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
It’s a long standing tradition – the Saturday after Thanksgiving, Orchestra New England starts the holiday season with its Colonial Concert. Audience members are transported back to the colonial era where maestro James Sinclair will introduce them to the “latest” European music. This year’s concert, held at United Church on the Green, New Haven is on Saturday, Nov. 25. It will feature a “recent” symphony by Mr. Hayden, as well as a popular French song by Jean-Paul-Egide Maitini. Organist Walden Moor of Trinity Church on the Green is a guest artist. The audience also gets a visit from the wife of the President of the Continental Congress. For tickets visit orchestranewengland.org or call 800-595-4849.
Two ensembles of the New Haven Symphony have planned concerts this season. Holiday Extravaganza features the Pops under the baton of Chelsea Tipton. Guest soloist is Connor Bogart and it always includes a sing-along. Performances are Saturday, Dec. 16 at Hamden Middle School, Sunday, Dec. 17 at Shelton High School and Thursday, Dec. 21 at Woolsey Hall.
The NHSO Brass Quintet will perform with Tony and Grammy Award-nominated Bryce Pinkham on Friday, Dec. 15 at Sacred Heart University and Saturday, Dec. 16 at the First Congregational Church in Madison. Among the selections will be “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” “My Favorite Things,” and Leroy Anderson’s “Sleigh Ride.” For tickets to any of the concerts visit newhavensymphony.org or call 203-865-0831. For the Sacred Heart concert, visit Edgertoncenter.org.
The Hartford Symphony gets into the holiday mood with its Holiday Cirque Spectacular on Saturday, Dec. 18. You enjoy the music by the symphony as you watch the aerialists, contortionists and gymnasts of the world-famous Cirque de la Symphonie. It’s on Saturday, Dec. 16. On Friday, Dec. 8 to Sunday, Dec. 10, the Symphony presents December Dreams which will feature selections from The Nutcracker and William Henry Fry’s Santa Claus (A Christmas Symphony) among other selections. For information and tickets visit hartfordsymphony.org or call 860-987-5900.
Three Bridgeport events are on the calendar. The Vienna Boys Choir is presenting a concert in Bridgeport on Saturday, Dec. 2. For tickets visit theKlein.org or call 800-524-0160. Believe presented by Cirque Musica Holiday with the Greater Bridgeport Symphony is Tuesday, Dec. 12 at the Webster Bank area. Tickets are available at websterbankarena.com. The Symphony is also presenting Holiday Interlude on Saturday, Dec. 16 at the Klein. Selections from The Nutcracker as well as Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 5 and holiday music are on the bill. Tickets are at theKlein.org.
Opera singers and local residents David Pittsinger and Patricia Shuman are in concert at Ivoryton Playhouse, Thursday, Dec. 21 and Friday, Dec. 22. Billed as The Ivoryton Playhouse Christmas Hour with David Pittsinger and Friends, it will feature both classical and popular holiday music. Joining Pittsinger and Shuman are Carly Callahan, Charlie Widmer and Katie Weiser. For ticket visit ivorytonplayhouse.org or call 860-767-7318.
The Kate in Old Saybrook is presenting three holiday themed concerts. On Saturday, Dec. 2 it’s The Drifters – Holiday Magic. The concert includes “Rudolph” as well as their iconic version of “Silent Night.” Elisabeth Von Trapp – granddaughter of the legendary Maria of Sound of Music fame, performs on Sunday, Dec. 3.
The Connecticut Gay Men’s Chorus performs their concert, Twinkle – A Celestial Celebration on Sunday, Dec. 10. It includes the area premier of James Eakin’s “Stargazing.” The group will also present the concert of Saturday, Dec. 16 and Sunday, Dec. 17 at the High School of Performing Arts at 177 College Street, New Haven. Tickets for those shows are available at ctgmc.org or 203-777-2923. For any concert at The Kate, visit katherinhepburntheater.org or call 877-503-1286.
The Blind Boys of Alabama are bringing their Christmas Show featuring the Preservation Hall Legacy Horns on Saturday, Dec. 2. This group has earned five Grammy Awards plus a Lifetime Achievement Award. For ticket visit Shubert.com or call 203-562-5666.
From Tinseltown to Times Square: A Holiday Adventure is the title for the concert by the Hartford Gay Men’s Chorus on Friday to Sunday, Dec. 8 – 10 at the Wadsworth Atheneum’s Aetna Theatre. The concert will feature holiday songs from Broadway and films including How the Grinch Stole Christmas and Elf the Musical. Tickets are at www.tickets.hgmc.org.
