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Reviews
Table of Contents

8/2/15
Tanglewood, Mozart & the BSO
(Tanglewood, Lenox, MA)

8/2/15
The Mount: Remembering the fallow years, looking at the turn around
(Lenox, MA)

7/18/15
Luna Gale
(New Century Theatre, Northampton, MA)

7/18/15
Kinship
(Williamstown <MA> Theatre Festival)

7/7/15
Legacy
(Williamstown <MA> Theatre Festival)

7/7/15
Off the Main Road
(Williamstown <MA> Theatre Festival)

7/4/15
Deathtrap
(Berkshire Theatre Group, Stockbridge, MA)

7/2/15
Dorrance Dance
(Jacob's Pillow, Becket, MA)

6/29/15
The Gospel According to Thomas Jefferson, Charles Dickens and Leo Tolstoy: DISCORD
(Chester Theatre Co.)

6/25/15
Shining City
(Barrington Stage Co., Pittsfield, MA)

6/22/15
Vespers of 1610
(Boston Early Music Festival, Mahaiwe Arts Ctr., Great Barrington, MA)

6/19/15
Seminar
(New Century Theatre, Northampton, MA)

6/14/15
Man of La Mancha
(Barrington Stage Co., Pittsfield, MA)

5/27/15
ONCE
(The Bushnell, Hartford, CT)

5/26/15
Kiss Me, Kate
(Hartford <CT> Stage)

5/10/15

Guys & Dolls
(Goodspeed Opera House, East Haddam, CT)

4/23/15
Camelot

(The Bushnell, Hartford, CT)

4/7/15
The Pianist of Willesden Lane

(Hartford <CT> Stage)

3/9/15
Follies
(Theatre Guild of Hampden, MA)

3/3/15
One Slight Hitch
(Majestic Theatre, W. Springfield, MA)

2/28/15
Reverberation
(Hartford <CT> Stage)

2/27/15
10x10 New Play Festival
(Barrington Stage, Pittsfield, MA)

2/8/15
Dirty Rotten Scoundrels
(Opera House Players, Broadbrook, CT)

2/4/15

Nice Work If You Can Get It
(The Bushnell, Hartford CT)

1/26/15
Proof
(Playhouse on Park, West Hartford, CT)

1/14/15
Iris
(Majestic Theatre, W. Springfield, MA)

1/7/15
Pippin
(The Bushnell, Hartford, CT)

12/9/15
Mozart and Dvorak
(Hartford <CT> Symphony Orchestra)

Tanglewood, Mozart & the BSO by Shera Cohen
(Lenox, MA - www.tanglewood.org )
I won’t pretend that I can, or even should, review a Tanglewood concert of Mozart music. In fact, while listening to last Sunday’s All-Mozart Program, I began to write comments in my trusty “review notebook” just as I do when I watch theatre. I soon realized that my task was ridiculous. I ceased writing altogether. The music, not to mention Mozart’s music, “said” in its own compelling way, “pay attention.” I did. To some degree, I compare taking tourist photos to my writing a review. Most people who I know think that I’m wrong not to take a camera or Iphone with me on vacations. “Save the memories,” they say. Yet, and especially because one of my skills is not as a photographer, I leave the camera home. I would spend more time trying to frame a shot, check the exposure, and make sure of no passers-by, than I would actually seeing the view. Ah, but a photo brings back a time to reminisce. Maybe so, but those memories are with me as pictures in my head. Experiencing the supreme Boston Symphony Orchestra interpret three of Mozart’s well-known symphonies was with me, not just in my ears but in my pours, in my being there in the moment. Will I be able to hum the Jupiter symphony when I return home? Of course not. Will I be able to recite the number of each work; No. 39 in E-flat, K.543? Of course not. It’s been a long time since a course in Music Appreciation for me to even know what E-flat, K.543, etc., means. Yet, in reading the Tanglewood program, it was extremely interesting, and sad, to learn that Mozart wrote symphonies No. 39, 40, and 41 in a period of just two months. The little that I knew of Mozart’s history was that this boy genius, who died at age 35, was one of the most gifted and prolific composers of any century. Didn’t Mozart deserve the attention, away from my notebook and pen, for me to listen and love his brilliant talent? Yes.

 

The Mount: Remembering the fallow years, looking at the turn around by Shera Cohen
Not so long ago, after Shakespeare & Company theatre troupe left their outdoor and indoor performance venues at The Mount in Lenox, this large home of author Edith Wharton, along with the grounds, looked empty, and to be honest, rather dingy and an unlikely site for what has become a destination point in the Berkshires -- a magnet for museum-goers and audiences of all backgrounds, interests, and ages. I never would have guessed such a 180 degree turn-around. My favorite program is the Monday Lecture Series. Again, I recall attending when 30 or so others came to The Stables Theatre to hear author book discussions, readings, and book signings. The series grew. Due to its immense popularity, many talks are now sold out even before the Mount’s brochure is printed. Topics often have an historic slant; last week’s author introduced her book about women spies during the Civil War. Speaker Karen Abbott offered one of the most dynamic and intelligent talks that I have heard, to date. A close second favorite is Wharton on Wednesdays, outdoors on the veranda. With great emphasis on language, particularly that of the early 1900’s, professional actors offer readings of Wharton short stories as guests sip wine (or whatever). This is one of the Berkshires’ most elegant “events,” yet attire is strictly casual. Fridays and Saturdays, beginning at 5pm, musicians use this same terrace for Music After Hours. In fact, each day of the week offers some form of cultural activity. Gone are the days of the empty Mount.
While at the Mount, we enjoyed viewing (sometimes trying to understand) giant art pieces placed throughout the grounds’ 50 acres under the title SculptureNow. For those who have seen this exhibit in the past, this year brings a new pool of sculpture and artists -- 28 in all made from fabric, metals, wood, fiberglass, and/or other materials. Each is whimsical, dramatic, odd, curious, and/or colorful. Of course, tours are a must-see, which include those of the house and backstairs (check the Ghost Tours) and the exquisite four-sided garden. Although I have visited the Mount for 20 years, even I was unaware of its storytelling series which takes place with a storytelling workshop in October. I end with another very important 180 degree turn - Shakespeare & Company once again mounts theatre at The Mount. For the entire summer, “Hamlet” takes the outdoor stage to present Shakespeare’s often considered best play in a Bare Bard production; meaning cut version, actors performing in multiple roles, and always extremely accessible to any audience member. There’s more to choose from: poetry readings, food adventures, film, and Friday Conversations En Francais. If only, I could remember anything learned in my three years of high school French, I might join in. Alas, I will stick with English language, albeit Elizabethan.
For information on The Mount check www.edithwharton.org.

