Monday, November 12, 2018

Christmas Theatrical Productions in CT


The festive season is just about upon us and many Connecticut theaters are readying their seasonal offerings.  I count 14 holiday productions for all ages.  Below is a list of what is in store for area audiences.

The Christmas Elf 2
Downtown Cabaret – Bridgeport, CT
November 10 – December 29

It’s that time of year again for Santa to call on everyone’s favorite elves and their toy friends to bring holiday joy to boys and girls all over the world, but this Christmas is about more than presents and carols. With new adventures and new challenges, our hero must enlist all the help he can get to save Christmas for everyone.
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Elf
Curtain Call (Kweskin Theatre) - Stamford, CT
November 16 - December 15

AND

Landmark Community Theatre (Thomaston Opera House) – Thomaston, CT
December 1 - December 16
Buddy believes he is an elf. When he discovers that he is actually a human being who accidentally crawled into Santa's bag of gifts many years ago, he sets out on a quest to discover who he really is. But to Buddy's dismay, his father is on the naughty list and his brother doesn't even believe in Santa. A hilarious comedy based on the multi-million dollar film of the same name. Buddy's positivity and uncanny ability to inspire the Christmas spirit in even the naughtiest of people, is sure to make everyone embrace their inner elf. 
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A Christmas Carol
Hartford Stage – Hartford, CT
https://www.hartfordstage.org/christmas-carol
November 23 – December 29

The magic of Charles Dickens’ heart-warming classic returns for its 21st season. Come see Connecticut’s favorite family holiday tradition and spend some time with Bob Cratchit, Tiny Tim, Ebenezer Scrooge, Jacob Marley and the ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future as they bring A Christmas Carol to life on stage.
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Christmas on the Rocks
Theaterworks – Hartford, CT
November 27 – December 23

It’s Christmas Eve in a rundown local bar. Expecting a silent night, the bartender finds himself mixing drinks for a parade of surprising guests – children from your favorite Christmas specials and movies – now all grown up. Join them as they pour out their Christmas woes in this delightful parody.
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A Merry Mulberry Street Musical
Curtain Call (The Dressing Room Theatre) - Stamford, CT
November 29 - December 16

For more than 75 years, audiences have laughed along with Stamford’s most-produced romantic comedy, Mulberry Street. Join the Morello and Baccolini families during the 1944 holiday season and watch what happens while the boys are overseas and an outcast sister-in-law comes back into their lives! 

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Glitz: The Little Miss Christmas Pageant Musical
Pantochino Productions - West Haven, CT
November 30 - December 22

Everything’s coming up tinsel, toddlers and tiaras in this ridiculously funny holiday musical where ten girls (with big hair), and their outlandish mothers (with big mouths) vie for the title and crown. But its the Christmas spirit that is the true winner in this heartwarming holiday classic. 

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A Christmas Story
Sherman Players - Sherman, CT
November 30 - December 22

AND

Theatre of Northeastern Connecticut (Bradley Playhouse) - Putnam, CT  
November 30 - December 16

Humorist Jean Shepherd's memoir of growing up in the Midwest of the 1940s follows 9-year-old Ralphie Parker in his quest to get a genuine Red Ryder BB gun under the tree for Christmas.

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A Christmas Carol (The Musical)
Center Stage - Shelton, CT
November 30 - December 16

This Dickens classic has become a Center Stage tradition. With soaring music by Disney musical genius, composer Alan Menken, A Christmas Carol infuses the holiday blockbuster with music that will touch you, inspire you, and fill you with the spirit of Christmas!

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A Connecticut Christmas Carol
Goodspeed’s Norma Terris Theater – Chester, CT
November 30 – December 30

Some of the most beloved storytellers in Connecticut history come alive for a yuletide gathering you won’t forget. Famed actor and local legend William Gillette leaves his castle on the Connecticut River to adapt Dickens’ holiday classic. Local heroes Mark Twain, P.T. Barnum and more make spirited appearances opposite Gillette’s Scrooge in a highly theatrical twist on a family favorite.
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A Civil War Christmas
Connecticut Repertory Theatre – Storrs, CT
November 29 – December 9

