. She is credited with the first inklings that an important aspect of motion was a [mass x velocity^2], which in the 1800's would be firmed up and known as kinetic energy. While Newton is all about how forces control motion (acceleration, velocity, and position), he did not have a grasp of energy (kinetic or potential). It took the work of a lot of scientists in the 1800's to understand the concept of energy and how it was related to heat. I had never heard of du Chatelet until a two hour PBS special a few years ago on Einstein's concept did about 20 minutes on her. They showed an experiment she ran where she found the depth a falling ball penetrates into clay seems to go as the square of its speed, the first inkling of kinetic energy. She was a fascinating character, so the playwright ( Lauren Gunderson) has a lot to work with.
This play is from 2009 and for my taste was a little light on the physics, focusing mostly on Chatelet's relationship with Voltaire, so the play is mostly Barkenheim and Lee Mikeska Gardner with the other three actors popping in and out. I have seen Barkhimer before, but never Gardner. Good Boston Globe review explained why. Gardner is the new head of the Nora theater company, and this is acting debut in Boston. A demanding role, she is onstage the whole two hours, even staying during intermission (stretched out on her desk). The set (by Steve Royal) is classy with equations covering the entire floor. Audience sits on both sides, the play taking place in the long area between.
Steve Barkhimer and Lee Mikeska Gardner
in Nora Theatre company (Central Square) production of Emilie: La Marquise du Chatelet Defends Her Life Tonight (Sept 2014)
Entire cast of du Chatelet: Lee Mikeska Gardner ? Steven Barkhimer, Michelle Dowd, Lewis D. Wheeler, and Sophorl Ngin.
Photo: A.R. Sinclair Photography.
Doubt: A parable @ Stoneham Theatre, Stoneham MA
Doubt played a long time (over a year beginning in 2005) on Broadway, and I several opportunities to go see it there, but never did thinking it was going to be dour and a commentary on the Catholic priest-with-boys scandals in the news for the last decade. It won the Pulitzer prize for drama and the Tony for best play. There has been since a movie version too with Meryl Streep playing the Cherry Jones role of the older nun, principal of the catholic school and Philip Seymour Hoffman as the priest. There was recent production in the Boston area at Gloucester (didn't see) with I think Lee Carrol playing the role.
This lead role at Stoneham was played by one of the better actresses in the Boston area, Karen McDonald, who was a staple at the ART for decades doing dozens of productions there. I have seen her do some very good work (at Huntington and ART), and in this play we get to see her for first time at Stoneham where she does not disappoint. This play needs four strong actors and has them in Karen McDonald, Kathryn Myles (young nun), Gabriel Kuttner (priest), Miranda Craigwell (black mom). All terrific actors in this production. The latter three seemed new to me, but I have seen them all before. Kuttner in his bio says he has been at Stoneham before (Christmas Carol and Hockey mom/hockey dad), Myles was one of the radiation poisoned girls in Stoneham's 'These Shining Lives', and I saw Craigwell as the black legal intern in New Repertory's excellent production of David Mamet's 'Race'.
Doubt turned out to be a lot less dour than I thought it would be, and with good acting and intricately plotted script (by John Patrick Shanley) a repeat visit might be called for (done on last day of run). It runs 90 min with no intermission and has just four characters: two nuns (school principal and young teacher), a priest who teaches religion and basketball, and a (black) mother of a 12 year old effeminate (implied) boy and first afro-american at the school, whom the priest has befriended, the principal suspecting for the wrong reasons. In the beginning of the play we get to hear the older nun spout off on the merits of the cold hard discipline with which she runs the school as she hectors the young idealistic teaching nun. The play then proceeds to the older nun appearing to be sure in her own mind that the priest has acted improperly, reading great significance into little things, ballpoint pens and how he like he likes to keep his nails long, and she schemes to get him removed. This is difficult since this the 60's with strict catholic hierarchy, nuns at the bottom and this particular priest is her superior. The (surprising) twist on the plot comes at the very end, the priest now gone, promoted to be pastor and head of another school, and the older nun, so sure, now collapses crying onto the breast of the younger nun revealing all along she had 'doubts'.
Karen MacDonald (left) as Sister Aloysius, Kathryn Myles as Sister James, Gabriel Kuttner as Father Flynn
in Stoneham Theatre production of 'Doubt, a Parable' (Sept 2014)
Many excellent reviews ('NO ‘DOUBT’ ABOUT IT: STONEHAM PRODUCTION SHINES'). Here is an excerpt from the terrific review by Terry Byrne in the Globe.
"The Stoneham Theatre’s production of “Doubt, A Parable” delivers every ounce of this complex drama’s tension, urgency, and ambiguity. Under the crisp direction of Caitlin Lowans, a first-rate quartet of actors — Karen MacDonald, Gabriel Kuttner, Kathryn Myles, and Miranda Craigwell — deliver playwright John Patrick Shanley’s dialogue with carefully shaded nuances." Shanley's play is winner of botht the Pulizer prize and tony award.
The widely praised star of the Broadway production of Doubt was Cherry Jones. Karen MacDonald recently understudied Cherry Jones on Broadway in the 'Glass Menagarie' (one of several recent productions, one of which I saw) and got to go on replacing her.
Adam's Family, a new musical @ Stoneham Theatre, Stoneham
I have now seen the show a bunch of time and enjoyed it thoroughly each time. It grows on you, each scene is so well crafted and polished, the score has a certain sweetness and depth. And there is even a nice sub-plot with a twist, by the end of the show the 'normal' Beinekes have all learned major life lessons from an evening spent with the 'weirdo' Adams family. This is a beautifully cast show with great production support: sets, costumes, orchestra (Jim Rice) and a host of special effects.
Stoneham theatre is doing another of the big budget musical it does so well. This time its the Adam's Family musical, which ran on Broadway for a year and half opening 2010 starring Nathan Lane and Bebe Neuwirth (from Cheers). Skipped it in NYC, but saw the national tour when it hit Boston. Concurrent with Stoneham Ogunquit is doing Adam's Family too as the last show of the season. Not a great show, but a fun show with lots of style and sight gags. Dance moves pop up ever so often to keep things moving. Andrew Lippa score (music and lyrics) has sweetness and depth. Nice Stoneham sets by Katheryn Monthei, direction by Weylin Symes and choreography by Ilyse Robbins.
The four main stars of the show are the father, mother, and daughter of the Adams family plus uncle fester. Steve Gagleastro, familiar face at Stoneham, is Gomez Adams and turns out he is a pretty good singer, and of course he has no problem with the comedy. Morticia Adams is a Vanessa Dunleavy, first time at Stoneham, and does well as a slinky mom with deep cleavage. At the talk back it came out that she was auditioned in NYC. I could find out about her is she has been in one national tour, performed at the Goodspeed opera house, and was in Legally Blond at North Shore Music theater. The family daughter, Wednesday Adams, is played by another newcomer Sarah Pothier, out of RI and a recent theater graduate of Rhode Island College. She does a nice job and is quite a strong singer.
Featured crazies are Thomas Derrah, one of the founder of the ART and performed in 120 (!) productions there, as Uncle Fester. His uncle fester is truly inspired, one of the highlights of the show. The normal family is Jordan Ahnquits (Seminar) as the son and his parent Ceit Zweil (Something's aFoot) and Jeff Mahony (Miracle on 34th Street). They all do a great job. Ceit has a featured flip-out at the dinner, her husband morphs from a stodgy business man to his wild earlier self with some nice dance moves. Kathy St George, is grandma, but unfortunately it's a relatively small role. Colby Morgan as Lurch, has the requisite strong voice for his surprise singing at the end. And I should mention Phillip Dragone, 15 years old, who I remember from the Young Company's Spamalot this summer (he was the historian), plays Pugsley Adams. Everyone not in the ensemble (even Pugsley) has at least one featured number with a chance to shine and does. The entire cast top to bottom are very strong singers.
At a talkback session (Sun) one audience member, who I think may be an actor, said he had seen the Ogunquit performance too, and while Ogunquit was good and well cast, he gave the edge to Stoneham. The cast for the entire show always stays in character. At talk back several cast members mentioned how hard it was to never smile and maintain your character. Everyone has their own 'look', Lurch always moves super slow.
Reading the playbill bios I came upon an interesting factoid. Steve Gagliastro (Gomez) was recently married and his new wife (Annie Kerins) is also in the show. She is one of the ancestors, the very tall girl left I think. It says this is the first time they have performed together on stage since they were married.
(left) Vanessa Dunleavy (Morticia) and Steve Gagliastro (Gomez)
(right, arms spread) Thomas Derrah (Uncle Fester)
(left) Sarah Pothier (Wednesday) and Phillip Dragone (Pugsley)
(right) Sarah Pothier and Steve Gagliastro
A Disappearing Number @ Central Square Theater, Cambridge
This 2007 English play is a clever, large stylish production that occasionally morphs into into little flights of fancy (sometimes with Indian dancing). It dramatizes one of the most famous stories in mathematics when in 1912 an unknown Indian railway clerk in India (Ramanujan) sends a long letter (9 pages) full of theorems to G. H. Hardy, at the time one the most famous mathematicians in the world at Cambridge. The Globe reviewer characterizes this play as "a tone poem, a nonlinear collage of images, sounds, ideas, motivic conceits, and mere shards of narrative", a good summary I think of the nature of the play.
Famous scientist get crank letters all the time that are normally just thrown away. Two (other) Cambridge mathematicians Ramanujan wrote to just returned his letter (without comment), but somehow Hardy looked at his letter. Hardy himself had proven some of the theorems in the letter, so he knew they were right, other he found to be so unbelievable that he later said they had to be true, because no one could possibly make them up. That evening he called in a math colleague, and they spread out the letter and both began studying the theorems (not proofs, just equalities). Many were unknown to them and astoundingly complex. By midnight they agreed what whoever had written this letter, someone it turns out who was almost entirely self taught with no training in advanced math, was a genius. So Ramanujan was invited to come to England from India, where he had a terrible time, hating the weather and unable to find food to eat properly as he was a vegetarian, and died at the young age of 32. According to Wikipedia he compiled in his short lifetime 3,900 theorems, most of which have shown to be correct, and he made many original contributions to several branches of number theory.
Production was something of a wonder, with a huge number of quick scene changes using movable panels and projections. The play starts very cleverly with Christine Hamel, playing a professor, lecturing us in mathematics as she proceeds (for the longest time) to fill a blackboard with mathematics, getting more and more advanced. Much of the cast was ethnically Indian and likely not Boston based. A little Googling shows Christine Hamel, who does the math on the blackboard, is based in Boston, a professor of voice and speech at BU.
Central Square Theater's production of 'A Disappearing Number' (Nov 2014)
Paul Melendy, Jacob Athyal, Christine Hamel, and Amar Srivastav
Ether Dome @ Calderwood Pavilion, Boston MA
A powerful new, big play (cast of 16 playing many playing multiple roles) about the adoption of laughing gas, and later ether, as the first practical (gas) anesthetics for dental and medical surgery, the latter at the Mass General Hospital in 1846. The play was commisioned by the Hartford stage (in 2005 from playwright Elizabeth Egloff) and in 2014 opened the Hartford season, by this time a co-production with three other other regional theatres: Houston’s Alley Theatre, California’s LaJolla Theatre, and Boston’s Huntington Theatre. The show started in CA in 2011, but was was substantially rewritten by 2014 for Hartford and Boston. Essentially the same cast on stage in Boston had already done the show in Hartford a month or two earlier.
One reason for the long delay between the commission and opening is that the author, who has a lot of doctors in her family and researched the history extensively, was diagnosed during this time with leukemia and underwent a stem cell transplant. The author says idea for the play came from Michael Wilson, head of Hartford stage. He had grant money to do plays about Conn and walking through the park one day he came upon a statue of Horace Wells (Harford dentist) and just got curious.
What about surgery in the civil war?The play has been criticized for being long and convoluted, but assuming the story it is telling is historical accurate (which I do), then play is long and convoluted, because the history is long and convoluted and the author has chosen to tell the full story about what really happened. I like this approach, the play becomes a real piece of history, I learned a lot from this play.
There's a mystery here. The date given for the beginning of ether anesthesia during surgery, using an inhaler, which provide some control of dose, at Mass Geneal is given as 1846. We have all heard stories of the gruesome field amputations done without anesthesia during the civil war, of which there were many as the new field cannons decimated the ranks of foot soldiers. But the civil war is in the early 1860s, about 15 years after the first successful use of ether. What happened? Was ether slow to catch on in the medical world? Was the preparation of ether and its delivery to the patient just too complicated for use in a battlefield hospital? Or is this just another example of how primitive and low priority was the treatment of injured solders during the civil war?
There is no real hero in the play, carp the critics. The quasi-hero (William Morton) through much of the play is the young assistant to the Hartford dentist who discovers the anesthetic properties of popular laughing gas for dental surgery, and who later begins to champion a general gas anesthesia supposedly of his own devising, hiding the fact his mystery anesthesia is primarily ether, which he learned about from from a vile of sulfuric ether given to him by chemist Dr. Charles Jackson. The play presents William Morton as the man mainly responsible for getting the skeptical, conservative surgeons of Mass General Hospital to give 'his' ether a try after a failure of a laughing gas experiment there by the Hartford dentist, Dr. Horace Wells, who has in fact been using it successfully in his practice to pull teeth without pain. But in a short scene near the end of the play our hero Morton, often identified in short histories as the man responsible for introducing ether as the first anesthesia, is revealed to be a something of scoundrel and con man. He had no real dental or medical knowledge, and he turned out to be under indictment in many states for various other frauds.
Why did surgeons not seek out (gas) anesthesia?
While the play passes over this point quickly, How is it that the several surgeons who run Mass General, presented as educated and wise men of the time (mid 1800s), don't appear to have any real interest in trying to find a gas, something that could be easily administered prior to surgery, with anesthetic properties? The play points out that the famous chemist who years earlier had isolated laughing gas (nitrous oxide) had suggested that it might have anesthetic properties, but no one (worldwide) in the medical community of doctors had followed up on his suggestion. How come? The one man who did was a Hartford dentist. While taking laughing gas at a party (nitrous oxide was easily made), he was surprised that he didn't seem to feel any pain from an injury he received, so he rushed to his office and had his tooth pulled before the effect wore off, a confirming test that laughing gas had real antestic properties.
I think the answer (with hindsight) is obvious about why surgeons had so little interest in anesthesia. In their gut these top surgeons, who competed to see who could amputate a limb the fastest, understood that if the time constraints on surgery were lifted, it would fundamentally change the way surgery was done, it could very well be their professional undoing. For the top surgeons it was in their personal interest that how surgery was done, their bread and butter technical skill, not be radically changed. So for a long time they remained skeptics with little interest in exploring the possible anesthetic properties of the new gases the chemists were developing.
Anthesia -- double edge swordLatest technology from France
A key point the play either didn't touch on, or passed over very quickly, is that in the days before antibiotics (World War II) a great many who lived through the horrible pain of the operation went on to die painfully weeks and months later due to infection. The double edge sword of doing surgery under anesthesia is that many more surgical operations became possible, so of course in time were done, resulting in deep tissues being exposed to open air for a long time (without modern antiseptic safeguards) making it more likely that infections could settle in. Result, some lives saved, but also many more painful, expensive deaths.
