“A Gentleman’s Guide” Makes Triumphant Return to Hartford


Kristen Beth Williams, Kevin Massey, Kristen Hahn. Photo by Joan Marcus

By Karen Isaacs

 It’s a triumphant return to Hartford for the Tony-winning A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder which is at the Bushnell through Oct.  30.

It had its world premiere at Hartford Stage in Fall 2012 and swept the awards from the Connecticut Critics Circle and then winning numerous awards in New York including the Tony for Outstanding musical.

This national tour is also directed by Dark Tresnjak who has adjusted some of the performances to work effectively in the larger theaters that tours play. It is still a blend of humor, satire and musical touches. But now, some of the humor is broader and less subtle.

The musical with book by Robert L. Freedman is predictable but Tresnjak’s clever usage of theatrical techniques brings a delightful freshness to familiar plot.

If you have seen the classic British film Kind Hearts and Cornets, with Alex Guiness, you will recognize the plot but it is actually based on a 1907 English novel. In it, Monty Navarro played terrifically by Kevin Massey, makes his way up the ladder of succession to become Lord D’Ysquith, Earl of Highhurst and take over the manor house.  Achieving this, of course, depends on the demise of at least eight relatives closer in line – some die fortuitously and some need a little help from him.

  John Rapson plays all of Monty’s relatives – both male and female. He has a hard act to follow. Jefferson Mays was marvelous in the role. Rapson’s take is different; often his characterization stress the broader humor of the role.

This is great fun, particularly with Tresnjak’s staging and the set by Alexander Dodge which makes use of a Victorian theater set on the stage  The pseudo-stage is more like a frame for many scenes, but the actors also make good use of the space in front of the set.

The music by Steven Lutfak and lyrics by Freedman and Lutfak are tuneful and often very funny. They capture the various characters. I really liked the opening “A Warning to the Audience,” and “I Don’t Understand the Poor,” plus “I’ve Decided to Marry You,” among others. The music is a mixture of humorous songs – usually song by Rapson—and more melodic melodies for Massey and his two leading ladies.

One of the complications that Monty encounters is romantic in nature. He has two loves  — his first love, Sibella marries another because Monty has no money at that point, but his perfectly happy to have him as a lover. Later, Phoebe, one of his cousins decides she wants him; Monty is truly attracted to both.  Kristen Beth Williams as Sibella is also flirtation and sex appeal with a lovely soprano voice. Kristen Hahn, as Phoebe, is less sexy but very also with a terrific voice. You can understand why Monty wants – and gets – them both.

Adding to the fun is the supporting cast who plays multiple roles, the stylized Victorian choreography by Peggy Hickey and the gorgeous costumes by Linda Cho.

Though arrested for murder after the last Earl of Highurst (he’s innocent of that murder), rest assured that it all turns out satisfactorily.

This show combines laughs and gorgeous musical; in some ways it is reminiscent of a Gilbert & Sullivan operetta.

So if you want a light, enjoyable and thoroughly delightful evening in the theater, make sure you see A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder at Bushnell. Tickets are available at Bushnell.


John Rapson and cast. Photo by Joan Marcus


Controversy, New Plays, Goodspeed’s Season and More

Inside notes and comments about Connecticut and New York Professional Theater

By Karen Isaacs

 Oscar Winner in Hartford: Richard Dreyfuss, who won an Oscar and has performed before in Connecticut at Long Wharf, has joined the cast of Relativity, at TheaterWorks. The new play by Mark St. Germain is about a mystery in Einstein’s life: the birth of a daughter in 1902 who was never heard about after 1904. Years later, Einstein is questioned about it by a young reporter. Dreyfuss will play Einstein. Artistic Director Rob Ruggiero directs. The play runs to Nov. 13. For tickets visit TheatreWorks.

 Bank Ad Causes Controversy: Wells Fargo Bank probably thought the ad series for the Teen Financial Education Day (Saturday, Sept. 17) was just clever. But the ad series raised the ire of the artistic community, so much so that the company issued an apology and withdrew the ads. The headlines in the ads featured phrase such as “a ballerina yesterday. An engineer today.” These headlines were interpreted as implying that artists would be better served by going into the sciences. Social media is awash in variations on the idea, such as “Bob Newhart – an accountant yesterday, a comedian and star today.”

 Theater’s Loss: The death of Edward Albee at the age of 88 is an enormous loss for not just American theater but the world. While he is best known for his biting but humorous look at marriage in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? his other works often shocked and puzzled audiences while exploring important issues about relationships. Connecticut audiences were blessed to see fine productions throughout the state:  Mark Lamos directed several excellent productions at Hartford Stage, as did Michael Wilson. Long Wharf had a memorable production of Virginia Woolf starring Mike Nichols and Elaine May.

Tickets on Sale: Tickets are on salefor the new musical Anastasia which had its premiere at Hartford Stage last spring. Tickets are available at Telecharge.com.  Also going on sale are tickets for the musical Charlie and the Chocolate Factory which will star two-time Tony winner Christian Borle which opens in April. It’s also available at Telecharge.

 Broadway Notes: Tony nominees Kate Baldwin will play Irene Molloy and Gavin Ceel will play Corneilus Hackl in the Bette Middler – David Hyde Pierce  revival of Hello, Dolly! which opens this spring. The first day that tickets were on sale via Telecharge, sales exceeded $9 million. Something Rotten! closes on January 1 after an almost two year run; Jersey Boys will also end it’s 11-year run on Jan. 15.  Following it into the August Wilson Theater will be the musical, Groundhog Day which won raves in London. Andy Karl stars. There’s some talk that Colin Firth may star as Professor Higgins in a revival of My Fair Lady; we can only hope.  If you can’t get tickets to Hamilton you may be able to get tickets to the parody Spamilton which was developed by the creator of Forbidden Broadway. Lin-Manuel Miranda has apparently given his approval. It runs through Oct. 30, off-Broadway. Tickets are available at triad.nyc.com/buy-tickets.

 Goodspeed Next Year: Goodspeed next year will present two revivals and a new version of musical flop PLUS three new musicals at The Terris Theater. The season opens with the Tony-winning Thoroughly Modern Millie (April 21-July2), followed by the classic Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Oklahoma1 (July 14 –Sept. 28) and the season concludes with a revision of the Charles Strouse (Annie) and Stephen Schwartz (Wicked) musical Rags (Oct. 6-Dec. 10). At The Terris Theatre are the new musicals Deathless (June 2- July2), Darling Grenadine (Aug. 18-Sept. 17) and A Connecticut Christmas Carol (Nov. 17-Dec. 24). Season tickets are now on sale at 860-873-8668. Tickets for individual productions go on sale Feb. 19th.

Off-Broadway Notes: The Classic Stage Company is presenting the world premiere of Dead Poets Society directed by Tony winner John Doyle based on the film. Jason Suderikis stars in the Robin Williams role. It begins previews Oct. 27. For tickets call 212-352-3101 or visit Classic Stage.  The Signature Theatre Off-Broadway is presenting Athol Fugard’s “Master Harold” …. and the Boys began on Oct. 18. The play had its world premiere at Yale Rep. Fugard will direct the work. For tickets call 212-244-7529 or Signature Theatreg.

