Sunday, July 16, 2017

Review of "West Side Story"

The street gangs, the Jets and Sharks, are battling anew in the problematic production of the Leonard Bernstein/Stephen Sondheim/Arthur Laurents classic, West Side Story, playing at the Ivoryton Playhouse through July 30th.  The musical can be utterly captivating, primarily when actress Mia Pinero, who plays the innocent, love struck Maria, is on stage.  The actress has a golden, powerful voice that radiates sonorously throughout the historic theater.  However, the elevated moments are tempered by a mostly young cast whose exuberance comes across as somewhat headstrong and unruly.

For patrons unfamiliar with the musical, the story parallels Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet.  Tony (Stephen Mir) and Maria (Mia Pinero) are the two star-crossed lovers from different worlds and ethnicities.  Their deeply felt romance, nonetheless, leads to tragedy even though, ultimately, there is reconciliation between the two gangs.  

Book writer Arthur Laurents brings an urgency to the story that can still crackle today.  When the show opened in 1957 the raw emotions of the characters, the urban setting, and unforgiving street life were jarring to audiences.  The uncompromising race relations between the Puerto Rican youths and their white counterparts were powerful images that, while not as impactful today, sixty years later still resonate loudly.

The score, with music by Leonard Bernstein, who was at the height of his composing skills; and lyrics by an unseasoned Stephen Sondheim, still endures to this day.  Every song seems like a timeless classic from the rousing opening “Jet Song” to the lovely, haunting duets of “Tonight” and “One Hand, One Heart” to the comedic “I Feel Pretty” and “Gee, Officer Krupke.”  I only wish the pit band could have been located somewhere on the staging area, as opposed to underneath, to avoid a slight muffling of the sound.  

The cast, a mix of professionals, recent college graduates and current higher education students, is full of vitality and abandon.  The fervor most of them bring to the musical energizes the production, but also leads to uneven performances.   Stephen Mir, as Tony, has a strong voice and boy-next-door quality, but lacks the commanding presence required by the former leader of the Jets.  Conor Robert Fallon’s Riff has the passion necessary for the role of second-in-command of the street gang, but needs a more nuanced approach to the role.  Likewise, Victor Borjas’ portrayal of Bernardo, the leader of the Sharks, could have used more shading to bring out his outrage and contempt.  The other male characters, again, have an impassioned zeal, but could have displayed more subtlety and restraint.  The two key women, on the other hand, have a confident stage presence that invigorates the production.  Mia Pinero’s Maria is sweet, naïve, and bursting with love.  She has a stunning voice that make her duets with Stephen Mir one of the main highlights of the show.  Natalie Madlon’s Anita is sexy, self-assured, yet vulnerable.  She is so well poised on stage that she demands your attention.  Hillary Ekwalls shows a cageyness and adroitness in the minor role of Anybodys.

Director/Choreographer Todd L. Underwood has helmed a production which can soar, yet also swoop.   The pacing of the show comes fast and furious, with echoes of Jerome Robbins’ original choreography.  But the task of harnessing the sometimes unbounded enthusiasm of his actors in group settings proves daunting.  He Is more successful in the intimate scenes and the musical’s comedic turns.  The dream sequence in Act II, for those not familiar with the storyline, came across as perplexing.

The Set Design by Daniel Nischan, with its hinged scenery opening and closing to create distinct locales, is judicious in its use of space to create minimal, yet different settings.  The Lighting Design by Marcus Abbott helps augment the tensions in the show.  His use of shadows heightens the drama and ferment of the production.

West Side Story, playing at the Ivoryton Placehouse through July 30th.  For tickets go to the Ivoryton website.

Review of "Singin in the Rain"

Tucked away in a small tent off the New Canaan High School parking lot is one of the most entertaining musicals of the summer season. There, the Summer Theatre of New Canaan is presenting a highly gratifying and dazzling production of Singin’ in the Rain. Based on the 1952 film classic of the same name, the stage version is just as lively and humorous as its celluloid counterpart. Coupled with an ageless score, this ode to the beginnings of movie talkies is a feast for eyes and ears alike.
The ensemble from Singin' in the Rain.

