By Karen Isaacs
It’s the year of Hamilton arriving in Connecticut. That’s the big news.
As ever year, certain productions planned for Connecticut theaters pique my interest. I circle their dates on my calendar in anticipation. Here’s my list for this year.
Connecticut is blessed with an abundance of fine professional theaters – from the major regional companies (Yale Rep, Long Wharf, Hartford Stage, Goodspeed, TheaterWorks, Westport Playhouse) to more locally oriented theaters (Ivoryton Playhouse, Playhouse on Park in West Hartford, Connecticut Repertory Theater at UConn, Sharon Playhouse, Seven Angels in Waterbury, MTC in Norwalk and ACT-CT in Ridgefield). Plus there are the major presenting house that bring in national tours – the Bushnell in Hartford, Shubert in New Haven and the Palace in Waterbury.
One thing I have noticed in the last few years: more and more new plays are being produced while fewer classic works are done. Why? Sometimes it’s easier to get financial support or new works. New works allow theaters to reach out to more diverse audiences and present works by diverse playwrights. Even length may play a role; classic plays tend to be full-length (two plus hours) while modern audiences seems to prefer the 90+ minute play.
So what have I circled for this up-coming year?
(One caveat: Goodspeed, Ivoryton and Westport have not announced their productions for the first half of 2019. I’m sure some of those would have made my list).
Yet, looking back over a similar list I made last summer, some of them did not live up to my expectations and some that I had not circled, were outstanding.
Now Here Are My Most Anticipated Shows
A Chorus Line at Ivoryton closed Sept 2. It is a great show and I hoped they would do it well. They did.
Drowsy Chaperone at Goodspeed (Sept. 21-Nov. 25). This is just a delightful show; it won’t go down in the history of musicals as one of the best, but it is so much fun.
Man of La Mancha at Westport Country Playhouse (Sept. 25 –Oct. 13). It’s not my favorite musical (in fact it wouldn’t make my top 25), BUT Marco Lamos is directing and so that puts it on my list.
The Flamingo Kid at Hartford Stage (May 9 –June 2). This is the last show Darko Tresnjak will direct as artistic director. The brand new musical is aiming for Broadway just as A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder and Anastasia.
Henry V at Hartford Stage (Oct. 11 – Nov. 4). Hartford Stage has a track record of excellent Shakespeare and the play can be interpreted in so many ways. Plus, I like Shakespeare.
Flea in Her Ear at Westport (closed July 28) – I’m a sucker for Feydeau; I knew Mark Lamos would do a bang-up job directing it and I was right on all counts. This was overall a fabulous production.
Dramas & Comedies (New, Familiar & Rare)
Hand to God at TheaterWorks (closed Aug. 26). It was on my list out of curiosity. I didn’t see the show on Broadway and wanted to see why so many critics raved about it. I am not sure I would have.
The Prisoner at Yale Rep (Nov. 2-17). Why? It’s a US Premiere and it’s directed by Peter Brook. Need I say more?
Ripcord at Seven Angels (Nov. 8 – Dec. 2). This comedy about elderly roommates is on my list primarily because playwright David Lindsay-Abaire has written such interesting plays including Rabbit Hole which I loved.
Good Faith at Yale Rep (Feb. 1-23). I’m ambivalent about this world premiere which is based on the case some New Haven firefighters brought claiming civil rights violations. It could be just talking heads, but I hope playwright Karen Hartman can make it much more.
The Touring Shows
Hamilton at the Bushnell (Dec. 11-30). Who wouldn’t circle this show in RED???
Come from Away at the Bushnell (April 30-May 5). It would have won the Tony except for Dear Evan Hansen, it began at the Goodspeed Festival of New Musicals and it is well done. I enjoy the music and the story.
Lion King at the Bushnell (closed Aug. 16) – Amazingly I had never seen it. The concept and execution was terrific, but once is enough.
These selections are just the tip of the iceberg. Many of the other scheduled productions, sound very interesting. So check them all out. Connecticut has amazing theater!
(Revised from a press release)
Hartford Stage’s world premiere of “The Age of Innocence” and Goodspeed’s “Oklahoma!” led the shows nominated for the 28th annual Connecticut Critics Circle Awards. Yale Rep’s production of “Native Son,” Goodspeed’s production of “Rags,” and “Diary of Anne Frank” at Playhouse on Park also received numerous nominations.
The awards event, which celebrates the best in professional theater in the state, will be held Monday, June 11 at 7:30 p.m. at the Westport Country Playhouse. Jenn Harris and Matthew Wilkas, stars of TheaterWorks holiday comedy perennial “Christmas on the Rocks,” will be masters of ceremony for the event which is free and open to the public.
“The Age of Innocence” earned eight nominations, including outstanding play, director and lead actor and three featured actresses, costumes and lighting while “Oklahoma!” received a total of seven nods, including best musical, director, lead actress and actor and featured actress and actor and choreography.
Other outstanding play nominees are: Yale Repertory Theater’s productions of “An Enemy of the People” and “Father Comes Home From the Wars, Parts 1, 2 and 3.” Other nominees included Long Wharf Theatre’s “The Chosen” and the world premiere of “Fireflies” and West Hartford’s Playhouse on Park production of “The Diary of Anne Frank.”
