Tag Archives: Darko Tresnjak

The Hits & Misses of the 2016-17 Connecticut Theater Season

By Karen Isaacs

 Connecticut’s professional theaters produced over 40 shows from June 2016 to the end of May 2017; plus various national tours played the major producing houses. Connecticut theatergoers had over 60 productions to choose from. I saw nearly 90 percent of the shows at the professional theaters and some of the national tours.

So how did the season measure up?

My top plays:

The Invisible Hand at Westport Country Playhouse

Queens for a Year at Hartford Stage

Scenes of Court Life at Yale Rep

A Comedy of Errors at Hartford Stage

The Piano Lesson at Hartford Stage

Meteor Shower at Long Wharf

Endgame at Long Wharf

Heartbreak House at Hartford Stage

My top musicals:

Next to Normal at TheaterWorks

Bye, Bye Birdie at Goodspeed

Gypsy at MTC

He Wrote Good Songs at Seven Angels

The top touring shows:

 The Absolute Brightness of Leonard Pelsky at Hartford Stage

A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Marriage at the Bushnell

The King & I at the Bushnell

An American in Paris at the Bushnell

A Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime at the Bushnell

Shows that pleasantly surprised me:

Absolute Turkey at CRT

Bilox Blues at Ivoryton

Trav’ling – the Harlem Musical at Seven Angels

Interesting Observations

Half of my top plays were new – often world premieres..

Many musical productions were fine overall productions, but either not exciting shows or not exciting productions.

The Bushnell had a stellar season of national tours including the rarity of a play.

Darko Tresjnak continue to prove he is also a terrific scenic designer with Italian setting for A Comedy of Errors.

Among the Disappointments.

Unfortunately some shows that I had looked forward to disappointed me. Mostly they were well directed and well- acted, but they just did not maximize their possibilities.  Sometimes it is new play which is still being developed or trying to do or say too much.

Assassins at Yale Rep.  I’ve seen and liked the show in the past, but this production just missed, at least for me.

The Most Beautiful Room in New York at Long Wharf. What can I say? It didn’t live up to my expectations.

Napoli, Brooklyn at Long Wharf.  More soap opera than compelling drama.

Camelot at Westport. This minimalist version was just too minimal though the performances were fine.

 But even these productions had elements that were enjoyable and were well worth seeing.

 

“Next To Normal,” “The Invisible Hand” Tops Connecticut Theater Critics Nominations

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Next to Normal. Photo by T. Charles Erickson

TheaterWork’s production of the musical “Next to Normal” led the nominations for the 27th annual Connecticut Critics Circle Awards event to be held Monday, June 26 at 7:30 p.m. at Sacred Heart University’s Edgerton Center for the Performing Arts in Fairfield.

The show received a total of 10 nominations, including best musical. Westport Country Playhouse’s production of Ayad Akhtar’s play “The Invisible Hand” led the non-musicals, receiving seven nominations, including outstanding play.

Other outstanding play nominees are: “The Comedy of Errors” at Hartford Stage; “Mary Jane” at Yale Repertory Theatre; “Scenes From Court Life” at Yale Repertory Theatre and “Midsummer” at TheaterWorks.

Also nominated for outstanding musical are: “Assassins” at Yale Repertory Theatre; “Bye Bye Birdie” at Goodspeed Opera House, “Man of La Mancha” at Ivoryton Playhouse and “West Side Story” at Summer Theatre of New Canaan.

The awards show, which celebrates the best in professional theater in the state, is free and open to the public.

Three-time Tony Award-nominee Terrence Mann will be the master of ceremonies for the event. Mann joined the Connecticut theater community this year as artistic director of Connecticut Repertory Theatre’s Nutmeg Summer Series at the University of Connecticut at Storrs.

Last year’s top honorees — Yale Repertory Theatre’s play “Indecent” and Hartford Stage’s musical “Anastasia” — are currently on Broadway.

Also receiving special awards this year are James Lecesne for his work using theater as a way to connect with LGBT youths in works such as his solo show “The Absolute Brightness off Leonard Pelkey,” which was presented this spring at Hartford Stage, and Paxton Whitehead, for his longtime career in theater, especially in Connecticut

Receiving the Tom Killen Award for lifetime achievement is Paulette Haupt, who is stepping down after 40 years from her position as founding artistic director of the National Music Theater Conference at Waterford’s Eugene O’Neill Theater Center

Other nominees are:

Actor in a play: Jordan Lage, “Other People’s Money,” Long Wharf Theatre; Tom Pecinka, “Cloud Nine,” Hartford Stage; Michael Doherty, “Peter and the Starcatcher,” Connecticut Repertory Theatre’s Nutmeg Summer Series; Eric Bryant, “The Invisible Hand,” Westport Country Playhouse; M. Scott McLean, “Midsummer,” TheaterWorks.

Actress in a play: Semina DeLaurentis, “George & Gracie,” Seven Angels Theatre; Emily Donahoe, “Mary Jane,” Yale Repertory Theatre; Ashlie Atkinson, “Imogen Says Nothing,” Yale Repertory Theatre; Vanessa R. Butler, “Queens for a Year,” Hartford Stage; Rebecca Hart, “Midsummer,” TheaterWorks

Actor in a musical: Robert Sean Leonard, “Camelot,” Westport Playhouse; Riley Costello, “How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying,” Connecticut Repertory Theatre’s Nutmeg Summer Series; David Harris, “Next To Normal,” TheaterWorks; David Pittsinger, “Man of La Mancha,” Ivoryton Playhouse; Zach Schanne, “West Side Story,” Summer Theatre of New Canaan.

Actress in a musical: Ruby Rakos, “Chasing Rainbows,” Goodspeed Opera House; Christiane Noll, “Next to Normal,” TheaterWorks; Julia Paladino, “West Side Story.” Karen Ziemba, “Gypsy, Sharon Playhouse; Talia Thiesfield, “Man of La Mancha,” Ivoryton Playhouse.

Director of a play: Darko Tresnjak, “The Comedy of Errors,” Hartford Stage; David Kennedy, “The Invisible Hand,” Westport Country Playhouse; Marc Bruni, “Other People’s Money,” Long Wharf Theatre; Tracy Brigden, “Midsummer,” TheaterWorks; Gordon Edelstein, “Meteor Shower,” Long Wharf Theatre.

Director of a musical: Rob Ruggiero, “Next to Normal,” TheaterWorks; David Edwards, “Man of La Mancha,” Ivoryton Playhouse; Melody Meitrott Libonati, “West Side Story,” Summer Theatre of New Canaan; Jenn Thompson, “Bye Bye Birdie,” Goodspeed Opera House; Kevin Connors, “Gypsy,” Music Theater of Connecticut in Norwalk.

Choreography:  Denis Jones, “Thoroughly Modern Millie,” Goodspeed Opera House; Chris Bailey, “Chasing Rainbows,” Goodspeed Opera House; Doug Shankman, West Side Story,” Summer Theatre of New Canaan; Patricia Wilcox, “Bye Bye Birdie,” Goodspeed Opera House; Darlene Zoller, “Rockin’ the Forest,” Playhouse on Park.

Ensemble: Cast of “Smart People,” Long Wharf Theatre; Cast of “Trav’lin’ ” at Seven Angels Theatre; cast of “Meteor Shower,” Long Wharf Theatre; cast of “Assassins,” Yale Repertory Theatre; cast of “The 39 Steps” at Ivoryton Playhouse.

Debut performance: Maya Keleher, “Next to Normal,” TheaterWorks; Dylan Frederick, “Assassins,” Yale Repertory Theatre; Nick Sacks, “Next to Normal, TheaterWorks.