The plot, frothy and vapid, is a variation of the ageless storyline of boy meets girl, boy loses girl, and, finally, boy wins girl.   It focuses on silent movie idols Don Lockwood (Matthew Tiberi) and Lina Lamont (Jodi Stevens). In public, they are the blissful couple, but in private they mesh like oil and vinegar. Their careers face upheaval with the advent of sound that, overnight, begins sweeping through the motion picture industry.  The problem-- Lina Lamont’s speaking and singing voice are dreadful.  However, Don’s best friend and studio gopher, Cosmo Brown (David Rossetti), comes up with the novel idea of having the fresh-faced young actress Kathy Selden (Annabelle Fox) dub Lamont’s voice.  She, of course, is the woman Lockwood has previously met and really loves.   Through mishaps and missteps, the plan works as love prevails over adversity and the mean machinations of Lina Lamont.

The book of the show, adapted by Betty Comden and Adolph Green from their original screenplay, is light, breezy, and silly, but works wonderfully as a perfect summer tonic for musical theater fans. 

The score by Nacio Herb Brown and Arthur Freed is chock full of memorable songs, including “Make ‘Em Laugh,” “Moses Supposes,” “Good Morning,” and, of course, the title tune “Singin’ in the Rain.”  They are all gorgeously sung by the cast and delivered with vitality and good old-fashioned razz-ma-tazz.
Matt Tiberi (Don Lockwood) and Annabelle Fox (Kathy Selden) in Singin' in the Rain.
The cast is outstanding.  Matthew Tiberi is admirable as filmdom’s heartthrob, Don Lockwood.  He is charismatic, with a pleasing voice, and smoothly anchors the quartet of fine performers in the production.  David Rossetti as Cosmo Brown is the perfect sidekick.  The actor is a bundle of nervous energy who can dance up a storm, sing with a humorous twinkle, and deliver a bad pun without breaking a sweat.  He never fails to inject a dose of comedic flair into the production.  Annabelle Fox’s Kathy Selden is a triple threat.  She has a gorgeous voice, is a spirited hoofer and a convincing actress.  Her ever-present smile and cheerful persona light up the stage.  Jodi Stevens, who has performed brilliantly throughout Connecticut in the past year (as Sue Mengers in I’ll Eat You Last and Mazeppa in Gypsy, both at the Musical Theater of Connecticut), delivers another stellar portrayal as the self-absorbed, barely talented movie queen with the screechy voice, Lina Lamont.   
Annabelle Fox (Kathy Selden) and members of the ensemble from Singin' in the Rain.
Doug Shankman demonstrates why he was honored last year with the Best Choreographer award from the Connecticut Critics Circle.  The productions numbers, heavy on tap, are lavishly staged and performed with polish and sparkle by the leads and ensemble members. 

Director Melody Meitrott Libonati keeps the pacing fast, but with a light-handed touch.  The essence of Singin’ in the Rain is effervescent entertainment with a generous dollop of humor.  Ms. Libonati ensures these qualities are omnipresent throughout the production.  This is not to say her helming of the musical is capricious or casual.  On the contrary, she guides the show with professionalism and steadiness.
Matt Tiberi (Don Lockwood) Singin' in the Rain.
The Scenic Design by Charles Pavarini III captures the era with a combination of well-designed, brightly colored sets as well as utilizing minimal staging and props. His silent screen projections are quite funny parodies of silent movie artifice and add a playful element to the production.  And he puts on a convincing rain shower for the show’s signature dance number.

Robert Fletcher’s costumes creations are sumptuous and varied.  Devon Allen’s lighting design beautifully adds a layered ambiance to many scenes.

Singin’ in the Rain, a buoyant and highly entertaining production through July 30th.  Ticket information is at or (203) 966 – 4634.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Review of "Newsies"

This review incorporates elements from my original Broadway review.

The final production of the Connecticut Repertory Theater’s summer series is a scaled down version of the musical Newsies.  The show is based on a 1992 Disney movie that tells the story of an 1899 successful strike by the newsies (the orphans and street urchins that sold the daily newspapers on the streets of New York) against the powerful Joseph Pulitzer and his publication, The World.

The musical begins with the introductions of two of the main newsies--Jack Kelly, portrayed with a spunky, charismatic, self-confidence by Jim Schubin; and his disabled pal, Crutchie, played with determination and grit by Tyler Jones. Soon the other boys, a ragamuffin group, enter the scene and, from there, the storyline quickly develops as the young men decide to strike over an increase in their upfront costs (newsies needed to buy their newspapers and resell them at a slightly higher price). Fortifying the assemblage’s mettle are two fresh recruits to the newsie ranks—Davey, played with an initial immaturity and then a swaggering steadfastness by Noah Kieserman; and his younger brother, Les (Atticus L. Burello).  The balance of the show chronicles how these juveniles successfully bring their cause to the hearts and minds of both regular New Yorkers and the political elite.

