Tag Archives: Ivoryton Playhouse

Ivoryton’s “West Side Story” Is Fine Production

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Photo by Anne Hudson

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.

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Mia Pinero and Stephen Mir. Photo by Anne Hudson

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.

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Victor Borjas and Natalie Madion. Photo by Jonanthan Steele

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.

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Photo by Jonanthan Steele

Connecticut’s Smaller Theater Well Represented at Awards Ceremony

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Rob Ruggierio and the cast of Next to Normal. Photo by Mara Lavitt

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.

Complete list of nominees and winners.

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Karen Ziemba, Andre de Shields and me.

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

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Next to Normal. Photo by T. Charles Erickson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Other nominees are:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2017 Nominations List

 

Outstanding Solo Performance

Jodi Stevens                I’ll Eat You Last                     MTC

Jon Peterson                He Wrote Good Songs           7 Angels

Outstanding Debut

Maya Kelcher (Natalie)           Next to Normal           TheaterWorks

Dylan Frederick                      Assassins                     Yale Rep

Nick Sacks                              Next to Normal           TheaterWorks

Outstanding Ensemble

Cast of…                                Smart People                           Long Wharf

Cast of…                                Trav’lin                                    7 Angels

Cast of…                                Meteor Shower                       Long Wharf

Cast of…                                Assassins                                 Yale

Cast of…                                The 39 Steps                           Ivoryton

Outstanding Projections

 Michael Commendatore          Assassins                                 Yale

Outstanding Sound

Jane Shaw                               Comedy of Errors                   Hartford Stage

Fan Zhang                               Seven Guitars                          Yale

Shane Retig                             Scenes From Court Life          Yale

Karin Graybash                       Piano Lesson                           Hartford Stage

Fitz Patton                              Invisible Hand                        Westport

Outstanding Costume Design

Ilona Somogyi                         Heartbreak House                   Hartford Stage

Marina Draghici                      Scenes from Court Life          Yale

Lisa Steier                               Rockin’ the Forest                  Playhouse on Park

Fabio Toblini                           Comedy of Errors                   Hartford Stage

Gregory Gale                          Modern Millie                         Goodspeed

Outstanding Lighting

Matthew Richards                  Invisible Hand                        Westport

Yi Zhao                                   Assassins                                 Yale

John Lasiter                             Next to Normal                       TheaterWorks

Matthew Richards                  Comedy of Errors                   Hartford Stage

Christopher Bell                      A Moon for the Misbegotten  Playhouse on Park

Outstanding Set Design

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

Wilson Chin                            Next to Normal                       TheaterWorks

Adam Rigg                             The Invisible Hand                 Westport

Darko Tresnjak                        The Comedy of Errors            Hartford Stage

Outstanding Choreography

Denis Jones                             Modern Millie                         Goodspeed

Chris Bailey                            Chasing Rainbows                  Goodspeed

Doug Shankman                     West Side Story                      STONC

Patricia Wilcox                        Bye Bye Birdie                       Goodspeed

Darlene Zoller                         Rockin’ the Forest                  Playhouse on Park

Outstanding Featured Actor – Musical

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

Edward Watts (Trevor)           Modern Millie                         Goodspeed

John Cardoza (Gabe)              Next to Normal                       TheaterWorks

Jonny Wexler (Action)            West Side Story                      STONC

Rhett Guter (Birdie)               Bye Bye Birdie                       Goodspeed

Michael Wartella                     Chasing Rainbows                  Goodspeed

Outstanding Featured Actress – Musical

Maya Keleher (Natalie)           Next to Normal                       TheaterWorks

Jodi Stevens (Secretary/Mazeppa)      Gypsy                          MTC

Katie Stewart (Anita)             West Side Story                      STONC

Kristine Zbornik (Mother)      Bye, Bye Birdie                      Goodspeed

Kate Simone (Louise)             Gypsy                                      MTC

Outstanding Featured Actress – Play

Miriam Silverman (Brianne/Chaya)    Mary Jane                    Yale

Rachel Leslie (Vera)               Seven Guitars                          Yale

Antoinette Crowe-Legacy (Ruby) Seven Guitars                  Yale

Mia Dillon                               Cloud 9                                   Hartford Stage

Christina Pumariega (Tina)     Napoli, Brooklyn                    Long Wharf

Outstanding Featured Actor – Play

Jameal Ali (Dar)                      The Invisible Hand                 Westport

Andre De Shields Headley)    Seven Guitars                          Yale

Cleavant Derricks                   Piano lesson                            Hartford Stage

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

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

 Outstanding Director – Musical

Rob Ruggiero                          Next to Normal                       TheaterWorks

David Edwards                       Man of La Mancha                 Ivoryton

Melody Libonati                     West Side Story                      STONC

Jenn Thompson                       Bye Bye Birdie                       Goodspeed

Kevin Connors                        Gypsy                                      MTC

Outstanding Director – Play

Darko Tresnjak                        The Comedy of Errors            Hartford Stage

David Kennedy                      The Invisible Hand                 Westport

Marc Bruni                              Other People’s Money            Long Wharf

Tracy Brigden                         Midsummer                             TheaterWorks

Gordon Edelstein                    Meteor Shower                       Long Wharf

Outstanding Actor – Musical

Robert Sean Leonard (Arthur)  Camelot                                Westport

Riley Costello (Finch)             How to Succeed…                 CRT

David Harris (Dan)                 Next to Normal                       TheaterWorks