Solo Performance: Jodi Stevens, “I’ll Eat You Last,” Music Theater of Connecticut; Jon Peterson, “He Wrote Good Songs,” Seven Angels Theatre.

Featured actor in a play: Jameal Ali, “The Invisible Hand,” Westport Country Playhouse; Andre De Shields, “Seven Guitars,” Yale Repertory Theatre; Cleavant Derricks, “The Piano Lesson,” Hartford Stage; Steve Routman, “Other People’s Money,” Long Wharf Theatre; Paxton Whitehead, “What the Butler Saw,” Westport Country Playhouse

Featured actress in a play: Miriam Silverman, “Mary Jane,” Yale Repertory Theatre; Rachel Leslie, “Seven Guitars,” Yale Repertory Theatre; Antoinette Crowe-Legacy, “Seven Guitars,” Yale Repertory Theatre; Mia Dillon, “Cloud Nine,” Hartford Stage; Christina Pumariega, “Napoli, Brooklyn,” Long Wharf Theatre

Featured actor in a musical: Mark Nelson, “The Most Beautiful Room in New York,” Long Wharf Theatre; Edward Watts, “Thoroughly Modern Millie,” Goodspeed Opera House; John Cardoza, “Next to Normal,” TheaterWorks; Jonny Wexler, “West Side Story,” Summer Theater of New Canaan; Rhett Guter, “Bye Bye Birdie,” Goodspeed Opera House; Michael Wartella, “Chasing Rainbows,” Goodspeed Opera House

Featured actress in a musical: Maya Keleher, “Next to Normal,” TheaterWorks; Jodi Stevens, “Gypsy,” “Music Theater of Connecticut; Katie Stewart, “West Side Story,” Summer Theater of New Canaan; Kristine Zbornik, “Bye Bye Birdie,” Goodspeed Opera House; Kate Simone, “Gypsy,” Music Theater of Connecticut.

Set design: Colin McGurk, “Heartbreak House,” Hartford Stage; Michael Yeargan, “The Most Beautiful Room in New York,” Long Wharf Theater; Wilson Chin, “Next to Normal,” TheaterWorks; Adam Rigg, “The Invisible Hand,” “Westport Country Playhouse; Darko Tresnjak, “The Comedy of Errors,” Hartford Stage.

Costume design: Ilona Somogyi, “Heartbreak House,” Hartford Stage; Marina Draghici, “Scenes from Court Life,” Yale Repertory Theater; Fabio Toblini, “The Comedy of Errors,” Hartford Stage; Gregory Gale, “Thorough Modern Millie,” Goodspeed Opera House; Lisa Steier, “Rockin’ the Forest,” Playhouse on Park.

Lighting design: Matthew Richards, “The Invisible Hand,” Westport Country Playhouse; Yi Zhao, “Assassins,” Yale Repertory Theatre; John Lasiter, “Next to Normal,” TheaterWorks; Matthew Richards, “Comedy of Errors,” Hartford Stage; Christopher Bell, “A Moon for the Misbegotten,” Playhouse on Park, Hartford.

Sound design: Jane Shaw, “The Comedy of Errors,” Hartford Stage; Fan Zhang, “Seven Guitars,” Yale Repertory Theatre; Shane Rettig, “Scenes from Court Life,” Yale Repertory Theatre; Karen Graybash, “The Piano Lesson,” Hartford Stage; Fitz Patton, “The Invisible Hand,” Westport Country Playhouse.

2017 Nominations List

 

Outstanding Solo Performance

Jodi Stevens                I’ll Eat You Last                     MTC

Jon Peterson                He Wrote Good Songs           7 Angels

Outstanding Debut

Maya Kelcher (Natalie)           Next to Normal           TheaterWorks

Dylan Frederick                      Assassins                     Yale Rep

Nick Sacks                              Next to Normal           TheaterWorks

Outstanding Ensemble

Cast of…                                Smart People                           Long Wharf

Cast of…                                Trav’lin                                    7 Angels

Cast of…                                Meteor Shower                       Long Wharf

Cast of…                                Assassins                                 Yale

Cast of…                                The 39 Steps                           Ivoryton

Outstanding Projections

 Michael Commendatore          Assassins                                 Yale

Outstanding Sound

Jane Shaw                               Comedy of Errors                   Hartford Stage

Fan Zhang                               Seven Guitars                          Yale

Shane Retig                             Scenes From Court Life          Yale

Karin Graybash                       Piano Lesson                           Hartford Stage

Fitz Patton                              Invisible Hand                        Westport

Outstanding Costume Design

Ilona Somogyi                         Heartbreak House                   Hartford Stage

Marina Draghici                      Scenes from Court Life          Yale

Lisa Steier                               Rockin’ the Forest                  Playhouse on Park

Fabio Toblini                           Comedy of Errors                   Hartford Stage

Gregory Gale                          Modern Millie                         Goodspeed

Outstanding Lighting

Matthew Richards                  Invisible Hand                        Westport

Yi Zhao                                   Assassins                                 Yale

John Lasiter                             Next to Normal                       TheaterWorks

Matthew Richards                  Comedy of Errors                   Hartford Stage

Christopher Bell                      A Moon for the Misbegotten  Playhouse on Park

Outstanding Set Design

Colin McGurk                         Heartbreak House                   Hartford Stage
Michael Yeargan                     Most Beautiful Room…         Long Wharf

Wilson Chin                            Next to Normal                       TheaterWorks

Adam Rigg                             The Invisible Hand                 Westport

Darko Tresnjak                        The Comedy of Errors            Hartford Stage

Outstanding Choreography

Denis Jones                             Modern Millie                         Goodspeed

Chris Bailey                            Chasing Rainbows                  Goodspeed

Doug Shankman                     West Side Story                      STONC

Patricia Wilcox                        Bye Bye Birdie                       Goodspeed

Darlene Zoller                         Rockin’ the Forest                  Playhouse on Park

Outstanding Featured Actor – Musical

Mark Nelson (Carlo)               Most Beautiful Room….        Long Wharf

Edward Watts (Trevor)           Modern Millie                         Goodspeed

John Cardoza (Gabe)              Next to Normal                       TheaterWorks

Jonny Wexler (Action)            West Side Story                      STONC

Rhett Guter (Birdie)               Bye Bye Birdie                       Goodspeed

Michael Wartella                     Chasing Rainbows                  Goodspeed

Outstanding Featured Actress – Musical

Maya Keleher (Natalie)           Next to Normal                       TheaterWorks

Jodi Stevens (Secretary/Mazeppa)      Gypsy                          MTC

Katie Stewart (Anita)             West Side Story                      STONC

Kristine Zbornik (Mother)      Bye, Bye Birdie                      Goodspeed

Kate Simone (Louise)             Gypsy                                      MTC

Outstanding Featured Actress – Play

Miriam Silverman (Brianne/Chaya)    Mary Jane                    Yale

Rachel Leslie (Vera)               Seven Guitars                          Yale

Antoinette Crowe-Legacy (Ruby) Seven Guitars                  Yale

Mia Dillon                               Cloud 9                                   Hartford Stage

Christina Pumariega (Tina)     Napoli, Brooklyn                    Long Wharf

Outstanding Featured Actor – Play

Jameal Ali (Dar)                      The Invisible Hand                 Westport

Andre De Shields Headley)    Seven Guitars                          Yale

Cleavant Derricks                   Piano lesson                            Hartford Stage

Steve Routman (Coles)           Other People’s Money            Long Wharf

Paxton Whitehead (Dr. Rance)  What the Butler Saw           Westport

 Outstanding Director – Musical

Rob Ruggiero                          Next to Normal                       TheaterWorks