The book by Harvey Fierstein is serviceable and sometimes a bit hokey, but it works in moving the action to its inevitable conclusion.

The score, by Alan Menken and Jack Feldman, consists mostly of compositions from the movie version (which they also wrote), with a few new songs augmenting their earlier efforts. The score works best during the more up-tempo numbers—“The World Will Know,” “Seize the Day,” and the rousing Act II opener “King of New York.”  The songs are sung with a vitality, especially in the large ensemble numbers, and tenderness by the young cast members.

The cast, led by Jim Schubin, is combative, suave, and vulnerable as the head newsie, Jack Kelly. His performance is critical to the success of the production and the actor delivers with an appealing and captivating portrayal.  Noah Kieserman gives his character, Davey, a bit more shading then the other newsies as he grows from an innocent outsider of the group to a more resolute, strong-willed instigator.  He is the perfect ying to Schubin’s yang.  The role of Cruthie is the soul of the show and the actor Tyler Jones effectively conveys the emotion and toughness necessary for the character.  He brings a purposeful resolve to the part.   Paige Smith is spunky and full of determination as the girl reporter and love interest of Jack Kelly, but the actress needed more maturation to make the role complete.  The other young men in the production, well, strong acting is not really required for their parts. Delivering a smart aleck remark and palling around is pretty much what is required.  Richard R. Henry is feisty and bellicose as Joseph Pulitzer.  The other adult actors, while competent and professional, serve more as his foils to keep the storyline flowing.

The musical sometimes restlessly fits into the small space at the Nutmeg Series theater.  Director/Choreographer Christopher d’Amboise is able to bring cohesion to the group of performers, conveying both a sense of pathos, hardship, and comradeship of the street-wise youths.  He brings an urgency when the boys are on stage.   He is less successful in the scenes, few as they are, with the adult performers.  This is more to do with the nature of Fierstein’s book for the show.

The strength of Newsies has always been the full-throttled production numbers incorporated into the musical.  However, in this version, while the cast is athletic and lively, the dance routines are not as vibrant and spirited as they could be.  The “Wow” factor was missing.

Scenic designer Tim Brown has been able to construct a highly functional, yet not imposing set that finely hints at the claustrophobic nature of the late 19th and early 20th century tenements of New York City.

Newsies, an entertaining, family-friendly production, through July 16th.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Review of "The complete works of William Shakespeare (abridged)"

Wackiness is abounding at Playhouse on Park with their summer production of The complete works of William Shakespeare (abridged).  The show is two hours of amusing diversion with elements of farce, vaudeville and, especially, bad puns.  Audience members do not need to be Shakespearean scholars to enjoy the production, but it helps immensely to have at least a passing knowledge of two of The Bard’s greatest works—Romeo and Juliet and Hamlet.  All his plays are skewered, dissected, and minimalized at a sometimes breakneck speed.  There is not much in a chronological presentation of the works.  Basically, the flow is an abbreviated Romeo and Juliet, 34 other works, and then ending with a revved-up, if somewhat unnecessarily elongated, version of Hamlet.
Hanna Cheek, Rich Hollman, and Sean Harris from The complete works of William Shakespeare (unabridged) at Playhouse on Park, through July 30th.  Photo:  Curt Henderson.

Playwrights Adam Long, Daniel Singer, and Jess Winfield have mined the Bard’s plays to produce a creative, inventive, and raucous piece of theater. Their one musical interlude, an Othello folk song, is one of the highlights of the show.  Viewers, however, with no familiarity of any of Shakespeare’s output will be somewhat befuddled by the antics on and off-stage.   The authors, according to the program notes, have made “the piece adaptable—to locale, the latest news or gossip, and most of all the personalities of the actors.”  There are many social media references, next door’s restaurant A.C. Petersen is mentioned prominently, and the current political climate doesn’t escape being zinged.  Some of the home-grown references could have been excised such as hawking subscriptions for the theater’s upcoming 9th season.  In fact, the entire production could have been trimmed to a mere streamlined 90-minute show as opposed to two hours with an intermission.
Rich Hollman and Hanna Cheek from The complete works of William Shakespeare (abridged) at Playhouse on Park through June 30th.  Photo:  Curt Henderson.

