An Inspector Calls @ Arlington Friends of Drama, Arlington MA
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
Nov trip to NYC to see some shows (11/8/16)
A five day trip (wed to sun) to NYC in early Nov 2016 allowed me to see six shows, since wed and sat are matinee days. Four shows were new to me, the plays Front Page and Love, Love, Love, and two new musicals Waitress and Holiday Hotel, billed as a new Irving Berlin musical. I had a hard time picking my last three shows. While I was at the Roundabout box office on 46th for Holiday Hotel, I added another Roundabout production Love, Love, Love playing on 46th way underground. Somewhere I heard it was a four person review, the printed fly had no description at all. I had seen a lot of interesting work in that theater that you don't see anywhere else and I trusted Roundabout. Imagine my surprise when I kept waiting for singing and there was none. It turned out to three plays (in three acts) done by the same five person cast. Interesting.
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 seen:
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.
Nice effects in Matilda
--- 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
Mame @ Stoneham Theater, Stoneham MA
Super production of the Jerry Herman show 'Mame' by skilled large cast, led by Stoneham's diva Kathy St. George. very well directed and choreographed by Ilyse Robbins. Kathy St. George is getting older, but still has a strong voice and is a barrel of energy on stage nearly the whole show. Kathy is paired with a ten year old boy (CAMERON LEVESQUE who plays her nephes Peter. He has a major role, acts and dances and wows the audience when he sings. A beautiful young voice and sings sings both solo and wonderful duets with Kathy. MATTY RICKARD does an excellent job acting/singing as older Peter, he is also listed as dance captain. Set designed with art deco flair by Katheryn Monthei. Costumes designed by Tyler Kinney. Matthew Stern capably heads an energetic seven-piece ensemble.
Stoneham Theater production of Mame (dec 2016)
starring Kathy St. George with MARY CALLANAN
nice art deco set by Katheryn Monthei
Kathy dancing with part of the ensemble
CEIT ZWEI, Kathy St. George, and ROBERT SAOUD
WILL MCGARRAHAN, and Kathy St. George
Nice riding togs by Tyler Kinney
Impressive 10 years old actor/singer Cameron Levesque
Feb trip to NYC to see some shows
April trip to NYC to see some shows
Present Laughter ---- by Noel Coward with Kenvin Kline
Somewhat disappointed in this dull production and performance by Kline. Not nearly up to the standards of the Huntington production
(with Victor Garber) of a few years ago. The set was drab and Kline seemed to throw away a log of the good lines in the play.
If I forget --- jewish family drama at off broadway Roundabout house on 46th
Come from Away --- Newfoundland musical with follk music type score about the grounding in this small town of a huge number of planes after
terrorist attach on the world trade center and pentagon. The score was not my cup of tea.
The Play that goes wrong --- wild physical comedy from UK
Three day (wed to sat) trip to NYC to see some shows. Wed was mat day, so was able to see four shows, three plays and one musical. Sat in the first three rows for each show. One show off broadway was at Roundabout's off broadway house deep underground on 46th streets. I've seen a lot of good shows at this theater, This show had sharp dialog within a jewish family. I like plays like this. My family on my mother's side come from Newfoundland, so I had to go see the Newfoundland musical. It's about 30 somethihng planes that landed after 9/11 at Gander, so there were more passengers to be taken care off for several days that live in Gander. This musical was not my cup of tea with a folk music type score sung by a cast of a dozen or so citizens of the town who are on stage most of the show. For a big broadway show this show had a set that was almost non-existent, consisting basically of a few tree trunks on either side of the stage. That was it, the super sparce set never changed the whole show. I was in NYC in feb and happened to see these tree trunks on a truck outside the theater. There were real tree trunks, pretty long, about 2 ft in dia. They must have been heavy and a bitch to set up. (wild knock about comedy from england)
The show I largely went to NYC to see on this trip, 'Present Laughter' by Noel Coward with Kevin Kline was a big disappointment. A dreary set and a dull production. Not nearly as good as the production a few years ago at the Huntington in Boston (with Victor Garber), that a couple of years later transferred to Broadway running in the Roundabout house on 42nd street.
On the last day (fri afternoon) it was the first day of the car show, so I walked to the Javit's center and walked around the show or 2-3 hours.
Boston Ballet's Sleeping Beauty
Gabriel @ Stoneham Theater
Big time acting on the Stoneham stage. Engrossing, saw it three times. Built around a battle of wits between a Natzi officier on the Island of Guernsay, wonderfully played by Thomas Derrah, and a determined middle age woman whose house the Natzi officiers have taken over who does what she needs to do to protect her family played by Georgia Lyman. They are well supported by Josephine Elwood, Alexander Molina (who speaks german!) and Cheryl McMahon. Plus a nice perfromance ten year old, Marissa Simequi (from Stoneham, 4th grade), who has an amazingly long role. Good reviews of the Stoneham production, and good review of the play off broadway in NYC by Isherwood in 2010.