David Pittsinger (Don Q)       Man of La Mancha                 Ivoryton

Zach Schanne (Tony)              West Side Story                      STONC

Outstanding Actress – Musical

Ruby Rakos (Judy)                 Chasing Rainbows                  Goodspeed

Christiane Noll (Diana)           Next to Normal                       TheaterWorks

Julia Paladino (Maria)             West Side Story                      STONC

Karen Ziemba (Rose)              Gypsy                                      Sharon Playhouse

Talia Thiesfield (Aldonza)      Man of La Mancha                 Ivoryton

Outstanding Actor – Play

Tom Pecinka (Betty/Edward) Cloud 9                                   Hartford Stage

Michael Doherty (Black Stache) Peter and the…                  CRT

Eric Bryant (prisoner) Invisible Hand                        Westport

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

Scott McLean (Bob) Midsummer… TheaterWorks

Outstanding Actress – Play

Emily Donohe                         Mary Jane                                Yale

Semina DeLaurentis (Gracie)  George & Gracie                     7 Angels

Ashlie Atkinson (Imogen)      Imogen Says Nothing             Yale

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

Rebecca Hart (Helena)            Midsummer                             TheaterWorks

Outstanding Production – Musical

Assassins                                 Yale

Next to Normal                       TheaterWorks

Man of La Mancha                 Ivoryton

West Side Story                      STONC

Bye Bye Birdie                       Goodspeed

Outstanding Production – Play

The Comedy of Errors            Hartford Stage

Midsummer (a play with songs) TheaterWorks

Scenes From Court Life          Yale

The Invisible Hand                 Westport

Mary Jane                                Yale

Ivoryton’s “Biloxi Blues” Downplays the Comedy

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.

Great Music and Good Performances Highlight Ivoryton’s My Way

My Way

Photo by Ann Hudson

By Karen Isaacs

 Combine four talented singers/performers, a terrific musical trio backing them up and a truckload of classic American popular songs, and you have the formula for a very enjoyable evening in the theater.

My Way: A Musical Tribute to Frank Sinatra, now at Ivoryton Playhouse through Sunday, April 9, is exactly that. Practically all music.

So why quibble that most of the songs could be in a review honoring Peggy Lee, Fred Astaire or Judy Garland? They are great songs.

First of all you will find all the Sinatra standards from the ‘50s on up: “Strangers in the Night,” “Love and Marriage,” “All the Way,” “That’s Life,” “New York, New York” and more. Even some of the less worthy numbers are included. So the Capital and Reprise years are well represented.

Since Sinatra recorded over 1300 songs, not all are identified solely or mainly with Sinatra. The classic songs of Irving Berlin, Cole Porter and Jerome Kern may remind you of other performers.

But that doesn’t detract from the enjoyment of the show.  My one quibble is that very few of Sinatra’s early hits – those that came during his stint with the Big Bands, Tommy Dorsey and Harry James – are included. These songs such as “Oh Look at Me Now,” “Polka Dots and Moonbeams,” “Everything Happens to Me,” could have replaced some of the songs less specifically identified with Sinatra. Also missing are some of the big hits from early in his solo career – “Saturday Night Is the Loneliest Night of the Week,” “I Couldn’t Sleep a Wink Last Night” and many others.

But the songs included are worth it.

The show was created by David Grapes and Todd Olson, who wrote the minimal dialogue that ties the various song segments together. Sometimes it seems forced with attempts at humor and other times it simply drops interesting factoids about Sinatra.

The songs are grouped in various categories – from Broadway, to a city medley, a young love medley, a moon medley and others, ending, appropriately enough, with a “Survivor’s Medley,”

The four performers do not attempt to imitate Sinatra, though the two men do adopt a few of his more famous gestures, including how he wore his hat.

Instead each segment allows each performer a solo number plus an occasional duet or quartet. Each segment also includes a dance interlude of some sort. The performers do attempt to create characters for their songs, but they are necessarily limited.

The success of this show depends on the performers, director/choreographer and musical director. Here Ivoryton has found talented people.

The show is directed and choreographed by Joyce Chittick and Rick Faugno, who appeared at Ivoryton in Fingers and Toes. Faugno is a talented dancer who, with Vanessa Sonon, does most of the dances.

Lauren Gire and Sonon are the two women in the cast. Gire plays a slightly older, more sophisticated person with a ladylike demeanor. Her voice has a richness that is welcome in her songs. Sonon, projects a livelier demeanor and a more humorous manner.

Faugno has a light baritone/tenor voice that works well with the variety of music and contrasts nicely to Josh Powell’s richer, deeper baritone.

The four change off into various combinations: Powell, Faugno and Gire are terrific in “Here’s to the Losers” and Powell and Sonon are great in “You Make Me Feel So Young.”

I particularly liked the quartet in “Indian Summer” and “Dream” – one of the few songs from the big band era.

The set by William Russell Stark gives a cocktail lounge/bar to the left leaving much of the stage available for both singing and dancing. The costumes recall the 1950s; white dinner jackets for the men in the first act and tuxes in the second. The women wear short cocktail dresses – one very bouffant—in the first act and long gowns in the second. I only wished the white dinner jacket that Powell wore, fitted him better. Christopher Hoyt handled the lighting, creating various moods and sound designer Tate R. Burmeister did a good job balancing the combo the rear of the stage with the singers.

Special praise must be given to musical director Andy Hudson and his fellow combo members — Matt McCauley on bass and Gary Ribchinsky on drums.

My Way is tuneful evening of theater well performed by this talented group. You will enjoy it.