The actors--Hanna Cheek, Rich Hollman, and Sean Harris—playing thespians playing themselves have an infectious chemistry, which provides merriment for themselves and audience alike.  They literally attack their roles with aplomb and a joyful passion.  With the lightning speed of the production, however, it is sometimes hard to understand the verbal articulations on the compact stage. 

Director Tom Ridgely literally runs the cast ragged as the troupe bounds from one end of the theater—and I mean theater—to the other.  He has them rolling on the floor, locked in spirited combat, and interacting with the audience.  Costume changes are lightning quick as Mr. Ridgely pulls out all the stops to entertain. One of the challenges of the Playhouse theater is its three-sided configuration, which requires the cast occasionally speaking with their backs to the audience.  Minimizing this necessity would allow for more harmonious inclusion of the audience.

The complete works of William Shakespeare (abridged), a merry time with The Bard, through July 30th.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

2017 CT Critics Circle Awards Announced

’The Invisible Hand,’ ‘Next to Normal’ Top Shows at Connecticut Critics Awards

The Connecticut Critics Circle 27th Annual Awards, held at the Edgerton Center for the Performing Arts, Sacred Heart University, Fairfield. David Kennedy. Photo by Mara Lavitt, June 26, 2017.
FAIRFIELD — Westport Country Playhouse’s “The Invisible Hand” and TheaterWorks’ “Next to Normal” took top honors at the Connecticut Critics Circle Awards Monday night for best play and musical production of the 2016-17 season.

The Connecticut Critics Circle 27th Annual Awards, held at the Edgerton Center for the Performing Arts, Sacred Heart University, Fairfield. Rob Ruggiero. Photo by Mara Lavitt, June 26, 2017.

The Connecticut Critics Circle 27th Annual Awards, held at the Edgerton Center for the Performing Arts, Sacred Heart University, Fairfield. Bobby Conte Thornton. Photo by Mara Lavitt.  June 26, 2017, Fairfield, CT
The event, which honors the work of the state’s professional theaters, was held at Sacred Heart University’s Edgerton Center for the Performing Arts. Three-time Tony Award-nominee Terrence Mann was master of ceremonies. Performing was Bobby Conte Thornton, star of Broadway’s “A Bronx Tale.”

The Connecticut Critics Circle 27th Annual Awards, held at the Edgerton Center for the Performing Arts, Sacred Heart University, Fairfield. Zach Schanne. Photo by Mara Lavitt, June 26, 2017.

Awards for outstanding actors in a musical went to Christiane Noll (“Next to Normal”) and Zach Schanne (“West Side Story,” Summer Theatre of New Canaan).

The Connecticut Critics Circle 27th Annual Awards, held at the Edgerton Center for the Performing Arts, Sacred Heart University, Fairfield. Erik Bryant. Photo by Mara Lavitt, June 26, 2017.

Awards for outstanding actors in a play went to Eric Bryant (“The Invisible Hand”) and Vanessa R. Butler (“Queens for a Year,” Hartford Stage).

The Connecticut Critics Circle 27th Annual Awards, held at the Edgerton Center for the Performing Arts, Sacred Heart University, Fairfield. Rob Ruggiero. Photo by Mara Lavitt, June 26, 2017.

Top directing awards went to Rob Ruggiero (“Next to Normal”) and David Kennedy (“The Invisible Hand”).

The Connecticut Critics Circle 27th Annual Awards, held at the Edgerton Center for the Performing Arts, Sacred Heart University, Fairfield. Joshua Borenstein, managing director Long Wharf Theatre. Photo by Mara Lavitt.  June 26, 2017

Outstanding ensemble award went to the cast of Long Wharf Theatre’s production of Steve Martin’s “Meteor Shower;” debut award, Maya Keleher (“Next to Normal”); solo award, Jon Peterson (“He Wrote Good Songs” at Seven Angels Theatre); and choreography, Doug Shankman (“West Side Story,” Summer Theatre of New Canaan).

The Connecticut Critics Circle 27th Annual Awards, held at the Edgerton Center for the Performing Arts, Sacred Heart University, Fairfield. Paulette Haupt. Photo by Mara Lavitt, June 26, 2017.

