“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.



























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

Is It Only the Competition? “The Last Match” Explores How You Keep Going

The Last MatchCast
Wilson Bethel  Tim Alex Mickiewicz  Sergei Natalia Payne  Galina Zoë Winters  Mallory

Anna Ziegler  Playwright Gaye Taylor Upchurch  Director Tim Mackabee  Set Designer Montana Blanco  Costume Designer Bradley King  Lightin

Photo by Joan Marcus

By Karen Isaacs

It’s the semifinals of the US Open and the it pits the perennial number one tennis player in the world, the American Tim against a talented younger Russian, Sergei who has had difficulty living up to his potential.

The two know each other well since they are both on the tour. They have played each other with Tim usually winning.

But this match seems different. A rumor is circulating that this tournament will be the last for Tim; he will retire after the Open.

As the match begins – and as it goes on, we see interactions both present and past not only between the players but between each of them and the woman in their life. For Tim, it is his wife Mallory, a former tennis player who left the tour due to injury and now does some coaching. Though he may be the “golden boy” of American tennis, their life has not been always golden. But now they have a young son.

For Sergei, he has struggled on the tour but now he is with Galina, a very determined lady. They aren’t married, but Galina strongly believes in Sergei’s talent and the money that it brings.

The play is structured as tennis sets – and this match goes five sets.  The set designed by Tim Mackabee is a tennis court – we see the sideline, the playing surface and the bank of stadium lights. As they are playing, for the most part the two stand on each side of the stage, facing the audience. On the sides are the players’ boxes and the scoreboard.

At times as the game continues, we have scenes between Tim who is 34 and Sergei, between Tim and Mallory and Sergei and Galina. Through these, playwright Anna Ziegler helps us fill out the characters and their history. Tim and Mallory recall the first time they met, and parts of their life since. Tim and Sergei “banter” or on-up each other over various tennis accomplishments. Tim has been top while Sergei hasn’t made it into the top 10, despite talent.

It would spoil the play to reveal too much of either man’s history, or of how the sets go. Let’s just say it is a closely fought match.

But this play is about more than just tennis. It is about ambition, courage, national attributes and expectations, and gamesmanship by all four. It is about how you continue on when things aren’t going well; how you overcome loss (and not just of matches), and how you determine when to let go. It is also about how you motivate yourself.

For Sergei and Galena there are the interesting, but somewhat predictable comments about the Russian soul, such as (I paraphrase) “for Russians there is the impossibility of happiness.”

Wilson Bethel plays Tim and Alex Mickiewicz plays Sergei. Bethel has been a longtime tennis player (and actually gave tennis lessons) but Mickiewicz looks just as authentic as they serve, return serve and play out the points in the match. Each is excellent. Tim is Tom Brady like while Sergei is any one of a number of volatile, occasionally misbehaving professional athletes. Zoë Winters plays the earnest Mallory while Natalia Payne is the more conniving and volatile Galina.

Neither playwright Anna Ziegler not director Gaye Taylor Upchurch break any new ground in this work. At 90+ minutes, it is interesting and will leave you something to think about afterwards.

The Last Match is at Roundabout’s Laura Pels Theatre, 111 W. 46th Street, NYC through Dec. 24. Tickets are available at Roundabout Theatre.

The Last MatchCast
Wilson Bethel  Tim Alex Mickiewicz  Sergei Natalia Payne  Galina Zoë Winters  Mallory

Anna Ziegler  Playwright Gaye Taylor Upchurch  Director Tim Mackabee  Set Designer Montana Blanco  Costume Designer Bradley King  Lightin

Wilson Bethel and Alex Mickiewicz. Photo by Joan Marcus

Fans Won’t Be Disappointed in “Phantom of the Opera” at Waterbury’s Palace Theater

03. THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA - photo by Matthew Murphy.jpg

Derrick Davis as the Phantom. Photo by Matthew Murphy.

By Karen Isaacs

 Don’t worry – the touring production of Phantom of the Opera now at Waterbury’s Palace Theater through November 26 still has the iconic chandelier.  It also has enough special effects to entrance any pyromaniac.

I must admit that while Phantom is the longest running musical in history, I’m not a big fan. I find it overly melodramatic in all its aspects.

That said, this is a very good production. Any fan of the show should be delighted.