It is at Ivoryton Playhouse, 103 Main Street, Ivoryton, through Sunday, April 9. For tickets call 860-767-7318 or visit ivorytonplayhouse.org.

This content is courtesy Shore Publications and ziip06.com

New Plays by Women Will Get Productions at Ivoryton Playhouse’s First Women’s Playwrights Imitative

ivoryton-playhouse-front-2015_editedBy Karen Isaacs

 Politics, love, betrayal, power and powerlessness, redemption, coming of age, motherhood. These and more were the subjects of plays submitted for the new Ivoryton Playhouse Women’s Playwright Initative.

Ivoryton Playhouse is undertaking the new program to help women playwrights develop new works.  As Jacqui Hubbard, the Playhouse’s artistic director said, developing new plays was “something I always wanted to do.” She added that the typical Ivoryton audience is more comfortable with more familiar works.

The idea of the women’s initiative came because she believed that women often feel a need for empowerment.  She had recently met with Laura Copland, a former actress, college professor/administrator and a lawyer who recently relocated to Ivoryton, and discussed ways Copland could become involved. From that meeting, the Women’s Initiative was born.

“We thought it would be a good idea, so we put out a call for submissions through the League of Professional Theatre Women and the call was quickly spread,” she said.

While Hubbard and Copland, the newly appointed director of play development at the Playhouse, expected maybe 20 or 30 submissions and mostly from nearby, they were amazed when 183 scripts arrived. They came from all over the country – and Canada and even one from Israel.

Copeland said she read every single script. In addition to her reading the scripts, a group of actors, other playwrights, directors, critics and other theater professionals were each asked to read between 5 and 20 scripts.

The 183 scripts were finally narrowed down to 14 finalists, Copland said. A final selection committee read the finalists and chose the four plays that will be rehearsed and presented, Friday March 3 and Saturday March 4. The final committee included Copland; Hubbard; Ivoryton box office manager Sue McCann; director, theatre critic and academic Brooks Appelbaum and Margaret McGlone Jennings, a director, teacher and actor.

Due to limitations of time and funding, Huibbad said, there are two one-act plays and two very short plays (10-20 minutes). “We had really almost no money for the expenses of this initiative.” They were unable even to provide travel money for the playwrights to attend; yet, Hubbard said, all four are attending, one from California.

In addition to the subjects mentioned above, Copland said, the submissions dealt with “Beauty, aging, sex, sexuality, the military, need and yearning. The passion rippling through all these works was astonishing. Reading them was a gift.”

This first iteration of the initiative will include one week of rehearsal for each play, workshops for the playwrights plus a semi-stage reading of the work in front of a live audience. In addition, there will be “talk-back” after the performances so the audience can provide more feedback to the playwrights.

Lauren Yarger, critic and co-founder of the newly formed Connecticut chapter of the League of Professional Theater Women, has organized a panel discussion for Saturday, March 4 prior to the evening’s productions. The panel will feature a discussion with the four women whose works were selected for the iniatitive.

Moderating the panel discussion is Shellen Lubin, co-president of the Women in the Arts & Media, as well as vice president for programming for the League of Professional Theater Women. Lubin who has extensive experience as a director, songwriter/playwright, and vocal/acting coach, will be directing one of the plays.

Brooks Appelbaum, PhD who is both a member of the Quinnipiac University English Dept., stage director and theater critic, served on the final selection committee and will direct one of the plays.

She said that of the group of plays she read, some “shared the overtly feminist theme of women who were oppressed. Others were female-centered comedies.”  But she added while the themes varied, most contained “strong female characters.”

Directors applied and were selected to direct. Open auditions were held to find actors for the various roles.

Appelbaum will direct Apple Season, one of the two one-act plays presented. The play by Ellen Lewis from California. Copland described the play as “to make arrangements for her father’s funeral, Lissie returns to the family farm she and her brother fled 26 years ago. Billy, a neighbor and school friend, comes by with an offer to buy the farm. As memories, needs and passions are stirred, we learn what happened to the siblings as children, and of Lissie’s startling price for the farm.”

“What immediately drew me to the play was the subtle delicacy with which the playwright handled the plot’s disturbing elements and the beautiful theatricality she employs in revealing, through flashbacks, the characters’ struggles at different ages,” Applebaum said.

She went on to say that this one of the few scripts she read that pulled her in immediately. “I forgot I was reading to assess it; I was completely in the Apple Season world.”

While it is not a finished work, Applebaum said the play “is, to my mind, at the perfect stage for a workshop such as ours. All the important script elements are in place.”

Apple Season will be the longer piece on Friday, March 3. The shorter play is Guenevere by Susan Cinoman. Copland described that play thusly: “Guenevere and Arthur are best friends—a fierce competitor, she always bests him in sword fights. What will be the outcome when confronted with Excalibur in the stone?”

“My play is the first part of a full length play called, Guenevere  about a  fictional character of my own, inspired by the Arthurian legends. In my play, Guenevere pulls the sword from the stone, and though entitled to the leadership of England, she must overcome many obstacles to try to claim her place,” Cinoman said. “It’s something of a political allegory but also a personal story about love and sacrifice. And comedy.”

Like most of the playwrights attending, Cinemon, who lives in Woodbridge, hopes to get ideas for the play’s development.  She has extensive writing credits writing plays, films and for TV (The Goldbergs). The play will be directed by Hannah Simms who works with HartBeat in Hartford.