Taking laughing gas prior to having a tooth removed.
Tom Patterson (our early quasi-hero), Lee Sellers, Michael Bakkensen (Hardford dentist, seated), and Amelia Pedlow
in Huntington production of Ether Dome at the Calderwood Pavillion (Nov 2014)
left: Surgeons of Mass General: Ken Cheeseman, Richmond Hoxie (head surgeon of Mass General), Gregory Balla and Bill Kux
center: Tom Patterson, apprentist to Wells the dentist, our quasi-hero/scoundral
right: Tom Patterson and William Youmans (don't remember how viewing through a telescope was worked into the play)
Youmans plays the Mass General surgeon, who is afriad to operate
Footnote -- The Mass General operating theater where ether was first used in the mid 1800s still exists, little changed. It is open to the public and if you wonder around the Mass General you can search it out. I did that a few years ago and was able to get into the empty theater. In searching reviews looking for photos I stumbled on a recent picture of the actual ether dome at the Mass General Hospital.
Real ether dome at Mass General, still in active use, lit by sunlight from above.
(A plaque there says Thomas Morton here in 1846 first administered ether as general anesthia
followed by Dr. John Warren successfully and painlessly cutting a tumor out of the neck of a patient.)
Awake and Sing @ Huntington Theater, Boston MA
A well acted production Clifford's 1935 play 'Awake and Sing' (yee that dwell in dust) at Huntington featuring mostly NYC actors with Boston's Will LeBow in the key role of the grandfather, who works to lift up all the family members up and is critical of the social conditions brought about by the depression.
This is the second time I have seen this play. I saw the highly regarded 2006 revival of Awake and Sing in NYC (winner of the Tony for best revival of a play), coordinating a trip to NYC to see it. When I began this series of theater essays in 2006 after seeing the revival, I was impressed enough by the acting to name the essays: 'Awake and Sing'.
Stephen Schnetzer (uncle), Michael Goldsmith (son), Will LeBow (grandpa), David Wohl (father), and Eric T. Miller (boarder)
in Huntington Theater's production of Clifford Odets' Awake and Sing! (Nov 2014)
(left: Will LeBow, as grandfather Jacob, socialist ideologue)
(right: Annie Purcell as Hennie and Lori Wilner as mother Bessie)
(left: Annie Purcell as Hennie and Eric T. Miller)
(center: Lori Wilner as Bessie and husband David Wohl)
(right: Michael Goldsmith and Will LeBow)
overview of Huntington set
Meet Me in St. Louis @ Stoneham Theatre, Stoneham MA
This is the Christmas show at Stoneham, an interesting choice, based on 40's movie of the same name starring Judy Garland. When I heard about it, I thought it an inspired choice, but I wondered how many of the potential audience would have ever seen the movie. I've seen it a few times on television over the years, but not recently. However, even with a one month run (33 performances) it has proven to be a big success, nearly selling out every performance.
This show is low key, somewhat corny and dated, and on first viewing I was somewhat disappointed, and I know others felt the same, but on repeat viewings I have come to like the show. What saves the show are two things: one, it has a lot of nice songs (by Martin and Blaine) many of which have gone on to become part of the American songbook, and two, scattered through the show are 7 or 8 choreographed (by Ceit Zwell) ensemble numbers, which are always fun. This show has an engaging mostly young cast, a lot of nice songs (pleasantly sung), and a bunch of ensemble numbers that are fun. The story closely follows the plot of the movie. A couple of reviewers thought the show was flat. One valid criticism is that the 'band' is only two keyboards plus drums, but they do a good job. This show must have a lot of costumes, large cast and most cast members have two or three outfits. Everyone changing into into their Sunday best for the last scene of a trip to the fair.
The set (by Megan Kinneen) works well. It consists of a front porch that doubles as a trolley, which when rotated and pushed to the side (along with another panel) reveals the large front room of the Smith home with stairs to the 2nd floor. I marvel at the tricks set designer employ. There is a huge street lamp on the far right of the stage that is used only a little. It is the setting in one scene under which the young lovers talk, sing, and kiss as snow falls. The large globe on its top looks spot on even from close up. How are such things made? Is it possibly real? It would be awfully heavy (and dangerous) if it was.
The Judy Garland role (Ester Smith) is played by Sirena Abalian. I didn't remember her, but a search of my theater essays shows just three years ago (2011) shows she was in the Young Company production of '13' in Jan, and later in the year she was a young Clara in Stoneham's Nutcracker, so she can't be more than 16 or 17, the age of Ester in the show. One reviewer notes Sirena is 18 and a senior at Lexington HS: "Abalian not only sings with feeling and easy grace, she has the stage presence and acting skills to have us rooting for her as she woos that boy next door." Several in the cast come from Emerson collage theater program, most polished of whom is the tall Gigi Watson, playing Ester's sister Rose Smith. Another nice Emerson performance is given by Felix Teich playing John Truitt, Ester's love interest. Old pros Robert Saud and Susan McGinnis (new to me) are the father and mother. They are well paired and their brief intimate scene together, where she says 'If you want us to move we will move', is nicely done. Saud was Mrs Meers in Stoneham's Throughly Modern Mille a couple of years ago, and McGinnis bio shows she has worked a lot in Nantucket.
It took me a while to remember her, but one of the stars (one of the sisters) in the Young Company production of Wonderful Town way back in 2009 was Adele Leikauskas. At that time she was an 8th grade student in Stoneham. My notes show I also saw her in summer of 2011 in Young Company production of Sondheim's Assassins. In 2014 she is all growed up, a graduate of Walnut Hill School in 2013 and a student at the Berklee College of Music. Her bio says she spent seven years in the Young Company and this is her first mainstage production. Here she is a member of the ensemble, but has a chance to shine as a member of a trio with a featured song, and she is now quite a beauty with a strong stage presence.
Two little girls (Skylar Dicecca and Chloe Nasson) share the role of Tootsie Smith. I heard Chloe Nasson mother talk about her daughter, saying she was just 'fearless' that when she was just 3 1/2 years old at some stage event she wanted to get up on stage. Chloe is 8 (3rd grade in Robinhood school in Stoneham) and has been with Young Company since she was five. Her mother said the whole 3rd grade class will be coming to see the show.
The four young principals are the core of the show, well cast and all sing well: two Smith sisters Sirena Abalian, Gigi Watson, their brother Daniel Irwin, and the boy next door (Ether's bow) Fexil Teich. Abalian, who in the Judy Garland role is featured, is much younger, still in HS, while the other three are all out of Emerson (Teich is a junior) as are several others of the cast. Gigi Watson is quite strikingly tall, sings well and clearly has dance training (dance captain, Emerson). The three men who play the nerds at the party (and other roles) do a good job too in their brief time onstage: Zachary Stephens (postman, Emerson), Tyler Rosati (Clark Univ, teaches chemistry), and Eliott Purcell (motorman, Boston College).
Sirena Abalian (18) and Felix Teich in Stoneham Theatre's production of Meet Me in St. Louis (Dec 2014)
Ensemble and supporting young cast
Adele Leikauskas is right, front row
Men of nerd trio: left, Zachary Stephens, center, Eliott Purcell, right, Tyler Rosati
(left) Adele Leikauskas in Young Company's 'Wonderful Town' (2009)
front porch converted to a trolly and playbill cover artwork
My name appears in the playbill's first page essay, for this show by Managing Director, Debra Rafson: "I would also like to thank our most committed individual supporters like Don Fulton, each person on our Board of Trustees, and each of our guild members."
Boston Ballet Nutcracker @ Boston Opera House, Boston
I see the BB Nutcracker most years, but I missed last year, so this is the first time I got to see totally new production by BB artistic director Mikko Nissinen and it's good. It's still a classic Nutcracker set in 1820s (says synopsis), but with a first act that is much improved, more lyrical, better paced, and the tedium of the mice-nutcracker battle nearly gone. It has an older clara who can dance, a dramatic Drosselmeier featured in a workshop prologue set high above the stage. This is a huge production with a long run, over 200 children are listed in the program, all beautifully prepared and costumed, and from the matinee I saw after Christmas the company is performing in tip-top shape.
It was also a family outing with five of us attending. Nutcracker tickets are tight, but working the clunky BB ticketing site hard I got three blocks of tickets in rows A, B and H for reasonable money by choosing side boxes. And as bonus my recent large contribution to the BB got us a backstage tour after the performance. I got to stand on stage of 2,500 seat Opera House among the sets and with a bunch of dancer stretching on the floor nearby (in preparation for the evening performance). Only when standing on the stage with our knowledgeable guide did I realize the downside of the move from the Wang to the Opera House. While for the audience the smaller, grand Opera House is a better venue, the stage wings are cramped. It was built for vaudeville, so there is little space in the wings, unlike the Wang which was expanded with a new deep stage house. The guide said the only place the dancers have to warm up is the stage itself.
The grand pas de deux was danced by Yury Yanosky and Rei Ichikawa. I know Yanosky has been with the company forever, the playbill says he joined the company in 1993 as a principal if I remember correctly. So he must be in his early 40s, very old for a male principal dancer, yet in his variation he hasn't lost a step. Beautiful high jumps with double beats and a clean series of big jumps in a 360 circle of the stage. Remarkable. The tour guide said he is going to retire at the end of this season, and added that he is married to the girl who performed the arabian, who in the performance we saw was Kathyrn Boren, a recent corp member from Texas, who looks to be about 20 years younger than Yanosky. While in the picture section of the playbill Yanosky is listed with the principals, in the front of the playbill he is not, but instead as ''principal guest artist', so he may only be dancing part of the season.
That Hopey Changey Thing @ Stoneham Theatre, Stoneham
Stoneham Theater together with Gloucester Stage are doing Richard Nelson’s recent four-part Apple Family series, the first two this season (2015) and the last two next season. The same cast will be in all four plays and all the plays will be directed by Weylin Symes. I liked That Hopey Changey Thing, an hour and 45 min with no intermission goes by quickly. This play is all about NY politics, middle age family dynamics (three sisters and brother) and an uncle who fades in and out due to a brain problem. Acted in a naturalistic style, low key, by an excellent cast.
Paul Melendy, Karen MacDonald, Sarah Newhouse, Joel Colodner, and Laura Latreillein
in Stoneham Theater's production of the first Apple family play: That Hopey Changey Thing (March 2015)
Bill Mootos, Sarah Newhouse, Joel Colodner, Laura Latreille, Karen MacDonald, and Paul Melendy
Boston Ballet's Lady of the Camellias @ Boston Opera
House, Boston MA
Attended the last performance of Camellias in which Yury Yanowsky and his wife, Kathleen Breen Combes, danced the lead roles. This performance was dedicated to Yanowsky and was his last performance after 22 years (!) of dancing with the company retiring at age 42. The audience was packed with dedicated BB dance fans and the curtain call turned into a big love-in. Dozens of flower bouquets thrown on stage by audience members, dancers had bouquets behind their backs and threw them over their heads on to the stage too. All of Yanowsky's sisters, who dance with the top companies in Europe, had flown in from Europe and came on stage along with company director Mikko Nissinen who kept nodding for Yanowsky to take another bow, about a dozen of them for 10-15 minutes. I am told that Yanowsky will remains with the company next year doing choreography while his wife who is about nine years younger will continue as a principal dancer.
I liked the choreography in Camellias a lot. It's sort of in the classical romantic tradition featuring lots of lifts of the girls with raised legs combined with much virtuosic dancing, all beautifully danced here. The playbill says the BB danced this in 2004, but I don't remember ever seeing it before. This full length work was created in 1994 by Val Caniparoli a dancer with the San Francico ballet, where Mikko Nissinen had long danced as a principal. When the work was choreographed 20 years, ago a smart decision was made to use good music, a pastiche of works by Chopin. Boston Globe reviewer said, Lady of the Camellias is no Swan Lake (what is?), but "Yury Yanowsky as Armand and Kathleen Breen Combes as Marguerite made it seem like a beloved classic."
Yury Yanowsky as Armand and Kathleen Breen Combes as Marguerite
in Boston Ballet's Lady of Camellias (March 2015)
Big Fish @ Calderwood Pavilion, Boston MA
I saw the Big Fish a couple of years ago in NYC, where it was a (big) Susan Stroman musical of the 2013 season, which only had a three month run. It made it to Boston this year produced by SpeakEasy Stage at the Wimberly theater in the Calderwood Pavilion. I liked the show in NYC and though missing some of the big budget special effects of the NYC show, I liked it in Boston too. The show is about Edward Bloom, a traveling saleman, who tells tall tails and his relationship with his son who as he is about to be married realizes that he doesn't really know who is father. The music and lyrics are Andrew Lipper who also wrote music for the Adams Family, which I also liked a lot in the Stoneham production. Scanning the cast of twelve I only recognized two cast members (Aimee Doherty and Will McGarrahan) thinking the rest must have come from NYC, but not true. Turns out that most of them are Boston performers or trained in Boston. Katie Clark (from Medford), playing the role of the bride to be, looked vaguely familiar, and it turned I had seen her as Nellie Forbush in Reagle's recent South Pacific production.
The nebbishy lead role of Edward Bloom is played by Steven Goldstein, whose bio shows he is an opera singer and is in the opera dept of the New England conservatory. While his bio indicates he has done a lot of shows, in an interview he says this is his first show in Boston. His son (Will Bloom) is played by Sam Simahk out of Emerson. Sweet Aimee Doherty plays Sandra Bloom, Edward's wife. These are principles who can all sing very well and give the show a strong core. In an interview Aimee Doherty says hearing Sam Simahk (her son in the show) singing “Stranger” is worth the price of admission. A lot of the ensemble is out of the Boston Conservatory. The Boston Globe had an article explaining how Lippa came to Boston to work with SpeakEasy in scaling down the show for regional productions with a smaller cast and orchestra.
Aimee Doherty and Steven Goldstein in the SpeakEasy Stage Company's production of 'Big Fish' (3/15)
(left, when they meet and right, 20 years later)
Aimee Doherty (center) and Will McGarrahan (right)
Neville's Island @ Stoneham Theatre, Stoneham MA
Weylin Symes has a fondness for dark shows and likes to include one in every season, which this season is probably Neville's Island. In the playbill Symes says one reason he picked this british dark comedy was the challenge of building the set. The set foreground is mostly large climable rocks with of course water, since it's an island, and trees, one of them quite large and climable, plus dark atmospheric lighting. Four men, all business types on a training weekend, get stuck on a little island in a lake only a mile from their hotel. I found out that pictures of this production have been posted on facebook by Stoneham Theater (along with many interesting pictures of the set being built).
Whole cast of Neville's Island in Stoneham Theater production (Apr 2015)
(Brandon Whitehead, Alexander Platt, Brooks Reeves, and Jim Loutzenhiser)
City of Angels @ Lyric Stage, Boston MA
This is a musical I had never heard of. Wikipedia shows it's a 1989 show with score by Cy Coleman and book by Larry Gelbart (created Mash) that won the tony for best musical, best score, and best book and had a long Broadway run. Who knew? This was 26 years ago before I began to go to NYC regularly. It's a send up of 40s private eyes and film noir with a double story of a writer writing a movie about a private eye and intercut with the strory he is writing. Huge cast and almost everybody playing two roles so at least on a first viewing this can get pretty confusing sometimes.
