By Karen Isaacs
Bravo Ivoryton Playhouse! Brava Artistic Director Jacqueline Hubbard! It is a big risk to produce a new play about a subject many don’t really want to think about written by a playwright who is not widely known.
Yet that is what the Playhouse and Hubbard have done with the current world premiere of Queens of the Gold Mask now through Sunday, Nov. 18.
Playwright Carole Lockwood’s play while set in the past resonates much too much in today’s world.
When most of us think of the Klu Klux Klan, we picture the white robes and hoods, the burning crosses and the resulting violence. While the hoods don’t allow us to the see faces, we think of them as men. But anyone who has seen the footage of the Charlottesville demonstration last year, or other similar but smaller gatherings, must acknowledge that some of the attendees are women. Women who might be our neighbors.
Lockwood’s play is set in Celestial, Alabama in 1961 (act 1) and 1963 (act 2). Is the town’s name an ironic joke? It seems like it. This is small town Alabama not too far from Birmingham, and the Klan has never died. The resurgent civil rights movement is leading to a resurgence in Klan activities; everyone seems to belong.
Queens focuses on the women in this small town, particular a matriarch, Ida Sage or Moma as she is called by most, her daughter-in-law, and four other women. Each is married and each husband is involved in Klan activities though details are hidden from the women.
When writing about such emotional and explosive subjects, any playwright walks a fine line between drama and melodrama, which is usually defined as type of drama that exaggerates emotion, emphasizes plot or action over characterization and often does not observe the laws of cause and effect.
This play falls well over the line into melodrama.
Every melodrama needs a villain with no redeeming qualities and that role is Moma played very well by Ellen Barry. You do not have one iota of sympathy for this manipulative, determined, evil woman. She dominates everyone.
The first act of the play is about Moma’s desire to regain the charter for the “women’s auxiliary” chapter of the Klan in Celestial that was lost when membership fell below seven. So she is determined to recruit two new members and regain the charter. One candidate is easy: Kathy (Two) Boggs is a young woman married to the mayor’s son. Moma would have considered “trash” except for the marriage. Kathy is eager to join.
But the other possible candidate is more problematic. One of the local men has recently brought home his bride, a school teacher from Ohio, after a six month courtship. So could Rose be brought into the fold?
That is left to the local Avon lady, Faith, who talks to Rose about sisterhood, fitting in, making friends. She portrays this as just a group that talks and bakes cookies but does nothing more. She even implies that the men do little. Rose is uncertain; she says she had hoped to not have a conversation about race as Faith questions her about teaching black children and her home town. Her dad was prejudiced, and she and her new husband Buddy had never discussed the issue. But she is bored and lonely and is persuaded to join.
Act two, set in 1963 shows Rose as a contented member of the group; she has adjusted to the way of small town life. She’s also befriended Martha Nell, Moma’s daughter-in-law who she treats like a servant and even physically abuses. Martha played touchingly by Sarah Jo Provost is the most sympathetic character. It seems that in the last two years, a little spark of determination and spunk has developed.
Moma has become even more hateful, if that is possible. But while all the women give lip service to “the cause,” we learn that two have courageously been giving information to the FBI who are investigating Klan activities in the area. In fact, a bug has been planted in Moma’s house. Perhaps the FBI is closing in on her involvement in the bombing of a church in the black quarter and of the high school that was about to be integrated. We see her, make a phone call and then sit waiting until she hears sirens; her look changes to one of contentment and pleasure. One of the suspected informants has been killed.
When Rose finally confronts Moma and says she is leaving the chapter (and her marriage) to return to Ohio, Moma gloats that Ohio has one of the bigger Klan memberships, that the “kiss of death” and oath of secrecy will follow her and that the Klan will continue to grow even in thirty years.
Director Jacqueline Hubbard has handled the cast and show deftly; keeping it moving as much as possible, and the melodramatic moments (and there are many) as realistic as possible. She is aided by the scenic design, a kitchen, dining room and front door of a clean but shabby house; the lighting by Marcus Abbott; and the sound design by Tate R. Burmeister that includes traditional hymns such as “Shall We Gather by the River.”
Overall the cast is excellent, creating multi-dimensional characters even where the playwright didn’t. It is hard to pick just one or two out for praise but certainly Ellen Barry totally immerses herself in the unrelenting force that is Moma, and Sarah Jo Provost is also excellent as the downtrodden Martha Nell. Anna Fagan must make the cheerful and naïve Rose believable and for the most part she succeeds.
This play has promise and certainly the subject matter, the active role of women in the Klan is one that is rarely discussed. But the work needs trimming substantially and many of the characters need to be more developed rather than recognizable stereotypes.
Go see Queens of the Golden Mask. It is well worth your time.
It is at Ivoryton Playhouse through Sunday, Nov. 18. For tickets visit Ivoryton Playhouse or call 860-767-7318.