On Saturday, March 4, the evening will open with Buck Naked by Gloria Bond Clunie directed by Lubin. This works is described: “Two daughters are thrown into a tizzy when they discover, Lily, the 60+ year-old mother has decided to spice up life by tending her backyard garden, au naturel!”

Clunie who is travelling from Illinois, also have extensive credits as well as multiple awards.

The final work will be Intake by Margot Lasher. It is described as “an arrogant young psychiatrist meets and 80 year-old woman for what he assumes will be a routine examination. During the course of their relationship, he comes to realize how little he knows; as she reveals her deep love and understand of her two aging dogs, both doctor and patient learn about life, love and hope.”

Lasher is from Vermont. Her play will be directed by Sasha Batt, literary manager of West Hartford’s Playhouse on Park.

Tickets are available for each evening or a package for both days. Call the box office at 860-767-7318 to book the 2-day pass. Individual evening tickets can be purchased at ivorytonplayhouse.org.  Each evening begins at 7 p.m.

This content is courtesy of Shore Publications and Zip06ivoryton-playhouse-front-2015_edited

Sentimental, Classical, Cynical – Connecticut Offers Holiday Performances and Concerts for All Ages and Tastes

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It’s Bill Raymond’s last year as Scrooge at Hartford Stage.  Photo by T. Charles Erickson.

By Karen Isaacs

 How do you like your holiday entertainment?  Sentimental? Serious? Classical?  Popular? Young child-friendly?  Cynical?

You can find performances that will entertain you no matter how you answered the questions. Connecticut’s varied theater and musical venues are offering a wide variety of events suitable for all ages and tastes.

The Classics

Just as A Christmas Story and White Christmas are among the classic holiday films, you are bound to see on TV, A Christmas Carol, The Nutcracker and The Messiah are classics of theater and music.

The most famous production of A Christmas Carol is the one that has been enchanting audiences at Hartford Stage for 19 years. It runs Friday, Nov. 25 through Friday, Dec. 30. This production which breaks box office records every year was adapted and originally directed by then Artistic Director Michael Wilson. He brought it from Fort Worth/Dallas when he arrived in Hartford and it has been a smash ever since. This production is official called – A Christmas Carol—A Ghost Story of Christmas. It features lots of ghosts – not just Marley – and they fly around the stage. It also features music of the period, but this is NOT a musical. Many of the cast members have returned year after year.

Bill Raymond has announced that this is his last year as Scrooge. As Michael Wilson has said, “Bill Raymond and I created Hartford Stage’s A Christmas Carol together 19 years ago.  He has, for 17 of the last 19 years, put his inimitable, distinctive mark on one of the greatest characters of English literature.  He joins actors such as Lionel Barrymore, Alistair Sims, Albert Finney and George C. Scott in an elite club of extraordinary actors who have left their indelible mark on Dickens’ classic story of redemption and grace.”

Each year the cast is joined by area children and students from the University of Hartford’s Hartt School. The show is recommended for children eight and older, though my granddaughters were about six when they started seeing it. The ghosts can be scary, so use your own judgement.

As part of the production, Holiday Market Days are held before specific Saturday and Sunday matinees. Local artisans offer unique gift items for sale in the lobby between 12:30 and 2 p.m.

For information contact Hartford Stage or call 860-527-5151.

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Elm City Girls Choir

Handel’s The Messiah is the most famous piece of classical holiday music. While many groups perform it during the holiday season, the New Haven Symphony together with the Christ Church Choir will offer four performances conducted by Maestro William Boughton.  The performances kick off on Thursday, Dec. 15 at Woolsey Hall in New Haven. At that performance there will concession sales and other features that raise money for the New Haven Community Soup Kitchen. Additional performances are Friday, Dec. 16 at Sacred Heart University Chapel, Fairfield; Saturday, Dec. 17 at the First Congregational Church, Madison; and Sunday, Dec. 18 at the Performing Arts Center at Middletown High School. Tickets and information are available New Haven Symphony or 203-865-0831.

The Kate in Old Saybrook will present the Annual Handel “Messiah” Sing (or Listen!) on Sunday, Dec. 18. The professional soloists and the chorus of talented singers conduct a sing-a-long for everyone. Or you can just listen. Contact The Kate or 877-503-1286 for information and tickets.

The Nutcracker is the classic holiday ballet and many dance groups offer their versions of it. New Haven Ballet presents its production of the Tchaikovsky classic at the Shubert Theater from Friday, Dec. 9 to Sunday, Dec. 11. It features students from the Ballet and live music by the Ballet Orchestra. Guest artists from major ballet companies dance as the Sugar Plum Fairy and her Cavalier.

If those dates or location aren’t convenient, the Nutmeg Ballet will present its production at the Bushnell Theater in Hartford on Saturday and Sunday, Dec. 17 and 18. The cast includes professional trainees from the Nutmeg Conservatory of the Arts. Visit The Bushnell.

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The Hip Hop Nutcracker

Would you like to see a more irreverent take on The Nutcracker? The Bushnell is presenting The Hip-Hop Nutcracker which is described as a holiday mash-up of the classic. There’s a DJ, a violinist, dancers and Kurtis Blow as the special guest MC. It’s on Sunday, Dec. 4. Visit The Bushnell.

The Kate is also presenting the Bolshoi Ballet’s Nutcracker on its HD screen on Sunday, Dec. 17.