 

Luna Gale by Konrad Rogowski
(New Century Theatre, Northampton, MA thru 7/25/15)
New Century Theatre's production of "Luna Gale" is engaging because of a strong script, strong acting, and a title character, who the audience never actually gets to see. The Rebecca Gilman play, directed by Gina Kaufmann, is a firestorm of planning and plotting by a group of adults, each with his or her own best intended solution, as to who should be the guardian of baby Luna Gale, the daughter of two young, inexperienced, and addicted parents. Enter the social worker, the grandmother, the pastor, and the child protection administrator, each with not only a plan to 'save' Luna, but each with an agenda that taints those best intentions, and raises the suspicions of the others vying for the infant. The cast does a fine job making their characters credible as motivated, yet flawed, individuals who in some instances teeter on the edge of moral and/or ethical failure. Of particular note is the performances of Ashley Malloy and Sue Dziura as the grandmother and the social worker, respectively. The action and plotting are quick, and nicely helped in their pace by Daniel D. Rist's multiple site set, that moves from office to home and on to a waiting room or nursery. "Luna Gale" is one of those plays that is worth seeing because it mandates that its audience think and evaluate, oftentimes in an uneasy manner. What really is best for baby Luna Gale?

Kinship
by Jarice Hanson
(Williamstown <MA> Theater Festival thru 7/25/15 - www.wtfestival.org)
In "Kinship," author Carey Perloff has mined the mythological story of Phedre to tell a contemporary story of passion, obsession, and power in a compellingly contemporary way. Noted director Jo Bonney sets the tale on a stark stage with minimal furniture, well used to illustrate the dark and light of emotion and impulse, intensified by Philip Rosenberg’s lighting and an edgy techno sound-track designed by Fitz Patton. On opening night there were some rough moments in the performances, but the talented cast has the intelligence and humor to reach into the core of what makes this show compelling. Cynthia Nixon, as “She,” is the energetic newspaper editor who seems to have it all—a loving family and the type of success promised to women -- but seldom realized. Penny Fuller, her close friend, provides friendship and guidance despite the age difference in the duel archetype of “Friend/Mother.” Into the picture comes Chris Lowell as “He,” the Mother’s son, and what emerges is an unfolding of multiple themes that walk the tightrope of impulse, honesty, and self-deception.
"Kinship" is very much a contemporary play about women in the world today, and it relies on the undercurrents of sexual attraction and power, particularly well communicated by Nixon. Author Perloff gives the actors beautifully crafted sections of dialog, but there are moments of staccato verbiage that fall flat and self-referential language that has characters saying “I hate theatre” while drawn into their own dramas is a device that may amuse some, but was unsuccessful for this reviewer. With time, these actors will find the way to incorporate some of the intentionally clipped language so that it is woven more fully into the fabric of the play. "Kinship" is an intelligent piece with humor and impact. The timelessness of Greek tragedy reminds us that desire often overrules good judgment, and this play may well become a milestone marking the evolution of strong women in contemporary theatre.

Legacy
by Bernadette Johnson
(Williamstown <MA> Theatre Festival, thru 7/12/15 - www.wtfestival.org)
It’s a rare treat to experience the world premiere of a play that leaves you with the gut feeling that “This one is going to make it big.” If the spontaneous and immediate standing ovation is any indication, such a play is Daniel Goldfarb’s “Legacy,” a comedy/drama starring Tony Award-nominee Jessica Hecht and Drama Desk Award-winner Eric Bogosian. It’s all about legacy, the struggle to give meaning to existence when the bedrock life has been built upon crumbles. As the play opens, a dispirited novelist, Neil (Bogosian), whose latest work has been dismissed by the New York Times as “culturally irrelevant,” spews a diatribe against critics in general, and, labeling himself a failure as a writer, proposes to his wife Suzanne (Hecht) that they try to start a family. When Suzanne has difficulty conceiving, Neil’s graduate student Heart (Halley Feiffer), with whom Suzanne has developed a friendship, is recruited as a surrogate. Casting is exceptional, Bogosian and Hecht convincingly portraying the couple’s anticipation/awkwardness/angst and a vivacious Feiffer initially exuding youthful confidence and, ultimately, the confusion and dismay of Heart’s involvement. Justin Long’s offhand and in-your-face manner as Dr. Goodman, a fertility specialist—no bedside manner here—adds much delightful humor, as do many one-liners. Dane Laffrey’s set is versatile, at first, Neil and Suzanne’s living room and bedroom, and with just a few shifts and Justin Townsend’s “sterile” lighting, the living room becomes Dr. Goodman’s office and the bedroom, the examining room. The immediacy of the examining room heightens the tension the audience feels. There is a most poignant moment with Heart, Neil and Dr. Goodman when the tension is palpable, when it seems the entire audience is holding its breath. “Legacy” touches on controversial subjects—abortion for one—and some may be offended by banter that makes light of Holocaust survivors. This reviewer didn’t feel comfortable laughing. Eric and Suzanne are Jewish, yet …. Is this disrespect or is it OK in the same way it’s OK for a black man to use the “N word”?

7/7/15
Off the Main Road
by Mary Ann Dennis
(Williamstown <MA> Theatre Festival thru 7/19)
As a former apprentice from 1980 and 1981, it was exhilarating to return to Williams College for the Williamstown Theatre Festival’s world premier of William Inge’s "Off the Main Road." Kudos to WTF for commissioning a piece that was long lost, then reintroduced by the Inge Estate. This is the kind of mission WTF has always been known for -- work that makes actors want to get their hands dirty, so to speak. Many WTF productions have taken the next big step, over the New York border, to Broadway, and "Main Road" is one that I hope makes it. The world should see these artists. The play, the actors, and the technical aspects are Broadway ready. Chills and tears welled up in me as I parked in the garage, then came into the lobby. My formative years in theatre were filled with right out of college experiences with all the hopes and dreams in the world to work alongside so many brilliant actors. While at the play this week, I happened to sit next to an apprentice the same age as I was when I first learned from this rich and electrifying group -- the same group for him, only decades later. I asked the young apprentice if they were still allowed to perform a "line rehearsal" with the main stage actors. He answered, yes and that he done so. He has no idea that his summer at WTF will be incredibly invaluable; a year's worth of acting classes in an hour or so. So glad some things hadn't changed. Okay, on to discussing the show… The play's three key characters are a mother, daughter and grandmother. Golden Globe and Emmy Award-winner Kyra Sedgwick makes her WTF debut as the elegant but emotionally fragile Faye Garrit. Her character seeks refuge from her husband by checking into a run-down resort on the outskirts of St. Louis. With her is her 17-year-old daughter portrayed by Mary Wiseman. Faye’s mother is acted by the formidable Estelle Parsons, an Academy Award and Life TIme Achievement winner and a frequent visitor to WTF's stage. Director Evan Cabnet has the skill of perfectly casting this gripping and powerful drama. He proves which Inge’s legacy of “penning rich, emotionally hard-hitting stories populated by complicated and truthful, human characters”. Sedgwick’s portrayal of Faye is masterful. Wiseman is enchanting, honest, and brilliant as her character struggles with the internal conflict she faces of not wanting to be like her mother. Parsons is perfect as Faye’s mother -- stuck in her ways, stereotypical and reminiscent of the proverbial grandma. The male actors, Jeremy Davison and Aaron Costa Ganis, hold their own well beside the female triumvirate.  The crux of the play is the root of the cycle, a cause and effect of three generations and their affects on each other. Personal, political, and sexual awakenings connect the mother and daughter with heartbreaking clarity.  I walked out of the theatre stunned with much to think about -- my own life and family members, not to mention memories of my apprenticeship at this superior theatre high on the gorgeous mountains of Williamstown. WTF was brilliant theatre then, and it is now.