Paulette Haupt, who is ending her 40-year run this summer as artistic director of the National Music Theater Conference at the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center in Waterford, received the Tom Killen Award for lifetime service to the theater.

The Connecticut Critics Circle 27th Annual Awards, held at the Edgerton Center for the Performing Arts, Sacred Heart University, Fairfield. Paxton Whitehead. Photo by Mara Lavitt, June 26, 2017.

Receiving special awards were actor Paxton Whitehead and actor-writer-gay youth advocate James Lecesne.

The Connecticut Critics Circle 27th Annual Awards, held at the Edgerton Center for the Performing Arts, Sacred Heart University, Fairfield. Rhett Guter. Photo by Mara Lavitt, June 26, 2017.

Outstanding featured actors in a musical went to Rhett Guter for Goodspeed Musicals’ “Bye Bye Birdie” and Kate Simone (“Gypsy,” Music Theatre of Connecticut.

The Connecticut Critics Circle 27th Annual Awards, held at the Edgerton Center for the Performing Arts, Sacred Heart University, Fairfield. Doug Shankman. Photo by Mara Lavitt.  June 26, 2017.

Outstanding featured actors in a play honors went to Mia Dillon (“Cloud 9” at Hartford Stage) and Cleavant Derricks (“The Piano Lesson,” Hartford Stage).

The Connecticut Critics Circle 27th Annual Awards, held at the Edgerton Center for the Performing Arts, Sacred Heart University, Fairfield.  Photo by Mara Lavitt.  June 26, 2017.
Design awards went to Jane Shaw for sound (“The Comedy of Errors,” Hartford Stage), Darko Tresnjak for sets (“The Comedy of Errors”), Fabio Toblini (costumes, “The Comedy of Errors”) and John Lasiter for lighting, (“Next to Normal”).

Among the presenters were Obie-winning composer Kirsten Childs, actor-director-producer Jerry Adler, O’Neill Theater Center founder George White, former Goodspeed Musicals exec Michael Price, editor-in-chief Paul Wontorek, SiriusXM Broadway radio host Julie James and Tony Award-winning designer Michael Yeargan.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Review of "Noises Off"

Review by correspondent Tracie Borden.
If you’re not familiar with the plot of the play Noises Off, receiving a very funny mounting at the Connecticut Repertory Theater, the opening scene can be quite disorienting.  It takes a few moments and several plates of sardines to get your bearings and understand that this is a play-within-a-play about the business of play-making.
L to R: Steve Hayes, John Bixler, Jennifer Cody and Jayne Ng in NOISES OFF by Michael Frayn onstage at Connecticut Repertory Theatre through June 25.  Tickets and info at  Photo by Gerry Goodstein.
The first act opens with the desperate, final rehearsal of Nothing On.  The actors forget their lines, blow their entrances, and are generally confused and befuddled about such matters as props.  And then there are those plates of sardines.  With Act II we come upon the company of thespians, several months later, performing the show, rather badly, as seen from backstage. In the ensuing timeframe, the cast has developed overlapping romantic liaisons, which results in hilarious complications, fits of jealous rage and flowers and bottles of whiskey flying about the backstage area.  In Act III we, once again, see the run through of Nothing On, but this time from the front of the curtain.  At this point, as the show-within-a-show winds down its tour of the provinces, all semblance of order and refinement disintegrates hysterically before our eyes.

Playwright Michael Frayn has written a clever, extremely humorous comedy.  He has crafted a play that is a joy for audiences to behold and for actors to perform.  The author is a master of comedic wordplay as well as setting up physical challenges to the acting troupe.
Michael Doherty and Jennifer Cody in NOISES OFF by Michael Frayn onstage at Connecticut Repertory Theatre through June 25.  Tickets and info at  Photo by Gerry Goodstein.
The cast is a terrifically talented group.  Standouts include Jennifer Cody, who plays the actress Dotty Otley.  She has a bewildered and flustered demeanor that keeps the audience in stitches.  Ms. Cody is fun to watch and also adds an athletic and physical bearing to her role.  Jayne Ng brings is strikingly flummoxed as the blonde bombshell Brooke Ashton.  John Bixler, as the flustered director Lloyd Dallas, is cool, sometimes calm, and not always collected as he repeatedly attempts to keep his merry band of misfits in line.