In addition, numerous church choirs and community choruses present holiday concerts. You can also expect several performances of The Messiah either in concert or as “sing-alongs”. This includes the sing-along at The Kate on Saturday, Dec. 17.
By Karen Isaacs
Two new Scrooges are gracing Connecticut stages this holiday season. Each will bring takes on the classic character and story of A Christmas Carol.
A new musical version of the story is at Goodspeed Musicals through Sunday, Dec. 24. A Connecticut Christmas Carol is the brainchild of LJ Fecho and Michael O’Flaherty, Goodspeed’s longtime music director.
“We had the idea about two years ago,” O’Flaherty said. “We had done a very silly and fun Pennsylvania Dutch version a few years ago. Larry (the book is written by him) suggested setting it in Connecticut”.
The setting is the Goodspeed Opera House around 1925 and where William Gillette, the famous actor who lived up the river from the Opera House, planning a production of the story.
The unique part of this production – besides a totally original score that O’Flaherty characterizes as “pure musical” – is that the various ghosts are famous Connecticut residents – from Mark Twain, Harriet Beecher Stowe and P. T. Barnum. These three play the ghosts of Christmas Past, Christmas Present and Christmas yet-to-be.
This Scrooge, played by Lenny Volpe (he was Cap’n Andy in Goodspeed’s production of Show Boat) is not an ogre, O’Flaherty said. “We needed someone with strong comedic chops who could pull off the lightness of the ending.”
The show is being presented at Goodspeed’s Terris Theatre in Chester. There’s a number of special events and promotions during the run. For information and tickets, visit Goodspeed.org or call 860-873-8668.
While the production is a favorite of theater goers throughout the state, a new Scrooge is taking over at Hartford Stage. The annual presentation of A Christmas Carol – A Ghost Story of Christmas which runs through Saturday, Dec. 30.
It’s the 20th year for this adaptation by former Artistic Director Michael Wilson; each year it sells out, despite many performances. For most of these twenty years, Scrooge was played by Bill Raymond. But last year, he announced his retirement.
Michael Preston, who had played Mr. Marvel has taken over the part. It’s being staged by Artistic Associate Rachel Alderman. Alderman says this year’s production features some new costumes and new designs. While admitting to some hesitation at taking over from Raymond, Preston said he is looking forward to creating his own interpretation of the classic character.
In addition to all the usual performances, for the fourth year, a sensory-friendly performance is scheduled for Saturday, Dec. 2. Ticket prices are reduced by 50 percent to make the show more accessible for families with autism or other sensory sensitivities. Changes in the production include reductions in jarring Moises or strobe lights and startling effects. In addition house lights are only dimmed, audience members can move about and there is trained staff, volunteers and designated quiet areas and stress relievers available. For information about this performance visit hartfordstage.org/sensory-friendly.
A Christmas Story
One of the first holiday shows is a return visit of the Broadway musical, A Christmas Story, at the Bushnell in Hartford, Friday, Nov. 24 to Sunday, Nov. 26. The musical that had numerous Tony nominations is based on the Jean Shepherd essay which became a classic film. The creative team of Benj Pasek and Justin Paul (Tony Award for Dear Evan Hansen, Academy Award for La La Land), did the music and lyrics. It’s about Ralphie, his desire for a Red Ryder air rifle, and his family in an Indiana town in the 1940s. Though it is a short run, the show is terrific and it will get the holiday season off in a heart-warming but comic way. For tickets visit bushnell.org or call 860-987-5900.
Very few people remember the days when radio aired plays with live studio audiences watching as the actors played multiple parts, carried scripts and presented well works and created reality with the aid of sound effects.
Connecticut resident has adapted two famous Christmas stories into the radio play format. Each has become a holiday tradition, not just in Connecticut but throughout the country.
Ivoryton Playhouse is giving us It’s a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play from Thursday, December 7 to Sunday, Dec. 17. Inspired by the classic American film, five actors, directed by Sasha Bratt, perform the dozens of characters in the radio play as well as produce the sound effects. For tickets visit IvorytonPlayhouse.org or call 860-767-7318.
While you are attending the Playhouse you can also see the Ivoryton Illuminations which runs to Friday, Jan. 5. More than 350,000 lights are throughout the village and on Connecticut’s tallest Christmas tree.
MTC (Music Theatre of Connecticut) gives us the radio play version of A Christmas Carol from Friday, Dec. 1 to Sunday, Dec. 17. Again, you are the studio audience as actors play multiple roles and handle sound effects to create the perfect illusion for the radio audience who would be listening at home. For tickets, contact musictheatreofct.com or call 203-454-3883 MTC is located at 509 Westport Avenue (behind Nine West) in Norwalk.