 

Deathtrap by Bernadette Johnson
(Berkshire Theatre Group, Fitzpatrick Main Stage, Stockbridge, MA thru 7/25/15 - www.BerkshireTheatreGroup.org)
Ira Levin’s “Deathtrap,” written in 1978, holds the record for the longest-running comedy thriller on Broadway (1,793 performances). A play within a play—stretch that to a play within a play within a play—“Deathtrap” is set in the Connecticut suburb home of Sidney Bruhl (Greg Edelman), a has-been playwright who would kill for the kind of hit he hasn’t had in 18 years. Opportunity knocks for Bruhl when an unsolicited manuscript, “Deathtrap,” a perfect whodunit in his estimation, arrives in the mail from an unknown writer, Clifford Anderson (Tom Pecinka), a former student of his. Bruhl lures Anderson to his home with all existing copies of his play, contriving to kill the newcomer and pass the play off as his own. Supposedly! But nothing is as it seems, and if audience members think they've figured it out, advice is to guess again. It’s impossible to describe the plot’s twists and turns without a few spoilers along the way, so suffice it to say that each shift heightens the intrigue. As shifty as the plot is, so too are the personalities, and Edelman and Pecinka persuasively peel away the intricate layers of their respective roles, the apparently mild-demeanored student proving a worthy adversary to his overbearing instructor. The relationship between them is complex, each conniving to deceive the other. Edelman, rarely offstage, is a suave presence and first-rate actor. Alison Fraser is unreadable as Bruhl’s wife. It’s not always clear where she stands or what she intends, partly because much of what she says is sotto voce. Debra Jo Rupp, as the Bruhls’ Dutch psychic neighbor, flamboyantly romps across the stage spouting dire predictions in a comical Scandinavian accent. The walls of Randall Parson’s elaborate set, a writer’s studio attached to an old Colonial homestead, are covered with antique weapons, including several firearms, a mace, a crossbow, a garrote and daggers, as well as Houdini’s handcuffs. Bruhl, pointing out the mace, reminds us of Chekhov’s principle that if a weapon appears on stage, even if it’s hanging on a wall, it must be used. Luckily, not all the weapons are put into play, but heed the warning.

Dorrance Dance: A Tap and Musical Sensation
by Mary Ann Dennis
(Jacobs Pillow, Becket, MA thru 7/5/15 - www.jacobspillow.org)
“Listen to my feet and I will tell you the story of my life” was the line from the “pre-talk” that resonates. In The Blues Project, Michelle Dorrance returns to Jacobs Pillow with her all-star dancers featuring tap soloists Derick K. Grant and Dormeshia Sumbry-Edwards as well the stirring and soulful live music by renowned folk/blues composer Toshi Reagon and her band BIGLovely. According to the New Yorker, Dorrance is “one of the most imaginative tap choreographers working today”. Not knowing what is being played each night, Dorrance gets a lovely surprise by Reagon's sparking excellent improv tap/music you. A great dialogue is "spoken" between these musicians as a distinctive style that is incredibly thrilling to watch musically, emotionally, and spiritually. Dorrance notes that since she was 18-years old, she wanted to work with Toshi Reagon because she wields music the way Dorrance wields tap. This is a rock concert with guitarists' instruments seemingly to a conversing. That is exactly what the audience sees and feels from the musicians and dancers and between the dancers themselves. Grant, a known Broadway dancer, defies nature on his toes as he slides through syncopations. Sumbry-Edwards, former tap coach to Michael Jackson, rattles off music with her feet. Amazing. This hour-long show runs straight through, connecting one phase to another. The moments between each are sensitive, overlapping as one or two artists remain onstage while the next moment starts. Each dancer showcases his/her ability and personality in solos within the numbers and duets. The troupe's unison percussions are jaw dropping. A few words about lighting -- the design sets the mood perfectly for the lively choreography, making it all quite a visually intriguing production. A big “thank you” to the cast for keeping the tap alive! Dorrance is a two for one deal: You get a deal: music AND dance. Music AND Dance.

The Gospel According to Thomas Jefferson, Charles Dickens & Leo Tolstoy: DISCORD
by Mary Fernandez-Sierra
(Chester Theatre Company thru 7/5/15 - http://chestertheatre.org)
What would happen if some of the greatest writers who ever lived could be transported to the same place and time, and any of us were fortunate enough to witness the event? Oh, the possibilities… This is exactly what happens in The Chester Theatre Company’s brilliant and beautiful season opening production. Thomas Jefferson, Charles Dickens and Leo Tolstoy find themselves sequestered together after their deaths, apparently to fulfill some task unknown to them. The mystery of their mission, the finely wrought portrayals of these three literary geniuses (as well as truly out-of-this world scenery, costumes and gorgeous lighting) all combine to create a mesmerizing evening of theatre. This show will be particularly fascinating for admirers of the three writers, as the script literally dances with words and ideas from their works. Audience members unfamiliar with their writings will still be caught up in the story and the marvelous production values, but knowledge of the in-jokes and quotations simply adds an extra fillip to the fun. All three actors shine in their roles. The pace as they clash and collaborate is positively dizzying; ideas, philosophy, insults and admiration fly about the stage in an intellectual ping-pong match, which is a joy to follow. Ezra Barnes brings a soulful sincerity to Thomas Jefferson, contrasting with Rik Walters’ bravura and flamboyance as the inimitable Charles Dickens. Michael Sean McGuiness is earthy and passionate as Leo Tolstoy, adding his own gutsy gusto to what he calls the trio’s “triangular duel” about faith, reason and love. They make a superb triumvirate, bantering back and forth between comedy and drama with ease. Bravo to Scenic Designer Ezra Barnes, Lighting Designer Lara Rubin and Costume Designer Charles Schoonmaker, for enhancing the story with their extraordinary arts and skills; and much honor to Director Byam Stevens, whose staging and tempo make a play about words - and the men behind them - come to life.