Christmas, 1864. With the nation at war, it is not a silent night. All is not peaceful or bright. On one side of the Potomac, an escaped slave hurries her daughter toward the capital and freedom. On the other side, a young Confederate runs away from home with hopes of joining the fight. In the capital, Mrs. Lincoln is in desperate need of the perfect gift for her husband Abe. Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Paula Vogel creates a historical and musical masterpiece in “A Civil War Christmas,” one that is uniquely American. In the shadow of our own partisan divide, can the nation put aside its differences and share in the hope and generosity the Christmas season has to offer, and the promise of Christmas future?
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A Charlie Brown Christmas
Wilton Playshop - Wilton, CT
December 7 - 9 

AND

A Charlie Brown Christmas
Warner Theatre – Torrington, CT
December 8 – 16
When Charlie Brown complains about the overwhelming materialism he sees during the Christmas season, Lucy suggests that he become director of the school Christmas pageant. Charlie Brown accepts, but this proves to be a frustrating endeavor. When his attempt to restore the proper holiday spirit with a forlorn little Christmas tree fails, Linus helps him learn the true meaning of Christmas.
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Christmas Eve At Earlene’s Diner
Seven Angels Theatre – Waterbury, CT
December 7 -19
What’s new at The Diner this Christmas?
Does anyone eat the fruitcake? Does the Crispy Biscuit put The Diner out of business?
Who’s really in Earlene’s family tree? Come and find out!
Music, humor and fun weave throughout this Holiday tale for the entire family. Michelle Gotay returns as her delightful character Earlene Babcock along with a fantastic local cast. Plenty of Christmas spirit and many of your favorite holiday songs will fill your hearts with cheer.
Be on the look out for Santa in our the lobby after the show for holiday photos!
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Coney Island Christmas
Ivoryton Playhouse – Ivoryton, CT
December 13 – 29

CONEY ISLAND CHRISTMAS introduces us to Shirley Abramowitz, a young Jewish girl who (much to her immigrant parents’ exasperation) is cast as Jesus in the school’s Christmas pageant. As Shirley, now much older, recounts the memorable story to her great-granddaughter, the play captures a timeless and universal tale of what it means to be an American during the holidays.

Review of "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest"


The Playhouse on Park production of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest appears rather tame. Even though the action takes place in a state mental institution the atmosphere is one of rollicking exuberance Instead of a more somber and grim environ.  The overall playfulness and light-heartedness of the patients belies the serious underpinnings of the subject matter.


L - R, Wayne Willinger as McMurphy, Harrison Greene as Martini, Rick Malone as Cheswick, Santos as Chief Bromden, John Ramaine as Scanlon, Adam Kee as Harding, Kataya Collazo as Nurse Flynn, Patricia Randell as Nurse Ratched.  Photo by Curt Henderson.

The dramatic arc revolves around the most recent admittee, Randle McMurphy, a boisterous, good time fellow who likes to follow his own rules.  Very soon he butts heads with head Nurse Ratched, a by-the-book, authoritarian staff member who feels empowered by her command over the patients.  She sees the new man more as a threat than someone needing psychiatric attention.

From the very beginning, McMurphy takes over the ward as the alpha male.  He cajoles, bosses, and takes charge of the other patients, an assortment of troubled individuals.  They appear at times both comfortable in their antiseptic environment and despising their setting.  His free-wheeling attitude and actions, however, run diametrically opposed to the prescribed system, which leads to his ultimate downfall.

A show centering on mental health is very timely as programs to address the crisis in the United States are woefully underfunded with both in-patient and out-patient treatment facilities lacking in resources and staffing.  But, while the clashes and conflicts of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest occur in a sanatorium, the focus is on the locking of horns between the two main protagonists.  For the most part, the mental health problems of the patients, which are brought out in the Ken Kesey novel and is the source material for Dale Wasserman’s adaptation, serve as window dressing.
 
L - R, Adam Kee as Harding, Wayne Willinger as McMurphy, Ben McLaughlin as Ruckley, Patricia Randell as Nurse Ratched.  Photo by Curt Henderson.
The acting troupe is a mixed bag of supporting players that fill out the cast and central figures within the production.  Wayne Willinger’s McMurphy has the requisite devil-may-care, flippant attitude, but his character is lacking the necessary, sustained undercurrent of menace and vulnerability.  Patricia Randell’s Nurse Ratched portrayal is more in line with an old-time librarian scolding her charges rather than a calculating woman with an Icy, imposing demeanor.  Alex Rafala, who plays Billy Bibbitt, the emotional scarred momma’s boy, gives the best performance of the show.  He convincingly portrays a troubled youth who at times is obedient, a risk-taker, and a person in crisis. The actor Santos, who plays Chief Bromden, is a bit too catatonic in the role as opposed to someone radiating an inner strength.  His internal soliloquies also lack an emotional depth.