We all love the cartoon of A Charlie Brown Christmas, but now you can see a live production on stage at the Bushnell. All the favorite Peanuts characters come to life in this all-new touring stage adaptation of Charles M. Schulz’s classic Emmy and Peabody Award-winning animated television special – all set to Vince Guaraldi’s unforgettable music. It runs Friday, Dec. 1 to Sunday, Dec. 3. For tickets visit bushnell.org or call 860-987-5900.
Another well-loved TV cartoon, Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer, makes a stop at New Haven’s Shubert Theatre. The show is new to the city though it played in Hartford for two years. It runs Friday, Dec. 8 to Sunday, Dec. 10. For tickets visit Shubert.com or call 203-562-5666
The holiday season would not be the same without productions of Tchaikovsky’s famed ballet, The Nutcracker.
A very original take on the classic, returns to the Bushnell in Hartford where it wowed audiences last year. That’s The Hip Hop Nutcracker, an evening-length production performed by a supercharged cast of a dozen all-star dancers, DJ and violinist. The press materials says, “Through the spells cast by the mysterious Drosselmeyer, Maria-Clara and her prince, Myron, travel back in time to the moment when her parents first meet in a nightclub. Digital scenery transforms E.T.A. Hoffmann’s story of a palace of sugarplums into a romance set in 1980s Brooklyn. The dance work celebrates love, community and the magic of New Year’s Eve.” It’s at the Bushnell on Sunday, Dec. 17. For tickets contact bushnell.org.
You have your choice of more traditional takes on the classic. The Connecticut Ballet’s production, Saturday, Dec. 16 and Sunday, Dec. 17 is in Stamford and features guest arts from the New York City Ballet and the American Ballet Theatre. For tickets visit palacestamford.org. The Bushnell has the Nutmeg Ballet’s production also on Saturday and Sunday, Dec. 15 and 16. For tickets visit burshnell.org. The New Haven Ballet at the Shubert Theatre features guest artists from major ballet companies. It’s Saturday and Sunday, Dec. 16 and 17. For tickets visit the203-562-5666 or at www.shubert.com.
In addition, The Kate is broadcasting the Bolshoi Ballet’s Nutcracker in high definition on Tuesday, Dec. 19. Toyota Oakdale Theater is presenting The Great Russian Nutcracker on Saturday, Dec. 2. For tickets, call 800-745-3000.
If you are looking for something a little more cynical or adult, you have several choices. The Shubert Theater is presenting The Santaland Diaries based on the essay by David Sedaris. This one person play is about the fictionalized experiences of Sedaris when he worked one Christmas season as an elf at Macy’s – 34th Street Santaland. It runs Friday, Nov. 24 to Sunday, Nov. 26.
TheaterWorks in Hartford is bringing back Christmas on the Rocks for the fifth year. This series of short one-act plays, shows us what all of those famous children from various holidays stories became when they grew up. So we see an adult Ralphie (A Christmas Story), Tim (A Christmas Carol), Clara (The Nutcracker), Charlie Brown (A Charlie Brown Christmas) and more. A new episode this year is based on the children from It’s a Wonderful Life. It runs Tuesday, Nov. 28 through Saturday, Dec. 23. For tickets visit theaterworksHartford.org or call 860-527-7838.
Sister’s Christmas Catechism is also returning to Connecticut stages this year. It’s at Long Wharf Theatre from Tuesday, Dec. 5 to Sunday, Dec. 17. It’s subtitled The Mystery of the Magi’s Gold and Sister uses science, local choirs and some audience members to find out what happened to the gold. There’s lots of audience interaction. For tickets visit longwharf.org or call 203-787-4282.
Playhouse on Park is again presenting what is billed as a “Burlesque Extravaganza,” Mama D’s Christmas Stocking: Where’s Santa? What is it? The press material says it’s a celebration of “all things sexy in an evening of music, dance and comedy.” The material admits “We’re rude, we’re crude and we’re partially nude.” The event is scheduled the weekends of Dec.15-16, 22-23, 29-30 and a special New Year’s Eve show. For tickets or information, visit playhouseonpark.org or call 800-523-5900.
With so many offerings, you are bound to find something that will fit your schedule and your taste.
This content is courtesy of Shore Publication Weeklies and zip06.com
By Karen Isaacs
Watching actors have a terrific time is a delight for an audience. The cast of The Game’s Afoot now at Ivoryton Playhouse through Sunday, Nov. 19 seems to be having a marvelous time.
You will too, just watching them. Ken Ludwig’s play – billed as a comic thriller – takes us back to those Agatha Christie plays (and movies) that don’t always make a lot of sense but keep you involved right up to the end.
