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.

Monday, June 5, 2017

Review of "1776"

There are many parallels between today’s United States Congress in Washington, D.C. and that of the Continental Congress in Philadelphia portrayed in the musical 1776.

Befuddlement and crippling stagnation are words that come to mind when referring to both institutions.  In the end, fortunately, the delegates from the 13 colonies, practiced the art of compromise so the Declaration of Independence could be forged and signed.  Their diligence and hard-work should be an example to the current occupants of the White House, House of Representatives and Senate, which are all too often subsumed by squabbling and partisan pontifications.

In 1776, receiving an uneven production at the Connecticut Repertory Theater, we are witnesses to history as acrimony and narrow-minded politics are eventually put aside to shape our nation.  Book writer Peter Stone has done a superb job crafting a show humanizing such historical figures as John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, and Thomas Jefferson all the while giving the audience a primer on American history.  It can sometimes be a bit too talky (Broadway trivia fun fact—the musical has the longest interval between songs, 30minutes, of any show in Broadway history), but the combination of the interaction between characters and the machinations of a government in its infancy are effective and entertaining.

The score by Sherman Edwards, his lone theatrical effort, is glorious with nary a miss among them.   The songs add zest to the production and are performed with professionalism and aplomb.  The songs can be playful and humorous as with "Sit Down, John" and But, Mr. Adams;" outrageous and gleeful ("The Lees of Old Virginia"), but also moving ("He Plays the Violin") and solemn ("Molasses to Rum").  Adam Harrington’s rendition of “Cool, Cool, Considerate Men,” an ode to fighting for conservative values, is one of the high points of the musical.

The cast, a mix of theater professionals and university students learning the craft, is led by Jamie LaVerdiere as John Adams.  While the actor is passionate and committed in his role, he comes across as described in the song “But, Mr. Adams,” a tad too “obnoxious and disliked.”  There needed to be a little more nuance to his portrayal, which weakens the overall strength of the character.

Other notable performers include Richard R. Henry as a well-rounded Benjamin Franklin, who delivers his witticisms with self-assured delight to friends and foes alike.  Gaelen Gilliland’s Abigail Adams does not spend much time on stage, but she makes the most of her appearance especially with her golden voice is such songs as “Till Then” and “Yours, Yours, Yours.”  Adam Harrington gives the Pennsylvanian John Dickinson a consistent, but layered feel.  While you may disagree with his viewpoints you cannot fault him for his unswerving convictions.  Will Bryant’s Thomas Jefferson comes across as being too much in the background rather then in the foreground.  While a supporting role, there should be more vigor in his time on stage.  Simon Longnight is too much the fool as Richard Henry Lee.  While his crowd-pleasing number, “The Lees of Old Virginia,” is a comic highlight of the show it’s played too much for laughs.

The Broadway veteran Terrence Mann, the new artistic director of CRT, guides the show with appropriateness and straightforwardness.  However, he sometimes relies on too much shouting by the characters to hammer home a point or having the actors bang their walking sticks on desks to put an exclamation to a highly-charged argument.  His casting of Equity actors and musical theater undergraduates from various programs around the country is problematic in a show where age and seasoning are important elements.

1776, ringing forth liberty and freedom in Storrs, CT through June 10th.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Nominations Announced for 27th Annual CT Critics Circle Awards

“Next To Normal,” “The Invisible Hand” Tops Connecticut Theater Critics Nominations

TheaterWork’s production of the musical “Next to Normal” led the nominations for the 27th annual Connecticut Critics Circle Awards event to be held Monday, June 26 at 7:30 p.m. at Sacred Heart University’s Edgerton Center for the Performing Arts in Fairfield.

The show received a total of 10 nominations, including best musical. Westport Country Playhouse’s production of Ayad Akhtar’s play “The Invisible Hand” led the non-musicals, receiving seven nominations, including outstanding play.