Also earning outstanding musical nods are Goodspeed’s “Rags,” Connecticut Repertory Theater’s “1776,” Seven Angels Theatre’s “Million Dollar Quartet,” and “Fun Home,” Music Theater of Connecticut.
Receiving the annual Tom Killen Award for lifetime achievement in Connectiocut theater will be Michael O’Flaherty, longtime music director at Goodspeed Musicals.
Receiving special awards this year are New London’s Flock Theater for its production of “Long Day’s Journey Into Night” at the Monte Cristo Cottage, the boyhood home of Eugene ONeill; the Broadway Method Academy of Fairfield; and Billy Bivona, who composed and performed original music for TheaterWork’s production of “Constellations.”
Receiving an award for solo performance will be Elizabeth Stahlmann who starred in Westport Country Playhouse’s “Grounded.”
Other nominees are:
Actor in a play: Reg Rogers, “An Enemy of the People,” Yale Repertory Theatre; Jerod Haynes, “Native Son,” Yale Repertory Theatre; Jamison Stern, “The Legend of Georgia McBride,” TheaterWorks; Boyd Gaines, “The Age of Innocence,” Hartford Stage; Daniel Chung, “Office Hour,” Long Wharf Theatre.
Actress in a play: Jackie Chung, “Office Hour,” Long Wharf Theatre; Isabelle Barbier, “The Diary of Anne Frank,” Playhouse on Park; Mia Dillon, “Seder,” Hartford Stage; Jane Alexander, “Fireflies,” Long Wharf Theatre; Cecelia Riddett, “The Revisionist,” Playhouse on Park.
Actor in a musical: Jamie LaVerdiere, “1776,” Connecticut Repertory Theatre; Rhett Guter, “Oklahoma!,” Goodspeed Musicals; Jim Schubin, “Newsies,” Connecticut Repertory Theatre; David Pittsinger, “The Fantasticks,” Ivoryton Playhouse; Michael Notardonato, “Saturday Night Fever,” Ivoryton Playhouse.
Actress in a musical: Samantha Massell, “Rags,” Goodspeed Musicals; Mia Pinero, “West Side Story,” Ivoryton Playhouse; Juliet Lambert Pratt, “The Bridges of Madison County,” Music Theatre of Connecticut; Samantha Bruce, “Oklahoma!,” Goodspeed Musicals; Annabelle Fox, “Singin’ in the Rain,” Summer Theatre of New Canaan.
Director of a play: James Bundy, “An Enemy of the People,” Yale Repertory Theatre; Seret Scott, “Native Son,” Yale Repertory Theatre; Ezra Barnes, “The Diary of Anne Frank,” Playhouse on Park; Eric Ort, “The Wolves,” TheaterWorks; Doug Hughes, “The Age of Innocence,” Hartford Stage.
Director of a musical: Terrence Mann, “1776,” Connecticut Repertory Theatre; Jenn Thompson, “Oklahoma!,” Goodspeed Musicals; Kevin Connors, “Fun Home,” Music Theatre of Connecticut; Rob Ruggiero, “Rags,” Goodspeed Musicals; Brian Feehan, “The Fantasticks,” Ivoryton Playhouse.
Choreography: Katie Spelman, “Oklahoma! ,” Goodspeed Musicals; Christopher d’Amboise, “Newsies,” Connecticut Repertory Theatre; Kelli Barclay, “The Will Rogers Follies,” Goodspeed Musicals; Todd L. Underwood, “Saturday Night Fever,” Ivoryton Playhouse
Ensemble: Cast of “Avenue Q” (Weston Chandler Long, James Fairchild, Ashley Brooke, Peej Mele, E J Zimmerman, Abena Mensah-Bonsu and Colleen Welsh ), Playhouse on Park; Cast of “The Wolves” (Shannon Keegan, Claire Saunders, Dea Julien, Carolyn Cutillo, Emily Murphy, Caitlin Zoz, Rachel Caplan, Olivia Hoffman, Karla Gallegos, Megan Byrne), TheaterWorks; Cast of “The Chosen” (Ben Edelman, George Guidall, Steven Skybell, Max Wolkowitz) Long Wharf Theatre; Cast of “The Game’s Afoot” (Erik Bloomquist, Victoria Bundonis, Molly Densmore, Katrina Ferguson, Michael Iannucci, Craig MacDonald, Maggie McGlone-Jennings, Beverly J. Taylor), Ivoryton Playhouse.
Featured actor in a play: James Cusati-Moyer, “Kiss,” Yale Repertory Theatre;
Peter Francis James, “Romeo and Juliet,” Westport Country Playhouse; Tom Pecinka, “Father Comes Home from the Wars, Parts 1, 2 & 3,” Yale Repertory Theatre; Dan Hiatt, “Father Comes Home from the Wars, Parts 1, 2 & 3,” Yale Repertory Theatre; Jason Bowen, “Native Son,” Yale Repertory Theatre
Featured actress in a play: Judith Ivy, “Fireflies,” Long Wharf Theatre; Darrie Lawrence, “The Age of Innocence,” Hartford Stage; Carly Polistina, “The Crucible,” Connecticut Repertory Theatre; Sierra Boggess, “The Age of Innocence,” Hartford Stage; Helen Cespedes, “The Age of Innocence,” Hartford Stage
Featured actor in a musical: Matt Faucher, “Oklahoma!,” Goodspeed Musicals; Joe Callahan, “Million Dollar Quartet,” Ivoryton Playhouse; Sean MacLaughlin, “Rags,” Goodspeed Musicals; David Garrison, “The Will Rogers Follies,” Goodspeed Musicals; Cory Candelet, “The Fantasticks,” Ivoryton Playhouse.