This play is set at Gillette’s Castle, that large residence overlooking the Connecticut River in Hadlyme that is now a state tourist attraction. It was built by the well-known actor William Gillette who adapted Sherlock Holmes stories into plays and then toured throughout the county for years playing the great detective. The success of the role helped fund his eccentric home; he hoped the state would care for the property, when he died in 1937.
By the way, Gillette was a distinguished actor, playwright who had his own stage company, knew Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and also held several patents. It was he who popularized the deerstalker hat which is part any Sherlock Holmes costume.
The play is set in his home on Christmas Eve in the mid-twenties. He lives there with his mother and has invited cast members to spend the holiday with them: the ingénue Aggie and the juvenile, Simon; the older acting couple Madge and Felix; and a gossip columnist, Daria.
The play opens at the end of Gillette’s play; at the curtain call of the play, someone fires a shot which wounds Gillette in the arm. The police have not found the shooter.
So we have a classic set-up. A dark and snow night, an isolated location and a group of people who may have unknown motives.
The ante for the tension is upped when the group learns (Gillette had already heard) that the stage doorman had been killed that morning. What is going on?
Playwright Ken Ludwig prefers to gently spoof this genre of murder mystery rather than play it for chills. Let’s just say that after one of the guests is murdered, there are some funny antics about hiding the body. One of the unique features of the castle comes into play.
But mixed into the fun is romance – Simon and Aggie have secretly married though Gillette had fallen in love with her, there’s marital discord between Madge and Felix, plus a séance led by Daria. She is, of course, the nasty, ambitious gossip columnist who has the dirt on everyone and is willing to use it to get what she wants. During the course of the evening, she wants Felix.
After some amusing bits with the telephone operator, Inspector Goring (a woman!) arrives. It’s difficult to know who is doing the investigating – she or Gillette who strongly identifies with his character Holmes. Let’s just say that there are enough motives, accusations and surprises to keep everyone wondering.
Scenic designer Daniel Nischan has created a spectacular set that will remind you of the Castle, if you have every visited it. He did in fact get to tour it before designing the set. It has stone, medieval architecture as well as knight’s armor, and an assortment of old weapons, some of which come into play.
Jacqueline Hubbard has directed a fine cast who seem as though they are truly enjoying themselves. For the most part, they are playing actors who are never “off-stage” and can be outrageous.
It is hard to pick out just a few cast members to praise. Craig MacDonald plays Gillette as a man who is a leader but is also partly deluded. It’s clear he is an actor who enjoys the limelight. But then there is Michael Iannucci and Katrina Ferguson as Felix and Madge, the older actors with both resentment and envy of Gillette, the “star”. Erik Bloomquist (a two time Emmy winner as a director/writer) infuses Simon with a studied casualness that immediately makes you wary of him. Molly Densmore plays Aggie, the ingénue who is not quite as sweet as she appears. Maggie McGlone-Jennings gives us the slightly deluded Martha, Gillette’s mother.
It was nice to see Beverly J. Taylor, longtime associate at the Playhouse in the extravagant role of Daria. She chews the scenery with the best of them. Then of course there is Victoria Bundonis as the Inspector who reminds you of many Inspectors in English mysteries.
The Game’s Afoot is a thoroughly enjoyable though silly evening in the theater that is being performed with expert timing.
It is at Ivoryton Playhouse through Sunday, Nov. 19. For tickets visit Ivoryton Playhouse or call 860-787-7318.
By Karen Isaacs
A 50-ish comedy writer, old by TV standards, returns to Hollywood to resurrect his career. He had been fired due to anger issues, particularly towards the woman executive, and had found writing “serious” plays not financially viable. So he’s back – groveling or almost groveling to the same executive– to get a job writing a TV sitcom, in an industry that views him as a dinosaur.
That’s the set-up for the world premiere musical, I Hate Musicals – the Musical, now at Ivoryton Playhouse through Oct. 15.
But though that is the set-up for the show, the show is really about what happens when the writer, Alvin, gets trapped in concrete in the executive’s office after a major earthquake. His life doesn’t quite flash before his eyes, but he does encounter a number of hallucinations or ghosts from his past including both his “fictional” father and his real father, Jesus Christ and Freud.
It’s written by Mike Reiss, who wrote scripts for The Simpsons for 21 years, collecting four Emmys and a Peabody Award. Recently he has turned to playwriting – presumably not because he needs the money. His comedies – which are somewhat reminiscent of Neil Simon’s early works — include I’m Connecticut which premiere at the Connecticut Repertory Theater and then at Ivoryton, as well Comedy Is Hard, which also was produced at Ivoryton. In a program note, Reiss says the play was originally a non-musical but since no producer would invest the money in a full-scale production; he decided that the best chance was to turn it into a musical.