Lyric does shows like this very well. They have assemble a huge cast (17!) all of whom can sing and act well. Show was directed by Spiro Veloudos (who I thought had left) and in the playbill he again listed as Producing Artistic Director, as he has been for the last 17 years. Ed Hoopman plays the private eye, Leigh Barrett is his secretary. Phil Taylor the writer. I like how Lyric takes financial risks with such a huge cast. Very few theaters this size will take such a risk. The Globe review says the show has 40 scenes and 28 locations.
Ed Hoopman and Samantha Richert
in Lyric Stage production of City of Angles (Apr 2015)
(left) Ed Hoopman and Meghan LaFlam
Boston Ballet company class @ BB Studios, 19 Clarendon
St. Boston MA
One of the perks of regular giving to the BB is the oportunity once a year to see the company in company class. Sometimes this is in the theater, where it's not that interesting, because you are not close, but sometimes it's in the BB studio, where you get to sit in front of the mirrors and are real close. This is only the 2nd (or 3rd) time I have seen the company in the studio take company class and it's impressive and for someone who knows a lot about ballet a lot of fun. What I didn't know was that several times a week the men and women take class separately, and Wed (4/15/15 tax day) was one of those days. I watched the 20 or so men of the company take class in the large studio. BB is a world class company with many great dancers assembled from all over the world.
Even in difficult combinations there's no obvious difference between the princpals/solists and corp members. The technical skill is extraordinary high for everyone in the company. One killer combination near the end of class started with a double tour, multiple turns, and a double tour directly out of the turns,, i.e. mulitple turns as a preparation for the double tour.
Chicago @ Wakefield Repertory Theatre, Wakefield MA
I was very pleased to discover a new theater company, a first rate amateur company. It's in a neighboring town just three miles away and has been producing shows for 25 years, but I never paid any attention. One reason is that they don't have their own theater. The perform in a couple of venues, this show was in a Wakefield church. The do only 2 or 3 shows a year, mostly musicals. The remaining two shows this season are Seussical (all kids) and Sweeny Todd. There were just five performances of Chicago over two weekends, so they don't perform much.
Chicago is a dance show and it's being performed in a church. I wasn't expecting much, either in terms of the performance space or cast (probably a bunch of HS dancers I assumed). Wrong, wrong... Firstly, there was a real stage, quite large, with scenery and stage lighting in the first floor of this not too big church (Wakefield/Lynnfield Methodist church) with seats for a 100 or so. A very nice performance space. Orchestra, yup a nice seven piece orchestra seated above the stage. No HS students, a large cast of adult ensemble dancers, mostly women plus one man.
And critically five strong performers for the leads: Roz Beauchemin, Meghan Ashley for the two female leads, both of whom sang well and moved well with big personalities that held the stage. Also very good was Paul Richardson as Billy Flynn, Rina Ceruli (?) as Mama Morton, Scott Forrest as Amos Hart.
(left) Roz Beauchemin and Meghan Ashley (in the finale)
(right) Paul Richardson (Billy Flynn) and Meghan Ashley
in Wakefield Repertory Theatre production of Chicago (May 2015)
Head shots from Wakefield Repertory Theatre Face book page, nice
I saw the last performance and walking around the church I heard several big cheer come up from the cast backstage. Real spirit...
Boston Ballet's Edge of Vision (repertory) @ Boston
Opera House, Boston MA
Edge of Vision was a wonderful performance of three repertory modern pieces all originally choreographed for Boston Ballet by choreographers Lila York (1996), Helen Picket (2008), and Jorma Elo (2015). Best of the bunch was the stylish Eventide by Helen Picket to music by Philip Glass. Lila York's fun piece to Irish music by Paddy Maloney is the ballet version of RiverDance. It featured principal Jeffrey Ciro who showed he can move like the wind. Elo's piece was danced to Bach Cello Suites played live on stage by the excellent cellist Sergey Antonov.
Boston Ballet Edge of Vision repertory performance (May 2015)
(left -- Kathleen Breen Combes in Picket's Eventide rehersael)
(right -- Lia Cirio in Elo's Bach Cello Suits)
(left -- Eventide rehersal with Helen Picket choreographer)
(right -- cellist Sergey Antonov for Elo's Bach Cello Suites)
Lila York's Celts
Edge of Vision promo (from local TV) -- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sw2D4YS1RQY
Rehersal video in studio of Picket's Eventide --- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XUam-xi6cZU
Music by Philip Glass and Ravi Shankar either used (or similar) for Eventide --- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HyBqdTgnpNQ
Boston Ballet dancers recorded in super slow motion --- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BwFqEQxU1qU
How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying @
Stoneham Theatre, Stoneham MA
Stoneham's big spring musical, cast of 19 with 5 piece orchestra led by Jim Rice. Super cast with Tyler Bradley Indyck nice handling the role of J. Peirpont Finch. He lives in NYC and is a member of Actor's Equity is about the only thing I know about him. Ephie Aadema with Laura Graczyk as backup are sort of sharing the role of his girlfriend Rosemary. Ephie Aadema is fantastic tap dancer and has starred in 42nd Street and Thoroughly Modern Millie at Stoneham in the last few years. Unfortunately while there's a lot of dancing in this show, Rosemary does do much of it with only a single solo song where she gets to move. She brings a sweetness to the role and has good chemistry with Tyler Bradley Indyck, and (from the first row) it's clear she has a wonderful strong voice. Laura Graczyk, a graduate of Boston Conservatory, handles the role well too and is an excellent singer. Other standouts in the cast are Neil Casey (J.B. Biggley), Aimee Doherty (Hedy LaRue), Russell Garrett, who not the youngest does a mean tap dance, Robert Saoud (Mr. Timble/Womper), and Ceit Zweil (Smitty). Good support provided by Nick Sulfaro, Angelo McDonough (Bud Frump), Kevin Patrick Martin and the rest of the dancing men, Maria Larossa and the rest of the (tap) dancing girls.
On a repeat viewing it's clear the lead in the how, Tyler Bradley Indyck (as J. Pierpont Finch), is really good. He on stage most of the time and carries the show. He's in the big men's dance number in act 2 (right in front), and it's clear he's also had dance training, he moves well. The other spark plug of the production is Neil Casey (J.B. Biggley). There's never a dull moment when he is on stage. A word of praise too for the strong support of Boston acting pros who have been seen a lot at Stoneham: Ressell Garrett, who it turns out is mean tap dancer, Ciet Zweil, and Robert Saoud.
Angelo McDonough (as Bud Frump) sounded familiar. His bio shows he lived in NYC and is a recent theater graduate of Marymount Manhattan College. I checked my archives and sure enough six years ago in 2009, while he was still in HS, he performed in several shows with the Stoneham Youth Company and was a student at Stoneham HS. Later I was introduced to some girls who live in Stoneham and are members of the youth company, and they know Angelo McDonough. When they were 8 or 9, Angelo McDonough, still at Stoneham HS, was their teacher during summer theater camp.
Angelo McDonough (center) in 2009 while still in HS
My initial reaction to this show is that it is (or can be) a little thin, but on repeat viewings I see that it is quite tight with good pacing and rarely a dull moment. I first saw it in NYC a few years ago (from a bad seat) starring Daniel Radcliffe and John Larroquette and was a little disappointed. It takes a strong cast to pull off these over the top characterization and Weylin Symes has assembled as good a Boston cast (supplemented by a few from NY) as there is. I knew this show from the 1960's movie staring Robert Morse. A check of Wiki shows the 1967 movie was based on a 1961 Broadway show that had a long 3.5 yr run, and it also starred Morse and Rudy Vallee. The show even won the Pulitzer prize for drama!!
Neil Casey, Tyler Bradley Indyck and Ephie Aadema
in Stoneham Theater production of How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying (May 2015)
dancing businessmen led by Tyler Bradley Indyck as J. Pierpont Finch (center in suspenders)
with Robert Saoud (chairman of the board) faking it (right)
left -- Maria Larossa (ensemble)
bottom row, center left -- Angelo McDonough (Bud Frump)
on cart --- Ceit Zweil (Smitty)
Tyler Bradley Indyck and Robert Saoud
whole cast at finale
left -- Ceit Zweil, Ephie Aadema, Russell Garrett, and Tyler Bradley Indyck
right --- Ilyse Robbins, choerographer, working with the men
Life of a musical artistBoston Ballet's Thrill of Contact (repertory) @ Boston Opera House, Boston MA
How much work do skilled young musical theater artists based in NYC like Tyler Bradley Indyck and Ephie Aadema get? Ans: not much, it's a tough life. The website AboutTheArtists.com seems to have a pretty comprehensive list. It shows Tyler Bradley Indyck has only worked in one show (about a month of work) for each of the last four years: Grease in 2014 in MO, Life Could be a Dream in 2013 in MI, and Hairspray in 2012 in New Bedford MA. His bio talks about the photography studio he has established in Brooklyn to support himself. His Stoneham bio has a few more credits, but sometimes when listed as 'favorite roles' these are student performances. 2012 is his first listed show. He doesn't appear to have a homepage.
Ephie Aadema does better, but still works less than half a year. In 2014 she was in the ensemble and an understudy of Bridges of Madison County on Broadway for four months plus a 2nd job as Sandy in Grease at North Shore Music Theater, Beverly MA. In 2013 she had three jobs, Thoroughly Modern Mille at Stoneham plus 42nd Street (Peggy Sawyer) in Pittsburgh and Snapshots at GoodSpeed Opera House in CT. Three jobs too in 2012: Christmas Carol in Salt Lake City, Daddy Long Legs in MO, and Room with a View in San Diego. In 2011 also three jobs, besides 42nd St (Peggy Sawyer) in Stoneham she did Next to Normal in Salt Lake City and a three month run in 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee at Paper Mill Playhouse in NJ. Her homepage lists more jobs including two national tours: Liesi in Sound of Music and Chava in Fiddler on the Roof. Her first job listed was in 2009.
Week long theater trip to New York City
Spent a week in NYC late May 2015 to see some theater and the city. Saw 8 shows in six days. When I found out one of my favorites, Matilda, had their weekday mat on thur, I was able to make both wed and thru double show days, so squeezed in 4 shows just on Wed and Thur. Add in a single show Sun, Mon, Tues and Fri gives a total of 8 shows. With one exception I paid regular orchestra price and sat in first few rows (several times in first row) for all the shows!
Bought tickets for two hot shows (On the 20th Century and American in Paris) before leaving and the other six in NYC. Since I stay right in the theater district (Edison Hotel), I find these days the best procedure is to use the hotel's business center to view available seats for one or two candidate shows and then immediately go to the box office. Knowing what seats are available gives me leverage, saves a few bucks, and avoids hassles. [Bought one ticket online in NYC, and it was a hassle. Had a confirmation number, ticket was to be held at box office, yet it took three trips to box office and a call to telecharge (or ticketmaster) to get the ticket 'released'.] Violated my rule about never paying premium price ($220, which is a low premium price) to get into new American in Paris with lots of tony nomination. Here are the 8 shows I saw:
repeats:Sitting in the center 'premium ticket' area of new hit Broadway show (American in Paris) was a new experience for me, and it provided some interesting seat neighbors. I looked over at intermission, and there was one of the most famous lawyers in the US, Kenneth Feinberg the 9/11 special master, and he was seated in the row just in front of me. I enjoyed listening to two old NYC RE millionaires chatting behind me. One claimed to have owned 160 million in RE and kept saying "You gotta keep a few buildings". The other had just given 15 million to a school which was to be named for him. Both were ketvetching that they were expected to pay for the education of their grandchildren. The 160 million guy, about 85 I calculated, had a much younger trophy wife (or gf), who with her puffed out lips looked the poster child for 'plastic surgery gone bad'.
Ave Q (Mon) -- Excellent cast that I have seen before. Got last rush seat $27 for front row center
Matilda (thur mat) -- Always like to see this show on NYC trips. The original cast is back. Audience at thur mat was half kids.
A Gentlemen's Guide to Love and Murder -- Unfortunately Jefferson Mays was out and the understudy just didn't cut it, otherwise
the wonderful original cast is intact.
It's Only a Play -- I had seen this show in Jan, but Nathan Lane was out and replaced with Martin Short. When I found I couldn't get
a good seat to see Helen Mirren in Audience and I knew Nathan Lane had returned to the show, I went back again. Sure it's a
piece of fluff, but even on a second viewing it was still funny.
On the 20th Century -- Kristin Chenoweth owns this show. The musical itself is thin, but the production is big and stylish. Four tap dancing
bell men start the show and return several times. They were good and the audience loved them, getting applause when just appearing.
Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime (play) -- Terrific play done in an abstract set featuring wonderful physical acting by a recent
Juliard graduate playing a 15 year old boy. The play originated in UK by the same team that did War Horse. The play won the tony
for best play, and the tony for best actor in a play to the Juliard graduate.
Something Rotten -- This is a raucous, crazy musical set in the Renaissance about two writers deciding to compete with the star
writer Shakespeare by putting on the world's first musical. Everyone would ask them, "You mean the actors are suddenly going to
stop talking and start singing?", then they would shake their head and walk away.
An American in Paris -- This is an novel ballet/dance show stylishly done and has received good reviews and won a lot of tonys. Features
real ballet dancers who can both (passably) sing and act.
The Farnsworth Invention @ Black Box theater at the
Watertown Arsenal, Watertown MA
The 'Farnsworth Invention' by Aaron Sorkin (West Wing, Moneyball) is a bio play about Philo T. Farnsworth one of the inventors (most likely the key inventor) of television and his battles with David Sarnoff, who as head of RCA and NBC worked to crush him. Years ago I had read a book about Farnsworth. This play had a relatively short run on Broadway a few years ago, so I didn't get to see it. A play about an engineer, who'd have thunk it! Sure there are a few plays about doctors and scientists around, but engineers? How of many of these exist?
This trip to the theater was unusual in another way. I attended with the artistic director of Stoneham Theater, and he called this a trip to see 'fringe' theater produced by Flat Earth Theatre, which I had never heard of. We were both blown away by the quality of the acting and the good production. Turns out that the Flat Earth Theater has been producing shows for several seasons, but has just recently become a 501(c)3 non-profit. Doing a little research I found they have no artistic director and are some sort of collaborative. Their annual budget is only about 1% of the Stoneham budget, low in part because (at least up until now) they don't pay their actors. The actor bios showed many had studied acting in college and/or work in theater behind the scenes. The two lead actors were Michael Fisher (David Sarnoff) and Chris Larson (Philo Farnsworth), but many others in the large cast of 11 were also excellent, and since this play has a lot of characters, there was a lot of doubling and tripling.