Features actress in a musical: Jodi Stevens, “Singin’ in the Rain,” Summer Theater of New Canaan; Gizel Jimenez, “Oklahoma!” Goodspeed Musicals; Nora Fox, “Saturday Night Fever,” Ivoryton Playhouse; Megan O’Callaghan, “Fun Home,” Music Theatre of Connecticut; Kimberly Immanuel, “The Fantasticks,” Ivoryton Playhouse.
Projection design: Yana Birykova, “Grounded,”Westport Country Playhouse; Luke Cantarella, “Rags,” Goodspeed Musicals; Lucas Clopton & Darron Alley, “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” Hartford Stage; Wladimiro A. Woyno R., “Kiss,” Yale Repertory Theatre.
Set design: Emona Stoykova, “An Enemy of the People,” Yale Repertory Theatre; Alexander Dodge, “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” Hartford Stage; Andrew Boyce, “Appropriate,” Westport Country Playhouse; David Lewis, “The Diary of Anne Frank,” Playhouse on Park; Martin Scott Marchitto, “The Fantasticks.” ,Ivoryton Playhouse
Costume design: Linda Cho, “Rags,” Goodspeed Musicals’ Linda Cho, “The Age of Innocence,” Hartford Stage; Joshua Pearson, “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” Hartford Stage; Fabian Fidel Aguilar, “Romeo & Juliet,” Westport Country Playhouse; Leon Dobkowski, “The Legend of Georgia McBride,” TheaterWorks.
Lighting design: Ben Stanton, “The Age of Innocence,” Hartford Stage; Michael Chybowski, “1776,” Connecticut Repertory Theatre; Stephen Strawbridge, “Native Son,” Yale Repertory Theatre; Matthew Richards, “Appropriate,” Westport Country Playhouse; Yi Zhao, “Father Comes Home from the Wars, Parts 1, 2 & 3,”Yale Repertory Theatre.
Sound design: Frederick Kennedy, “Native Son,” Yale Repertory Theatre; Kate Marvin, “Grounded,” Westport Country Playhouse; Fitz Patton; “Appropriate,” Westport Country Playhouse; Jane Shaw, “A Lesson from Aloes,” Hartford Stage; Robert Kaplowitz, “Office Hour,” Long Wharf Theatre.
Debut: Shannon Keegan, “The Wolves,” TheaterWorks; Megan O’Callaghan, “The Bridges of Madison County” and “Fun Home,” Music Theatre of Connecticut; Noah Kierserman, “Newsies,” Connecticut Repertory Theatre.
DIRECTIONS: Westport Country Playhouse is at 25 Powers Court in Westport, just off Route (Exits 17 or 18 off I-91 brings you to Rt. 1.) www.westportplayhouse.org.
By Karen Isaacs
Next to Normal at TheaterWorks.
You could criticize practically nothing in this production. Rob Ruggiero cast it brilliantly with Christiane Noll, David Harris, Maya Keleher (in her professional debut), Nick Sacks and John Cardoza. Ruggiero used the aisles to add to the intimacy; it was remarkable.
A Midsummer Night’s Dream at Hartford Stage
This Shakespeare play is done so often, it is easy to say “oh no, not again.” But Darko Tresjnak’s production was outstanding. He balanced all the elements and did not let any one of the multiple plots overtake others. His handling of the play put on by “the mechanicals” at the ends was terrific.
Fireflies at Long Wharf
Jane Alexander, Judith Ivy and Denis Ardnt gave touching performances, creating real people in this sweet romance about an older, retired school teacher, her nosy next store neighbor, a drifter. Gordon Edelstein kept it moving and preventedit from becoming saccharine.
Rags at Goodspeed
This story of Jewish immigrants on the lower east side of New York was completely revamped for this production: extensive revisions of the book, lyrics and songs. The result wasn’t perfect but with Rob Ruggiero’s sensitive direction, this show touched the heart.
The Absolute Brightness of Leonard Plekey at Hartford Stage
This may have been a touring show, but James Lecesne not only was brilliant in turning his novel into a one actor play but did so much outreach in the community on the issues of teens facing bullying due to sexual orientation.
Diary of Ann Frank at Playhouse on Park
David Lewis made full use of the large and sometimes awkward stage area to create the attic in which the Franks and others hid for many years. Director Ezra Barnes cast the show almost perfectly from Isabelle Barbier as Anne to the entire ensemble. It was touching and real.
A Comedy of Errors at Hartford Stage
It is perhaps Shakespeare’s silliest play and director Darko Tresnjak emphasizes it beginning with his own colorful Mediterranean village set, a canal with real water and more. Who cares if the lines sometimes gets lost in the process?