Stoneham Theatre production of Gabriel (May 2017)
Georgina Lyman (left) and Thomas Derrah as Natzi officeer,
(center, in white) recovered nearly dead body dragged from beach (Alexander Molina) with no memory who speaks both english and german
Matilda national tour @ Providence Performing Arts Center, Providence
Matilda is one of my favorite shows, but after three years it no longer running on Broadway, and the national tour does not include Boston. So May 21. 2017 (feeling pretty good) I drove 64 miles down (and back same day through very heavy commuting traffic on Rt 128) to Providence RI to see the tour version. From the bios, this must be the 2nd tour. The Matilda I saw was older, her bio said she had been in the first tour. The production is somewhat scaled down, fewer kids, books painted, school desks no longer rise from the stage, but are pushed in from the side. One nice special effect missing entirely, the laser beams through the audience. There were no laser beams at all just a weak simulation of them using stage lights.
Cast was very good, haven't checked, but some may be from the Broadway casts. Yes, at least one, Mr Wormwood (Matt Harrington), but Mrs Wormwood (Darcy Stwart) and Rudolpho (Stephen Diaz) look a lot like a Broadwas cast. Miss Honey (Jennifer Bowles)I have seen in other shows. The excellent Agatha Trunchbull (Dan Chameroy) is a canadian actor.
Tour Matilda cast or NYC Matilda cast? May 21, 2017)
Shakespeare's Macbeth by Young Company @ Stoneham Theater, Stoneham,
Nicely done with Sebastian Roizner as Macbeth and Mary Egan as Lady Macbeth. No bio information, just names on a handout card. 70 min (no intermission). Without crib notes (read only after the performance) I find it impossible to figure out the plot. The performance, one day for public following two performances for students, was featured on front page of free Stoneham newspaper. As an experiment I brought my complete works of Shakespeare, which I soon found out was a waste as the stage started off far too dim (with witches) to read it.
Plot summaryBoston Ballet's The Concert by Robbins @ Boston Opera House, Boston MA (May 2017)
I did however read the in the book the cast of characters (info the play gower does not get). This initially puzzled me as the king of Scotland (king Duncan) is a character in the play. and Macbeth is identified as a general in his army. So what we have here is a coup, where the king's general is out to kill him. Skakespeare gooses this up with three witches telling Macbeth he will be king with a series of prophecies. After a military victory by Macbeth and fellow general Banquo, the king is praising Macbeth and will be staying the night in Macbeth's castle. Lady Macbeth hearing of the witches prophecies urges her husband to kill the king. So Macbeth does, stabbing the king in his bed. Macbeth is also a kinsman of the king, so he takes over as king.
Macbeth fears his fellow general (Banquo) so he arranges for him to be murdered also, which he is. Nice guy Macbeth! Now we have some ghost crap with Banquo's ghost appearing, like Dicken's Christmas Carol more than a century later, the ghost congers up a series of scary scenes. Macbeth learns that Banquo has fled to england, so Macbeth has Banquo's wife and kids killed in england and for good measure grabs his english castle too. Macbeth's wife now has second thoughts about the murders, goes mad and kills herself! Banquo teams up with the scottish king's son to form an english army supported by nobles to attack Macbeth. Macbeth is killed. Malcolm (Who the hell is Malcolm? Ok Malcolm is a son of king Duncan and before his death king Duncan designated him his heir.) carries Macbeth's head on stage, and as the son of the killed King Duncan is crowned the new king of england. (Wikipedia is Macbeth, summarized by me, and from Cliff notes is not quite right as Macbeth is killed by Macduff, a follower of king Duncan, and not Malcolm.)
whole Macbeth cast in costume
(where is the 3rd witch?)
(left) Macbeth (Sebastian Roizner) and his wife Lady Macbeth (Mary Egan0
(lelf) Macbeth thinking of murder knive
(right) Macbeth with two of three witches
Four shows seen recently in the Boston area and ME (June 2017)
Music Man @ North Shore Music Theater, Berverly MA
Excellent cast, music man unusually is a dancer as is his fat associate, Marcellus Washburn. The suprano in the role of Marian Paroo easily handled the soaring 'My white knight' song. The show was a light on scenery and suffered from this. In particular the center basement riser, which can compensate, was barely used. I suspect the director just didn't know how to use the resources of this theater in the round. Here are scn captures I made from the video of the show that North Shore released.
North Shore Music Theattre production of Music Man (June 2017)
'My White Knight' solo, and 'Good Evening Miss Marion' by barber shop quartet
I loved, I lost, I made spaghetti @ Stoneham Theater, Stoneham MA
Kerri Jill Garbis was impressive a few years ago as one of the Andrew sisters in the show 'Sisters of Swing'. No singing here, but a very nice performance as she cooks during the whole performance, including making noodles from scratch using a noodle machine, while spinning out a detail story of her love life and the role her NY italian heritage and italian cooking played in it.
(left) one worman show with Kerri Jill Garbis (june 2017)
(right) Kerri Jill Garbis in Sisters of Swing at Stoneham theatre a few years ago
MaMa Mia @ Ogunquit Playhouse, Ogunquit, ME
Ogunquit Playouse opened their 2017 season with a long run of MaMa Mia, an excellent production that I saw twice. Stong cast. The youg girl playing Sophie (Briana Rapa) was especially good. Angie Schower, the sexpot of the trio, her bio says she was the original Swedish sexpot secretary (Ulla) in the Producers on broadway. Donna played by Jodie Langel. The trio, the dads and Sophie make a fine ensemble backed by a good dancing corp. Technically this is not a great show, still it is fun when done by a good cast as in this production.