(left) Michael Fisher (Sarnoff)
(right) Chris Larson (Farnsworth)
On Philo Farnsworth
On key fact that gets very little notice is how young Farnsworth was when he did much of his key work. This is important, because it normally takes a long time to make a good engineer, to master not just the theory, but the myriad details of components and assembly techniques required to make something that actually works. Farnsworth was born in 1906. Farnsworth at age 19 makes a pitch to investors and gets some funding to begin work (my memory is in the play Farusworth was only 17 at this time, but this is wrong) with the caveat from the investors that he produce an image in six months. This may be another dramatic invention of Sorkin, because I read that it was Farnsworth himself that made this offer, and the time promosed to an image was one year. So in 1926 at age 20, married, he moves to San Francisco where his little team sets up a lab, and on Sept 7, 1927 they accomplished their first image transmission (straight line). Earlier in the year (Jan 1927), when Philo is only 21, patent applications are filed for two of his key patents on a television system. [Something is a little odd here in the timeline. The patent filing dates are hard dates, in fact Farnsworth signs the patent applications in Dec 1926. The patent applications contain detail circuits and specifications of the tubes, so design work must have been going on for many months (at least) prior to the move to San Francisco and many months before the reported first sucessful image test in Sept 1927.]
It is probably not clear to non-engineers, but television is not not one invention, it is three interlocking inventions. To transmit that first image Farnsworth had to invent (1) a TV camera tube (with scanning electronics), which in the play was called the image dissector, (2) a receiving tube (with scanning electronics), and (3) just as important a format for possible transmission over the air, a way to string the data into a serial format at the sending end and de-serialize it at the receiving end. I looked at one of the patents that resulted from the first image transmission, and it is full of tube circuits. Circuit design is a difficult art, I know because I was a circuit designer, so it may very well be that the Cal Tech drop out on Farnsworth's team did a lot of the circuit work with Farnsworth more the idea man.Sorkin historical changes
The next level of distortion I would say is whether or not Sarnoff offered to buy out Farnsworth in the early days. In the play Sarnoff is shown going up the wall when he finds out that a 21 year old kid, an independent inventor who he had probably never heard of, has electronically (not mechanically) scanned and transmitted an image, and based on this work has just filed two comprehensive patents on a television system (which were later followed up my many patents on the detail circuits in the system). In the plan Sarnoff is advised to just buy out the kid, offer him 100k. In a key dramatic moment that's meant to tell us a lot about Sarnoff, Sarnoff says no, he's not going to offer to buy him out. He says, RCA has to 'invent' TV, and if we buy the rights we will be admitting that Farnsworth is the inventor of TV. But in fact around 1930, when the first patents issued, Sarnoff did offer buy out Farnsworth and his patent rights for 100k, but Farnsworth refused.Things in the play that dramatically seemed just too good to be true, probably were. For example in the play the scene where the first image transmission appeared to fail, with the screen all grey and just a wavy line down the center. But surprise, it comes out that the camera has been bumped, and suddenly Philo realizes and cries out that the wavy line on the screen is an image, an image of smoke rising from a cigarette in an ashtray! The real story from his Utah high school archive (reviewed by Farnsworth's son for accuracy) is that a slide had been covered with carbon (soot) and a scratch made down the enter. This slide was illuminated by an arc-light, which is intensely bright. This is the image that was successfully sent. To an engineer this has the ring of truth, but on stage Sorkin's version was more interesting wasn't it.
What most critics focus on as the major historical distortion in the play is this: In the play it appears that RCA (apparently, though on my only viewing this wasn't totally clear to me) won the long patent fight against Farnsworth. This makes Farnsworth, the lone inventor, the loser, crushed by the huge resources of RCA/NBC. However, the play does detail several ways that Sarnoff/RCA fought dirty to win in the patent fights, thus clearly throwing sympathy to Farnsworth. The reality is that after many years (seven) of litigation, Farnsworth did win a (or the) key patent fight with RCA, his patents were credited with priority, with the result that RCA in the late 1930s as TV production was beginning had to pay Farnsworth a million dollars in royalties to use his inventions.Young Company Summer Festival, 2015 @ Stoneham Theatre, Stoneham MA
Unfortunately for Farnsworth the war interrupted all work and commercialization of TV for about six years. This was mandated by the government as the work of TV companies, including Farnsworth's company, was redirected toward the manufacture of radar sets. TV sales really only took off after after WW2, and by that time Farnsworth's patents from the early 1930s were beginning to expire. Further sympathy is thrown to Farnsworth in the play, because Sarnoff says at one point during the long patent fight, he really doesn't need to win, he just has to tie up Farnsworth long enough until his patents expire, and the war did the job for Sarnoff. Farnsworth in the late 1930 set up a company to manufacture TVs, and they did produce sets for two years.
According to an hour PBS did on Farnsworth many years ago there were no TV transmission standards in the early days, so a TV prior to the war could only receive broadcasts made by the company that made it! This was very important from a business perspective. It meant Farnsworth (Philco and RCA) to get people to buy their TVs also needed to be broadcasters, they each needed to have studios, broadcast towers and to produce their own shows (2-3 hours a night), but sales were low. TVs could only be sold in the few cities where that company had built broadcast towers. Obviously deep pockets were needed, but the war coming on killed any chance Farnsworth had to be a successful TV manufacturer.
Philo T. Farnsworth
principal inventor of electronic TV
After researching this issue, I think Sorkin's historical changes can be defended. The bigger picture is that Farnsworth was crushed by the deeper pockets of RCA. By 1936 when Farnsworth at age 30 stopped working daily at his company in Philadelphia and moved to Maine, he could probably see the handwriting on the wall. High R?D expenses, the need to produce original programming every day and run broadcast station(s) as well as run a manufacturing plant with only very limited money coming in from low sales meant he was burning through his cash. He didn't have deep pockets, he could probably see his company was going to fail.
Besides from the play and hints in bios it appears that his TV system had a weakness. His camera tube wasn't as sensitive as RCA's so he needed intensely bright lights, brighter than RCA, and that was a big problem. In a demo of his TV system in 1935 at the Philadelphia Science museum the varnish on a cello being played began to blister!
A visitor to RCA in later years tells the story that when you asked RCA about the invention of TV they gave you a long story about RCA's Sarnoff and Zworkin with no mention of Farnsworth. So Sorkin shaped his story to get at this deeper truth, RCA (meaning Sarnoff) wanted to be the 'inventor' of TV. The title of the play alone, 'The Farnsworth Invention', tells you where Sorkin's sympathies lay. This is the message Sorkin was trying to get across, and this is message is 'broadcast' in the play loud and clear by the introductory speech of Sarnoff. As the play begins, he directly addresses the audience and tells them who invented TV. He says, it was not Zworkin of RCA (and he lists the several other contenders from various countries), no, it was the young son of potato farmers from Utah named Filo T. Farnsworth. He invented television.
For the general public the war was a TV godsend. The six year hiatus allowed the engineers to get together and come up with a standard for a (US) TV broadcast format, so the betamax problem was avoided. It was a godsend for the industry too as it separated the manufacture of TVs from the need to develop and broadcast programming.
Text of a PBS special about Farnsworth and the invention of TV ('Big Dream, Small Screen', 1997) (Available only as a VHS tape)
Titanic, which I had never seen before, is pretty much a straight telling of the story of the sinking of the Titanic with songs. In Rough Magic, Caitlyn Burns, who was the diva Lady of the Lake in last year's Spamalot, is doing some serious acting.
Damn Yankees cast
Love's Labour's Lost cast
(director, Sarah Gazdowicz, is probably right, 2nd row with glasses)
Rough Magic cast (and director Tyler Rosati, right rear)
(Zoey Michaels, stage manager, is Young Company graduate
now a rising Junior at NYU Tisch School of the Arts studying acting)
My first ME summer theater trip (June 2015)
Victor/Victoria @ Ogunquit Playhouse, Ogunquit ME
In late June (2015) the weather mid-week finally turned warm and sunny so I was able to get to up to Kennebunkport ME. On the morning I was leaving I found an email from Ogunquit Playhouse reminding me that as a donor I was invited to a rehearsal of Victor Victoria that afternoon at 2:00, and there would be food before. I thought well maybe. Ogunquit is on the way to Kennebunkport, and I found myself pulling into the theater at 1:45 without having had lunch, so that's how I got to see (with only a handful of other donors) the first (and only) full rehearsal of the show before it was to be performed that night. Ogunquit calls the first two performances (Wed evening and Thur mat) of its new shows previews.
Ogunquit has an incredibly fast turn around time for new shows. The old shows ends Sat and on Wed a new show opens! The only way this is possible is that the whole cast has been in NY rehearsing the show in a studio. The set for Victor Victoria is a two story affair with double rooms upstairs and down with farce-like multiple doors and a double stairway. The show has an extended farce-like precision timed run and hide of the cast through this set. This could only have been rehearsed with the set in place, and the crew realistically has only a day or two to strike the old set and get the new set in place to allow some time for rehearsal with it, yet the sequence went off wed afternoon without a hitch. I can only guess that tues there must have been a lot of time spent on getting those three minutes of action right. We were told this was the first time the entire show was run, and except for some minor set change bobbles it went off splendedly.
About the show itself I was less than thrilled. All I knew of this show going in was that it had starred Julie Andrews. The plot is kind of ridiculous and not well developed. There are no well known songs from the show. A lot of the production numbers are just Victoria being a star in Paris, so not integrated into the story telling. Pretty thin I thought, though I see it ran nearly two years on Broadway, partly because Julie Andrews has star power, and it was her return to Broadway after a long absence. The movie of the same name (13 years earlier) on which the show was based got good reviews, but the two reviews I found of the musical were poor. LA times called it clunky with an undistinguished score, and Variety said no excitement and not funny, and that about sums up how I felt about it. Maybe my opinion will change if I get a chance to see it again and with a full audience.
I was interesting to see large array of technical people and computers set up for the full tech rehearsal, which would all disappear by evening. Also as a courted donor I got to meet the artistic director of Ogunquit (Brad Kenney) and the head of the board.
Unnecessary Farce @ Hackmatack Playhouse, Berwick ME
Opening show of 2015 season at Hackmatack. Obviously from the title I knew going in that this show was going to be a farce, and the necessary multiple doors were there in the set. I was not expecting much from this season's opening show, but it was wasn't bad with some crazy over the top acting from a big man playing a highland killer who changes into his kilt and plays the bagpipes before killing his victim! Play with relish by Michael Towle who (when needed) was able to speak with a scottish accent so thick that it was totally unintelligible, which led the other characters to repeatedly yell out "What?". Not too high class, but it is a farce. (Michael Towle in his kilt does a quick cameo at the very end of the last show of the season, Restless the musical.)
West Side Story
A big show (with lot of dancing men) for a small playhouse, but nicely done. Five piece orchesta, huge for a small summer playhouse, crammed into their tiny pit to the side of the stage. Below left are Tony and Maria.
Dirty Rotten Scoundrals
Well done by a skilled cast. This is fun show that I first saw in NYC a few years ago.
Restless the musical
Another light hearted (off broadway) farce done by some of the Hackmatack regulars with some newcomers.
Summer theater in Maine 2015
Hackmatack Playhouse (Berwick ME) and Arundel Barn Playhouse (Arundel ME) are both real ME summer barn theaters. Arundel Barn's theater is a 150 year old barn attached to a farmhouse and modified by an added modern stage house. Hackmatack's barn is on a real working farm in a rural part of southern ME (near NH border) that raises bison and grows and bales hay to feed them. The Guptill family, three generations, that run the farm and have run the playhouse for 40 years ago live in the adjacent farmhouse. The barn was originally on a farm across the street and 40 years ago it was acquired and moved across the street to be used as a playhouse. Many of the actors here have worked at this theater for many years. Some are amazingly flexible. The same actor that I saw playing the fat mama in Hairspray one season, the next season is playing the lead (Jean Valjean) in Les Mis!
Besides donating money to Ogunquit, a tax exempt 501(c)(3) charity this season, on this trip I was also able to provide financial support to Arundel and Hackmatack, both of which are not 501(c)(3) charities.
events this summer
-- at Colony hotel
- two piano solists at the Colony grand piano in imprompto concert
- free Shakespeare (Julius Caesar)
- dogs around hotel
- sitting on the lawn chairs a big dog eye's my banana, I offer last bite which he eats, then lays down next to me to be patted
- morning swims having the huge hotel pool to myself
- watching a summer thunderstorm sweep in off the Atlantic from hotel veranda
- overheard conversation of guest: "I don't eat anything with a face or a mother"
- saw ten perseid meteors in half hour or so at hotel after theater on Thur (8/13/15) from hotel's outdoor rocking chairs. Clear sky, warm night,
not that dark around the hotel, but dark enough. Perseid meteors are probably stone, because they flamed out rather quickly and
sometimes took eratic paths. As far as I could tell, I was the only person at the hotel looking for meteors.
- hug from a waitress at breakfast
- wedding reception at hotel, tiny dance floor jammed
- returning to the hotel from in the cool evening weather of oct found a cozy fire in the fireplace to sit by and do a little reading
-- jumped like crazy (saving my ass) when a big umbrella at neighoring table at Stripes on the river was taken by wind, rose 10 feet into the air,
then headed right toward me crashing into the wall just behind where I had been sitting
-- birds dive bombing a dense concentration of small fish and catching them, seen from my favorite dock at the end of Harbor Rd, Wells
-- exploring around the beautiful old classic church in Kennebunkport near Dock Square, I stumbed onto a string trio practicing in the empty
sanctuary and hung around a while to listen
-- at the end of a performance at Arundel Barn the actors often line up to greet the audience and just in front of me in line at La Cage Aus Folles
one night was a drag queen with a formal white gown and a three foot train dragging on the gravel. You don't see many drag queens
in rural ME.
-- at Arundel cemetary I came across fancy casket posed over grave. Soon funeral men arrived and lowered casket while I watched and
took pictures, then a crane came and a large fancy metal 'vault' was lowered on top of the casket.
-- had to stop for deer standing right in middle of road returning from Ogunquit playhouse on Western ave near the river next to the railroad walk
-- walking along near deserted Parson's beach in late Oct came across spelled out in large stones: 'I love u donna' (plus a heart)
-- going to Ogunquit theater from Kennebunkport mid-sept for sat matinee ran into a horendous traffic jam on rt1! Just after the road to the
turnpike rt1 turned bumper to bumper traffic, and I was six miles from the theater with 25 minutes to 3:00 pm show time. After a few
minutes in the jam barely moving, I could see I would be luckly to get there for the 2nd act! So I pull out, turned around and
doubled back to the turnpike, 12 miles down the pike, then 5-6 miles up approaching the theater from the south. Luckily there was no
traffic this way, but I arrived late and was seated at 3:08, but made it by the skin of my teeth as Kenny was finishing his warmup speech.
I later found out that it was not just weekend traffic, but post summer
there is a half mile of road construction with alternating single
line of traffic for a half mile just north of Ogunquit town. Even going to the theater mid-week in the evening this caused a 15 minute delay.
-- coming back from Ogunquit Playhouse in the evening in Sept a few miles outside Kennybunkport my 'Tire under pressure' warning light suddenly
beeped on. The issue when this happens is do you have a single tire going flat, or is the pressure in all your tires just getting low? I happen
to know the under under pressure light on my Taurus is triggered at 25 lb (32 lb is normal), and it was cool that evening, so the pressure
would be down a little. The car seemed to be driving smoothly, so I continued on. When I got into town, I was surprised that even though
it was nearly 11 pm a gas station/store in town was still open and had an air pump. I found all the tires low with the fronts at about 25 lbs.
I couldn't get accurate readings in the poor light, but got enough air to turn off the warning light and get me home the next day.
