By Karen Isaacs
The gala celebration of Connecticut’s professional theater, co-chaired by Shore Publishing’s own Amy Barry, produced winners from both the largest professional theaters in the state and some of the smaller.
The big winners were The Invisible Hand produced by Westport Country Playhouse and Next to Normal produced by TheaterWorks.
Invisible Hand by Ayah Akhtar won outstanding drama, outstanding director (David Kennedy) and outstanding actor (Eric Bryant). The play is about an American banker who is held hostage in Parkistan; it deals with economics, terrorism and religious fundamentalism.
Next to Normal, the musical about a family dealing with the mother’s bipolar condition received awards as outstanding musical, outstanding director (Rob Ruggiero), outstanding actress (Christiann Noll), outstanding lighting (John Lasiter). Maya Keleher who played the daughter received the debut award.
Special awards were presented to actor Paxton Whitehead for his body of work; he has appeared frequently at Westport Country Playhouse in productions of works by Joe Orton and Alan Ayckbourn. The presentation was made by noted director John Tillinger.
Tillinger also made a brief tribute to playwright A. R. Gurney who died in June. Not only did Gurney live in Connecticut, but many of his works were produced here. Tillinger directed a number of them at Long Wharf and Hartford Stage.
James Lecesne, actor, playwright, novelist and activist was honored for his outreach activities while performing his play The Absolute Brightness of Leonard Pelkey at Hartford Stage this year. Lecense talked about the impact theater can have on audiences and spoke of how it had “saved” him as a gay teenager. Many winners made similar comments on the importance and impact of theater.
The Tom Killen Award for contributions to Connecticut theater (and theater in general) was given to Paulette Haupt who has served as the artistic director of the National Musical Theatre Conference at the O’Neill Center in Waterford since 1978. Among the 120 new musicals she has selected and helped include In the Heights, Nine, Avenue Q and many more. She’s been instrumental in the careers of Lin Manuel Miranda, Maury Yeston, Tom Kitt and others.
Three of Connecticut’s smaller professional theaters – the Summer Theater of New Canaan (STONC), Music Theater of Connecticut (MTC) and Seven Angels Theater in Waterbury were honored. Jon Petersen received the award for outstanding solo performance at Seven Angels as Anthony Newley in He Wrote Good Songs. Peterson was unable to attend because he is starring as the Emcee in the national tour of Cabaret which was in Portland, Oregon.
West Side Story at STONC received awards for outstanding choreography (Doug Shankman) and outstanding actor in a musical (Zach Schanne)
Kate Simone received outstanding featured actor in a musical for her performance as Louise in Gypsy at MTC.
Hartford Stage took home awards for outstanding actress in a play (Vanessa R. Butler) in Queens for a Year, outstanding featured actress in a play (Connecticut resident Mia Dillon) in Cloud 9 and featured actor in a play (Cleavant Derricks) for The Piano Lesson. The theater also received three awards for A Comedy of Errors) – outstanding set design (Darko Tresjnak), outstanding sound design (Jane Shaw) and outstanding costume design (Fabio Toblini).
Rhett Guter who is now in rehearsal as Curly in Goodspeed’s Oklahoma! won outstanding featured actor in a musical for last year’s Bye, Bye Birdie at Goodspeed. He played Birdie.
Long Wharf’s production of Steve Martin’s Meteor Shower received the award for outstanding ensemble.
Among the presenters were Sirius-XM radio’s Broadway channel program director Julie James, producer Patricia Flicker Addiss, Tony-winning set designer Michael Yeargen and two former artistic directors of Connecticut theaters: Michael Wilson of Hartford Stage and Michael Price of Goodspeed Musicals.
Terrence Mann, three time Tony nominee, and artistic director of Connecticut Repertory Theater’s Summer Stage hosted the evening. Bobby Conte Thornton, star of Broadway’s A Bronx Tale provided two terrific songs.
But perhaps the stars of the evening were sisters Ella and Riley Briggs, two adorable young girls with bright futures ahead them. Ella played the young Frances Gumm in Chasing Rainbows last year at Goodspeed and she and Riley were both in Godspeed’s It’s a Wonderful Life.
This content courtesy of Shore Publications and zip06.com.