Briana Rapa with her three dads and men dancers
(right dad is Patrick Cassidy, billed as the 'star of the show, but of course he isn't as all the dads are supporting players (part of the ensemble)
wild frog feet dance
She Loves Me @ Hackmatack Playhouse, Berwick ME
Hackmatack playhouse is one of the few professional summer ME playhouses and charming as all getout. It opened its 45th season in June 2017 with She Loves Me, one of my favorite shows. This is the third local production of this show I have seen in addition to the Roundabout NYC production on Broadway that I saw in 2016. I saw the show twice (in addition to a dress rehearsal). It is a wonderful production with an excellent young cast, most of whom from the bios seem to be recent graduates or students at theater dept of UNH.
It takes a lot of good singers to do this show as all the 7 or so principals have a featured number. Importantly the featured couple Georg (Marcus Provost) and Amalia (Laura Cantwell) are both good singers and actors, and they have good chemistry. Marcus moves nicely in his solo number. Laura has a strong suprano voice and her high note in Ice Cream is a highlight of the show.
In the shop Sipos (Mike Buck) and Kodaly (Alex Paulson) are strong singers. Arpad (Will Lombard), Ilona (Rachel Noland), Maraczek (Paul Strand), waiter (Jacob Randlett) along with the dancing 'bus boy' (Ben Hanlet) all do a fine job.
Marcus Provost and Laura Cantwell as Georg Nowack and Amalia Balash in Hackmatack Playhouse production of She Loves Me, June 2017
(Photo courtesy of Hackmatack Playhouse)
This show was directed by Danielle Howard. Crystal Lisborn for the last three years has been the Artistic Director of Hackmatack. Michael Guptill is the theater owner and lives in the farmhouse feet from the barn. Kudos to Victoria Hulbert of the orchestra, who setting the Hungarian mood, begins the show with a beautiful series of high speed runs on the violin. I provided some financial support to the theater for this production.
Hackmatack Playhouse has been painted both red and white
Adventures in ME (june 2017)
I love to stay at the Colony hotel in Kennebunkport ME. It is an architectural gem, one of the classic hotels of northern New England. Built about a century ago it features a large heated salt water pool that is well integrated with the hotel. The hotel sits high on a point over looking the ocean with a small public beach across the street. It is about a mile from the charming downtown of Kennebunkport ME. A big breakfast buffet is included plus there is a separate hotel kitchen near the pool. Two excellent restaurants (Mabels Lobster Claw and Stripers) are just steps away as Ocean Ave makes a 90 degree turn, changing from following the Kennebunk river to following the ocean. It one of a pair of hotels (both named Colony) that have been owned for many years by a single family who run the hotel differently from the usual cookie cutter model, specifically, no A/C, no TV and dogs allowed. Here's a review from Trip Advisor that sums up my feelings
This was hands down one of the best hotel experiences I have ever had. From the moment we stepped into the lobby and saw the absolutely stunning view of the ocean to our checkout, it was fabulous. Also, when they say pet friendly. They mean pet friendly. You'll see dogs on the veranda, at the pool, etc. The main building oozes charm in every possible manner. I cannot emphasize enough what a great place this was. From starting out my morning sitting on the veranda with my coffee and a book and a view to die for to relaxing at the pool, this was just such a great experience.
(Trip Advisor review)
Here's my itinerary for a
recent one days trip up from Boston
Fried oyster lunch (a favorite) at Johnson's Seafood and Steak in Berwick ME. Good food, theater, and two swims.
'She Loves Me' mat at Hackmatack Playhouse (excellent production, very good cast)
Afternoon swim in the heated hotel pool (live music at the pool)
Dinner at Stripers. This is where I dip my toe into gormet dining. Pleasantly surprised to see pork belly (another favorite) still on their menu.
Even though this was less than a week from 4th of July this evening on the ME coast was cold and damp, so a roaring ire in the hotel lobby
was cozy to sit near
Next morning swim before breakfast (two swims with one overnight stay), have the big pool nearly all to myself, then a big breakfast buffet
with seating in rotunda overlooking the putting green and ocean.
Got a toasted lobster roll (at Port Lobster) to take home for lunch.
Earlier trips included dinner at Mabels Lobster Claw or Johnson's Steak and Seafood, or lunch at All Day Breakfast (great french toast) or Hobbs Harborside and theater at either Hackmatack or Ogunquit Playhouse (MaMa Mia). A fun surprise on one trip was that two antique car clubs were having rallies nearby and many of the car owners were staying at the hotel, so the partking lot was full of antique cars including some impressive big cars (Duesenberg, Rolls Royce).
Bullets Over Broadwas @ Ogunquit Playhouse, Ogunquit, ME
I had seen this show a few years ago on Broadway when it was new, and it didn't leave a distinct impression. Now I know why, it's terrible show, well maybe not terrible, but certainly not very good. It's all flash and bang whose 'plot' is built around a screechy voice dumb blond whose gangster boyfriend finances a not very good show, so she can star and become an actress. Not a single song is memorable. A lot of peole get shot during the show including out screech voice lead.
Ogunquit does well with dancers in big shows, and in the usual Ogunquit style this show has a large dancing corp (male and female). It's the best feature of the show. At the end of the first act we see they can all tap dance too. Most of the leads have good voices, too bad none of the songs are memorable.