What Kind of Fool? Seven Angels Theater in Waterbury is continuing the Anthony Newley trend in Connecticut with He Wrote Good Songs. Earlier this year there was a concert of his music at the Madison Library, and then a reimagined production of his musical (with Leslie Bricusse) The Roar of the Greasepaint, the Smell of the Crowd at the Goodspeed’s Terris Theater.  Newley was a British actor, singer, songwriter and more who wrote musicals and hit songs: “Goldfinger,” “The Candy Man,” “What Kind of Fool Am I?’ and “Who Can I Turn To? among others. Jon Peterson has conceived, written and will perform the show. He has done similar work with a show on George M. Cohan. The one man show runs Nov. 3 to Nov. 27. For tickets, call 203-757-4676 or visit Seven Angels.

 New Musical: Ivoryton is presenting the Connecticut premiere of Tenderly: The Rosemary Clooney Musical from Oct. 26 to Nov. 13. Clooney started as a band singer, moving on to recording a number of pop hits in the ‘50s and developing a movie career. Later in life she was a respected jazz and cabaret artist. The musical is described as a biography with her signature songs woven into her story – both her professional life and her struggles in her personal life which included marriage to actor Jose Ferrer and five children. For tickets call 860-767-7318 or visit Ivoryton.

Suspense: MTC in Norwalk is presenting the Tony-winning thriller, Sleuth from Nov. 4 to Nov. 20. The play which also had a successful film that starred Sir Laurence Olivier and Michael Caine, is a cat-and-mouse thriller about a celebrated mystery writer and the younger hairdresser who is his wife’s lover. For tickets call 203-354-3883 or visit MTC

Starting the Holidays: The Palace Theater in Waterbury is presenting the excellent A Christmas Story: The Musical on Nov. 18 and Nov. 19. The musical is based on the classic Jean Shepherd story and subsequent film. The show itself was nominated for several Tony awards during its Broadway run. For tickets call 203-346-2000 or visit Palace Theaterg.

Five More Years: In a somewhat unprecedented move, James Bundy has been reappointed as Dean of Yale School of Drama and artistic director of the Yale Repertory Theater. This,his fourth term, will begin July 1, 2017. It’s unprecedented because previously Yale has limited most Deans – including the Drama School to two terms (10 years) though some served an extra year while the search for a successor was on-going. During his tenure the Yale Rep has produced numerous world and American premieres two of which have been Pulitzer Prize finalists. Congratulations.

Helping the Area Economy: The International Festival of Arts & Ideas which ran June 10-25 generated an economic impact exceeding $15.4 million for the region’s economy. The study was done by Quinnipiac University. It is based on attendance and ticket sales and reported visitor behavior. Other figures: visitors reported spending an average of $140 on food, retail, lodging and transportation. The Festival employed 213 full and season staff. Local vendors, venues and rental companies were hired to help. In addition the 855 artists and speakers required 766 hotel nights in the greater New Haven area.

Election Drama: I don’t usually write about community theater productions though many are excellent. Just too many shows, but I will make an exception for Now or Later at Square One Theatre in Stratford. Why? The play, which I’m unfamiliar with, is written by Christopher Shinn a Connecticut native (An Opening in Time, Dying City) and it is very relevant. The play, which runs Nov. 3 to Nov. 20 is about a presidential election and what happens’ when controversial photos of the candidate’s college age son go viral, potentially sparking an international incident. For information visitSquare One; for tickets call 203-375-8778.

Heisenberg – Tries too Hard for Significance

heinsenberg-5-jpeg_editedBy Karen Isaacs

Heisenberg, the new play by Simon Stephens who adapted the brilliant The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night may not compare with that work, but it still can provide some interesting observations about people and how we perceive them.

Yet despite these, I was not totally absorbed. It seems as though the playwright and director has employed too many gimmicks to make it seems as though this story of a quirky 40+ woman and the reserved British butcher she befriends has more merit than it really does.

The plot is simple. Georgie Burns, played brilliantly Mary-Louise Parker, who often specializes in these types of roles, is an off-beat American living in England. Kooky is often applied to characters like her; non-stop talking, invasion of others’ space and privacy, inappropriate comments. You either find her charming or incredibly irritating and manipulating.

As the play opens she has apparently kissed the back of an elderly man’s neck while he is sitting in the park. A brief exchange leads to a one-sided conversation; Georgie does all the talking though it is obvious he would prefer to be left alone. During the conversation, she reveals a great deal of information about herself, swears a lot and announces a number of conclusions about him.

Friedman Theatre

Mary-Louise Parker. Photo by Joan Marcus

Soon she shows up at his butcher shop. Is she stalking him? She confesses that almost all the information she told him in the park was lies.  Yet somehow she convinces him to go out to dinner with her. The one fact she claims is true is that she has a 19-year-old son who two years ago left for the United States to discover his American roots. He has written that he never wants to see or hear from her again.

Alex Priest – wow, the symbolism of that name is obvious – shares that he is 75, the butcher shops loses money and he enjoys music of all genres. To prove it he reels off a long list of genres from classical to hip hop and beyond. He also tells her about the girl to whom he was engaged and how she broke off the engagement because she had fallen in love with someone else.

They end up in bed, sharing post coital words. And despite the age difference, perhaps this relationship might actually go someplace.

But not quite. Soon she asks him for $15,000 to visit New Jersey (her son’s last known address) to search for him. Alex suspects that she had been planning this all along and she does not deny it. But later he agrees and she suggests he accompany her.

The last scene is in New Jersey. She seems to have little idea about how to go about finding her son and doesn’t appear very determined. The play ends rather abruptly.

The first question you must ask is what the title, Heisenberg, has to do with the play?

Friedman Theatre

Denis Arndt.  Photo by Joan Marcus

Werner Heisenberg was a 20th century German theoretical physicist; he is a central character in the play Copenhagen. Heisenberg was known for many things, one of which was the “uncertainty principle” which I cannot describe.

Heisenberg and his uncertainty principle seems to be the guiding idea of the play: how things are not as they seem. Alex even states it when he says to Georgie, we hold very different perspectives of the event we’re sharing, (I paraphrase the line).  Director Brokaw has reinforced this by having rows of seats on the stage facing the audience. So depending on where you sit, you get two very different perspectives of the action.

There are disadvantages to this. I spent part of time watching the reactions of the on-stage audience. In addition, the actors have a very small playing space.

So is Georgie just an eccentric woman with a potty mouth? Or is she a scammer who sought a lonely older man to finance her journey?  Does her son even exist? Stephens never makes the truth clear. What about Alex Priest? Why does he loan her the money and go along? Is it because he realizes his life has been quite dull and time is running out? He says he’s been disappointed with other people; so why take up with Georgie?  A clue might be in his line that “music exists in the spaces between the notes.” But is that just a statement that sounds insightful but doesn’t bear closer examination?

It seems as though everyone involved is trying too hard to be symbolic and significant. This might have worked better as a comedy á la Two for the Seesaw. Does it really to be more?