David Edwards                       Man of La Mancha                 Ivoryton

Melody Libonati                     West Side Story                      STONC

Jenn Thompson                       Bye Bye Birdie                       Goodspeed

Kevin Connors                        Gypsy                                      MTC

Outstanding Director – Play

Darko Tresnjak                        The Comedy of Errors            Hartford Stage

David Kennedy                      The Invisible Hand                 Westport

Marc Bruni                              Other People’s Money            Long Wharf

Tracy Brigden                         Midsummer                             TheaterWorks

Gordon Edelstein                    Meteor Shower                       Long Wharf

Outstanding Actor – Musical

Robert Sean Leonard (Arthur)  Camelot                                Westport

Riley Costello (Finch)             How to Succeed…                 CRT

David Harris (Dan)                 Next to Normal                       TheaterWorks

David Pittsinger (Don Q)       Man of La Mancha                 Ivoryton

Zach Schanne (Tony)              West Side Story                      STONC

Outstanding Actress – Musical

Ruby Rakos (Judy)                 Chasing Rainbows                  Goodspeed

Christiane Noll (Diana)           Next to Normal                       TheaterWorks

Julia Paladino (Maria)             West Side Story                      STONC

Karen Ziemba (Rose)              Gypsy                                      Sharon Playhouse

Talia Thiesfield (Aldonza)      Man of La Mancha                 Ivoryton

Outstanding Actor – Play

Tom Pecinka (Betty/Edward) Cloud 9                                   Hartford Stage

Michael Doherty (Black Stache) Peter and the…                  CRT

Eric Bryant (prisoner) Invisible Hand                        Westport

Jordan Lage (Garfinkle)          Other People’s Money            Long Wharf

Scott McLean (Bob) Midsummer… TheaterWorks

Outstanding Actress – Play

Emily Donohe                         Mary Jane                                Yale

Semina DeLaurentis (Gracie)  George & Gracie                     7 Angels

Ashlie Atkinson (Imogen)      Imogen Says Nothing             Yale

Vanessa R. Butler (Solinas)    Queens for a Year                   Hartford Stage

Rebecca Hart (Helena)            Midsummer                             TheaterWorks

Outstanding Production – Musical

Assassins                                 Yale

Next to Normal                       TheaterWorks

Man of La Mancha                 Ivoryton

West Side Story                      STONC

Bye Bye Birdie                       Goodspeed

Outstanding Production – Play

The Comedy of Errors            Hartford Stage

Midsummer (a play with songs) TheaterWorks

Scenes From Court Life          Yale

The Invisible Hand                 Westport

Mary Jane                                Yale

Shaw’s Heartbreak House at Hartford Stage Combines Wit with Ideas on War, Love and Business

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Photo by T. Charles Erickson

By Karen Isaacs

 George Bernard Shaw’s masterpiece, Heartbreak House is getting a fine production at Hartford Stage through Sunday, June 11.

While many people equate Shaw with Pygmalion or its musical version, My Fair Lady, Shaw was at heart a political philosopher.  You see that even in My Fair Lady with Professor Higgins’ determination to treat everyone alike, to preach how language was used to separate the classes, and more.

Shaw was also an ardent member of the social –democratic Fabian Society which questioned not only capitalism, religion and the idea of morality. His best plays raise serious ideas about these while at the same time providing audiences with interesting characters and witty dialogue. In his lesser works, it can become overlong and preachy.

Heartbreak House is one of his great plays, so it entertains you with eccentric characters while also challenging you to consider numerous ideas. It was finished in 1919, just following World War I which was devastating to Britain but was begun while the war was going on. It’s set in 1914, just before the outbreak of the war. As often happens at the beginning of wars, people are enthusiastic and almost exhilarated by the prospect.

The setting is the home of Captain Shotover, an aging, retired sea captain and inventor. He still uses nautical terms and blows a nautical whistle. In fact his home looks like a ship complete with the helm. Overseeing his house is his daughter Hesione who lives there with her husband, Hector Hushabye.

The household is disorderly in many ways. While it may look relatively grand, there isn’t a lot of money; income is dependent on Captain Shotover selling his various inventions. Hesione is not the organized lady of the house, nor her husband typical either. The house is totally disorganized. Occasionally Hector suggests he could work to help support the household, but his wife doesn’t want him to; she would not see him enough.

If the household is unconventional, so is their marriage, as we learn throughout the play.

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Dani de Waal. Photo by T. Charles Erickson

The play opens with a young woman, Ellie Dunn, sitting reading a book and dozing off in the living room or poop deck as the Captain calls it. When the Captain discovers her, it turns out she had been invited to visit by Hesione but no one was there to greet her. It seems typical.

Why was she invited? Hesione is determined to dissuade her from marrying Boss Mangan, a much older tycoon. Ellie feels indebted to him for heling her father when his business went bankrupt. Hesione is horrified that the attractive young woman would yoke herself to this older, unattractive man.

Soon others have appear. Ariadne, the Captain’s younger daughter arrives. She is very proper having married a man her father calls a “numbskull” (Hastings Utterword) who has served around the Empire in high ranking government positions for the last 21 years. The Captain refuses to recognize to her.

Also arriving are Ellie’s father, Mazzini Dunn, who the Captain insists on confusing with a member of his crew who was a criminal. Mazzini is actually a mild-mannered man who made a mess of a business and now works for Boss Mangan, Mangan also arrives along with Randall Utterwood, Ariadne’s brother-in-law who is obviously smitten with her.

Mangan, Ellie and Mazzini have all been invited by Hesione in an effort to dissuade Ellie from marrying Boss Mangan.  But while Ellie doesn’t love the Boss, she is a practical “modern woman” who views marriage much like a business deal – rich is better than poor. But she has become enamored of a gentleman she met at the National Gallery who seemed to have an adventuresome life. She is shocked to discover that he is, in fact, Hesione’s husband.

The drawing room comedy of the plot is fortunately overshadowed by the dialogue that covers everything from male-female relationships, to the way the world operates.  Captain Shotover’s inventions of war and destruction earn him and the family much more than his inventions which help people.

Shaw is making many points here including that no-one is exactly what he or she seems. Ariadne seems the perfectly controlled lady but apparently has learned that if you act ladylike you can get away with almost any behavior.  Hesione may seem the bohemian but is really in many ways conventional and Ellie may seem like a naïve young woman but is practical to the extreme. Even Boss Mangan and Mazzini are almost the opposites of what they appear to be.

Shaw subtitled this play “A Fantasia in the Russian Manner on English Themes” and there is certainly shadows of Chekhov in it. But while Chekhov’s characters seem more remote from the world – lost in their own illusions, Shaw’s characters are more obviously political.

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Miles Anderson. Photo by T. Charles Erickson

Darko Tresnjak, who directed the play, said in his notes that the last lines of the play (said by Hesione and Ellie) still haunt him. The lines, which you will need to see the play to understand to what they refer are: “But what a glorious expiereince1 I hope they’ll come again tomorrow night.” and “Oh, I hope so.”

Overall Tresnjak has directed this with a sure hand except for one decision. I did not mind that a very minor character, simply called the Burglar has been removed. (This character has been omitted in other productions.)  The real error is how Tresnjak has decided to portray Boss Mangan. Mangan is a capitalist, not a member of the upper classes but a man who has made a reputation of ruthlessness and the accumulation of money. He expects to run government department. He has managed to appear generous while actually manipulating people to his own advantage.  The error is that Andrew Long who plays the role has been directed to play him as a caricature of President Trump. His costume including an exaggerated blond “comb over” as well as facial expressions are those of the President. This creates a shock value of laughter at the beginning and some laughs at how well Long imitates the President. But it does a disservice to the play by deflecting our attention from Mangan’s lines.