Ogunquit production of Bullets over Broadway (july 2017)
tap dancing gangsters and girls
Buddy Holly Story @ Hackmatack Playhouse, Berwick ME
This show depends heavily on the skill of its leads all of whom play instruments, and especially the actor playing Buddy Holly who must sing, act, be a very good guitarist, and who generally carries the show. I saw the show at Ogunquit a few years ago. I presume there are specialist actors for these roles, and at Ogunquit with it's big budget they had hired them. I remember the Crickets (Buddy's backup trio) doing a lot of tricks on stage. Going in I didn't see how a small local ME barn theater like Hackmatack could get the cast it needed for this show. I saw in the local Kennebunkport tourist newspaper that the Buddy Holly lead was from North Carolina and that gave me some hope, however the playbill identified him (Joshua Rubenstein) as a student at Brandeis.
The first act was static with wooden acting mixed with a few numbers. However, the show really takes off in the second act which is mostly a concert. This features Buddy and the Crickets appearing at the Apollo in Harlem and later Buddy with the Crickets long gone is doing concerts in the midwest. Here this a much larger cast on stage with a saxophone, piano, and violin recreating with high (rock and roll) musicianship what may have occurred about 70 years ago.
Hackmatack has assembled 8 or 10 skilled singer/musicians. All local performers most recent grads or still students in musical theater depts. Besides Rubenstein as Buddy, Michael Fisher (Apollo singer an pianist, Gian DiConstazo (Rickie Valens), Jeff Blanchette (saxaphone), Alex Paulson (Big Bopper, guitar, he was Koaly in the recent She Loves Me), Dana Eisman (Apollo performer), Thomas Hanlon (guitar), Thomas Jeffrey (bass), Will Lombard (local diskjocky?, he was Arpad in She Loves Me), Matt Walsh (drums), Jake Stibbe (violin), Rachel Pantazis (piano/celest?).
The dramatic high light of the show, where Buddy dies in a plane crash, is handled very effectively. In the midst of Buddy plus Big Bopper plus Richie Valens dancing around they suddenly freeze as the lights change and high light them, Valens' hand held dramatically up above his head for the longest time, while the announcer tells the audience they all died that night in a crash of a small plane flying into a winter storm taking them to the next performance.
Buddy Holley Movie (1978)Fantastics @ Hackmatack Playhouse, Berwick ME
I discovered a 1978 'Buddy Holly Story' movie with Gary Busey, so I watched it. The musical, which was written after the movie, is better than the film. On stage a powerful theatrical moment is created when the performers in concert suddenly freeze and the light spotlights them as the local diskjockey give the news they all died that night in a plane crash. In the film this moment is totally thrown away with just some text at the bottom of the screen about the crash as the film ends. The 2nd act of the musical has some variety with numbers by both the Big Bopper and Richie Valens in addition to Buddy. Valens is missing entirely from the movie, and the Big Bopper is a most unappealing yokel.
My Fantastics story is about John Davidson. I remember his TV variety show from many years ago when he was a young man. The Fantastics was on TV in its early days and pictures on the all of the Snapple show that John Davidson played the boy. When I saw the show there a while ago in the summer, I would have sworn it was only a year or two ago, but Davidson's Wiki page says it was five years ago (2017). I looked at my program and saw the actor playing Henry the old actor was John Davidson. At that point he would have been age 71. No publicity at all.Ragtime @ Ogunquit Playhouse, Ogunquit ME
the three groups onstage together
Ogunquit Playhouse (impressive) production of Ragtime (Aug 2017)
according to the show immigrants not speaking the language were terrified of losing their children
so they sometimes roped them selves to the children
An educated black of means, a professional pianist, owns a car. He is put upon by white thugs who destroy his car turning him into a rebel who is going to stand up for himself. He develops a black following and eventually we see him in the Peirpont Morgan Library threatening to blow it up.
Guys and Dolls, Summer Festival 2017@ Stoneham Theatre, Stoneham
Middle school students tackle Guys and Dolls.
Cabaret, Summer Festival 2017 @ Stoneham Theatre, Stoneham MA
HS students tackle Cabaret in bustiers and deeply patterned stockings. Master of Ceremonies, here nicely played by a girl, Molli Motroni, has the deep voice associated with german cabaret. Nice performance also by Katherine Nevils playing Sally Bowles. (I had a chance standing in the ticket line behind Motroni, to tell her her performance was impressive.)
This production confirmed for me what I vaguely remembered from a Broadway production I saw a long time ago. This is not a good musical show. It is far, far too talky! Also it takes itself deadly seriously with not an ounce of humor. It's almost more like a (crappy) play with songs by Kander and Ebb (some good and famous, some not so good) inserted. After writing this assessment, I looked at the Cabaret entry in Wikipedia. I find that at one early point it was a play preceded by a prologue of songs by Kander and Ebb. Then they redistributed the songs into the text, then they tried to integrate the two into the normal structure of book musical, and in my opinion not very successfully, but at least this history explains why the show is so weird.