Composit image of perseid meteors over Mauna Kea in Hawaii (Aug 2015)
What I saw is consistent with this image, relatively short paths with most coming the same direction
(source -- http://www.slate.com/blogs/bad_astronomy/2015/08/16/perseids_photos_from_ground_and_space.html)
Nunsense A-Men @ Arundel Barn Playhouse, Arundel ME
Opened the Arundel 2015 season. This is another of the 'nuns in the freezer' group of nun shows, here with the twist that the nuns are all played by men. Adrian Grant, the 78 year old artistic director of Arundel, explained that there are nine of these nun shows all written by (book, lyrics, and music) by Dan Goggin. And with a good cast, like assembled here, these shows (I have seen several) are petty funny. The 'nuns' of course always in full habit for maximum comic effect. There's a lot of musical numbers in these shows, I count 31 in the playbill. It's pretty much one nunber after another with a little setup in between. The 'plot', such as it is, is that Sister Julia, child of god, had accidentally killed all 52 nuns of the convent with a bad batch of vicgoise, and the returning few sisters only had the funds to bury 48 with the other 4 going into the freezer, so now the surviving five nuns of the Little Sisters of Hoboken must do benefit performances to raise money to get the nuns out of the freezer, hence that's the reason they are on stage performing tonight!
As is usual at Arundel most of the cast are recent college graduates where they majored in musical theater. I leaned after the performance that many (all?) of the men will be spending the summer at Ogunquit performing in the remaining shows, which include the Adams Family (fun show) and a challenging show LaCage. Grant has explained elsewhere some that her young performers come not only to gain performing experience, but some are trying to decide whether or not they want to pursue this difficult career. Many of the nuns were in several shows, including Billy Goldstein who goes on to play Albin in La Cage and David Dennison (mother superior) as George in La Cage and normal father in the Adams Family.
Not as well done as at Stoneham last season, but still for summer theater a good effort as this is a big show. Lots of fun. Granny is Jeb Bush's sister in law. Fester is Billy Goldstein who will go on to play Albin in the next show. David Dennison, also in La Cage is in this show too playing the normal father from Ohio, but he is not in this photo which only shows the members of the Adams family household.
Arundel Barn production of Adams Family (July 2015)
Billy Goldstein is Uncle Fester.
(granny is Margret Bush, Jeb and George's sister in law)
(this picture sure looks photshopped, expecially Wednesday's face)
La Cage Aux Folles @ Arundel Barn Theater, Arundel
Most impressive theater performance of the summer was at Arundel Barn Playhouse, their production of La Cage Aux Folles. Especially notable was the performance of its two young principals, especially outstanding was Billy Goldstein (as Albin). Goldstein brings down the house with his closing solo at the end of Act 1 (I am what I am) not only with his singing but his great acting, and he's still a theater student (Pace Univ). David Dennison (as George), whose bio says he trained in London, is handsome, smooth and also good singer. The whole production (for a small summer theater) was first rate from the dancing cagells, to the crazy spanish accetted maid/butler, and other supporting roles.
The role of Albin must be really tough challenge, it's generally performed by performers who specialize in the role. One Albin I saw years ago in a talk back session said he wished La Cage would be performed more often so he could work. Goldstein, who comes out of Boston's Children's theater, says in a review he had never put on heels before. This is the third show this summer I have seen these two in beginning with the nun show, then the Adams family. Who knew what talent lay under those habits!
Ensemble --- four men, two women (#2, #5)
Arundel Barn Playhouse production of La Cage aux Folles (Aug 2015)
Arundel Barn Theater (right), Arundel ME, attached to farmhouse
Adrian Grant, age 78, owner and founder of Arundel Barn Theater
(1.5 million was spent converting an 1800's barn to a theater and adding a stage house)
Arundel Barn's charming rustic ice cream hut
Million Dollar Quartet @ Ogunquit Playhouse, Ogunquit
I had avoided this show a few years ago in NYC, but it was very good. I'm not a big rock and roll fan, but I l saw this show twice and really liked it. It's more rock and roll concert than play, but the play has substance because it is based (loosely) on a real historical event, a meeting of Johny Cash, Carl Perkins, Elvis Presley and Jerry Lee Lewis at Sun Records with its owner Sam Phillips who had given them all their start and is documented in a photograph of the four to them together. The strength of the show was the skill of the four performers, especially the guy playing Jerry Lee Lewis (Nat Zegree), who was fantastic. He was a ball of energy and could play the piano like nobody's business. The audience loved him. (Aug 2015)
A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum @ Stoneham
Theater, Stoneahm MA
The cast, including Neil Casey, is talented and hardworking, but this show is pretty thin and fluffy for a big musical. The score is by Stephen Sondheim, age 32, the first show for which he wrote both the music and lyrics (earlier he was lyrist for West Side Story), but the score is thin too, 'not well received by the critics' it says in Wikipedia. As I vaguely remember from seeing this show many years ago, it was padded out with sexy showgirls, and that is missing in this Stoneham production.
Liana Asim (Marcus Lycus), Chip Phillips (Senex), John James Pirroni (Hysterium) and Neil A. Casey (Pseudolus)
perform "Everybody Ought to Have a Maid"
in Stoneham Theater production of 'A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum', Sept 2015
Neil A. Casey, Jenna Lea Scott, Devin Bean, Nicholas Davis, Jordan Ahnquist, and Angelo McDonough
Saturday Night Fever @ Ogunquit Playhouse, Ogunquit
This is a show still being worked on. Artistic director Brad Kenny said two new songs were to go into the show that night. There's enough good music in the original 1977 movie to form the core of the show, but extra songs are filling out the middle. The strength of this production is as usual at Ogunquit a very strong, large (disco) dancing ensemble, and the guy playing Travolta part (Luke Hamilton, recent musical theater graduate) is pretty good too. It's not a great show, but the basic plot of the movie is there, it's fun.
Ogunquit Playhouse production of Saturday Night Fever (Sept 2015)
with Luke Hamilton (left center) in John Travolta's role
(dancing ensemble is much larger than shown in this photo)
While Ogunquit makes it a point to tell audiences that their productions are built 'from the ground up', a little googling finds that this same cast closed in Saturday Night Fever at Gateway playhouse in NY just two weeks earlier. I agree with Brantley in his not very good review of the Gateway production in the NYT that the show is a choppy mix of scenes interspersed with big dance numbers.
In three weekly visits to ME I've seen this show multiple times, and it is growing on me. The new songs are actually pretty good. What is stilted is the staging of these songs where again and again the characters just stand on opposite sides of the stage in a spot light. There's a lot of good music in this show. All the singers have good, powerful voices, the three female leads (Tony's two girls and Joe's girl) plus Tony and Joey. The dancers really move in a lot of production numbers with high energy, and the girls are well cast. They are not leggy showgirl types (see photo), but more squat, not that good looking (one has a long nose) and different looking girls too who you can imagine might actually live in Brooklyn. Tony's four friends can all dance well and sing and can pass for Brooklyn types. Luke Hamiliton is on stage most of the show and besides acting and singing he dances in most of the production numbers.
Einstein's Dreams @ Central Square Theater, Cambridge
Einstein's Dreams is just what a science play, or science related play, should not be. The author would probably call it something like 'musings on time'. I call it 1 1/4 hr of pretentious nonsense.
Oh, it has a few trapping of science sprinkled in, but my guess is by someone who doesn't understand the science. Dream's author (Wesley Savick) is a professor of theater. For example, Einstein's (special relativity) equation for time is written on a blackboard during the performance, and then never referenced or explained in any way. Einstein himself is one of the three characters, but nearly all the little 'essays' on time have nothing to do with his work. Barkhimer plays a character identified in the program as Michele Besso, who I happen to know was an EE and a life long friend of Einstein, but you would never know this from the play.
The three person cast (Steve Barkhimer, Robert Najarian, and Debra Wise) work hard in Dreams as the whole 1 1/4 hr of the play is choreographed like a dance, and the script is a sequence of non-secquitors, so it must have been hell to memorize. (Sept 2015)
Copenhagen @ Central Square Theater, Cambridge MA
Copenhagen is running in repertory with Einstein's Dreams with the same cast: Steve Barkhimer (Bohr), Robert Najarian (Heisenberg), and Debra Wise (Bohr's wife), who also acts as the narrator. While Einstein's Dreams is a piece of fluff, Copenhagen is the best scientific play ever written. I like scientific plays. I find the writing in this play brilliant, even thrilling. A lot of physics is jammed into this play and as far as I could tell (as it flew by) it was completely accurate.
Briefly the story is this: Heisenberg was the head of the German atomic bomb effort. Early in the war he takes the train to Copenhagen Denmark, now occupied by the Germans, to visit his former mentor, Neils Bohr. The question the play explores is why did Heisenberg come? Was Heisenberg trying to find out whether the allies were working on a uranium bomb? Was he seeking approval for this work from Bohr who sort of father figure to him? Was Heisenberg a hero or a goat?
Did he deliberately run the program at a low level, enough to keep himself in charge, but at a low enough level to never come close to making a bomb? The play has him telling Spear (head of all war production under Hitler) about the potential of a reactor, but not telling him that a reactor will make plutonium, which provides another path to the bomb. At the end of the war in spite of a huge US effort at separation of U258 and U235 the US had enough uranium for only one bomb. The second bomb dropped on Japan was a plutonium bomb, and if the war had gone on the all the next bombs would be plutonium, because the Hanford reactors were supply enough plutonium one for another bomb every two weeks.
This is the second play I have seen recently that features Heisenberg. He was a key player in Operation Epsilon about ten German nuclear scientists that after the war were held in a country house in England, which played at Central Square Theater the year before. While they were being held (and recorded with hidden microphones), it came over the radio that the Americans had dropped a uranium bomb on Japan. In Operation Epson after Heisenberg hears of the bomb being dropped, he is shows hiding away for a few days busily (re)calculating the key parameters. In Copenhagen the playwright has
If you know who Bohr and Heisenberg are, then you should go see this play. If not, then don't go.
Steven Barkhimer (Bohr) and Robert Najarian (Heisenberg)
in Central Square production of Copenhagen, Oct 2015
Billy Elliot @ North Shore Music Theater, Beverly MAGerman technical errors on the bomb
The Germans appeared to have make two key technical errors during their work on uranium. They measured the neutron cross-section of highly purified graphite and concluded it could not be used as a moderator for a reactor. As a consequence they spent years trying to get enough heavy water from a plant in Norway. This let the allies know that the Germans were working on uranium, and the allies kept bombing the plant to slow them down. (A movie was made about one such attack). At the very end of the war they had gotten enough heavy water and had assembled a test reactor in a cave, but they got captured before it could go critical. (In the play Bohr tells Heisenberg they all would have died if they had started it, because they didn't build in any cadmium control rods. Heisenberg replies they had a pile of cadmium and were going to throw it in if the reactor started to get away!)Nothing about graphite was in the play. I know from my reading the germans ruled out graphite as a moderator because they measured its neutron capture cross-section and found it too high. In fact graphite can be used as moderator because it was used as the moderator in the reactor that Fermi built under the stadium in Chicago. The Germans did not make a mistake in their cross-section measurement, as is sometimes reported. It's just that they didn't understand that even the highest commercial grade of graphite has trace amounts of cadmium in it because cadmium is used for the electrodes in the electrochemical cells that make the graphite. Cadmium has a huge neutron cross-section for neutrons, which is why it is used for control rods. Luckily someone on the Fermi's team was aware of this, so they worked with the graphite people to develop an ultra-pure cadmium free graphite, and this was the graphite used in the Chicago pile.The second technical error is in the play Copenhagen. After the war, Bohr asks Heisenberg how much U238 he had thought was necessary to build a bomb. Heisenberg replies a ton. A ton, says Bohr, this is too high by a factor of 20! Bohr challenges Heisenberg, saying you didn't do the diffusion calculation did you? Heisenberg says I didn't have to, because it was done in this paper (which he quotes). Bohr says that was U238 not U235!
Cancer history of BillyOn a second viewing I'm more impressed. This is a very good production. Nicholas Dantes is very good, a good dancer and he handles the acting and singing well. Janet Dickinson is impressive and has done a tour, the boxing guy had been in the Broadway cast, the ensemble is large and well cast, and the ballet girls are well trained and all good tap dancers. I love the rousing show finale with the whole cast (almost) showing that they are tap dancers.
My cancer related history with this show is this. When I was diagnosed just about 12 month earlier (mid Sept 2014) with stage 3 of 3 multiple myeloma, a blood cancer, the literature showed median lifetime for my level of (staging) beta2microglobin (6.9) was only 12 months, meaning half of patients are dead within a year of diagnosis. So I told my doctor my 'goal' was to live long enough to see Billy Elliot when it came to Boston in Oct 2015. Well I made it, and this is one reason I went back again and again, besides the fact that I loved every performance. (My new goal now is to see 'She Loves Me' again when it returns to Broadway (Roundabout) in early 2016.)
Talk backA key to the show is how good a dancer is the actor playing Billy, for there aren't many young boys who have the ballet and tap skills required, not to mention singing and acting with an accent. There are two Billy's here, and the one I saw on opening night (Nicholas Dantes) is not quite as good as in the other big productions, but still he pulls it off pretty well (very well on a 2nd viewing). He just played the role for a couple of weeks in a Chicago production, so he's experienced. His tap dancing friend Michael is played by Alec Shiman, who played the same role last year in Ogunquit. Janet Dickinson is very good in the role of Mrs Wilkinson. Not quite so good, but better in later viewings, was the role of the father played by Timothy Gulan, and Sarah diLima, who plays grandma and who this spring was on the Stoneham stage as the secretary to the boss in How to Succeed in Business without really trying, is limited in her movement so doesn't really pull off the big finale of her featured song. The ensemble and all the ballet girls are fine, as is the actor (CJ Eldred) playing Tony, Billy's older brother. A big surprise is actor (Brian Padgett) playing Mr. Braithwaite (piano player). He has the required physical characteristics, a big, long haired sloppy guy, who at first appears to be a non-entity, but then he comes alive and even though he is big tall fat guy he can dance. He has had ballet training, even doing a full spilt that brings a little gasp from the audience, which he repeats in the show finale. (Turns out he is bald and wearing a wig. In talk back he said he had been a figure skater but grew too big for that and when he went to college to study musical theater he took dance classes.)
In a talk back session the wonderful Janet Dickinson said this was her 5th production of the show, saying she was Mrs Wilkinsons in the national tour that played Boston for a month in 2012 (but not Ogqunquit in 2014). George, the boxing coach, said he play Big Davy in the Broadway version and understudies George. The excellent ballet girls come from all over the Boston area, but surprisingly one said she was from Arkansas. Turns out she follows the show around. She began in St Lewis, and this is her 3rd production. She attends public school when home and North Shore has provided a tutor. The girls had three weeks of rehearsal alone, then joined the rest of the cast for two weeks more. Many of the cast in the talk back said they had done the show before.
Alex Shimon, who plays Billy's tap dancing friend Michael, is local, a student in Brookline HS, and said one of the two places is takes classes is Dance Complex (where I went for many years!). He played the role of Michael at Ogunquit in 2014 and his bio has an impressive list of shows he has been in.
