“The Chosen” at Long Wharf Is a Coming-of-Age Drama

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By Karen Isaacs

 Two boys and two fathers. Aaron Posner, in his revised adaptation of Chaim Potok’s The Chosen now at Long Wharf through Dec. 17, explores two variations of that relationship.

It is 1944 in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, and two teenage boys become friends despite being very different.  Reuven Malter, who sometimes serves as the narrator, attends a Yeshiva (private religious school for Jewish boys) and plays baseball. His father, David, is an editor and writer. They have a close relationship that includes a good measure of friendship.

At the game, Reuven is hit in the eye with a baseball when Danny Saunders hits a comebacker to the pitcher’s mound. Danny is an aggressive and powerful hitter. He also attends a Yeshiva, but his is a Hasidic school; his father is the rabbi. The Danny and his classmates view Reuven and his classmates as “apikorism” of Jews who are educated in the faith but deny its basic tenets.

Despite these differences, Reuven and Danny become fast friends and both fathers approve, though Reb Saunders has to “test” Reuven first.  Danny does not seem happy with having to follow in his father’s footsteps. He is secretly reading secular literature including Freud which he finds fascinating. But he is obedient to his father’s word, even when he orders Danny to not talk to Reuven.

We follow these two boys – and to some extent their fathers – through the end of the war, the liberation of the concentration camps, college and the fight over the creation of Israel.

Besides the major world issues that go on around them, this is a classic story of two boys growing up, finding their own place in the world, and learning how to separate themselves from obedience to parental authority.

This central conflict is universal. But the play also explores other issues as well – the breach between these two branches of Judaism – the Hasidim, often considered ultra-Orthodox and those who are considered observant conservative. The two view each other with suspicion and their religious views influence their world views.

As a coming-of-age story, The Chosen is excellent. It is only when it ventures into some of the other areas that this two act play comes up short. Most obvious is that we don’t learn enough about David Malter, Reuven’s father, so that some of both his actions and those of Reb Saunders do not make sense.  The two fathers have a history which would be helpful to understand.

The other area that could use more is the divergent views on the founding of Israel. You would think that Reb Saunders would be an adamant supporter of the founding of the Jewish state. He isn’t and the reasons could be clearer.

But this production directed by Gordon Edelstein does illuminate some of the issues of the play. He has gotten excellent performances from the four principal actors. Four others appear occasionally as students and others; they are mainly walk on roles with little character delineation.

It’s hard to select a standout performance from among the four principals. Each is excellent and each embodies his character. George Guidall who plays Reb Saunders returns to Long Wharf after a too long absence. He gives this character the certainty and sternness needed but shows that underneath it is an amazing understanding and warmth. He is matched by Steven Skybell as David Malter, though having to suffer two heart attacks on stage is a little much. Skybell embodies the character’s reasonableness which allows him to co-exist in this conflict neighborhood.

As the two young men, Ben Edelman as Danny Saunders uses the posture of the perennial submissive and depressed to illuminate the character’s inner dilemma: obedience to his father and his destiny versus his own desire to break out. Equally good is Max Wolkowitz as Reuven who is trying to make sense of this world.

Eugene Lee has created a terrific set; I especially liked how he handled the baseball game that begins the play. In that, he is aided by the sound design by John Gromada. In addition the lighting by Mark Barton and the costumes by Paloma Young thoroughly create the world of this play.

The Chosen succeeds as a coming-of-age story and mostly succeeds in revealing truths about this conflict within the Jewish community.

It is at Long Wharf, Long Wharf Theatre or 203-787-4282 or 800-782-8497 through Dec. 17.

 

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A New Scrooge Adds His Touch to “A Christmas Carol” at Hartford Stage

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By Karen Isaacs

 A Christmas Carol – A Ghost Story of Christmas has returned to Hartford Stage for its 20th year of performances through Saturday, Dec. 30. Over that time, Bill Raymond was Scrooge 17 years.

But now, the role is in the very capable hands of Michael Preston and director Rachel Alderman.

If this is the first time you are seeing this show, it is as wonderful as ever. For the long-time fans of this production, there are some subtle changes.

Preston is terrific as Scrooge. Calling on his background with the Flying Karamazov Brothers he throws in a bit of juggling and some judicious physical comedy to the delight of the audience. He also makes Scrooge sterner in the beginning. Though he prepares us for Scrooge’s well known redemption, he doesn’t soften the man at the beginning. When he begrudges Bob Cratchit a lump of coal, his wages or refuses to donate to help the needy, there is no sense that this is a game that we should be in on. It is the man.

Over the years, Raymond had added too many winks to the early scenes; he made it not only more difficult to believe Scrooge was so nasty, but also made the redemption seem less like a “miracle.”

With Preston you are amazed at the transformation. While some of the cast from previous years return to their roles, new cast has joined the group. Yet even the returnees have evolved their characters in response to the new Scrooge. Noble Shropshire is even more tart as Scrooge’s housekeeper, Mrs. Dilber, and Robert Hannon Davis’ Bob Cratchit seems even more put-upon. Alan Rust returns as both Bert, the cider vendor and the Spirit of Christmas present. His good humor is in sharp contrast to Scrooge.