Director Vincent J. Cardinal gives the play a lively, disciplined sheen, which is so important in a show like this where one false move can spell disaster.  He brings precision and exactitude to the production as well as eliciting both subtle and rollicking performances from the actors.
L to R: Steve Hayes, Jayne Ng, Arlene Bozich, Gavin McNicholl, Curtis Longfellow and Jennifer Cody in NOISES OFF by Michael Frayn onstage at Connecticut Repertory Theatre through June 25.  Tickets and info at  Photo by Gerry Goodstein.
Tim Brown’s set design is also a highlight of the show, switching from a stodgy drawing room to a multi-level backstage layout of a theater and back to a front view of the stage.

Noises Off, a very funny farce, playing at the Connecticut Repertory Theater in Storrs through June 25th.  

Sunday, June 11, 2017

2017 Tony Musings

Fun opening, but for all those people out there that haven't seen "Dear Evan Hansen" or "Groundhog Day" they won't get it.  However, for all us theater geeks it was creative.  But why have Steve Colbert sing?

 The whole "give me advice" concept is a bit lame.  Just go for it.

Okay, Kevin Spacey can sing.  And he is tapping so I am happy.

Support Actor--Michael Aronov.  He was outstanding.  I expected Danny DeVito, who was also excellent, but Aronov is a good choice.  "Oslo" is one of the best dramas of the year.

"Come From Away" selection--great choice that gives audiences a perfect idea of what the show is about.

Gee, what a surprise!  Gavin Creel wins for "Hello, Dolly!"  He's already won the Drama Desk and Outer Critics so not as much of a shock.  All five nominees were excellent so any individual would have been fine with me.

And now, here's "Miss Saigon!"

Such an outstanding introduction of "Indecent" by Paula Vogel.  Hope it brings people to the Cort Theater.

Again, no surprise with Cynthia Nixon winning Best Supporting Actress in a play since she won all the other awards this year.  I knew her when she was a fresh scrubbed Frosh at Barnard College when I worked there.  Use to sell her cheap tickets through our on-campus ticket booth.

How great that the cast of "Falsettos" reunited for a musical selection.  I would love to see Stephanie J. Block to win for Best Supporting Actress in a musical, but Jenn Colella from "Come From Away" is the odds on favorite.

Looking at some of the early non-televised awards.  Surprise that Santo Loquasto won for "Hello, Dolly!'s" costumes since Catherine Zuber has won all the early awards for "War Paint."  I would have preferred "War Paint."  I thought they were more diverse and elegant.  So happy that Nigel Hook won for his scenic design for "The Play That Goes Wrong."  The set was equally the star of the show.

Best Score.  Wasn't on the broadcast schedule last year.  It is a major award.  Thank goodness they put it back.  No surprise with "Dear Evan Hansen" winning the award.  Just re-listened to the cast recording and EVERY song is so good.  Definitely a score to own.

How appropriate for Anna Kendrick to introduce Ben Platt and the cast of "Dear Evan Hansen" for their musical selection.  Thoroughly enjoyed Ben Platt, but he seemed less innocent then when I saw him in the fall.

Again, no surprise with Kevin Kline winning for "Present Laughter."  He seemed to know it was coming.  He was good, but the best part of the show was being able to be invited backstage and hang out.

Who knew Kevin Spacey could do such a great Johnny Carson imitation.

Would have preferred one of the more rambunctious production numbers for "Groundhog Day."  I don't think this one will draw in the crowds.

Too bad the Tony producers couldn't come to terms so Bette Midler could perform a number from "Hello, Dolly!"  I love David Hyde Pierce, but I would have preferred a song with more of the nominated cast members.  But, then it doesn't really matter, since you can't buy a ticket to the show so they don't have to really sell it.

Laurie Metcalfe for "A Doll's House, Part 2" was one of the expected honorees.  Glad she was finally recognized.  She has been so good in every show she has graced.

Best Supporting Actress in a Musical--WHOA!  First major upset.  Rachel Bay Jones for "Dear Evan Hansen."  All five nominees were so good, but I thought Jenn Colella had a lock on it.  Congrats.

Another good presentation about a play.  J.T. Rogers presented such a clear picture of "Oslo."  His brief introduction was riveting and should make people want to see this superb show.

Much deserved honor for Rebecca Taichman as Best Director of a play for "Indecent."  Such a good show and the direction was so insightful and full of life.  The other shows had outstanding directors, but not to the degree that Taichman had on this show.