Since the chandelier is so much a part of everyone’s memory of the show, let’s start there. It is truly magnificent. It lowers from the ceiling and then later lowers again when it crashes, sending out a terrific lighting effect. The set by Paul Brown also does an excellent job of setting the many scenes. If the boat isn’t quite awe-inspiring, it serves its purpose well.

The same can be said for the costumes coordinated by Christine Rowland, for the original designer, the later Maria Björnson.  From a distance they look lush and expensive.

Paule Constable has created a lighting design that varies the mood effectively. Special praise to sound designer Mick Potter. It is never too loud, the orchestra never drowns out the singers and those soprano high notes never sound shrill. Quite an accomplishment in a large theater.

I’m not sure who was responsible for the various special effects – usually involving fire – but they will startle you.

This show does not necessarily require subtle acting; broad strokes for this melodramatic story are not only acceptable but necessary. But it does require excellent voices.

In that respect, the cast delivers big time. Kaitlyn Davis as Christine has an operatic soprano voice that makes you truly believe she could be a diva. Even Carlotta (played by Trista Moldovan) has a lovely voice. Remember, she is supposedly the diva whom the Phantom thinks can’t sing or act.

Derrick Davis has the perfect voice for the title role. His rendition of “The Music of the Night” is glorious. He also creates sympathy for the character. As for Raoul, Jordan Craig also has a terrific voice which blends beautifully with Kaitlyn Davis’. Their two big numbers at the end of act one are excellent.

In fact, the cast is overall top-notch.

So if you love this show, you should plan on seeing it at The Palace Theatre, 100 East Main St., Waterbury. For tickets visit Palace Theater or call 203-346-2000.


Westport’s “Romeo & Juliet” Is an Energetic, Ensemble Piece

Romeo I

Photo by Carol Rosegg

By Karen Isaacs

 Romeo & Juliet is so familiar to most of us, that sometimes attending a performance gives you that “what, again?” feeling.

That vanishes in the production currently at Westport Country Playhouse through Nov. 19.

Director Mark Lamos has always had a sure hand with Shakespeare and he proves it once again. Many years ago, at Hartford Stage he directed a production that has remained in my memory as one of the best I’ve ever seen.

I wondered if he could do it again. This production may not reach the heights of that previous one – or my memory may be playing tricks on me – but it is a very good production in all its aspects.

You may be surprised at the emotional response you will have to this piece; after all we know the ending. You may also be surprised because Juliet, played wonderfully by Nicole Rodenburg, is not your usual petite, very slender Juliet. She still looks like teenager, but she is taller and has some substance to her. She’s not Calista Flockhart, who was Juliet in the Hartford production.

But Rodenburg convinces us that she is that willful teenager who so easily becomes infatuated and so determinedly opposes her father’s wishes.

But what I remember most about this production is the energy of the ensemble cast, the boyishness of Romeo’s friends, the violent anger of Juliet’s father.

This Romeo & Juliet is more an ensemble piece than one focusing only on the young lovers. Felicity Jones Latta is a garrulous and funny Nurse without seeming to milk the laugh. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a Friar Lawrence more anguished at the outcome. Peter Francis James isn’t your doddering old monk but a man of action who is dismayed when circumstances makes plan go all awry.

You can also point to the rough and tumble enthusiasm of James Cusati-Moyer as Romeo and his friends, Cole Francum as Paris and Tyler as Benvolio. These are truly teenagers who explode with energy and immaturity.

The fights and sword play were deftly choreographed by Michael Rossmy, the fight director.

Michael Yeargan has created a set that looks like a Renaissance tapestry or painting. It is filled with incredible detail and helps compensate for the minimal furniture on stage. One small complaint is that the balcony on the right of stage is so close to the front of the stage, that the view of anyone sitting on the side is partially blocked. I was craning my neck to see some of the balcony scene, despite sitting on the aisle.

To complement the set, Fabian Fidel Aguilar has created wonderful costumes that are inspired by the period.

Lamos has lighting designer Matthew Richard use soft, misty lighting at times, and bright sunlight at others. Only the balcony scene, a night scene, was too brightly lit. You did not sense that a moon was out.

Lamos has kept this play set in 15th-16th Italy. We aren’t transported to modern day or another country.

