Awake and sing, ye that dwell in dust  (Isaiah 26:19)
(First half) created: 7/06, end 7/09
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        Terry Teachout (drama critic of WSJ) --- "I assure disbelieving Manhattanites that it's not merely possible, but easy, to see high-quality theater in every corner of America." (from his review of Amadeus in St. Lewis and Kiss Me Kate at Lyric Stage, Boston)
Awake and Sing!
by Clifford Odets
        "Generally considered Clifford Odets’ finest play, Awake and Sing! was originally performed by the Group Theater on Broadway in 1935. By turns starkly dramatic and vividly comic, it is the story of the Bergers, a lower-middle-class, three-generation Jewish family living in a Bronx apartment during the Depression. Odets, who described his play as “a struggle for life amid petty conditions,” captures the frenetic, pressured existence in this crowded dwelling with robust authenticity."

March 24, 2006 to June 25, 2006
Belasco Theatre,  111 West 44th Street, New York, NY
(same theater where Awake and Sing! originally played in 1935)

Cast : Lauren Ambrose,  Ned Eisenberg,  Ben Gazzara,  Jonathan Hadary,  Peter Kybart,  Mark Ruffalo,  Pablo Schreiber,  Richard Topol,  Zoë Wanamaker.  Produced by Lincoln Center Theater. Here is Charles Isherwood's NYTimes review.

Vienna Waltzes
        New York City Ballet in July is at their summer home in the open air Saratoga Performing Arts Center in Sarasota Springs NY.  Saratoga Springs is a wonderfully preserved 19th century town. One house after another vies to have the homiest front porch. Seats are in a large roofed shed with additional seating outside under the stars on the strongly sloped lawn. Lots of food and grounds to explore during intermissions. Performances with live orchestra. I had a seat in the first row. My seat neighbors told me they had season passes for NYC ballet at Saratoga which allowed them to come to every performance. And apparently they did!

        Program on Wed, July 19, 2006 was excellent, beautifully danced,  and a full evening at 3 hours. All the pieces created by NYC Ballet choreographers. Curiously the on stage welcoming lady made no mention of Vienna Waltzes or Songs of the Auvergne, but said Divertimento #15 was 'beyond beautiful'. It must be a favorite of hers. Unusual for ballet Songs of the Auvergne features a singer.

        Divertimento #15 (Mozart/Belanshine)
        Songs of the Auvergne (Canteloube/Martins)
        Vienna Waltzes  (Lehar, J. Strauss, Jr., R. Strauss/Balanshine)

        Vienna Waltzes is considered by some to be a Balanshine masterpiece and is a real crowd pleaser. I was familiar with it from TV, but this was the first time I had seen it (for real). One oft told tale about this ballet is that the legendary custom designer, Karinska, (originally) made all the women's white ball gowns of expensive 100% silk so they would really whirl and twirl

        "The highlight of Vienna Waltzes is the waltz from the Rosenkavalier, with seemingly the entire company arrayed in black and white formality, the men in tails and women in those unforgettable white satin evening gowns with their many layers, flowing trains, glittering diamonds and, of course, white opera gloves."

New York City Ballet in Vienna Waltzes (Saratoga 7/06)

Plays seen recently in NYC

Indian Blood
        A new, crystalline, little jewel of a play by A. R. Gurney at the subscription Primary Stages on E59th, Aug 2006. Beautifully acted by Jack Gilpin, Rebecca Luker (Marian in Music Man), John McMartin, Pamela Payton-Wright, and Charles Socarides.

        "As slight as it is sweet, A. R. Gurney’s latest play, “Indian Blood,” is like a snow globe for the stage, in this case a memento of wintry Buffalo in the mid-1940’s. This is not meant unkindly. Who can resist the low-tech charm of those friendly knickknacks? Written with delicacy and old-school craftsmanship," CHARLES ISHERWOOD, NYT

Indian Blood (Aug 2006)

Pig Farm
        A new, over the top, deadpan, manic, comic play by Greg Kotis, author of Urinetown, at subscription Roundabout Pels theater on W46th, Aug 2006  Acted with gusto by Katie Finneran, Logan Marshall-Green, John Ellison Conlee, and Denis O'Hare. Memorable line: "It's a pig run".  Logan Marshall-Green was outstanding. Katie Finnerian in the 1998 movie, You've Got Mail, made her one line (as nanny Maureen) memorable "Never marry a man who lies".

        "Yes, the stunted country folk on ponderous view in "Pig Farm," the gleefully stupid new play by Greg Kotis", CHARLES ISHERWOOD, NYT

Pig Farm (June 2006)

Burleigh Grimes
        Slight, but stylish comedy by Roger Kirby in a polished production with Wendie Malick (now 56, from Just Shoot Me). Deep underground at the New World Stage theater complx on W50th between 8th & 9th ave.

History Boys
        Direct from Londow with original cast, by Alan Bennett (of Beyond the Fringe) with Richard Griffiths and the formidable Frances de la Tour. Highly polished, well acted, 'big' play about the preparation of English high school boys for university. Rave review by Ben Brantly of NYTimes.

Broadway cast (from London) of History Boys (summer 06)

Plays seen recently in New England

Coastal Disturbances
        Enjoyable, romantic play, well acted, by Tina Howe on main stage at Berkshire Theatre Festival, Stockbridge MA.  Annette Bening originally starred in NYC premier. Here is Frank Rich's 1986 NYT review

Moon Over Buffulo @ Arundel Barn Playhouse, Arundle, ME (2006)
        A 'five door' farce, well acted, by Ken Ludwig at Arundel Barn Playhouse, Arundel ME. This thearter is the barn of an 1888 rural Maine farm which was converted to a theater a few years ago by the addition of a modern stage house in the rear. Carol Burnett originally starred in 1996 Broadway premier. The performance I attended was also attended by Mrs Bush (wife of #1, mother of #2) and a bunch of secret service guys.

        One of the stars of the play was Margaret Bush, who was quite good. The playbill said almost nothing of her background or training, just listed the plays she had been in, but not the theaters. She looked to be 40ish. Curiously president Bush's sister in law, married to brother Marvin, is a sometime actress and is named Margaret Bush. And Mrs Bush was in the audience. A coincidence, I don't think so!

        Doing a Google search I found that the president's sister in law, Margaret Bush, in Sept 2005 had stood in for the first lady at an adoption gala. The article said she had just come from rehersal for the part of Fonsia in the play the Gin Game at Alexandria's Little Theater (she lives in Alexandria). The playbill listed one of Margaret Bushes' favorite parts as Fonsia in the Gin Game. This is her 2nd year performing at the Arundel playhouse.

        White House formal dinner invation: Mr. Marvin P. Bush, Managing Partner, Winston Partners, and Mrs. Margaret Bush. Here is a fairly recent picture of Margaret Bush.

Margaret Bush, actress & president's sister-in-law (Mrs Marvin P. Bush)

Leading Ladies @ Arundel Barn Playhouse, Arundel, ME (2007)
        Another year and another Ken Ludwig comedy with Margaret Bush. This new play by Ludwig is really a thin piece of fluff. And what do you know, the one night I was there Mrs. Bush #1 and former president Bush #1 were there too seeing their daughter-in-law on stage, and passing by just a few feet from me. That morning I had walked from my hotel to Bush's summer home at Walker point, and I had my hair cut in Kennebunkport by the president's barber too.

Always Patsy Cline @ Arundel Barn Playhouse, Arundel, ME (8/2008)
        Had barely heard of Patsy Cline before this show. There are 27 Patsy Cline songs sung in this show. They are woven into a folksy theater piece created in 1988 that features a running commentary (based on a true story) of a Houston housewife that was a big fan of Patsy and befriended her on a trip to Houston. The show played off Broadway and for a year in country music heaven, Ryman Auditorium in Nashville, where Patsy used to perform. The show ends with Patsy dying in a plane crash at only age 30, which with a little research I found occurred in 1963, 45 years ago.

            The play is two performers with a three or four piece band on stage. It was well done with nearly all the acting done by the housewife and nearly all the singing by 'patsy cline' girl, but occasionally they would mix it up, showing that the housewife could sing pretty well too.

Always Patsy Cline @ Arundel Barn Playhouse (summer 2008)

Always Patsy Cline @ Arundel Barn Playhouse (summer 2008)

        It's amazing, Arundel Barn Playhouse does maybe 75 performances a season (mid June to Labor day with seven performances/week) and of these I attend maybe one or two when I am vacationing in Kenneybunkport. Yet for the last two years former president George & Barbara Bush have been at one of my performances. Well, it  happened again, three straight years! The Bushes were at the performance of 'Always Patsy Cline' I attended (of course, for security reasons the Bushes attend unannounced).

Thoroughly Modern Millie @ Arundel Barn Playhouse, Arundel, ME (summer 2008)
        Another show I saw at Arundle during summer vacation at Kenneybunkport Me.