Parker does a fine job with a mercurial and to me, annoying character. Denis Arndt, who seems to have worked mainly in regional theaters, plays the reserved Alex. It is a quiet role and he does show us some of Alex’s depths but I never understood the motivation for his actions.

The set by Mark Wendland is only props due to the two audiences and the lighting by Austin R. Smith and costumes by Michael Krass are likewise simple.

Overall, Heisenberg is a play that will amuse some and others will find it somewhat predictable.

Heisenberg is at the Manhattan Theater Club’s Samuel J. Friedman at 261 W. 47th St. through Dec. 11. For tickets visit Telecharge.

Friedman Theatre

Denis Arndt and Mary-Louise Parker. Photo by Joan Marcus


England’s Royal Stuarts and America’s Bushes Juxtaposed in World Premiere at Yale Rep

Scenes from Court Life, or the whipping boy and his prince

Photo by Carol Rosegg.

By Karen Isaacs

 Yale Rep is known for presenting world premieres and it is opening its season with another premiere by Sarah Ruhl, who was presented numerous shows at the Rep – The Clean House, Eurydice, Passion Play, The Three Sisters and Dear Elizabeth.

 This time in Scenes from Court Life or the whipping boy and his prince, she has juxtaposed two historic periods and two sets of famous people that do not on the surface seem related and yet she draws interesting parallels. Like any world premiere, this play needs work but has many promising elements.

The first time period is England in the 1600s; it focuses on the deposing of Charles the First and his beheading which led to the rule by Oliver Cromwell. In 1660, Charles’ son regained the throne and ruled as Charles the Second. In this we have both Kings as well as three other characters: a whipping boy who took the corporal punishment the Prince deserved, the Groom of the Stool whose role seemed to be to clean the King’s rear after elimination; and Catherine of Braganza who married Charles II.

We keep switching between that period and the last few decades where we meet President George H. W. Bush, his two sons George W. and Jeb, and their wives, Barbara, Laura and Columba. In this part of the plot we open in 1994 with George, who is the older son, announcing he is running for Governor of Texas even though he knew that Jeb was planning to run for Governor of Florida. George, who apparently feels his parents favor the more intellectual Jeb, has no compunction stepping on his brother’s limelight. Of course, George wins and Jeb loses. In 1998 he wins reelection while Jeb also wins. From there we move into George’s presidency and later Jeb’s recent campaign for the GOP presidential nomination.

What creates some of the humor and reinforces some of the points about sibling rivalry, friendship and dynasties, is how the playwright has assigned roles to actors.

Thus Prince Charles’ whipping boy also plays Jeb Bush.  Charles I is also George H. W. Bush, Charles II is George Bush and in perhaps the funniest juxtaposition, the Groom of the Stool becomes Bush political operative Karl Rove.

The very opening as staged by director Mark Wing-Davey immediately sets the mood. We see a elegant court dance and gowns that reflect the past, but soon the cast is doing a Texas line dance the costumes come off to reveal more modern clothing. We meet George W. Bush welcoming us to his Presidential Library and his first art exhibit – the portraits all seem very similar.

From there the two periods and the characters are continually changing though not interacting with each other.

In a copy of the script, Ruhl refers to two quotes on the front piece – one by Thornton Wilder and one by Abraham Lincoln’s Secretary of State William Seward. That quote says “We elect a king for four years.”

But even without seeing or hearing that quote on the stage, it is clear the parallels that Ruhl wishes to draw.

During the first act, Charles I is in political crises with Parliament and the people for maintaining  the concept of the divine right of kings and his Catholic religion: he is overthrown by a coalition of Calvinists and Puritans. He was tried and convicted of treason and beheaded in 1649. The play shows us a man of principles who orders his son to flee and save himself. At his beheading, he is composed and calm.


Photo by Carol Rosegg

But the English court seems tame compared to the rivalry between Jeb and George W. It is illustrated by a pantomimed no-holes-barred game of tennis between the two brothers and their parents. Later we see Jeb accusing George of borrowing lines for his campaign announcement, demeaning him by referring to him as “his little brother” and other incidents. George appears like an immature teenager tormenting his brother for no reason. But he is also obviously trying to get the attention and acclaim of his parents; George H.W. once said about his son’s run for Governor that he thought that before running for a public sector job, a person should have done something in the private sector.

The first act ends with Laura Bush defending her husband’s action on the morning of Sept. 11; he was reading to an elementary school class and did not leave until he finished. She also says that when women sought the vote, it was said they would outlaw war.

Act two, opens with Charles II coronation where he tells the crowd they have tried

Scenes from Court Life, or the whipping boy and his prince

Photo by Carol Rosegg.

democracy and it closed the theaters and produced boring literature. They wanted his bloodlines. Of course, we segue way into George Bush’s administration and his determination to avenge his father’s “defeat” by Saddam Hussein – there’s mentions of weapons of mass destruction, the Florida presidential vote and more. At court we see Barnaby, the grown up whipping boy, court the Portuguese princess, Catherine of Braganza for the king, while falling in love with her. The act continues with Jeb’s marriage to the Catholic Columba and his truncated presidential bid.

Like many plays still being refined, there are a lot of ideas in the piece – some better developed than others. Is she talking about America’s desire for royalty? The tendency towards political dynasties – from the Roosevelts, Tafts, Kennedys and now the Bushes and Clintons? The role of the wife and mother in all of this? The ease of factual manipulation and deception?

All of these are present in the play and more. Some of her points are obvious due to the juxtaposition of character roles:  Jeb Bush is his older brother’s whipping boy though more serious and intellectual;  Karl Rove is in effect cleaning up the potential messes created by both Bush presidents; he does the dirty work including spreading rumors that Ann Richards, the incumbent Governor of Texas is a lesbian.

Sometimes the symbolism is heavy handed. Laura Bush, and by implication all women, cleans up the blood spilled by Charles I execution. Do we really need that graphic a reminder that it is women who often not only suffer most during war but also bear the burden of carrying on after it?  The tennis games – both the modern version and the older “court tennis” which is a much more complex ancestor of our current lawn tennis, the official name for what most of us know as tennis – provide their own symbolic meanings.

The set by Marina Draghici is simple and flexible to move between centuries and locations. Her costumes are for the 21st century and reflect the background of the Bush family, what we would call “preppy” attire. For the Stuarts the dress is more extravagant and regal.

The scenic design is aided by the projections by Yana Birÿkova and the lighting by Stephen Strawbridge. Choreographer Michael Raine has created not only the Stuart court formal dances and the Texas line dances but also choreographed the pantomime tennis game between the Bush family. It is spectacular.

Overall the acting is excellent.  Greg Keller plays Charles II and George W. as a person who does not recognize the repercussions of his decisions on others – either for his whipping boy when the Prince or his brother as George W. He creates a sense of wounded entitlement. Danny Wolohan as both the whipping boy and Jeb has the “put upon” attitude but evolve into characters who are more insightful than the men who manipulate them.

The actors all resemble the characters they are portraying and the skillful wigs and makeup help accentuate the resemblance. All of the actors have managed to capture the essence of these real people in their speech patterns and mannerisms.  These are not imitations of them, but suggestions of them.