Director Ezra Barnes successfully conveys the boredom and mind-numbing repetition of the patient’s lives.  Working with Scenic Designer David Lewis and Lighting Designer Aaron Hochheiser, he achieves the ambiance of a sterile, institutional setting with mismatched, metallic furniture and glaring fluorescent lighting.  The thrust of the production, thought, feels more like an episode from the playbook of Ken Kesey and his Merry Pranksters which can, at times, distract from the central thrust of the production.  The match of iron wills between McMurphy and Nurse Ratchet comes across as tepid.  The final scenes concerning Billy and McMurphy lack a dramatic edge.

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, an admirable, but flawed production, playing at Playhouse on Park through November 18th.

Saturday, November 10, 2018

Review of "Thousand Pines"


The focus of the world premiere of Thousand Pines, playing at the Westport Country Playhouse through November 17th, is a shooting at a Junior High School.  This powerful and, at times, emotionally gripping production will resonate deeply with all audience members, and especially Connecticut residents who remember the carnage at Sandy Hook.
 
  1. L-R:  William Ragsdale, Katie Ailion, Joby Earle, Andrew Veenstra, Kelly McAndrew, and Anne Bates in “Thousand Pines,” written by Matthew Greene, directed by Austin Pendleton, at Westport Country Playhouse, now playing through November 17.  Photo by Carol Rosegg
Playwright Matthew Greene has crafted three vignettes that center on the life-changing episode.  Each scene takes place in the suburban neighborhood surrounding the school during Thanksgiving and approaches the consequences from a different angle.  The setting, a dining area outside the kitchen, is the same for each portion of the show.  Five of the six performers change roles during the trio of scenarios.

The first account revolves around a mother as she and other family members help her prepare for the holiday meal.  We quickly learn that her dispassionate, false fa├žade is a coping mechanism as she cannot face up to the magnitude of the tragic event.  Her son, tormented by an unknown guilt clashes with his mother as the surreal nature of the aftermath becomes too much for him to take.
 
  1. L-R: Joby Earle, Andrew Veenstra, and Kelly McAndrew in “Thousand Pines,” written by Matthew Greene, directed by Austin Pendleton, at Westport Country Playhouse, now playing through November 17.   Photo by Carol Rosegg
In the next story, litigation is the primary element as a lawyer and his ex-wife seek to coax a plaintiff-friendly deposition from a witness to the shooting.  As the details begin to unfold a shocking aspect of the event is revealed.

The final glimpse into a grieving household, once again, has a mother center stage.  As neighbors try to cheer her up and redirect her attention more information behind the shooting is disclosed.  Then, in a blink of an eye, the three seemingly unconnected vignettes coalesce into a more coherent, yet stunning, whole.

Greene has written a compelling and haunting work that does not produce any easy answers.   He presents information, sometimes delivered in a stark and detached manner, that offers insights, but nothing definitive is resolved.  Questions of blame and correct protocols are left for audience member to decide.  He rightfully focuses attention on how individuals react differently and are impacted by such an event.  The results can be devastatingly raw and absolutely heartbreaking.  Some of the characters are not fully realized or deeply drawn, which is usually an issue for such short shows.  The intermission-less production runs only 79 minutes.
 
  1. L-R: Andrew Veenstra, Kelly McAndrew and Katie Ailion  in “Thousand Pines,” written by Matthew Greene, directed by Austin Pendleton, at Westport Country Playhouse, now playing through November 17.   Photo by Carol Rosegg
The six person actors – Katie Ailion, Anne Bates, Joby Earle, Kelly McAndrew, William Ragsdale, and Andrew Veenstra – play multiple roles within the three presentation and three of them standout.  Their characters are more fully developed, which allows for more nuance and shading in their portrayals.  Kelly McAndrew has the most difficult job as she embodies three different matriarchs, all at different points of the grieving process.  Anne Bates is a supporting player in two of the three scenes.  In the middle piece, however, she delivers a chilling monologue that is agonizing in its moral implications.  Andrew Veenstra, the only actor who plays the same character throughout the production, is a shattered mess as he tries to comprehend the horrific event that took place months earlier.