Thoroughly Modern Millie @ Arundel Barn Playhouse (summer 2008)

Thoroughly Modern Millie @ Arundel Barn Playhouse (summer 2008)

Little Shop of Horrors @ SeaCoast Repertory Theater, Portsmouth NH (8/2008)
        My first time at this small theater. The stage is a tiny space deep in a pit. Sitting in the first row, I was essentially on the 'stage with the actors a few feet in front of me. The same group of actors were alternating Little Shop with Pajama Game in repertory.  From the bio's these were mostly NH performers. The music was recorded. But in spite of all the limitations, this Little Shop was polished, energetic, funny, and really fun. Nice job.

The Drosy Chaperone (with Sutton Foster & Bob McMartin)

Annie @ Boston Opera House & @ Wang, Boston MA
            Very good cast & good sets in a touring production of a great show. Marissa O’Donnell as Annie, Alene Robertson as Miss Hannigan (excellent), and former Mash dentist 'painless' (Conrad John Schuck), who has make a career of playing Daddy Warbucks. This tour, billed as the 30th Annie anniversary tour and directed by Martin Charnin, one of the original creators of the show (lyricist), was planned for 11 months in 2005 and 2006, but was extended into 2007.

March 2008 update
           Well it's March 2008 and the Annie tour is back in Boston again, but this time only for a week and at the Wang. So I went again for my Annie fix. Same sets (bridge overhead for Hooverville number is particularly striking) and Martin Charnin still listed as director, but new cast and from the short bios of the principals I suspected it was a non-equity production. Yup, Wikipedia confirms that the touring equity production that I had seen at the Opera house closed in March 2007, and this tour, which started in Sept 2007, is non-equity.

        Amanda Balon, who at age 8 on the equity tour played Molly, is now age 10 and playing Annie and a a very good one, one of the best. David Barton played Daddy Warbucks and Lynn Andrews, Miss Hannigan, and while both fit the part and sing well their performances are not as strong as Schuck and Robertson. Across the board the new cast, with the exception, of Annie (& Rooster), are weaker by comparison to the Equity touring cast. Also the acting was pretty hammy in places. Does the show need a little tightening, or is the problem the acting abilities of non equity cast?

Amanda Balon (age 10), David Barton, & Sandy in 2007-2008 (non equity) Annie National tour

Annie @ Reagle Players, Waltham MA
            The Reagle Players mounted a great big, excellent production of Annie summer 2008. By big I mean big. At curtain I counted something like two rows of 20 with maybe another 10 or so standing in back, that's 50 on stage (the credits in the playbill come to 43) with another 15 or so in the pit. That's 65 performers not counting the backstage staff. Reagle can put a large cast on stage in part because in its forty years of mounting shows it has developed a large and talented pool of local singers and dancers who can fill out the cast with professionals in the lead (but of course you still have to costume everyone!). You can't have a good Annie without good principals and this production has them (plus a very polished performance by the littlest orphan, Lauren Weintraub as Molly).

           Terry Runnels (Daddy Warbucks) --- He is tall and bald (shaves his head for role) and both sings and acts well. You can see in the photos below how good an actor he his. His acting was very naturalistic and provided a core strength to the show. (In contrast Struthers plays Miss Hannigan about as broad as is possible.) Runnels has been the Daddy Warbucks in two national Annie tours, 12 Annie productions in all. Now 60, he lives on the south shore and teaches drama and voice in high school.

        Runnels gave an interesting interview to the home town paper about this Annie. He said he is always on the lookout for roles requiring a big bear of a man with a baratone voice. But as a member of Actors Equity he said he cannot just sing with any local amature group. When his college age daughter was in a Reagle production a couple of years ago, he discovered them and was impressed by the quality of the production. When he found out that Reagle has a deal with Equity to allow them to hire some Equity performers, he said he determined to work with them.

       All the principals in this production (except Wahle, and, of course, Annie) are in Actor's Equity

           Isabelle Miller (Annie) --- Wonderful singer and stage presence. She had been in a lot of local theater and is only ten.

           Sarah Pfisterer (Grace Farrell) --- Great suprano voice, up from Conn. I saw her last season as the lead in King and I at Reagle, where she was wonderful. Her bio says, she played on Broadway for two years in Phantom of the Opera.

            Sally Struthers (Miss Hanigan) --- Stuthers is the 'big name' in the cast. A frequent performer in Ogunquit in the summer in the last couple of years. This appears to be a role she has been playing a long time, and she's polished it up till it shines with a 'piece of business' for every line. She does OK on the singing and dancing too.

            Scott Wahle (Franklin Roosevelt) --- I was surprised to find that Scott is a long time Boston TV newsman and personality, who does theater on the side. He was John Adams in a Reagle production of 1776 (a couple of years ago, before I discovered the Reagle Players.) Here is Scott in the long opening number of 1776 Reagle Player production on YouTube (8 min). This is one of the few Reagle Player productions on YouTube.

        Beverly Ward (Lily) --- She makes a lot of a small role, great squeaky voice and moves well, great stage presence. Her bio lists one Broadway production and two national tours. A check of her home page ( shows she sings well, and her calenday shows how tough the life of a perfumer must be. One reviewer said, "Beverly Ward puts on a delightfully comic high-pitched voice as Lily St. Regis, Rooster's companion in evil, and her high-kicking dance steps are jawdropping."

        Bob Fitch (Rooster) --- Fitch was older than you usually see in this role, but he moved real well and was a polished performer. The real surprise in reading the playbill was Fitch's bio. Not only is he also the director of the show, a great-grandfather, but he was the original Rooster in the first production of Annie on Broadway in 1977 (31 years ago)!  Turns out that many years ago the founder of the Reagle players, Robert Eagle, a Waltham teacher, had taken kids from Waltham to see Annie on Broadway, and on a backstage visit they first met up with Fitch and that's how Fitch's association with Waltham began.

Terry Runnels and Isabelle Miller
Reagle Players Annie (7/08)

Sarah Pfisterer and Terry Runnels                                 Sally Struthers
Beverly Ward, Sally Struthers and Bob Fitch                                      Isabelle Miller and Scott Wahle

Terry Runnels and Isabelle Miller
Reagle Players Annie (7/08)

Hairspray @ North Shore Music Theatre, Beverly MA
            Superb cast in a fun, high energy, show with a great finale. Production identical to Broadway's except for adaptation to the round (same costumes, even same bag for Edna's chicken and waffles). This must be a difficult show to cast (lots of specific body types and race) with 16 principals nearly all of whom must sing and dance. This cast, almost without exception, was Broadway quality. Bridie Carroll as Tracy Turnblad, Paul Vogt as Edna Turnblad, Inga Ballard as Motormouth Maybelle, and David Coffee as principal/Mr. Pinky. (In early 2007 Paul C. Vogt of MADtv fame, who had played Edna in the Las Vegas production, prior to North Shore, took over the role on Broadway.)

Below: playbill and 3 min YouTube video of the North Shore production.

Valerie Fagan (left) with cast of Hairspray @ North Shore Music Circus (10/06)

Bridie Carroll (as Tracy), Paul C. Vogt (as Edna Turnblad) with Dick Decareau (as Wilbur Turnblad)
in North Shore's Hairspray (10/06)

Hairspray @ Wang Center, Boston MA
        The national touring company of Hairspray came to Boston (again) in April 08 for just a weekend. Don't really know who I saw as there was a huge cast change insert in the program, followed by some announced principal changes, followed at the beginning of the 2nd act with an announced change in the lead (Tracy Turnblad). A lot of this is probably because of the very heavy performance schedule with two performances on Sat and a repeat on Sun.

        The huge cast was generally excellent in both singing and dancing, both Tracy Turnblad's good (2nd was probably Brooklynn Pulver). Edna Turnblad, which might have been played by an understudy, was a tad weak, as was Motormouth Mabel. This Penny Pingleton (Sharon Malane), which I suspect is a hard role to cast, featured her boobs in the finale, the great ending of Hairspray. I had a front row (pit) seat, very close for the Wang as only a half pit was needed by the small orchestra. It was amazing to see up close the high energy of the dancers, who were doing their fourth performance in two days. I recognized some faces, so I must have seen them a year or two before when they came through town.

High energy Hairspray national tour (4/08)

Hairspray @ Lowell Memorial Auditorium, Lowell MA
        Literally next door to the Merrimack Repertory Theater is Lowell Memorial Auditorium about which I knew next to nothing. It's a large, nearly 3,000 seat auditorium, with a large flat floor with removable seats. Looking at their calendar you find an eclectic mixture of boxing, comedians, concerts, and what not plus a 'performing arts series' of five single performance of five different shows during the 2008/2009 season. I had inquired at the box office as to the source of these shows, but they knew nothing.

        Well I was able to get a seat in the fourth row and Hairspray in NYC just closed down, so I attended their one performance of Hairspray (Jan 09), one of my favorite shows. The production was very good with a skilled, polished cast that clearly had the show down pat, plus a pretty good size orchestra in the front of the stage (no pit). Tracy was played by Brooklynn Pulver and Edna Turnblad by Jerry O'Boyle.