Good for "Come From Away" for Christopher Ashley's directorial win.  This is such a great show.  It is not a 9/11 musical.  It is a musical with 9/11 underpinnings.  It is more a musical about the human spirit.  Gee, maybe Best Musical is up in the air?

The score for "War Paint" should have been nominated over "Groundhog Day."  It would not have won, but at least it would have had the honor.  So good to see two seasoned veterans take the stage and sing the hell out their song.

Congratulations to Steven Levenson.  Tony for Best Book of a Musical for "Dear Evan Hansen" and many awards for his Off-Broadway play"If I Forget."  Great year.

I don't know.  Lynn Nottage's description of "Sweat" just didn't sell it.

So happy Andy Blankenbuehler won for Best Choreography for "Bandstand."  He is probably one of my favorite choreographers and it will hopefully put a spotlight on this deserving show.

Kevin Spacey is very good with his impersonations.  Good script writers for his jokes.

Was there any doubt August Wilson's "Jitney" would not win Best Revival of a Play?

Now that's how you sell a show!  "The Great Comet" gave you a perfect glimpse into their immersive show.  The musical is a feast for the eyes in the staging, costumes, lighting and set.  This was beautifully conveyed.  Bravo!

Kevin Spacey is a very good host.  Different from the comedians and song and dance men, but he brings a different set of skills that work.

Best Play--"Oslo."  No surprise.  I would have preferred "Indecent," but just narrowly.  "Oslo" is just shy of 3 hours, but riveting theater.  I am a political junkie and this more then satisfied my cravings.  Definitely a show to see.

Heartfelt introduction by Jill Biden for the "Bandstand" segment.  One of the best musical segments of the evening.

Why is Steven Colbert giving out one of the main awards, Best Musical Revival?  Yes, he is a hot commodity right now, but it is a bit of pandering.   Again, no surprise, "Hello, Dolly!" wins.  "Hello, Dolly!" wins.  Did you hear the news?  "Hello, Dolly!" wins.  Super producer Scott Rudin says everyone come up to the stage.  Don't mess with the man.

And now it is official--Ben Platt for "Dear Evan Hansen."  So well-deserved.  Catch him if you can.

How appropriate for Glenn Close to present the Best Actress in a Musical.  Did you think it wouldn't be Bette?  Let's see, now premium seats will probably it $2,000 per ticket.  Good acceptance speech, but her Outer Critics acceptance was even better.

And, to end the night, the winner we all expected--Best Musical--presented with the help of Kevin "House of Cards" Spacey, is "Dear Evan Hansen."  No surprise and so well-deserved.

To wrap, well-paced show with some very good production numbers.  Few surprises, but a solid ceremony.  Kudos to host Kevin Spacey.  Good night.

Review of "Fade"

Lucia (Elizabeth Ramos) is a struggling Latina novelist that has just landed a gig writing for a television series.  Abel (Eddie Martinez) is the custodian in the building where she works.  Both are of Mexican descent.  After a few misfires, they begin to forge a bond rooted in their ethnic heritage.  In playwright’s Tanya Saracho’s absorbing, funny and bittersweet work, Fade, she uses the backdrop of the entertainment business to raise and dissect such hot button topics as class, gender and the immigrant experience within the Latino world.
Elizabeth Ramos and Eddie Martinez in "Fade" at Theaterworks.
As the show opens, Lucia, young, nervous, and full of self-doubts, is trying to find her way as a writer on a TV show.  Alone, having recently moved from Chicago, she feels underappreciated and somewhat of a token hire within the production team.  She meets Abel her first week as he enters her office to clean, making some poor and wrong assumptions about the man.  The two slowly begin an arm’s length rapport that blossoms into a relationship of trust, confidences, and shared backstories.  The focus of their meetings usually revolves around Lucia’s woes with her position, her distain for the industry, and the indignities she endures because of her womanhood and ethnic background.  Eventually, the workplace environment begins to turn around in no small part to her conversations and pep talks with Abel.  However, in the end, deceipt and betrayal rear their ugly head.
Ms. Saracho has structured the play with many short scenes that appreciably facilitate the passage of time and markedly furthers the development of the two characters and their deepening affinity.  Her incorporation of Spanish phrases and idioms into the production helps in the creation of two fully realized, multi-faceted personalities that speak with authentic voices.  While the dialogue can appear occasionally preachy, and the plot somewhat predictable, her interweaving of social, class, and gender issues into the framework of the play are affecting and thought-provoking.  The author, who has extensive writing credits within the television industry, has a knowing and observant eye on the inner workings of the business.  The language is consistently coarse, but realistic in its usage.
Elizabeth Ramos and Eddie Martinez in "Fade" at Theaterworks.
Actors Elizabeth Ramos and Eddie Martinez have both performed previously in the play and this shows in their convincing chemistry and ease in working together.  Ms. Ramos effectively conveys the angst and uncertainty millennials have when facing their first real job.  The outrage, humiliation and embarrassment she portrays is believable and compelling.  Her transformation from a deer-in-the-headlights, fresh-faced employee to something much different is persuasive.  Mr. Martinez is more subtle and less expressive in his characterization of Abel, who’s life unfolds before us in fits and starts.  The actor radiates decency and integrity even though he has suffered shame and injustice.