Also the plots, setting aside the powerful political themes with Nazis and jews in Germany in the second act, are just not that interesting. Huge amounts of time are spent on the subplot of the older landlady and her wooing by an old jewish fruit vendor. Really, who cares. The Sally Bowles and novelist plot is pretty much of a one note affair with Sally tells us all about how she is a free spirit, and the novelist saying very little. Many time here has had an effect, in the 1960s when the show was new, this was probably more shocking. The quasi-famous line at the end of the gorilla dance "if you see her through my eyes, she doesn't look jewish at all' was included. The show only gets moving when numbers from the Kit Kat club are shown.
Drowsy Chaperone Summer Festival 2017 @ Stoneham Theatre, Stoneham
Just returned from seeing this crazy show. I saw this show on Broadway, so I knew it was crazy show, with just a thread of a plot: 'man in chair' listening and commenting on to one of his favorite musicals from 1928 (Drowsy Chaperone) as the various characters from the show come to life. For the 15 or so principles the amount of work and maturity to get their characterizations and nearly constant motion and dance numbers down pat is astounding, not to mention that they all needed to be performers at heart. Almost all of them impressive. As a focus of the show Dexter Farren Haag as the man in the chair was perfect, he's 16 a student at Malden HS. The playbill lists 'movement direction' by Sydney Grant. The director is Sarah Gazdpwicz.
Heartbreak Hotel @ Ogunquit Playhouse, Ogunquit ME
This is a musical put together by the same team that wrote Million Dollar Quartet. It is the story of Elvis and the fight between colonel Tom Parker and Sam Phillips of Sun Records about his contract. To keep from being static this show like this with a lot of Elvis songs needs to be well staged and it is. The actor/singer playing Elvis (Clendening) is very good, and from the reviews of the show I see he originated the role of Elvis on Broadway in Million Dollar Quartet.
Ogunquit production of Heartbreak Hotel (sept 2017)
Dames at Sea @ Greater Boston Stage Company, Stoneham
MA (formerly Stoneham Theater)
Wonderful ensemble in an off Broadway musical from 60s with cast of six. Tap dancing spectacular. Five of six cast members are good tap dancers and good singers too. Fun show with good music, but none well known. This is the 4th Stoneham show that award winning tap dancer Ephie Ardema has been in. Sara Coombs is in from NYC. Wonderful Taavon Gambol is new to Stoneham'a stage, but in talkback it came out that he was known to Ilyse Robbins, who is now the theater's Associate Artistic Director, who directed and cheographed the show in an incredible 2.5 weeks.
Whole cast of Greater Boston Stage Company's production of Dames at Sea (sept 2017)
(Taavon Gamble (dance captain), Ephes Ardema, Michael Seltzer, Sara Coombs, Russell Garrett, Shana Dirik)
There was a nice feature article in the Boston Globe about the the project and the play based on a one hour interview of Weylin, the playwright, and myself by Globe theater critic Terry Byrne.
The play by a young woman from Portland ME is about a widow who plans to leave the family hardware store to a black girl she has met at a shelter. She has decided this without consulting her 20ish daughter who is pissed, and this forms much of the basis of the drama. There's lots of plot twists like the black girl doesn't live at the shelter, she volunteers there and is comfortably middle class with a white husband and baby on the way. After a lot of airing of views she gets the store.
Dramatically I thought the first half which is just two people on stage, the mother and daughter arguing, gets repetitive, but the play tightens up in the second half when the black girl and her husband join the mix.
whole cast of Alligator Road (Oct 12, 2017)
me outside the theater (and under the 'Don Fulton New Play Project' sign) on opening night (Oct 12, 2017)
Silent Sky @ Merrimack Repertory Theater, Lowell MA
As soon as this play started I knew right away that I had never seen it, yet somehow it seemed familar. Reading the about Henrietta Swan Leavitt in my Astronomy essay I figured out the reason. I had been sent and had read the script of the play in 2014 when Stoneham Theater was considering doing it.
This is a bio play about Henrietta Swan Leavitt along with Annie Jump Cannon and Williamina Fleming who are all brilliantly brought to life in this play. When Leavitt enters she greets Annie Jump Cannon, saying she came up with the color classifying method for stars (still used today, 'Oh be a find girl, kiss me'), and Williamina Fleming as having put together the Harvard Draper catalog of stars. Leavitt has come in to work on a variable star project.
At the turn of the century this is an age of looking at the stars, making careful measurements and classifying what it is found. This work is built on a new telescope (refractor) Harvard has built in Peru to photograph the whole sky and great new glass plates Kodak has developed for use with the telescope. The women Harvard hires as computers after years of work and tens of thousand of plates become the world's greatest experts on stars.
Leavitt focuses on looking for variable stars (Cepheid variables) in the l magellanic cloud. The play does not explain how this restriction came about, but was probably because there was high density of stars there that the telescope could resolve and a (more importantly) a working assumption that all the stars in the l magellanic cloud, which at the time could be seen to be separate from, yet near the edge of the Milky Way, were approximately the same distance from earth. Leavitt eventually found over 2,000 Cepheids there (period 1 days to 3 months) and gradually came to notice that the brighter ones oscillated more slowly. With more work she was able to show that over many magnitudes of brightness there was an pretty good linear relationship between the observed brightness (hence appox absolute brightness) and period.
In other words the variable time, which astronomers are good at measuring, could be converted into absolute intensity difference. This allowed for the first time a distance estimate for distant objects. Leavitt's work provided only a relative distance estimate until someone could come up with a good distance neasurement for one or a few Cepheids to calibrate the scale. Nevertheless Leavitt relative scale was sufficient to solve one of the biggest astronomical questions of the day: Was the Milky Way the total universe, or were some of the unresolved white areas on plates other galaxies?