Shining City
by Jarice Hanson
(Barrington Stage Company, Pittsfield, MA thru 7/11 - www.barringtonstageco.org )
If this review had a title, it would be “A Perfect Night at the Theatre.” Shining City" is a well-crafted, thoughtful play full of surprises by Conor McPherson, interpreted impeccably by a talented cast that includes Mark H. Dold, Wilbur Edwin Henry, Deanna Gibson, and Patrick Ball. Director Christopher Innvar knows how to use the intimate space of the St. Germain stage to full advantage, and draws the audience into the action from the subtle, pre-curtain rainfall in the background to the last moment of the 95-minute production that takes your breath away. The story begins with the awkward first meeting of a psychologist and his a new client. Ian (Dold) and John (Henry) engage in the initial small talk the way men do—staccato utterances peppered with affirmation and uncomfortable attempts to go beyond the superficial, but as John’s pain unfolds, the audiences learns of his late wife and his personal demons. John is suffering and knows that desires are sometimes as misleading as the thoughts he battles in his mind. He is searching for a reality that he knows may not exist, and the reality that emerges brings the stories of the two men into alignment, and simultaneously bridges mind/body, and theatre/reality. The artistic vision shared by every member of the cast and production team is so clear, the audience can’t help but be moved by the individual stories and the sense of aloneness that emerges in Ian’s cold little Dublin office. When John comes to terms with his loss in a brilliantly effective monolog, Ian’s body language not only communicates understanding on multiple levels, but the audience is treated to a master class in acting and interpreting the text. Dold and Henry are a formidable duo, and with McPherson’s words and Innvar’s guiding hand, the production gives its viewers something to think and talk about. The title, "Shining City," refers to a Biblical passage (the play is Irish, so guilt and religion are expected) but the storytelling is unforgettable.

 

Vespers of 1610, Claudio Monteverdi by Barbara Stroup
(Boston Early Music Festival Ensembles, Mahaiwe Arts Center, Great Barrington, MA - www.bemf.org)
Fresh from a Boston performance of this and other Monteverdi works, the artists from the Boston Early Music Festival delivered a confident and stunning performance in the Mahaiwe. Eschewing more modern presentations with many on each part, Conductor Stephen Stubbs chose to offer the audience the transparency and clarity that best benefit this late-Renaissance sacred work, using nine singers and 15 instruments. The Vespers of 1610 was performed in its entirety and in the order in which the composer published it. In his pre-concert talk, co-Artistic Director Paul O'Dette convincingly described the evidence used to make this choice. These remarks of both Stubbs and O'Dette helped clarify the architecture of the piece and showed not only the reverence in which it is held, but the amount of musicological research behind this performance. Utilizing instruments of the period, the ensemble achieved a well-blended sound whether supporting vocal parts or performing alone. Particularly outstanding was gambist Erin Headley, who had barely a measure of rest but who provided an anchor for the entire continuo section with her smooth and fluid sound. The section included the director at times, playing chitarrone, an organ, cello, double bass, harp along with Odette on chittarone. Upper line instruments made singular solo and ensemble contributions appropriately, including the longest trombone ever seen by this reviewer. Cornetto playing was particularly effective, but even so, the use of recorders by the same players for brief respites was charming and welcome. The vocal ensemble was faultless in pitch and drama. Their commitment to the text and to other parts was clear in both their solo "concerti" and ensemble sections. The audience let it be known that the entire performance was a joy by calling the players and singers back several times. It is a wonderful partnership to have BEMF in Western MA and it is hoped such appearances will increase.

Seminar
by Barbara Stroup
(New Century Theatre, Northampton thru 6/27/15 - www.newcenturytheatre.org)
Four characters in search of success as fiction writers hire a writing guru, bond in various ways (not only literary), and occasionally discuss the meaning of art. “Seminar,” a well-paced play by seasoned playwright Theresa Rebeck, entertains audiences with some effective one-liners and a bit of predictability. This well-acted vehicle opens New Century Theatre’s 25th year, and was received with laughter and appreciation by a nearly full house at opening night. Keith Langsdale brings a vituperative interpretation to his character of Leonard, the writing coach, embellishing the mean-spirited comments with appropriate physicality. Even when the audience learns its probable origins, the nastiness seems overdrawn. As his critiques assault each writer in turn, the blade becomes even sharper. Myka Plunkett is engaging as Kate, the light-footed, preppy Bennington graduate and the first writer whose prose suffers Leonard’s attack. The lancing continues, until there is finally some hope that good art might exist among these writers. The surprise at the end comes from whose art “wins.” In the same scene, Kate is unnecessarily diminished. How Rebeck treats both female characters is a disappointment. The use of a folk harp for sound, both live and recorded, enhances the production aurally, as did the use of multiple recorded speeches during the play’s only and most significant stage change. Often, the audience finds itself watching Langsdale’s back as he deliveres significant speeches, thanks either to direction or to set design. Somewhat buried in this script is some insights about creativity and the courage it takes, a theme worth addressing that makes the play worth watching.

Man of La Mancha
by Shera Cohen
(Barrington Stage Company, Pittsfield, MA thru 7/11/15 - www.barringtonstageco.org)
As in past years, Barrington Stage (BSC) opens its mainstage season, this time for its 10th anniversary, with a blockbuster musical. Yet, mounting a tried ‘n true, oft-remembered Broadway show on a smaller scale does not by any means ensure success in text translation, actors’ skills, director’s imagination, or box office tallies. Well, no worries here. BSC presents a splendid “Man of La Mancha” with nearly every element top-notch. Taking Cervantes’ dashing and dark, poignant and philosophical, simplistic and sincere portrait of the mythical Don Quixote, director Julianne Boyd places all the important elements worked by talented individuals in precisely the right places at the correct pace. The result is a magical piece of theatre. Lead actor, BSC “regular,” is Jeff McCarthy, physically looks the part(s) of Cervantes and Don Quixote. McCarthy, excellent in last summer’s “All My Sons,” should be credited foremost as an actor, secondarily, an actor who can sing very well. McCarthy plays a 60-something man who, in turn, portrays an older man. His voice is true to his character especially in the signature piece, “The Impossible Dream.” Young actress Felicia Boswell takes her role seriously, down and dirty, in your face. Her eyes light up with anger, sinking her teeth into the spirit of Aldonza, “the kitchen slut reeking in sweat.” There’s a bit of a 21st century edge to Boswell’s voice, initially somewhat distracting but soon becoming raw and real. Other notables include Todd Horman (Padre) whose smooth baritone is comforting. Sean MacLaughlin (Dr. Carrasco) creates an endearing side to his character which this reviewer has never seen in any prior productions. There is so much potential to thoroughly enjoy Tom Alan Robbins’ Sancho, except for the Brooklyn-sounding accent in speech and song. Not enough can be said about the tech/backstage crew. At first sight, before finding your seat, looms a dark, dirty stage engulfed in floating dry-ice -- a feeling of lifelessness. The set is metal and stone. Jail bars hang, then miraculously become church stain-glass windows. Choreographer Greg Graham works hand-in-hand (fist-to-fist, sword-to-sword) with fight choreographer Ryan Winkles. Music director Darren R. Cohen leads his nine-piece orchestra to sound like double, triple the talent.