This content is courtesy of Shore Publications and zip06.com
By Karen Isaacs
Once, the Tony-winning best musical now at Ivoryton Playhouse through Sunday, Oct. 14, is a quirky, unpredictable piece that defies many of the expectations of conventional musicals.
It is based on a low-budget 2007 Irish film of the same name which not only did good business in the U.S. but received a number of awards. “Falling Slowly,” one of the songs in this drama with music won the Oscar for best original song.
The plot is both conventional and unexpected. The two main characters are called Guy and Girl; he is an aspiring musician in Dublin who is seriously considering abandoning music. He’s in his 20s, recently broken up with a girlfriend (she moved to London) and lives with his Dad above the Dad’s shop which repairs vacuum cleaners.
Girl, is a Czech immigrant, who lives with her mother, three Czech friends and her daughter in an apartment.
So we can expect the two to meet which they do. She has a determination that Guy lacks; she hears his songs and realizes his talent. She convinces him that they must make a demo record of his music.
But the show includes much more than that.
First of all, as you enter the theater, you will hear the Irish music (folk contemporary) coming from the stage. Most of the cast is up there, playing instruments and singing songs. You are already in the mood even before the lights dim and the show begins. The cast sits on stage when they aren’t playing a part and sometimes they produce, almost as by magic, a prop that is needed.
When Guy and Girl are first talking and he tells her that he repairs vacuums (or Hoovers as they called), she says she has one in need of repair and it immediately appears beside her.
Once may start as a typical boy meets girl plot, but it soon becomes original. Guy takes her to meet his Dad and while he tries to get her to visit his bedroom upstairs, she doesn’t. She takes him to her apartment where he learns about her daughter and meets the others.
The song “Falling Slowly” acknowledges what happens to the two of them; each is slowly and reluctantly falling in love but refusing to own up to it.
Over five days, the two of them convince a bank manager to lend them money for the demo, make the demo and resolve their relationship. I won’t spoil it by telling you how it is wrapped up.
What makes Once so special is the unexpected parts of it and the pure joy of music making that it conveys. The book of Edna Walsh stays quite faithful to the movie that was written and directed by John Carney. The movie’s songs are all in the musical; they were written by musicians Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová, established Irish musicians who also starred in the film.
At Ivoryton, Katie Barton is wonderful as Girl; she captures the determination and literalness of the character. She says things that are funny in a completely earnest manner. Sam Sherwood is also excellent as Guy and there is chemistry between them.
Most of the cast play both ensemble and specific characters. Jonathan Brown and Morgan Morse play two other Czech immigrants; they contribute mightily to both the humor and some of the pathos of the piece. Margaret Dudasik as Reza, is less restrained in her behaviors than the Girl.
Perhaps my favorite performances were Don Noble as the father and Andreina Kasper as the Bank Manager who, it turns out, has always wanted to be a musician.
Glenn Bassett has created a set that consists mainly of doors which are often used to make the various props magically appear. The doors seem so consistent with the meaning of the show. Tate R. Burmeister has done a good job balancing the sound from the on stage instruments, the voices and the dialogue.
Director Ben Hope, who played the role of Guy both on Broadway and on tour, certainly knows this piece well. He uses the two sides of Ivoryton’s wide stage creatively. On the night I saw it, it seemed as though the pacing was a bit slow; as the cast continues to work together, I’m sure it will pick up. Eric Anthony as music director worked with the cast and the variety of instruments they played – mandolin, cello, guitar, fiddle, drums and more. The music is folk-contemporary and for me at least, it is hard to differentiate among the numbers; they all sound similar.
Once is a beloved show and Ivoryton is giving it a very good production. For tickets call 860-767-7318 or visit Ivoryton Playhouse.
This content courtesy of Shore Publications and zip06.com.
By Karen Isaacs
A Chorus Line now at Ivoryton Playhouse through Sunday, Sept. 2 is a “singular sensation” as one of its most well-known songs says. The show has everything and this production has almost everything right.
It’s hard to think some are not familiar with this ground-breaking, Pulitzer Prize winning musical that opened in 1975 and is still a favorite. A new tour is on the horizons.
It opens with a bare stage with the “ghost light” – the light that is always on- as dancers arrive in various dress carrying their bags of shoes and more. They are at an audition conducted by a well- known director/choreographer, Zach. With his assistant teaching them steps, he puts them through their paces until he winnows the group down. Some are dismissed, but that doesn’t mean the others are hired. All of them, as the opening says, are hoping to get this job because they need it. The life of the dancers in shows (until recently referred to as “gypsies”) is a hard one. Dancing wears on the body, aging happens fast, and there is always a bright-eyed younger dancer arriving in New York.
Zach has planned a different kind of audition; he wants to get to know them, not just see them dance. So he asks that each talk and tell stories of their lives. He doesn’t want them to “perform” or try to “act” but to talk about their experiences. For some, this is a frightening request and many of them reveal the issues that propelled them to dance.