Added to the cast this year are Rebecka Jones as Betty Pidgeon, the doll vendor as well as the Spirit of Christmas Past and Old Josie. Her portrayals are spot on.

Director Rachel Alderman has used multi-racial casting throughout the production with Terrell Donnell Sledge playing both Scrooge at 30 and his nephew, Fred. His performance and those of Shauna Miles as Mrs. Fezziwig and Vanessa R. Butler as both Fred’s wife, and Belle, Scrooge’s one-time fiancé are good. Yet some audience members may be disconcerted by it all or wonder about the genetics involved.

It seemed to me that this production was crisper than usual; the credit goes to Alderman.

Once again the special effects – the lighting by Robert Wierzel, scenic design by Tony Straiges, costumes by Alejo Vietti, sound and original music by John Gromada and choreography by Hope Clarke are all excellent. And of course, the marvelous flying effects by ZFX, Inc. I hope they figure out a way to let Scrooge fly also. It is a matter of logistics since he is on stage so much but casn’t be in the flying harness the entire show.

Quibbles? That the voices of the children were hard to hear. But that is a minor complaint.

If you have never seen this production, remember the subtitle: A Ghost Story of Christmas. Ghosts play a major role in the piece and their masks and actions can be appropriately eerie. This may not be the right production for younger children or any child easily scared.

For all the rest of us, this is a wonderful gift to Connecticut. Even if you’ve seen it before, you should definitely see it again this holiday season.

It is at Hartford Stage, 50 Church Street through Dec. 30. For tickets visit Hartford Stage or call 860-527-5151.

This content is courtesy of Shore Publishing Weeklies and zip06

Yale Rep’s “Native Son” Is Compelling

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By Karen Isaacs

The Yale Rep production of Native Son as written and adapted by Nambi E. Kelly is at times chilling but also confusing. It runs through December 16.

Richard Wright’s 1940 novel, Native Son, is said by some to have opened the door to African-American literature. It certainly was an important and best-selling work that is still often taught in schools. The novel cast a harsh light on the effect of societal racism has on individuals.

This adaptation, first performed in 2014 is the third such attempt. It’s hard to tell if it is more successful than the others, but for some in the audience, while well produced and well-acted, it was basically unsatisfactory.

The novel tells the story of Bigger Thomas, a 20-year-old African American living with his mother and younger sister and brother in a Chicago slum. He and his friends are planning a holdup of a white owned store. More importantly he is interviewed and hired by a white couple to be their chauffeur. On his first evening on the job, he is driving the young adult daughter to the university where she is a student. Instead she asks him to pick up her boyfriend, the communist organizer Jan; the two of them ask Bigger to take them to a dinner in his neighborhood. Jan and Mary drink quite a bit, and when Bigger takes her home, she can barely stand. He helps to her room and when Mary’s blind mother appears, he puts a pillow on Mary’s head. By the time the mother leaves, Mary is dead. The rest of the play deals with the snowball effects of that act.

Dramatizing this work is not easy. Kelley has decided to describe it as “a split second insider Bigger’s mind when her runs from his crime, remembers, images, two cold and snowy winter days in December 1939 and beyond.”  You can parse that sentence many ways and come up with many possible interpretations.

Is what are you seeing, what happened?  What he imagines will happen? The novel was more linear in its story telling.

The audience is left to try to figure out not only what is happening, but is it true or some sort of nightmare. In addition, a character called “The Black Rat” is omnipresent; sometimes he seems like a narrator, at other times Bigger’s conscience and sometimes as the adult version of Bigger. It definitely adds some confusion to the story telling, especially for those unfamiliar with the original novel.

Bigger – and at times The Black Rat – often talk about how African Americans have two views of themselves. The view they see and the one reflected back to them from the white society. Digger believes that he becomes what that reflected view says he is. Certainly the whites in the play view Bigger as someone less than equal and sometimes less than human. His employer Mrs. Dalton suspects he may never have slept in a bed. Her daughter, Mary and Jan, her communist boyfriend, may claim to have his interests at heart, but there is a large measure of condescension in their professed support. They know best and he should follow along; after all he can’t be expected to understand.

Of course, the detective the family hires to find their missing daughter, and the police exhibit stereotypical racism.

Overall the production is excellent.  Scenic designer Ryan Emens has created a cityscape of iron fire escapes, while lighting designer Stephen Strawbridge has given us the moody and dramatic lighting. Combined with the jazzy sounds by Frederick Kennedy, the total result is a very film noir feel to the piece.

As Bigger, Jerod Haynes combines the rashness of youth and the anger of a disenfranchised young man. He portrays the bravado but also the lack of confidence. His portrayal is riveting.

Director Seret Scott has is given this piece a film noir atmosphere which is most appropriate. She has not sugar-coated the actions or the feelings in this piece. The result is a play that will encourage to confront your own understandings about our society.

Native Son is running through Dec. 16. For tickets visit Yale Rep or call 203-432-1234.

“Christmas on the Rocks” Is a Comic Look at “What Ever Happened to?”