Other outstanding play nominees are: “The Comedy of Errors” at Hartford Stage; “Mary Jane” at Yale Repertory Theatre; “Scenes From Court Life” at Yale Repertory Theatre and “Midsummer” at TheaterWorks.

Also nominated for outstanding musical are: “Assassins” at Yale Repertory Theatre; “Bye Bye Birdie” at Goodspeed Opera House, “Man of La Mancha” at Ivoryton Playhouse and “West Side Story” at Summer Theatre of New Canaan.

The awards show, which celebrates the best in professional theater in the state, is free and open to the public.

Three-time Tony Award-nominee Terrence Mann will be the master of ceremonies for the event. Mann joined the Connecticut theater community this year as artistic director of Connecticut Repertory Theatre’s Nutmeg Summer Series at the University of Connecticut at Storrs.

Last year’s top honorees -- Yale Repertory Theatre’s play “Indecent” and Hartford Stage’s musical “Anastasia” -- are currently on Broadway.

Also receiving special awards this year are James Lecesne for his work using theater as a way to connect with LGBT youths in works such as his solo show “The Absolute Brightness off Leonard Pelkey,” which was presented this spring at Hartford Stage, and Paxton Whitehead, for his longtime career in theater, especially in Connecticut

Receiving the Tom Killen Award for lifetime achievement is Paulette Haupt, who is stepping down after 40 years from her position as founding artistic director of the National Music Theater Conference at Waterford’s Eugene O’Neill Theater Center

Other nominees are:

Actor in a play: Jordan Lage, “Other People’s Money,” Long Wharf Theatre; Tom Pecinka, “Cloud Nine,” Hartford Stage; Michael Doherty, “Peter and the Starcatcher,” Connecticut Repertory Theatre’s Nutmeg Summer Series; Eric Bryant, “The Invisible Hand,” Westport Country Playhouse; M. Scott McLean, “Midsummer,” TheaterWorks.

Actress in a play: Semina DeLaurentis, “George & Gracie,” Seven Angels Theatre; Emily Donahoe, “Mary Jane,” Yale Repertory Theatre; Ashlie Atkinson, “Imogen Says Nothing,” Yale Repertory Theatre; Vanessa R. Butler, “Queens for a Year,” Hartford Stage; Rebecca Hart, “Midsummer,” TheaterWorks

Actor in a musical: Robert Sean Leonard, “Camelot,” Westport Playhouse; Riley Costello, “How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying,” Connecticut Repertory Theatre’s Nutmeg Summer Series; David Harris, “Next To Normal,” TheaterWorks; David Pittsinger, “Man of La Mancha,” Ivoryton Playhouse; Zach Schanne, “West Side Story,” Summer Theatre of New Canaan.

Actress in a musical: Ruby Rakos, “Chasing Rainbows,” Goodspeed Opera House; Christiane Noll, “Next to Normal,” TheaterWorks; Julia Paladino, “West Side Story.” Karen Ziemba, “Gypsy, Sharon Playhouse; Talia Thiesfield, “Man of La Mancha,” Ivoryton Playhouse.

Director of a play: Darko Tresnjak, “The Comedy of Errors,” Hartford Stage; David Kennedy, “The Invisible Hand,” Westport Country Playhouse; Marc Bruni, “Other People’s Money,” Long Wharf Theatre; Tracy Brigden, “Midsummer,” TheaterWorks; Gordon Edelstein, “Meteor Shower,” Long Wharf Theatre.

Director of a musical: Rob Ruggiero, “Next to Normal,” TheaterWorks; David Edwards, “Man of La Mancha,” Ivoryton Playhouse; Melody Meitrott Libonati, “West Side Story,” Summer Theatre of New Canaan; Jenn Thompson, “Bye Bye Birdie,” Goodspeed Opera House; Kevin Connors, “Gypsy,” Music Theater of Connecticut in Norwalk.