We get to know them through their stories and the songs composed by Marvin Hamlisch with lyrics by Edward Kleban. The book is by James Kirkwood and Nicholas Dante based on sessions that Michael Bennett (the conceiver, director and choreographer of the piece) held over a period of months with actual dancers.
Under the sure handed direction and choreography by Todd L. Underwood and the musical direction of Michael Morris, the cast excels.
At times, I had never been so moved by some of the stories these dancers tell about their lives during this very non-traditional audition for a show.
How do you pick a favorite song or story? Mike (Dakota Hoar) explains how he realized at a young age that “I can do that” and soon took over his sister’s dance lessons. He was a natural. Then there are Sheila (Lili Thomas) the older more cynical dancer, Bebe (Kayla Starr Bryan) and Maggie (Liv Kurtz) share the stories of their unhappy family lives in “At the Ballet.” It’s a poignant number about how each of them found the love and ideal world at the ballet which was lacking in family life that featured unhappy marriages and unloving parents.
But all is not gloom and doom. Kristine (Amanda Lupacchino) with the help of her husband explains that she really cannot “Sing.” And then most of the company has a great time with “Hello Twelve” about the experiences of puberty.
Some of the male dancers talk about realizing their homosexuality, trying to hide it, or the rejection they faced.
Diana, in a very good performance by Natalie Madlon, talks about her high school acting class, where she could feel “nothing” when trying to be a table or riding a bobsled. And Val, in a very funny and slightly over the top performance by Alexa Racioppi, describes how she never got cast until she had plastic surgery for some “tits and ass.”
But one of the over-arching stories is Cassie, played touchingly by Stephanie Genito, who had a brief moment of almost-stardom but has learned that she isn’t a star and only wants to dance. The problem is that she and Zach were a couple and it hurts his ego to see her back in the line. She shares her new found understanding of her limitations and of her need to dance as she begs him to cast her. “The Music and the Mirror” is her expression of her love for dancing.
The standout performance for me was Joey Lucherini as Paul. He doesn’t want to tell it, but alone with Zach he reveals his life story. It’s too poignant to spoil for you; you just have to see him.
At the end of the audition, Zach asks them all one more question: What will they do when they can no longer dance. It leads into the well-known song, “What I Did for Love” – which isn’t about romance but about dedication.
At the end, Zach selects four men and four women for the cast.
The finale is a full-staging of the number they have used during the audition, “One” better recognized as “one, singular sensation” in which they back up the leading lady. Only this time, it is they who get the applause, even though there is no traditional curtain calls.
This production has an intermission; the original and some productions do not. The intermission releases some of the tension but it is quickly recovered since some of the bigger numbers are in the second half.
Almost all the cast excels; the exceptions are few and even their weaknesses are minimal. I would have liked Zach (Edward Stanley) to project more assertiveness and charisma. Yet his performance isn’t deficient; it just could be better. Sheila (Lili Thomas), the older dancer is not quite as cynical as often portrayed. While I liked the interpretation, it changed the balance of the show which has so much youthful enthusiasm.
By the end of the evening, you care about almost all of these characters and you want them all to be cast. You feel the disappointment of those who will have to go to another audition and another hope of a job.
The setting is plain – a blank stage but designer Martin Scott Marchitto has added some pillars to define the front of house. The costumes by Kate Bunce reflect the eclectic tastes of the dancers. Laura Lynne Knowles has done a fine job with the sound, particularly since Zach is often talking from the back of the house.
The choreography of the show is iconic and included in some of the script since the dancers are taught the choreography of “One” as part of the audition process. Underwood kept that but did a fine job with the new work for some many numbers: “I Can Do That,” “Dance Ten, Looks Three,” and of course, “The Music and the Mirror.” Underwood also has fluidly integrated the dance with the overall direction so it never seems as though the scene stops and the dance begins; they flow from dialogue, song into dance.
Go see A Chorus Line at Ivoryton Playhouse. It’s there through Sunday, Sept. 2. For tickets, call 860-767-7318 or Ivoryton Playhouse
This content is courtesy of Shore Publishing and zip06.
By Karen Isaacs
The musical Grease has always seemed a quintessential “summer” show even though it really takes place during the school year. But something about the boys and girls at Rydell High in the late 1950s reminds me of beaches, drive-in and car hops. (You have to be 50+ to recall these).
The production at Ivoryton Playhouse, through Sunday, July 29 is a pleasant summer entertainment. It may not be the best musical production Ivoryton has done in recent years, but it will provide a very enjoyable night of entertainment.
So while I will find faults in both this production and in the show itself, if you just relax and “go with the flow” you’ll have a good time.
It’s hard to believe than anyone doesn’t recall at least the basic elements of the plot. We have the students that many of us considered during high school years as “losers” – the girls and boys who broke all the rules of the period – smoked, drank, had sex, dressed in tight clothes and had little ambition. Into this mix comes the “new girl” – Sandy Dumbrowski who the others view as a “goody two shoes” because he doesn’t do any of these things. She’s had a summer romance with one of the guys, Danny Zuko ;they each were less than truthful with each other and now, of course, the truth comes out.