Director Austin Pendleton skillfully resets each tableau with precision and care.  He perceptually incorporates a good deal of quietude and reflection among the shattered family members.  Pendleton also brings a natural, sometimes infuriating, flow to the show.  Infuriating because of the wild mood swings rendered by the characters, but natural because of the honest and genuine feelings they display on stage.

Thousand Pines, a gripping and sometimes difficult piece of theater that, nonetheless, demands to be seen.

Monday, November 5, 2018

October 28, 2018 Radio Show

There are two ways to listen to my weekly radio program:
Click & Listen - You can click here to listen to this week's episode.  There are also hundreds of past episodes available on my website.

Podcasting - Each week a new program will be available by podcasting. If you have iTunes you can subscribe to the weekly "On Broadway" podcast or download it.

The podcast address is:
http://www.broadwayradioprograms.com/podcasts/Broadway.xml

TONIGHT'S THEME - Halloween, Part 2
We continue to celebrate Halloween with songs from the Off-Broadway and Broadway stage.

Name of Song
Name of Show

The Brain From Planet X
The Brain From Planet X
Bit Part Demon
Evil Dead - the Musical
A Night We'll Never Forget
Carrie
I Gotta Be Your Man
Faust
Halloween
Rent
Damn It, Janet
The Rocky Horror Picture Show
I Love a Little Town
The Witches of Eastwick
Defying Gravity
Wicked
Deep in the Darkest Night
Dracula
I Believe My Heart
The Woman in White
Skid Row (Downtown)
Little Shop of Horrors
The Hands of Time
Frankenstein
Reefer Madness
Reefer Madness
Where is the World
Phantom

October 21, 2018 Radio Show

There are two ways to listen to my weekly radio program:
Click & Listen - You can click here to listen to this week's episode.  There are also hundreds of past episodes available on my website.

Podcasting - Each week a new program will be available by podcasting. If you have iTunes you can subscribe to the weekly "On Broadway" podcast or download it.

The podcast address is:
http://www.broadwayradioprograms.com/podcasts/Broadway.xml

TONIGHT'S THEME - Halloween, Part 1
We celebrate Halloween with songs from the Off-Broadway and Broadway stage.

Name of Song
Name of Show

Home Sweet Heaven
High Spirits
Who's Got the Pain
Damn Yankees
Not a Common Man
American Psycho
Show You a Thing or Two
Bat Boy
Dangerous Game
Jekyll and Hyde
Come Look at the Freaks
Side Show
Puttin' on the Ritz
Young Frankenstein
I Want the Good Times Back
The Little Mermaid
Big Green Freak
The Toxic Avenger
I Think I Got You Beat
Shrek
Don't Nobody Bring Me No Bad News
The Wiz
Here Right Now
Ghost
Serious Business
Imperfect Chemistry
When You're an Addams
The Addams Family

Review of "Ordinary Days"


Ordinary days.  Ordinary lives that resonate with the pulse of New York City and how they can connect in unintended ways, is the unassuming premise behind the four-person musical, Ordinary Days, receiving a highly pleasing revival Off-Broadway through November 17th. 

The quartet of performers--Warren (Kyle Sherman), Deb (Sarah Lynn Marion), Claire (Whitney Bashor), and Jason (Marc delaCruz)—are broken down into two separate narratives.  Warren, a lanky, quixotic dreamer and Deb, an angry, directionless, English Literature graduate student come together via a missing notebook.  Their relationship, very tentative at first, develops into one of understanding and respect.  The other account revolves around Jason, an impulsive and passionate young professional and his charming and accommodating girlfriend, Claire.  The two have just moved in together, which gives a new and potentially unpredictable landscape to their intimacy.  The foursome’s stories intersect for just a fleeting moment near the show’s conclusion, which adds both closure and a new spirit to each person’s lives. 

Adam Gwon’s score is tuneful, buoyant and full of emotion and passion.  The songs of the sung through musical cover a range of feelings from optimism to melancholy to resiliency.  Their sentiments, exhibited through witty and clever lyrics, realistically portray characters that are trying to maneuver and persevere amidst life in the big city.

The cast is entrancing and full of an enthusiastic vibrancy.  They come across with a hopeful feistiness and determination to better their lives as they all sing about the “Big Picture.”