Angel Desai (Laura Bush), Mary Shultz (Barbara Bush) and Keren Lugo (Catherine of


Photo by Carol Rosegg

Braganza and Columbia Bush) show us how strong these women were. It may not appear that they have power, but you understand that they are the hands that are controlling the destiny of the families. We may always have known that Barbara Bush was the power behind the throne, but Shultz makes it very clear all the while smiling and looking like a grandmother.

Ryder Smith does an excellent job as both Charles I and George H. W. Bush, showing quiet dignity but resolve. The scenes where Charles is arrested and then beheaded were touching.

In this political season, you may think you do not want more politics. But in Sarah Ruhl’s play you will find a humor and humanity that is lacking in today’s politics. Even Donald Trump makes a brief appearance.

Scenes from Court Life or the whipping boy and his prince is at Yale’s University Theater, 222 York St., New Haven through Saturday, Oct. 22. For tickets call 203-432-1234 or visit Yale Rep.

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


Photo by Carol Rosegg


Westport’s Pared Down “Camelot” Features Terrific Performances


Photo by Carol Rosegg

By Karen Isaacs

 The production of Camelot now playing at Westport Country Playhouse through Nov. 5. Is a major revision/reimagining of the original large scale musical by Lerner and Loewe that opened in 1960.

Elements of this show work particularly well, the three leads are terrific and the ensemble is also good. But I had some reservations that the show has been so pared down, it has lost some of it essence.

The musical by Lerner and Loewe (My Fair Lady, Gigi) tells the story of King Arthur, his Queen Guenevere and the virtuous knight, Lancelot. The book of the musical, originally by Lerner, is based on T. H. White’s trilogy The Once and Future King which tells the story of King Arthur from a boy receiving tutoring from the magician Merlin to the downfall of the Round Table and Arthur’s ultimate defeat/death. It is a long book.

That was part of the problem with the original show; trying to cram all of White’s story led to a very long show. The out-of-town tryout in Canada ran over four hours; by the time the show made it to Broadway in 1960, it was down to under three hours but the result was that some elements did not seem set up properly.

In the last years, several attempts have been made to streamline the book, usually removing elements to focus on the love triangle.  Lerner’s son attempted it and that version was used for the outstanding 2009 production at Goodspeed.

Now David Lee has adapted the book, removing even more elements and characters. He may have gone too far.

This Camelot is almost what would be called “a chamber musical.” Besides the three principals, there are only six other characters including a child who is used as a framing device for the show. In fact the orchestra has almost the same number of players (eight) as the entire cast. But I particularly felt the lack of other women. The ensemble is totally male. In this court, only the Queen was allowed.


Britaney Coleman and Stephen Mark Lukas. Phot by Carol Rosegg

The scenic design by Michael Yeargan features a looming silhouette of a castle in the back, a series of arches framing parts of the stage and minimal furniture and props. One that was annoying were two beds that were supposed to stay together, but kept coming apart. Luckily, this production does not try to overly simplify the costumes by Wade Laboissonniere. They still have a regal medieval sensibility and at times seems quite luxurious. Also a major contributor to the show’s success is the lighting design by Robert Wierzel who enfuses the rear of the stage in saturated colors.

In this version of Camlot , the haunting “Follow Me” is removed. But also several characters are missing – some are missed more than others. Merlin the magician had served a function of helping set the stage – after all he was Arthur’s teacher and a major part of the Arthurian legend; since he lived time backwards, he knew what would happen Also missing is the comic King Pellinore, though he contributed little except some laughs to a rather serious story. Morgan Le Fey, the witch is also gone; she had seduced Arthur when he was young which resulted in the birth of Mordred who engineers the downfall of Guenevere, Lancelot and the Roundtable.


Robert Sean Leonard and Patrick Andrews. Photo by Carol Rosegg

Mark Lamos, who has a sure hand with musicals, opera and Shakespeare has directed this expertly. He is blessed with a fine cast and excellent voices. Though the running time is shorter than the original, he still develops the emotional impact of the piece. For this is a show where the only villain is the cynical Mordred. Arthur, Lancelot and Guenevere all gain our sympathy. I do question how he has framed this piece. The show opens with a young boy in pajamas who at times returns to play with toy knights. Is this to imply that it is all a dream? It just seems distracting and reminiscent of a Royal Shakespeare film version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

Robert Sean Leonard is excellent as Arthur. He does not try to duplicate Richard Burton’s portrayal but develops his own. Perhaps my only complaint is that in the opening numbers where he and Guenevere meet, he doesn’t seem quite boyish enough. But he handles the scenes where he becomes increasingly aware of Guenevere and Lancelot’s love for each with finesse. His rendition of “How to Handle a Woman” and the duet ‘What Do the Simple Folk Do?” are excellent.


Robert Sean Leonard and Britney Coleman. Photo by Carol Rosegg

Britany Coleman is a delight as Guenevere. She has a light soprano voice well suited to the songs from the light-hearted “Simple Joys of Maidenhood” and “Then You May Take Me to the Fair” to the serious “I Loved You Once in Silence” and “Before I Gaze on You Again.” But she also create a character obviously torn between two men – one she loves passionately and one she is fond of and respects.

As Lancelot, Stephen Mark Lukas is also excellent, tempering Lancelot’s sense of his perfection with awareness that he is failing both himself and Arthur. His duets with Guenevere and his egotistic song “C’est Moi” are well done.

Patrick Andrews plays the villain, Mordred, who appears in the second act looking and acting like the snake in the Garden of Eden. His two numbers, “The Seven Deadly Virtues” and “Fie on Goodness” both hit the mark.

The actors portraying the three knights who are supplanted by Lancelot create individual characterizations: Mike Evariste (Sir Dinadan), Brian Owen (Sir Lionel) and Jon-Michael Reese (Sir Sagamore).  Brian Owens played Sir Lionel with a punk rock look and a Scottish accent.

Wayne Barker’s musical direction and the ensemble never overpowered the performers but added to the production. It was especially good to hear a strings (violin, cello and bass) as part of the ensemble.

Camelot may not be a perfect musical but it is blessed with wonderfully lyrical music. Though this revision may have gone too far, it is still a production well worth seeing.

It is at Westport Country Playhouse, 25 Powers Court, Westport through Nov. 5. For tickets visit Westport or call 203-227-4177.


Britney Coleman and Robert Sean Leonard. Photo by Carol Rosegg.

“Meteor Showers” Reflects Steve Martin’s Quirky Intellect


Patrick Breen and Sophina Bown. Photo by:T. Charles Erickson.

By Karen Isaacs

Watching Meteor Showers, the world premiere play by Steve Martin now at Long Wharf through October 23, it is obvious it is written by an intelligent individual with a quirky sense of the absurd.

For this play blends fantasy and psychology together to make interesting observations on our multi-dimensional selves and marriage in the 21st century.