The guys led (sort of) by Danny call themselves the Burger Palace Boys – Kenickie, Doody, Roger and others. Most of their girl friends are the Pink Ladies led by the cynical Rizzo and including Frenchy, Sandy and Marty.
Of course, there must be the “objects of fun” and these are Patty and Eugene, both awkward socially but high achievers.
The romance between Sandy Dumbrowski (not to confuse her with the other Sandy) and Danny doesn’t run smooth; his friends make fun of her, he tries to push too fast and too hard and more. It finally works out when she becomes the “uber” Pink Lady.
Let’s admit that this show seems to glamorize those who look down on others who want to achieve. Only when Sandy becomes super tough is she accepted and liked. You may also notice that there is a great deal of sexual innuendo (and some more blatant) that considers girls as just objects to the guys.
But perhaps I am trying to make this show more than it is meant to be. Yet, I’m not sure I would encourage young teens to see it: the message seems all wrong.
But leaving that aside, the Ivoryton production directed and choreographed by Todd L. Underwood has many good moments.
Musically, it is quite strong. The score contains many well-known songs, some incorporated from the hit film that starred Olivia Newton-John and John Travolta including “Hopelessly Devoted to You” and “You’re the One I Want.” But the audience obviously knew and responded to many of the other songs – “Summer Nights,” “Freddy, My Love,” “Look at Me, I’m Sandra Dee,” “We Go Together,” “Beauty School Drop Out” and others.
The ensemble offers many of the highlights of the show. The group numbers from “Summer Nights” to “Greased Lightnin’” to the finale are energetic, well sung and well danced.
Johnny Newcomb seems almost too clean cut and nice as Danny. He handles the songs very well, but he doesn’t project the charisma and toughness that Danny usually does. He seems more like a nice kid, who has gone a little bit astray but will be all right in the end.
As Sandy, Kimberly Immanuel also handles the music well; especially the two big numbers – “Hopelessly Devoted to You,” and “It’s Raining on Prom Night.” But she needs to project more strength – her attitude and appearance when she adopts her Pink Lady persona comes out of left field.
The surrounding cast is strong. Alyssa V. Gomez has the tough, cynical Rizzo down to a tee but also manages to project the other side of her: vulnerable and uncertain. Taylor Lloyd makes Marty almost too mature for the others, but handles “Freddie, My Love” well giving the song even more cynicism. The other Pink Ladies, Audrey Wilson as Jan (the always hungry teen) and Katelyn Bowman as Frenchie are very good. Each shows the uncertainties of being a teen with Frenchie creating a hard shell for protection.
Equally good are the members of the Burger Palace Boys – Luke Linsteadt as Doody, Taylor Lloyd as Roger (best known for mooning) and Natale Pirrotta as Kenicke. Lloyd makes the most of “Mooning” including several moons.
Lawrence Cummings handles the big number “Beauty School Drop Out” well; he totally captures the doo-wop sound, but it is lacking some attitude. It needs a little more “I told you so.”
As the director, Todd L. Underwood has made some choices that are problematic in a number of areas of the production. The choreography is energetic and good, but doesn’t always seem to reflect the ‘50s rock ‘n roll. Eugene, the requisite nerd played by Cory Candelet (who was terrific as the Mute in The Fantasticks) becomes a physical comedy role with lots of tripping, falling down and a very stooped posture. It makes this character even more of a caricature. Even in the costume department you may quibble with some of the choices. Would Marty really wear what seems like a string of pearls? Why do the girls seldom where their Pink Lady jackets and why are the jackets pale pink?
Yet, despite these complaints, overall this production of Grease will bring back memories and get you moving to the beats of that period.
It is at Ivoryton Playhouse through Sunday, July 29. For tickets, visit Ivoryton Playhouse or call 860-767-7318.
This material is courtesy of Shore Publications and zip06.com
The world premiere of Hartford Stage’s The Age of Innocence and a revised version of the musical Rags from Goodspeed Musicals took top honors at the Connecticut Critics Circle Awards Monday, June 11. (Complete list of nominees and winners).
The event, which celebrated the work from the state’s professional theaters during the 2017-18 season, was held at Westport Country Playhouse.
Among area theaters, Ivoryton received nine nominations for five different productions (West Side Story, Million Dollar Quartet, Saturday Night Fever, The Game’s Afoot and The Fantasticks).Connecticut native, Cory Candelet tied for outstanding featured actor in a musical for his performance as the Mute in The Fantasticks. He shared the award with Matt Faucher for his performance as Jud in Goodspeed’s Oklahoma!
Goodspeed received 14 nominations and four awards including Faucher, outstanding production of a musical, Samantha Massell for her leading role in Rags and Kelli Barclay for choreography in Will Rogers’ Follies.
Awards for outstanding actors in a musical went to Samantha Massell in Goodspeed’s Rags and Jamie LaVerdiere in the Connecticut Repertory Theatre’s production of 1776.