By Karen Isaacs
Timing is everything with farce and the cast of Noises Off now at the Connecticut Repertory Theater in Storrs through June 26 has it down pat.
Credit must be given to director Vincent J. Cardinal who has molded his cast of seasoned professionals and aspiring ones into a well-oiled machine. He has also added some creative directorial touches.
The show moves quickly and the laughter keeps on coming.
Noises Off is a backstage farce written by Michael Frayn. A group of actors are rehearsing “Nothing On” a typical British farce that involves many doors (8), props (particularly a plate of sardines) and too many people coming and going and trying not to be seen by others. The show is to tour for a few months.
Dotty Otley is the actress behind the tour; she hopes makes some money and cash in on some measure of fame. Act one takes place at the final rehearsal before the opening. The actors
So let’s see what is going on. Lloyd, the director, is apparently having affairs with both the assistant stage manager, Poppy, and Brooke Ashton, a very voluptuous young actress, though her acting skills are negligible. Dotty, the leading lady, is having an affair with Garry Lejune, an actor in the company who is substantially younger than Dotty. Then there is Selsdon Mowbray, an elderly actor known to drink who has a minor role and appears to be hard of hearing. Dotty has encouraged Lloyd to give Selsdon a role. Rounding out the group is Belinda, an actress who seems to know all about the various relationships among the cast, Tim Allgood, the stage manager, and Frederick Fellowes, an actor whose wife has just left him.
Act one sets this all up; we see parts of the first act of the play which is not going at all smoothly in the technical rehearsal (the rehearsal aimed at smoothing out entrances, exits, lights, the set, props, etc.) Doors don’t open or shut properly, Dotty has trouble remembering which props to enter or exit with, etc. Tim has been awake for 48 hours putting up the set and is dead on his feet. Adding to Lloyd’s exasperation is that Garry starts questioning the motivation for carrying a box off-stage in an extremely inarticulate way, Brooke stops the action frequently when she loses a contact lens, and Frederick also stops the rehearsal for inane reasons, but always apologetically
Act two shows us backstage during a performance a month later. Lloyd is making a surprise visit to see Brooke who is threatening to leave the cast, Poppy has some important news to share with Lloyd, and Dotty is locked in her dressing room because Garry thinks she is cheating on him when in reality she had been trying to cheer up Frederick. Plus they all think Selsden is drinking again. Due to all of this, various sabotages occur that make the on-stage performances (which we don’t see) even less comprehensible.
The shorter third act, shows the closing performance, where all pretense of doing the play seems to have disappeared. The cast and plot are in shambles.
First of all, Tim Brown has created a terrific set of both the stage and the backstage. It has the English country house look and feel.
Then we can look at the cast. While initially I had a few negative thoughts – that Jennifer Cody looked too young for Dotty Otley as did Gavin McNicholl as Frederick Fellowes, the actor whose wife has just left him, and I was unsure about the long hair of Curtis Longfellow as Garry, within minutes my uncertainties evaporated.
This troupe of actors were all terrific. Each one creates a real person both as the actor and as the character the actor is playing on stage. The four Equity performers – John Bixler as the director Lloyd, Jennifer Cody as Dotty, Steve Hayes as Selsdon and Michael Doherty as the stage manager, Tim are great. Each achieves every laugh that is built into the script. But the others – all young aspiring performers are also good. It’s hard to single out just one. Curtis Longfellow plays the inarticulate and jealous Garry to perfection. Jayne Ng is terrific as the dim Brooke while Gavin McNicholl is a slightly woe-begone Frederck. Arlen Bozich brings out the motherly aspects of Belinda and Grace Allyn is down-to-earth as Poppy. She clearly lets you see her infatuation with Lloyd.
Cardinal has directed most of the second act – the backstage part – as mime. The actors mouth words but don’t speak loudly which is necessary backstage; plus you can clearly hear the play going on out front. He is assisted in making this work by a window in the set which allows us to see the actors (and the lighting) of parts of the actual performance.
If you enjoy farce, and want to see it well done, make the trip to the Connecticut Repertory Theater. For tickets call 860-486-2113 or visit crt.uconn.edu.