It is as if Tresjnak underestimated the ability of the audience to see the connections between Mangan and Trump or Mangan and any ruthless industrialist. A more subtle approach would have worked better.

But that is the only misstep. From the casting to the magnificent scenic design by Colin McGurk to the period costumes of Ilona Somogyi, to Matthew Richard’s lighting design that effectively directs are attention to various aspects of the play to the sound design by Jane Shaw, each and everything contributes to our understanding and appreciation of this play.

The three main characters (Captain Shotover, Hesione and Ellie) are all excellent. Miles Anderson may not seem as physically imposing as some Shotovers, but he projects the authority and the conviction needed. Charlotte Parry’s Hesione combines Bohemianism with some very conventional ideas about love and marriage. She is flighty but both warm and thoughtful. Dani De Waal as Ellie may seem compliant but reveals a spine of steel. The entire cast is excellent including Tessa Auberjonois as the ladylike and somewhat rigid Lady Utterwood.  Keith Reddin was excellent as Mazzini Dunn and Stephen Barker Turner gave us a Hector who was by turns romantic but almost pathetic.

Shaw has effectively used symbolism throughout this work from the names of the characters (Captain Shotover, Hushabye, etc) to metaphors of Heartbreak House as England and the ship motif as the ship of state. It subtly raises of issue of who will be at the helm of the ship of state? The old-time ruling elites or the modern industrial/capitalist elites? What will happen to the ship? It hints at the end of the British Empire.

As with many Shaw plays, you will the theater after seeing Heartbreak House with much to think about – not only ideas but also Shaw’s razor sharp wit.

It is at Hartford Stage, 50 Church Street, Harford, through Sunday, June 11. For tickets visit Hartford Stage or call 860-527-5151.

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Charlotte Perry and Stephen Barker Turner. Photo by T. Charles Erickson

“Anastasia” – Production Values Are Terrific; Musical Isn’t

anastasia - by matthew murphy

Photo by Matthew Murphy

By Karen Isaacs

 When Anastasia opened at Hartford Stage a year ago I enjoyed it but felt it needed work. Yet I believed the show would attract an audience due to its fairy tale romance qualities, the popularity of the animated film of the 1997 and the top-notch people involved.

It’s now opened on Broadway. The pluses that delighted me at Hartford, continue to entrance. But while changes were made, the weakness of this show is its less than stellar book and a score that is ho-hum.

This is a show that young girls and women will love: it combines elements of Cinderella, My Fair Lady and Gigi: the story of a young woman transformed into the equivalent of a princess.

The basic story of Anastasia, the thought that the Tsar’s youngest daughter escaped execution, has been the basis of plays, films and even a musical (Anya) in 1965 for years.  It was a gold mine for mentally disturbed women and con artists who could coach them with information. Anastasia’s grandmother lived in Paris surrounded the refugee Russian nobility. Ingrid Bergman won an Oscar for the role in 1956. It is based on a kernel of truth: there was a search for Anastasia and a number of imposters tried to claim the money. In the 1920s Anna Anderson, who claimed to be an amnesiac gained notoriety for her claim to be Anastasia. Most of the versions take some elements from her story and the 1952 French play by Marcelle Maurette.

The book of the show by Terrence McNally has been substantially changed from the film; gone are the animated animals and now we have complex villain in Gleb, a Communist official whose father was at the execution but who becomes attracted to Anastasia.

The musical moves from the opening at the court to the streets of St. Petersburg to Paris. The basic outline remains the same: we see the royal family before the revolution when the Dowager Empress gives her youngest granddaughter a music box before she leaves for Paris where she lives. The revolution arrives and the royal family is captured and later killed.

Soon we are in the midst of the Communist regime of the mid-1920s. A young woman is sweeping the streets; she has no memory of her past. Two men (Dmitry and Vlad) – both of whom live by their wits — know that the Dowager Empress has offered a reward for finding Anastasia; they decide to look for someone to impersonate the Princess and find the young woman.  In a My Fair Lady like story, they tutor her and groom her so she can pass; occasionally she recounts a memory that surprises them.

They escape Communist Russia and travel to Paris – after some narrow escapes – where they manage to arrange a meeting with the Dowager Empresses’ companion and then the Dowager herself, who has become weary of the parade of imposters. Do you really need for anyone to tell you the ending? It is predictable.

Anasatasua --Ramin by Matthew Murphy

Ramin Karimloo and Christy Altomare. Photo by Matthew Murphy

Composer Steven Flaherty and lyricist Lynn Ahrens (Ragtime, A Man of No Importance, Once on this Island and more), have kept some of the songs from the film including the Oscar-winning “Journey to the Past,”  “Once Upon a December,” “A Rumor in St. Petersburg,” “Paris Holds the Key” and a couple of others.  Many others have been added – some work really well and some seem to detract. I did like “My Petersburg,” “A Secret She Kept,” and  “We’ll Go from There.”

The plusses of this show are all in the production elements, as they were in Hartford.

The production is opulent; every aspect of the production will take your breath away. Let’s start with the set by Alexander Dodge. He creates the court of Imperial Russia, Paris, and a wide variety of places in between. Particularly ingenious is his handling of the train on which Anya and her companions ride to escape Communist Russia.

Then we can praise the costumes by Linda Cho – the gowns of Imperial Russia and later the gown for the Dowager Empress — are elegant and opulent. But she goes beyond that to create authentic 1920s costumes as well. Her costumes are supplemented by the wig and hair design by Charles G. LaPointe.

Let’s praise the sound design by Peter Hylenski and the lighting by Donald Holder. I

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Christy Altomare and Derek Klena. Photo by Matthew Murphy

marveled at some of the lighting effects Holder achieved including one scene where only Anya is in color.

But the highest praise must go to the video and projection design by Aaron Rhyne. His designs create three-dimensional images of St. Petersburg – the winter palace, the cathedral and so much more – Paris and the various scenes in-between.

Certainly Darko Tresnjak’s direction and concept is brilliant. He has his production team create wonderful effects, he transitions the multiple scenes and locations splendidly, gives us ghost-like flashbacks, plus he draws the best from his performers. He is aided by choreographer Peggy Hickey who creates everything from court quadrilles to folk dances and even a ballet.

Most of the performers are also terrific. Mary Beth Piel plays the Dowager Empress with both elegance and touching emotion. Derek Klena is fine as Dmitry but doesn’t really create a three dimensional character until the second act. John Bolton is Vlad, who is part comic figure and part somewhat tragic one. Ramin Karimloo is dynamic ats the villain-like character Gleb. He makes him more than just a villain; there is undercurrent of conflict between his commitment to the Party and his attraction to Anya. Caroline O’Connor plays Lily the Dowager Empress’ companion. She is excellent and brings both pathos and comedy to the part.

Christy Altomare has the difficult job of transforming a somewhat typical “Disney princess” into a real woman. She succeed partly, yet I never quite believed in her or even cared about her. She seems to lack a “spark” that the role requires. She is very effective in her songs, particularly the act one closer “Journey to the Past.”

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Derek Klena and Christoy Altomare. Photo by Matthew Murphy

But the problem is that the musical seems to be split between the more serious first act and act two in Paris. Two comic numbers featuring the Dowager’s lady in waiting are back to back in the second act. They seem a total distraction and interruption of the flow of the somewhat predictable plot. I was surprised they had survived the transition from the original production; at least the first of them, needed serious pruning. The momentum is also halted by an extended ballet sequence that seems overlong.

If so much was right with Anastasia, why wasn’t I totally enchanted? But the real problem for me was that I never became emotionally involved in the show; I can see My Fair Lady multiple times and always root for Eliza and even the semi-romance with Higgins. Here I wasn’t invested in the show or the characters. They seemed more two-dimensional. Pleasant but not emotionally engaging. Formulaic but well done.