This Romeo & Juliet is a brisk, energetic and absorbing production. No, it isn’t the “best ever” but it is well worth a visit.

For tickets, contact Westport Playhouse.

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James Cusati-Moyer and Nicole Rodenburg. Photo by Carol Rosegg

You and the Cast Will Enjoy Yourselves at Ivoryton’s The Game’s Afoot

By Karen Isaacs

 Watching actors have a terrific time is a delight for an audience. The cast of The Game’s Afoot now at Ivoryton Playhouse through Sunday, Nov. 19 seems to be having a marvelous time.

You will too, just watching them. Ken Ludwig’s play – billed as a comic thriller – takes us back to those Agatha Christie plays (and movies) that don’t always make a lot of sense but keep you involved right up to the end.

This play is set at Gillette’s Castle, that large residence overlooking the Connecticut River in Hadlyme that is now a state tourist attraction. It was built by the well-known actor William Gillette who adapted Sherlock Holmes stories into plays and then toured throughout the county for years playing the great detective. The success of the role helped fund his eccentric home; he hoped the state would care for the property, when he died in 1937.

By the way, Gillette was a distinguished actor, playwright who had his own stage company, knew Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and also held several patents. It was he who popularized the deerstalker hat which is part any Sherlock Holmes costume.

The play is set in his home on Christmas Eve in the mid-twenties. He lives there with his mother and has invited cast members to spend the holiday with them: the ingénue Aggie and the juvenile, Simon; the older acting couple Madge and Felix; and a gossip columnist, Daria.

The play opens at the end of Gillette’s play; at the curtain call of the play, someone fires a shot which wounds Gillette in the arm. The police have not found the shooter.

So we have a classic set-up. A dark and snow night, an isolated location and a group of people who may have unknown motives.

The ante for the tension is upped when the group learns (Gillette had already heard) that the stage doorman had been killed that morning. What is going on?

Playwright Ken Ludwig prefers to gently spoof this genre of murder mystery rather than play it for chills. Let’s just say that after one of the guests is murdered, there are some funny antics about hiding the body. One of the unique features of the castle comes into play.

But mixed into the fun is romance – Simon and Aggie have secretly married though Gillette had fallen in love with her, there’s marital discord between Madge and Felix, plus a séance led by Daria. She is, of course, the nasty, ambitious gossip columnist who has the dirt on everyone and is willing to use it to get what she wants. During the course of the evening, she wants Felix.

After some amusing bits with the telephone operator, Inspector Goring (a woman!) arrives. It’s difficult to know who is doing the investigating – she or Gillette who strongly identifies with his character Holmes. Let’s just say that there are enough motives, accusations and surprises to keep everyone wondering.

Scenic designer Daniel Nischan has created a spectacular set that will remind you of the Castle, if you have every visited it. He did in fact get to tour it before designing the set. It has stone, medieval architecture as well as knight’s armor, and an assortment of old weapons, some of which come into play.

Jacqueline Hubbard has directed a fine cast who seem as though they are truly enjoying themselves. For the most part, they are playing actors who are never “off-stage” and can be outrageous.

It is hard to pick out just a few cast members to praise. Craig MacDonald plays Gillette as a man who is a leader but is also partly deluded. It’s clear he is an actor who enjoys the limelight. But then there is Michael Iannucci and Katrina Ferguson as Felix and Madge, the older actors with both resentment and envy of Gillette, the “star”. Erik Bloomquist (a two time Emmy winner as a director/writer) infuses Simon with a studied casualness that immediately makes you wary of him. Molly Densmore plays Aggie, the ingénue who is not quite as sweet as she appears. Maggie McGlone-Jennings gives us the slightly deluded Martha, Gillette’s mother.

It was nice to see Beverly J. Taylor, longtime associate at the Playhouse in the extravagant role of Daria. She chews the scenery with the best of them. Then of course there is Victoria Bundonis as the Inspector who reminds you of many Inspectors in English mysteries.

The Game’s Afoot is a thoroughly enjoyable though silly evening in the theater that is being performed with expert timing.

It is at Ivoryton Playhouse through Sunday, Nov. 19. For tickets visit Ivoryton Playhouse or call 860-787-7318.