Director Jerry Ruiz, who has helmed productions of the show since its world premiere at the Denver Center for the Performing Arts, has a firm grasp on the characters and the pacing of the show.  The frequent scene changes are quick without taking away from the flow and energy of the story.  He gradually builds the tension within the play and methodically draws the audience into its world.

Faded, another terrific summertime production at Theaterworks, through June 30th.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Review of "Lettice and Lovage"

Have you ever been on a guided tour of a historic building while traveling overseas and the narrative by the guide seemed somewhat implausible?  In the divertingly entertaining production of Lettice and Lovage, playing at the Westport Country Playhouse, the flamboyant docent Lettice Douffet (Kandis Chappell) can’t help embellishing her recitations of unexceptional, humdrum bygone structures.  This gets her in trouble with Charlotte Schoen (Mia Dillon), the stringent Human Resources Director for the Preservation Trust, which owns the property being verbally aggrandized.   The two women, seemingly polar opposites, end up having a lot in common and an unlikely friendship blossoms until an almost cat-aclysmic event fractures their newly forged bond.
L-R:  Mia Dillon and Kandis Chappell in Peter Shaffer’s “Lettice and Lovage,” directed by Mark Lamos, at Westport Country Playhouse, now playing through June 17.
    (203) 227-4177.      Photo by Carol Rosegg
Playwright Peter Shaffer, who penned such dramatic works as Equus and Amadeus, delivers a trifling comedy that furnishes continuous smiles with a heaping dollop of chuckles.  He takes the opportunity to satirize modern architecture, but the essence of the play is friendship with all its pains and pleasures.

The cast is led by Kandis Chappell as Ms. Douffet.  She is highly theatrical and colorful as the mannered and put upon historical guide.  At first the actress comes across as being too over-the-top and incongruous for the role, but she slowly brings out the decency and honesty in the character, which humanizes her portrayal.  Mia Dillon, fresh off her gender-bending role in Hartford Stage’s Cloud 9, gives her bureaucratic official a layered presence.  She transforms from a more one-dimensional hard-as-nails, by-the-book administrator to a woman with a poignant and variegated backstory.  The always reliable Paxton Whitehead is a befuddled gem as the solicitor Mr. Bardolph, seeking to defend Ms. Douffet from, what turns out to be, a hapless accident.  His flummoxed looks, exasperated disposition, and improvised drumming prowess add a needed comic bounce to the show.  Sarah Manton is a fine, amusing counterpoint, in the brief role of Miss Farmer, to the churlish Ms. Schoen.
L-R:  Paxton Whitehead, Mia Dillon, and Kandis Chappell in Peter Shaffer’s “Lettice and Lovage,” directed by Mark Lamos, at Westport Country Playhouse, now playing through June 17.
    (203) 227-4177.      Photo by Carol Rosegg
Scenic Designer John Arnone has constructed a simple, yet effective set for Act I’s bleak and cheerless mansion setting and the latter half of the show’s basement apartment of Ms. Douffet.  The attention to detail—a Shakespearean throne, quaffing mugs, and a bejeweled sword add a Victorian richness to the stage.

Director Mark Lamos keeps the focus on Ms. Chappell’s portrayal.  He enlivens the character with overwrought and melodramatic flourishes that produce consistent laughs.  His collaboration with Paxton Whitehead produces some inspired zaniness.  The pacing of the production can at times be languid and measured, but never sluggish or tedious.

Lettice and Lovage, now at the Westport Country Playhouse through June 17th.