Choreography:  Denis Jones, “Thoroughly Modern Millie,” Goodspeed Opera House; Chris Bailey, “Chasing Rainbows,” Goodspeed Opera House; Doug Shankman, West Side Story,” Summer Theatre of New Canaan; Patricia Wilcox, “Bye Bye Birdie,” Goodspeed Opera House; Darlene Zoller, “Rockin’ the Forest,” Playhouse on Park.

Ensemble: Cast of “Smart People,” Long Wharf Theatre; Cast of “Trav’lin’ ” at Seven Angels Theatre; cast of “Meteor Shower,” Long Wharf Theatre; cast of “Assassins,” Yale Repertory Theatre; cast of “The 39 Steps” at Ivoryton Playhouse.

Debut performance: Maya Keleher, “Next to Normal,” TheaterWorks; Dylan Frederick, “Assassins,” Yale Repertory Theatre; Nick Sacks, “Next to Normal, TheaterWorks.

Solo Performance: Jodi Stevens, “I’ll Eat You Last,” Music Theater of Connecticut; Jon Peterson, “He Wrote Good Songs,” Seven Angels Theatre.

Featured actor in a play: Jameal Ali, “The Invisible Hand,” Westport Country Playhouse; Andre De Shields, “Seven Guitars,” Yale Repertory Theatre; Cleavant Derricks, “The Piano Lesson,” Hartford Stage; Steve Routman, “Other People’s Money,” Long Wharf Theatre; Paxton Whitehead, “What the Butler Saw,” Westport Country Playhouse

Featured actress in a play: Miriam Silverman, “Mary Jane,” Yale Repertory Theatre; Rachel Leslie, “Seven Guitars,” Yale Repertory Theatre; Antoinette Crowe-Legacy, “Seven Guitars,” Yale Repertory Theatre; Mia Dillon, “Cloud Nine,” Hartford Stage; Christina Pumariego, “Napoli, Brooklyn,” Long Wharf Theatre

Featured actor in a musical: Mark Nelson, “The Most Beautiful Room in New York,” Long Wharf Theatre; Edward Watts, “Thoroughly Modern Millie,” Goodspeed Opera House; John Cardoza, “Next to Normal,” TheaterWorks; Jonny Wexler, “West Side Story,” Summer Theater of New Canaan; Rhett Guter, “Bye Bye Birdie,” Goodspeed Opera House; Michael Wartella, “Chasing Rainbows,” Goodspeed Opera House

Featured actress in a musical: Maya Keleher, “Next to Normal,” TheaterWorks; Jodi Stevens, “Gypsy,” “Music Theater of Connecticut; Katie Stewart, “West Side Story,” Summer Theater of New Canaan; Kristine Zbornik, “Bye Bye Birdie,” Goodspeed Opera House; Kate Simone, “Gypsy,” Music Theater of Connecticut.

Set design: Colin McGurk, “Heartbreak House,” Hartford Stage; Michael Yeargan, “The Most Beautiful Room in New York,” Long Wharf Theater; Wilson Chin, “Next to Normal,” TheaterWorks; Adam Rigg, “The Invisible Hand,” “Westport Country Playhouse; Darko Tresnjak, “The Comedy of Errors,” Hartford Stage.

Costume design: Ilona Somogyi, “Heartbreak House,” Hartford Stage; Marina Draghici, “Scenes from Court Life,” Yale Repertory Theater; Fabio Toblini, “The Comedy of Errors,” Hartford Stage; Gregory Gale, “Thorough Modern Millie,” Goodspeed Opera House; Lisa Steier, “Rockin’ the Forest,” Playhouse on Park.

Lighting design: Matthew Richards, “The Invisible Hand,” Westport Country Playhouse; Yi Zhao, “Assassins,” Yale Repertory Theatre; John Lasiter, “Next to Normal,” TheaterWorks; Matthew Richards, “Comedy of Errors,” Hartford Stage; Christopher Bell, “A Moon for the Misbegotten,” Playhouse on Park, Hartford.

