Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Broadway With Love Benefit Concert

This Monday, January 28th, there will be a benefit concert for the Newtown, CT families and first responders called, To Newtown, From Broadway with Love.  It will be held at the Palace Theater in Waterbury, CT beginning at 7:00 p.m. All proceeds and donations from the benefit will go to United Way of Western Connecticut’s Sandy Hook School Support Fund.

I will be attending the dress rehearsal that day along with the concert that night.  I will be utilizing my Twitter account, stuonbroadway, to continuously tweet about the performances, venue, reactions, and my interviews with the Broadway stars lending their support.  The list of Broadway artists include Tony winner Brian Stokes Mitchel, Linda Eder, composers Stephen Schwartz (Wicked, Godspell) and Frank Wildhorn (Bonnie & Clyde and Civil War, Jekyll & Hyde).   Tony winners Michael Cerveris and Christine Ebersole will perform, along with Micky Dolenz (of The Monkees), Andrea McArdle (the original Annie), Nikki Blonsky (Hairspray movie), and Robin de Jesus (In the Heights).  There will also be a special video message from Anne Hathaway.

For the past two weeks I have interviewed individuals taking part in and organizing the concert.  This included Van Dean, a Broadway producer and one of the original conceivers of the production. “The outpouring of love and support from the Broadway community has been incredibly heartwarming,” noted Dean, “and everyone was looking for a way they could use their talents to bring something positive to the community. From Broadway With Love provides them with the perfect outlet to do so.”  Two days after the tragedy in Newtown, Dean posted a message on his Facebook looking for people to put on a show.  Within hours over 100 Broadway performers, composers, and musicians had responded.

There are some tickets still available to the public. These tickets range from $50.00 to $250.00. To purchase tickets or make a tax-deductible donation, you can visit their website at  For people that cannot attend the benefit concert I hope you will follow this extraordinary event via my Twitter feed.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Review of "Breath and Imagination" at Hartford Stage

For a play to succeed there needs to be dramatic tension within a well-crafted script, characters you connect with, a cadre of highly skilled actors, and nimble and intelligent direction.  The Hartford Stage’s production of Daniel Beaty’s Breath and Imagination encapsulates all these components to make for absorbing and engaging theater.

The show, with music, tells the true-life story of Roland Hayes, the first world-renowned African-American classically trained singer.  Starting off in the early part of the 20th century the narrative is seen as a series of flashbacks of his life.  We are introduced to a young boy in poverty living on a Georgia plantation who through talent, determination, hard work, and the influence of his strong-willed mother becomes, in the end, a singing sensation in the United States and Europe.  By the early 1920’s Hayes was earning more then $100,000.00 a year, equivalent to over $2.5 million today.  During his journey, however, he had to confront the reality of the times—Jim Crow laws and racism.

The play incorporates a significant number of musical numbers throughout the show.  There are traditional spirituals, classical selections, and songs composed by playwright Daniel Beaty to flesh out the storyline.  They add a richness and vitality to the production.

The cast is small—only three performers, but they fill David Gordon’s minimal set design with solemn fervor and musical intensity.  Jubilant Sykes, depicts Roland Hayes as someone with passion, conviction, and self-confidence mixed in with self-doubt and vulnerability.  Sykes was so believable in his portrayal of Hayes, whether as an 11 year old boy, college age student, or an adult fully cognizant of his abilities.  His powerful voice resonates throughout the theater.

Kecia Lewis portrays Hayes’ mother, Angel Mo’, a woman raised as a slave who endured hardship almost all of her life.  Her guidance, bible thumping, and strong-willed personality had a significant influence on Hayes throughout his life.  Lewis fully embodies her very essence, her fortitude, and her poignancy.  As with Jubilant Sykes, Lewis possesses an impressive voice.

Tom Frey, sitting center stage for most of the show behind a piano, is a triple threat.  He accompanies the other two cast members, sings a few numbers himself, and convincingly portrays seven other characters.  A tour de force performance that cohesively binds the narrative and action together.

Playwright and composer Daniel Beaty achieves a lot with very little—three actors, a piano, and some wooden chairs.  Drawing on the whole life of Roland Hayes he has made the right choices on what to emphasize in order to tell this story of eventual triumph as well as the mother-son relationship.  My one quibble is the abridged nature of Hayes’ life.  Many aspects of this African-American singer’s career has been glossed over.  While the play succeeds as is, I would have liked more.

Director Darko Tresnjak has molded the cast into a tightly focused ensemble.  With almost no props or scenery he creates believable and dramatic moments within the lives of the three protagonists.  Theatrical flourishes, helped by York Kennedy’s lighting design, amplify the ferment and potency of the production.  He seamlessly incorporates Tom Frey’s many guises into the play without missing a beat.

Breath and Imagination--well-worth seeing.  Now at The Hartford Stage through February 9th.