Later in the 20's with a big new refractor Hubble found was able for the first time to resolve stars in Andromeda and found some Cepheids. (The reason cepheids were visible from such a distance is that cepheids are very bright young hot stars.) When their periods were matched up with the Cepheids Leavitt had found in the small magellanic cloud, the Andromeda Cepheids were about x100 times dimmer. This meant they must be x10 further away. Since the small magellanic cloud was knows to be on the edge of the Milky Way galaxy, this meant Andromeda had to be a separate galaxy.
This play was new to me, and I thought it was very well written with a good balance of personal and science. Also nearly all the key scientific stuff about Leavitt and her work was nicely woven in. The characterizations of the three computers were sharply drawn and very well played. The set was excellent (a view widely shared by my seat neighbors), an abstract, black rounded set suggestive of the night (and mystery). The playwright is Lauren Gunderson who is widely produced. This play is quite new (2015).
Really nice set
Merrimack production of Silent Sky (Oct 2015)
SOUVENIR, A Fantasia on the Life of Florence Foster
Jenkins@ Lyric Stage, Boston MA
The Lyric did this great show ten years ago with the same cast, Leigh Barrett and Will McGarrahan. Leigh is amazing, her singing is not only off key, but rthymically all over the place. Plus Leigh speaks the stylized dialog all through the show in strange sing-songy voice. Will, besides playing the piano, is on stage for the whole show.
The show does a great job laying out the known facts about Florence Foster Jenkins, who always comes up first on the lists of the world's worst singers, and suggesting possible reasons as to 'Why she did it'. One of the most interesting I thought was Cosme McMoon's, her long time pianist, deep into the show saying he actually prefers how she sings, and I was thinking so do I!
I told a seat neighbor of mine that this show had a great finale, but I wouldn't tell her what it was. At the end of the show she tapped me on the arm and told me the finale (Leigh singing Ava Maria full out) was great. I attended the show with Weylin Symes, and he liked the show a lot.
Lyric Stage revival production of Souvenir
with Leigh Barrett and Will McGarrahan (Oct 25, 2017)
Obsidian Tear, Boston Ballet @ Boston Opera House,
An interesting and somewhat unusual repertory performance with a distinctly Finish flavor composed of two modern dance pieces and an orchestral performance. The show opened with the orchestra under a guest conductor (Daniel Stewart) performing Jean Sibelius famous tone poem (?) Finlandia. The was terrific. Finlandia is a great piece and the orchestra sounded fantastic, notes full bodied and sharp as a tack, the Opera House showing itself to have good acoustics.
The featured piece was by Wayne McGregor, done in 2016 for the Royal Ballet. It was choreographed for nine men. Not my cup of tea. Cleanly virtuosic with rippling body motions, but it went on and on with far too little variation. Eventually I closed my eyes. My seat companion tells me her seat neighbor (an elderly man with his wife) hated it and was grumbling about getting his money back. The score was a modern very difficult violin piece by what looks like a Finish composer, and I hated it.
The NYT review called Obsidian's Tear a choreographic breakthrough for Wayne McGregor who has been the Royal Ballet's resident choreographer for more than ten years. "Mesmerizes audience with abstract, unconventional ballet". Well it was unusual and had a distinctive style, it's just that I found it boring after a couple of minutes. "For an hour and 50 minutes, the audience was enthralled in a night of abstract but gracefully choreographed ballet."The second piece (Fifth Symphony of Jean Sibelius) by resident Boston Ballet choreographer Jorma Elo for a very large cast (35). I have never liked his previous stuff all herky jerky and non-classical, but suddenly he adopted here a totally new style, very Balanchine like. No jerkiness. I liked it a lot. The score was by Jean Sibelius (his symphony #5), which I thought started out pretty weak and meandering but ended up strong.
Here's a one hour video of Wayne McGregor rehearsing Obsidean Tear with the Royal Ballet
"The night ended on a light note, with the orchestra hitting three impact points suggesting the end of the performance. The audience confidently applauded after the first, but the cast on-stage struck another final pose, which also received another round of applause. As principal dancer Ashley Ellis glanced at the audience jokingly for more applause, the dancers struck one more finishing pose, cuing the lowering of the curtain and the rising of audience members in a standing ovation, commending the company for a spectacular performance."
North Shore Music Theatre production of 42nd Street (nov 2017)
She Loves Me @ Greater Boston Stage Company, Stoneham
This is a fantastic show, a beautiful production of a romantic little gem of a show. This is one of my favorite musicals. The cast top to bottom is wonderful. Standouts are the primary couple, Jennifer Ellis (Amalia) and Sam Simahk (Greg), the secondary couple, Aimee Doherty (Ilona) and Jarad Troilo (Kodaly), and in the cabaret scene Nick Sulfaro (waiter) backed up by Angelo McDonough as the bus boy really ham it up. Strong backup by Tom Gleadow (Mr. Maraczek), Robert Saoud (Sipos) and Brendan Callahan (Arpad) plus an excellent singing/dancing ensemble of eight. The shop is converted into the cabaret by the simple trick of pulling a curtain and putting red cloths over the four display counters to make them into tables, just move in stools.