Seder at Hartford Stage
How do you survive in a repressive regime? How do you make others, who have not lived through it, understand your choices? That was at the heart of this new play which thoroughly engaged me. Plus it had Mia Dillion once again showing her skills.
Wolves at TheaterWork
Wolves was a sensitive and insightful look into both the world of girls’ sports (in this case a soccer team) but also into the society that teenagers create for themselves. Though a few of the young actresses looked a little too old, we become totally engaged in them and their lives.
The Games Afoot at Ivoryton
Sometimes just seeing actors have a great time with a so-so play is more than enough. That was the case in this comic thriller by Ken Ludwig. It succeeded because of director Jacqueline Hubbard, set designer Daniel Nischan and a cast that just had fun.
The runners up
“Trav’lin’ –the 1920s Harlem Musical at Seven Angels.
It may not be a great musical, but this show introduced me to a lesser known composer – J. C. Johnson who wrote “This Joint is Jumpin’” and many others. The plot is simplistic but the cast was wonderful.
Noises Off at Connecticut Repertory Theater
My favorite farce got a fine production this summer with some inventive touches by director Vincent J. Cardinal, terrific casting and timing that was just about perfect.
Million Dollar Quartet at Ivoryton
This show lives and dies on the quality of the performers and here Ivoryton Playhouse and executive director Jacqui Hubbard hit the jackpot. All six of the major performers are experienced and the four “legends” have all played their roles before.
The Bridges of Madison County at MTC
The music is glorious and Kevin Connors created a production that worked very well on his three sided stage. While the chemistry didn’t seem to be there, musically the cast was strong.
The Great Tchaikovsky at Hartford Stage
Hershey Felder combines his talents as pianist, actor and director to create shows about the lives for well-known popular and classical composers. This show about Tchaikovsky was a delight.
Heartbreak House at Hartford Stage
Darko Tresnjak directed this version of Shaw’s masterpiece. It might have made the top ten BUT for one decision that Tresnjak made: he decided to make Boss Mangan a Donald Trump look/act alike. The similarity would have been recognizable without it and it distracted from the play.
Endgame at Long Wharf
Samuel Beckett writes difficult plays requiring an audience to understand his pessimistic world view and his abstract characters and plots. Gordon Edelstein directed a production that may not have been definitive but gave us outstanding performances by Reg E. Cathey, Brian Dennehy and Joe Grifasi.
Biloxi Blues at Ivoryton
This Neil Simon play, part of the Eugene trilogy got a fine production directed by Sasha Bratt that focused less on the laughs and more on the situation.
Native Son at Yale Rep
This production boasted a terrific performance by Jerod Haynes as Bigger, an urbanset by Ryan Emens and jazzy sounds by Frederick Kennedy that produced a taut, film noir feel to this story about race and prejudice.
Romeo & Juliet at Westport Country Playhouse
Mark Lamos, who is a fine director of Shakespeare gave us a pared down version of this classic tragedy that featured some fine performances – including Nicole Rodenburg as Juliet, Felicity Jones Latta as the Nurse, and Peter Francis James as Friar Lawrence, plus a magical set by Michael Yeargan. Lamos emphasized the youth and energy.
West Side Story at Ivoryton
This production had many more plusses – Mia Pinero as Maria, Natalie Madion as Anita, good direction by Todd L. Underwood – than minuses.
By Karen Isaacs
Goodspeed Musicals is presenting, for the first time, the classic musical Oklahoma! through Sept. 27.
As usual with Goodspeed, this production of Oklahoma! is good, perhaps even very good, but it has some major flaws..
Oklahoma! was the first Rodgers & Hammerstein musical and has been acknowledged as beginning the new “golden age” of musicals that led to Carousel, King & I, South Pacific, My Fair Lady and so many more.
It takes place at the turn of the 20th century, as Oklahoma is moving from territory status to statehood. (It became a state in 1907). We have the farmers and the ranchers in a precarious truce; farmers fence land the ranchers want to use and roaming herds destroy crops.
This is exemplified in the stories: we have cowboy Curley wooing Laurey, a young woman who owns a farmer. (It is never explained how a young woman came to own the land). Even the secondary plot about Ado Annie and Will has the same situation.
Curly and Laurey’s romance is somewhat typical: boy and girl spar, she is sought by another man, and eventually they marry before the final curtain. Ado Annie and Will are the comic counterparts. She is a little “loose” with her attentions and Will seems to not always use common sense. There’s even a third man, the traveling salesman Hakim.
What made Oklahoma! different from musicals that came before it, is the darker element that is developed through the character of Jud, the farmhand. He is bitter and dangerous, and fixated on Laurey.
Rodgers & Hammerstein wrote glorious melodies for the show, from the opening number (“Oh What a Beautiful Mornin’”) to “People Will Say We’re in Love,” “Out of My Dreams” plus the humorous “Kansas City,” “I Cain’t Say No” and the rousing title tune. In addition, Agnes de Mille created a dream/nightmare ballet to end the first act.
Every director will have his or her own approach to classic musicals. Jenn Thompson obviously has a point of view about this show which has influenced her casting and her handling of the material. Unfortunately, her point of view is not that clear; I suspect I know what she was going for, but I’m far from sure.