        Brooklynn Pulve, that sounds familiar, sure enough she was one of the Tracies I saw in April 08 (see above) as the Hairspray national touring company came to Boston for a weekend. This is the same company (non-equity I think) back again in the Boston area, this time for just one day, but a big crowd because the hall was nearly full. This show is an exact clone of the NYC production,  I even recognize the scenery in the picture above. Penny Pingleton is now played by Amber Rees, who also features her bosom in the finale. I read that in the last two years this company does a lot of one night stands, saying they sometimes perform in four different cities in a week.

        One reason I like this show is that the script is really tight, bearing all the hallmarks of been polished and polished. The dialogue in a scene is often little more than a good one liner, for example, the woman's athletic coach runs out on stage carry a large sack and yells, "I've got balls", that's it.

The Corn is Green @ Huntington Theatre, Boston MA
        'The Corn is Green' is a 1938 Welsh play resurrected by the Burton clan. It's a vehicle for Kate Burton, daughter of Richard Burton, and her college age son, Morgan Ritchie. The story is about a dedicated teacher at the turn of the (20th) century teaching poor kids working in Welsh coal mines. Kate plays the teacher and her son plays the schoolboy role that her own father (Richard) once played as a young actor (on radio). There are other Burton connections to the play. Richard Burton was a poor rural boy in Wales who was helped into university by a dedicated teacher. The author of the play, Emlyn Williams, was godfather to Kate. A Huntington Blog has old playbills and posters showing Kate Burton's role has in the past been played by Bettie Davis (movies), Katharine Hepburn, and Ethel Barrymore.

        Kate Burton has a long standing working relationship with Nicholas Martin the director, who until the 2008/9 season was artistic director of the Huntington, and in the playbill she talks of wanting to have her son be taught by Martin. In a background story in the Boston Globe we learn the play was scheduled at the Huntington for Sept 08 when Martin had a mild stroke just as it was about to go into rehearsal, but he recovered well enough for the play to be moved to later in the season. (Jan 09). Also Burton tells of her son, now age 20, telling her in the 9th grade he had decided to be an actor.

        A warm inspiring story well done with large cast and, as it usual for the Huntington, a very nice set, a beautifully detailed, rustic, comfortable parlor by James Noone. (I had a good close up view from first row, which was available because it was inauguration day and that keep the crowd down.)

Corn is Green cast (Ritchie Morgan, Kate Buron) and director (Nicholas Martin)
Huntington Theatre production (Jan 09)

principals (left to rt) Cathy McCafferty, Kristine Nielsen, (gap)  Will LeBow, Kate Burton,
Morgan Ritchie, Mary Faber, Roderick McLachlan
The Corn is Green curtain call, Huntington Theatre, Jan 09

        Good review by Louise Kennedy in Boston Globe

        "Nicholas Martin's lovingly crafted, heartwarming revival of "The Corn Is Green" was one of the highlights of the 2007 season at the Williamstown Theatre Festival. Now Martin has brought the show to the Huntington Theatre Company - the company he left last year to become artistic director in Williamstown - and it's every bit as satisfying on a cold winter night as it was on a balmy summer day."
Donizetti's L'elisir d'amore (The Elixir of Love) by Boston Lyric Opera @ Shubert Theater, Boston MA
        This is the first opera I have been to in a long time, and the first production of Boston Lyric Opera that I have ever seen. I was not at all familiar with this opera (by reputation), but heard most of the score prior to going when I stumbled onto a live FM broadcast of this production from the Shubert the previous weekend. On first hearing I thought it was Rossini, who it turns out is a Donizetti contemporary. Wikipedia describes this 1832 work by Gaetano Donizetti as "one of the masterpieces of the comic opera". Donizetti is best known for Lucia di Lammermoor, probably the most famous bel canto opera.

        The production was classy and polished with excellent singing (& acting!) and a large, beautiful, 1900 style gazebo filling the stage for the whole work, plus a beautifully crafted antique truck. Lyric says this is a co-production with Fort Worth Opera, Michigan Opera Theatre, Opera Colorado and San Francisco Opera. Also a huge orchestra in the big pit, something like 30+ players, led by Boston Lyric music director, Stephen Lord.

        Score tuneful all the way through with a couple of well known arias. The singing was not amplified, but for me not a problem, as I was in the 2nd row orchestra left, and much of the action was stage left right in front of me.( I did ask a lady about half was up the 1st balcony (mezzanine) how it sounded up there, and she told me very good.)

        The plot is totally hockey with over-the-top acting (apparently a specially of opera singers!) required to flesh it out and make it funny. The four principals, who perform all over the US, were all very good, but the standout performance (due to his acting) was by tenor Eric Cutler as Nemorino. The heroine, soprano Maria Kanyova, singing was especially sweet and clean (I thought). In general I agree with the Globe reviewer, who also singled out Cutler for praise, and describe the other principals this way:

        "Adina, the object of Nemorino's affections, was capably sung by Maria Kanyova with a light and accurate, if slightly edgy soprano. Neither James Westman (I saw Earle Patriarco who come in on short notice from Metropolitan to replace ailing Westman) as Belcore, the sergeant who momentarily sweeps Adina off her feet, nor Dale Travis as the doctor Dulcamara, had particularly large voices but both inhabited their characters with dramatic flair and good comic instincts."
        Another reviewer of the Lyric production noted that Cutler's reading of the famous aria, "Una furtiva lagrima," brought a huge ovation from the audience.

Donizetti's L'elisir d'amore (The Elixir of Love), Boston Lyric Opera (3/08)

        Here's videos of the famous bel canto tenor aria from L'elisir d'amore (Una furtiva lagrima, A furtive tear)  sung by Juan Diego Florez (125,000 views!) and played on the violin by Joshua Bell. Lyric Opera says UTube has more than 100 performances of this aria.    (Florez)       (Bell)      (four high school students)

Rabbit Hole @ Huntington Theater Company, Boston
        Beautifully acted, deftly written family drama by David Lindsay-Abaire. Donna Bullock in the featured role that Cynthia Nixon played on Broadway in early 2006 and won Tony award for best actress in a play. Below: NYT review of original production ("some of the most revealingly nuanced acting to be seen on a stage or screen this year"), and five video clips from the Huntington production.

42nd Street @ North Shore Music Theatre, Beverly MA
        The tap dancing spectacular, 42nd Street, has been a favorite show of mine since I first saw it on Broadway (several times) a few years ago. The new production in the round at North Shore is excellent with a terrific cast. Saw it multiple times, going once a week during the one month run, always sitting in first few rows. This is the 3rd production of 42nd street I have seen this year. Reagle Players did it in the spring and the kids at Stoneham Theater did it this summer too.

        Romantic leads Melissa Lone (as Peggy Sawyer), fresh from a year on Broadway in Chorus Line and Todd Lattimore (as Billy Lawlor), who was an understudy in 42nd St on Broadway in 2001, are both superb dancers and good singers. Supported by strong performance from Patrick Sullivan (as Julian Marsh), who specializes in this role, Beth Glover (as Dorothy Brock), who hits just the right tone, Susan Cella (as Maggie Jones), who can tap dance too(!),  Joel Blum (as Andy Lee), and a large, ensemble of very good tap dancers.

        Billing in PlayBill was a little odd I thought. Sullivan's name alone is on the first line. Lone's name is nowhere to be found with the other leads, but way down at the bottom (below the ensemble) I found "And Melissa Lone as Peggy Sawyer". (Maybe it's done in support of the show's plot line.)

        Lone shines in her tapping. During one of her tap solos she throws in a high kick to her head followed by drop to the floor in a full split, bring a gasp from the audience every time. All this in a 1930's long dress. Lattimore is also an excellent dancer (and singer), well mated with Lone. The whole production has lots of high energy throughout (a point emphasized by the Globe). The long history of Lone, Sullivan and Lattimore with this show is undoubtedly a major reason this production is so good.

        In the translation of the show to the round a couple of things from the original show just didn't translate. One lost bit is the girls of the chorus laying down and singing in front of the footlights. Another lost bit (takes too much scenery) is the train coming apart and a strobed chase after it. North Shore put together a good size orchestra of 12 for this show. The show has a cast of 38, including five local teens used in the opening tap number (from a North Shore email).

Ensemble in North Shore's production of 42nd Street (Nov 2008)

Melissa Lone and Patrick Ryan Sullivan

Melissa Lone and Todd Lattimore

Susan Cella (as Maggie Jones)

Melissa Lone and Beth Glover

        Excellent Globe Review (by Terry Bryne): '42nd Street' bustles with energy

         "Stage nearly explodes with the energy of two dozen tap dancers. Director Charles Repole and choreographer Michael Lichtefeld set the bar very high with this turbo-powered, razor-sharp production number, but to their credit the cast seems to crank the energy level even more as the show unfolds."

        North Shore has posted hilites of this production (with short excerpts from most of the musical numbers) on YouTube:

Excerpts from mear
A Christmas Story @ Theatre, Stoneham MA
        Jean Shepherd's 1983  movie, and TV staple at Christmas (TBS is going to run this movie for 24 hr's on Christmas day), directly translated into a play with the whole family, neighborhood kids, Santa, and narrator. It's a classic. Nicely done by a gang of local kids and Boston pro's with the whole 1940's house (bedroom, kitchen, living room) combined into one set.