I have a great affinity for this show, so I went several times with the result that I ended up seeing each Billy (twice). They each have their strengths and weakness. Nicholas Dantes is the better singer and actor with good stage presence, but is not the best ballet dancer. The other Billy is Brooks Landegger, age 13 but looks younger, who is a student in NYC at School of American Ballet and Shuffles Broadway Tap. He's the better ballet dancer. His positions are good, and he threw in some clean double tours, even a double tour combination (!), however, his singing is closer to speech than Nicholas and he doesn't have his stage presence. I ended up seeing Brooks Brooks Landegger and he was fine (exccpt for his singing), he grew on me.
It's easy to overlook the ballet girls in Billy Elliot, but they are on stage a lot, work hard, and are a key component of the show. They have three or four outfits (plaid skirts, white ballet tutus, black leotards, and I think a few have more formal ballet outfits) and during the show they change their clothes a lot! In the 1st act opening union hall scene at least some of them are in their skirts and knee socks. Then it's into white tutus for Billy's first ballet classes and the big production number with the men. At the beginning of the 2nd act Christmas party it's back to the skirts, then at the theater a row of them walk through in black leotards. During Billy's audition class some of them are in more formal dance outfits as they work at the bar. At the rousing show finale it's back to the white tutus again. Whew! And sitting in the front row I could what good tap dancers all the girls are as they dance in a line with the men professional dancers, doing the exact same tap steps that look pretty difficult to me.
One time entering the theater at door nine late the girls were all assembled near the door ready for their entrance for the opening union hall scene, and I had a chance to tell them as I passed by that they were wonderful.
Quick moment I love
In the middle of the long, clever fantastical dance wih the policeman, miners, ballet girls Billy's dad and George, the boxing coach, end up center stage sitting in chairs with ballet girls in their laps. Geoge begins a realistic conversation, saying "There's something funny going on here, your Billy hasn't been coming to boxing." I think this is very funny, but it passes so quickly I imagine few catch it.
Janet Dickinson (Mrs. Wilkinson) Alec Shiman (Michael)
big dance finale
Driving in the rain at night, construction, no clear line markings, and trailer truck off the road blocking my laneI was at the last North Shore performance. The very last lines of the play where Michael has ridden onto the stage on a bike and calls out to Billy ('oey, dancing boy') going up the aisle with a suitcase (after Billy comes back on stage and gives Michael a peck on the cheek) are 'bye michael, bye billy', but at the last performance the boys changed it to "bye Alec, bye Brooks".
The trip home from one of the Billy Elliot performances was a nightmare. Highway at night in pouring rain, difficult to see with a rain and oil smeared windshield. Combine this with miles of construction with cone and lane closings. Rt 128 is a winding curvy highway, and it was late at night so most of the time there was no car to follow. Combine this with a recently repaved road with temporary low contrast lane markings. To top it all off driving in the construction zone with left lanes closed I see flashing police lights up ahead, but with very bright flashing lights and reflection off the windshield, I can't see clearly what's I am driving into. Not being able to see and with flashing police lights ahead in an odd place I feel a twinge of panic. There is no one ahead of me, so I can't be sure my lane is clear, with no one to my left I changed lanes where there were other cars ahead. A few seconds later at 50 mph I sailed by a trailer truck that had gone off the road with its rear end sticking into the right lane where I had just been driving!
On a another visit (Sat mat) during the Topsfield fair and three day Oct 12 holiday, the traffic was bumper to bumper half way going up and most of the way returning. This is about 12 miles of annoying stop and go and dring right into the sun! A seat neighbor told me she had left Framingham at 12:15 and arrived at 1:55 (five minutes before curtain). I too barely arrived before curtain having left at 1:20, a little later than planned. And the return from two mat performances was 15 miles of drving into the settng sun.
PBS Billy Elliot Live (10/23/15)Luna Gale @ Stoneham Theater, Stoneham MA
PBS broadcast the West End London production of Billy Elliot tonight complete and live. I was disappointed in the cast many of whom were were not nearly as good as in the regional Boston area production of Billy Elliot I just saw a couple of weeks ago, which I find quite incredible. The big problem was singing.
Mrs. Wilkinson was played by Ruthie Henshall, a big name I suspect because I have heard of her and I know almost nothing about West End actors. She sings in kind of a low raspy voice that is not pleasant. She has another drawback that I could not get around which is her eyebrows. She seems to have had a face lift, and they are pulled high on her forehead. Grandma just plain could not sing at all. Even minor roles like Billy's mother they could seem to come with a good singer. The mother at the North Shore could sing rings around the mother in London. In terms of acting the London boxing coach, George, was very weak, far inferior to North Shore and Broadway, and I would take the North Shore older brother over the London one too.
The London show had a special finale that was nice. About 20 former Billys of different ages, presumably who all had play the role in London over the last decade or so, did a big tap finale. That was fun. Billy in the TV London version (Elliot Hanna) was a good dancer but he couldn't sing. In a post show video he said most of the Billys come from northern England, which I find a little strange. Older Billy was also a very good dancer, and the ballet girls, who likely have done the role for a long time, were a little bit better technically than the excellent girls in Beverly, who had been recruited locally with only a few weeks of rehersael. There were a lot of minor changes, some of which are clearly due to US vs UK, but others I found puzzling. For example the bit about the burned egg was greatly condensed tonight vs the US productions. The broadcast blanked out all the many 'fucks' and blurred out the 'fingers'.
Near the end of the play Caroline says to her young clients, "There are so many of you and you all keep coming. I have to keep you alive long enough to have a life." The show got good reviews. I also thought it was well done and liked it and (for reasons partly associated with my health) ended up seeing it once each week for its three week run.
Marie DeCotis and Paula Plum (Luke Murtha in background) Caroline (Paula Plum) and Cindy (Stacy Fischer)
in Stoneham Theater production of Luna Gale, Oct 2015
Jacob Athyal, Paula Plum, and Bob Mussett
(Caroline stands bewildered as her supervisor and Cindy's evangelical pastor pray for her)
has made a short video with a few short scenes from the play
Nov NYC theater trip (Nov 2015)
I was able to sneak in a few days in NYC to see some shows between a late Oct trip to LA for a wedding (my nephew) and Thanksgiving. Left on Tues and returned on Sat and was able to fit in six shows! Wed is mat day, but was able to squeeze in a 6th show because one show, and one show only, (Phantom of the Opera) contrary to what two ticket professionals told me has their weekday matinee on a thur rather than wed. Had some rain on wed and thur so double shows worked out well with the weather clearing on fri so I could walk around the city.
Saw three musicals
I had seen before:
'American in Paris', most elegant show on Broadway still with original cast
'Matilda', a wonder, very clever and inventive with some of the original cast including Miss Turnchbull and Miss Honeycut
'Phantom of the Opera', quite a production. I has seen this war horse only once 15 years ago from a poor seat, this time 1st row center.
Close to an opera, most of the dialog is sung.
Three new plays:
'King Charles III', a future history play. This is serious high class british drama in Shakespearean style, bare set, english cast for 12 week run.
The unusual feature is much of the text is written in iambic pentameter giving the dialog a shakespearean tempo. Interesting, but a little too
british and high class for my taste.
'Hand to God', a hot comedy from last season now winding down. Gimmick here is puppets, little like Ave Q.
'Sylvia', a fun show with a wonderfully clever actress, Analeigh Ashford, playing a dog. Sounds weird, but it works. I has seen Ashford
last season in 'You Can't Take it with You' where she played a bad ballet dancer, and even though this was a small role, she was
a standout and won a Tony for it. Here she plays off her new low key owner Matthew Broderick, whose wife, Sarah Jessica Parker,
had originally played the dog role when this play by Gurney was new in the 1990s.
A Confederacy of Dunces@ Huntington Theater Company,
I was suckered in. This show had recently been extended by Huntington due to its tremendous reception they said, and they had good one liners from reviewers, like 'This show is beyond my wildest expectations, go see it while you can still get tickets'. I checked several several weekend shows and orchestra was nearly sold out. I was in the mood for a comedy, and a single good seat (first row) was available for Sat mat, so I paid the overpriced 135 for an orchestra ticket (this is a play in Boston, not Broadway!) 6 dollars computer fee and 25 dollars for event parking and a tedious, traffic jammed ride both to and from the theater.
Problem is, this show was not funny. I said this to my seat neighbor at intermission, and she said, gee I though it was just me. This new play was extracted from a 1960 novel of the same name written by a theater professor who committed suicide, John Kennedy Toole, who was unknown and unpublished in his lifetime. This novel apparently developed some sort of cult following that expanded into the mainstream when it won the Pulitzer prize. However, the continual stream of slightly nutty observations of its protagonist, who gets involved in one crazy situation after another since the novel and play are largely plotless, may look good on paper, but in the play with an unchanging, scowling, deadpan delivery I found it rarely insightful, almost never funny, basically just plain tedious. The lead character is played by Nick Offerman in a fat suit, and his deadpan delivery, of supposedly witty or insightful one liners, never changes for the entire play! The dozen character actors surrounding him are good, and there are a few nice little bits scattered about, but that doesn't make a play.
This play shows how powerful costuming and wigs can be. I was sitting in the first row, and in this theater that means I can get a good close look. Many of the actors played double roles, and until I read the reviews I had no idea two hugely different looking character were played by the same actor. For example, the hippy girl friend and the bosomy, high heeled owner of the New Orleans strip club were played by the same girl (Stephanie DiMaggio), and the flamboyantly gay character, Dorian Greene, and business owner Mr Gonzalez were both played by Arnie Burton.
Nick Offerman as Ignatius J. Reilly, in Huntington Theater production of Confederacy of Dunces (Nov 2015)
Christmas on the Air @ Stoneham Theater, Stoneham MA
It took repeat viewings for me to see this show for the sweet, gentle show that it is, though not all the bits in the show work. I thought it was well cast and a nice set.
Here's my thoughts on first viewing:
This is a Canadian musical play, somewhat rewritten to make it local to north of Boston. The scenario is that we are watching a local radio station in 1949 do a live radio show on Christmas eve with singing, sketches and commercials. The cast is talented and hard working, but this play is very uneven.
There are some nice musical moments in the show, many in the 2nd act. Some of the many bits work, but there's a lot of dead stretches, several long radio christmas stories that just don't work. The continuing interjection of commercials for local suppliers, while perhaps historically accurate and probably intended to be cute and providing local flavor, gets to be pretty annoying after a while. Also the plot, such as it is, is episodic and clumsy. A newly hired singer on the show, who the son of the owner of the radio station is sweet on, has had a baby out of wedlock, but hidden this fact to get hired. Without a baby sitter she has to bring the baby to the show, and ridiculously seems to carry the baby around nearly the whole two hours. (she carries the baby a lot, but not for the whole show)
The show perks up whenever there is a musical number, there's no orchestra, a cast member (mostly Meryl Galaid) plays the Steinway grand piano on stage. However, there's not enough music and on balance this show doesn't really work even though it's only intended to be a Christmas bon bon. In previous years the Christmas show has sometimes been corny, think Miracle on 34th Street, but for a Christmas show that's OK if it's fun. This show is very different, it has a realistic flavor, but its ratio of dull times to fun times is just too high.
After several viewings
I saw this show each week during its four week run and warmed to it more and more. It does work as a Christmas show. When you see a show again, you see it with different eyes. Details that passed you by, you now see. You know what is coming. I am very impressed by the cast. They all fine singers and do an amazing number of voices during the radio stories with rapid fire transitions. Meredith Stypinski even does a burp on command. While none of them are powerhouse singers, they all sing sweetly, alone and in various combinations. The show has a wide variety of 'bits', period stories, classic christmas readings, audience singing of carols (nicely worked in when the lights go out briefly), popular christmas songs, tied together with brief scenes about the baby, does the girl go to the lonely pianist for dinner, does the boy still love the girl, father/mother are still in love, and father/son coming to terms.
I looked particularly for the dead stretches that so bothered me the first time. I found none in the 1st act, it actually moves along quite well, but there are some problems in the 2nd act. I changed my mind on the HL Menkin sketch about feeding the bums, it's a little long, but has some real character and gives us a flavor of Menkin's distinctive writing style. However, I don't think the long story about the orphan kids works at all, but that's only 5-7 minutes of the show. This is followed by an extended bit where the mother opens letters and gives advice, and this is a little slow too, but I now see it's in there partly as a plot device for the mother to get her son to accept the girl with the baby. The scene where the son keeps dropping the sound effects is a little hooky, but well performed. Sound effects are featured throughout the show with a wide variety of sound effect gadgets used (these must have been tough to find) adding lots of fun to the stories. I got used to the girl carrying around the baby, and there didn't seem to be all that many commercials. The transitions to off-air conversations weren't very smooth. I think a little production polish, say a change of lighting would have helped here. My seat neighbor at the end of the play said 'cute'. At later performances the audience rose in applause.
That's the negatives, but as I saw the show again and again I began to appreciate all its positives. The cast forms a wonderful ensemble, handling well the singing, over the top radio acting with many voices, and realistic acting. All sing well, many songs and announcements of the station call letters are done as a group, and all, with the exception of Gardiner I think, have a solo song.
Both Meryl Galaid and Meredith Stypinski are new to me. Stypinski's bio says she has been on the Stoneham stage once before, but this is the first for Galaid. Stypinski was well matched to the rest of the cast and to Lineham being tall as he is. A little bird told me Stypinski just got married. Meryl Galaid played the piano for most of the show, often singing at the piano too in a clear sweet voice. She does a long solo comedy bit about decorating a yule log that works well. I remember Margaret Ann Brady from two shows at Stoneham in recent years which were mostly comedy roles, but here she shows she has a sweet soprano voice. Gardiner has pretty much owned Christmas at Stoneham, having been featured in nearly every christmas show here in recent years. Here we get to see more of his talents. I was surprised to see that he has a wonderful deep resonant voice, and a clear announcer type voice that the show requires. The voices of the whole group blended with nice harmony. (Musically that's probably wrong, I know zilch about singing.) Lineham was just in 'A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum' and we see in addition ot acting, singing, dancing (with Stypinski) and physical comedy he can also play the piano taking over from Galaid for one song.
The range of acting required is quite evident in pictures posted of this production on Stoneham Theater's Facebook page. Even I was impressed by looking at these pictures.
Whole cast of Christmas on the Air
Meryl Galaid, Meredith Stypinski, Mark Linehan, William Gardiner, Margaret Ann Brady
Stoneham Theater christmas show (Nov 2015)
Four of the cast out of costume and wigs
Meryl Galaid decorating her yule log Meredith Stypinski, Mark Linehan, William Gardiner, and Margaret Ann Brady
Young Company Winter Festival 2016 @ Stoneham Theater,
I know this show. I like this show. I saw it on Broadway twice a few years ago with Donna Murphy and later Brooke Shields who replaced her. This show has a lot of good music (Bernstein) and clever lyrics (Comden and Green) and a nice book. I remember a few years ago seeing the Stoneham Young Company junior high school students do it. This year it's the HS students, and it's a very nice production indeed. The show is well cast, the actors well rehearsed and there are a lot strong performances. I saw it twice and liked it so much that on a snowy day I shovelled out the car and got to the theater to see it a third time.