No matter what her point of view, she made a major casting error with Rhett Guter as Curly. He was terrific in the Goodspeed production of Bye, Bye Birdie directed by Thompson last year, but I doubt anyone, looking at him, would identify him as a cowboy. He doesn’t have the rugged, masculine look that the role requires.
It is not just his looks that aren’t quite right. His voice lacks the heft the role requires. He uses a light baritone most of the time, only showing some force with the title number. He both looks, sounds and acts like a freshman in college.
This is magnified by the excellence of Samantha Bruce as Laurey. Not only does she sing magnificently with a soprano that soars when needed, but her acting illustrates the complexities of Laurey – a young, still maturing girl in love for the first time, but one who also is managing a farm successfully. It’s clear who should be the decision maker in this relationship.
Gizel Jiménez as Ado Annie has the opposite problem from Guter: she looks and acts way
more mature than the 17-year-old she is supposed to be. Annie, having grown up on a farm, knows about the birds and the bees and sees no reason to inhibit herself; but she should not be brazen. Instead, she needs to be a little naïve and a little dumb. As she played here, she seems more like a “brazen hussy.”
As Ado Annie’s beau, Jake Swain endows Will Parker with a goofy charm that makes you like him. He shows off his fine voice in “Kansas City” and “All Er Nuthin.’”
Jud Fry, the villain of the piece must create a sense of evil or strangeness without overdoing it. He is the “loner” who is keeping tally of the slights and hurts that have accumulated over the years. Matt Faucher does an excellent job with the role; plus, his deep baritone is terrific.
The dream ballet can be problematic. It is rare that the actors/singers for Curley and Laurey can do the dance moves necessary, and it drains their energy. I’ve een productions where there is “Dream Laurey” and a “Dream Curley” and ones where Laurey dances the role. In this production, Madison Turner is the talented dancer who is the “Dream Laurey” and she is excellent. Rhettt Guter does his own dancing as Curley. He was quite good.
Choreographer Katie Spelman has created not only the ballet, but production numbers that draw on the athleticism of the cowboys and the western dance traditions.
The scenic design by Wilson Chin and the costume design by Tracy Christensen are very good. At times the lighting design by Philip S. Rosenberg is obvious. When the lyric is “many a red sun” the lights goes pinkish.
Director Jenn Thompson did many things right in this production including making extensive use of the aisle. But she also at times went for the gratuitous, easy laugh.
If you’ve never seen this classic and even if you have, I still recommend you getting tickets. It may not be the definite, perfect production, but it is a very good one.
For tickets, visit Goodspeed.
By Karen Isaacs
One of the highlights of the symposiums on Saturday, Jan. 14, presented as part of the Goodspeed Festival of New Musicals will be the conversation by Jack Viertel with theater writer and critic Frank Rizzo.
Viertel’s book, The Secret Life of the American Musical is a must read for musical theater fans. In it, he draws on his years of experience as a critic, producer and teacher at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts, to dissect what makes the some musicals great and others also-rans.
“I wrote the book because whenever I gave a talk to lay people about musical theater, they would also ask when would I write a book. So, six or seven years ago, I started writing,” Viertel said. It is based on the teaching he did at NYU for theater professionals who wanted to become writers of musicals –lyricists, composers or book writers.
He has developed a series of what he calls “patterns” that are present in all outstanding musicals. He said that these patterns are still necessary if today’s shows. “They aren’t being broken,” he said. “They’re being up-dated and rethought for a different world.”
“We’re in a period of tremendous vitality for musicals,” Viertel said and pointed to Hamilton, the recently opened Dear Evan Hansen and the off-Broadway The Band’s Visit as three examples. “The new writers have different approaches to telling a story.”
When a musical fails there can be a number of reason, Viertel said. “It isn’t engaging enough, maybe the story doesn’t need to be musicalized, the writers haven’t found the key to tell the story or musicalizing it, or sometimes all the elements just aren’t good enough.”
Viertel is the artistic director of the Encore! series at City Center and senior vice president of Jujamcyn Theaters.
But the conversation with Viertel is just one of many symposiums that day. For those interested in the backstage life of a musical, Chris Zaccardi will share stories on a stage manager’s life. He will be the stage manager for the revival of Hello, Dolly! this spring. Gillian Lane-Plescia will demonstrate the techniques she uses to help actors with accents and dialects. Tony winning lighting designer Ken Billington will also be featured.
Jayna Neagle and Elizabeth Shumate will share experiences in bringing Cirque Soleil’s first musical Paramour to Broadway. Michael Rubinoff, one of the producers of Come from Away which began life at the Festival and opens on Broadway this spring, talks about the journey that show has taken.
Sean Cercone will share insights about the process of acquiring performance rights and licensing of material including bring stories from the big screen to the stage. He is senior vice president of new musical development for Theatrical Rights Worldwide.
The symposiums are open to Festival gold package ticket holders. For information, contact goodspeed.org or call 860-873-8668.
By Karen Isaacs
Chasing Rianbows the Road to Oz is a rare thing for Goodspeed – a new musical.
Recently the new musicals on the main stage have been adaptations of well-known films — It’s a Wonderful Life and last year Holiday Inn which is now on Broadway. It did not even have a workshop at their Terris Theater in Chester though some of its development was at the Johnny Mercer Writing Colony at Goodspeed.