A Christmas Story --- the 'old man' , ma, & Ralphie with the infamous 'leg lamp' @ Stoneham Theatre (Dec 06)

Cherry Orchard, by Anton Chekov, @ Huntington Theatre, Boston
        My first seeing of a classic play produced by the Huntington theater in Boston with Kate Burton. This production was reviewed by the New York Times. This is a big, dense play with about 12 character studies well drawn. The plot (on the surface anyways) seems pretty slight. It's all about a (formerly) wealthy, useless, noble landowning family in Russia circa 1900, who in their stupidity & idioticy are losing their big family home (with it's famous cherry orchard) at auction to an unkempt, upstart merchant. Well acted by the large cast and an impressive set and production. I liked it.

        Burton, who is the daughter of Richard Burton, was nominated (twice!) in 2002 for a Tony and has been nominated for an Emmy Award for her role as Ellis Grey in the TV series Grey's Anatomy.

Rock N' Roll @ Huntington Theatre, Boston MA
        Rock N' Roll is a big, new, serious, long, richly detailed play from Tom Stoppard. It had its premier in London in 2006 and was on Broadway in 2007 (limited five month run). Stoppard is (apparently) well known for this type of play, winning seven Emmies in 2006 for his play trilogy, Coast of Utopia, at Lincoln Center. I don't know for sure whether I have ever seen another Stoppard play, but he has been writing from many years and I suspect over the years I may have seen one or two.

        The play centers on an English prof who is unrepentant Communist and his student who goes back to back to Prague circa 1970 under Soviet occupation to 1990 and liberation, and who rebels by listening to and supporting 'decadent' western Rock N' Roll. The play features many sharp, clever short speeches defending Communism interposed with short speeches on the subversive qualities of Rock N' Roll. Not a comedy, audience sits silently for nearly three hours. Is this high class writing or just complex nonsense? Who knows, it's not really my cup of tea. My tolerance for Stoppard is limited, maybe in ten years or so I will be ready for another.

        This is 'acting' and the strong Huntington cast does a good job. Featured are Jack Willis (as Max, professor) and Manoel Felciano (as Jan, student). Apparently this play has (sort of) an autobiographical flavor, because Stoppard came from Czechoslovakia and is here speculating what might have happened if he had returned from England during the time of the Soviet occupation and crack down on dissentents. Some, like Ben Brantly of NYT, say this is Stoppard's best play.

Tom Stoppard's Rock N' Roll at Huntington Theatre (Nov 2008)

        Boston Globe review: "It pulses with the energy of a formidable intelligence, to be sure, but also with the unstoppable force of love and desire. ... That said, it's also nearly three hours of prickly political arguments, ruminations on Greek poetry, and lessons in Czech history."

The Clean House @ New Rep, Watertown MA
        A funny, realistic/fantastic new comedy by Sarah Ruhl, who makes an off the wall plot about cleaning house and dying of cancer hang together. The ensemble has some of Boston's best actresses, especially Nancy Carroll, who is amazing when just folding clothes (in the most fastidious way possible), and Paula Plum. Carrol had a small, but memorably role in last season's 'Present Laughter' at the Huntington, and Paula Plum starred earlier this season at the Lyric. Very clever set with large scale projections that support the action in the white living room.

Paula Plum, Cristi Miles & Nancy Carroll

Paula Plum, Nancy Carroll, Bobbie Steinbach & Cristi Miles

        Excellent review by Louise Kennedy in the Boston Globe, "Carroll is simply priceless as the quirky, slightly compulsive Virginia; the laughs this woman can induce simply by pressing her lips together or flicking the cord of a vacuum cleaner have to be experienced to be believed."

My Fair Lady @ Boston Opera House
        I was familiar with the score (I think our family had the cast album), but I had never seen seen the show, so when a touring production of My Fair Lady came to Boston for only two weeks in Feb 2008 I braved a snow storm to get there. I knew little of this production except in radio adds it was billed as 'direct from London' and was playing the Opera House. I'm sure glad I went, both the musical and the production were great.

        It turns out this production is the fabled National Theater/West End production of 2,001 by Cameron Mackintosh (producer)/Trevor Nunn (director)/Matthew Bourne (choreographer) on its first (nine month) US tour. Their web site ( says there are 35 in the cast, 162 costumes, 195 costume changes, the 30 sec change of Elisa into her ball gown requires five people, and it takes 73 crew and ten trailer trucks to move the show to a new town and set it up in three days.

        This production is a polished gem with superb principals, a large cast, and great sets and costumes. Movement in the show is also very interesting. Except for a short stomp like dance, there were no separate dance numbers, but all through the show there were effective, unusual, little dance elements embedded.

        Special pleasures: Lisa O'Hare looked just like Audrey Heburn in her ball gown entrance. Marni Nixon, who sang for Audrey Heburn in the Movie My Fair Lady, has just replaced Sally Ann Howes as Henry Higgins mother (mostly an acting part). Very talented, hard working Tim Jerome as Eliza's Doolittle's father.

Lisa O'Hare as Eliza Doolittle and Christopher Cazenove as Professor Higgins in US tour of "My Fair Lady (2/08)

At the races, "Ascot Gavotte"

Professor Higgin's study                                                            Tim Jerome as Eliza's father

        Rave reviews by everyone (it seems) in cities on the tour. Here is Louise Kennedy of the Globe: "It's hard to imagine a fairer lady than the one on the Opera House stage right now."

        "Yes, of course My Fair Lady is still a lovely, lilting musical, and the Cameron Mackintosh/Trevor Nunn revival that's touring the United States after its great success in England is just as beautiful to look at as you've heard. But none of that would matter if the woman at the center of it all couldn't capture our hearts. Fortunately, from the moment she first appears onstage, Lisa O'Hare does. O'Hare's Eliza Doolittle is simply irresistible: charming, high-spirited, delightful to look at and even more delightful to hear."

        "That alone is reason enough to see this affectionately detailed revival of one of the great musicals - but another reason is to be reminded just how good it is, with song after song that works both individually and as part of the larger whole. And that's the other great good news about this production: Nunn's direction and Matthew Bourne's choreography work seamlessly together to highlight the thrilling integrity of the story and the score."

        "There are many other pleasures, too. Bourne's crisp, inventive choreography feels both natural and dramatic, bringing fresh energy to such beloved moments as the "Ascot Gavotte" and Eliza's grand entrance to society at the Embassy ball. Anthony Ward's sets and costumes are just brilliant: intricately and intelligently detailed, but also carefully designed to work in coherent and complementary ways. Oh, there's just no other word for it. It's loverly."

My Fair Lady @ Ogunquit Playhouse, Ogunquit, Me
        Good casting is often the key to Ogunquit Playhouse productions and that is the case in their excellent summer 2008 production of My Fair Lady. Tim Jerome from the touring production (above) is back as the father. The extraordinary actor Jefferson Mays as professor Higgins is paired with Gail Bennett as Elisa and (Annie specialist) Conrad John Schuck as Higgins buddy.

        Mays won a tony award in 2004 for the intense one character play, 'I am my own wife', which I saw on Broadway. In 2007 he played professor Higgins in the Roundabout theater production of Pygmalion with Clare Danes. He has the most unusual penetrating eyes, which you can see in the photos (below). I was close to the stage (2nd row) and when he came near, his intense concentration and responses were really something. He is in his early 40's, which is young for this role.

        Gail Bennett was an excellent Elisa, and the principals were supported by a large cast of singers & dancers. However, unlike the English/touring production there was no attempt here at real choreography. Will Ray, who has little to do in the show except for his one song, "On the street where you live", was an audience favorite. Clearly the playhouse put their money into the cast and not the sets. The living room was fine, but most of the other sets were just drop cloths. I read the state of Maine kicked in with a grant of 20k ("to acquaint Maine people with the best of their cultural and artistic legacy") to help produce this show.

         Jefferson Mays (left) with Clare Danes in Pygmalion and (right) with wife Susan Lyons

Gail Bennett & Jefferson Mays in Ogunquit Playhouse My Fair Lady (8/08)

Tim Jerome (left) and Conrad John Schuck (rt) in Ogunquit Playhouse My Fair Lady (8/08)

        YouTube link of excerpts from Ogunquit production (sound pitch is off)

Guys on Ice (the musical) @ Stoneham Theatre, Stoneham MA
        A wonderful small musical (by Fred Alley and James Kaplan, 1998) starring Bill Stambaugh as Lloyd, Cory Scott as Marvin, and William Gardiner as Ernie the Moocher with a wonderfully detailed little fishing hut set by Jenna McFarland Lord. Memorable line: "Work is for guys who don't know how to fish."  Below is my Amazon review on the show's original cast CD.

        "An ice fishing musical? A show about two guys in a hut on the ice? The best Wisconsin musical ever? Surprise, both the show and songs are pretty good. Sure it's a little cornball with terse men (in the Lake Wobegon tradition) and lots of ice fishing jokes, but it's also clever, fresh, with fun, listenable songs, many of which have a depth and sweetness as unexpected parallels are drawn between ice fishing and life. The CD is not just the songs, it's (most of) the show. It was recorded during a performance so you hear the audience laughing at the jokes making it more fun. Recommended."