Certainly it is a show that romantics and all those enchanted by Cinderella stories will enjoy. And the production values are certainly worth Broadway prices.

Anastasia is at the Broadhurst Theater, 235 w. 44th Street. Tickets are available through Telecharge.

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John Bolton and Caroline O’Connor. Photo by Matthew Murphy.

The Riotous Side of Shakespeare Is at Hartford Stage

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Photo by T. Charles Erickson

By Karen Isaacs

 Want silly fun?  Then head up to Hartford Stage for Darko Tresnjak’s production of Shakespeare’s A Comedy of Errors running through Sunday, Feb. 12.

An early work by Shakespeare, it draws on Roman comedies. It’s all about mistaken identities, slapstick and puns.

The plot is complex yet simple. A couple had twin sons and within days of their birth, purchased from a poor woman her twin sons to grow up as the servants of the boys. Soon after, during a sea voyage the ship is damaged – the wife with one son and one servant is picked up by another boat while the father with the remaining son and servant manage to return to Syracuse, a Greek city. It is now many years later when the father arrives in Ephesus (now part of Turkey) to search for his son who had left home seven years ago to try to find his brother.

But there is a law in Ephesus that forbids people from Syracuse from entering; the punishment is death but the duke gives the father (Aegeon) one day to raise the fine that will buy his freedom. Next we meet Antipholus of Syracuse who has just arrived with his servant, Dromio, to search for his brother.  Before we can blink an eye, the confusions begin to occur because his brother Antipholus of Ephesus and his servant Dromio are also in the city. Soon everything is confused. Adriana, the wife of the Ephesean Antipholus finds the Syracusian one; Antipholus of Ephesus thinks Dromio of Syracuse is HIS servant, and the reverse also happens.  Antipholus of Syracuse finds himself attracted to the sister (Luciana) of the wife of the local Antipolus; Luciana returns the attraction but is conflicted about letting her supposed brother-in-law woo her.

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Adriana (Jolly Abraham) and Luciana (Mahira Kakkar). Photo by T. Charles Erickson.

Of course, by the end of this short play – even shorter in this production – everything is straightened out. The two brothers and the two servants are reunited, the father is saved and finds his long lost wife, and the two women are about become not only sisters but sisters-in-law.

Tresnjak has capitalized on the comic elements. Unlike many Shakespeare comedies this really does not have any message about relationships, courtship or marriage. It is all exuberant fun.

Entering the theater, you see the spectacular set designed by Tresnjak. It shows a village in typical Mediterranean colors, three boats, the appearance of a canal (with real water!) and a walkway around it. It is all bright and cheerful and it signals you are in for a rollicking good time.

The play begins with two sailors making music; soon a courtesan comes down to the pier and sings and dances the popular Greek movie song, “Never on Sunday.” It gives us a clue to Tresnjak’s inspiration. He  has moved the play to the 1960s – thus the cigarettes, the allusions to films like “Never on Sunday,”  “Tokapi” and “Zorba, the Greek.”

We are off to the races. We have chases, scuba divers, courtesans and more. We have “beatings” that look like burlesque fights with rubber cudgels and more.

The one flaw in this fast paced production is that some of the Shakespeare gets lost. With the Greek accents and the multiple things going on, it is sometimes difficult to understand the lines.  This may not be Shakespeare’s greatest poetry but it deserves to be heard.

The highlights of this production are the visual elements. In addition to the set, you have the 1960s costumes by Fabio Toblini as well as the wigs by Tom Watson and the makeup by Tommy Kurman.  Matthew Richards’ lighting gives us the feeling of that Mediterranean sun. It makes you feel warm.

In addition we have terrific music composed and arranged by Alexander Svoronsky and choreography by Peggy Hickey. This isn’t a musical comedy – Rodgers and Hart did that with The Boys from Syracuse – but there is music and dance.

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Photo by T. Charles Erickson.

The cast is overall excellent from Paula Leggett Chase as Mercuri-like courtesan through the more shrewish wife (Jolly Abraham) and the more staid sister (Mahira Kakkar). But it really all depends on the two Dromios and the two Antipoluses. Alan Schmuckler (Dromio of Syracuse) and Matthew Macca (Dromio of Ephesus) totally embrace the burlesque aspects of their roles. Ryan-James Hatanaka plays the put upon husband, Antipholus of Syracuse and Tyler Lansing Weaks an as the bewildered Antipholus of Ephesus. Each are basically the straight men to the physical comedy of the Dromios.

This may not be the perfect production of this play, but it does capture all of its laughter and its colorful sets and costumes will make you think of the warm Mediterranean coast. What more could we want in the middle of winter?

A Comedy of Errors is at Hartford Stage, 50 Church St., Hartford through Sunday, Feb. 12. For tickets visit Hartford Stage.

This content courtesy of Shore Publications and zip06.com

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Photo by T. Charles Erickson.

Inside notes and comments about Connecticut and New York Professional Theater

By Karen Isaacs

A Dangerous Title:  Calling a show a “turkey” usually means that it is a total flop, but the Connecticut Repertory Theater on the UConn campus is taking a chance with the title of its next show. An Absolute Turkey is by Georges Feydeau, one of the masters of French farce. This version is translated/adapted by Nicki Frei and Peter Hall and won raves in London. It’s all about a man who lusts after his friend’s wife triggering a revenge plot and a dizzying spell of complications. It runs from Thursday, Dec. 1 to Saturday, Dec. 10. For tickets call 896-486-2113 or visit CRT.

New Musical:  The Yale School of Drama is presenting a new musical Bulgaria! Revolt! Created by third year Drama School student Elizabeth Dinkova who is also directing. It runs Friday, Dec. 9 to Thursday, Dec. 15 at the smaller Iseman Theater on Chapel Street. The press materials asks if one small person or nation can change the tide of history. “ From a Bulgarian village on the eve of revolution to the fantastical capitalist paradise of America, a condemned poet travels through time and space in this tragicomic new musical inspired by Geo Milev’s epic poem, September.” For tickets go to Yale Drama School or call 203-432-1234.

Where Does He Find the Time? I’m referring to Hartford Stage Artistic Director Darko Tresnjak. In the next few months he is not only directing Shakespeare’s A Comedy of Errors at Hartford but is also preparing the musical Anastasia, which had its world premiere in Hartford last spring, for a Broadway opening with previews beginning in March. Now it’s been announced that he will direct the Broadway production of Rear Window, an adaptation of the short story that led to the classic Hitchcock film. It is planned for some time in 2017. The production premiere in Hartford in 2015.

Be at Your Computer on Dec. 6: That’s when tickets go on sale for the annual Kids’ Night on Broadway. Many Broadway shows offer a free ticket for children 18 and young with the purchase of a full-price ticket. A 50% discount. Kids’ Night this year is Tuesday, Feb. 28 and many shows have 7 p.m. curtains. Other events are also scheduled on that day as well such as discounts on parking and food. It’s great time to introduce kids to theater but tickets for the most popular shows are snapped up fast. Don’t count on Hamilton or any other smash hit to be included. To find out more about the shows which will participate and the ways to get tickets, visit Kids Night on Broadway

New York Notes: Tickets are now on sale for the musical Groundhog Day based on the popular film. It won raves in London and stars Andy Karl. It begins previews March 16. Tickets are available at Ticketmaster..  It’s a show many insiders are excited about.

Tickets are also on sale for the Manhattan Theater Club’s revival of Lillian Hellman’s The Little Foxes.  It stars Laura Linney and Cynthia Nixon who will alternate in two of the main roles: Regina Hubbard Giddens and Birdie Hubbard. It begins performances March 29. Tickets are through Telecharge.