I Hate Musicals – the Musical is a show that puzzled me. It is part burlesque of many musicals, part satire of Hollywood, television and writing, and occasionally part college show.
Yes, there are some very clever and funny things. At one point Alvin is visited by his father (“Professor”), a pompous man who is a professor of theatrical history at Yale. Professor is constantly critical and cold. But later we meet Alvin’s “real father” who is warm and supportive. When “Professor” questions why he was created, Alvin replies “for dramatic tension.”
He’s also included some funny comments about television’s ability to take a creative idea and convert it to a “knock off” of many shows.
But for every funny and insightful comment there are those that are much less sophisticated. Much of that is in the music. While Walter Murphy composed most of the original music (there’s not that much), most of the actual music in the show – which isn’t listed in the program – are snippets of well-known songs with parody lyrics. Thus we get “I Hate Hollywood” to the tune of “Hooray for Hollywood,” “I Hate LA” to “YMCA,”Garfinkle” to “Goldfinger.” You get the picture.
Most of the cast plays multiple roles. They handle them mostly successfully, particularly since some of the characters are very broadly written. Will Clark plays both “real dad” and Jesus – both with awful wigs. Amanda Huxtable plays all the women – the executive, Alvin’s ex-wife, Mary (yes, the mother of Jesus) and Mom. She manages to inhabit all of them successfully Ryan Knowles is excellent as the Professor. Sam Given plays both a security guard – who keeps finding Alvin stuck in the rubble but letting him know that other, more important people, must be rescued first, as well as Sigmund Freud.
Bruce Connelly has a field day playing Alvin’s agent, Lee, who Alvin keeps calling. Lee is in Hawaii on vacation and keeps forgetting who Alvin is and to call 9-11 so that someone will rescue him.
Stephen Wallem is excellent as Alvin, delivering the lines with assurance and getting all the humor out of them. You actually are convinced he is that beleaguered writer.
I don’t know whether to blame the script or the director (James Valletti) for the numerous extremely flamboyant gay stereotypes that might be funny in small doses but becomes borderline objectionable. A little of that goes a long way.
Special praise to Daniel Nischan as the scenic designer, Marcus Abbott (lighting designer) and Tate R. Burmeister (sound designer). They create a realistic earth quake – actually two; you almost feel the ground shake.
If you really love The Simpsons and that type of humor, you will find I Hate Musicals – the Musical great fun. Even if that is not your favorite of humor, you will find some very funny moments.
It’s at Ivoryton Playhouse, 103 Main Street, Ivoryton through Sunday, Oct.15. Call 860-767-7318 or visit Ivoryton Playhouse
By Karen Isaacs
Disco is alive and well on the stage of Ivoryton Playhouse with its energetic production of Saturday Night Fever through Sunday, Sept. 3.
If you loved the movie, you will enjoy elements of the musical; but be aware that it is much more up-beat than the film and the music has changed significantly.
The 1977 film detailed a sub-culture in Brooklyn of late teens who are caught in dead-end jobs, few prospects and stifling Italian-American and Catholic traditions. They find their release in horsing around, drinking, sex and dancing. Tony, the lead, works in a hardware store as a clerk, lives at home with parents who not only bicker but make him feel as the lesser of their two sons (the other is a priest), and has few opportunities for a better life. But on the weekend he goes to the local disco club where he is king of the dance hall.
While the movie is centered on a dance competition with a $1,000 prize, it also touches on the ethnic/racial unrest, abortion, rape and suicide.
When the movie was rewritten for the stage, it became much less dark. Many of these elements were either removed or softened. It was transformed into a romantic show, about teenage love with a tragic twist for one of the supporting characters.
Since its 1999 debut in London, the show’s score has undergone many revisions and reordering of songs. Most were not in the film.
Director/choreographer Todd L. Underwood has assembled a large cast of mostly younger performers who dance up a storm. He draws on all variations of disco dancing and the hustle. The result is a veritable treasure chest of late ‘70s and ‘80s music.
Most of the music is from the BeeGees library – either written by the Gibbs brothers or from their repertory. It may not go down as classics, but as someone said, it is nostalgic for those who lived through the period. Even if you were listening to variations of hardcore rock, you were aware of these tunes, though you may have made fun of them.
What makes this production so enjoyable is the cast. The three main characters, Tony, Stephanie and Annette are all excellent. Michael Notardonato as Tony has played the role before; he is totally comfortable in the part yet does not give us an imitation of John Travolta’s performance. His walk, talk and dancing convey Tony’s confidence but also hints at his dissatisfaction and ambitions.