Guys on Ice --- Lloyd and Marvin in the ice shanty @ Stoneham Theatre (1/07)

footnote (3/08)
        I wrote my Amazon review (above) of this show on CD in Jan 2007, and as of Mar 2008 it is still the only Amazon review. 14 months later I find my review has gotten around. Googling "Guys on Ice" and "Best Wisconsin musical ever" I found it on all the sites below (in addition to

                        (Japanese web site!)

Souvenir: A Fantasia on the Life of Florence Foster Jenkins @ Lyric Stage, Boston
        A laugh till you cry play with music about the famous, or is that infamous, coloratura soprano of the 30's and 40's Florence Foster Jenkins. Three plays have been written about Jenkens. This one, written by Stephen Temperley, played on Broadway for a couple of months in 2005. I missed the Broadway production, but am sure glad I got to see it in Boston. The 2007 Boston production is wonderfully performed (musically) and beautifully acted by local Boston performers Leigh Barrett and Will McGarrahan. Barrett's horrible singing never gets stale, and at the moving finale she gets to sing Ave Marie on pitch as we are imaging Jenkens heard it in her head. Standing ovation from the audience. This play is perfect for the intimate Lyric with its tiny stage.

        On repeat viewing I am even more impressed by this play and the performances of Leigh Barrett and Will McGarrahan, its impact strengthened (no doubt) by being able to sit only 10-30 feet from the actors. When the show was on Broadway in 2005, the NYT reviewer (Ben Brantley) liked the first act (" Seeing Mrs. Jenkins through Cosme's clear but loving eyes is an essential optical aid for the audience."), but not the second ("The post-performance scenes between Cosme and Mrs. Jenkins, as well as the final number, feel cheaply and artificially sentimental."). Baloney, Brantley is way off base. The play's post-performance scene and finale is one of its strengths; sweet, upbeat, and powerful, fitting the show like a glove. No doubt about it, this is warm & fuzzy show.

        It's no exaggeration to say Jenkens was a truly terrible singer. Her enduring fame (outside the plays) rests on nine arias she recorded on 78's now available on CD. Murder on the High C's and The Glory??? of the Human Voice have everything Jenkens recorded.  One customer reviewer described Jenkens this way,  "In the realm of the truly, stupendously awful Florence Foster Jenkens remains in a class by herself."  You can listen to a little of all nine arias on Amazon's Glory of the Human Voice. Two complete pieces are on YouTube: Mozart's Queen of the Night aria and Adele's Laughing song from Fledermaus. (In the play when Jenkins announces to McMoon that she wants to sing the Queen of the Night, he turns to the audience and says (something like) Oh, God, not the Queen of the Night!) The 3rd link appears to be the Jenkens recording with some sound effects added at the beginning and end.

Here is Mozaart's Queen of Night as it should be sung.         (Diana Damrau in performance)             (Diana Damrau in rehersal)            (Lucia Popp --- no video)

        Here's the Lyric blurb on the play --- Despite being called "majestically awful," her concerts in the 1930s and '40s, including a legendary appearance at Carnegie Hall, were not only sold-out but were attended by the creme de la creme of Manhattan society. Told affectionately through the eyes of her longtime accompanist Cosme McMoon, Souvenir is the sweet and inspiring, and yes, hilarious, portrait of a passionate music lover who believed that "what matters most is the music you hear in your head."

Will McGarrahan as Cosme McMoon and Leigh Barrett as Florence Foster Jenkins
Lyric Stage production of 'Souvenir: A Fantasia on the Life of Florence Foster Jenkins' (3/07)

Leigh Barrett as Florence Foster Jenkens -- Lyric Stage, Boston (3/07)

Will McGarrahan as Cosme McMoon
 Leigh Barrett as Florence Foster Jenkins

         The Globe reviewer (Louise Kennedy) --- (The play) "is not a cruel joke. It's a profoundly funny, melancholy, and ultimately moving meditation on questions of artistry, ambition, and self-awareness."

Mystery of Edwin Drood @ Speakeasy Stage Company, Boston MA
         Huge talented cast of 16 in this stylish, polished, fun musical that I had never seen (or even heard of) before. Cast includes Will McGarrahan and Leigh Barrett of last winter's Souvenir (plus Edward Barker, Kerry Dowling, Brendan McNab, Michael Mendiola), but here McGarrahan is the star of the show. However, the score is weak and the musical hall style melodramatic plot pretty silly and probably has little to do with Dickens. Book and lyrics by Rupert Holmes in the 1980's who also wrote the books (only) for Goodnight Gracie and Curtains, both of which I have seen on Broadway.

Leigh Barrett (left) and Erin Tchoukaleff in the SpeakEasy production of "The Mystery of Edwin Drood (11/07)

        I agree with Louse Kennedy's ambivalent Globe review -- (It) still does work, for those who enjoy this sort of thing."

Pirates! (Or, Gilbert and Sullivan Plunder'd) @ Huntington Theatre, Boston MA
        The more I see this show the more I like it. My seat neighbor turned to me and summed it up well, "This show is pure fun". Hopefully it will go on to Broadway (someday). One of the authors is Nell Benjamin, who was co-wrote the lyrics of the musical Legally Blond. It's been in development since 2006.

        It's mostly the Pirates of Penzance with some twists and gags inserted while maintaining the sprit of the original. It's now set in the Caribbean, where, of course Pirates belong, has some new lyrics blended seamlessly with the original, one song imported from another G&S show, and I think the opening song may be new. On my first viewing I was a little put off, especially when it deviated from the classic Pirates of Penzance, which I knew well from the 1980's live performance recorded in Central Park (see below), to wit:

        It's a good try at updating, but I'm not sure it succeeds. It doesn't all hang together and Kennedy (Globe critic) was right it has some dumb jokes and dumb bits like the audience schitk. Some of the Gilbert & Sullivan songs come through OK, others are butchered (calypso beat), some are cut, and one song from a different Gilbert & Sullivan show is inserted (nightmare patter song), and a couple are new. (my reaction on first viewing)
        But on repeat viewing I have totally changed my mind. Taken on its own terms, the show does hang together well and is pure fun. Excellent performances from the five principals with a large supporting cast of singer/dancers. The show is set in the Caribbean in the 1700's, and as you can see below Ruth is a tad more sexy than in the original. Near the end of the first act the powerful voices of the whole cast are dramatically showcased when all face the audience singing in a few bars in praise of poetry. The shows shifts between pirate scenes, daughter scenes, major general scenes, Mabel/Frederic scenes, pirate king/Ruth scenes and of course, various combo ensemble scenes.

        This is the third recent staging of the show (perhaps trying to get to Broadway), which started at the Papermill Playhouse and GoodSpeed Opera house two years ago (summer of 2007). In a talk back session with the cast I attended it was explained that show is still changing, in particular that in this latest incarnation Ruth has evolved from a hag to a sexy wench. Another interesting tidbit I learned at the talk back was that about 450 (!) showed up for the NY audition to spend a month in Boston. (No wonder they were able to get dancers who could sing so well.) All of the cast except for two recruited from Boston colleges came from NY, which is why I was unfamiliar with any of them. The production, costumes & scenery and polish of the cast were up to the usual high Huntington standards.

        The five principals are all Broadway performers and several performed in the show before, including Ed Dixon, Farah Alvin, and Julia Osborne. Anderson Davis, as Frederic, does a great job with his big solo, and provides a strong core to the show with his acting. Another standout is Ed Dixon as the Major General. He not only sings very well, but does great job with comedy and as a big guy he looks the part. He brings down the house with 'I am a Major General'. The background story is when he came to audition for the first production, he auditioned with the G&S nightmare song from Iolanthe. The writers liked it so much they stole it and inserted it into the show. Farah Alvin as Mabel has good strong voice, but is not the high soprano as is usual for the role. I at first thought here singing voice a little weak when the the usual high soprano 'poor wandering one' went missing, but this is because (for whatever reason) the song has been shifted to a lower key. Alone among the cast her costume is unattractive.

        The six general's daughters play as an ensemble always on stage together and were especially polished. The standout daughter was (I think) Julia Osborne. Cady Huffman playing Ruth has a strong voice and stage presence. About a decade ago she won a Tony playing the swedish bombshell in the Producers. Finally Steve Kazee swaggers well as the pirate king, even if his voice is a tad weak. The ten or so pirates/policeman are all strong individual characters on stage and their athletic stunt/dancing is well polished.

        It has taken repeat viewing (from different locations) to really appreciate all the little bits in the choreography which are often performed simultaneously and just fly by. The daughters too do a lot of well polished 'moving' not only in their solo scenes, but in the several large ensemble numbers in the 2nd act.

        My gold standard for the (classic) Pirates of Penzance is the recorded (20+ years ago) live performance at Central Park's outdoor Delacorte theatre with Kevin Kline, Rex Smith, Linda Ronstadt, George Rose, and Patrica Routledge. The Delacorte was not the usual staid Doylecart production. The Delacorte had new orchestrations and clever choreography for the police, but the plot and songs were left unchanged. It showed the classic Pirates of Penzance can still shine, even if the plot is dated.