Awards for outstanding actors in a play went to Reg Rogers in Yale Repertory Theatre’s production of An Enemy of the People and Isabelle Barbier in Playhouse on Park’s production of The Diary of Anne Frank.
Top directing awards went to Terrence Mann for CRT’s 1776 and Ezra Barnes for Playhouse on Park’s The Diary of Anne Frank.
Outstanding ensemble award went to TheaterWorks’ production of The Wolves; the debut award went to Megan O’Callaghan for The Bridges of Madison County and Fun Home, both at Music Theatre of Connecticut. The outstanding solo honor was awarded to Elizabeth Stahlmann for Westport Country Playhouse’s Grounded.
Michael O’Flaherty, longtime music director for Goodspeed Musicals, received the Tom Killen Award for lifetime service to the theater from Donna Lynn Cooper Hilton, a producer at Goodspeed.
Receiving special awards were New London’s Flock Theatre for its production of Long Day’s Journey Into Night at the Monte Cristo Cottage (O’Neill’s childhood home); the Broadway Method Academy of Fairfield; and Billy Bivona, who composed and performed original music for TheaterWork’s production of Constellations.
The outstanding featured actress award in a musical award went to Jodi Stevens for Summer Theatre of New Canaan’s Singin’ in the Rain. The award for outstanding featured actors in a play went to Peter Francis James for Westport Country Playhouse’s production of Romeo and Juliet, and to Judith Ivey for Long Wharf Theatre’s world premiere of Fireflies.
Design awards went to Fitz Patton for sound and Matthew Richards for lighting for Westport Country Playhouse’s Appropriate; Linda Cho for costumes for Hartford Stage’s The Age of Innocence; Yana Birykova for projections for Westport Country Playhouse’s Grounded and David Lewis, for set design for Playhouse on Park’s The Diary of Anne Frank.
Jenn Harris and Matthew Wilkas, stars of TheaterWorks’ Christmas on the Rocks, presided over the event.
Shore Publication writers Amy Barry and Frank Rizzo co-chaired the event.
This content courtesy of Shore Publications and zip06.
By Karen Isaacs
Do you realize how many professional theatrical productions are seen in Connecticut each year? What would be your guess?
With the ending of the Connecticut theater season which runs from about June 1 to May 31, I attempted to count up the shows. I know I missed some. But including all the professional theaters (those that have some type of contract from Equity the actors’ union) plus the productions seen at the major “presenting” houses such as the Shubert, Bushnell and Palace in Waterbury – the total astounded me.
In all, you could see a professional production for 100+ nights a year. And that didn’t include the “workshop” performances at Goodspeed-Chester, the O’Neill Center and other places.
If you want to consider just the regional theaters – it numbers 70+ productions. (By the way, I saw about 75 percent of these, plus some others). So I was sitting in a theater in Connecticut at least 60+ evenings.
My favorites? Everyone’s list will be different. Mine includes plays that were thought-provoking or challenging. But my list also includes plays that were just pure fun. I’ve broken them down into a list of my “best” plays and “musicals”. These aren’t in any particular order. Some are by playwrights that I am very familiar with and others by playwrights new to me.
My Favorite Productions of Plays
Hartford Stage gave me three productions that I thoroughly enjoyed and would gladly see again. A Lesson from Aloes by Athol Fugard is a play that I saw first at Yale and found it brilliant. This production directed by Darko Tresnjak was equally so – thought-provoking, beautifully designed and marvelously acted. For sheer fun, nothing could be better than Tresnjak’s direction of A Midsummer Night’s Dream which opened the season. The direction of the Mechanicals’ production was the best I’ve ever seen. And in the middle was the McCarter Theatre’s production of Murder on the Orient Express. Stylish and delightful. Another production I would gladly see again was Grounded at Westport Country Playhouse last July. This one woman show is about a military pilot who is reassigned to operating drones over Iraq from the US. And Playhouse on Park gave Connecticut theater goers a magnificent production of The Diary of Anne Frank.
Some plays were very good, but for one reason or another had something missing. Fireflies at Long Wharf was a charming, sweet play that is blessed with an outstanding cast. I’m not convinced that it would as enjoyable in the hands of lesser actors. Jane Alexander, Judith Ivey and Dennis Ardnt made this work. I also thoroughly enjoyed Seder at Hartford Stage, though some of my critic friends hated it. The questions it raised were fascinating and Mia Dillon was fabulous.
Also in this group would be The Game’s Afoot at Ivoryton which was silly, light but just fun, Noises Off at the Summer Series at Connecticut Repertory Theatre, The Chosen at Long Wharf, Father Comes Home from the Wars, Parts 1, 2 and 3 at Yale Rep and Age of Innocence at Hartford Stage. Boyd Gaines was magnificent.
Some productions miss the mark – it may be a great idea that isn’t quite developed completely, or it wanders off topic, or the director or actors make some erroneous decisions. Or the play may not be that good, but one or two performances make it enjoyable.