By Karen Isaacs
Titling a play An Absolute Turkey is an act of faith. Anyone can see that critics could have a field day if the production isn’t good. But this play, an English adaptation of a Georges Feydeau farce is very good. Plus the Connecticut Repertory Theater on the UConn campus in Storrs is giving it a good production.
This adaptation of Le Dindon is be Nicki Frei and famed British director Peter Hall. It won acclaim and prizes when it was performed by the Royal Shakespeare Company in 1993.
As in typical French farce fashion there are misunderstandings, sexual innuendo and doors which lead to near collisions. The British version of farce is even more frantic; Noises Off is one of the best examples of that type.
The play is set in the late 1800s during what is called “La Belle Epoque.” It involves upper middle class people and infidelity or the appearance of it plays a major role.
The play opens with Lucienne coming home, followed by Pontagnac who forces his way into the home and declares his love; he has been following her. Lucienne rejects his advances as she is happily married, but does announce that if she ever learned her husband, a lawyer, was unfaithful, she would immediately get revenge by following suit. When her husband, Vatelin, comes home, she is amazed to find that he and Pontagnac are old friends. As they talk, we learn that Pontagnac has been using visits to their home (there have been none) as his alibi with his wife, who he claims is in the country and ill. Of course, Madame Pontagnac soon appears. When alone the two wife agree on the idea of immediate revenge for infidelity. Before act 1 ends, we have met Redillion another “man about town” who knows Lucienne, plus a “client” of Vatelin’s. Mitzi is a married woman he met while on business in Zurich; she is now Paris and blackmails him into a rendezvous that evening or she will tell her husband, his true client. Even her husband shows up having found evidence of the meeting that evening though not knowing Vatelin is the lover. He plans to “discover” them.
We move to a hotel where in Act 2 there are various mix-ups, but as in most farces, no real sexual activity takes place. A mix up in the rooms occur so innocent strangers are caught up in the confusion, attempts to allow Lucienne to catch her husband lead to other mix ups, and a search for a missing valise adds to the near misses between characters.
The play concludes in Act 3 in Redillon’s apartment where all gets straightened out and the spouses forgive each other. Vatelin explains his dalliance with Mitzi as a one-time thing caused by his loneliness when he was in Zurich for a month. Lucienne accepts his explanation and forgives him.
The CRT production features an excellent set by Abigail Copeland and costumes by Heather Lesieur. The set – it changes in a choreographed manner between each act – looks elegant and appropriate for these upper middle class people. In Act one a series of empty picture frames fill the backdrop and the living room is nicely appointed. The three doors are adjusted in the conversion to the hotel room of act two and adjusted again for Redillon’s more luxurious feeling apartment.
The costumes again seem elegant and luxurious.
Director Paul Mullins has done a fine job with a cast that is dominated by students in the MFA drama program at UConn. They are joined by two professional (Equity) performers: Brooks Brantly as Redillon and John Leonard Thompson as his butler. Both are excellent. Thompson is very funny in this almost cameo role, maintaining a deadpan expression as characters keep showing up at Redillon’s apartment.
Overall, the men in the cast surpassed the women with one exception. Arlene Bozich was very funny as Mitzi; a stereotypical Swiss “maid” with dirndl, blonde hair and braids. She is enthusiastic and determined to a fault.
I found Bruce Wood as Pontagnac, Brantly as Redillon and Curtis Longfellow as Mitzi’s husband all to be outstanding. They created real people while also mining the humor of these stereotype characters. In a smaller role, Michael Bobenhausen does a fine job as the smiling, obsequious hotel manager who has to cope with all the confusions and commotion.
This was my first time seeing this play and I enjoyed it as did the audience. Overall it is worth a trip to Storrs.
An Absolute Turkey is at the Jorgensen Theater at UConn through Dec. 10. For tickets visitCRT or call 860-486-2113.
Inside notes and comments about Connecticut and New York Professional Theater
By Karen Isaacs
King Arthur and the Holy Grail: Monty Python’s famous movie about this was turned into a terrific musical, Spamalot that won numerous awards. Now the Connecticut Rep on the UConn campus is presenting it from Thursday, April 21 to Sunday, May 1. Rickard Kline will play King Arthur; he was at CRT in The Sunshine Boys and played the Wizard in the national tour of Wicked. He will be joined by Mariand Torres as the Lady of the Lake. She has played Elphaba in the same tour of Wicked. For tickets, visit crt.uconn.edu or call 860-486-2113.