Oscar winner Cate Blanchett has a long history of stage performances but mostly in her native Australia. She’s making her Broadway debut in the Sydney Theater Company production of The Present. It’s an adaptation of Chekhov’s first play, Platonov and starts performances Saturday, Dec. 17. Tickets are available through Telecharge.

Tickets are on sale for the limited engagement of the musical Sunset Boulevard starring Glenn Close (the original Broadway Norma Desmond in 1994). It begins performances in February for just 16 weeks. Tickets are available through Ticketmaster.

Previews are underway for A Bronx Tale, a new musical based on the Chazz Palminteri’s book and film. Interestingly, two people are being billed as the director: Broadway veteran Jerry Zaks and Oscar winning actor Robert De Niro. Tickets are available at Telecharge..

Honor for Lamos: Mark Lamos, artistic director of Westport Country Playhouse, received the John Houseman Award presented by off-Broadway’s The Acting Company at a Gala in New York.  Houseman, a well-known director and actor, was the co-founder of The Acting Company. Lamos who also served as artistic director of  Hartford Stage has frequently directed productions for The Acting Company. It’s a well-deserved honor.

Another Wilson Drama: Following the fine production of The Piano Lesson at Hartford Stage, Yale Rep is presenting August Wilson’s Seven Guitars from Friday, Nov. 25 to Saturday, Dec. 17. The play is set in Pittsburgh in 1948 following the death of a local blues guitarist on the verge of stardom. Andre de Shields plays Hedley. For tickets, call 203-432-1234 or visit Yale Rep.

Business Takeover Comedy:  Next up at Long Wharf is the comedy-drama Other People’s Money which began its life in 1988 at Hartford Stage. The show is about a greedy Wall Street businessman who buys a family owned New England factory and the young, attractive lawyer who tries to stop him from closing the company. It runs Wednesday, Nov. 23 to Sunday, Dec. 18. For tickets, visitLong Wharf or call 203-787-4282.

Homecoming: A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder made a triumphant return to Hartford in October when the national tour made a stop at the Bushnell. The show began its life at Hartford Stage before going on to Broadway and winning the Tony for best musical and Darko Tresnjak, the Tony for best musical direction. To make the visit to Hartford even more special, the touring production recouped its investment with its Hartford engagement.

More New York Notes: Indecent which began life at Yale Rep and won the CT. Critics Circle award for outstanding production last year is heading to Broadway with an opening scheduled for this Spring. Surprisingly, it will be the first play by Paula Vogel to appear on Broadway; her other shows have all run off-Broadway, including her Pulitzer Prize winner, How I Learned to Drive. 

Theater on Screen: Since the success of the Metropolitan Opera productions on local film screens, theaters have followed suit including Britain’s National Theater Live productions, the Royal Shakespeare Company and an occasional Broadway show. Fathom Events will present a one-night only screening of the Broadway musical, Allegiance which stars George Takei and tells the story of the Japanese-American relocation. The broadcast will be Tuesday, Dec. 13. For information about local theaters, visit Fathom Events.

 

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

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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.

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John Rapson and cast. Photo by Joan Marcus

 

A Glittery Night for Connecticut Theater

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By Karen Isaacs

 The night after the Tony Awards, Monday, June 13, Connecticut theater celebrated its best and brightest achievements at the Connecticut Critics Circle Awards program at Hartford Stage. Indecent which had its world premiere at Yale Rep last fall was named Outstanding Production of a Play and Anastasia which has just concluded its world premiere at Hartford Stage was named Outstanding Production of a Musical. Indecent is currently playing off-Broadway where it has received rave reviews.

the audience

Photo by Mara Lavitt.

While there was no red carpet – maybe next year – the 26th annual awards program sponsored by the organization that represents many of Connecticut’s print, radio, and other media theater critics – was an exciting event.

Hartford Stage and TheaterWorks co-hosted the event on the Hartford Stage with the set of Anasatsia as background. Tina Fabrique, who has performed throughout the state and just completed a run at Connecticut Repertory Theater, served as emcee.

Throughout the evening, many presenters and winners referred to the shooting in Orlando that had occurred just two days before. All stressed how inclusive, welcoming and supportive the arts and theater are and hoped that they could serve as a model for all the world.

While some winners were working away from Connecticut and could not attend (Darko

Bill Bertone by Mara Lavitt

 Presenter and legendary theatrical animal trainer Bill Berloni with two of his current animal actors Frankie, left, and Trixie, right. Photo by Mara Lavitt.

Tresnjak was in Los Angeles directing an opera), those present not only expressed their gratitude for the awards but also for the supportive environment that Connecticut’s theaters provide and the responsive and welcoming nature of the audiences.

Teren Carter who received the award for Outstanding Featured Actor in a Musical for Memphis at Ivoryton deeply moved the audience as he dedicated the award to a young relative who had just recently been shot and killed in Baltimore. He said that his involvement with theater beginning at 13 may have saved him from a similar end.

In his opening remarks, TheaterWorks Producing Artistic Director Rob Ruggiero, said that while the Tonys were all about Hamilton – the Broadway smash, the evening was going to be all about Anastasia, the Broadway-bound musical that just premiered at Hartford Stage. But while he was correct, if you count the number of nominations and awards it won, many awards and nominations went to other theaters both large and small.

Mohit Gautam debut award by Mara Lavitt

Mohit Gautam – Debut Award.Photo by Mara Lavitt .

In fact, Ivoryton Playhouse was nominated was for 10 awards split between two shows: South Pacific and Memphis. The small Playhouse on Park in West Hartford received five nominations, for Hair and Wit. Music Theater of Connecticut in Norwalk was nominated for Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike and Evita. Co-host TheaterWorks was nominated five times for three different productions: Good People, Third, and The Call.

Yet the “major” theaters were also well-represented.  Goodspeed received five nominations for Anything Goes and La Cage aux Folles. It should also have “reflected glory” for the nominations Long Wharf received for My Paris, which had its first major workshop at the Norma Terris Theater last summer.  Westport Country Playhouse received 10 nominations: Red (5), And a Nightingale Sang (2), Broken Glass (1), Art (1).

But Yale Rep, Long Wharf and Hartford Stage led the way in both nominations and awards.

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Rajesh Bose – Outstanding Actor in a Play. Photo by Mara Lavitt.

Yale had 15 nominations for Indecent (7), The Moors (5), Happy Days (2) and Cymbeline (1). Long Wharf garnered 17 nominations; the most for My Paris (11), with Disgraced (5) and Measure for Measure (1). Eighteen nominations went to Hartford Stage productions: Anastasia (11), Rear Window (4), Body of an American (2), and Romeo & Juliet (2).

The Tom Killen Award for outstanding contribution to Connecticut Theater was presented to Annie O’Keefe.  During her long career she has served as Long Wharf and Westport Country Playhouse, as stage manager, production manager, Artistic Director and more. During the presentation letters were read from actor John Lithgow, former Long Wharf Artistic Director Arvin Brown and Darko Tresjnak,

Anne Keefe by Mara Lavitt

 The 2016 Connecticut Critics Circle Awards. Tom Killen Award recipient Anne Keefe. Photo by Mara Lavitt.

Hartford Stage’s artistic director.

Other award recipients are:

Outstanding director of a play: Rebecca Taichman for Indecent.

Outstanding director of a musical: Darko Tresnjak for Anastasia.

Outstanding actor in a play: Rajesh Bose for Disgraced at Long Wharf Theatre

Outstanding actor in a musical: Bobby Steggert for My Paris at Long Wharf Theatre. Steggert has received several Tony nominations.

Outstanding actress in a play: Erika Rolfsrud for Good People at Hartford’s TheaterWorks.