 

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By Karen Isaacs

Christmas on the Rocks has become a holiday staple at TheaterWorks. This year it runs through Saturday, December 23; additional performances already have been added.

Why the appeal? At first glance it simply seems like a clever twist that adds a bit of cynicism to the usual holiday fare. But after seeing it several times, I’ve realized that there are hidden depths in these delightful pieces.

Artistic Director Rob Ruggiero called upon a number of playwrights with whom he had worked and gave them a challenge. To write a short scene about whatever happened to some of the classic children characters from various Christmas movies, TV shows and literature. Most of these works ended on an up-beat note. But what really happened afterwards?

The playwrights created a series of short scenes – many of them mainly monologues. And along the way they added in not only humor but lessons of how we go on and how we can always recapture the optimism of youth.

It is set in what is described as “a local bar in a lonely corner of the cosmos, Christmas Eve.” This is your typical run-down neighborhood bar, worn and out of date. The bartender is switching between Christmas films on TV as the bar is empty.

In seven scenes, two talented actors become some of the very well-known children from these stories and occasionally a lesser known character. In the last two years, two of the stories have changed. One original piece, based on The Grinch Who Stole Christmas and about Cindy Lou Who, was turned into a longer piece by its playwright Matthew Lombardo and is now playing off-Broadway.  It’s been replaced by piece written by Jenn Harris and Matthew Wilkas.

That piece, “My Name is KAREN!” is about the girl who created Frosty and saved him. She’s now a self-involved, angry young woman with her own live internet show. She resents all the attention that Frosty has gotten and her own obscurity. Even on her show, her followers mostly ask questions about Frosty and not her. She has taken her revenge.

New this year is a scene by Connecticut’s own Jacques Lamarre called “A Miserable Life”. You can guess that it is about one of the Bailey children, in this case ZuZu Bailey. It seems that she has been traumatized by the notion that “every time a bell rings, an angel gets its wings.”

John Cariani has written an ironic piece about Ralphie from A Christmas Story while Jeffrey Hatcher has a hysterically funny piece about Hermie, the elf who wanted to be a dentist in the TV version of Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer.

 In a piece by Theresa Rebeck, we see a cynical Tiny Tim who believes that Scrooge had a mental breakdown; Tim also seems to have adopted some of Scrooge’s miserly attitudes. Then there’s the piece about Clara, from The Nutcracker.  She is now an aging beauty still in love with the ageless Nutcracker. And the show ends with a tender piece by Lamarre about Charlie Brown. His revelations are surprising, but the ending is sweet.

Ruggiero has directed this with a sure hand. Jenn Harris and Matthew Wilkes are returning for the third or fourth year playing all of the famous characters. It is remarkable how they use voices and gestures to create totally different characters. Harris goes from the self-involved Karen, to the neurotic Zuzu and ends as the tender “Little Red-Haired Girl.

Wilkes is funny and over the top as Hermie. After that, you almost don’t recognize him when he is Tiny Tim or later as Charlie Brown.

Tom Bloom has joined the cast this year as the bartender. Like any good bartender, he listens, he reacts and occasionally he adds a succinct comment or suggestion. He is part therapist and part grandfather. It is this character that often helps the others to leave more optimistic than when they came in.

As you leave Christmas on the Rocks, you may ponder the ideas that what we assume will happen often doesn’t, but that other possibilities open to us, if only we will take advantage of them.

This show is geared to adults or near adults.

Christmas on the Rocks is at TheaterWorks, 233 Pearl St., Hartford. For tickets visit TheaterWorks or call 860-527-7838.

This content courtesy of Shore Publications Weeklies and zip06.com.

“A Band’s Visit” Is a Wonderful, Gentle Broadway Musical

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By Karen Isaacs

 It’s generated buzz since its debut off-Broadway last fall. Now The Band’s Visit has made it to Broadway and it lives up to all of the hype.

It is a warm story about people learning about themselves and about people they have viewed as very different from them.

The show, with music and lyrics by David Yazbek and book by Itamar Moses, is based on the 2007 Israeli film that won acclaim and prizes throughout the world. The film told the story of the eight member Alexandria Ceremonial Police Orchestra that has been invited to play at the opening of an Arab cultural center in PetahTikva. Due to a language mix up (it isn’t important to understand the how) the group arrives at Beit Harikva in the Negev Desert.

In this small “no wheresville” town, there are no hotels, but a few of the residents take the band members in and provide food, shelter and companionship for one night. Bonds of friendship are formed in the few hours before the band departs on a bus to take them to their correct location.

It’s a gentle story. Yes, there is an occasional brief instances of prejudice by one or two townspeople, but other than that, the dramatic conflict is minimal.

This musical is more about people getting to know each other, than about disagreements and conflict.

Director David Cromer must be given credit for not trying to make this piece more “Broadway” then it should be. He moves the scenes along without rushing them and allows the audience to involve themselves in the characters and the story.