The show is related to the movie musical My Sister Eileen, but when it was adapted from the original sources for Broadway the undistinguished score of the movie was junked and replaced by Bernstein's score. A lot of the cast have solo numbers, and all do well, but the show is built around the role of Ruth and Eileen Sherwood. The role of Ruth is a difficult one, many of the songs requiring a lot of physical and vocal skill, and here Devin Bean, a senior at Winchester HS, pulls it off beautifully. Bean has real skill. The role of Eileen was well handled by Meghan Ahern. Both Bean and Ahern have good voices.
Besides Ruth and Eileen a lot of cast members have solo numbers that work well: Wreck (Phillip Dragone), Robert Baker (Andrew Vontzalides), Guide (Colleen Tenney) and the Editors 'Go Home' song each have a solo verse (Talia Cutulle, Maria Ferraguto, Molli Motroni). There are several stage full dance (movement) numbers that are nicely choreographed (Ceit Zweil) and well danced.
Devin Bean (facebook) Meghan Ahern (twitter)
(Ruth and Eileen Sherwood in Stoneham's Young Company Wonderful Town, Feb 2016)
18 of the cast of 20 in Stoneham's Young Company production of Wonderful Town (Feb 2016)
Boston Ballet's Onegin @ Opera House, Boston MA
I am writing this a week after seeing Onegin, and while I liked it and it was beautifully danced, somehow it doesn't leave strong after image, except very nice pas de deux. Maybe this is partly because I was unfamiliar with Pushkin's poem Eugene Onegin, even though it provides a mere wisp of a plot for the ballet. The background story is that this is Cranko's 1965 masterpiece, and he was a master of story telling. (John Cranko tragically died very young in a plane when his company was returning from successful performance in NYC to Germany.) The score is credited to Tchaikovsky, but it was assembled for the ballet from many minor pieces of Tchaikovsky. Cranko was forbidden by the management of the Stuttgart ballet from using any of the music from Tchaikovsky's opera Onegin. Mikko Nissinen says in the Playbill that this is the most requested ballet for BB to bring back, though I find that a little hard to believe.
This is the first production I have seen by the BB this season (I missed Nutcracker). The company's roster of male principal's is now a little thin having lost two good male dancers to ABT in the last couple of years. I saw the 2nd cast Paulo Arrais and Erica Cornejo in a sat matinee. Erica has been with the company for ten years, but I have seen little of her in recent years. Having a baby maybe or injured, but here she and Paulo were excellent. Excellent work by the corp too. Strong cheers from the crowd at the end.
There's a spectacular effect where the girls of the corp partnered by the men do repeated grand jete's across the stage on a diagonal. After they get off stage, they immediately go to the rear and repeat it on the other diagonal. What adds to the thrill is the risk, if any couple gets out of sync there no recovery and it is going to stand out like a sore thumb. It was done perfectly at my performance.
blurry because this is screen capture from a Boston Ballet youtube Onegin video (Feb 2016)
An elegant formation with the girls holding up their long skirts with one hand and their partners with the other.
(Alexander Maryianowski or Patrick Yocum?)
Youtube 1 min excerpts of BB March 2016 production
Sorry @ Stoneham Theater, Stoneham MA
This is the 3rd of the four Apple family plays. Though it takes place on election day 2012, this play is mostly about the family issues rather than politics. The family issue that dominates the play is the siblings agonizing over whether they are doing the right thing in sending away their uncle with his failing memory and other issues (which is revealed in the play). I liked this play. Excellent acting and an interesting dynamic about a family issue many can relate to.
Sarah Newhouse as Marian, Joel Colodner as Uncle Benjamin, Karen MacDonald as Barbara,
Bill Mootos as Richard, and Laura Latreille as Jane
in Stoneham Theater's production of Sorry (March 2016)
As in his previous plays playwright Nelson comes up with some interesting (true) stories to leaven the drama. The most interesting here is told by the brother, who is a political lawyer, about president Franklin Pierce (1852 - 1857). His wife refused to move to Washington, and their son was decapitated in front of their eyes between the election and his swearing in when the train they were all riding in from Boston to Andover rolled off the tracks doing a 360.
I ended up seeing this show three times. The acting here is first rate, a real pleasure, but also upon repeated viewings I came to appreciate that Nelson has written a play of depth, wit, politics and subtle family dynamics in a situation faced by many families. A first rate production.
Show got excellent reviews, but the audiences don't come out. The 4th and final Apple family play (Regular Singing) will be the opening show of the New Rep season next fall. They are all directed by Weylin Symes, all use the same dining room set, and all have (pretty much) the same cast.
Nelson postscriptBoston Ballet's Kaleidoscope @ Opera House, Boston MA
In a recent New Yorker news section I stumbled onto a piece about playwright Richard Nelson (now 65). Turns out he has lived in Rhinebeck NY where these plays are set for 30 years. He says much of his source material come from the given dinner parties that he and his wife have given over the years for their Rhinebeck neighbors. His object he says, Is to strive to put on stage human beings in (all) their complexity and how they relate to their society.
The New Yorker piece was triggered by a new trilogy of family/political plays for 2016 that Nelson is writing. It features a new family (new cast), called the Gabriels with four women and two men, and they too live in Rhinebeck. The first of the trilogy, Hunger, just opened on Mar 4, 16. The 2nd is scheduled to open in Sept, and 3rd on presidential election night. This is tricky business because he began writing 14 months ago, long before there was any sense of the campaign or the candidates. He rewrites furiously just before the opening to reflect latest primary results. Rubio isn't doing doing well so a line about him is cut and in go a line or two about Trump and Bernie. It's like customizing the frosting on a cake just before it's served.
This one of Balanshine's quirky pieces set to a somewhat atonal score by Hindemith, but interesting. The back story from a friend I was seated with from the BB on Yakobson is that he was a contemporary of Balanchine, but unlike Balanshine he stayed in Russia. Only now is some of his work becoming known. Nissinen knows his widow and may inherit the rights to the ballets when she dies. This was a beautiful piece for four long skirt classic ballerinas. The first half is clever in that they continuously hold hands aloft as they weave about. The Forsythe is done with the distinctive pencil skirts and is sometimes called the most difficult ballet in ten minutes. Fast continuous motion, lots of beats, impressive. The last piece is from 1938 by Massine to music of the same name by Offenbach. Sort of a ballet orgy that goes on and on with new dancers continuing to join in as the piece progresses until the stage is a riot of color.
(left) Can-can dancers in Massine's Ga?t? Parisienne with spectacular costumes borrowed from ABT
(right) Yakobson's Pas de Quatre (Marisa Baranova, Ashley Ellis, Misa Kuranaga, Dalay Parrondo)
BB's Kaleidoscope, four repertory works -- Mar 2016
Forsythe's Vertiginous Thrill of Exactitude
There is quirky featured character role in Ga?t? Parisienne called the Peruvian, wonderfully danced (? funny) by John Lam, now a principal, that my guess is was danced by Massine himself. I have seen Massine in some old 40s ballet films and he was this type of dancer. (According to Wikipedia a short film was made of his Ga?t? Parisienne, so it might be possible to check this speculation.)
Boy from Oz @ Arlington Friends of Drama, Arlington
This one of the better amateur theater companies in the Boston area with a long tradition, their 436th production says the playbill. Boy from Oz is their big spring musical for 2016 and it is impressive. One of the advantages of an amateur production is that casts can be large. Here I count 17 in the main cast plus an ensemble of 12 and an orchestra of 8. It was good to get back to Arlington for another show, for medical reasons I didn't get there all last season, and even though this show was nearly sold out I managed to snag a front row seat at the last minute.
This a bio/jukebox musical about the life of Peter Allen from Australia, Liza Minelli's first husband, a pianist, singer, and musical composer. In his early 20s he had met Judy Garland in Australia, and she invited him to travel and perform with her. He was married Judy's daughter Liza, who was two years younger than him, from age 23 to 30. According to the show while he was writing songs during this time he didn't have much of a performing career, but after his divorce from Liza both his song writing and performance career took off. He had several hit songs, many co-written with others and performed by other. He sold out a two week run at Radio City Music Hall and had a four month run in a Broadway musical he wrote called Legs Diamond. He died of an AIDS related illness in 1992 at age 48. Boy from Oz was assembled using only his songs, an incredible 27 songs of his are in the show, and opened in Australia in 1998, and opened on Broadway in 2003 with Hugh Jackman. I pretty sure I saw Jackman in this show.
It takes a strong triple threat man to play Peter Allen and the show had it in Thom Hardy, who is on stage for much of the show. He's personable, sings well, and as a dancer showed in the Rockette kick line showed he could kick as high as the girls. Other strong principals were Janet Fererri as Judy Garland, Caroline Keeler as Liza, Justin McCoubry as Peter's lover Greg. Unfortunately there is very little bio information in the playbill about these actors except for previous shows they have been in.
Big production effort from the staff for this show: huge numbers of costumes (many actors with 2-3 costumes), rear projections to set the scene, a lot of different furniture pushed on/off for club scenes, home scenes, office scenes including both a grand piano and an upright piano.
(left) Caroline Keeler as Liza , Thom Hardy as Peter Allen
(right) Justin McCoubry as Greg (with Allan Singer)
Janet Fererri as Judy Garland
Keeler with dancers Hardy with Rockettes
(footnote --- narigating roundabouts)Sweet Charity @ Stoneham Theater, Stoneham MA
Previously the Arlington sun mat shows at 4:00 pm fit my sunday schedule, and I drove to Arlington after a class in Cambridge. This was the first time I was coming from the north, and it was evening. I checked several mapping programs and every route was different, looked at the roads on Google Earth too, route very unclear in places because direction text would use rt # and the maps and Google Earth use street names. Decided I would use my Garmin navigator in the car and follow whichever route it picked.
It directed me off the highway at Medford and took me through Medford Sq into Arlington. The Gamin is a good navigator, but I got lost twice. The problem is there are a lot of freaking roundabouts in the Medford/Arlington area and the Garmin doesn't do well with them. Approaching a roundabout the audio just says 'enter roundabout' and only as you are entering does it say 'take exit x', but some of these roundabouts have 3-5 roads merging, all different sizes and angles, and hitting the right exit is far from certain.
One roundabout in the area I know well because it is on the way home. The Garmin said take the '3rd exit'. I looked at the roundabout and said that's not right it's the 2nd exit, and I had a good opportunity to get a good look here because I had to pause to wait for passing traffic. Only driving around did I notice a small little road also merging in with the two major highways the roundabout was joining. What's really needed with roundabouts and other large road merges is large map so you can see the angle of your target exit. I suspect large screen navigators in newer cars have this, and my Nexus 7 tablet navigator may have helped here, but I was not using it. Maps are poor on my older 4" Garmin, so I follow the audio, which 98% of the time is fine.
This shows is built around Sweet Charity, 'a girls who just wants to be loved'. She's on stage most of the show and sings and dances throughout. She also needs to be a good comic actress, because there are two extended Neil Simon comedy scenes in the show. A really strong performer is need for Charity (Shirley McClain played Charity in the movie many years ago) and Stoneham found her in Vanessa Dunleavy (from New York). Everyone loved her, luminous said the critics, she just sparkled on stage I thought. You can see some of her personality shining through in the first picture below. Stoneham got to know her when she first performed in Stoneham about 18 months ago as the wife in the Adams Family. You would never know it was the same woman. In Adams she was in a black wig, here a red wig, whereas in reality she is a blond.
I went to a talkback session and in preparation I read Dunleavy's web site. She is so good, yet she didn't have a major show job between the two Stoneham shows (well over a year). Tough business. When I asked her about this, she said she had been working the last year with her father (playwright Dana Yeaton) co-writing a one woman musical. One reviewer of this production said her husband had seen Charlette D'amboise dance Charity on Broadway, and he told her this girl is better.The rest of the cast includes Christine Maglione and Maria Larossa, who make a great dancing, singing and acting pair of dance hall girls. Steve Gagliastro, an old favorite at Stoneham (he was paired with Dunleavy in the Adams Family as Gomez), doesn't have much to do here until the end where he is featured in 'I like to cry at weddings'. Andrew Giordano, who impressed me his one previous time at Stoneham in Thoroughly Modern Mille a couple of years ago, here does an extended comedy scene with Vanessa and Deirdre Burke playing a handsome movie start, and he gets to sing a little. David Jiles Jr. gets his chance to shine, and he does, as the pastor in the Rhythm of Life Church number. Nick Sulfaro, who is a very versatile actor who can sing and dance some, and who I have seen in many roles is here is featured with Vanessa in an extended comic scene of being stuck in the elevator and later scenes that carry the plot. Gagliastro, Jiles and Sulfaro were all in the Full Mountie at Stoneham a few years ago.
The dancing/singing corp doing Robbins choreography really makes the show. At heart this is a dance show. A large ensemble, five girls and five men, beautifully polished (evening on opening night). When Christine Maglione and Maria Larossa join them, the stage is filled (see last photo). Robbins choreograph is terrific. People assume she is just reproducing Fosse, but she's not. At the talk back she pointed out that Fosse had won a lawsuit defending his choreography as intellectual property. She said the choreography here is all hers. Great job. A show like this has only three weeks of rehearsal, which is not much when you consider all the dance numbers to be choreographed, learned and polished.
Vanessa Dunleavy (Sweet Charity) with Nick Sulfaro (Oscar Lindquist)
Stoneham Theater production of Sweet Charity (April 2016)
Vanessa Dunleavy (center)
with featured dance hall girls Maria Larossa,(left) and Christine Maglione (right)
Wonderful dance corp in one of many big productioin numbers
doing Ilyse Robbins choreography (in style of Fosse)
'Rhythm of Life' with David Jiles Jr (as pastor, top, center)
Laura @ Stoneham Theater, Stoneham MA
1940's film noir murder mystery translated to the stage featuring a rumpled, hard boiled detective, played beautifully by Alexander Cook.
Alexander Cook and Molly Kimmerling Jasmine Rush
Alexander Cook and Steve Barkhimer
Mirrors, @ Boston Ballet, Boston Opera House, Boston
As You Like It, Young Company @ Stoneham Theater, Stoneham MA
Stoneham Young company does shakespeare, one performance only
Swan Lake @ Boston Ballet, Boston Opera House, Boston MA
Carousel @ Reagle Players, Waltham MA
Lobster Girl @ Stoneham Theater, Stoneham MA
Lobster girl is a nice original musical with book by Stoneham artistic director Weylin Symes and music and lyrics by Steven Barkhimer, a Boton based actor and musican who was in Laura.
Brigit Smith, Felix Teich, Bryan T. Donovan and William Gardiner (red nightshirt)
in Stoneham Theater production of Lobster Girl (June 2016)
She Loves Me @ Roundabout Theatre production, NYC
Wonderful Roundabout production in NYC at Studio 54, great set, nice 14 piece orchestra, and excellent cast. Saw this show three times, great each time. Unfortunately none of these pictures give a good look at the jewel box view of the inside of the shop. At sat mat Jane Krakowski was replaced by an understudy and she was sorely missed. Sat in 1st row for two of the perfomances (thur, fri) and 2nd row for sat mat. On June 30th, 2016 this show will be live streamed, the first broadway play to ever be live streamed.