Outstanding actress in a musical: Christy Altomare for Anastasia.

Outstanding choreography: Peggy Hickey for Anastasia.”

Outstanding ensemble: Indecent.

Outstanding featured actor in a play: Charles Janasz for Romeo and Juliet at Hartford Stage.

Outstanding featured actress in a play: Birgit Huppuch for The Moors at Yale Repertory Theatre.

Teren Carter by Mara Lavitt

Teren Carter, Outstanding Featured Actor in a Musical.Photo by Mara Lavitt.

Outstanding featured actor in a musical: Teren Carter for Memphis at Ivoryton Playhouse.

Outstanding featured actress in a musical: Mara Davi for My Paris.

Outstanding debut: Mohit Gautman for Disgraced” at Long Wharf Theatre

Outsanding set design: Alexander Dodge for Rear Window at Hartford Stage.

Oustanding costume design: (a tie) Linda Cho for Anastasia and Paul Tazewell for My Paris at Long Wharf Theatre. Tazwell had won a Tony Award for his costumes for Hamilton the previous evening.

Outstanding lighting design:  Donald Holder for Anastasia.

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 Outstanding Set Design winner Alexander Dodge. Photo by Mara Lavitt.

Outstanding sound design: Darron L. West for Body of an American for Hartford Stage.

Outstanding projection design: Aaron Rhyne for Anastasia. at Hartford Stage

Special awards were presented to Lisa Gutkin and Aaron Halva, co-composers and co-music directors who created the Klezmer music for Yale Rep’s world premiere of Indecent. A special “Shout Out” was given to Vincent Cardinal who has been artistic director of the Connecticut Rep and department chair at UConn. He is leaving to go to University of Michigan where he will head the Department of Musical Theater.

Among the award presenters were Gov. Dannel F. Malloy and Cathy Malloy, CEO of the Greater Hartford Arts Council, O’Neill Theater Center founder George White, animal trainer Bill Berloni and Tony Award nominee (and Connecticut Critics Circle Award winner) Tony Sheldon, just completing a run at Goodspeed’s Norma Terris Theater in The Roar of the Geasepaint, the Smell of the Crowd.

Musical selections were performed by Tina Fabrique and nominee for South Pacific at Ivoryton (and Connecticut resident and opera star) David Pittsinger. He will be starring in Man of La Mancha at Ivoryton later this summer.

All Connecticut theaters with contracts with Equity, the major stage acting union, are eligible, over 14 theaters from Norwalk New Canaan to Storrs, and East Haddam.

This content is courtesy of Shore Publications and zip06.com

CT Critics Announce Award Nominations

By Karen Isaacs

Anastasia (Hartford Stage), My Paris (Long Wharf), La Cage aux Folles (Goodspeed Musicals), Hair (Playhouse on Park), South Pacific and Memphis (Ivoryton Playhouse) were among the top nominees in the musical and production categories for the Connecticut Critics Circles.

The plays receiving multiple nominations included Disgraced (Long Wharf), Good People (TheaterWorks), Indecent (Yale Rep), Red (Westport Country Playhouse), Happy Days (Yale Rep), The Moors (Yale Rep) and Broken Glass (Westport Country Playhouse.

The award recipients will be announced at the ceremony at Hartford Stage on Monday, June 13 at 7:30 p.m. The ceremony is free and open to the public; the general public can RSVP at hartfordstage.org. For information on the Connecticut Critics Circle Awards, visit ctcritics.org.

The awards recognize outstanding achievements from the state’s 2015-’16 professional theater season by the group comprised of theater critics and writers from the state’s print, radio and on-line media.

Connecticut Critics Circle Awards Nominations 2015-16 Season

Outstanding Production of a Play
Disgraced – Long Wharf Theatre
Good People – TheaterWorks
Happy Days – Yale Rep
Indecent – Yale Rep
Red – Westport Country Playhouse
Outstanding Production of a Musical
Anastasia – Hartford Stage
Hair – Playhouse of Park
La Cage aux Folles – Goodspeed Musicals
My Paris – Long Wharf Theatre
South Pacific – Ivoryton Playhouse
Outstanding Ensemble
Cast of Art – Westport Country Playhouse
Cast of Hair – Playhouse on Park
Cast of Indecent – Yale Repertory Theatre
Cast of Measure for Measure – Long Wharf Theater
Cast of Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike – Music Theatre of Connecticut
Outstanding Director of a Play
Gordon Edelstein – Disgraced – Long Wharf Theatre
Jackson Gay – The Moors – Yale Repertory Theatre
Mark Lamos – Red – Westport Country Playhouse
Rob Ruggiero – Good People – TheaterWorks
Rebecca Taichman – Indecent – Yale Repertory Theatre
Outstanding Director of a Musical
David Edwards – South Pacific – Ivoryton Playhouse
Sean Harris – Hair – Playhouse on Park
Kathleen Marshall – My Paris – Long Wharf Theatre
Rob Ruggiero – La Cage aux Folles – Goodspeed Musicals
Darko Tresnjak – Anastasia – Hartford Stage

Outstanding Actor in a Play
Rajesh Bose – Disgraced – Long Wharf Theatre
Ward Duffy – Good People – TheaterWorks
Conor Hamill – Third – TheaterWorks
Stephen Rowe – Red – Westport Country Playhouse
Steven Skybell – Broken Glass – Westport Country Playhouse

Outstanding Actress in a Play
Felicity Jones – Broken Glass – Westport Country Playhouse
Brenda Meaney – And a Nightingale Sang – Westport Country Playhouse
Elizabeth Lande – Wit – Playhouse on Park
Erika Rolfsrud – Good People – TheaterWorks
Dianne Wiest – Happy Days – Yale Repertory Theatre.
Outstanding Actor in a Musical
Riley Costello – Peter Pan – Connecticut Repertory Theater
Carson Higgins – Memphis – Ivoryton Playhouse
David Pittsinger – South Pacific – Ivoryton Playhouse
Bobby Steggert – My Paris – Long Wharf Theatre
Jamieson Stern – La Cage aux Folles – Goodspeed Musicals

Outstanding Actress in a Musical
Christy Altomare – Anastasia – Hartford Stage
Adrianne Hicks – South Pacific – Ivoryton Playhouse
Renee Jackson – Memphis – Ivoryton Playhouse
Katerina Papacostas – Evita – Music Theatre of Connecticut
Rashidra Scott – Anything Goes – Goodspeed Musicals
Outstanding Featured Actor in a Play
Benim Foster – Disgraced – Long Wharf Theatre
Charles Janasz – Romeo & Juliet – Hartford Stage
Richard Kline – And a Nightingale Sang – Westport Country Playhouse
Michael Rogers – The Call — TheaterWorks
Richard Topol – Indecent – Yale Repertory Theatre
Outstanding Featured Actress in a Play
Shirine Babb – Disgraced – Long Wharf Theatre
Megan Byrne – Good People – TheaterWorks
Kandis Chappell – Romeo & Juliet – Hartford Stage
Birgit Huppuch – The Moors – Yale Repertory Theatre
Jodi Stevens – Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike – Music Theater of Connecticut
Outstanding Featured Actor in a Musical
John Bolton – Anastasia – Hartford Stage
Teren Carter – Memphis – Ivoryton Playhouse
Christopher DeRosa – Evita  – Music Theater of Connecticut
Tom Hewitt – My Paris – Long Wharf Theatre
William Selby – South Pacific – Ivoryton Playhouse