Caroline Lellouche plays the blonde Stephanie who Tony is attracted to both for her dancing and her attitude. Lellouche is a terrific dancer and she projects Stephanie’s veneer of sophistication. Yet, I wish there was more hint that some of what she says is not the absolute truth. Stephanie is a girl desperately trying to get out and stay out.
As Annette, the neighborhood girl who so wants Tony to like her, Nora Fox, truly gets underneath this character and shows us all of her contradictions and her desperation.
In the secondary plot, Sarah Mae Banning gives us a sweet and gentle Pauline and Pierre Marals shows us all sides of the confused and trapped Bobby C.
Set designer Martin Scott Machitto has created a backdrop of the Brooklyn Bridge with the bridge supports as a repeated theme. The two sides of Ivoryton’s stage are turned into Tony’s bedroom and the disco’s MC booth. Together with the lighting by Marcus Abbott, it really suggests the urban area.
It may have been where I was sitting, in the balcony, but at times I found it difficult to hear/understand the dialogue, particularly Tony. Was it that the sound was too soft? Was it that he was giving us a Brando-ish mumble? Or was the accent interfering with his ability to project. But it was annoying to not always catch the lines.
This may have been a problem with either the sound design or equipment. Yet for the most part of the lyrics were understandable and the sound did not blast your eardrums.
For the most part the costumes by Lisa Bebey were appropriately disco era, and of course, we had to have Tony’s iconic white suit.
Saturday Night Fever is not a great musical. In toning down some of the harsher elements of the film, it becomes less realistic. Yet for those who recall the film or remember the era, it is an enjoyable evening in the theater.
It runs through Sunday, Sept. 3. For tickets visit ivorytonplayhouse.org or call 860-767-7318.
This content is courtesy of Shore Publications and Zip06.
By Karen Isaacs
If you have never seen the classic musical, West Side Story, then hurry off to Ivoryton Playhouse through July 30 to see its fine production.
Is it perfect? No, but very few productions are. This production has many more plusses than minuses. It illustrates how far this small theater has come over the years that they can pull off this type of show.
In case you don’t know the show – is there anyone who hasn’t seen a production or the movie? – it is an adaptation of Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet set in New York City in the mid-50s. Two teenage gangs are battling for turf — the Jets represent those who have been in the city for a generation – Italians, Polish and other eastern Europeans. The Sharks who are increasing in numbers are newcomers from Puerto Rico.
The two gangs can’t co-exist in the tenement neighborhoods on NY’s west side, many of which will be torn down to make way for the Lincoln Center complex. But just as in Romeo & Juliet, two young people from opposite sides fall in love with tragic results. Tony (a Jet) falls in love with Maria (whose brother leads the Sharks).
What is striking in the show (and discomforting) is the obvious racism of the police, particularly Lt. Schrank who not only uses racial slurs to refer to the Puerto Ricans but who actively encourages the Jets to “force them out.”
The show was created by Leonard Bernstein (music), Stephen Sondheim (lyrics), Arthur Laurents (book) and Jerome Robins (director/choreographer). The show brought a jazzy urban score to Broadway as well as extensive use of dance that incorporated ballet and modern dance.
Ivoryton has assembled a fine cast with Todd L. Underwood as director/choreographer and Michael Morris as musical director.
Mia Pinero is luminous as Maria, a young woman who has recently arrived in the city and is experiencing her first love. She has a lovely voice that can be tremulous when necessary and full of determination at other times. You don’t want to take your eyes off of her.
Stephen Mir as Tony is more problematic. His voice is excellent, yet he sometimes seems to lack the passion called for. Another problem is that he looks very young – I would peg him for 16 or 17 at the oldest. Yet he is supposedly one of the founders (with Rif) of the Jets; he is no longer in school but works fulltime in Doc’s drugstore. As one of the leaders – although he is distancing himself from the gang – he is presumably one of its best fighters. Mir just doesn’t look the role. Conor Robert Fallon as Rif has a more appropriate look.
The two other main roles are Anita and Bernardo. Bernardo is Maria’s older brother and leader of the Sharks and Anita is his girlfriend and thus the leader of the girls. Natalie Madion as Anita is beautiful and dances very well. She projects the self-confidence that Maria is just gaining. Victor Borjas is smooth as Bernardo, but he frankly looks much too old for the part. Bernardo is older than the others but Borjas could pass for early 30s which seems inappropriate for the role. Yet he too carries the singing and dancing well.
The rest of the company is excellent, though sometimes it is hard to differentiate the characters.