Directed and choreographed like all the musicals at Stoneham for the last few years by Ilyse Robbins, now the associate director of the theater. Jen Ellis and Sam Simahk have good chemistry and perform well together, like in 'Where's my Other Shoe'. Jen Ellis has a very good soprano voice and nails the spectacular high note in ''Ice Cream'. The show is full of witty lines like when Amalia is trying to sell a candy box to a customer. She is surprised when she opens the box to find that it is also a music box. She then make the remarkable claim that the candy box is 'functional'. 'How functional?', asks the customer. Amalia says the music is a reminder not to eat the candy and get fat. To make the sale she then makes the outrageous (and funny) claim that the music playing is sort of like 'word of god'!
Most reviews very positive. Terri Byrne is more critical, and she does make some valid points. Songs (duet with Amalia and Ilona and Ilona's library song) up on the balcony lose some of their impact because you get the feeling they are too far away, especially when they sit at the table in the rear. However, on repeat viewing I notice that they soon move up to the balcony railing which is better.
charming line up of the clerks to sing and bow to customers as they leave the shop
Greater Boston Stage Company production of She Loves Me (Nov 2017)
Sam Simahk (Greg) and Aimee Doherty (Ilona) with the ensemble
(left) Aimee Doherty (Ilona) and Jennifer Ellis (Amalia)
(right) Sam Simahk (Greg)
Sam Simahk and Jennifer Ellis
Director Ilyse Robbins with Aimee Doherty (without red wig) interviewed by WGBH's Jared Bowen
On Jared Bowen's show Aimee discussed that she worked as an environmental scientist for 16 years before becoming an actor/singer. At a talk back session of She Loves Me director Ilyse Robbins discussed how her professional show as a performer (dancer/ensemble) 18 years ago was a production of She Loves Me at the Lyric and that it is her favorite musical.
Performance notes on repeat viewings (12/5/17)
After seeing the show several times, you see so much more of the individual performances. A few notes on the eight principals (seven of whom work in the shop) all of whom have at least one featured solo number. Adding to my pleasure of this production is my introduction to several wonderful performers I had never seen before: Jennifer Ellis, Sam Simahk, Jarad Troilo, and Tom Gleadow. I had seen Aimee Doherty occasionally, but this is a whole new side of her.
Aimee Doherty (Ilona) --- Aimee is a delight. She lights up the stage with her sexy, natural performance, her beauty (great dress, shoes and red hair wig), dancing (both with Jarad and in the Mr. Maraczek number), and of course her three big songs, the duet with Jennifer and her two big solos where she becomes a 'new' girl. A powerful performer who can carry a show.Complementing the eight principals is a very good ensemble of seven, all of whom are good singers and can move. The serve as customers of the shop, dancing customers of cafe and in the 12 days before Christmas number. Angelo McDonough is also featured as the falling down bus boy. Two of them are trained dancers: Sara Coombs and Bransen Gates. Sara was one of the stars of the previous production at the theater (Dames at Sea) where she showed what a good tap dancer she is, but here the choreography for Coombs and Gates (in keeping with the tone of the show) is pretty low key. Both are tall, and Sara in her slinky red gown for the cafe number makes quite an impression.
Jarad Troilo (Kodaly) --- Great big voice, super dance moves, appropriate oily persona and good chemistry with Aimee.Aimee Doherty (Ilona) and Jarad Troilo (Kodaly) --- They do a great dance number together as he is singing and trying to convince her to go to the Rasskeller (while doing the christmas decorations), and after a while she responds in kind. She both clearly have had some dance training, and they move really well together. Nicely choreographed and very sexy. (In the Roundabout Broadway production this is where Jane Krakowski does a jump split and is dragged across the stage.)Jennifer Ellis (Amalia) --- This role is perfect for Jennifer and she shines, not a classic beauty but that works fine in this role. An extraordinary soprano voice that she shows off in every number capped by the famous high notes in "Ice Cream" which she hits full out (unlike Laura Benarti on Broadway) and at full volume in every performance. A show stopper moment. Also wonderful in the big cabaret scene of act 1, both in her acting with Nick and her great 'Don't break my heart' solo that ends the act. It's scenes and songs like this that make this one the most romantic musicals ever written, and one of the reasons I love the show so much. Jennifer acting is also clean and natural. I liked frantic well choreographed number 'Where's my other shoe' done with Simahk, which in previous productions never seemed to fit well into the show. Kudos not only to Jennifer and Sam, but Ilyse Robbins the director and choreographer.
Sam Simahk (Greg) --- solid, natural performer, good voice, good actor and moves well. This role fits him like a glove.
Tom Gleadow (Mr. Maraczek) --- A rock and good range. Nice voice, brash on his solo, good natural acting with Arpad, and appropriately tender and tear jerking when talking with his (unfaithful) wife on the phone.
Robert Saoud (Sipos) --- Only being close up and with multiple viewing have I appreciated the wide comic range Saoud can do with his face and voice. Sings pretty well, good enough for this role.
Nick Sulfaro (waiter) --- Another actor I have seen for years who can do it all, support roles and leading roles. Here he is (appropriately) over the top and very funny in his role as the waiter, and tender in the tear jerking scene at the end of act 1.