Outstanding Featured Actress in a Musical
Mara Davi – My Paris – Long Wharf Theatre
Caroline O’Connor – Anastasia – Hartford Stage
Mary Beth Peil – Anastasia – Hartford Stage
Patricia Schumann – South Pacific – Ivoryton Playhouse
Jodi Stevens – Legally Blonde – Summer Theatre of New Canaan.
Outstanding Choreography
David Dorfman – Indecent
Peggy Hickey – Anastasia
Kathleen Marshall – My Paris
Todd Underwood – Memphis
Darlene Zoller – Hair
Outstanding Scenic Design
Alexander Dodge – Rear Window
Alexander Dodge – Anastasia
Derek McLane – My Paris
Allen Moyer – Red
Alexander Woodward – The Moors
Outstanding Costume Design
Fabian Fidel Aguilar – The Moors
Linda Cho – Anastasia
Michael McDonald – La Cage aux Folles
Paul Tazewell – My Paris
Outstanding Light Design
Christopher Akerlind – Indecent
Andrew F. Griffin – The Moors
Donald Holder – My Paris
Donald Holder – Anastasia
York Kennedy – Rear Window
Outstanding Sound Design
David Budries – Red
Peter Hylenski – Anastasia
Brian Ronan – My Paris
Jane Shaw – Rear Window
Darron L. West – Body of an American
Outstanding Projection Design
Rasean Davonte Johnson – Cymbeline
Alex Basco Koch – The Body of an American
Sean Nieuwenhuis – Rear Window
Aaron Rhyne – Anastasia
Olivia Sebesky – My Paris

 

“Anastasia” New Musical Has Gorgeous Production Values But Needs Work

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Escaping Russia. Photo by Joan Marcus

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Ghosts of the Past. Photo by Joan Marcus.

By Karen Isaacs

 The last time I saw a world premiere musical at Hartford Stage, I left absolutely entranced. The show was A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder, which became a surprise hit on Broadway and won the Tony for best musical and the direction Tony for Darko Tresnjak.

Another world premiere musical is now at Hartford Stage and its Broadway transfer is already announced. Yet I left Anastasia with more doubts than the last time.

The production is opulent; every aspect of the production will take your breath away. Let’s start with the set by Alexander Dodge. He creates the court of Imperial Russia, Paris, and a wide variety of places in between. Particularly ingenious is his handling of the train on which Anya and her companions ride to escape Communist Russia.

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Mary Beth Peil. Photo by Joan Marcus

Then we can praise the costumes by Linda Cho – the gowns of Imperial Russia and later the gown for the Dowager Empress — are elegant and opulent. But she goes beyond that to create authentic 1920s costumes as well. Her costumes are supplemented by the wig and hair design by Charles G. LaPointe.

Let’s praise the sound design by Peter Hylenski and the lighting by Donald Holder. I marveled at some of the lighting effects Holder achieved including one scene where only Anya is in color.

But the highest praise must go to the video and projection design by Aaron Rhyne. His designs create three-dimensional images of St. Petersburg – the winter palace, the cathedral and so much more – Paris and the various scenes in-between.

Anastasia is billed as “inspired by the 20th Century Fox animated film” from 1997. Lynn Ahrens (lyrics) and Steven Flaherty (music) who wrote the score for that film are still involved and Terrence McNally has written a new book.

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Derek Klena, Christy Altomare, John Bolton. Photo by Joan Marcus

The basic story of Anastasia, the thought that the Tsar’s youngest daughter escaped execution, has been the basis of plays, films and even a musical (Anya) in 1965 for years.  Ingrid Bergman won an Oscar for the role in 1956. It is based on a kernel of truth: there was a search for Anastasia and a number of imposters tried to claim the money. In the 1920’s Anna Anderson, who claimed to be an amnesiac gained notoriety for her claim to be Anastasia. Most of the versions take some elements from her story and the 1952 French play by Marcelle Maurette.

I have never seen the 1997 animated film, but some cursory research reveals that McNally has substantially changed the plot to make it more probable. The basic outline remains the same: we see the royal family before the revolution when the Dowager Empress gives her youngest granddaughter a music box before she leaves for Paris where she lives. The revolution arrives and the royal family is captured and later killed.

Soon we are in the midst of the Communist regime of the mid-1920s. A young woman is sweeping the streets; she has no memory of her past. Two men (Dmitry and Vlad) – both of whom live by their wits — know that the Dowager Empress has offered a reward for finding Anastasia; they decide to look for someone to impersonate the Princess and find the young woman.  In a My Fair Lady like story, they tutor her and groom her so she can pass; occasionally she recounts a memory that surprises them.

They escape Communist Russia and travel to Paris – after some narrow escapes – where they manage to arrange a meeting with the Dowager Empresses’ companion and then the Dowager herself, who has become weary of the parade of imposters. Do you really need for anyone to tell you the ending? It is predictable.

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Christy Altomare. Photo by Joan Marcus.

McNally has added in Gleb, a Soviet bureaucrat whose father was apparently at the execution of the royal family and who is now charged by his bosses with tracking these Anastasia pretenders. That he seems somewhat smitten with Anya/Anastasia adds a dimension to the story.

Only a few of the songs from the film remain in the new musical: the Oscar winning “Journey to the Past,”  “Once Upon a December,” “A Rumor in St. Petersburg,” “Paris Holds the Key” and a couple of others.

The show is packed with songs, many of which are lovely. In addition to the songs from the film, I particularly liked “My Petersburg,” “I Never Should Have Let Them Dance,” “We’ll Go from There,” among others.

Anastasia 8

Photo by Joan Marcus

Certainly Darko Tresnjak’s direction and concept is brilliant. He has his production team create wonderful effects, he transitions the multiple scenes and locations splendidly, gives us ghost-like flashbacks, plus he draws the best from his performers. He is aided by choreographer Peggy Hickey who creates everything from court quadrilles to folk dances and even a ballet.

Most of the performers are also terrific. Mary Beth Peil plays the Dowager Empress with both elegance and touching emotion. Derek Klena is fine as Dmitry but doesn’t really create a three dimensional character until the second act. John Bolton is Vlad, who is part comic figure and part somewhat tragic one. He really scores with the lovely song, “I Never Should Have Let Them Dance.” Manoel Felciano is the villain-like character Gleb. Felciano makes him more than just a villain; there is undercurrent of conflict between his commitment to the Party and his attraction to Anya. Caroline O’Connor plays Lily the Dowager Empress’ companion. She is excellent and brings both pathos and comedy to the part.

Anastasia 5

Manoel Fleciano and Christy Altomare. Photo by Joan Marcus

Christy Altomare has the difficult job of transforming a somewhat typical “Disney princess” into a real woman. She succeed partly, yet I never quite believed in her or even cared about her. She is very effective in her songs, particularly the act one closer “Journey to the Past.”

If so much was right with Anastasia, why wasn’t I totally enchanted? First, the show needs cutting – act one is too long, the comic number “Land of Yesterday” goes on much too long, etc. The humor of that number seems to break the mood of the piece. But the real problem for me was that I never became emotionally involved in the show; I can see My Fair Lady multiple times and always root for Eliza and even the semi-romance with Higgins. Here I wasn’t invested in the show or the characters. They seemed more two-dimensional. Pleasant but not emotionally engaging.

The audience certainly loved it and I oohed and aahed at the costumes, set and projections with the rest of the audience.

My theater companion said the show made her “feel like a princess.”  Right, but more like a Disney princess than a real live person.

I’m sure that before Anastasia opens on Broadway next season, it will be changed and tightened. I’ll even bet that no matter what the critics say, it will attract a delighted audience of women and girls of all ages.

Anastasua is at Hartford Stage, 50 Church St., Hartford through June 12. For tickets visit hartfordstage.org or call 860-527-5151.

Anastasia 1

Photo by Joan Marcus

Anastasia 7

Derek Klena and Christy Altomare. Photo by Joan Marcus.

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