The play opens at the home of Norm and Corky in the California desert. The magnificent set by Michael Yeargan shows us mid-century modern living room and the adjoining outdoor space with two chaise lounge chairs. The set rotates so the perspective changes

Norm (Patrick Breen) and Corky (Arden Myrin) are a long married couple, seemingly mild mannered. It is also clear from an early conversation that they have had some marital difficulties and consulted a therapist. Early on there is a hilarious episode of practicing a counseling technique known as reflective listening/affirmation of feelings. But they do it in a very simplistic way. It is evening and they are expecting guests – Gerald and Laura who have apparently invited themselves. Gerald and Laura have visited other couples in the area including one that Norm and Corky would like to meet. The reason for the visit?  Gerald has told Norm there is a spectacular meteor shower and since Norm and Corky live in an area which gives a good view of the sky without city lights, he want to see it.


Josh Stamberg . Photo by Jim Cox.

Soon Gerald and Laura arrive – actually the pre-arrival and arrival scene are repeated three times—and things feel a little strange.  Both are very assertive and assured. Gerald (Josh Stamberg) both brags a great deal and seems to know everything. Laura (Sophina Brown) is dressed and acts like a seductress. The two easily dominate and fluster the quieter Norm and Corky.

Things seem to deteriorate until a meteor crashes into a chaise lounge and Norm is apparently killed. But all is not as it seems, he is not dead and arrives back at the house to find strange goings on. In the second act, after a phone call from the couple Norm and Corky hope to meet, the visit is replayed with very different results.

The play combines many elements. First of all it has elements of fantasy or perhaps more accurately nightmares. We’ve all dreamed of the predatory stranger. It is, similar to the play Constellations, a retelling of the same events with different results.

It is funny but it certainly has elements or pays reverence to Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? though rather than George and Martha playing “get the guest”, here Gerald and Laura are playing “get the host.”

As I watched the play, I also recalled the pop psychology best seller of the 1970s: Eric Berne’s Games People Play and transactional analysis.

But the play can also be viewed in many other ways. As Norm and Corky seem to discover by the final curtain, Gerald and Laura are part of their own personas. Are they the people they would like to be? The people they fear they could be? The people they were when the marriage was in trouble? Do they want to break the societal expectations as Gerald and Laura do?

Your conclusions will be just that, yours. But it is certain that mixed into the humor is fear of the consequences of our impulses. What happens when the mask of civility is removed? It is we have seen occur in our world in the last of year, particularly in the political world.

Director Gordon Edelstein has done an excellent job keeping the play moving and the audience guessing. He hints at all of the possible interpretations and establishes the dynamics between the characters.

The four person cast plays off each other very well, even though there was a last minute


Patrick Breen and Arden Myrin. Photo by:T. Charles Erickson.

cast change. Craig Bierko was originally playing Gerald but he left the cast for reasons undisclosed. Luckily John Stamburg who had played the role at the Old Globe Theater (the co-presenter with Long Wharf of the play) in San Diego was able to step into the role. It is interesting that the other cast members from the Old Globe are not in this production. Rather unusual with a co-presentation.

Patrick Breen’s Norm is just as the name implies – a normal guy who keeps his emotions under control and seems a little bland. Yet he also lets you see in some of the scenes with Corky that there is something simmering below the surface. The mild manner appears forced.

Corky as played by Arden Myrin is his equal – seemingly bland and sensitive. But again it seems not quite real; Corky is playing a role perhaps due to the unexplained but acknowledged past marital problems.

Gerald and Laura are the showy roles. Josh Stamberg’s Gerald is all testosterone and bluster. He is the person who announces how much the wine he brings costs. Stamberg captures this bluster in both voice and movements; yet somehow you have an inkling that it is just for show to cover up insecurities.  Sophina Brown’s Laura is all sex from her low cut, tight dress, to her movement and sexy voice. But is it a caricature or a real person?

John Gromada has composed the original music and handled the sound design which includes the crashing of the meteor. Jess Goldstein’s costumes add to our understanding of the characters.

Meteor Showers is a fascinating evening in the theater. It is at Long Wharf Theatre, 222 Sargent Dr., New Haven through Oct. 23. For tickets visit longwharf.org or call 203-787-4282.


Arden Myrin and Patrik Breen. Photo by T Charles Erickson.



Judy Garland and Dorothy: the making of a star -“Chasing Rainbows” at Goodspeed

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Ruby Rakos as Judy Garland. Photo by Diane Sobolewski.

By Karen Isaacs

 Chasing Rianbows the Road to Oz is a rare thing for Goodspeed – a new musical.

Recently the new musicals on the main stage have been adaptations of well-known films — It’s a Wonderful Life and last year Holiday Inn which is now on Broadway. It did not even have a workshop at their Terris Theater in Chester though some of its development was at the Johnny Mercer Writing Colony at Goodspeed.

Chasing Rainbows, running through Nov. 27, is a must for all Judy Garland and Wizard of Oz fans. It tells the story of Judy’s rise from her beginnings in Minnesota with her mother, father and two older sisters who all perform (the three sisters were known as The Gumm Sisters), to her early struggles in Hollywood and finally her casting as Dorothy.

It is poignant not just because Judy’s childhood was not ideal — though not unloving or abusive — but because we all know the later part of her life. So we cringe when her mother and others tell her she isn’t pretty, or when the studio offers pills to help her lose weight.  We know what is to come.

Chasing Rainbows

The three young Gumm Sisters with father Frank. Photo by Diane Sobolewski.

The show opens with the family performing in Grand Rapids, Minnesota in 1928 where the family owns a movie theater with vaudeville acts; soon the “young” Judy — who looks about 5– and her sisters morph into their older selves. They leave Minnesota for Hollywood under mysterious circumstances that later become clear. From the presence of the town folk and police as they leave, it seems as though they are being run out of town. But why?

They settle in eastern California where Judy’s father, Frank has purchased a rundown movie theater. We are now in the early ‘30s — the depression is raging and soon Mom feels stifled in the small town so she takes the girls and heads to Hollywood. The plan is for Judy to get a movie contract and help support the family.

Somehow Judy ends up in a studio school where she meets the teenage boy who will be renamed Mickey Rooney and others. Competition is rampant; Judy hasn’t succeeded at getting anywhere so Mom finds an engagement at the Chicago World’s Fair of 1933. The engagement is a bust BUT they get booked at the Oriental Theater where headliner George Jessel “discovers” Judy — still at this point Frances Gumm – and gives her the last name of Garland.

Back in Hollywood, Judy gets to sing at a black tie party thanks to Mickey where she catches the attention of a composer/pianist and L.G. Mayer’s powerful secretary. It leads to a contract.

Chasing Rainbows

Michael Wartella as Mickey Rooney and Ruby Rakos as Judy. Photo by Diane Sobolewski

Act 2 finds Judy under contract but not being used except to sing on the radio. L. B. Mayer didn’t like her looks – not glamorous or conventionally beautiful – and her adult sounding voice. She was barely in her early teens; too old for the cure kids roles and not ready for romantic lead roles. She was the “girl next door,” but the thought was that movie audiences didn’t want the girl-next-door, they wanted unobtainable girls.