For Younger Children

 Younger children (from 3 to 8 or 9) may get restless at a full-length production that is 2 hours or more even if it has an intermission. But rest assured, Connecticut’s performing venues have not forgotten them during the holidays. And while these may be ideal for children, they often pleasures for the adults accompanying them.

downtown-cabaret-frostyBridgeport’s Downtown Cabaret Theater has had a well-respected children’s theater that runs year around for decades. It is geared to children below pre-teen age and has the added benefit that it is set up as a cabaret: round tables and you can either purchase or bring food and drink that will help keep younger kids occupied. For the holiday season the theater will offer its take on Frosty, the Snowman which runs through Thursday, Dec. 29. Tickets are quite reasonable but many weekend dates sell out early. For tickets visit Downtown Cabaret or call 203-576-1636.

A little farther afield, Westport Country Playhouse is presenting A Very Electric Christmas produced by the Lightwire Theatre on Sunday, Dec. 18. As the press materials the show includes “timeless holiday hit tunes by Nat King Cole, Mariah Carey, Tchaikovsky, and more.  Santa’s helpers are putting the final touches on presents as a young bird finds himself lost at the North Pole.  As he makes his way home, he meets dancing poinsettias, Nutcracker soldiers, and other festive characters. Recommended for ages 5 and up. For tickets visit Westport Country Playhouse or call 888-927-7529.

The Bushnell is once again presenting Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer: the Musical which is based on the classic TV show. It’s the third year that Rudolph, Santa and the other reindeers will delight the entire family. It runs Friday and Saturday, Dec. 9 and 10. Visit The Bushnell.

Another Frosty is at The Kate on Sunday, Dec. 11. The Theatreworks USA production features original music. The plot has been changed from the popular TV version. In this version, “A young orphan named Billy discovers magic in a stolen hat. When he places the hat on a snowman’s head, the snowman comes to life! But can Frosty the Snowman help Billy find his real family in time for Christmas?” It’s recommended for K-5. Visit The Kate.

Celtic Holidays

 I don’t know when it happened, but concerts on the theme of Celtic Christmas have become very popular; it probably traces back to the very popular Irish Tenors and their concerts and TV shows. So for lovers of all things Celtic, there are many choices.

The Kate has too such shows. On Saturday, Dec. 3 the Tartan Terrors performs Christmas Celtic Style which includes comedy, music and dance. On Thursday, Dec. 22, Cherish the Ladies, a Celtic Christmas features five talented women. According the press materials, the evening includes “a blend of virtuoso instrumental talents, beautiful vocals, captivating arrangements, and stunning step dancing. “ Visit The Kate.

Lyman Center at Southern Connecticut State University presents Christmas with the Celtic Tenors on Sunday, Dec. 18. Matthew Gilsenan, James Nelson and Daryl Simpson preform music from classical to folk to Irish and pop. Recently they have added a more contemporary edge. For tickets, visit Lyman Auditorium.

More Music

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James Sinclair of Orchestra New England.

Orchestra New England gets the holiday season off with its  37th annual Colonial Concert on Saturday, Nov. 26 at United Church on the Green, New Haven. Under the direction of James Sinclair, the concert takes us back to the music and atmosphere of the Colonial Era with a mixture of familiar classical music, holiday music and some long forgotten music. Wigs, candles and waistcoats as Thomas Jefferson, minister to France, visits New Haven. For tickets, call 203-776-4690 or visit Orchestra New England

The Elm City Girls’ Choir will join the New Haven Symphony Orchestra’s Pops Concert, Holiday Extravaganza. The two shows, Saturday, Dec. 10 (at Hamden Middle School) and Sunday, Dec. 11 (Shelton High School) almost always sell out early. It features a mixture of light classics as well as popular holiday music and carols. Santa often appears and there is a sing-along. Tickets and information are available New Haven Symphony or 203-865-0831.

The Hartford Symphony annually presents its Holiday Cirque Spectacular under conductor Carolyn Kuan at The Bushnell. While the Symphony plays various holiday inspired music, the Cirque de la Sumphonie which includes aerialists, contortionists and jugglers perform. Visit The Bushnell..

The Hartford Gay Men’s Chorus and the Connecticut Gay Men’s Chorus both have holiday concerts. These are talented musicians and their shows feature great arrangements and often some humor. The HGMC performs A Wish Come True! Friday to Sunday, Dec. 2-4 at the Aetna Theater at The Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art. For tickets. Tickets are available at HGMC.

CTGMC performs its holiday show Christmas Stories Saturday and Sunday, Dec. 17 and 18 at the theater at the Co-op High School for the Arts on College Street, New Haven. For information and tickets visit CTGMC

Trinity Church on the Green in New Haven has had a men and boys choir since the 1880s and added a Girls and Men Choir in 2003. The two choirs have toured and performed throughout the US, Canada and England. This year’s concert includes Benjamin Britten’s A Ceremony of Carols and carols from The Alfred Burt Carol Collection. These were written by Burt, a well-known American composer and sent as annual Christmas cards. The annual Christmas Concert is on Friday, Dec. 16. A donation is requested; for information visit: Trinity Chruch on the Green or 203-776-2616.

The Humorous and Cynical

 twSometimes we need some spice mixed with our holiday good feelings. TheaterWorks in Hartford is bringing back its very successful Christmas on the Rocks from Tuesday, Nov. 29 to Friday, Dec. 23. It’s accurately described as “an offbeat collection of twisted holiday tales”. A number of current playwrights have contributed scenes that show how the children from famous Christmas tales – from Ralphie and Tiny Tim to Charlie Brown and Clara from The Nutcracker turned out as adults. This year, a new scene has been added. Last year’s cast — Ronn Carroll as the bartender, Jenn Harris as the female characters and Matthew Wilkas as the male return. Tickets are on sale at TheaterWorks or 860-527-7838.