Underwood has managed the small Ivoryton stage very well and created dances that draw on Robbins’ choreography while being original. The cast works hard and achieves a lot.
My one quibble is his handling of the song “Somewhere” – it has been staged many different ways and sung by different characters, though most of us remember the film where it was a duet for Tony and Maria. Here the initial chorus is sung by Anita and Anybodys (the young girl who wants desperately be a Jet), with the ensemble joining in before it becomes Tony and Maria’s duet. Many of the ensemble are dressed in white (but not all) so you can wonder if they are angels, ghosts, or what. It was the most distracting part of the show.
Credit must be given to the 10-piece orchestra that is hidden away under the direction of Michael Morris.
Daniel Nischan has created a concrete jungle that can be transformed from a school playground, to the dress shop and drug store where Maria and Tony work and other locations.
Overall the costumes by Elizabeth Cipollina are 50ish. But the men’s hairstyles are not really correct for the period. They need the Elvis look – pompadours, Brill cream, etc. and they don’t have them.
Sound Designer Tate R. Burmeister and lighting designer Marcus Abbott do excellent work. The sound never blares and you can hear the lyrics. The lighting, particularly in the scene under the bridge is exquisite.
West Side Story runs through July 30. Get tickets at Ivoryton Playhouse or call 860-767-7318.
By Karen Isaacs
The gala celebration of Connecticut’s professional theater, co-chaired by Shore Publishing’s own Amy Barry, produced winners from both the largest professional theaters in the state and some of the smaller.
The big winners were The Invisible Hand produced by Westport Country Playhouse and Next to Normal produced by TheaterWorks.
Invisible Hand by Ayah Akhtar won outstanding drama, outstanding director (David Kennedy) and outstanding actor (Eric Bryant). The play is about an American banker who is held hostage in Parkistan; it deals with economics, terrorism and religious fundamentalism.
Next to Normal, the musical about a family dealing with the mother’s bipolar condition received awards as outstanding musical, outstanding director (Rob Ruggiero), outstanding actress (Christiann Noll), outstanding lighting (John Lasiter). Maya Keleher who played the daughter received the debut award.
Special awards were presented to actor Paxton Whitehead for his body of work; he has appeared frequently at Westport Country Playhouse in productions of works by Joe Orton and Alan Ayckbourn. The presentation was made by noted director John Tillinger.
Tillinger also made a brief tribute to playwright A. R. Gurney who died in June. Not only did Gurney live in Connecticut, but many of his works were produced here. Tillinger directed a number of them at Long Wharf and Hartford Stage.
James Lecesne, actor, playwright, novelist and activist was honored for his outreach activities while performing his play The Absolute Brightness of Leonard Pelkey at Hartford Stage this year. Lecense talked about the impact theater can have on audiences and spoke of how it had “saved” him as a gay teenager. Many winners made similar comments on the importance and impact of theater.
The Tom Killen Award for contributions to Connecticut theater (and theater in general) was given to Paulette Haupt who has served as the artistic director of the National Musical Theatre Conference at the O’Neill Center in Waterford since 1978. Among the 120 new musicals she has selected and helped include In the Heights, Nine, Avenue Q and many more. She’s been instrumental in the careers of Lin Manuel Miranda, Maury Yeston, Tom Kitt and others.
Three of Connecticut’s smaller professional theaters – the Summer Theater of New Canaan (STONC), Music Theater of Connecticut (MTC) and Seven Angels Theater in Waterbury were honored. Jon Petersen received the award for outstanding solo performance at Seven Angels as Anthony Newley in He Wrote Good Songs. Peterson was unable to attend because he is starring as the Emcee in the national tour of Cabaret which was in Portland, Oregon.
West Side Story at STONC received awards for outstanding choreography (Doug Shankman) and outstanding actor in a musical (Zach Schanne)
Kate Simone received outstanding featured actor in a musical for her performance as Louise in Gypsy at MTC.
Hartford Stage took home awards for outstanding actress in a play (Vanessa R. Butler) in Queens for a Year, outstanding featured actress in a play (Connecticut resident Mia Dillon) in Cloud 9 and featured actor in a play (Cleavant Derricks) for The Piano Lesson. The theater also received three awards for A Comedy of Errors) – outstanding set design (Darko Tresjnak), outstanding sound design (Jane Shaw) and outstanding costume design (Fabio Toblini).
Rhett Guter who is now in rehearsal as Curly in Goodspeed’s Oklahoma! won outstanding featured actor in a musical for last year’s Bye, Bye Birdie at Goodspeed. He played Birdie.
Long Wharf’s production of Steve Martin’s Meteor Shower received the award for outstanding ensemble.