Steve Kazee (as the Pirate King), Anderson Davis (Frederic), and Cady Huffman (Ruth)
in Huntington production of ''Pirates! (Or, Gilbert and Sullivan Plunder'd) (May 2009)

Anderson Davis with general's daughters (Julia Osborne 2nd from left)

Ed Dixon as the Modern Major General

Anderson Davis (Frederic) and Farah Alvin (Mabel)

Pirates do a little dance

             22 Musical Numbers
                        Act One
            Pour, 0 Pour The Pirate Sherry / Pirate King & Pirates
            Apprenticed To A Pirate/ Ruth
            The Pirate Curse / Pirate King & Pirates
            The Pirate King /Pirate King & Pirates
            Oh, False One / Frederic & Ruth
            Into The Jungle / Daughters
            Stop, Ladies, Pray / /Frederic & Daughters
            Oh, Is There Not One Maiden? / Frederic & Daughters
            Poor Wandering One / Mabel & Daughters
            The Weather / Mabel, Frederic & Daughters
            A Modern Major-General / Major-General Stanley & Company
            An Orphan Boy / Major-General Stanley & Company
            Away / Away / Company

                    Act Two
           The Nightmare / General Stanley
            Tarantara / Sergeant, Mabel, Police & Daughters
            A Paradox / Ruth, Frederic & Pirate King
            Away / Away / Reprise / Ruth, Pirate King& Frederic
            Stay, Frederic, Stay / Mabel & Frederic
            A Policeman's Lot / Sergeant & Police
            Cat-Like Tread / Pirate King, Pirates & Police
            A Noise / Major-General Stanley & Daughters
            Finale / Company

        The Huntington has a blog and requested comments on the show (perhaps to counter the very negative Globe review, which they mentioned). 47 people posted, almost uniformly very positive. At the end of the run I made my first Huntington post (below):

        On my first viewing of Pirates I liked the show, but was a little put off by some of the changes, especially the calypso policemen which so clashed with my gold standard for the Pirates of Penzance: DVD of the live performance at Central Park's Delacorte theatre in the 1980's featuring Kevin Kline, Rex Smith, Linda Ronstadt, George Rose, and Patrica Routledge.
        But on repeat viewings I have completely changed my mind. I now love this show. I saw it six times during the run. My seat neighbor summed it up well when she said to me, "This show is pure fun". The cast is terrific, with special praise for the six daughter ensemble. The plot changes and musical changes all fit together nicely. (I learned at a talk back session with the cast that the Huntington version is somewhat different from the two earlier productions with Ruth now more sexy.) The great voices of the entire cast are evident in the wave of sound coming from the stage in 'Praise Poetry'. I hope the show (someday) makes it to Broadway, where it should do well.
How Shakespeare Won the West @ Huntington Theatre, Boston, MA
        A New York acting troupe in the 1800's hears Shakespeare is popular out in cowboy country, so they pack their bags and the adventure begins. How's that for a new plot.

Huntington Theatre production of 'How Shakespeare Won the West' (9/2008)

Sister of Swing @ Stoneham Theatre, Stoneham MA
        This is a musical "Based on an idea by" Ron Peluso, artistic director of the History Theatre in St Paul, Minnesota and was first produced there in 2002. The theater boasts they have presented 100 premiers in 30 years and their site lists them all with Sister of Swing being #77. This is an average of 3.3 premiers a year with five in some years! A web search shows quite a few regional production since with a production in MA in early 2008 in Worcester at the Foothills Theater (different girls, but same fella).

        Sisters of Swing has a predictably bio story line, but the show has real legs and sparkle from its very polished (even on opening night) performances by a trio of local professionals: Kerri Jill Garbis, Laura DeGiacomo, and  Kimberly Robertson plus Steve Gagliastro, who can play the fool as well as act. The girls sing well together and move well too, even tap dancing one number, and the trio is well balanced, no one stands out, no one is weak. Each number (& there's a lot of numbers) has its own choreographed movement, which the girls do beautifully, and each has at least one solo plus a few duets. Music provided by several piece band partially visible behind a scrim with leader and pianist in the corner of the stage, where he has a few lines.

        Upon repeat viewing I more appreciate the contribution of Steve Gagliastro. He fits the show well and adds a lot to the show, acting, comedy, singing and impersonations (sings as Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye). He must make 15 or more costume changes during the show, including two in comic drag.

        A reviewer of a production in Buffalo said about this show: "The show's early moments are slow, and lame at times, but 20 tunes.... How about this for a partial song list? "Near You," "Accentuate the Positive," a tender and beautiful "I Can Dream, Can't I?," "Don't Sit Under the Apple Tree," "Apple Blossom Time," the signature "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy" and the controversial, in its day, "Rum & Coca-Cola."
        I agree with the reviewer that the show started off a little slow, but it really picked up when the girls grew up and the serious singing starts, ending with a rousing performance of Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy, which is recapped during the bows. The show is a real hit with the audiences, extended two weeks and number of shows increased from 5 to 6 per week (Wed matinee added). It seems every senior center within 30 miles has sent a group.

  Kerri Jill Garbis,Laura DeGiacomo, and Kimberly Robertson as Andrews sisters
in 'Sisters of Swing' at Stoneham Theatre (4/08)

with Steve Gagliastro (here as Bing Crosby) (4/08)

        Patty Andrews is still alive at age 90 (2008).

It's a Wonderful Life @ Stoneham Theatre, Stoneham MA
        Stoneham's 'warm and fuzzy' show for Christmas season 2008 is a stage adaptation of Frank Capra's 1946 movie 'It's a Wonderful Life' with James Stewart. The plot is dated as it revolves around problems at a local building and loan which provides town mortgages, a business that has nearly disappeared in the 60 years since the movie. But the feel good message still comes across in strong performances by Owen Doyle in the Jimmie Stewart role of George Baily and Allan Mayo (as greedy Henry Potter) with good support from Bill Gardiner (angel Clarence Odbody), Jessica Webb (in the underwritten role of George's wife) and Bill Taylor (Uncle Billie). Cast is huge (about 20) to represent the whole town and various times in George's life. The set is an idealized townscape in the rear with a dramatic bridge arching across the stage. Nice production and we get a song at the end too.

Stoneham Theatre's It's a Wonderful Life. Owen Doyle as George Baily on right (photo by Paul Lyden, Dec 2008)

Folies @ Lyric Stage, Boston
        The Globe reviewer (Louise Kennedy) starts off: "The list of women in the cast of Follies at the Lyric Stage Company reads like a dream team of Boston musical theater, from Leigh Barrett to Maryann Zschau" (see credits on photo). This show has a huge cast, mostly local actor/singers. In the photo is the older female team,  there's an older male team, and most characters have a younger counterpart too, plus a dance team, and a nine piece orchestra. The Lyric blew the budget opening the 2008/9 season.

        I was looking forward to seeing Leigh Barrrett again. New to me and impressive were Maryann Zschau (left), Bobbie Steinbach as singer (seated left), Kerry Dowling (center), Jacqui Parker (right, rear), plus Peter Carey (he also danced) and Larry Daggett.

        As soon as the show started I realized I had seen it (sort of) once before in NYC a few years ago. The NYC production was unusual. It was I believe a special 'one time' performance that featured many very old name actors (in their 70's and 80's), and one actor (very embarrassingly ) forgot a key speech even with prompting from others on stage. This odd performance combined with a very poor seat did not leave much of an impression of the show. Louise Kennedy says Folies has some of Sondheim's most emotionally accessible songs. Well maybe, but no Sondheim show is a favorite of mine, and certainly none fall into the 'warm & fuzzy' category.

From left: Maryann Zschau, Bobbie Steinbach (seated), Deb Poppel (rear), Kerry Dowling (center), Kathy St. George (seated), Jacqui Parker (rear), and Leigh Barrett in ''Follies'' at the Lyric Stage 9/08 (photo: Mark Howard)

The Mystery of Irma Vep @ Lyric Stage, Boston MA
        Now for something totally different --- It's a play by Charles Ludlum, founder and playwright for the Ridiculous Theatre Company. The company name says it all. Ira Vep is a 19th century 'penny dreadful' gothic horror story told in a wildly exaggerated vamped up style by two actors who dash off stage and change into different characters (& different sexes) every few minutes. According to the playbill it was the most produced play in the US in 1991, mostly amateur theater no doubt.

        The play parodies old movies, penny dreadful horror tales, has great physical comedy, and is full of literary references too. In most of the play we are in a rural estate in England, but in the middle we are transported to Egypt for a scene right out of the Mummy's Curse. I tried hard to follow the crazy plot (such as it is), but got totally lost, so I don't know if it makes any sense or not. Acted in high style by John Kuntz and Neil Casey, who a seat neighbor told me had played all the roles in It's a Wonderful Life a year earlier (Christmas 2007) at the Lyric.