Luckily most of the time, even if that happens there are elements that still make the production worth seeing.
But sometimes, to me the production seems so misguided in so many ways, that it disappoints me. This season there were a few that fit that description. Often my fellow critics disagree with me. Yale’s production of Enemy of the People was just such a production. I felt that both the director (James Bundy) and the leading actor (Reg Rogers) were totally off the mark. Office Hours at Long Wharf was a play that I felt didn’t really work on many levels.
My Favorite Productions of Musicals
I didn’t think there were really any outstanding musical productions this season. By that I mean productions where the work itself and all elements of the production hit the mark. Most had flaws of some kind.
Many productions were very good. Ivoryton Playhouse has shown it is capable of presenting very good productions. This season I thought Saturday Night Fever, West Side Story and The Fantasticks were all very good.
MTC (Music Theater of Connecticut) has shown that a very small theater (under 120 seats) and an awkward playing area can be made to work for mid-sized musicals. Kevin Connor did a great job directing both The Bridges of Madison County and Fun Home. The Summer Series at Connecticut Rep did a very good Newsies.
Goodspeed is held to a very high standard – it has wowed us so many times, that we expect perfection in each production. This year, it may have not have been perfection, but it was very, very good.
Rags was a major project: Taking a musical that had failed and working together with the composer and lyricist and a new book writer, to completely reshape the show. Characters were deleted, others added, major plot points changed, new songs written and lyrics revised for other songs. Working with the team was director Rob Ruggiero. This story of turn of the 20th century Jewish immigrants on the lower east side of Manhattan, still isn’t perfect, but the show was done very well and was much improved.
Goodspeed also presented the classic Oklahoma! Again a very good production that I felt missed the mark in some ways.
The Big Theater Stories So Far This Year
Two major theatrical stories hit even the national press. The first was the firing of Long Wharf Artistic Director Gordon Edelstein after allegations of sexual harassment and misconduct.
Later this spring, Darko Tresnjak announced he will leave Hartford Stage at the conclusion of the 2018-19 season. This wasn’t a total surprise. While at Hartford, he had not only produced excellent theater but won a Tony award, directed two new Broadway musicals and was increasingly in demand.
Just as one theater season ends, another begins. I’m already marking my calendar for the shows that I’m most anticipating.
(Revised from a press release)
Hartford Stage’s world premiere of “The Age of Innocence” and Goodspeed’s “Oklahoma!” led the shows nominated for the 28th annual Connecticut Critics Circle Awards. Yale Rep’s production of “Native Son,” Goodspeed’s production of “Rags,” and “Diary of Anne Frank” at Playhouse on Park also received numerous nominations.
The awards event, which celebrates the best in professional theater in the state, will be held Monday, June 11 at 7:30 p.m. at the Westport Country Playhouse. Jenn Harris and Matthew Wilkas, stars of TheaterWorks holiday comedy perennial “Christmas on the Rocks,” will be masters of ceremony for the event which is free and open to the public.
“The Age of Innocence” earned eight nominations, including outstanding play, director and lead actor and three featured actresses, costumes and lighting while “Oklahoma!” received a total of seven nods, including best musical, director, lead actress and actor and featured actress and actor and choreography.
Other outstanding play nominees are: Yale Repertory Theater’s productions of “An Enemy of the People” and “Father Comes Home From the Wars, Parts 1, 2 and 3.” Other nominees included Long Wharf Theatre’s “The Chosen” and the world premiere of “Fireflies” and West Hartford’s Playhouse on Park production of “The Diary of Anne Frank.”
Also earning outstanding musical nods are Goodspeed’s “Rags,” Connecticut Repertory Theater’s “1776,” Seven Angels Theatre’s “Million Dollar Quartet,” and “Fun Home,” Music Theater of Connecticut.
Receiving the annual Tom Killen Award for lifetime achievement in Connectiocut theater will be Michael O’Flaherty, longtime music director at Goodspeed Musicals.
Receiving special awards this year are New London’s Flock Theater for its production of “Long Day’s Journey Into Night” at the Monte Cristo Cottage, the boyhood home of Eugene ONeill; the Broadway Method Academy of Fairfield; and Billy Bivona, who composed and performed original music for TheaterWork’s production of “Constellations.”
Receiving an award for solo performance will be Elizabeth Stahlmann who starred in Westport Country Playhouse’s “Grounded.”
Other nominees are:
Actor in a play: Reg Rogers, “An Enemy of the People,” Yale Repertory Theatre; Jerod Haynes, “Native Son,” Yale Repertory Theatre; Jamison Stern, “The Legend of Georgia McBride,” TheaterWorks; Boyd Gaines, “The Age of Innocence,” Hartford Stage; Daniel Chung, “Office Hour,” Long Wharf Theatre.