Among the presenters were Sirius-XM radio’s Broadway channel program director Julie James, producer Patricia Flicker Addiss, Tony-winning set designer Michael Yeargen and two former artistic directors of Connecticut theaters: Michael Wilson of Hartford Stage and Michael Price of Goodspeed Musicals.
Terrence Mann, three time Tony nominee, and artistic director of Connecticut Repertory Theater’s Summer Stage hosted the evening. Bobby Conte Thornton, star of Broadway’s A Bronx Tale provided two terrific songs.
But perhaps the stars of the evening were sisters Ella and Riley Briggs, two adorable young girls with bright futures ahead them. Ella played the young Frances Gumm in Chasing Rainbows last year at Goodspeed and she and Riley were both in Godspeed’s It’s a Wonderful Life.
This content courtesy of Shore Publications and zip06.com.
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
Maya Kelcher (Natalie) Next to Normal TheaterWorks
Dylan Frederick Assassins Yale Rep
Nick Sacks Next to Normal TheaterWorks
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
Michael Commendatore Assassins Yale
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
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
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
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
By Karen Isaacs
A word association: Neil Simon. Many people will think of The Odd Couple and then associate Simon with lots of laughs and one-liners. A good comedy.
If that’s your view of Simon, Biloxi Blues now at Ivoryton Playhouse through May 14 will surprise you.
Yes, there are some humorous situations and some one-liners, but the tone of this play is more serious. It’s part of the Eugene Trilogy that Simon wrote based loosely on his early life. Brighton Beach Memoirs told a family drama of growing up in Brighton Beach in the pre-WWII era. The third play, Broadway Bound tells of his attempts to work in comedy on TV. This middle play, is about his experiences in 1943 in basic training in Biloxi, Mississippi.
Eugene Jerome, the Simon character, is a big city young man who aspires to being a writer; he is keeping a journal. But he is also naïve; he has little experience outside his neighborhood and family; he’s still a virgin and seems to have lived a sheltered life.
The play begins with Eugene and four others traveling by train to basic training in Biloxi. These are all East coast guys. Soon they arrive and quickly meet Sargent Toomey – a longtime army noncom with battle scars to prove it. He is loud, profane and hard driving. He quickly sizes them up as out of shape. They need to be “broken” and put together as a unit that will die for each other. While the others immediately accept that Toomey is to be obeyed, one of them, Arnold Epstein seems unaware. He is the “Jewish intellectual” from Queens, who has decided that he will refuse to allow Toomey and the Army to make him conform. Of course, he is the one that is most attacked by Toomey.
As basic training progresses, another GI, Hennessey joins the group. They finally get a weekend pass and Eugene visits the local prostitute to lose his virginity. He is nervous and anxious and still naïve. He is amazed that she is married (to an Army man) and does this on the weekends; he is astounded that when he visits her again, she doesn’t remember him.
Among the other things that happen is the discovery that one recruit is homosexual, Eugene falls in love for the first time at a USO dance; the young lady is Catholic.
The play ends with them going off in different direction; Eugene tells us what happens to each of them. As to be expected, there is some tragedy and some heroism.
The characters are stereotypical. Wykowski is a not-very-bright, tough guy from Bridgeport; Arnold Epstein is the intellectual and the non-conformist; Carney is an aspiring singer; Selridge is the jokester; and Hennesey is the quiet one.
It is interesting in researching this play to see how it was viewed when it was first produced (there was also a film version). The emphasis was on the laughs. Eugene though the narrator (and played by Matthew Broderick) was not considered the central character; that was Arnold Epstein, who constantly challenges the system and has the lines that most question how Eugene reacts.
The Ivoryton production seems to shift the focus to Eugene, played by Zal Owen. He projects the correct nerdy, naïve attitude for the 19-year-old Eugene. Conor M. Hamill has the muscular, “dumb jock” look and persona as Wykowski. Alex Silberblatt as Epstein at times fades into the background. We can admire him and his ethical/moral stances, but our eyes don’t gravitate to him. The two women – Andee Buccheri as the sweet Daisy and Mora O’Sullivan as the prostitute Rowena – project their contrasting roles in the play: the experienced “older” woman and the naïve young girl.
Director Sasha Brätt has done a good job with keeping the pace moving. The humor has been subjugated to the more serious elements of the play. Glenn David Bassett’s set emulates Quonset buildings, the barracks and the other locations.
In the how times have changed category, it is interesting to note that Ivoryton felt it necessary to include in the program the following: “Offensive language, including racial and ethnic insults, is used in the play.” It refers to the use of swear words as well as insults referring to various ethnicities.
For tickets visit Ivoryton Playhouse or call 860-767-7318.