World Premiere: Long Wharf is presenting the world premiere of Lewiston through Sunday, May 1, directed by former associate artistic director Eric Ting. According to the press materials, Lewiston is about “Alice and Connor [who] sit by their roadside stand selling cheap fireworks while developers swallow the land around them. Promised a condo in the new development, their future is secure. Enter Marnie, Alice’s long lost granddaughter, proposing to buy the land to save her family legacy. Marnie and Alice will become reacquainted with each other’s deeply held secrets, uncertain pasts, and hopeful futures.” For tickets visit www.longwharf.org or call 203-787- 4282.
Favorite Songs: If “Take Me Home, Country Roads” or “Rocky Mountain High” are among your favorite songs, you will want to see the east coast premiere of the new musical Back Home Again: On the Road with John Denver at Ivoryton Playhouse. It runs through Sunday, April 24.
David M. Lufken and Katie Deal star; they have been with the show since its original production at the Milwaukee Rep. Lufken created the show Woody Sez about Woody Guthrie which had a successful run at TheaterWorks. You can expect to learn lots about Denver as well as to hear many of his songs. For tickets visit ivorytonplayhouse.org or call 860-767-7318.
News from the Shubert: New Haven’s Shubert Theater will host a return engagement of Jersey Boys, Tuesday, May 3 to Sunday, May 8. For tickets to Jersey Boys or information on subscriptions to the Broadway series visit Shubert.com or call 203-562-5666.
Matilda: Hartford’s Bushnell Theater is hosting the national touring production of the musical Matilda, based on the Roald Dahl book and the film. It runs Tuesday, April 26 to Sunday, May 1. For tickets visit bushnell.org.
New Haven in New York: In the last weeks, several shows that New Haven area audiences saw have opened on and off-Broadway. Eclipsed by Daniel Gurira has opened on Broadway starring Lupita Nyongo’o, who was a Yale Drama student and understudy when it had its premiere at the Yale Rep. She has since won an Oscar. Guiria’s Familiar¸ which opened at the Yale Rep in February 2015 has opened off-Broadway. Opening soon is Indecent by Paula Vogel. It ran last fall at the Yale Rep and will feature the Yale cast.
The Last Five Years: MTC (Music Theater of Connecticut) is closing its season with the award winning musical The Last Five Years which features book, music and lyrics by the Tony winning Jason Robert Brown. The show tells the story of a relationship; but the man tells the story from beginning to end while the woman tells the story from the end back to the first meeting. Nicolas Dromard who has appeared on Broadway in Jersey Boys and Jennifer Malenk who has appeared in Into the Woods star. The show runs to Sunday, April 24. For tickets call 203-454-3883 or visit musictheatreofct.com.
Anastasia: Excitement is building about the world premiere of Anastasia at Hartford Stage beginning Thursday, May 12. The last musical to premiere there, A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder, went on to win the Tony for best musical and a Tony for the director Darko Tresnjak, Hartford’s artistic director. Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty who wrote the music for the animated film, are writing new music for the show. In an interview with the Manchester (CT) Journal Inquirer, Tresnjak said that 16 new numbers have been written for the show; only six from the original film are in the score. For tickets visit hartfordstage.org.
This Summer: Sharon Playhouse, in the northwest corner of Connecticut is presenting five shows this summer. The season begins with Gypsy from June 16-July 3, followed by the Tony-winning musical Big River: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn from July 21-31. Then is Quartet, a play about elderly opera-singers from Aug. 18 to 28. On stage two, the Playhouse will present a new musical Judge Jackie: Disorder in the Court from July 7-17 and the long-running off-Broadway hit, I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change from Aug. 4-14. For information or tickets visit sharonplayhouse.org. The box office, 860-364-7469 x100 opens Friday, April 15.