Chasing Rainbows, running through Nov. 27, is a must for all Judy Garland and Wizard of Oz fans. It tells the story of Judy’s rise from her beginnings in Minnesota with her mother, father and two older sisters who all perform (the three sisters were known as The Gumm Sisters), to her early struggles in Hollywood and finally her casting as Dorothy.
It is poignant not just because Judy’s childhood was not ideal — though not unloving or abusive — but because we all know the later part of her life. So we cringe when her mother and others tell her she isn’t pretty, or when the studio offers pills to help her lose weight. We know what is to come.
The show opens with the family performing in Grand Rapids, Minnesota in 1928 where the family owns a movie theater with vaudeville acts; soon the “young” Judy — who looks about 5– and her sisters morph into their older selves. They leave Minnesota for Hollywood under mysterious circumstances that later become clear. From the presence of the town folk and police as they leave, it seems as though they are being run out of town. But why?
They settle in eastern California where Judy’s father, Frank has purchased a rundown movie theater. We are now in the early ‘30s — the depression is raging and soon Mom feels stifled in the small town so she takes the girls and heads to Hollywood. The plan is for Judy to get a movie contract and help support the family.
Somehow Judy ends up in a studio school where she meets the teenage boy who will be renamed Mickey Rooney and others. Competition is rampant; Judy hasn’t succeeded at getting anywhere so Mom finds an engagement at the Chicago World’s Fair of 1933. The engagement is a bust BUT they get booked at the Oriental Theater where headliner George Jessel “discovers” Judy — still at this point Frances Gumm – and gives her the last name of Garland.
Back in Hollywood, Judy gets to sing at a black tie party thanks to Mickey where she catches the attention of a composer/pianist and L.G. Mayer’s powerful secretary. It leads to a contract.
Act 2 finds Judy under contract but not being used except to sing on the radio. L. B. Mayer didn’t like her looks – not glamorous or conventionally beautiful – and her adult sounding voice. She was barely in her early teens; too old for the cure kids roles and not ready for romantic lead roles. She was the “girl next door,” but the thought was that movie audiences didn’t want the girl-next-door, they wanted unobtainable girls.
Her big break comes when she sings at a studio bash to celebrate Clark Gable’s birthday; Judy sings the special arrangement and lyrics for “You Made Me Love You”. Soon there is talk of using her in The Wizard of Oz. The rest is history, though the show concludes with Judy convincing Mayer that the blonde wig and glamourous clothes that were planned for Dorothy were all wrong. During this time, her father move in with the family – the movie theater was a bust and there was another incident due to the father’s attraction to men. He dies while Judy is performing on the radio.
Music for the show comes from the MGM catalogue and of course, includes iconic songs from The Wizard of Oz. But not all the songs are familiar; many are more obscure songs that were used in various movies by the studio. The range of composers and lyricists is a “Who’s Who” of Hollywood talent – Arthur Freed, Walter Donaldson, Jimmy McHugh, Dorothy Fields, Harold Arlen, Hoagy Carmichael, Rodgers and Hart – as well as lesser knowns. The music has been adapted and arranged by David Libby.
The show was conceived by Tina Marie Casamento Libby, a Garland and Hollywood musical aficionado who worked with book writer Marc Acito with help from John Fricke, who is billed as creative consultant/historian; he has authored a number of books and articles about Garland. As with any fictionalized work, some events have been changed and some characters changed.
Any show about Judy Garland, lives and dies with the actress playing the role. It is a
difficult task because she was an iconic, larger-than-life performer who is etched in almost everyone’s memory. Ruby Rakos has that nearly impossible job and in many ways she succeeds admirably. She captures a great deal of the qualities that made Garland’s voice unique without giving us an imitation of her. Rakos’ real problem is more about size. Garland was petit in height, barely 5 feet tall. Rakos is taller. So though in much of the show she is supposed to be preteen or early teens, she appears much older. When at one point, her mother mentions Judy is just 13, it was a surprise; she looked mid to late teens.
Rakos is surrounded by a talented cast, many of whom play multiple roles. Kevin Earley plays Garland’s father with a hint of the conflicted man who struggles to succeed and to be himself. It is he who first sings “I’m Always Chasing Rainbow” in the first act and he scores with his rendition. Later he and Rakos get “I Can’t Give You Anything but Love.” He has a clear light baritone voice.
Sally Wilfert plays Garland’s mother, Ethel. Ethel can remind you of Mama Rose with her determination and bluntness; she is determined but you also see her love for her husband, despite his troubles.
Michael Wartella is Mickey Rooney and is certainly captures Rooney’s brashness and talent – Wartella sings and dances very well; but again he is too tall for the role. Many members of the cast play multiple roles such as Gary Milner who plays both Jessel but the composer/pianist who takes Judy under his wing at MGM. I must also mention Karen Mason who is Mayer’s starchy secretary who convinces him to give a Judy a contract and then plots to get her roles. Michael McCormick brings humor role to Mayer who was, as many Hollywood studio heads were, for his non-sequitors.