Actress in a play: Jackie Chung, “Office Hour,” Long Wharf Theatre; Isabelle Barbier, “The Diary of Anne Frank,” Playhouse on Park; Mia Dillon, “Seder,” Hartford Stage; Jane Alexander, “Fireflies,” Long Wharf Theatre; Cecelia Riddett, “The Revisionist,” Playhouse on Park.
Actor in a musical: Jamie LaVerdiere, “1776,” Connecticut Repertory Theatre; Rhett Guter, “Oklahoma!,” Goodspeed Musicals; Jim Schubin, “Newsies,” Connecticut Repertory Theatre; David Pittsinger, “The Fantasticks,” Ivoryton Playhouse; Michael Notardonato, “Saturday Night Fever,” Ivoryton Playhouse.
Actress in a musical: Samantha Massell, “Rags,” Goodspeed Musicals; Mia Pinero, “West Side Story,” Ivoryton Playhouse; Juliet Lambert Pratt, “The Bridges of Madison County,” Music Theatre of Connecticut; Samantha Bruce, “Oklahoma!,” Goodspeed Musicals; Annabelle Fox, “Singin’ in the Rain,” Summer Theatre of New Canaan.
Director of a play: James Bundy, “An Enemy of the People,” Yale Repertory Theatre; Seret Scott, “Native Son,” Yale Repertory Theatre; Ezra Barnes, “The Diary of Anne Frank,” Playhouse on Park; Eric Ort, “The Wolves,” TheaterWorks; Doug Hughes, “The Age of Innocence,” Hartford Stage.
Director of a musical: Terrence Mann, “1776,” Connecticut Repertory Theatre; Jenn Thompson, “Oklahoma!,” Goodspeed Musicals; Kevin Connors, “Fun Home,” Music Theatre of Connecticut; Rob Ruggiero, “Rags,” Goodspeed Musicals; Brian Feehan, “The Fantasticks,” Ivoryton Playhouse.
Choreography: Katie Spelman, “Oklahoma! ,” Goodspeed Musicals; Christopher d’Amboise, “Newsies,” Connecticut Repertory Theatre; Kelli Barclay, “The Will Rogers Follies,” Goodspeed Musicals; Todd L. Underwood, “Saturday Night Fever,” Ivoryton Playhouse
Ensemble: Cast of “Avenue Q” (Weston Chandler Long, James Fairchild, Ashley Brooke, Peej Mele, E J Zimmerman, Abena Mensah-Bonsu and Colleen Welsh ), Playhouse on Park; Cast of “The Wolves” (Shannon Keegan, Claire Saunders, Dea Julien, Carolyn Cutillo, Emily Murphy, Caitlin Zoz, Rachel Caplan, Olivia Hoffman, Karla Gallegos, Megan Byrne), TheaterWorks; Cast of “The Chosen” (Ben Edelman, George Guidall, Steven Skybell, Max Wolkowitz) Long Wharf Theatre; Cast of “The Game’s Afoot” (Erik Bloomquist, Victoria Bundonis, Molly Densmore, Katrina Ferguson, Michael Iannucci, Craig MacDonald, Maggie McGlone-Jennings, Beverly J. Taylor), Ivoryton Playhouse.
Featured actor in a play: James Cusati-Moyer, “Kiss,” Yale Repertory Theatre;
Peter Francis James, “Romeo and Juliet,” Westport Country Playhouse; Tom Pecinka, “Father Comes Home from the Wars, Parts 1, 2 & 3,” Yale Repertory Theatre; Dan Hiatt, “Father Comes Home from the Wars, Parts 1, 2 & 3,” Yale Repertory Theatre; Jason Bowen, “Native Son,” Yale Repertory Theatre
Featured actress in a play: Judith Ivy, “Fireflies,” Long Wharf Theatre; Darrie Lawrence, “The Age of Innocence,” Hartford Stage; Carly Polistina, “The Crucible,” Connecticut Repertory Theatre; Sierra Boggess, “The Age of Innocence,” Hartford Stage; Helen Cespedes, “The Age of Innocence,” Hartford Stage
Featured actor in a musical: Matt Faucher, “Oklahoma!,” Goodspeed Musicals; Joe Callahan, “Million Dollar Quartet,” Ivoryton Playhouse; Sean MacLaughlin, “Rags,” Goodspeed Musicals; David Garrison, “The Will Rogers Follies,” Goodspeed Musicals; Cory Candelet, “The Fantasticks,” Ivoryton Playhouse.
Features actress in a musical: Jodi Stevens, “Singin’ in the Rain,” Summer Theater of New Canaan; Gizel Jimenez, “Oklahoma!” Goodspeed Musicals; Nora Fox, “Saturday Night Fever,” Ivoryton Playhouse; Megan O’Callaghan, “Fun Home,” Music Theatre of Connecticut; Kimberly Immanuel, “The Fantasticks,” Ivoryton Playhouse.