The Kate presents Will & Anthony’s Broadway Holiday on Friday, Dec. 2. Will and Anthony Nunziata are a singing and comedy duo (they are brothers).  It’s billed as  reminiscent of the classic Christmas specials of Bing Crosby with a contemporary flair and celebrates the joys of life, music and family. The concert includes fresh takes on classic Christmas songs along with Broadway hits and Italian music. Expect to hear such songs as “Joy to the World,” “I’ll Be Home for Christmas,” ”Silent Night,” “The Christmas Song,” “Lullaby of Broadway,” “O Sole Mio” and more. Tickets are at The Kate.

The Santaland Diaries, based on David Sedaris’ book takes the stage at the Shubert in New Haven, Friday, Nov. 25 to Sunday, Nov. 27. The one man show recounts the adventures of an out-of-work actor who becomes one of Santa’s elves at the Macy’s on 34th Street. It’s a behind-the-scenes look. Call the box office at 203-562-5666 or visit Shubert.

playhouse-on-park-mama-dWest Hartford’s Playhouse on Park is presenting a “strictly adult” show, Mama D’s Chirstimas Stocking, described as a celebration of all things sexy and bawdy in an evening of music, dance and comedy. Shows begin December 9 and run on selected dates to December 30. Plus there is a special New Year’s Eve show with lots of extras. For tickets, please call our box office at 860-523-5900 x10 or visit Playhouse on Park.

More Classics

mtc Connecticut’s Joe Landry adapted the classic film It’s a Wonderful Life  into an unique stage presentation. The holiday classic is brought to live as a live 1940s radio broadcast complete with microphones and the sound effects man. This show has been performed throughout the country. You can see it this year at MTC (Music Theater of Connecticut) in Norwalk weekends, Friday Dec. 9 to Sunday, Dec. 18. For tickets call 203-454-3883 or visit MTC.

shubert-elfElf became a new classic almost from the time the film starring Will Ferrell and old time stars was released in 2003. In 2010 Elf – the Musical hit Broadway earning several Tony nominations. Each year since then, there’s been a tour of the show. This year, Elf – the Musical at the Shubert in New Haven from Tuesday, Dec. 20 to Saturday, Dec. 24. I enjoyed the show and the CD; it is a tuneful delight. Call the box office at 203-562-5666 or visit Shubert.

Ivoryton Playhouse is continuing its multi-part Christmas story, The Bells of Dublin with Part III: A New York Fairytale. Once again it is written and directed by artistic director Jacqueline Hubbard. This year, Paddy brings his whole family to NYC for the holidays where on Christmas Eve at O’Lunney’s Pub, Maggie the bag lady settles in to weave a story of the holidays. The Christmas carols, Irish songs and a little vaudeville.  R. Bruce Connelly heads the cast of audience favorites. It runs Wednesday, Dec. 7 to Sunday, Dec. 18. For tickets visit Ivoryton Playhouse or call 860-767-7318.

This content courtesy of Shore Publications and zip06.

 

Controversy, New Plays, Goodspeed’s Season and More

Inside notes and comments about Connecticut and New York Professional Theater

By Karen Isaacs

 Oscar Winner in Hartford: Richard Dreyfuss, who won an Oscar and has performed before in Connecticut at Long Wharf, has joined the cast of Relativity, at TheaterWorks. The new play by Mark St. Germain is about a mystery in Einstein’s life: the birth of a daughter in 1902 who was never heard about after 1904. Years later, Einstein is questioned about it by a young reporter. Dreyfuss will play Einstein. Artistic Director Rob Ruggiero directs. The play runs to Nov. 13. For tickets visit TheatreWorks.

 Bank Ad Causes Controversy: Wells Fargo Bank probably thought the ad series for the Teen Financial Education Day (Saturday, Sept. 17) was just clever. But the ad series raised the ire of the artistic community, so much so that the company issued an apology and withdrew the ads. The headlines in the ads featured phrase such as “a ballerina yesterday. An engineer today.” These headlines were interpreted as implying that artists would be better served by going into the sciences. Social media is awash in variations on the idea, such as “Bob Newhart – an accountant yesterday, a comedian and star today.”

 Theater’s Loss: The death of Edward Albee at the age of 88 is an enormous loss for not just American theater but the world. While he is best known for his biting but humorous look at marriage in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? his other works often shocked and puzzled audiences while exploring important issues about relationships. Connecticut audiences were blessed to see fine productions throughout the state:  Mark Lamos directed several excellent productions at Hartford Stage, as did Michael Wilson. Long Wharf had a memorable production of Virginia Woolf starring Mike Nichols and Elaine May.

Tickets on Sale: Tickets are on salefor the new musical Anastasia which had its premiere at Hartford Stage last spring. Tickets are available at Telecharge.com.  Also going on sale are tickets for the musical Charlie and the Chocolate Factory which will star two-time Tony winner Christian Borle which opens in April. It’s also available at Telecharge.

 Broadway Notes: Tony nominees Kate Baldwin will play Irene Molloy and Gavin Ceel will play Corneilus Hackl in the Bette Middler – David Hyde Pierce  revival of Hello, Dolly! which opens this spring. The first day that tickets were on sale via Telecharge, sales exceeded $9 million. Something Rotten! closes on January 1 after an almost two year run; Jersey Boys will also end it’s 11-year run on Jan. 15.  Following it into the August Wilson Theater will be the musical, Groundhog Day which won raves in London. Andy Karl stars. There’s some talk that Colin Firth may star as Professor Higgins in a revival of My Fair Lady; we can only hope.  If you can’t get tickets to Hamilton you may be able to get tickets to the parody Spamilton which was developed by the creator of Forbidden Broadway. Lin-Manuel Miranda has apparently given his approval. It runs through Oct. 30, off-Broadway. Tickets are available at triad.nyc.com/buy-tickets.