Each of the characters is finely drawn and beautifully performed. Tony Shalhoub plays Tewfiq, the very proper leader of the group. Though he only has one number, “Something Different” which is a duet with Dina, his performance is the backbone of this piece. It’s all in his reserve, his posture, his gestures – it is he who sets the tone and acts as the parent to the others in the orchestra.

If he is the backbone, then Dina, played by Katrina Lenk is the soul of the play. Dina is the owner of the café where the band comes to ask for directions. It is she who organizes the food and accommodations for the night. She is the leader among her group of friends. Lenk, who was brilliant in Indecent last year, is equally brilliant here. She conveys her concern for fellow humans in every way. It is she who sets the tone with the songs, “Welcome to Nowhere” and “It Is What It Is.” And it is she that that breaks through the reserve of Tewfiq.

While many of the other characters begin as “types” – they soon emerge as much more than that type. John Cariani as Itzik begins as the “man-child” who is abdicating responsibility for his wife and child, but by the end has gained new ambition.  Haled, played by Ari’el Stachel is the lothario in the band, but he too becomes much more than that as he spends the evening wondering the town with Papi, played equally well by Etai Benson. Even though some of the band members have few lines, they still create unique characters.

Each of the characters have known loss and disappointment. From the band member who started a concerto only to stop after the first few bars, to the young man who sits waiting for an out-of-service phone (in a phone booth) to ring.

These characters are separated by language, distance, nationality, religion and sometimes politics though that is not the focus on the piece.  Yet they forge human connections and learn about each other while discovering things about themselves.

It is difficult to say too much about the magnificent music and lyrics by David Yazbek. Once again, he has adapted to his environment. This score pulls from the tonal palate of both Arabic and Jewish music while still being totally accessible to American audiences. I can’t wait for the cast CD to be released.

Itamar Moses’ book is smooth and handles the transitions and changes in mood adeptly. It is not obvious but it is important.

Scott Pask has created a turntable set that allows for the multiple locations – the café, the street, Itzik’s home, Dina’s apartment, and more. The set combined with the lighting design by Tyler Micoleau and the costumes by Sarah Laux, immerse in the small town evening/night. Her costumes for the band makes a statement all by themselves. They are humorous, self-important, and yet with their powder blue color, non-threatening. This may be a police orchestra, but you can’t imagine any of them actually being police officers.

The Band’s Visit is a musical that will captivate many. It is gentle, romantic, wistful and regretful. Those who want high energy dancing, chorus numbers and more in their musicals, will be disappointed unless they are willing to accept the quiet depth of this piece.

In some ways it reminds me of Come from Away last year’s surprise hit. Both deal with ensemble casts, both feature the band as much as the singers, both leave us feeling hopeful and optimistic about people. They are different, but they are also both excellent.

A Band’s Visit is a tender, thoughtful musical that is so very worth seeing. It is at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre, 243 W. 47th Street, Tickets are available through Telecharge.

 

“Shadowlands” about C.S. Lewis Is Getting an Outstanding Revival Off-Broadway

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By Karen Isaacs

 If there is a dry eye at the end of Shadowlands now Off-Broadway at the Acorn Theater, you have never experienced the loss of a loved one.

This fascinating play by William Nicholson is an unlikely love story between C. S. Lewis – specialist in medieval literature, a lay theologian, radio personality and author and an American woman and writer, Joy Gresham.

Many may remember either the original Broadway production starring Jane Alexander and Nigel Hawthorne or the 1993 film with Debra Winger and Anthony Hopkins.

What makes the play so fascinating is watching the middle-aged Lewis – who many know from his Narnia books –slowly let down his barriers to the rather unconventional American.

It’s being produced by the Fellowship for Performing Arts – which describes itself as creating theatre for a Christian worldview but they don’t shy away from controversy.

Immediately when you enter the theater, you notice the set. It looks opulent for a small theater. Dark wood doors immediately set the mood – they are carved and look old and expensive. Two steps help divide the playing area. The furniture fits perfectly in the university setting of the play. Kelly James Tighe is responsible for it. It has the British 1950s style. As you see Lewis and the other faculty members gather, again the costumes by Michael Bevins are absolutely right. Not just tweeds but suits from the period. These are formal men.

When the play begins, you are taken with the blending of the set, costumes and lighting with the expertise of the actors.

Daniel Gerroll could not be more perfect as C. S. Lewis. He’s religious but secular, reserved but questioning. As the play unfolds, Gerroll peels away the layers of Lewis’ protective reserve and shows the heart of the man which has been hidden.

Uniformly the other men are excellent well. Each conveys not only the British academic sensibility but also the different types. Christopher Riley, in a sharp performance by Sean Gormley is the faculty member who is most argumentative and contrary to Lewis’ Christian beliefs. They joust constantly. Others include Dan Kremer as the aging Rev. Harry Harrington, the younger academic Dr. Maurice Oakley, Alan Gregg and John C. Vennema as Lewis’ brother Major Warnie Lewis. He isn’t a member of the faculty but accept by all. He lives with his brother in a house near campus. All are puzzled by the relationship that ensues.

The discussion early on hints at the meaning of the play. Lewis holds that God wants us to be worthy of love or lovable. He also views suffering as a normal part of life.