Her big break comes when she sings at a studio bash to celebrate Clark Gable’s birthday; Judy sings the special arrangement and lyrics for “You Made Me Love You”. Soon there is talk of using her in The Wizard of Oz. The rest is history, though the show concludes with Judy convincing Mayer that the blonde wig and glamourous clothes that were planned for Dorothy were all wrong. During this time, her father move in with the family – the movie theater was a bust and there was another incident due to the father’s attraction to men. He dies while Judy is performing on the radio.

Music for the show comes from the MGM catalogue and of course, includes iconic songs from The Wizard of Oz. But not all the songs are familiar; many are more obscure songs that were used in various movies by the studio. The range of composers and lyricists is a “Who’s Who” of Hollywood talent – Arthur Freed, Walter Donaldson, Jimmy McHugh, Dorothy Fields, Harold Arlen, Hoagy Carmichael, Rodgers and Hart – as well as lesser knowns. The music has been adapted and arranged by David Libby.

The show was conceived by Tina Marie Casamento Libby, a Garland and Hollywood musical aficionado who worked with book writer Marc Acito with help from John Fricke, who is billed as creative consultant/historian; he has authored a number of books and articles about Garland. As with any fictionalized work, some events have been changed and some characters changed.

Any show about Judy Garland, lives and dies with the actress playing the role. It is a

Chasing Rainbows

Ruby Rakos as Judy Garland. Photo by Diane Sobolewski.

difficult task because she was an iconic, larger-than-life performer who is etched in almost everyone’s memory. Ruby Rakos has that nearly impossible job and in many ways she succeeds admirably. She captures a great deal of the qualities that made Garland’s voice unique without giving us an imitation of her. Rakos’ real problem is more about size. Garland was petit in height, barely 5 feet tall. Rakos is taller. So though in much of the show she is supposed to be preteen or early teens, she appears much older. When at one point, her mother mentions Judy is just 13, it was a surprise; she looked mid to late teens.

Rakos is surrounded by a talented cast, many of whom play multiple roles. Kevin Earley plays Garland’s father with a hint of the conflicted man who struggles to succeed and to be himself. It is he who first sings “I’m Always Chasing Rainbow” in the first act and he scores with his rendition. Later he and Rakos get “I Can’t Give You Anything but Love.” He has a clear light baritone voice.

Sally Wilfert plays Garland’s mother, Ethel. Ethel can remind you of Mama Rose with her determination and bluntness; she is determined but you also see her love for her husband, despite his troubles.

Michael Wartella is Mickey Rooney and is certainly captures Rooney’s brashness and talent – Wartella sings and dances very well; but again he is too tall for the role. Many members of the cast play multiple roles such as Gary Milner who plays both Jessel but the composer/pianist who takes Judy under his wing at MGM. I must also mention Karen Mason who is Mayer’s starchy secretary who convinces him to give a Judy a contract and then plots to get her roles. Michael McCormick brings humor role to Mayer who was, as many Hollywood studio heads were, for his non-sequitors.

As with any jukebox musical, and this is basically what Chasing Rainbows is, in the mode of Jersey Boys and Mama Mia!, sometimes the songs feel forced into the plot – either the lyrics or the emotion don’t quite fit the characters or plot. Many of the lesser known songs selected are not well known for a reason – they are not just that interesting or memorable.

As is usual with Goodspeed productions, all elements from the orchestra to the set design which has to suggest numerous locations, lighting, costumes and sound are top notch. Also excellent is the choreography by Chris Bailey and the direction by Tyne Rafaeli.

Chasing Rainbows is not yet a finished product and it is hard to guess what its future will be. From the program insert, changes have already been made during its run and Goodspeed and more will continue to be. It is a must show for all Garland fans; for others it may depend on your interest in obscure movie musical songs and the “becoming a star” format.

It is a Goodspeed through Nov. 27. For tickets visit goodspeed.org or call 860-873-8668.

Chasing Rainbows

The cast of  Chasing Rainbows – The Road to Oz.  Photo by Diane Sobolewski.

If Queens for a Year Doesn’t Anger You, You Weren’t Listening


Photo by T. Charles Erickson.

By Karen Isaacs

After seeing the world premiere of the disturbing new play, Queens for a Year, at Hartford Stage (through Sunday, Oct. 2), I thought of the country-western song, “Mama, Don’t Let Your Sons Grow Up to Be Cowboys” except I was changing the lyrics to “Mama, Don’t Let Your Daughters Grow Up to Be Soldiers.”

This is a play about the sexualizing of women soldiers in today’s military. We have all read about the horrendous numbers of sexual assaults, rapes and harassment incidents our women in the military continue to face and the inadequacy of any safeguards or punishments. It is similar to what it was for all women 50 years ago who dared to report a rape or assault – intimidation, blame, punishment and scrutiny of their personal lives.

If it is really as bad as playwright T. D. Mitchell shows – and unfortunately simple research shows that it is — all citizens, not just women, should be marching and demanding change. Mitchell (a woman) is best known as a writer and script editor on the TV series Army Wives, but she has written other works with a military theme.

The play is about a military family but in this case it has been the women who have served. Told in flashback fashion, often fragmentary flashbacks, it is the story of 2nd Lt. Molly Solinas, a career Marine with deployments to Iraq under her belt.  We see her in Iraq, in a classroom for officers and at her Grandmother’s house in Virginia.

The Lieutenant has returned to the house with PFC Amanda Lewis to escape what has happened to them both. The house is run by her grandmother Gunny Molly Walker (Charlotte Maier) who was a gunnery mate in the Marines during the Vietnam War. She runs the house with military precision maintaining the same routines and terminology that she learned in the service. Solinas’ great grandmother Lucy MacGregor also lives there; she served in WWII at a time when Marine women were taught how to apply make-up during basic training and were required to use a particular shade of red lipstick that matched the red on their uniforms. She too is not only proud but gung-ho though she is slowing losing her grip. Solinas’s aunt, Lucy Walker also resides in the house; she served in Desert Storm but received a dishonorable discharge because she was gay.

The only family member who escaped the military mentality is Solinas’ mother, Mae Walker, who is peace activist and midwife living separately. Solinas’ is the result of a relationship Mae had while in the Peace Corps in Central America. It is Mae who opens and closes the show.


Photo by T. Charles Erickson

Why have Solinas and Lewis left camp? In flashbacks and in conversations we see what happens to Lewis. A good Marine with a future in the military, she is young (just 20) and has been deployed. Something happens – we aren’t sure what but assume it is sexual in nature – and when she seeks medical assistance, the staff puts in a request for her transfer. Her Staff Sergeant is NOT happy and berates her; it is obvious that he doesn’t like women in the military. He suggests that she can become a PFC if she “improves his morale” – this has only one meaning.

The title, Queens for a Year, is defined in the program as a “derogatory term for a female soldier or Marine serving her overseas tour of duty year, implying that even an ‘ugly’ female gets away with slacking off and being unduly treated as a queen, due to the stark lack of available women in a culture and profession of heterosexual males.”

As Lewis explains to one of the older women, all women in the military are categorized as “sluts, bitches or dykes.”  She goes on to say that one sexual encounter leads to the “slut” label and if the woman does not continue in that behavior, she is considered a “bitch.” She concludes that it better to adopt the “bitch” label from the very beginning.