Once
by R.E. Smith
(The Bushnell, Hartford, CT thru 5/31/15 - www.bushnell.org)
“Once” the musical, is, indeed, many things at once. It is concert and recital, intimate and expansive, personal and universal. It is humorous, heart breaking and hopeful, understated, but technically brilliant. It is a true original in style, score, and execution, despite being based on a 2007 movie. Set in Dublin, it is a simple story of passions lost and found. “Guy” is about to give up on his music when he is rescued by a muse in the form of a Czech “Girl.” Despite their mutual interests, and attraction, their love remains chaste. Their collaboration is of an artistic order. The folktale atmosphere is only heightened by an Irish pub setting, as if this is a story being told amongst friends over a few pints. And what friends these are! Every performer is a quadruple threat: singer, actor, dancer, and musician. The ensemble serves as the on-stage orchestra, stepping in and out of the roles of Guy’s mates and Girl’s family. Each is given a moment to shine in both book and score, but all work seamlessly as a whole, as any good house band would. While there are no “dance” sequences per se (credits are given for “movement”), the unique staging, swift scene changes, and introspective gestures make even the quietest moments fluid and engaging. The music, including the Oscar winning song (in a Tony-award winning musical!) “Falling Slowly,” is almost anti-Broadway. Rooted in folk and Irish traditions, the songs can be melancholy. But their beauty is undeniable, embellished with violins, cello, ukulele, concertina, and mandolin. Like any “traditional” show tune, the passion of the performers reaches out and engages the audience. Stuart Ward as “Guy” is a study in contrast; awkward and unsure in personal relationships, he sings his songs of loss with a rock star presence. Dani de Waal as “Girl,” conveys subtle longing and sadness while winningly providing no nonsense practicality. “Once” uses the simple tagline “his music needed one thing: her”, but this show is a beautifully complex experience, making for a unique, heartfelt evening unlike any other. A small warning: the Bushnell acoustics sometime make it difficult to understand dialogue, add to that Irish brogues and Czech dialects and some subtleties can be lost. Be prepared to concentrate.

Kiss Me, Kate
by Bernadette Johnson
(Hartford <CT> Stage thru 6/14/15 - www.hartfordstage.org)
“Another Op’nin’, Another Show,” but not just any show. A review of "Kiss Me Kate" at Hartford Stage could be summed up in one word, “WOW,” but this tell-it-all interjection should be expanded upon a bit, for Director Darko Tresnjak has given his audience yet another crowd-pleaser. "Kiss Me Kate" follows the backstage antics of a theatre company presenting a musical version of Shakespeare’s "The Taming of the Shrew" (a play within a play) starring divorced Broadway legends whose feelings for each other have obviously not totally dried out, though each is claiming a new love interest. Throw in their new flames and two gangsters who’ve come to the theatre to collect on a large gambling debt (and refuse to leave their charge unsupervised), and the plot—both onstage and backstage—thickens. Terrific vocals render Cole Porter’s music and lyrics in grand fashion. Anastasia Barzee, in the dual roles of Lilli (offstage) and Katharine (onstage), the shrew whom none would wed, and Mike McGowan, as actor Fred Graham (offstage) and Petruchio, the suitor whose "Come to Wive It Wealthily," both have big rich voices, whether tenderly reminiscing with "Wunderbar" or belting out "Kiss Me, Kate." Barzee’s "I Hate Men" (as Katharine) is a show-stopper—and does she ever hold that note! Megan Sikora, Fred Graham’s flirty, flighty sweetheart Lois Lane, persuasively declares the opposite as she proclaims (as Bianca) that either "Tom, Dick or Harry" will do. This number, an audience favorite, is great fun, the choreography bawdy and delightful. Brendan Averett and Joel Blum, the determined gangsters, stand by their charge, Fred Graham, like decorative bookends, their costumes and wigs accenting their mugged expressions, and hilarity definitely ensues their showpiece "Brush Up Your Shakespeare." Kudos to all involved in this toe-tapping extravaganza, from the leads to the entire company, from Tresnjak to costume designer Fabio Toblini, scenic designer Alexander Dodge, choreographer Peggy Hickey, music director Kris Kukul and all who contributed to making "Kiss Me Kate" the success that it is. What’s not to like? Perhaps the fact that the show will only run through June 14.

 

Guys & Dolls by Shera Cohen
(Goodspeed Opera House, East Haddam, CT thru 6/20/15)
Most musicals include two or three memorable songs for audience members to hum upon leaving the theatre. The exceptional shows might offer four or five. Then, there are the “Guys & Dolls-type” productions in the musical cannon which boast at least 10 top hits that stick in your brain for days or weeks at a time. It seems impossible for anyone to not know and enjoy the following: “ A Bushel & A Peck,” “Luck Be a Lady,” “Sue Me,” “The Oldest Established,” “If I Were a Bell,” “Adelaide’s Lament,” “Sit Down, You’re Rockin’ the Boat,” not to mention the title song. Originally staged on Broadway in 1950, two Damon Runyon stories morphed into “Guys & Dolls” -- a tale about men and women in boot-leggin’ NYC. The guys are gamblers with dice; their gals are gamblers in love. The focus of the plot are two couples; Sky and Sarah (both quite handsome), Nathan and Adelaide (both quite average). The audience roots for love to conquer all in spite of numerous setbacks for this quartet of vulnerable people. Most productions “star” Sky and Sarah. After all, they are the pretty ones. Yet, Goodspeed’s star is clearly Adelaide.Nancy Anderson is a knock-out. Yes, she can sing (with a droll nasal New York accent), and her body and legs are something to hoot at. More importantly, this gal can act. This reviewer has oftentimes dismissed Adelaide as stupid and whinny, given filler songs to beef up the show with humor. Anderson takes the shell that Adelaides on other stages have worn and fleshes her out, body and soul. Mark Price (Adelaide’s beaux Nathan) plays conniving with a sweet touch. Manna Nickols (Salvation Army drum-beating Sister Sarah) uses her near-operatic voice throughout. Tony Roach (Sky Masterson...whata’ great name) sings well, spices up “Luck Be a Lady” choreography with nice moves, but shows little emotion in romantic scenes. Superb is the word to describe the skills of the ensemble of singers/dancers. Their accoutrements embellish their many fun moments; i.e. herring bone suits, fedora hats, bouffant hairdos, and speaking style [just try leaving out contractions...it’s not easy.] The jazzy, colorful set is primarily NYC in lights, with side trips to the mission house, crap game cellar, and Havana. The eight-piece band (only eight?) never eclipses the voices. So, be a lucky lady or guy, and enjoy some great talent at Goodspeed.