Into the world of academic men, comes Joy Davidman, played by Robin Abramson. Joy is a contradiction in many ways. She has gone from Jewish to atheist, to now Christian. She is a divorced American woman who has decided to take herself and her son to live in England. She is a poet. As played by Abramson, she is very American and at times very gauche. This may be overdone but it makes the dislike of the other men easier to understand and Lewis’ willingness to continue to interact with her, harder to understand.

How do they know each other? Lewis was a well-known writer and BBC personality. She had written to him and a correspondence had grown. Now that she is in England, she writes that she wants to meet Lewis, so he reluctantly invites her to tea.

For Lewis, who in this play seems to have eschewed romantic relationships, Joy is confounding. She is outspoken and impulsive – very American, while also possessing a very fine mind. Lewis finds conversation with her stimulating as they spar over numerous subjects.

The other faculty members are bewildered by Lewis’ friendship with Joy. They view her as annoying and irritating and a disruption to their quiet lives.

Slowly the two develop a relationship and Joy also develops a relationship with Warnie. For Lewis the annoyance at being disturbed changes as he finds Joy bringing a fresh air into his decades long routine.

I’ll not go into all of the events that occur, but as might be suspected, eventually Lewis acknowledges that he loves her – perhaps loving someone for the first time in his life.

The play uses the son to interject a few Narnia references and some symbolic touches most relating to an open window. It may be a little too obvious.

This play could easily become too talky, too melodramatic or too snobby. Director Christa Scott-Reed has managed to avoid most of these pitfalls. She does not let anyone overplay the elements that are in the script.

What makes this play so worth seeing is not only the overall fine production values, but the excellent acting and direction by Scott-Reed.

Yes, the ending may seem melodramatic but this is play is based on what actually happened. It reminds us that happy endings don’t exist for everyone.

Shadowlands is at the Acorn Theatre, at Theatre Row, 410 W. 42nd Street. Tickets are available through Jan. 7 at Telecharge or TheaterRow.

 

The Musical Holiday — Carols, Pop Holiday Songs and Classical – Something for Everyone

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By Karen Isaacs

 It’s a long standing tradition – the Saturday after Thanksgiving, Orchestra New England starts the holiday season with its Colonial Concert. Audience members are transported back to the colonial era where maestro James Sinclair will introduce them to the “latest” European music. This year’s concert, held at United Church on the Green, New Haven is on Saturday, Nov. 25. It will feature a “recent” symphony by Mr. Hayden, as well as a popular French song by Jean-Paul-Egide Maitini. Organist Walden Moor of Trinity Church on the Green is a guest artist. The audience also gets a visit from the wife of the President of the Continental Congress. For tickets visit orchestranewengland.org or call 800-595-4849.

Two ensembles of the New Haven Symphony have planned concerts this season. Holiday Extravaganza features the Pops under the baton of Chelsea Tipton. Guest soloist is Connor Bogart and it always includes a sing-along. Performances are Saturday, Dec. 16 at Hamden Middle School, Sunday, Dec. 17 at Shelton High School and Thursday, Dec. 21 at Woolsey Hall.

The NHSO Brass Quintet will perform with Tony and Grammy Award-nominated Bryce Pinkham on Friday, Dec. 15 at Sacred Heart University and Saturday, Dec. 16 at the First Congregational Church in Madison. Among the selections will be “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” “My Favorite Things,” and Leroy Anderson’s “Sleigh Ride.” For tickets to any of the concerts visit newhavensymphony.org or call 203-865-0831. For the Sacred Heart concert, visit Edgertoncenter.org.

The Hartford Symphony gets into the holiday mood with its Holiday Cirque Spectacular on Saturday, Dec. 18. You enjoy the music by the symphony as you watch the aerialists, contortionists and gymnasts of the world-famous Cirque de la Symphonie. It’s on Saturday, Dec. 16.  On Friday, Dec. 8 to Sunday, Dec. 10, the Symphony presents December Dreams which will feature selections from The Nutcracker and William Henry Fry’s Santa Claus (A Christmas Symphony) among other selections. For information and tickets visit hartfordsymphony.org or call 860-987-5900.

Three Bridgeport events are on the calendar. The Vienna Boys Choir is presenting a concert in Bridgeport on Saturday, Dec. 2. For tickets visit theKlein.org or call 800-524-0160.  Believe presented by Cirque Musica Holiday with the Greater Bridgeport Symphony is Tuesday, Dec. 12 at the Webster Bank area. Tickets are available at websterbankarena.com. The Symphony is also presenting Holiday Interlude on  Saturday, Dec. 16 at the Klein. Selections from The Nutcracker as well as Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 5 and holiday music are on the bill. Tickets are at theKlein.org.

Popular Music

Opera singers and local residents David Pittsinger and Patricia Shuman are in concert at Ivoryton Playhouse, Thursday, Dec. 21 and Friday, Dec. 22. Billed as The Ivoryton Playhouse Christmas Hour with David Pittsinger and Friends, it will feature both classical and popular holiday music. Joining Pittsinger and Shuman are Carly Callahan, Charlie Widmer and Katie Weiser. For ticket visit ivorytonplayhouse.org or call 860-767-7318.