Projection design: Yana Birykova, “Grounded,”Westport Country Playhouse; Luke Cantarella, “Rags,” Goodspeed Musicals; Lucas Clopton & Darron Alley, “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” Hartford Stage; Wladimiro A. Woyno R., “Kiss,” Yale Repertory Theatre.
Set design: Emona Stoykova, “An Enemy of the People,” Yale Repertory Theatre; Alexander Dodge, “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” Hartford Stage; Andrew Boyce, “Appropriate,” Westport Country Playhouse; David Lewis, “The Diary of Anne Frank,” Playhouse on Park; Martin Scott Marchitto, “The Fantasticks.” ,Ivoryton Playhouse
Costume design: Linda Cho, “Rags,” Goodspeed Musicals’ Linda Cho, “The Age of Innocence,” Hartford Stage; Joshua Pearson, “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” Hartford Stage; Fabian Fidel Aguilar, “Romeo & Juliet,” Westport Country Playhouse; Leon Dobkowski, “The Legend of Georgia McBride,” TheaterWorks.
Lighting design: Ben Stanton, “The Age of Innocence,” Hartford Stage; Michael Chybowski, “1776,” Connecticut Repertory Theatre; Stephen Strawbridge, “Native Son,” Yale Repertory Theatre; Matthew Richards, “Appropriate,” Westport Country Playhouse; Yi Zhao, “Father Comes Home from the Wars, Parts 1, 2 & 3,”Yale Repertory Theatre.
Sound design: Frederick Kennedy, “Native Son,” Yale Repertory Theatre; Kate Marvin, “Grounded,” Westport Country Playhouse; Fitz Patton; “Appropriate,” Westport Country Playhouse; Jane Shaw, “A Lesson from Aloes,” Hartford Stage; Robert Kaplowitz, “Office Hour,” Long Wharf Theatre.
Debut: Shannon Keegan, “The Wolves,” TheaterWorks; Megan O’Callaghan, “The Bridges of Madison County” and “Fun Home,” Music Theatre of Connecticut; Noah Kierserman, “Newsies,” Connecticut Repertory Theatre.
DIRECTIONS: Westport Country Playhouse is at 25 Powers Court in Westport, just off Route (Exits 17 or 18 off I-91 brings you to Rt. 1.) www.westportplayhouse.org.
By Karen Isaacs
Ivoryton Playhouse is presenting an absolutely delightful production of The Fantasticks through Sunday, April 8.
If not handled correctly, this charming piece by Harvey Schmidt (music) and Tom Jones (book and lyrics), can become simplistic and sugary. But director Brian Feehan and the cast have added the salt and spice this piece needs to totally engage you.
It helps that El Gallo, who serves as the narrator, is in the capable hands of David Pitrsinger. He has the voice and the stage authority to carry off the multiple facets of the role: story teller, villain and seducer. He also interacts with the audience wonderfully.
Director Feehan has made a relatively minor adjustment to the plot. In the original, it is the fathers of Matt and Luisa who feign a feud so that their children will rebel against them and fall in love. In this production, it is the mothers who are the instigators. Perhaps that is more plausible that they would be interested in seeing their children wed. Patricia Schuman plays Matt’s mother with great warmth. Of course, it is also her, who spills the beans on the plot when the two young lovers seem too smug. Schuman has a rich mezzo. Carly Callhan is Luisa’s mother, who is more circumspect but does a fine job.
As the young lovers, Branford’s own Ryan Bloomquist is excellent at Matt, the young lover. It isn’t an easy part, for Matt is more naïve than we would expect a 20-year-old to be today. The character is more like a juvenile lead from a 1930s musical – somewhat out of touch with reality, until it is forced upon him. His voice, however, is perfect for the romantic ballads in the show.
Kimberly Immanuel plays the equally naïve and romantic, Luisa. She doesn’t try to hide the fact that the character is self-absorbed and out of touch with the real word. In addition, her soprano voice is excellent.
Together Bloomquist and Immanel make the most of their duets from “Metaphor” to “Soon It’s Gonna Rain” to “They Were You.”
Connecticut favorite R. Bruce Connelly plays Henry, the aging Shakespearean actor who with his assistant (a fine Will Clark), assists El Gallo in staging the abduction that allows Matt to rescue Luisa. Connelly never lets the humor become too broad which is the potential in the role. He still gets all the laughs.
Special praise must be given to Cory Candelet who plays the Mute. The role is an observer and silent commentator on the activities. His facial expressions and body language were so appropriate and expressive that he got loud applause during the curtain calls. It just goes to reinforce that you don’t need a lot of lines to make a big impression in a show.
The direction and choreography by Feehan makes use of the center aisle as well as some interaction with the audience. Musical director Jill Brunnell has helped the performers do an excellent job with the music.
Added to that is the attractive and spare set by Martin Scott Marchitto, the costumes by Elizabeth Saylor Cipollina, the souond by Tate R. Burnmeister and the lighting by Marcus Abbott.
This is an excellent production of this classic “small” musical. If you, go see it.
For tickets visit Ivoryton Playhouse.
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.