New Plays: Westport Country Playhouse has launched an initiative to develop new plays and musicals through workshops and readings. Two works will be receiving a workshop and later a staged reading before an audience. The two works are a new play, Out of the Mouths of Babes by Israel Horovitz (in partnership with New York’s Cherry Lane Theatre) and a new musical The Rivals based on the classic comedy by Sheridan.
New York Notes: The musical comedy The Robber Bridegroom is being revived by Roundabout Theater at its off-Broadway Laura Pels theater. Steven Pasquale is starring. It is billed as a “raucous, hilarious, sexy theatrical gem with an irresistibly catch bluegrass score.” It runs through Sunday, May 29. For tickets visit roundaboutTheatre.org. Marin Mazzie will take over the role of Anna in the Lincoln Center revival of The King and I. She succeeds Kelli O’Hara. Side Show, a musical Stephen Sondheim has been working on for years under various titles is getting a production the Signature Theater in Arlington, Virginia. It often present new works that eventually make it to New York. Last summer a new musical about James Cagney got a brief run off-Broadway. Most people don’t know that Cagney started as a song and dance man. Now Cagney is getting a full off-Broadway production with an opening set for Sunday, April 3.For tickets visit Telechaerge.com.
New York Plans for Next Season: A musical version of Sponge Bob is aiming for Broadway next season. It will preview in Chicago beginning June 7. Derek Hough of Dancing with the Stars will star on Broadway next season in Singin’ in the Rain. He will, of course, play the Gene Kelly role. The show will begin in Paris as the successful An American in Paris musical did. Also next season is a revival of William Finn and James Lapine’s musical Falsettos. It will begin previews on Sept. 29.
By Karen Isaacs
Kander & Ebb: MTC (more formally known as the Music Theater of Connecticut) opens its 2014-15 season in its new home. The company has moved from a miniscule space in Westport down the block from the Westport Country Playhouse to larger digs in Norwalk: 509 Westport Ave. (Route 1). The opening show is the delightful review of Kander & Ebb music, And the World Goes Round. Included in the show which runs Nov. 7 to 23 are not only songs from Kander & Ebb’s hit musicals such as Cabaret, Chicago and others, but songs from lesser known shows plus some of the specialty material they wrote from Liza Minelli and other nightclub/cabaret stars. For tickets call 203-454-9889 or visit http://www.musictheatreofct.com.
Extended Again: Goodspeed’s world premier musical, Holiday Inn, had not even opened to the critics, when the production was extended for a second time due to high ticket demand. The show — which I found charming — will now run to December 21. Tickets for all performances are on sale at 860-873-8668 or at http://www.goodspeed.org.
Comedy in Storrs: The Connecticut Repertory Theatre is presenting Caryl Churchill’s Cloud Nine in its studio theater through Nov. 2.. The press release says, “In the wilds of 19th century Africa, the colonizers are restless in more ways than one. Friends and family flirt and fumble with power, gender, and sexuality, hilariously pushing against the boundaries of Victorian imperialism. Fast forward 100 years to the concrete jungle of London, where the Victorian legacy finally explodes in a blast of sexual awakening, self-acceptance and delectable humor.” For tickets and information, call 860-486-2113 and visit www.crt.uconn.edu
New York Notes: Tickets are now on sale for the Lincoln Center revival of The King and I which begins previews on March 12. Kelli O’Hara stars as Anna with Ken Watanabe as the King. Bartlett Sher directs. For tickets visit http://www.lct.org. Three musicals are headed to Broadway this Spring: one is a stage adaptation of a musical film, one is a revision of a earlier staged adaptation of a musical film and the third is a musical based on a dramatic film. An American in Paris will debut in Paris before heading to Broadway in March. The press material says it is “inspired” by the 1950s film that starred Gene Kelly. Christopher Wheeddon, a former member of the NY City Ballet is choreographing. The revised musical version of Gigi is also headed for Broadway. The original Broadway version ran in 1973. It plays Washington’s Kennedy Center beginning in January. Vanessa Hudgens will play the title character with Howard McGillin also in the cast. A musical version of Dr. Zhivago plans on an April opening. An earlier version of the show played at La Jolla Playhouse in 2006 and a revised version played in Australia in 2010. Des McAnuff will direct.
This content courtesy of Shore Publications and http://www.zip06.com.