 The Kate in Old Saybrook is presenting three holiday themed concerts. On Saturday, Dec. 2 it’s The Drifters – Holiday Magic. The concert includes “Rudolph” as well as their iconic version of “Silent Night.”  Elisabeth Von Trapp – granddaughter of the legendary Maria of Sound of Music fame, performs on Sunday, Dec. 3.

The Connecticut Gay Men’s Chorus performs their concert, Twinkle – A Celestial Celebration­ on Sunday, Dec. 10. It includes the area premier of James Eakin’s “Stargazing.” The group will also present the concert of Saturday, Dec. 16 and Sunday, Dec. 17 at the High School of Performing Arts at 177 College Street, New Haven. Tickets for those shows are available at ctgmc.org or 203-777-2923. For any concert at The Kate, visit katherinhepburntheater.org or call 877-503-1286.

The Blind Boys of Alabama are bringing their Christmas Show featuring the Preservation Hall Legacy Horns on Saturday, Dec. 2. This group has earned five Grammy Awards plus a Lifetime Achievement Award. For ticket visit Shubert.com or call 203-562-5666.

From Tinseltown to Times Square: A Holiday Adventure is the title for the concert by the Hartford Gay Men’s Chorus on Friday to Sunday, Dec. 8 – 10 at the Wadsworth Atheneum’s Aetna Theatre. The concert will feature holiday songs from Broadway and films including How the Grinch Stole Christmas and Elf the Musical. Tickets are at www.tickets.hgmc.org.

In addition, numerous church choirs and community choruses present holiday concerts. You can also expect several performances of The Messiah either in concert or as “sing-alongs”. This includes the sing-along at The Kate on Saturday, Dec. 17.

Hartford Stage Introduces a New Scrooge

hartford stage Edit_Scrooge_Portraits_033_editedBy Karen Isaacs

 How do you take over a part that for 20 years has been play almost exclusively by one actor? Michael Preston is facing that dilemma as the new Scrooge in the Hartford Stage production of A Christmas Carol – A Ghost Story of Christmas, which runs through Sunday, Dec. 30.

 Preston admitted that Bill Raymond, the former Scrooge who retired from the role last year, had been a hero of his. “It was great to work with him,” Preston said, referring to playing Mr. Marvel for several years in the production. But he admits it is a “little strange” taking over the part.

“I see Scrooge as a man who has turned away from any comfort and shut himself off,” Preston said. “It’s about loss and disappointment, which are human traits.”

“It’s the journey he (Scrooge) takes to reach a point of celebrating life and touching people,” he added.  “At any moment one of the ghosts could send him down.”

For both Preston and director Rachel Alderman, this adaptation by Michael Wilson (former Artistic Director at Hartford Stage) gets to the heart of the story and focuses on the dynamic relationships.

“Everyone is trying to get him (Scrooge) to change and reaching out to him,” Alderman said. This adaptation is so reflective of the heart and warmth of Michael Wilson; it just infuses the entire story, she added.

Preston views the role as “tremendously entertaining” which requires “great clowning,” “You have to prepare the audience for the ending; Scrooge is has very human traits that are unpleasant, but there is a small spark within him, that the ghosts and his associates manage to fan,” Preston said. “You have to find the moment when he changes.”

One of Alderman’s responsibilities is adapting the staging to the new cast members – not only are there three new performers in major roles, but three others are switching roles. Plus there are the students from Hartt School of the University of Hartford which comprise the ensemble and the numerous children in the cast.

In the space of just six weeks, the cast will perform the show almost 50 times – 34 regular performances and 14 school group performances. For those, Buzz Roddy plays Scrooge.

“The audiences are so enthusiastic that energizes the cast,” Alderman said. “For some it is an annual event, some have never seen live theater, and each year there are grandparents bringing their grandchildren to the show.”  The cast, she says, feels that and responds to it.

It’s the audience as well as the students and children who help keep the whole show renewed and alive, she said.

Once again, a sensory-friendly performance will be available at reduced prices on Saturday, Dec. 2. This is geared for families with autism or other sensory sensitivities. A variety of accommodations to the production are made. For information on this, contact hartfordstage.org/sensory-friendly.

Local craftspeople will fill the lobby of the theater on “Market Days” that begin Sunday, Dec. 3 and continue the following two weekends. It’s been a popular event for audience members who can shop the unique offerings and local businesses.

For tickets or information, visit Hartford Stage.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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A New Christmas Musical Offers a Local Take on “A Christmas Carol”

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By Karen Isaacs

 Two new Scrooges are gracing Connecticut stages this holiday season. Each will bring takes on the classic character and story of A Christmas Carol.

 A new musical version of the story is at Goodspeed Musicals through Sunday, Dec. 24. A Connecticut Christmas Carol is the brainchild of LJ Fecho and Michael O’Flaherty, Goodspeed’s longtime music director.

“We had the idea about two years ago,” O’Flaherty said. “We had done a very silly and fun Pennsylvania Dutch version a few years ago. Larry (the book is written by him) suggested setting it in Connecticut”.