 Goodspeed Next Year: Goodspeed next year will present two revivals and a new version of musical flop PLUS three new musicals at The Terris Theater. The season opens with the Tony-winning Thoroughly Modern Millie (April 21-July2), followed by the classic Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Oklahoma1 (July 14 –Sept. 28) and the season concludes with a revision of the Charles Strouse (Annie) and Stephen Schwartz (Wicked) musical Rags (Oct. 6-Dec. 10). At The Terris Theatre are the new musicals Deathless (June 2- July2), Darling Grenadine (Aug. 18-Sept. 17) and A Connecticut Christmas Carol (Nov. 17-Dec. 24). Season tickets are now on sale at 860-873-8668. Tickets for individual productions go on sale Feb. 19th.

Off-Broadway Notes: The Classic Stage Company is presenting the world premiere of Dead Poets Society directed by Tony winner John Doyle based on the film. Jason Suderikis stars in the Robin Williams role. It begins previews Oct. 27. For tickets call 212-352-3101 or visit Classic Stage.  The Signature Theatre Off-Broadway is presenting Athol Fugard’s “Master Harold” …. and the Boys began on Oct. 18. The play had its world premiere at Yale Rep. Fugard will direct the work. For tickets call 212-244-7529 or Signature Theatreg.

What Kind of Fool? Seven Angels Theater in Waterbury is continuing the Anthony Newley trend in Connecticut with He Wrote Good Songs. Earlier this year there was a concert of his music at the Madison Library, and then a reimagined production of his musical (with Leslie Bricusse) The Roar of the Greasepaint, the Smell of the Crowd at the Goodspeed’s Terris Theater.  Newley was a British actor, singer, songwriter and more who wrote musicals and hit songs: “Goldfinger,” “The Candy Man,” “What Kind of Fool Am I?’ and “Who Can I Turn To? among others. Jon Peterson has conceived, written and will perform the show. He has done similar work with a show on George M. Cohan. The one man show runs Nov. 3 to Nov. 27. For tickets, call 203-757-4676 or visit Seven Angels.

 New Musical: Ivoryton is presenting the Connecticut premiere of Tenderly: The Rosemary Clooney Musical from Oct. 26 to Nov. 13. Clooney started as a band singer, moving on to recording a number of pop hits in the ‘50s and developing a movie career. Later in life she was a respected jazz and cabaret artist. The musical is described as a biography with her signature songs woven into her story – both her professional life and her struggles in her personal life which included marriage to actor Jose Ferrer and five children. For tickets call 860-767-7318 or visit Ivoryton.

Suspense: MTC in Norwalk is presenting the Tony-winning thriller, Sleuth from Nov. 4 to Nov. 20. The play which also had a successful film that starred Sir Laurence Olivier and Michael Caine, is a cat-and-mouse thriller about a celebrated mystery writer and the younger hairdresser who is his wife’s lover. For tickets call 203-354-3883 or visit MTC

Starting the Holidays: The Palace Theater in Waterbury is presenting the excellent A Christmas Story: The Musical on Nov. 18 and Nov. 19. The musical is based on the classic Jean Shepherd story and subsequent film. The show itself was nominated for several Tony awards during its Broadway run. For tickets call 203-346-2000 or visit Palace Theaterg.

Five More Years: In a somewhat unprecedented move, James Bundy has been reappointed as Dean of Yale School of Drama and artistic director of the Yale Repertory Theater. This,his fourth term, will begin July 1, 2017. It’s unprecedented because previously Yale has limited most Deans – including the Drama School to two terms (10 years) though some served an extra year while the search for a successor was on-going. During his tenure the Yale Rep has produced numerous world and American premieres two of which have been Pulitzer Prize finalists. Congratulations.

Helping the Area Economy: The International Festival of Arts & Ideas which ran June 10-25 generated an economic impact exceeding $15.4 million for the region’s economy. The study was done by Quinnipiac University. It is based on attendance and ticket sales and reported visitor behavior. Other figures: visitors reported spending an average of $140 on food, retail, lodging and transportation. The Festival employed 213 full and season staff. Local vendors, venues and rental companies were hired to help. In addition the 855 artists and speakers required 766 hotel nights in the greater New Haven area.

Election Drama: I don’t usually write about community theater productions though many are excellent. Just too many shows, but I will make an exception for Now or Later at Square One Theatre in Stratford. Why? The play, which I’m unfamiliar with, is written by Christopher Shinn a Connecticut native (An Opening in Time, Dying City) and it is very relevant. The play, which runs Nov. 3 to Nov. 20 is about a presidential election and what happens’ when controversial photos of the candidate’s college age son go viral, potentially sparking an international incident. For information visitSquare One; for tickets call 203-375-8778.

Ivoryton Revisits a Classic ‘60s Musical

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Don Quixote battles The Enchanter. Photo by Anne Hudson.

By Karen Isaacs

 Settling into my seat at Ivoryton Playhouse to see Man of La Mancha, (which runs through Oct. 2), I realized that it had been a long while since I had seen this musical.