Director Jonathan Silverstein has a firm, but light touch as he guides the production forward.  He keeps the four performers on their toes as they are in constant movement entering and exiting the small Keen Theater stage.  With just a few key props he is successfully able to convey two modest, but engaging storylines that are absorbing and appealing.

Steven C. Kemp’s Set Design is modest, encompassing three large rectangular towers wrapped in a mesh fabric, that simply, but effectively, symbolize the large, impersonal nature of New York City.

Ordinary Days, an admirable production worth seeing in a season of mostly lackluster musicals.

Monday, October 29, 2018

Review of "The Waverly Gallery"


The portrayal of a person descending into the depths of dementia is nothing new on the New York stage.  Most recently, Frank Langella won the 2016 Tony Award in The Father for depicting someone in such a state.  In The Waverly Gallery, a poignant, funny, and bittersweet examination of a family going through the throes of the syndrome, playwright Kenneth Lonergan treads through familiar territory while also adding fresh and affecting elements to a heartrendering story.

He is aided by the outstanding performance of Elaine May as Gladys, the elderly, independent woman who has become a difficult handful for her immediate family.   Ms. May anchors the production with a superb sense of timing, whether through simple observation or mile-a-minute chattering.

Gladys owns a small, not very successful art gallery on Waverly Place in Greenwich Village, a place she has run for decades.  While nominally a business it is really a place for her to spend time out of her cramped apartment.  Her immediate family, daughter Ellen (Joan Allen), her husband Howard (David Cromer) and grandson Daniel (Lucas Hedges) live on the Upper Westside of Manhattan and cope with her eccentricities and setbacks, sometimes with compassion, most often with anger and resentment.  A fifth character, Dan (Michael Cera), is also part of the mix.  An unaccomplished artist from Lynn, MA he happens upon the gallery where he ends up residing and becoming, in effect, an ex-officio member of the family and care team.  The everyday rhythm of Gladys’ days ultimately worsens, abetted by life-changing circumstances, until the inevitable end.

Kenneth Lonergan’s work plays against the usual presentations around a loved one with dementia.  Here, exasperation, irritation, and outright antagonism are front and center.  This is a loving family at wit’s end.  They have the financial means to provide for the aged Gladys, but their reserve of empathy and patience is almost exhausted.  The playwright astutely incorporates constant repetition by Gladys to demonstrate her diminishing capacities.  The circumlocutions eventually become tiresome, but what better way to dramatically portray the distressing existence felt by all those involved.  Lonerman also uses the character of Daniel to occasionally break the 4th wall of the theater by providing exposition and illumination.  The asides do not distract from the flow of the show.  They enrich and add clarity.

The cast is terrific.  Their strength is in how they overtly and subtly react and play off Ms. May as they all go through their everyday routines, as jumbled and as maddening as they may be.

Lila Neugebauer’s staging keeps the focus on Elaine May.  The actresses’ ramblings and histrionics are skillfully rendered, making them appear natural and unforced.  The use of overlapping dialogue has a spontaneity and genuineness to the action.  The director handles Daniel’s soliloquys to the audience with aplomb.  Sometimes it seems the characters shout too much, but that is from the perspective of an outsider looking into a world he has not experienced.

Scenic Designer David Zinn has created three relatively straightforward set pieces.  Their wizardry, though, is in the quickness with which they are transformed within a very short blackout.

The Waverly Gallery, a moving portrait of an all too familiar scenario with a bravo performance by Elaine May.

Sunday, October 28, 2018

Review of "The Roommate"


 Most of us have had a roommate at some point in our life, maybe as an incoming college Freshman or when looking for someone to share costs for a just attainable big city apartment.  Roommates are usually for the under 30 age group.  But what about older adults?  What would that be like?  In writer Jenn Silverman’s play, The Roommate, she takes two, early 50’s aged women and weaves together a mildly amusing comedy.

We are introduced to Sharon (Linda Powell), an Iowan homeowner, who takes into her house native New Yorker, Robyn (Tasha Lawrence).  The two divorced women could not be more different in looks, demeanor, and background.  Their tentative relationship quickly develops into a more solid rapport and, finally, friendship.  While their personalities and backgrounds are distinct, they do share some common ground, most notably an unsettled bond with their grown child.  Sharon, introverted, with few interests, becomes enamored with Robyn’s more colorful past and seeks to emulate her exploits, which ends up changing the dynamics of their relationship and, in the end, each other’s lives.