The setting is the Goodspeed Opera House around 1925 and where William Gillette, the famous actor who lived up the river from the Opera House, planning a production of the story.

The unique part of this production – besides a totally original score that O’Flaherty characterizes as “pure musical” – is that the various ghosts are famous Connecticut residents – from Mark Twain, Harriet Beecher Stowe and P. T. Barnum. These three play the ghosts of Christmas Past, Christmas Present and Christmas yet-to-be.

This Scrooge, played by Lenny Volpe (he was Cap’n Andy in Goodspeed’s production of Show Boat) is not an ogre, O’Flaherty said. “We needed someone with strong comedic chops who could pull off the lightness of the ending.”

The show is being presented at Goodspeed’s Terris Theatre in Chester. There’s a number of special events and promotions during the run. For information and tickets, visit Goodspeed.org or call 860-873-8668.

While the production is a favorite of theater goers throughout the state, a new Scrooge is taking over at Hartford Stage. The annual presentation of A Christmas Carol – A Ghost Story of Christmas which runs through Saturday, Dec. 30.

It’s the 20th year for this adaptation by former Artistic Director Michael Wilson; each year it sells out, despite many performances. For most of these twenty years, Scrooge was played by Bill Raymond. But last year, he announced his retirement.

Michael Preston, who had played Mr. Marvel has taken over the part.  It’s being staged by Artistic Associate Rachel Alderman. Alderman says this year’s production features some new costumes and new designs. While admitting to some hesitation at taking over from Raymond, Preston said he is looking forward to creating his own interpretation of the classic character.

In addition to all the usual performances, for the fourth year, a sensory-friendly performance is scheduled for Saturday, Dec. 2. Ticket prices are reduced by 50 percent to make the show more accessible for families with autism or other sensory sensitivities. Changes in the production include reductions in jarring Moises or strobe lights and startling effects. In addition house lights are only dimmed, audience members can move about and there is trained staff, volunteers and designated quiet areas and stress relievers available. For information about this performance visit hartfordstage.org/sensory-friendly.

A Christmas Story

One of the first holiday shows is a return visit of the Broadway musical, A Christmas Story, at the Bushnell in Hartford, Friday, Nov. 24 to Sunday, Nov. 26. The musical that had numerous Tony nominations is based on the Jean Shepherd essay which became a classic film. The creative  team of Benj Pasek and Justin Paul (Tony Award for Dear Evan Hansen, Academy Award for La La Land), did the music and lyrics. It’s about Ralphie, his desire for a Red Ryder air rifle, and his family in an Indiana town in the 1940s. Though it is a short run, the show is terrific and it will get the holiday season off in a heart-warming but comic way. For tickets visit bushnell.org or call 860-987-5900.

Radio Plays

Very few people remember the days when radio aired plays with live studio audiences watching as the actors played multiple parts, carried scripts and presented well works and created reality with the aid of sound effects.

Connecticut resident has adapted two famous Christmas stories into the radio play format. Each has become a holiday tradition, not just in Connecticut but throughout the country.

Ivoryton Playhouse is giving us It’s a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play from Thursday, December 7 to Sunday, Dec. 17.  Inspired by the classic American film, five actors, directed by Sasha Bratt, perform the dozens of characters in the radio play as well as produce the sound effects. For tickets visit IvorytonPlayhouse.org or call 860-767-7318.

While you are attending the Playhouse you can also see the Ivoryton Illuminations which runs to Friday, Jan. 5. More than 350,000 lights are throughout the village and on Connecticut’s tallest Christmas tree.

MTC (Music Theatre of Connecticut) gives us the radio play version of A Christmas Carol from Friday, Dec. 1 to Sunday, Dec. 17. Again, you are the studio audience as actors play multiple roles and handle sound effects to create the perfect illusion for the radio audience who would be listening at home. For tickets, contact musictheatreofct.com or call 203-454-3883 MTC is located at 509 Westport Avenue (behind Nine West) in Norwalk.

Charlie Brown

We all love the cartoon of A Charlie Brown Christmas, but now you can see a live production on stage at the Bushnell. All the favorite Peanuts characters come to life in this all-new touring stage adaptation of Charles M. Schulz’s classic Emmy and Peabody Award-winning animated television special – all set to Vince Guaraldi’s unforgettable music. It runs Friday, Dec. 1 to Sunday, Dec. 3. For tickets visit bushnell.org or call 860-987-5900.

Another well-loved TV cartoon, Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer, makes a stop at New Haven’s Shubert Theatre. The show is new to the city though it played in Hartford for two years. It runs Friday, Dec. 8 to Sunday, Dec. 10. For tickets visit Shubert.com or call 203-562-5666

The Nutcracker

The holiday season would not be the same without productions of Tchaikovsky’s famed ballet, The Nutcracker.