Camelot
by Michael J. Moran
(The Bushnell, Hartford, CT thru 4/26 - www.bushnell.org)
To step in for the ailing star of a show on opening night must be a nerve-wracking feat, but that’s what understudies are for, and Troy Bruchwalski rose to the occasion with a finely nuanced portrayal of King Arthur in the national tour of Lerner & Loewe’s beloved masterpiece "Camelot." Based on T. H. White’s novel The Once and Future King, "Camelot" tells the legend of 16th-century King Arthur of England and his Knights of the Round Table, who became known for settling disputes not through war but through law, and whose good deeds attracted recruits from far and wide. After the famously virtuous Sir Lancelot arrives from France, his growing love for Arthur’s Queen, Guinevere, and the treachery of Arthur’s illegitimate son Mordred tear the peaceful kingdom apart. As Guinevere, Mary McNulty has a warm stage presence and a glorious singing voice. Tim Rogan makes for a dashing Lancelot. However, opening night showed some misses in the comic potential of his introductory number, “C’est Moi,” and his top notes are strained in his big ballad, “If Ever I Would Leave You.” Comic relief is well provided by Mark Poppleton, who does double duty as Arthur’s mercurial teacher, the magician Merlin, and as King Pellinore, a dotty more or less permanent house guest of Arthur and Guinevere. The most fully realized performance is that of Kasidy Devlin as a deliciously wicked Mordred. The men and women of the ensemble are versatile and seamless. The resourceful scenic design by Kevin Depinet gets maximal value from sliding panels that move unobtrusively on and off stage with scene changes. Costume design by Paul Tazewell is tasteful and period appropriate. Michael McFadden’s direction keeps the action moving forward at an exciting but never frenetic pace. The tag line for this production is “Camelot…the story as you’ve never seen it before.” An apter line might be be “as you’ve never heard it before,” since musical director Marshall Keating has only four other musicians with him in the orchestra pit. The interplay of guitar/lute, cello, and reeds is the most delectable feature of this "Camelot."

The Pianist of Willesden Lane
by Bernadette Johnson
(Hartford Stage, Hartford, CT thru 4/26 - www.hartfordstage.org)
One needn’t be an accomplished musician or even an aficionado of classical music to be fully enraptured by the virtuosity of Mona Golabek, the sole performer in this musical recounting of the life of Lisa Jura, one of three daughters in a middle-class Jewish family in wartime Vienna.
Golabek is not an actress, but she has taken to the stage to recount a story that is near and dear to her—that of her mother’s painful separation from her family via the Kindertransport, a World War II program to relocate Jewish children, unaccompanied, to the relative safety of England, where they were placed with relatives, host families or in group homes. No, Golabek is not an actress (a drawback at times, since words are lost due to her soft-spokenness), but rather an expressive storyteller who uses great music—Grieg, Mozart, Debussy, Chopin, Beethoven et al.—to convey the heartbreak of separation, the pathos, the joy, the drama, as well as the conviction, that defined Jura’s life journey. “Hold on to your music. It will be your best friend,” Jura’s mother told her, and Jura shared the power of these words in the piano lessons she passed on to her own daughter, sharing the dreams and the hopes that sustained her despite the fears and the hardships. With the help of a Steinway concert grand, Golabek seamlessly pieces together the narrative and music of her mother’s life. Oversized gilded frames form the backdrop to a simple set consisting of gold-trimmed black steps and platforms that Golabek ascends and descends as she addresses the audience. These frames become screens on which Andrew Wilder and Greg Sowizdrzal have skillfully projected historical scenes that underscore the narrative. Unfortunately, the projections are less clear from the back rows of the theatre. The best vantage point for fully appreciating Gobalek’s piano renditions is definitely house center, where one can watch her fingers as they fly over the keys.

 

Follies by Michael J. Moran
(Theatre Guild of Hampden, Hampden, MA thru 3/22/15- http://theatreguildofhampden.org)
The original Broadway production of Stephen Sondheim’s “Follies” won six Tony Awards in 1972, including best direction of a musical, best choreography, best scenic design, and best costume design. Mark Giza’s sensitive direction, Kathleen Delaney’s imaginative choreography, the resourceful set design by Josiah Durham and Giza, and Ann-Marie Popko’s period-perfect costume design are equally award-worthy in TGH’s thrilling production of this musical theatre production. On entering Fisk Hall at Wilbraham Monson Academy in Wilbraham, the audience sees the rundown stage of an old theatre slated for demolition on which a reunion of past performers in musical revues - based on Ziegfeld’s Follies - is about to take place 30 years after their closing show in 1941. The story focuses on two unhappily married former showgirls and the husbands who courted them back then. They and other characters are often hauntingly shadowed on stage by ghosts of their younger selves. Performances by the large cast of 27 players are consistently enthusiastic and committed. Gene Choquette’s Ben is jaded yet vulnerable, while Anna Giza captures all the bitterness and yearning of his wife Phyllis. Colby Herchel and Kk Walulak are touching as their younger counterparts. Kevin Wherry is funny and poignant as the hapless Buddy, putting his flexible limbs to entertaining use in “Buddy’s Blues.” Erica Romeo’s portrayal of Buddy’s wife Sally is a revelation, as she moves from giddy girlishness in her arrival at the reunion, through the emotional rekindling of her youthful affair with Ben, to her stark realization that she can never have him. The depth and pain of her “Losing My Mind” are especially heartrending. Alley Reardon is endearing as Young Sally, as is Paul Leckey as Young Buddy. Special supporting cast kudos go to Pat Haynes, whose ditsy Hattie is a hoot in “Broadway Baby,” and to Conni Lind, whose understated Carlotta triumphs in a powerful, subtly shaded “I’m Still Here.” The five-piece on-stage band sound like a much bigger orchestra under musical director Bill Martin and does yeoman’s work in meeting the challenges of Sondheim’s intricate score. This "Follies” is outstanding, to be much appreciated by local theatre fans.

 

One Slight Hitch by Jennifer Curran
(Majestic Theater, W. Springfield, MA thru 4/4 - www.majestictheater.com)
Lewis Black, the well-known comedian, whose penchant for raw, angry and political stand-up is well-known, has crafted a Neil Simon homage with not one sharp edge. Steeped in nostalgia, topped with some great early 80’s music, and a lot of door banging slap stick, “One Slight Hitch” is a very funny play. In a well-appointed suburban home in Cincinnati, Doc (Anderson Matthews) and his wife Delia (Rebecca Nelson), are gearing up for their eldest daughter Courtney’s wedding to straight laced, overly wholesome Harper. One slight hitch has led Courtney’s ex-boyfriend Ryan into the midst of the action. Unwelcome and uninvited, the wandering writer Ryan (Ryan McCarthy)brings to light the deep dysfunction, the tight bonds, and the alcoholism abundant in middle America. The standout performances here belong to Emery Henderson as P.B., the eternal little sister, and the previously mentioned Anderson Matthews. Henderson is a light on the stage and her moments of nostalgia are truly golden. She flits and dances like a real life Rainbow Brite, entirely endearing and never too sweet. Matthews’ Doc, the beleaguered father of three daughters, is hilariously intoxicated throughout, yet manages to stay on just the right side of ridiculous. The audiences roots for this crazy family from lights up. Special mention here goes to Ashley Malloy and her wickedly fun turn as the errant rebel Melanie. She is the reason all that light doesn’t get too blinding. Rand Foerster’s direction brings out the best in the script and avoid getting too sticky sweet in key moments, of which there could have been one too many. “One Slight Hitch” recalls the classic American play. One set, one story, and one very big heart beats to songs somehow now three decades past.