Jen Silverman’s script is mostly entertaining as the contrasts between the two characters is emphasized.  The theme has been reworked for the stage many times before, most notably with Neil Simon’s The Odd Couple.  The scenarios and camaraderie between the protagonists feel natural.  The playwright’s ambiguous ending rings true as the audience is left to come up with its own conclusions.  I do quibble with how Sharon’s reactions to Robyn’s New York City roots, sexual orientation, and former “professions” are portrayed.  While humorous, the gasps and incredulousness of Sharon come across as somewhat cliched in today’s world.

The two actresses fully embody their disparate roles.  Linda Powell imbues Sharon with an unadorned poise that, initially, is wide-eyed with a gaping disposition.  As the story develops, she effectively transforms from a somewhat reclusive, directionless persona to someone who develops into a confident woman with a devil-may-care approach to living.  Tasha Lawrence convincingly instills Robyn with an air of mystery and even danger.  The actress displays a well-spring of conflicting emotions and uncertainties, at times hardened and confused as she looks to jumpstart her life.

Director Mike Donahue adroitly keeps the interaction between the characters within the kitchen area of Dane Laffrey’s expansive, detailed set design, which encompasses a spacious, airy kitchen and dining and living rooms.  This affords him the opportunity to focus the audience’s attention on both familiar domestic life rituals, such as the drinking of morning coffee, with the more uncharacteristic conversations and activities the two characters have.  A two-person play is always difficult when it comes to pacing and variations in staging, but the director effectively mixes up the action by introducing an assortment of props and conversations on a land line telephone.

The Roommate, diverting and engaging, playing at Long Wharf through November 4th.

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Review of "The River"


I saw The River on Broadway a few years ago.  The production starred Hugh Jackman and I was anticipating a scintillating piece of theater.  Instead, by the end of the 80 minute, intermission-less show I was scratching my head trying to figure out the play’s meaning and purpose.  When it was announced to be part of the 2018-2019 Theaterworks season I thought it would be a good opportunity to reevaluate my previous appraisal.

Unfortunately, The River is still a meandering meditation on a man’s search for the perfect “catch.”  There are many fish(ing) metaphors in the play.  The characters talk about fish, reminisce about fishing exploits, and one is even prepared on stage. 

The show is centered in a rustic cabin, fastidiously designed by Brian Pather.  The one room dwelling is crammed with nooks and crannies and flanked on either side by birch tree saplings.  We are introduced to characters simply titled The Man (Billy Carter) and The Woman (Andrea Goss).  The dialogue, when not centered on the aquatic animals, is very lyrical and poetic but I just kept thinking that people don’t talk like this.  Very beautiful to listen to, but disharmonious within the setting. 

Within a very short time The Woman leaves the stage and The Other Woman (Jasmine Batchelor) enters, just about replaying the previous scenes.  Who is she?  What happened to The Woman?  Playwright Jez Butterworth seems to showing the man at different points of his life and how the women he falls in love with are never the right one so he always deems it necessary to throw them back and out of his life.  Will he ever succeed?  Back and forth the two women enter and leave the stage until The Man is, finally, alone.

One could wax poetic about the play or talk about the mythical underpinnings that Butterworth is trying to convey but, in the end, the audience needs to be entertained and in The River not much happens.  The inaction undercuts whatever message the playwright is trying to impart.  The play is the type of production one either falls under its atmospheric spell or ponders and wonders.

The cast - Billy Carter Andrea Goss Jasmine Batchelor - is earnest and committed to fortifying their characters with passion and deeply held convictions.  They are expressive whether displaying feelings of angst or disquietude.

Director Rob Ruggiero brings an intensity to the events within the small confines of the onstage room.  There is a lilting quality to his direction, which effectively draws out the sometimes raw emotions of the performers. He also handles the time shifting component of the production with aplomb and a seeming nonchalance.

The River, playing at Theaterworks in Hartford through November 11th.
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Sunday, October 21, 2018

Review of "Evita"


One of Andrew Lloyd Webber/Tim Rice’s first musicals was Evita.  This normally large-scale theatrical work, which traces the rise and fall of Argentina’s former first lady Eva Peron, has been reimagined for the small stage by ACT of Connecticut Artistic Director Daniel Levine.  The result is a rousing, passionate production that can be riveting and emotionally satisfying.