Brendan Callahan (Arpad) --- Only a junior in high school and already a pro
She Loves Me rehearsals
Over the years I have seen very little rehearsals of plays and what I have seen is mostly dress rehearsals just prior to opening. Today (11/11/17) spent four very interesting hours at a rehearsal of She Loves Me. This is about midway through the rehearsal process. The show's opening is nearly two weeks away, but rehearsals started ten days ago, so some numbers are just being learned while other numbers, like the opening of the show, are pretty well set. Big group in the rehearsal room, probably over 23 or so. I was the only guest and was very well treated. Got to know the cast because everyone was there. (Rehearsal schedule this sat was 1:00 pm to 9:30 pm with a dinner break.)
They ran through the opening of the show a couple of times, and I saw Robert Saoud (as Sipos) learning the Hungarian number singing the song while manipulating a complex bunch of props (including nested Russian dolls). Also saw just the beginning of the sequence of numbers at the cafe.
During a break asked the woman next to the director who had a big loose leaf notebook in front of her what her title was: stage manager. She showed me that the left pages of the notebook had the script of the play and the right sides a graphic of the stage filled for each line in showing where on stage each actor was. Occasionally the director would ask the stage manager where on stage an actor should be. Another person was following the script and would immediately respond when an actor requested "line". At the end of the Irving Berlin Holiday Inn musical the production stage manager provides a detailed look at the notebook he uses nightly and how from it he cues every light and scenery change.
A week or so later I attended two technical rehearsals, hours of stop and go and standing around on stage while the stage manager and lighting designer lay out and document the detail flow of the show with (what I presume) is its hundreds of lighting and scene change cues.
My 'brilliant' idea for a cash gifts to the whole cast (12/21/17)
When returning home from seeing the show for the 4th time, the idea hit me I should give the cast a little thank you gift for hours of pure pleasure they were giving me. I soon settled on 500 for the principals (8) and 250 for the ensemble (7). I later decided to include some of the production people too (director, set designer, costume designer and music director). It was difficult to know where to draw the line. Part of the problem was that I have little knowledge of the what the stage manager, prop and sound people and others who work backstage for every show do. The list as to who contributes to a production is nearly endless, not only the people who are present for every performance, but extending even to the people who design the artwork for the playbill and advertising material.
Since the cast is large the total came to 8.25k. I played around with the idea in my head, part of the problem was I could figure out mechanics, an easy way to do this. I was not looking forward (with my reduced energy) to writing out 19 cards, 19 envelopes and especially 19 checks. I asked the theater if I gave them a check for the total could they break it up into 19 checks. The theater auditors said no. (If it got mixed in with payroll, it would make the gifts taxable, which I wanted to avoid.) After checking out gift cards, I decided the easiest thing to do by far was to use cash though I had to go to two branches of my bank to get the 79 $100 bills (largest available) I needed. Found five $100 bills folded fitted nicely into my small envelopes which I had already addressed.
In the last week of the run the cast was called together after the performance one evening not knowing why. The theater business manager distributed by 19 envelopes stuffed with cash while I made a few comments. It went splendidly. I said for all the hours of pure pleasure the cast had given me, I thought it was only fair they deserved a gift. I had given a lot of money to the theater this calendar year, but it was this production, this cast of She Loves Me, that was giving me hour and hours of pleasure as my cancer is catching up with me. Lots of thank you's and hugs. The secret held, everyone was surprised. The theater manager told me in 20 years in the theater she had never heard of an audience member giving gifts to the cast.
A couple of nights later after the last performance of the run (12/23/17). I was told to hang around that the cast had something planned. My little speech started a with a little joke that went over well with 'Can't the run be extended another month?' I explained I had given the theater a lot of money, but after seeing so many performances (ten) I thought it only right some money be gifted directly to the cast.
The cast had arranged a surprise for me. One of the women in the ensemble guessed that night that I would be wearing my trademark warm LL bean red plaid shirt. So she either prevailed on others to bring in red plaid shirts or she bought some, so a half dozed or so cast members came out wearing red plaid shirts. Jennifer Mischley pulled out her plaid red shirt tails and said "look". It took me a minute to catch on, but this was a real hoot and a nice tribute. Finally the whole cast gathered on the stage for group picture with me in the center. More hugs and discussions with some of the cast, and I made my get away. Altogether a wonderful night in the theater!
worthy of note is that I was handed that night two cards with very nice
hand written notes (from Jennifer Mischley and Ilyse Robbins). Both said
they had taken a cue from me, they had further spread the money around.
One member said she had given a gift to the person who prepares her wig
and costumes and had also given gifts to members of the orchestra. The
other indicated that she had shared her gift with the stage manager. (I
was feeling a little guilty about not including key backstage people like
the stage manager, but as I said earlier I had to draw the line somewhere
and didn't really know much what these people do.) One indicated that some
of the cast members were tight financially and that my windfall would be
a big help.
Huntington production of 'She Loves Me' photo
I fondly remember my introduction to She Loves Me at the Huntington Theater part of the 2007-2008 season. I remember the secondary couple Ilona and Koday were well played. I stumbled on these pictures of the two of them from the Huntington production.
Jessica Stone and Troy Britton Johnson in the Huntington Theatre Company's revival of She Loves Me
during 2007-2008 season. Photo: T. Charles Erickson