 

Reverberation by Bernadette Johnson
(Hartford Stage Co. thru 3/15/15- www.hartfordstage.org)
Artistic Director Darko Tresnjak has admitted hesitating to include Matthew Lopez’s “Reverberation” – a bold play that is “rather frank – about love and sexuality; gay, straight, and in between” – in the current season lineup. Luckily for Hartford Stage theatergoers, Tresnjak trusted his audience, and this compelling piece of theatre is currently making its world debut before Hartford audiences. Lopez is no stranger to HS. A young talent and prolific playwright, his award-winning work “The Whipping Man” garnered rave reviews here in 2012. Now, with “Reverberation,” Lopez has definitely scored once again. Yes, this is a tale of love and sexuality, but more so, it is emotion laid bare – grief, loneliness, desperation, desolation – as his characters (Jonathan, grieving the untimely death of his longtime lover; Claire, the new upstairs neighbor; and Wes, one of Jonathan’s one-night-stands) struggle to give their lives meaning. Each actor is powerful and authentic in his/her respective role, making audience members forget they are actually watching a play, but feeling, rather, caught up in the maelstrom that is their lives. The emotions are genuine, their expression raw and riveting. Luke Macfarlane’s Jonathan is enshrouded by grief, withdrawn and dispirited. Aya Cash’s Claire is vibrant, probing and challenging, an extroverted foil to Jonathan’s self-absorbed character, a clash that eventually dissolves, at least temporarily, into an interdependent affinity. Carl Lundstedt’s Wes displays a trusting boyish innocence and is delightfully love-struck. Silences and hesitations speak volumes. Unfortunately, many tête-à-têtes between Jonathan and Claire are close and intimate, so much so that some dialogue is lost. Scenic Designer Andromache Chalfant’s impressive multi-level Astoria, Queens’ apartment house with adjacent four flights of stairs is more than a setting. Although told that both apartments are identical, Jonathan’s is as cluttered as his mind, whereas Claire’s upstairs unit is sparse, as unsettled as she is. Act II adjustments note the passage of time and suggest that they have both moved on. Tei Blow’s music and sounds are loud and chaotic, at times bordering on annoyingly so, until one begins to associate the dissonance with the characters’ states of mind.

10X10 New Play Festival by Shera Cohen
(Barrington Stage, Pittsfield, MA thru 3/1/15 - www.barringtonstageco.org)
While math is not one of my many skills, I easily managed to fully enjoy ten 10-minute plays by 10 playwrights featuring six actors in 21 roles, directed by two talented women on one stage -- Barrington’s St. Germain Stage. Heavy snow (hmm, sounds familiar) postponed my attending opening weekend. Fortunately, Barrington and I rescheduled. All worked out well, as last Sunday was a balmy 38 degrees in Pittsfield. Recent journeys up north in the past few months by several Spotlight writers substantiate the fact that the Berkshires do NOT close their doors in December and reopen in May. Apparently, lots of other theatre goers know this, because there was not a single empty seat in the theatre. 10x10 is a jam-packed two-hours of near rapid-fire mini-plays. Each “playette” (is that a word?) is complete and not connected to any of the other plays. The six actors (three men, three women) double as stage crew. The playwrights are experienced with resumes to prove it, as are the actors who are all Equity except for one. This is a very talented sextet who work well as an ensemble. Most of the plays in Act I are comedies. Act II provides some drama. The stories feature just two characters for the most part. One play immediately follows another, no curtain calls, just next, next, and next. Certainly, it is impossible to enjoy all ten plays. Out of my own seven “nominees,” one comedy and one drama tie for “best play.” Sorry, I can’t help the analogy to the Oscars, aired later that same day. The plot of “Mandate,” by Kelly Younger, is a very funny forced “bromance” by the wives of two disparate men who have just met. One man begs to be the other’s BFF. The humor oozes from the awkwardness. Playwright James McLindon’s “Broken” pits two political prisoners in one small cell. The situation, the place, the era do not matter. It’s raw and dramatic. You might think...a play that’s only 10 minutes? How good could it be? When 10 minutes is all you need, it can be very good at Barrington Stage.

 

Dirty Rotten Scoundrels by Tim O'Brien
(The Opera House, Broad Brook CT thru February 22, 2015)
A musical comedy based on the 1988 film of the same name, "Dirty Rotten Scoundrels" offers tremendous overall charm despite some inherent weaknesses in the script itself. With over 20 song and/or dance numbers spread across two acts, they can't all be winners, and a few of the tunes fall a little flat through absolutely zero fault of the terrific Opera House Players troupe. Sly direction by Denise Boutin smooths away the rough spots and injects abundant, richly-observed subversiveness into scenes dogged at times by David Yazbeck's slightly inconsistent song craft. Actors break the fourth wall and offer self-referential jokes while the better-than-usual (and quite nicely choreographed) chorus gets lots of tongue-in-cheek moments of their its throughout the production. Boutin has also cast a solid love triangle. Brian Rucci brings debonair ennui to veteran con man Lawrence, emcees smoothly through the proceedings and gets even better in the later going as the over-the-top Dr. Shuffhausen.
The other primary scoundrel Freddy is played with boundless energy and standout vocal chops by Randy Davidson. Christine Voytko is winsome and deceptively earnest, spot-on in the character of, well, Christine. Among the secondary leads, Michael King consistently pulls the biggest laughs as the mildly corrupt but always human local police chief Andre. His
love interest Muriel (Tracy Funke) matches King's excellent singing and shows sweet vulnerability. Emily Stisser brings lots of life to the essentially cameo role of Okie cowgirl and heiress Jolene. Kudos to the stage crew; the seemingly simple set transforms ingeniously in
a flash and the scene changes are done with the precision of an Indy pit crew. Musical director Paul Feyer leads a clever four-piece band that sounds bigger than it is. Of note to parents, there are a few highly suggestive moments on stage, plus some salty language. In the pet-peeve department, this reviewer wishes the body mics worn by the principals were less visible; but on the plus side, every word is audible and the audience's experience is the better for it. "Dirty Rotten Scoundrels" is top-shelf community theatre.