As with any jukebox musical, and this is basically what Chasing Rainbows is, in the mode of Jersey Boys and Mama Mia!, sometimes the songs feel forced into the plot – either the lyrics or the emotion don’t quite fit the characters or plot. Many of the lesser known songs selected are not well known for a reason – they are not just that interesting or memorable.
As is usual with Goodspeed productions, all elements from the orchestra to the set design which has to suggest numerous locations, lighting, costumes and sound are top notch. Also excellent is the choreography by Chris Bailey and the direction by Tyne Rafaeli.
Chasing Rainbows is not yet a finished product and it is hard to guess what its future will be. From the program insert, changes have already been made during its run and Goodspeed and more will continue to be. It is a must show for all Garland fans; for others it may depend on your interest in obscure movie musical songs and the “becoming a star” format.
It is a Goodspeed through Nov. 27. For tickets visit goodspeed.org or call 860-873-8668.
By Karen Isaacs
Each year as I start to think about the upcoming theater season in Connecticut, certain productions jump out at me. Some revivals, new plays or cast/production teams seem to guarantee an exciting evening in the theater.
So, let me tell you about the productions that most excite me, listed by dates.
This summer has already given us some productions that I was anticipating with pleasure – most of them delivered including Bye, Bye Birdie at Goodspeed, The Invisible Hand at Westport, and Rent at Ivoryton though that might have been better.
Joe Orton’s comedies may be not for everyone, but they definitely are for me and Westport Country Playhouse has proved it knows how to do them – particularly when John Tillinger is directing. Add in Paxton Whitehead and What the Butler Saw (Aug. 23-Sept. 10) should be a laugh fest.
Man of La Mancha has had only an occasional production in the last few years. While it is not one of my top ten favorite musicals, I am looking forward to the Ivoryton production (Sept. 7 – Oct. 2) in part because David Pittsinger has a magnificent voice for the part.
Goodspeed is presenting another new musical in its third slot this year. Chasing Rainbows (Sept. 16-Nov. 27) has potential, so I’m interested. It combines the making of The Wizard of Oz and the early life of Judy Garland.
Steve Martin writes quirky, humorous plays: I’m looking forward to the world premiere of his latest, Meteor Shower at Long Wharf, Sept. 28-Oct. 23.
I’m also anticipating Yale’s opening production; a new play by Sarah Ruhl’s Scenes from Court Life or the whipping boy and his prince (Sept. 30 –Oct. 22) about Charles I and II of England AND Jeb and George W. Bush.
Mark Lamos directing a musical is a formula for success. Plus, I have fond memories of Camelot since I saw the original production. So I’m looking forward to Lamos’ reimagined production at Westport (Oct. 4 -30).
I see potential in Tenderly: The Rosemary Clooney Story also at Ivoryton (Oct. 26 – Nov. 13). It’s billed as not just a juke-box musical; its success will depend on the quality of the book based on Clooney’s life.
I’ve seen Hartford Stage’s production of A Christmas Carol: A Ghost Story of Christmas multiple times; but I will see it again this year, Nov. 26 – Dec. 31.
Brien Dennehy and John Douglas Thompson – two fine actors are bringing Samuel Beckett’s existential classic Endgame to Long Wharf, Jan. 4 – Feb. 5. This will be a must see.
Combine Shakespeare, in this case the raucous A Comedy of Errors and director Darko Tresnjak and I will definitely want to attend. It’s at Hartford Stage, Jan. 12 –Feb. 12.
Another world premiere that sounds interesting is at Long Wharf, Feb. 15-March 12. Napoli Brooklyn is a co-production with NYC’s Roundabout Theater.
Yale always has an interesting season. This year I’ve circled the Stephen Sondheim/John Weidman Assassins, March 17-April 8; it is a fascinating musical that I’ve seen several times and want to see again.
End of the Rainbow. Judy Garland is a beloved performer whose life was marred by drugs, alcohol and tragedy. This play looks at her later years; it won acclaim in London and Broadway; if a terrific actress plays Judy, this should be compelling. (MTC – April 7-23).
Broadway saw Shufflin’ Along the story of a 1920’s African American musical last season; now Seven Angels is bringing Trav’lin – the 1930s Harlem Musical to Connecticut, May 11-June 11. It features music and lyrics by Harlem Renaissance composer J. C. Johnson; I know little about him but he wrote “The Joint Is Jumpin’” among his works recorded by Billie Holiday, Bessie Smith, the Boswell Sisters and others.
I love George Bernard Shaw and his plays have recently not been done enough in Connecticut. So I’m delighted that Darko Tresnjak is directing Shaw’s Saint Joan, May 11 – June 11, at Hartford..
Connecticut theater goers will be blessed with productions of two of August Wilson’s plays. The Piano Lesson which premiered at Yale will be at Hartford Stage, Oct. 13-Nov. 13. Yale Rep will present Seven Guitars, Nov. 25 –Dec. 17.
But just about every play on Yale’s and Hartford Stage’s schedule sounds interesting.
Touring productions are in a different category. A number of award winning productions will play Connecticut this year, including:
Tony winning A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder is at the Bushnell, Oct. 25-30. If you didn’t see its birth at Hartford Stage, and I did as well as on Broadway, see it again.