Lewis turned to Solinas for support and advice, but a female Captain tells Solinas to stay out of it for the good of her career. When Lewis goes forward, a female officer cross examines her in a degrading way – asking questions about when she lost her virginity, if the Staff Sergeant was circumcised and when she doesn’t remember, implies she is lying.

Solinas has obviously testified for Lewis; the result was the Staff Sergeant has left her a graphic picture of what he will do to them both. That is why they have fled.

In the later parts of the second act, Solinas has lured the Staff Sergeant to find them; does


Photo by T. Charles Erickson.

she hope for a reconciliation or something more? Unfortunately, her family who was not supposed to be home, comes back early so all are in the house when the unseen Sergeant drives up to the house, apparently drunk. I won’t spoil the ending of this confrontation.

The problem the play showcases is real.  A Rand Corporation report in 2014, cited the Marines has having the highest percentage of reported sexual assaults of any branch of the service (over 8%). Even the military itself reported 8.4% of Marine women reported “unwanted sexual contact” which is how they term it.


Photo by T. Charles Erickson

This year, Time magazine reported on what happens to women – including officers – who do report sexual assaults. Medical documentation and other reports and paperwork often goes missing. The women are questioned about their sexual histories and are accused of having engaged in consensual sex and then changing their minds, of “acting inappropriately” and other offenses. They are often given general discharges which hinder them in civilian life. Even the appeal process of those discharges is Kafkaesque – the Navy, for example, assumes the discharge is correct unless the person can present “clear and substantial evidence” that the Navy was wrong. Few of the discharges are changed.

Senator Kirstin Gillibrand of New York has led the fight to force the military to be more accurate in their reporting, to improve the military justice system and to consider moving these cases from the military justice system into civilian courts. Her efforts and those of other senators and representatives have gone nowhere.

Director Lucie Tieberghien has assembled a fine production team and cast that completly inhabits the characters and situations. Daniel Conway’s two level scenic design moves us from barracks to Iraq to courtroom to Gunny’s Virginia home.  Beth Goldenberg’s costumes are mostly military garb but she helps develop the characters of Solinas’ family through the costumes for Mae, Gunny, Lucy and Grandma Lu. The lighting by Robert Perry combined with the sound design by Victoria Deiorio sets us in the various place realistically, particularly in the climatic last scene.

The cast is excellent. Jamie Rezanour and Mat Hostetler play a variety of roles – the Captain, the prosecutor, the Staff Sergeant and more.

Each of the leading and supporting cast is excellent. Vanessa R. Butler as Solinas embodies


Photo by T. Charles Erickson.

the professional soldier who has not totally lost her conscience but who thinks in terms of military strategy and solutions. You wonder what she could have been had she not been encultured into the military life by her grandmother, aunt and great-grandmother.

Sarah Nicole Deaver is PFC Amanda Lewis; her gestures, tones and expression range from the girl from the dysfunctional background trying to escape to the emerging strong woman. She shows you her vulnerability, uncertainty and the admiration she has for Salinas.

Charlotte Maier as Gunny gives us a woman who has been so consumed by her military experience that she cannot be a civilian. Mary Bacon is the softer, more loving and warm as Solinas’ mother. Both Heidi Armbruster as the aunt and Alice Cannon as the great grandmother also create real characters.

It is to the credit of the author, the director and the actors that we become emotionally connected to these characters.

Perhaps the most disturbing elements of the play are the military cadences that members of the cast chant. Throughout the play, these call and response “songs” become more and more graphic and misogynistic. According to a program note, these are actual cadences though not all are “officially sanctioned.”

After seeing this play, if you don’t want to demand that the military truly solve the problem of sexual assault and harassment which affects not just military women but military men and civilian women and men as well, you should examine your conscience.

Queens for a Year is at Hartford Stage, 50 Church St., Hartford through Sunday, Oct. 2. For tickets visit Hartford Stage  or call 860-527-5151.

This content is courtesy of Shore Publishing and zip06.com.


Photo by T. Charles Erickson

MTC Gives Us a Memorable “Gypsy”


Photo by Joe Landry

By Karen Isaacs

 Gypsy is a classic musical that is not easy to pull off. It requires a terrific actress for Mama Rose, strong supporting performers, and an ensemble. It has multiple sets and covers many years. It’s also one of the shows that recently has been done multiple times in Connecticut. Earlier this summer Tony winner Karen Ziemba played Mama Rose at Sharon Playhouse.

A director attempting to produce this show at a small theater with a limited budget is


Kate Simone. Photo by Joe Landry

really creating some barriers to success. But just as director Kevin Connors did last fall with Evita, he overcomes the hurdles as though they weren’t there.  This is overall a terrific production.

Seeing it at the intimate MTC (Music Theatre of Connecticut) space in Norwalk where it runs through Sept. 25 lends an extra dimension to the show.

Connors has a small cast to work with but he has selected them carefully. He uses just four children in the show; six women play all the roles besides Mama Rose and Gypsy, and three men play everyone except Herbie. Yet you never feel like show needs more performers.

In case you don’t recall the story, it based very loosely on the early years of the famed stripper Gypsy Rose Lee whose stage door mother was determined in the 1920s to get Gypsy and her younger sister (who became the actress/director/playwright June Havoc) onto the famed Orpheum vaudeville circuit. The act that Mama devises stars “Baby June” and is weak to say the least. They stumble along because Mama does not give up and is sure she can make Baby June a star. Along the way, Herbie, a former agent, becomes enamored of Mama and serves as their agent.


Kristi Carnahan and Kate Simone. Photo by Joe Landry

The stage mother to end all stage mothers, Mama propels through sheer nerve, chutzpa and blindness the act to some limited success, but at a high price. As June hits the teenage years, she runs away to forge her own career. Mama then turns her effort to Louise (Gypsy) who has both less talent and less desire to perform. Plus, vaudeville is dying. Despite refurbishing the act – replacing young boys with young girls – Mama, Louise and Herbie struggle on until they are inadvertently booked into a burlesque house. When Mama encourages Louise to go on for the missing star stripper, Herbie leaves in disgust. Soon Gypsy (as she is now called) is a huge success and has cut the strings to Mama who wonders why she is always left alone at the end.

With a book  by Arthur Laurents, music by Jule Styne and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, the show is chocked full of terrific songs: from show biz anthems like “Everything’s Coming up Roses” to the tender “Little Lamb” and the terrific “All I Need Is the Girl,” “Some People,” and “You’ll Never Get Away from Me.” Of course, two highlights are “You Gotta Get a Gimmick” sung by three burlesque strippers and Mama’s ending soliloquy “Rose’s Turn.”

Kristi Carnahan is not a household name nor well known among Broadway aficionados. It was a wonderful surprise to see how she had both the acting and singing chops to bring this character life. While her Rose is totally oblivious to the wants and needs of her daughters, she is also blind to the true motivation behind her drive. She creates a Rose that emphasized the sadness and feelings of loss and disappointment within her.  Kate Simone also brings out the pathos in Louise who really would prefer a live surrounded by a


Krisit Carnahan and Paul Binotti. Photo by Joe Landry

“normal” family and lots of animals.  More than in most productions, you see her disappointment when it is clear that Tulsa (the young dancer in the act) is in love with June. Yet she pulls off the transformation to star stripper with panache. Paul Binotto’s Herbie also emphasizes the longing of the character and also his awareness and anger at his own weakness.