 

Nice Work If You Can Get It by Sharon Smith
(The Bushnell, Hartford CT - www.bushnell.org thru 2/8/15
“Nice Work If You Can Get It” marks a homecoming for the musical, which traces its origins to the Goodspeed Opera House down the road in East Haddam. The show went through many changes on the journey from CT, to Broadway, to Tony winner, and back again, but in all incarnations the heart and appeal lies in the classic music of George and Ira Gershwin. In the madcap world of 1927 Prohibition, bootleggers, high society types, and a bevy of chorus girls collide in a mix of romance, mistaken identities, and slapstick high-jinx. This is the type of light and frothy story that finds gangsters posing as butlers and the vice squad partakes in more vices then it foils. Mariah MacFarlane as rum-runner Billie Bendix is a splendid talent, with a strong voice and crack timing. It takes such a balance to sing “Someone to Watch Over Me” while holding a shotgun. A supporting cast of star-crossed lovers is top notch. Highlights include Aaron Fried and Stephanie Gandolfo’s, “Do It Again” and “Blah, Blah Blah.” Reed Campbell and Stephanie Harter Gilmore’s, “Looking for a Boy” is also a stand out, sung as it is from a swinging chandelier. In addition to “Looking” the choreography delights throughout, with the bathtub based “Delishious” yielding a bubbly surprise. Any “new” Gershwin musical is sure to invoke comparison to 1992’s “Crazy For You” and while “Nice” may not have the rock-solid book of that show, it does have exciting choreography, delightful performances and the kind of exuberance that can make any audience temporarily forget the chilly weather outside.

Proof by Jennifer Curran
(Playhouse on Park, West Hartford, CT - www.playhouseonpark.com thru 2/8/15
Nearly 15 years ago "Proof," written by David Auburn, was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Drama and a Tony Award for Best Play. "Proof" has been produced in community, regional and professional theatres across the globe. Its themes of logic and reason, right and wrong, and trust and love are universal, but bring these deeply human emotions into the ultra-logical world of math, ambition, academia and insanity and the result is extraordinarily profound. The play is a story told through the eyes of Catherine, the daughter of Robert (Damian Buzzerio), a genius mathematician. Recently deceased after struggling with mental illness for several years, Robert was cared for by Catherine alone. he shares his love of math, but fears deeply she may also share the same mental illness as her father. The role of Catherine is inherently difficult, but in the hands of actress Dana Brooke it looks as easy as adding one and one. Brooke brings Catherine so fully to life, so perfectly balanced between likable and stridently imperfect that the audience is on her side within minutes. At times heart-breaking and others hilarious, this is a performance worth seeing again and again. Her scenes with Hal, played with everyman charm by Marty Scanlon, are endearing and enriched with a sweetness. Credit must be given to Melissa Macleod Herion for her ability to find the gentleness and love in Claire, also a role that is a tightrope act. It would be, and tragically often is, easy to play Claire deeply unlikeable, but here Claire is rooted in love and good intentions. She is the Big Sister and to that end, we love her for her imperfections, for her true desire to be a source of comfort. The two women lead this production with great care about this family and who they were and who they will become. With a stripped down stage, the acting is what matters here. Christopher Hoyt’s stage design is deceptively simple, a playground for actors who so clearly deserve a packed house. Director Dawn Loveland nail the casting and tells one great story. This is a truly terrific production of the modern classic.

Iris
by Shera Cohen
(The Majestic, West Springfield, MA - www.majestictheater.org thru 2/15/15)
It’s always a thrill for the theatre goer to participate in a world premier, which is the case with “Iris,” penned by Majestic’s Artistic Director Danny Eaton. The era is the present and future. The characters are every-day folk, primarily representing a family; one member, ever-present center-stage, lays in a coma. Her daughter (Iris) is the primary narrator as well as the lead character. As the story progresses, what seems to be normal under the circumstances and in the setting of a long-term health care facility, takes a twist. Myka Plunkett plays Iris as intelligent, spright, and charming. She portrays the daughter who every mother would want. It is through her eyes that the audience sees and understands the others on stage. She watches every minute movement and listens to every syllable, reacting with her eyes and demeanor. To say more is to give away the mysterious of the plot. The playbill refers to the subject matter as “putting a human face on issues.” Yes, “Iris” certainly fulfills that requirement, and in most cases appropriately, slowly, and gently. However, Act II, in particular, seems to have “issues” that come from nowhere, causing some characters to react unexpectedly. Issues include religion, war and veterans, and euthanasia, among others -- with a different character leading the charge and rhetoric on each. Tom Dahl portrays the best of these outspoken characters as maintenance man Leonard. Steve Henderson, whose volume on stage is often loud (or he is directed to be loud), is spot-on as a caring father. It is Keith Langsdale’s Columbo-ish cop who in Act II brings some much needed humor. An important factor in all Majestic plays is the mix of Equity and community actors. Skipping the definition of “Equity,” suffice it to say that these are pros, and community actors are just that -- from the community, usually with day jobs that don’t resemble the arts in any way. Yet, the difference between the two genres of actors is undetectable by the human eyes. Once again, The Majestic has mounted a play whose actors have been well-cast and, for the most part, exemplary.

Pippin by Michael J. Moran
(The Bushnell, Hartford, CT - www.bushnell.org thru 1/11)
Since it first opened on Broadway in 1972, this stirring tale of life choices made by the young adult son (Pippin) of medieval King Charles (Charlemagne) has become a classic coming-of-age story that resonates with audiences of all ages. In the Actors Equity tour of the 2013 Tony-Award winning revival at the Bushnell, director Diane Paulus adds a circus setting which heightens the drama of the plot and delights an enthusiastic full house. With catchy music and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz and book by Roger O. Hirson, the original production was directed and choreographed by Bob Fosse, whose jazzy dance style is evoked in much of the new choreography by Chet Walker. Colorful costume design by Dominique Lemieux and often daring circus acts by Gypsy Snider further enhance the razzle-dazzle quotient in this fast-paced presentation. All these elements are brought to pulsing life by a well-matched cast, featuring the original Pippin, John Rubinstein, as his father, Charles, whom he portrays with zany exuberance. Kyle Dean Massey is a convincingly endearing and bewildered Pippin, a role he also played in the Broadway production. Sasha Allen, a veteran of NBC TV’s “The Voice,” brings a steely irreverence to her portrayal of the Leading Player/narrator who sets the overall tone for the production. The scene that best conveys the “Magic To Do” of the show’s opening number features Lucie Arnaz in a star turn as Pippin’s grandmother, Berthe. As the now 63-year-old actress gamely cavorts high above the stage on a trapeze, her big number, “No Time at All,” brings the house down. With great ensemble work and other memorable tunes like Pippin’s “Corner of the Sky” and his stepmother Fastrada’s “Spread a Little Sunshine,” fans undeterred by cold weather should get their tickets to this entertaining production before remaining seats at later performances sell out.