While some shows have had multiple recent revivals – La Cage aux Folles and How to Succeed in Business without Really Trying to name a few, the last Broadway revival was 2002 and before that 1992 and 1977. Regional theaters have also been ignoring the show.

Why? Certainly it isn’t due to production costs. It is a one set show without elaborate costumes. The cast is modest in size. Perhaps it is the inspirational tone of the musical that is less appealing in our more cynical times. Or perhaps it is the stark realism of the division between the wealthy and the poor, or the critical look at the Catholic church that we wish to avoid.

While the musical – which has music by Mitch Leigh and lyrics by Joe Darien – combines both inspiration – and some would say sentimentality – it also raises an interesting questions:  when do the ends NOT justify the means? Are the dreamers of society simply madmen? Do dreams just discourage action?

The show is a show within a show; the Spanish author Miguel de Cervantes and his manservant are imprisoned to await being called by the Inquisition for acts against the Catholic Church. The other prisoners are murderers, robbers, etc. and the Governor of the inmates declares that each new prisoner must stand trial in which he is invariably found guilty and must confiscate all possessions. While Cervantes – a poet and writer – admits his guilt, he still wants to put on a defense by acting out a story. The story is of an old gentleman, Alonso Quijana, who imagines he is Don Quixote, a knight errant out to protect the innocent and right the wrongs of society.

 

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David Pittsinger. Photo by Anne Hudson

 

As Cervantes tells the story, Don Quixote and his manservant, now Sancho Panza set out on a quest which leads them to a variety of adventures. Don Quixote sees what he want to see – a windmill is an enemy that he must vanquish, when he loses he says it was a disguise for his enemy, The Enchanter.. An inn is the castle where the lord will be able to properly dub a night; a stable girl/waitress (Aldonza)  is his ideal woman – Dulcinea. At the same time the family of the Quijana – his housekeeper, neice and her fiancé are frightened by his transformation and make plans to bring him back to his senses.

He enlists the other prisoners to play various roles. The Governor of the inmates becomes the Innkeeper, and other prisoners become Aldonza, the housekeeper, the niece, the gentleman’s priest, and the fiancé. The roles the prisoners play are often symmetrical with their roles in the prison – the fiancé is the most opposed to permitting Cervantes from telling his story.

During the course of the show, the prisoners not only become caught up in the story of both Quijana and Quixote and begin to aspire to different circumstances which unfortunately are unlikely occur.

When Cervantes is finally called to meet the Inquisition, the prisoners rise to send him off with hope.

Man of La Mancha has an interesting history; the initial idea became a TV live drama in 1959 written by Dale Wasserman and called I, Don Quiote.  Wasserman, at the suggestion of the director Walter Marre, turned it into a musical that had a production at Goodspeed in 1965. Joseph Papp of NY Public Theater staged the musical at the ANTA Washington Square Theater (where I first saw it.) It later moved uptown to Broadway.

 It is amazing if you don’t know “The Impossible Dream” which becomes an anthem at the end of the show. It is a song of hope and aspiration. But you will probably also recognize “To Each His Dulcinea.”  But there is also the brutally honest “Aldoza” and “It’s All the Same” as well as a rape dance plus the manipulative “I’m Only Thinking of Him,” and the comic “A Little Gossip.”

David Pittsinger, who did a fine job as Emile de Becque in Ivoryton’s production of South Pacific last summer, returns as Cervantes/Quixote. He certainly has the voice for the songs which he performs beautifully but his performance is earnest but not truly three dimensional. This is more the case in the first act when he is front and center in the story. Too often he just plants his feet and sings – well but not really acting. In the second act as the other characters become more important, he seems more relaxed and real. Thinking about this, I realized that in South Pacific he is never the only main character.

Talia Thiesfeild gives as really three dimensional portrayal of Adlonza/Dulcinea. Her

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Talia Thiesfield as Aldonza/Dulcinea. Photo by Anne Hudson

rendition of the songs and her acting gives us a woman who slowly begins to realize that more is possible and that she is worth more than she thought. Brian Michael Hoffman plays Cervantes’ servant and Sancho Panza with sly humor and subtlety. He does over play the humor; the role does not require and traditionally has been played as someone without a great voice.

While the entire ensemble is very good, standouts include James Van Treuren as The Governor/Innkeeper who was last seen at Ivoryton as Georges in La Cage aux Folles and David Edwards as fiancé.

Choreographer Todd Underwood effectively balance the rape ballet between the need for it to be obvious and somewhat graphic but also suggestive rather than obvious.

The scenic design by Daniel Nischan recreates the sense of dungeon like prison room and the lighting by Maecus Abbott is good.  Tate R. Burmeister has managed the sound design so that lyrics are understandable and the backstage six piece orchestra sounds as though it is right in front of you.

Director David Edwards while overall doing a good job has made a few questionable choices: why does the prisoner who plays priest lisp? Why does the fiancé seem to embody some stereotypical “gay” gestures? And could he have improved Pittsinger’s acting performance in the first act. Too often he simply moves to the front of the stage, plants his feet and sings.

Yet despite my quibbles, if you love Man of La Mancha or if you’ve never seen, you should absolutely see this production.

It is at Ivoryton Playhouse, 103 Main St., through Oct. 2.  For tickets call 860-767-7318 or invorytonplayhouse.org.

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Talia Thiesfield as Aldonza/Dulcinea, David Pittsinger as Cervantes/Don Quixote, Brian Michael Hoffman as Sancho Panza. Photo by Anne Hudson.

 

Looking at the 2016-17 Connecticut Theater Season – My Top 10 Plus More

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.

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