  Lyric Stage's Irma Vep poster                       John Kuntz and Neil Casey decending 'ropes' into an Egyptian tomb

John Kuntz and Neil Casey in Lyric Stage's Mystery of Irma Vep (Dec 2008)

Here's the Lyric promo and Globe review (by Louise Kennedy):

        A werewolf, a vampire, an Egyptian princess, a cursed estate, and more haunt one “dark and stormy night” in this Obie Award-winning, uproarious high-camp tribute to Gothic horror films and Victorian melodrama.

Picnic @ Stoneham Theatre, Stoneham, MA
        Wonderful production of a classic American play set in adjoining back yards of two rural Kansas homes. This is the original play that starred a then unknown Paul Newman on Broadway in 1953 and was made into a movie in 1955 with Bill Holden and Kim Novak. It's a sweet, gentle, but always engaging story centering on women (there are seven women/girls in the play all sans husbands) who get all stirred up when a bad boy stranger comes to town.

    The Stoneham production is beautifully acted and cast. According to Broadway World (see Stoneham link) the actors include veteran Boston actresses (including Leigh Barrett), a group from Emerson (professor, student and recent graduates), and Aidan Kane (playing Hal) from NY who acts in soaps. While this is an ensemble piece, especially effective was the performance by Sarah Newhouse (w/Craig Mathers) playing the old maid school teacher. (Leigh Barrett, who starred in Gypsy at Stoneham last season, has a relatively small role here, but will be starring in the musical Grey Gardens at the Lyric Stage in Boston next month.)

Delilah Kistler & Aidan Kane (foreground) in Picnic at Stoneham Theatre (4/09)
(background: Emily Graham-Handley, Sarah Newhouse, Craig Mathers & Dee Nelson
(Photo credit:  BrackishLens @ Flickr)

Craig Mathers & Sarah Newhouse in Picnic at Stoneham Theatre (4/09)
(Photo credit:  BrackishLens @ Flickr)

Whole cast of Picnic at Stoneham Theatre (4/09)
(Photo credit:  BrackishLens @ Flickr)

        All the reviewers like the production. The reviewer for the Wakefield Daily Item was struck by the excellent casting, acting and direction (by Caitlin Lowans) of the play. He singles out the young sister, Emily Graham-Handley, for praise. (I agree on both counts.)

Skylight @ Merrimack Repertory Theatre, Lowell MA
        This 1995 play by David Hare, a prolific British playwright and director of the Royal National Theatre, has that wonderful characteristic of repeatedly circling around and presenting a different point of view that each time I find convincing, yes that's right! In this case the story centers around the visit by a rich restaurant owner (Christopher McHale) to his old lover (Amanda Fulks) now living in a drab, cold apartment in a run down suburb of London, who says she now enjoys where she lives and likes teaching poor, and presumably immigrant, kids. Ah, but does she, really? The play weaves a complex and compelling tapestry (oh the clique!) that I liked a lot. Fulks was particularly impressive, and the large apartment set was a slumland gem.

Amanda Fulks and Christopher McHale in Merrimack's Theatre production of Skylight (Nov 2008)

        Doing a Google search I found this play had a limited 4 month run in NYC (@ Royale Theatre on 45th) in 1996 with good reviews. Merrimack promo: "A magnificent chamber play by one of the few major playwrights of our language." – The New York Times

A View of the Harbor @ Merrimack Repertory Theatre, Lowell MA
        This bright, engaging, quirky family drama and light comedy is like a 'who done it. It surprises with a couple of wild plot twists near the end that (really) strain believability, but cleverly pull together seemingly innocuous dropped tidbits leaving you with a wry smile. Briefly, the scrabble poor parents living in the run down house on the ME seashore, turn out to be filthy rich, and the young ingénue suddenly morphs from a union organizer to a corporate type as she leaves the son for the crippled, half nuts rich father. Cute.

        Engaging cast with strong performances from the two woman, Stephanie Fieger (girl friend) and Andrea Cirie (sister) and especially Anderson Matthews as the the quirkily father with the gruff voice and strange gait. Play is by Richard Dresser, the last of a trilogy (Augusta, Pursuit of Happiness), both of which were done earlier at Merrimack, which I didn't see, along with three others of his done by Merrimack over their 30 years! This is a new play and the Merrimack artistic director, Charles Towers, has been involved in its development. Set is a front porch of a run down house (stage front) very similar to the set for Proof.

Anderson Matthews, Stephanie Fieger, Kyle Fabel, and Andrea Cirie
Merrimack Theatre production of The View of the Harbor (1/09)

Anderson Matthews & Kyle Fabel

        Louise Kennedy of the Globe couldn't be more negative about this play.

        "For a dispiriting night in the theater, it's hard to beat either a comedy that isn't funny or a sociopolitical critique that doesn't have anything new to say. By combining the two, however, "A View of the Harbor" has found a new formula for depression. Characters and the story are by turns ridiculous and unreal. And the moral? You'll never guess: Rich people are selfish.

        Anderson Matthews is irritatingly overblown as Daniel, with a vocal bluster that tries to turn every line into a showstopper. All the actors can hope to do is get through it before the audience completely shuts down." (Louise Kennedy, Boston Globe, 1/19/09)

        I guess Kennedy really didn't like this play! She says she skipped the 2nd in the trilogy, because she so intensely disliked the first. It is true that the play has an odd balance with three naturalistic characters circling a wildly overdrawn character (Daniel) who dominates when on stage. Other reviewers (see below) are much more positive, enjoying (like me) the clever plot twists:

Crazy for You @ North Shore Music Theatre, Beverly MA
            New production of the (quasi) Gershwin musical in the round. Production is high energy, beautifully costumed, dancing/singing musical featuring many classic Gershwin songs. Songs include, "I Got Rhythm,"  "Embraceable You," "Someone to Watch Over Me," “Naughty Baby”, “Nice Work If You Can Get It”, and  "They Can't Take That Away From Me".

        Nearly all of the large supporting cast is superb, which is important in this show as nearly everyone has some featured moments. The book of this show was constructed around Gershwin songs (long after the Gershwins were dead) by Ken Ludwig (author of Moon over Buffolo) The principals roles in this show are demanding, requiring good singing voices, dancing, and acting. The principals (Jeffry Denman & Amanda Watkins) are attractive, accomplished performers (good actors, pretty good singers and dancers).  The North Shore orchestra in spite of its small size provides a full, rich sound for the Gershwin score. Denman is the author of book (with pretty good reader reviews) about a year he spent in the cast of the Producers on Broadway as understudy to Matthew Broderick.

        I stayed for 'talk back' with the cast after the show, which is always interesting. From the discussion it appears that with the exception of David Coffee, who is a regular at North Shore, the whole cast was auditioned in NYC. One ensemble member said it was not uncommon to go to three auditions a day. One lady in talk back said, "This was the best show she had ever seen at North Shore in 29 years as a subscriber."

Jeffry Denman and Amanda Watkins principals in Crazy for You @ North Shore Music Circus (5/07)

YouTube video hi-lites of North Shore production of Crazy for You

        In early 2008 it was announced that Jeffry Dennman won IRNE (Independent Reviewers of New England)
Best Actor in a Musical award for his performance in this North Shore, Crazy for You, production.

Hello Dolly @ Reagle Players, Waltham MA
        Reagle Players opened their 2009 summer season with Jerry Herman's Hello Dolly, the first of three Jerry Herman shows they will do this summer, starring Rachel York. She is very beautiful, age 38, sings well and has a strong broadway resume and the strong stage presence needed for the lead role of Dolly, but I didn't remember ever seeing her. Turns out she was Kate in the Kiss Me Kate that PBS filmed in London in 2003. Several songs from that show are on YouTube. Here is her singing 'So in Love' from Kiss Me Kate.

        I had never seen this show before. The plot is pretty thin, but the show moves along with a nice series of musical numbers including fast paced, complex waiter 'dance'. Paired with York was Jamie Ross who had a homey touch and a pretty good voice. According to his bio he's a Broadway veteran (15 shows), and he played this role in the Paris production of Hello Dolly.  And of course all the famous songs.

        Polished production, as is usual for Reagle, with a very large cast and great costumes. Terrific touches too like these complex (expensive) props used only for a few moments on stage: 'horse' drawn wheeled carriage and a train with passengers and smoke. A large men's dancing chorus is featured in Hello Dolly. I think the ten guys were all professional show dancers from NY. There was generally a clear distinction between them and the locals. The girls that occasionally danced with them were I think from Reagle large volunteer corp. of singer/dancers.

Mame @ Reagle Players, Waltham MA
        Following a couple of weeks after Hello Dolly in 2009 Reagle Players season is Mame. As usual a polished production by the Reagle with their 20 person pit orchestra and huge production numbers. Many of the NY male dancers from Dolly are in this show too, apparently they signed on for the three Herman show run. While the book for Herman show #1 (Dolly) was thin, the book for Herman show #2 (Mame) is non-existent, a joke.

        The name brought in for this production is Lee Meriwether, unfortunately she is barely passable. I don't know that she could ever sing well, but now she is 74 years old and while she looks great for her age, she croaks through her numbers. The young boy (10) featured in the first act (Troy Costa) does a great job both acting and singing, and Maureen Brennan (as Agnes Gooch) was excellent.