Inside notes and comments about Connecticut and New York Professional Theater
By Karen Isaacs
Woody Sez: The show about the life of Woody Guthrie now playing at TheaterWorks has proved so successful, its run has been extended to Sept. 21. This show features terrific performances as the talented cast of four recount the life of Guthrie, who helped create the folk music revival in the ’50s and influenced singers from then until now. For tickets call 860-527-7838 or visit http://www.theaterworkshartford.org.
Connecticut Repertory Season: The Connecticut Repertory Theater at UConn at Storrs will offer both new plays and well-known ones in their up-coming season. The opening play, Olives and Blood is by UConn professor Michael Bradford and is about Spain after the Spanish Civil War. It runs Oct. 2 to 12. From Nov. 20 to Dec. 7 is the musical The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee. The Greek comedy Lysistrata by Aristophanes runs Feb. 26 to March 8 and the season ends with Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, April 23- May 3. In the smaller, second theater, the season includes British playwright Caryl Churchill’s Cloud Nine, Oct. 23-Nov. 2 and the Split Knuckle Theatre Company’s Band of the Black Hand, March 26 – April 5. For tickets call 860-486-2113 or visit http://www.crt.uconn.edu.
Still Time: Westport Country Playhouse is presenting a fine production of the British comedy Things We Do for Love through Sept.7. It’s unpredictable and beautifully directed and acted. For tickets call 203-227-4177 or visit http://www.westportplayhouse.org. A full review is posted on my blog: 2ontheaisle.wordpress.com.
Hartford Stage Discounts: Hartford Stage offers StagePass, a subscription program geared to young adults, 21-35. The season subscription is just $99 for all six shows plus A Christmas Carol. In addition, StagePass subscribers can bring up to three guests to each show for just $20 each. To take advantage of StagePass, call 860-527-5151 or complete an online form at www.hartfordstage.org. All StagePass subscription purchases require valid state identification.
Evita: The Bushnell Broadway series opens with the touring company of the recent Broadway revival of Evita from Sept. 23 to 28. Caroline Bowman, who was in the original cast of Kinky Boots stars as Eva Peron with Tony nominee Josh Young as Che and Sean MacLaughlin as Peron. 860-987-5900 or visit http://www.bushnell.org
Broadway News: August saw the musicals Rocky, Newsies and Bullets Over Broadway close. Only Newsies could have been considered a hit. Emma Stone will take over the role of Sally Bowles in the revival of Cabaret on Nov. 11 playing through Feb. 1 Stone had been rumored to play the role for the opening. The show has extended through March 29. For tickets visit http://www.RoundaboutTheatre.org. One of the big box office hits for the new season is the Terrence McNallly comedy It’s Only a Play which has racked up multi-millions in presale tickets. The reason: It reunites Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick (The Producers) as well as an all-star cast including Rupert Grint, F. Murray Abraham, Stockard Channing and Megan Mulally. Previews have begun and it only runs 18 week. Tickets are available at http://www.telecharge.com. Audra McDonald will now close Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill to Oct. 5. At that point, the show must make way for Hugh Jackman and the play The River. For tickets to Lady Day visit Telecharge. McDonald won not only a Tony but the completing recording of the hit show has been very successful.
Live from… You can now see Broadway and London shows on television and in local movie theaters. Following the Metropolitan Opera simulcasts in local theaters, The Royal Shakespeare Company, England’s National Theater and even Broadway is following suit. Here are some up-coming productions. From London you can see the Royal Shakespeare production of Two Gentlemen of Verona on Sept 3 (check http://onscreen.rsc.org.uk/), the National Theater production of Medea on Sept. 4, Young Vic production of A Streetcar Named Desire with an air-date of Sept. 16 and Skylight (Oct. 23) Check http://www.NationalTheatreLive.org.UK for specifics. The new musical From Here to Eternity will air Oct. 3. Check http://www.fathomevents.com. PBS will air Sweeney Todd:The Demon Barber of Fleet Street on Sept. 26, Nathan Lane in The Nance on Oct. 10 and Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess on Oct. 17. Check http://www.cptv.org or http://www.thirteen.org for exact dates and times.
This content courtesy of Shore Publishing and zip06.com.