Sound design: Jane Shaw, “The Comedy of Errors,” Hartford Stage; Fan Zhang, “Seven Guitars,” Yale Repertory Theatre; Shane Rettig, “Scenes from Court Life,” Yale Repertory Theatre; Karen Graybash, “The Piano Lesson,” Hartford Stage; Fitz Patton, “The Invisible Hand,” Westport Country Playhouse.

DIRECTIONS: Edgerton Center for the Performing Arts,  at Sacred Heart University, 5151 Park Ave., Fairfield. -- Just off Exit 47 on the Merritt Parkway

Review of "Ernest Shackleton Loves Me"

The new Off-Broadway musical Ernest Shackleton Loves Me is an inventive, multi-media creation that is at times exhilarating, comical, and always imaginative.  The two-person show centers on Kate, a sleep-deprived, 40-ish single woman with an infant son, a wayward father touring in a Journey cover band, and a life that both personally and professional is a mess.  After posting a video to a dating site the transmission is picked up through cyberspace by the long departed Artic explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton.  Is this a hallucination or a magical, mystical connection?  Or something more tangible?  Nonetheless, the two embark on the adventurer’s epic journey to cross the Antarctica’s waterway’s via ship, bouncing back and forth between her Brooklyn apartment and the frigid bottom of the world.  When disaster strikes the expedition, the star-crossed pair begin a battle for survival, a fight that takes on individual meaning for each, in the frigid wasteland of Antarctica. 
Wade McCollum and Val Vigoda in "Ernest Shackleton Loves Me."
The surreal book by the prolific Tony Award winning playwright Joe DiPietro (Memphis), is equal parts adventure, history lesson, and love story.  There is a nuttiness to the story that also shows flashes of wit and humor.  But the real accomplishment is how the audience is drawn into the real-life exploits of Shackleton’s 1914 voyage.  DiPietro’s telling of the exploits could not be realized without the superb and finely-honed rear screen projections by set designer Alexander V. Nichols.  Utilizing actual footage from the expedition, as well as other carefully culled photographs and video, he puts you in the center of the action with all its harrowing and life-threatening twists and turns.  The slightly elevated set is dominated by a large keyboard apparatus and other minimal props that Director Lisa Peterson, let’s call her the third key artist of the creative triumvirate, integrates into an absorbing and enthralling adventure.  She does a laudable job guiding the show from broad comedy to nerve-racking tension.
One of the superb projections by set designer Alexander V. Nichols.
The score by Val Vigoda and Brendan Milburn, both founding members of the musical group, GrooveLily (who’s theatrical piece Striking 12 is rapturous), convey the shifting moods of the musical, using a mixture of many styles and influences, incorporating jazz, show tunes, rock and classical compositions.  The songs add to the ambivalence of the characters as well as to the formidable struggles of Shackleton and his men.

The cast consists of Ms. Vigoda as Kat, a harried mother and a would-be composer of video game musical scores, as she tries to eke out a living in an unforgiving world.    The actress, a bundle of energy as she bounds across the small performance space, is convincing as a woman who’s life is in disarray.  She subtley, and slowly changes to a more take charge individual with the appearance of the Artic explore giving her, by the finale, a new outlook on her disconsolate life.  Ms. Vigoda is also is a masterful musician.  For most of the musical numbers, accompanied by her assorted high-tech equipment, she furiously lets loose on her trademark electric violin.
Wade McCollum and Val Vigoda from "Ernest Shackleton Loves Me."
Wade McCollum plays Ernest Shackleton, along with a number of other characters, with self-assurance and aplomb.  He, too, is an accomplished musician sometimes playing banjo or guitar alongside Ms. Vigoda.  He imbues Shackleton with an optimistic, can-do spirit, which was so prevalent among British explorers at the turn of the century.  The actor can be a rogue one minute, flirtatious the next, but also a leader of men.  His chemistry with Ms. Vigoda feels genuine.

Ernest Shackleton Loves Me, reaching across space and time through June 11th.