The story of Eva Maria Duarte, later Eva Peron after marrying Army officer and future Argentine President Juan Peron, is one of determination and fortitude.  From a poverty-stricken background, she literally claweda her way to the top to become, in the late 1950’s, one of the most revered and authoritative woman in the world.  The musical traces her life from her teenage years, through her ascent to power, to her untimely death at a very young age.  Webber and Rice have cleverly added the character of Che Guevara, a contemporary of Eva Peron, but someone not in her sphere, to act as a one man Greek Chorus, commenting on the action and serving as a moral compass during the show.

The score, by the duo behind such works as Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat and Jesus Christ Superstar, is stirring and impassioned, delivered with a fervor and zeal by the talented performers.  Since there is no book to the show, the compositions need to communicate the dramatic narrative, which they do with a burst of boisterous gusto and ardent exhilaration.  There is the musical’s signature song, “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina,” but that is just one of many finely crafted numbers.

The entire cast is superb, from the leads to the supporting players to members of the ensemble.  They are led by Julia Estrada as Eva Peron.  The actress is seductive, elegant, and charming as she transforms from a diffident, but resolute young woman to a self-confident, mature leader.  Ms. Estrada also possesses the vocal power to belt out the demanding score.  Angel Lozada’s Che is the soul of the production.  The actor brings a dynamic intensity that commands the audience’s attention.  As Juan Peron, the elected Argentine leader, Ryan K. Bailor is more muted in his performance, but he exudes a forceful presence that is a perfect counterpoint to the other very charismatic and vibrant central characters.

Director Daniel Levine has successfully laid out his artistic vision of presenting the musical in a more stripped down version without sacrificing quality or emotional synergy.  He has the acting troupe well-drilled as they swing from highly charged performances to more nuanced work.  The director adroitly inserts the character of Che into the center of the Perons’ orbit, which allows the story to be more expansive and finely layered.

Choreographer Charlie Sutton has fashioned lively, vigorous dances that are expressive and affective.

Jack Mehler’s minimal scenic design and lighting set-up provide just enough of the essential production elements for the musical to succeed.

Evita, a spirited and impressive presentation, playing at ACT of Connecticut in Ridgefield, CT through November 11th.

Friday, October 19, 2018

October 14, 2018 Radio Show

There are two ways to listen to my weekly radio program:
Click & Listen - You can click here to listen to this week's episode.  There are also hundreds of past episodes available on my website.

Podcasting - Each week a new program will be available by podcasting. If you have iTunes you can subscribe to the weekly "On Broadway" podcast or download it.

The podcast address is:
http://www.broadwayradioprograms.com/podcasts/Broadway.xml

TONIGHT'S THEME - New Digital Releases
Five new cast recordings from recent Off-Broadway musicals.

Name of Song
Name of Show

Music to Me
Who’s Your Baghdaddy?
Speak to Me Tomorrow
Who’s Your Baghdaddy?
We Deserve Better
Who’s Your Baghdaddy?
Stay
Who’s Your Baghdaddy?
You Wish
Tonya & Nancy – a Rock Musical
It’s Our Whole Life
Tonya & Nancy – a Rock Musical
This Is It
Tonya & Nancy – a Rock Musical
Miss You Like Hell
Miss You Like Hell
Sundays
Miss You Like Hell
Now I’m Here
Miss You Like Hell
Dance With Me
Miss You Like Hell
The Empty Chair
Session Girls
I Dreamt of You
Session Girls
I Got a Key
Session Girls
Nobody Understands Me
Session Girls
Eureka
Wicked Clone
Hello
Wicked Clone
Up and Down
Wicked Clone

Sunday, October 14, 2018

Review of "The Drowsy Chaperone"


Flirtatious fun, an apt description for The Drowsy Chaperone, the delectable diversion playing at the Goodspeed Opera House through November 25th.  The production, a spoof of 1920’s giddy, harebrained musicals, is effervescently entertaining and will put a smile on your face.
 
John Scherer as Man in Chair in Goodspeed Musicals’ The Drowsy Chaperone, now playing at The Goodspeed through November 25. Photo Credit © Photo by Diane Sobolewski
The featherbrained plot centers around the upcoming nupitals of a glitzy, famous actress to a handsome son of an oil magnet.  Complications, of course, ensue as competing forces vie for the wedding to proceed and be called off.  The stylized characterizations include a fretting best man; a bumbling, Latin Lothario; a flustered producer and his ditzy girlfriend; two disguised gangsters; the liquored-up bride’s chaperone; and a jolly, self-depracating narrator, who anchors the production. 