Roundabout production of She Loves Me (June 2016)
-- King and I (Lincoln Center production)
-- The Father (with Frank Langella, winner of 2016 Tony for best actor in a play)
Frank Langella (age 78)
April 2016 interview after 'The Father' just opened
Anything Goes @ Ogunquit Playhouse, Ogunquit ME
Nice production with original Annie, Andria McCardle now 51, as Reno Sweeny. Good tap dancing ensemble.
Andria McCardle as Reno Sweeny in Ogunquit production of Anything Goes (June 2016)
On the Town @ Hackmatack Playhouse, Berwick ME
Big cast, well done with local talent, ME ? NH musical theater students as the three sailors.
Thoroughly Modern Millie @ Regal Players, Waltham MA
Strong principals and huge dancing ensemble (10 men, 10 women) made up almost entirely of Boston Conservatory students (or recent grads). Two former Stoneham youth students include.
Princilla Queen of the Desert @ Ogunquit Playhouse,
This show is a mess. I avoided in on Broadway. It's a bunch of drag queens prancing around. The bus is a really impressive piece of stage equipent.
Oqunquit's production of Pricilla Queen of the Desert (Aug 2016)
Young Company Summer Festival, 2016 @ Stoneham Theatre,
The first weekend of the festival was Act 1 (youngest kids) and two shows with Act 2 (middle school kids). I saw only the Act 2 kids who were in two musicals: Dinosaur Musical, Barnum. I felt a little sorry for the kids in Dinosaur because the plot was such a piece of nonsense (Treaty of Meat, etc) with all the kids playing dinosaurs with little tails. One familiar name is the choreographer Bernie Baldassari. Not so long ago he was in the Stoneham Young company himself . I remember noting that in the 8th grade he was dancing up a storm. I think he is in college studying musical theater and I have seen him in the dancing ensemble at the Reagle Players this summer. I note one of the kids in this show is named Taylor Zweil. This is such an unusual last name that it's a good bet this is the daughter (or niece) of Ceit Zweil who performs and choreographs frequently at Stoneham. Conor Long played King Marcus. Another major role was the king's young son who becomes king part way through the show, but I can figure out from the program the character's name so I don't know who played him.
The other Act 2 show had some substance, a bio show about the life of PT Barnum, though it was filled with dozens of divertissements. Barnum, music by Cy Colman, had dozens of wonderful customs (Mathew Solomon, custom designer). The two outstanding performers in this show, both 14, with large roles both acting and singing were Mia Gage (Barnum) and Barnum's wife Toni Turilli. Mia Gage bio notes this is her 9th season at Stoneham theater, but no info on where she lives or goes to school. This show was directed by Tyler Rosati, the education director, with choreograph by Ceit Zweil. Maura Sullivan played Jenny Lind.
The two shows I have seen performed (so far) by the HS students (Act 3) are very impressive: Urinetown and Little Women. Urinetown I saw years ago on Broadway. Little Women I know played on Broadway, but I had never seen it. A check of Wikipedia shows it had a five month run on Broadway in 2005 with Sutton Foster and Maureen McGovern in the cast followed by a one year US tour. All the cast in both of these shows was impressive. Urinetown had a few familiar faces. One is Phillip Dragone, who played Cladwell, head of the pee company and who was Wreck in Wonderful Town. His bio says at 17 this is 8th summer show. The choreography for this show by Alex Johnson was nicely done. The large menacing police officer I've seen before and was memorable, and was probably played by Eddie Pizzano. Sarah Bendell as the Cladwell's daughter stood out, and her bio has her going from Malden HS to Univ of NH to study musical theater next year.
Little women is more of a serious acting piece with music than a musical. The featured performer in Little Women, the centrepiece of the action is Jo, the independent March sister with dreams, played by a name I remembered, Caitlyn Burns, who was the lady of the lake a year or so ago when the Young Company did Spamalot. Her bio says she off to Emerson next year to study theater. The men did well too, Nolan Allen, whose bio says is home schooled and clearly has taken dance classes, Kyle Domek, and Michael Gravante As usual the cast was beautifully prepared and nicely costumed.
Arabian Nights turned out to be a play not a musical. My only prior knowledge of this play was that I know it had been done as the Christmas show at Central Square theater for the last two years. It was done in black practice clothes by all the cast members. Very effective, highly choreographed throughout the piece. Some very nice ensemble effects like the full cast lined up and a push down cascaded down the line, and an open and close sesame for the cave of the thieves. Many long soliloquies in the show. Very nicely done, ACTING!
Singin' in the Rain @ North Shore Music Theater, Beverly
For Singin' in the Rain to succeed it needs triple threat performers: good singing, good dancing and performers with a winning personality, and this North Shore production has them in the relative unknowns of Mark Evans (Don Lockwood), Tessa Grady (Kathy Seldon), and Sean McGibbon (Cosmo Brown). All are strong singers and powerful tap dancers. All the classic bits from the movie are here. Evans also does some lyrical dancing with a featured dancer. Filling out the cast is Steve Brady in fine form (head of the studio, who just played a key role as the rich banker in Anything Goes this summer at Ogunquit), and Emily Stockdale (Lina Lamount), who doesn't dance and has one song to sing in her oh so squeaky voice. As usual North Shore puts a large skilled, well costumed tap dancing ensemble on its round stage.
However, in reviewing the North Share video to get some pictures I came across an Ogunquit video of their production from a few years ago and their featured performers had more personality that at North Shore.
North Shore Music Theater's production of Singing in the Rain (Aug 2016)
Lucky Stiff @Stoneham Theater, Stoneham, MA
A musical I never heard of, a musical writtten by Lynn Ahrens (book and lyrics) and Stephen Flarity (composer) who wrote Ragtime and a lot of other shows. This is a silly, fun, high energy musical from 1988, billed as a musical farce, done in an over the top style. Directed here by Caitlin Lowans, formerly assistant artistic director of Stoneham who flew in from Chicago to direct the show, choreography by Ilyse Robbins, who has choreographed many musicals at Stoneham in recent years with the three piece orchestra led the reliable Bethany Aiken. The plot, such at is, is about a nerdy shoe clerk who inherits 6 million dollars from his uncle, who he has never met, with the provision in the will that he take his dead uncle in a wheel chair to Monte Carlo for a vacation. Lots of costume changes with many of the cast playing various roles.
Excellent cast with a lot of new comers to Stoneham mixed with reliable regulars at Stoneham like Andrew Barbato, Ceit Zweil, Mark Linhan, Thomas Derrah, and Bryan Minor. Impressive among the newcomers was Jade Wheeler and Stwart Evans Smith along with the sweet Lizzie Milanovich who plays the love interest in the show. The show has a lot of nice songs that always advance the plot. All the cast have have nice voices and most have a solo or duet. John O'Neil sits deathly still (with a white pallor) in the wheelchair nearly the whole show being wheeled on and off the stage.
7 of 10 cast members of Stoneham Theatre's production of 'Luck Stiff' (sept 2016)
missing here: John O'Neil (stiff) and in multiple roles Bryan Minor and Samatha Richert
(left) Mark Lineham and Ceit Zweil
(right) John O'Neil (as the stiff) and Andrew Barbato
(left) Andrew Barbato and Lizze Milanovich
(right) Jade Wheeler and Andrew Barbato with the 'stiff' and Stewart Evans Smith (in background)
7 Brides for 7 Brothers @ Ogunquit Playhouse, Ogunquit
I remember seeing the movie of 7 Brides for 7 Brothers at Radio City Music Hall when I was a child and my folks us on a family vacation to NYC. The 2016 Ogunquit production is splendid. Excellently cast with two strong leads, Nathan Hackmann (as Adam) and Analisa Leaming (as Millie), and 6 brothers and 6 brides who can dance, sing and act with distinctive personalities plus six more dancing men for the town folk. A dancing chorus of 18 in all. There's a lot of good songs in this show too.
Wikipedia shows the original version of 7 Brides for 7 Brothers was the 1954 movie. Lyrics by Jonny Mercer. The film score was by Saul Chaplin and Gene dePaul, but the playbill shows the music score by dePaul with new songs by Joel Hirschhoen and Al Kasha.
very balletic, here the girls do an assisted grande jete
Nice look at the inside of the cabin
25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee @ Arlington
Friends of Drama, Arlington MA
Opening show of the 2016/7 season at Arlington Friends of Drama is the 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee and a splendid, wonderfully cast production it is. It is just amazing how good amateur theater can be. I've seen this show several times, the first time on Broadway when it was a hot ticket, sold out, and I waited a long time in the cancellation line. One of the few times I ever stood in a cancellation line. Hairspray on a busy weekend night was another.
All the specialized
character requirements of this show were met. William Barfee (Paul Alpirin)
is a big, drooling slob constantly playing with his 'magic foot', Logainne
Schwartzandgrubenniere (Abby Siedel) is small and skinny and talks with
a lisp, Marcy Park (Aubrie-Mei Rubel) is the overachieving asian (and she
can dance too), Mitch Mahoney (Eric Rehm) is a bearded tattooed tough guy,
and bee manager and former bee winner, Rona Lisa Perretti, is a plump 30ish
something who looks like a school teacher. The others in the cast were
good too. It was hilarious how Steven Atwater, playing the home schooled
flake Leaf Coneybear, who when he had to spell would suddenly go into a
trance with his eyes rolled back, yet in an instant he could morph into
a concerned middle class parent of Logainne.
Steven Atwater,as home schooled flake Leaf Coneybear, Paul Alpirin as William Barfee doing magic foot Abby Siedel as Logainne Schwartzandgrubenniere
doing his wonderful pre-spell trance with his eyes rolled back
Spamalot @ North Shore Music Theater, Beverly MA
Spamalot is an odd show that I didn't care for when I first saw in on Broadway, but I later warmed to it partly because it has a nice, clever score. This production in the round is a little thin in spots because too many scenes, like the taunting french soldiers, are not on the main stage, but high up in the audience where they were hard to see. The opening historian weather forecast monologue (plague everywhere) was not even delivered live, but was on video, reducing its impact to near zero. The dancing was also odd. All too often the music and staging seemed to call for tap dancing and the dancers would be doing tap steps but in soft shoe, but finally tap shoes appeared for one short number.
The cast was pretty good. The number of costumes in the show is huge, I bet the ensemble must have half a dozen costume changes in the show's two hours. Haley Swindal is the lady of the lake, and she can belt it out as the score requires. Al Bundonis is King Richard. The 'song that goes like this' is sung by Sir Galahad (J. D. Daw) with the Lady of the Lake. Brad Bradley is the King's surf Patsy, and very good was Sean Bell as Not Dead Fred and Prince Herbert who is looking for his' male'. Haley Swindal and some of the ensemble girls were busting out.
North Shore Music Theater's production of Spamalot (sept 2016)
King (Al Bundonis) with Lady of the Lake ( Haley Swidal) Haley Swidal (right in blue dress)
Prince Herbert (and not dead Fred) (Sean Bell) and Sir Galahad (J. D. Daw) with Lady of the Lake
Must have jews and King with Patsy (Brad Bradley)
Uncanny Valley @Stoneham Theater, Stoneham, MA
A science fiction play about an advanced humanoid robot who in 30 years is so lifelike he can almost pass as human. The play staging shows him starting out as a head, then with one arm, two arms and then legs. I read the script of this play months ago and was not impressed, but it plays better on stage than I expected. I didn't see how his growth would be staged, but Stoneham has is done very simply. In dim light a man in full view of the audience simply walks out and from the front readjust how much of wheel project from his box with his shirt sort of acting like a shroud. It's a two person play with Nancy Carroll and Lewis D. Wheeler, both very good, directed by Weylin Symes.
four pictures showing the 'growth' of the huminoid robot
Lewis Wheeler and Nancy Carroll in Stoneham Theater's procuction of Uncanny Valley (Oct 2016)
Boston Ballet's LeCorsaire @ Boston Opera House, Boston
A short excerpt from LeCorsaire, the pas de deux is well known a staple of of bravura dancing. This is the complete Le Corsair with reconstructed Petipa choreography. High energy dancing featuring the men for two acts with only a wisp of a plot, which I couldn't follow, only that there were some pirates in the town square, who later go over to their hideaway on an island. The 3rd act filled the stage spectacular with BB2 and lots of students from the BB school. (I ended up sitting next to the mother of one of the kids. The fact that she had a bouquet of flowers and I saw her go back stage tipped me off.) Very nicely danced. I didn't recognize the two female leads, but that because they are new additions to the company.
Huge tableau filled the stage at end of ballet (Oct 2016)
Waitress was my rain show. Rain was predicted that day, and Waitress is only a few hundred feet from the Edison. It's a lightweight show, but uplifting with pleasant songs. The anchor show for the trip was 'Front Page', a limited run revival of a 1928 play about newsmen with Nathan Lane and John Goodman. Got only middling reviews, but it was an event with a huge cast of 26. At the pose for the call with all the actors on stage together, they hardly all fit on the relatively small stage.
Shows in order
wed Matilda, musical
Front Page, classic play from 1928 about Chicago newsmen waiting in jail house press room for a hanging, by Ben Hecht
and Charles McArthur. Limited run starring Nathan Lane, John Slattery, John Goodman, and Jefferson Mays.
thur Waitress, new light frothy musical about (surprise!) three waitresses working in a diner (no dancing)
fri Holiday Inn, new Irving Berlin musical, lots of his songs with a wisp of a plot to hold it together,
stage adaptation of a 1942 movie where show folk put on a show in the barn of their farm with tap dancing chorus
sat Love, Love, Love (play) 3 different one act plays, with mostly same cast, and three different living room sets
Roundabout offbroadway house deep underground on 46th st.
In my NYC trips of recent years I always squeeze in a visit to Matilda. I love this show. I put it as wed mat, knowing that if the plane was late I could miss it. At the end of the week when nothing really excited me, and knowing it was closing in a couple of months, I went back again sitting in the same terrific Row A (limited view) seat, the second time on the opposite side.
--- chalk writes on black board (still don't know how this is done, impressive)
--- laser light show
--- swings with dancers go out way over the audience (audience oes & ahs)
--- climbing on boxes in school gate (superb timing, the box appearing just before someone steps or sits on it)
--- Trunchbull does an absurd, but charming ribbon dance
--- phys ed tumbling topped off by Trunchbull diving completely over the horse (audience applause)
--- Trunchbull abuse: spinning around a girl by her 'pigtails' and 'stretching' a boy's ears
--- impressive set with desks for the whole class rising out of the floor, and lots of special light effects
An Inspector Calls @ Arlington Friends of Drama, Arlington
Classic drawing room murder mystery from the 1940's by J.B Priestley, which in a talk back session the director, who had seen a London production, said is studied in the UK by school children. Wikipedia says the play "is considered to be one of the classics of mid-20th century English theater". The play set in 1912 is considered to be a "scathing critique of the hypocrisies of Victorian/Edwardian English society". Fred Robbins plays Inspector Goole.
After a talkback session, I introduced myself to the director, Mary Fitzpatrick, who is also on the board of the Arlington Friends of Drama and discussed a large future donation.
Arlington Friends of Drama production of 'An Inspector Calls' (Nov 13, 2016)
Fred Robbins as Inspector Google is standing upper right
cast of family
(note fantasy door right with non-rectangular window panels)
(image found on twitter)
dramatic lightling with changing backdrop projection near end of play