In fact the entire Bushnell season looks great – I loved An American in Paris, Nov. 15-20; The King and I, May 30-June 4, won the Tony for best revival and the play The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, Dec. 27-Jan. 1 is magnificent.
I’m also looking forward to Elf the Musical at the Shubert, Dec. 20 -24. This stage version of the classic movie has a delightful score.
I’m sure that other productions will pleasantly surprise me. I’m constantly amazed at how excellent theater in Connecticut is. And unfortunately some of the things I am most looking forward to will disappoint me.
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.
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
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.
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.
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,
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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
By Karen Isaacs
Cole Porter’s classic Anything Goes, now at Goodspeed in East Haddam through June 16, even in its original version featured so many classic songs and so much fun that it has been revived numerous times. That it had never made it to Goodspeed is somewhat surprising.
A 1962 off-Broadway revival of the show brought attention once again to it; that production started the trend of interpolating classic Porter songs from other musicals. It was the 1987 revival at Lincoln Center that put the show on the theatrical map. It featured a revised book, re-ordered songs and starred Patti LuPone and Howard McGillan. From then on, it has had multiple worldwide productions. In 2011, Sutton Foster won a Tony for starring in the most recent revival that also featured Joel Grey.
All of these outstanding productions, and the memories from either seeing them live (as I saw the 2011 revival) or hearing them on CD, sets a very high standard for any production. Goodspeed also has reputation for producing excellent work, so it too causes an audience to expect an almost perfect production.
I wish I could say that this production meets these expectations. It is professional, overall well sung, danced, acted, and yet, it falls short.
It is the type of production that audiences will enjoy, but those more knowledgeable will find numerous flaws with it; not enough to spoil the experience, but to leave them wishing it were better.
The story is a typical silly plot of the 1930s. Aboard a ship sailing to England are a variety of passengers: Reno Sweeney, a nightclub evangelist; Billy Crocker a young Wall Street assistant; Elisha J. Whitney – an aging Yale alumni and millionaire who employs Billy; a debutante – Hope Harcourt; her mother; her fiancé, Lord Evelyn Oakleigh; and for the comedy an on-the-lam criminal (Public Enemy #13) Moonface Martin and man-loving Erma, the girlfriend of Snake Eyes Johnson, Public Enemy #1 who has gotten left ashore.
The complications include Billy stowing away and masquerading as Snake Eyes and is arrested:; ruses to keep Elisha from knowing Billy is on board (he was supposed to go to Wall Street and sell some shares); Billy pursuing Hope who is only marrying Evelyn because her mother insists they need the money; Reno attracted to first Billy and then Evelyn. In fact, the complications are on-going.
But in reality the plot is there for humor, exposition and to keep the songs coming. From the original show these include the title song, “Blow, Gabriel, Blow,” “I Get a Kick Out of You,” and “All Through the Night.” The current production has added (as did the most recent revivals) such Porter classics as “You’re the Top,” “Easy to Love,” “Friendship,” “It’s De-Lovely,” and “Goodbye, Little Dream, Goodbye.”
Rashidra Scott is a terrific Reno Sweeney. She sings, dances and carries the comedy well. This is a show that demands a dynamite leading lady and Scott delivers. David Harris plays Billy with the right amount of brash youth, mooning young love and cunning. Hannah Florence is the debutante who loves Billy but is following her mother’s insistence of the marriage to the English lord due to diminishing family wealth. Again, she sings nicely but the chemistry between the two is lacking. Are these characters truly attracted to each other? I didn’t believe it.
While individual performances are good, the balance of the show seems off and chemistry among the cast members is also missing.
The balance issue is most obvious with Stephen DeRosa as Moonface Martin. DeRosa is a
gifted comic actor but here he hijacks the show. Too often, when your attention should be on another major character, he has a bit of business that diverts your eyes. Often the bits aren’t that funny, as in a couple references to Connecticut towns in the duet “Friendship” with Reno. Director Daniel Goldstein needed to rein him in. Yet he scores with his one solo number “Be Like the Bluebird”.
No other supporting cast member overdoes it to the extent DeRosa does. The other major comic role is that of the English Lord, Sir Evelyn Oakleigh. Benjamin Howes is fine and handles his one song, “The Gypsy in Me” effectively.
With the more minor characters I have some quibbles in the casting or interpretation. Why is it necessary for the purser to be played as such a gay stereotype? Why is Elisha J. Whitney, the alcoholic, Yale grad played with a southern drawl? I have to admit that the outstanding performance by John McMartin as Whitney in the last revival has set a high standard.
Even the scenic design – the deck of a ship – by Wilson Chin – seemed to cause problems. First, though it may be an optical illusion, that the small Goodspeed playing area was even less deep than usual. The placement of the orchestra on the top deck limited the area up there that could be used.
The costumes by Ilona Somogyi were terrific. The lighting by Brian Tovar and the sound by Jay Hilton were also excellent.
Kelli Barclay choreographed the show which always features terrific tap numbers in the title tune and “Blow, Gabriel, Blow.” I do wish there had been one or two more women in the chorus.
Director Daniel Goldstein does a good job yet some of his decisions kept this from being the “top” show you would like it to be.
Anything Goes is at Goodspeed in East Haddam through June 16. For tickets contact goodspeed.org or call 860-873-8668.