La Cage aux Folles @ Reagle Players, Waltham MA
        A terrific production of La Cage aux Folles was the 3rd and final Jerry Herman show of the summer 2009 season at Reagle. I saw it three times (always in first three rows and last time front row center). I had seen the show once before years ago on Broadway with Robert Goulet. Great cast top to bottom and beautifully polished, high energy musical and dance numbers. The show's 'message' is leavened not only by comfortable, tuneful, Jerry Herman songs, but also by lots of little gags and bits sprinkled throughout the show. For example, when Albin kisses his new daughter-in-law on both cheeks, there's a synchronized leg kick by each of them on each kiss drawing a big laugh. The audience clearly loved the show.

        The stars of the show were David Engel and Jamie Ross (back from Hello Dolly). Engel has a strong voice and is apparently somewhat of a specialist in this role. In a talk back session with the cast he said he wished the show would be mounted more often so "he could work". His bio says he was an original cast member in Forever Plaid, and he must work in LA a lot since he has six LA awards. He brings the house down at the end of the first act with his "I am what I am". He transitions smoothly back and forth from ordinary housefrau to drag queen, and he is really funny in the comedy scene where Albin is being trained to act like a 'man'.

        At the talk back session I found out the director (David Scala) knows the show well as both he and Engel had been in the original La Cage in the 1980's, so this production was a recreation of the original. Costumes are rented from a place in Florida and the wonderful full stage painted backdrop of the Reviera seems to have been created locally (David Jeffrey).

        A standout was the butler/maid in an over the top performance by Ivory McKay. (He looked very familiar, but it's unlikely from his bio that I have ever seen him before.) The son and his fiancee were David Carney and Jessica Asenberg (Boston Conservatory), he sings well and she has a dancer's body and movement. Jamie Ross as Geoges is not flashy, but has a nice downhome manner, has a pretty strong voice and all and all nicely balances Engel's Albin. I was surprised to see from the bios that nearly all of the ten 'Cagelles', seven men and three woman, were local. They not only do great job in the polished production numbers, but are standouts in the small acting bits they all have.

(big financial trouble) @ North Shore Music Theatre, Beverly MA (Jan 2009)
        After an incredible 55 straight years of producing large scale musical theater in the round in Beverly, the North Shore Music Theatre at the end of its 2008 season has announced they are in serious danger of going under. They need to raise 3- 4 million in the next couple of months to be able to contract for next season, which typically would start in early spring and run pretty much continuously through the end of the year.

        There appear to be two contributing causes of the financial problems. One is the serious fire a few years ago that shut down the theater for nearly a year?  Rebuilding from the fire they may also have done some investment, because at a 'talk back' season I was at a while ago, they commented that the now owned all the stage lights and sound equipment, whereas before the fire some of it was rented.

        The immediate cause of the financial difficulty appears to be the failure of their last production. I attended most shows this season (except the last). In general it was a strong season with all shows produced up to their usual high standards. Many shows, like Show Boat and 42nd St, got good reviews and drew very well. There were also some good shows, like Contact and 25th Annual Spelling Bee, that were unfamiliar to their conservative retiree crowd, and while very well done, did not draw too well.

         The natural audience of North Shore Music Theatre is retirees. At matinee performances I swear there is hardly to be found one person in the audience who is not on Medicare. In 2007 when they did Disney High School Musical, a stage adaptation of the Disney TV musical, it was huge hit with the kids, and they were blown away (they said this at a talk back) with how many tickets they sold. That led to the big mistake (in hindsight) of ending the 2008 season, not with their usual Christmas show, but with Disney High School Musical 3. It's a sequel to a show that being a high school show really has no natural sequel, and a sequel to a show that even in its first incarnation was pretty thin. (I say this having seen the first show). Weak convoluted plot, poor songs, bad reviews, a formula show written by many different people with the result that they sold only 1/4 th of the tickets that they hoped to sell.

        Management is working hard to get the word out, couple of local benefits planned and today (1/30/09) they announced two benefits in NYC. Even artistic director of Stoneham Theatre emailed his people to give money to North Shore. I did. But benefit money is small compared to what they need. Here's hoping an angel from among their 300,000 attendees will come forward.

(update July 09)
        In spring they announced that if they could raise 2 million (instead of 4) they could still put on a seaon with two week runs (by sharing productions with an unnamed theater). But this failed too, and North Shore is dark for first time in 55 years. As long as the excellent theater stands though, I think (hope really) there is a good chance it will come back to life in a year or so.

        Where's 96 year old Carl Shapiro when you need him? He funds chairs at the Boston Symphony, the resident choerographer at Boston Ballet, and big money to Boston hospitals and museums. Most of it, of course, other people's money he gets from Bernie Madoff. But oh yea, he gave that spare 250 million he had lying around to Madoff about two weeks before Bernie went under!

(update Nov 2010)
        North Shore with a new owner reopened this fall after being dark 18 months with a shortened season. It's back pretty much as before, same good quality productions, good orchestra, restaurant has reopened too. Attendance low this first season, no buses in parking lot. Saw Gypsy and Chorus Line.

Kathy St. George in Dear Miss Garland @ Stoneham Theatre, Stoneham MA
        A high energy, really first rate performance by a skilled musical performer with local roots. Kathy's program bio says she was a 2nd grade teacher in Stoneham and I'm told her mother lives in Stoneham. The show is a nicely crafted and well paced remembrance of Judy Garland with a surprising (if you don't look carefully at the program or Stoneham's web site) change of pace between acts. Kathy is not a Judy Garland imitator, but she looks a lot like Judy and summons up her spirit.

Kathy St.George in her 'Dear Miss Garland' (1st act bio) at Stonehmam Theatre 6/09

Kathy St.George in her 'Dear Miss Garland'  (2nd act performance)

Present Laughter by Noel Coward @ Huntington Theater, Boston
(Jan 2010 update)
        It took two and half years, but this great Huntington production has made it to Broadway. Victor Garber directed by Nicholas Martin.and nearly the same cast as Boston (Brooks Ashmanskas, Lisa Banes, Pamela Jane Gray, and even Nancy Caroll) opened for a couple of months run Broadway (Roundabout, AA Theater). Same set designer too (Alexander Dodge). Below looks very similar to Boston, note same painting at left, same or similar staircase, and piano in rear.

        Excellent review by Isherwood of the Times. Teachout of WSJ likes it, but is put off by Brooks vulgar performance. Teachout says, "The set alone, an Art Deco orgy designed by Alexander Dodge, is almost worth the price of admission."
           A real gem. A terrific cast (top to bottom) led by Victor Garber in a stylish, classic, 1939 Noel Coward play. (Victor Garber in the recent movie Titanic played the engineer who designed the ship.)  Beautifully acted & probably very well directed too (by Nicholas Martin, though I don't know anything about directing). It's a real pleasure to see good acting. Victor Garber (aging actor) was the center of attention and about him orbited Sarah Hudnut (secretary), Lisa Banes (ex-wife), Pamela Gray (new lover), who is a knockout in a slinky, low cut, high heel 30's evening gown, and Brooks Ashmanskas (crazed playwright). Ashmanskas is an extraordinary comic actor and was a crowd favorite. I saw him on Broadway a year or two ago with Martin Short, where he was nominated for a Tony. His bio lists eight (recent) Broadway shows.

        An extraordinary part of the evening too was the set (& costumes). The set was a magnificent, beautifully detailed, 30's art deco living room that included a grand winding staircase, huge paintings and sculpture, huge chandeliers, art deco furniture, a grand piano, a curved molding around the ceiling (all the ceiling was filled in) and even a lighted frame around the whole proscenium stage. Huntington outdid themselves, it must have cost a bundle.

        A wonderful ending to the evening. After bows but before final curtain, all the cast assemble in a formal setting on the stairway and around the grand piano and sang a classic 30's song (by Noel Coward). Even though this is not a musical, it's clear that many in the cast have strong voices.

        Great reviews in Variety and the Boston Globe. I heard a person leaving the theater say it was the "best thing she'd seen in years". Here's the Globe --- "But the one who comes closest to grand larceny is Brooks Ashmanskas, who takes the relatively peripheral role of Roland Maule, aspiring playwright and secretly obsessive fan, and turns it into a side-splitting masterpiece of comic timing and absurd physical grace."

Victor Garber & Pamela J. Gray in Huntington's production of Noel Coward's Present Laughter (6/07)

Victor Garber as Gary Essendine & Lisa Banes in Huntington's production of Noel Coward's Present Laughter (6/07)

Brooks Ashmanskas & Victor Garber in Huntington's production of Noel Coward's Present Laughter (6/07)

2010 photos of Huntington production as presented by Roundabout Theater company in NYC

Curtain -- Huntington Present Laughter production on Broadway (as Roundabout production) Mar 2010

Art Deco orgy set by Alexander Dodge for NY Roundabout production of Present Laughter Jan 2010
(Roundabout publicity photo)

Intermission -- Huntington Present Laughter production on Broadway (as Roundabout production) Jan-Mar 2010