Among the other cast members, Joe Grandy gives us a terrific Tulsa, and Jeri Kansas, Marca Leigh and Jodi Stevens are fine as the three strippers with gimmicks.

Becky Timms did a fine job with the choreography and Thomas Martin Conroy did the same with the musical direction. The four piece ensemble worked well and having


Kate Simone. Photo by Joe Landry

the Conroy at the piano stage was appropriate for the settings.  The only disconcerting note was the very opening — the few bars from the seccond keyboard sounded like a full orchestra with violins which made me think that it was recorded. It wasn’t but the transition to the smaller and more real sounding combo was off-putting.

The set by Carl Tallent, costumes by Diane Vanderkroef and wigs by Peggi De La Cruz added to this production.

If you have never seen Gypsy or haven’t seen it in a while, please go see this production. It is fine.

Gypsy  is at MTC, 509 Westport Ave., Norwalk through Sept. 25th.  For tickets call 203-454-3883 or musictheatreofct.com.



Photo by Joe Landry



Ivoryton Revisits a Classic ‘60s Musical


Don Quixote battles The Enchanter. Photo by Anne Hudson.

By Karen Isaacs

 Settling into my seat at Ivoryton Playhouse to see Man of La Mancha, (which runs through Oct. 2), I realized that it had been a long while since I had seen this musical.

While some shows have had multiple recent revivals – La Cage aux Folles and How to Succeed in Business without Really Trying to name a few, the last Broadway revival was 2002 and before that 1992 and 1977. Regional theaters have also been ignoring the show.

Why? Certainly it isn’t due to production costs. It is a one set show without elaborate costumes. The cast is modest in size. Perhaps it is the inspirational tone of the musical that is less appealing in our more cynical times. Or perhaps it is the stark realism of the division between the wealthy and the poor, or the critical look at the Catholic church that we wish to avoid.

While the musical – which has music by Mitch Leigh and lyrics by Joe Darien – combines both inspiration – and some would say sentimentality – it also raises an interesting questions:  when do the ends NOT justify the means? Are the dreamers of society simply madmen? Do dreams just discourage action?

The show is a show within a show; the Spanish author Miguel de Cervantes and his manservant are imprisoned to await being called by the Inquisition for acts against the Catholic Church. The other prisoners are murderers, robbers, etc. and the Governor of the inmates declares that each new prisoner must stand trial in which he is invariably found guilty and must confiscate all possessions. While Cervantes – a poet and writer – admits his guilt, he still wants to put on a defense by acting out a story. The story is of an old gentleman, Alonso Quijana, who imagines he is Don Quixote, a knight errant out to protect the innocent and right the wrongs of society.



David Pittsinger. Photo by Anne Hudson


As Cervantes tells the story, Don Quixote and his manservant, now Sancho Panza set out on a quest which leads them to a variety of adventures. Don Quixote sees what he want to see – a windmill is an enemy that he must vanquish, when he loses he says it was a disguise for his enemy, The Enchanter.. An inn is the castle where the lord will be able to properly dub a night; a stable girl/waitress (Aldonza)  is his ideal woman – Dulcinea. At the same time the family of the Quijana – his housekeeper, neice and her fiancé are frightened by his transformation and make plans to bring him back to his senses.

He enlists the other prisoners to play various roles. The Governor of the inmates becomes the Innkeeper, and other prisoners become Aldonza, the housekeeper, the niece, the gentleman’s priest, and the fiancé. The roles the prisoners play are often symmetrical with their roles in the prison – the fiancé is the most opposed to permitting Cervantes from telling his story.

During the course of the show, the prisoners not only become caught up in the story of both Quijana and Quixote and begin to aspire to different circumstances which unfortunately are unlikely occur.

When Cervantes is finally called to meet the Inquisition, the prisoners rise to send him off with hope.

Man of La Mancha has an interesting history; the initial idea became a TV live drama in 1959 written by Dale Wasserman and called I, Don Quiote.  Wasserman, at the suggestion of the director Walter Marre, turned it into a musical that had a production at Goodspeed in 1965. Joseph Papp of NY Public Theater staged the musical at the ANTA Washington Square Theater (where I first saw it.) It later moved uptown to Broadway.

 It is amazing if you don’t know “The Impossible Dream” which becomes an anthem at the end of the show. It is a song of hope and aspiration. But you will probably also recognize “To Each His Dulcinea.”  But there is also the brutally honest “Aldoza” and “It’s All the Same” as well as a rape dance plus the manipulative “I’m Only Thinking of Him,” and the comic “A Little Gossip.”

David Pittsinger, who did a fine job as Emile de Becque in Ivoryton’s production of South Pacific last summer, returns as Cervantes/Quixote. He certainly has the voice for the songs which he performs beautifully but his performance is earnest but not truly three dimensional. This is more the case in the first act when he is front and center in the story. Too often he just plants his feet and sings – well but not really acting. In the second act as the other characters become more important, he seems more relaxed and real. Thinking about this, I realized that in South Pacific he is never the only main character.

Talia Thiesfeild gives as really three dimensional portrayal of Adlonza/Dulcinea. Her


Talia Thiesfield as Aldonza/Dulcinea. Photo by Anne Hudson

rendition of the songs and her acting gives us a woman who slowly begins to realize that more is possible and that she is worth more than she thought. Brian Michael Hoffman plays Cervantes’ servant and Sancho Panza with sly humor and subtlety. He does over play the humor; the role does not require and traditionally has been played as someone without a great voice.

While the entire ensemble is very good, standouts include James Van Treuren as The Governor/Innkeeper who was last seen at Ivoryton as Georges in La Cage aux Folles and David Edwards as fiancé.

Choreographer Todd Underwood effectively balance the rape ballet between the need for it to be obvious and somewhat graphic but also suggestive rather than obvious.

The scenic design by Daniel Nischan recreates the sense of dungeon like prison room and the lighting by Maecus Abbott is good.  Tate R. Burmeister has managed the sound design so that lyrics are understandable and the backstage six piece orchestra sounds as though it is right in front of you.

Director David Edwards while overall doing a good job has made a few questionable choices: why does the prisoner who plays priest lisp? Why does the fiancé seem to embody some stereotypical “gay” gestures? And could he have improved Pittsinger’s acting performance in the first act. Too often he simply moves to the front of the stage, plants his feet and sings.

Yet despite my quibbles, if you love Man of La Mancha or if you’ve never seen, you should absolutely see this production.

It is at Ivoryton Playhouse, 103 Main St., through Oct. 2.  For tickets call 860-767-7318 or invorytonplayhouse.org.


Talia Thiesfield as Aldonza/Dulcinea, David Pittsinger as Cervantes/Don Quixote, Brian Michael Hoffman as Sancho Panza. Photo by Anne Hudson.


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