A very original take on the classic, returns to the Bushnell in Hartford where it wowed audiences last year. That’s The Hip Hop Nutcracker, an evening-length production performed by a supercharged cast of a dozen all-star dancers, DJ and violinist. The press materials says, “Through the spells cast by the mysterious Drosselmeyer, Maria-Clara and her prince, Myron, travel back in time to the moment when her parents first meet in a nightclub. Digital scenery transforms E.T.A. Hoffmann’s story of a palace of sugarplums into a romance set in 1980s Brooklyn. The dance work celebrates love, community and the magic of New Year’s Eve.” It’s at the Bushnell on Sunday, Dec. 17.  For tickets contact bushnell.org.

You have your choice of more traditional takes on the classic. The Connecticut Ballet’s production, Saturday, Dec. 16 and Sunday, Dec. 17 is in Stamford and features guest arts from the New York City Ballet and the American Ballet Theatre. For tickets visit palacestamford.org. The Bushnell has the Nutmeg Ballet’s production also on Saturday and Sunday, Dec. 15 and 16. For tickets visit burshnell.org. The New Haven Ballet at the Shubert Theatre features guest artists from major ballet companies. It’s Saturday and Sunday, Dec. 16 and 17. For tickets visit the203-562-5666 or at www.shubert.com.

In addition, The Kate is broadcasting the Bolshoi Ballet’s Nutcracker in high definition on Tuesday, Dec. 19. Toyota Oakdale Theater is presenting The Great Russian Nutcracker on Saturday, Dec. 2. For tickets, call 800-745-3000.

More Adult-Oriented

If you are looking for something a little more cynical or adult, you have several choices.  The Shubert Theater is presenting The Santaland Diaries based on the essay by David Sedaris. This one person play is about the fictionalized experiences of Sedaris when he worked one Christmas season as an elf at Macy’s – 34th Street Santaland. It runs Friday, Nov. 24 to Sunday, Nov. 26.

TheaterWorks in Hartford is bringing back Christmas on the Rocks for the fifth year. This series of short one-act plays, shows us what all of those famous children from various holidays stories became when they grew up. So we see an adult Ralphie (A Christmas Story), Tim (A Christmas Carol), Clara (The Nutcracker), Charlie Brown (A Charlie Brown Christmas) and more. A new episode this year is based on the children from It’s a Wonderful Life. It runs Tuesday, Nov. 28 through Saturday, Dec. 23. For tickets visit theaterworksHartford.org or call 860-527-7838.

Sister’s Christmas Catechism is also returning to Connecticut stages this year. It’s at Long Wharf Theatre from Tuesday, Dec. 5 to Sunday, Dec. 17. It’s subtitled The Mystery of the Magi’s Gold and Sister uses science, local choirs and some audience members to find out what happened to the gold. There’s lots of audience interaction. For tickets visit longwharf.org or call 203-787-4282.

Playhouse on Park is again presenting what is billed as a “Burlesque Extravaganza,” Mama D’s Christmas Stocking: Where’s Santa?  What is it? The press material says it’s a celebration of “all things sexy in an evening of music, dance and comedy.” The material admits “We’re rude, we’re crude and we’re partially nude.” The event is scheduled the weekends of Dec.15-16, 22-23, 29-30 and a special New Year’s Eve show.  For tickets or information, visit playhouseonpark.org or call 800-523-5900.

With so many offerings, you are bound to find something that will fit your schedule and your taste.

This content is courtesy of Shore Publication Weeklies and zip06.com

This Weekend Only — A Christmas Story – The Musical Delightful Production of a Holiday Classic

Christmas Story Photo 7 -  Susannah_Jones_as_Mother_Christopher_Swan_as_The_Old_Man_Cal_Alexander_as_Randy_and_Colton_Maurer_as_Ralphie_In_A_CHRISTMAS_STORY_edited.jpgBy Karen Isaacs

You only have this weekend to catch the touring production of A Christmas Story at the Bushnell in Hartford. A Christmas Story,  a musical adaptation of the well-known Jean Shepherd story about Ralphie who wants a Red Ryder BB Gun for Christmas, was written by the duo who wrote La La Land and the Tony winning, Dear Evan Hansen.

I’m not a big fan of the story but I absolutely loved the musical. In fact, it managed to be sentimental and cynical at the same time and really captured that world of 10 and 11 year olds.

First of all Chris Carsten serves as Jean Shepherd narrating the story. He moves seamlessly in and out of the action commenting and occasionally helping out. He is the mature Ralphie looking back on that Christmas. Tristan Klapheake plays Ralphie — and he captures the character perfectly. All the children in the cast never screech or overact. They seem like nice, normal kids.

Paul Norbrega plays the father — called the Old Man and he is terrific. His number “A Major Award” is a show stopper. Sara Zoe Budnik bring warmth and exasperation to the role of Mother.  Her number “What a Mother Does” is on its way to becoming a classic.

Add to the cast, music and lyrics that actually make sense, are tuneful and can be heard and a flexible set by Walt Spangler and you have really special holiday show.  I have the cast album and love it.

So if you have loved the movie you will definitely want to make it to the Bushnell. For tickets visit The Bushnell.

Christmas Story Christian_Dell'Edera_as_Flick_and_the_Cast_of_A_CHRISTMAS_STORY_edited

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