MTC’s “Bridges of Madison County” Is a Tuneful Romantic Musical

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By Karen Isaacs

The Bridges of Madison County was a romantic tear-jerker book and movie that became an under-appreciated Broadway musical. When it opened in 2014 it featured a glorious score by Robert Jason Brown which won numerous awards and outstanding performances by Kelli O’Hara and Steve Pasquale.

Now MTC (Music Theater of Connecticut) is giving the show a well-deserved Connecticut production through November 19.

This show is ideal for the small theater — the cast is limited and the sets don’t require a turntable.  There’s no chorus or ensemble. Plus the audience on three sides of the stage is close to the action which increases the intimate feeling that aids in adding emotional power to the piece.

Director Kevin Connors has created a production that for the most part works and is very well cast. I may have some quibbles about some elements, but overall it is worth seeing.

For those who don’t remember, Bridges is set in 1960s, in the farm country of Iowa. Robert, a photographer for National Geographic, is photographing the covered bridges in the area; he pulls into the driveway of Francesca, who was an Italian war bride who has lived on the farm for 18+ years. Her husband has taken their two teenage children (and the steer that the daughter has raised) to Indianapolis to the national 4H fair. So, she is alone.

Perhaps predictably, Robert is very attractive, Francesca is missing her Italian homeland, and for four days the two have a passionate affair. Is it true love? Who knows? They believe it is.

The romance ends when her family is returning home; despite Robert’s entreaties (and Fran’s serious consideration), she lets him go to remain with her husband and children.

The book and the movie had differences; the musical draws more on the book (it had something to do about the rights) and adds some original touches.

The score is the strength of this musical. Brown has written almost arias for the Italian Francesca and more country infused songs for her husband and children plus some romantic ballads for Robert.

The duets and interlocking songs between Robert and Francesca are beautiful.

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Julia Lambert Pratt. Photo by Heather Hayes

Juliet Lambert Pratt is fine as Francesca; she is has be lovely, supple soprano voice and, for the most part, maintains a trace of an Italian accent throughout the piece. It only slips occasionally. She handles the two long aria-like story songs, “To Build a Home” and “Almost Real” very well. At times though, her gestures are both too large for the small theater and too obvious. Subtlety would have helped.

Sean Hayden has the requisite romantic aura and handsome appearance for Robert. His baritone shows well in the score including “The World inside the Frame” and “Temporarily Lost”.  While both he and Pratt are good actors, they didn’t quite convince me of their grand passion.

Bud, Francesca’s husband is the realistic ballast to the affair. Greg Roderick gives us a convincing farmer, small town “salt of the earth” type. He takes his wife for granted and doesn’t really have the imagination to think she might miss her home country. He made this character both real and touching through small ways of showing his love for his wife. His big number,  “Something from a Dream” is well performed.

The other members of the cast are the ensemble, playing the townfolk, the son and daughter, Robert’s ex-wife, and others.

Kirsti Carnahan does an excellent job as Marge, their longtime neighbor. She may be a busybody at times, but Carnahan gives a dimension that shows her true affection for Francesca and her understanding of her feelings. She and Frank Mastrone, who play her husband Charlie remind us that this is a part of the country where neighbors keep an eye on each other – for good or ill.

Perhaps my most serious complaint about the staging is the handling of memory scene

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Julie Lambert Pratt, Sean Hayden. Photob by Heather Hayes

during Francesca’s “Almost Real” which recounts her early years during WWII in Italy. Francesca is toward of the back of the stage and the pantomime dance is performed in the front. It distracts from the beauty and impact of the song partly because it is not as well done as it could be.

Jordan Janota has created a fine set of the farmhouse kitchen, front yard, bedroom and Marge and Charlie’s house. It may look a little old-fashioned for the 1960s but it sets the proper mood.

Music director Nolan Bonouloir conducts the four piece group that includes a cello. Jason Robert Brown, who does his own orchestrations, often makes wonderful use of the rich tones of the cello.

At times I found the sound design by Monet Fleming unbalanced. Too often I felt the combo was too loud and not letting the beautiful songs and wonderful voices really be heard.

If you are in the mood for a romantic musical with lush songs, this is a production and a show that you will thoroughly enjoy.

For tickets, contact MTC or call 203-454-3883 MTC is located at 509 Westport Avenue (behind Nine West) in Norwalk.

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