The role of the narrator, known as the Man in Chair, elevates the musical from a breezy send-up to splendiferous entertainment as he lobs bon mots and keeps up a steady stream of wisecracking banter.  He begins the musical, alone on stage in his comfy easy chair, explaining to the audience that when he is blue he enjoys listening to Broadway cast recordings on his record player.  His favorite?  The Drowsy Chaperone, which he then proceeds to play while chronicling the action and backstory of the scenes and performers as they come to life in his small, nondescript apartment. 
 
“I Don’t Wanna Show Off” Stephanie Rothenberg (Janet Van de Graaf) with the cast of Goodspeed Musicals’ The Drowsy Chaperone, now playing at The Goodspeed through November 25. Photo Credit © Photo by Diane Sobolewski
The book by Bob Martin and Don McKellar, which won the 2006 Tony Award, is cleverly structured, saucy, and high-spirited. There is a loving and knowing nod to Broadway musical aficionados that is good-natured and quite humorous.

The score by Lisa Lambert and Greg Morrison is exuberant, frothy, and full of opportunities for individual cast members to shine.   
 
“Toledo Surprise!” The cast of Goodspeed Musicals’ The Drowsy Chaperone, now playing at The Goodspeed through November 25. Photo Credit © Photo by Diane Sobolewski
The performers attack their roles with gusto and a genuineness that adds to the hilarity and vivaciousness of the production.  They are led by John Scherer in the pivotal role of Man in Chair.  He is assured, charming and amusing from the onset, setting a mirth-filled tone to the show.  The actor’s antics and droll repartee has the audience in stitches almost immediately. 

Other notable cast members include Stephanie Rothenberg as Janet Van de Graaff, the radiant and attractive starlet.  She nimbly skates through a range of emotions from teary-eyed bride-to-be to bubbly luminary.  While delightful, the performance could have been strengthened with a bit more panache.
 
John Scherer (Man in Chair) with Parker Slaybaugh (Gangster 2) and Blakely Slaybaugh (Gangster 1) in Goodspeed Musicals’ The Drowsy Chaperone, now playing at The Goodspeed through November 25. Photo Credit © Photo by Diane Sobolewski
Clyde Alves, as the groom Robert Martin, is a handsome bon vivant.  There’s not much depth in the role but he, nonetheless. Is a good sport dashing on and off stage handling each predicament with a playful exasperation.  Jennifer Allen is flippant and brash as The Drowsy Chaperone, but she could have been even more audacious and impertinent.  John Rapson is suitably over-the-top as the Latin lover Aldolph.  The Slaybaugh brothers, Blakely and Parker, just about steal the show as the two gangsters disguised as pastry chefs.  They are outrageously funny and are talented hoofers.  Let’s hope they continue to grace Connecticut productions.

Choreographer Chris Bailey delivers a handful of high-stepping dance routines and tap dancing extravaganzas.  His work is used sparingly within the musical, but each time produces crowd-pleasing enthusiasm.
 
“Rhythm make dem cold feets hot!” Tim Falter (George) and Clyde Alves (Robert) in Goodspeed Musicals’ The Drowsy Chaperone, now playing at The Goodspeed through November 25. Photo Credit © Photo by Diane Sobolewski
Director Hunter Foster has a light touch as he guides the large cast on and off the small Goodspeed stage.  He seamlessly integrates the Man in Chair with the other elements and scenes from the show.  Each segment of the musical is skillfully presented as a miniature vignette focusing on the individual characters and their distinctive plights.

The scenic design by Howard Jones deftly interweaves a meager apartment layout with more lavish sets associated with the rich and whacky.  He even manages to land an airplane on stage.
 
Escape the everyday with the cast of Goodspeed Musicals’ The Drowsy Chaperone, now playing at The Goodspeed through November 25. Photo Credit © Photo by Diane Sobolewski
Gregg Barnes’ costume designs are elaborate creations, gorgeous to gaze upon.  He truly captures the sumptuousness and grandeur of the high-flying upper class.

The Drowsy Chaperone, a sparkling, lighthearted musical, playing through November 25th.