By Karen Isaacs
It’s the year of Hamilton arriving in Connecticut. That’s the big news.
As ever year, certain productions planned for Connecticut theaters pique my interest. I circle their dates on my calendar in anticipation. Here’s my list for this year.
Connecticut is blessed with an abundance of fine professional theaters – from the major regional companies (Yale Rep, Long Wharf, Hartford Stage, Goodspeed, TheaterWorks, Westport Playhouse) to more locally oriented theaters (Ivoryton Playhouse, Playhouse on Park in West Hartford, Connecticut Repertory Theater at UConn, Sharon Playhouse, Seven Angels in Waterbury, MTC in Norwalk and ACT-CT in Ridgefield). Plus there are the major presenting house that bring in national tours – the Bushnell in Hartford, Shubert in New Haven and the Palace in Waterbury.
One thing I have noticed in the last few years: more and more new plays are being produced while fewer classic works are done. Why? Sometimes it’s easier to get financial support or new works. New works allow theaters to reach out to more diverse audiences and present works by diverse playwrights. Even length may play a role; classic plays tend to be full-length (two plus hours) while modern audiences seems to prefer the 90+ minute play.
So what have I circled for this up-coming year?
(One caveat: Goodspeed, Ivoryton and Westport have not announced their productions for the first half of 2019. I’m sure some of those would have made my list).
Yet, looking back over a similar list I made last summer, some of them did not live up to my expectations and some that I had not circled, were outstanding.
Now Here Are My Most Anticipated Shows
A Chorus Line at Ivoryton closed Sept 2. It is a great show and I hoped they would do it well. They did.
Drowsy Chaperone at Goodspeed (Sept. 21-Nov. 25). This is just a delightful show; it won’t go down in the history of musicals as one of the best, but it is so much fun.
Man of La Mancha at Westport Country Playhouse (Sept. 25 –Oct. 13). It’s not my favorite musical (in fact it wouldn’t make my top 25), BUT Marco Lamos is directing and so that puts it on my list.
The Flamingo Kid at Hartford Stage (May 9 –June 2). This is the last show Darko Tresnjak will direct as artistic director. The brand new musical is aiming for Broadway just as A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder and Anastasia.
Henry V at Hartford Stage (Oct. 11 – Nov. 4). Hartford Stage has a track record of excellent Shakespeare and the play can be interpreted in so many ways. Plus, I like Shakespeare.
Flea in Her Ear at Westport (closed July 28) – I’m a sucker for Feydeau; I knew Mark Lamos would do a bang-up job directing it and I was right on all counts. This was overall a fabulous production.
Dramas & Comedies (New, Familiar & Rare)
Hand to God at TheaterWorks (closed Aug. 26). It was on my list out of curiosity. I didn’t see the show on Broadway and wanted to see why so many critics raved about it. I am not sure I would have.
The Prisoner at Yale Rep (Nov. 2-17). Why? It’s a US Premiere and it’s directed by Peter Brook. Need I say more?
Ripcord at Seven Angels (Nov. 8 – Dec. 2). This comedy about elderly roommates is on my list primarily because playwright David Lindsay-Abaire has written such interesting plays including Rabbit Hole which I loved.
Good Faith at Yale Rep (Feb. 1-23). I’m ambivalent about this world premiere which is based on the case some New Haven firefighters brought claiming civil rights violations. It could be just talking heads, but I hope playwright Karen Hartman can make it much more.
The Touring Shows
Hamilton at the Bushnell (Dec. 11-30). Who wouldn’t circle this show in RED???
Come from Away at the Bushnell (April 30-May 5). It would have won the Tony except for Dear Evan Hansen, it began at the Goodspeed Festival of New Musicals and it is well done. I enjoy the music and the story.
Lion King at the Bushnell (closed Aug. 16) – Amazingly I had never seen it. The concept and execution was terrific, but once is enough.
These selections are just the tip of the iceberg. Many of the other scheduled productions, sound very interesting. So check them all out. Connecticut has amazing theater!
Inside notes and comments about Connecticut and New York Professional Theater
By Karen Isaacs
New Musical at Chester: Goodspeed is concluding its season of new musicals at the Norma Terris Theater in Chester with Indian Joe to, Nov. 15. The musical, inspired by true events, tells the story of a Texas beauty queen, a homeless Native American, and their blossoming friendship. Elizabeth A. Davis, who received a Tony nomination for Once, plays the beauty queen and Gary Farmer, an actor, musician and cultural activist plays Joe. Davis wrote the book with Chris Henry and the music with Luke Holloway and the Jason Michael Webb and the lyrics. For tickets call 860-873-8668 or visit goodspeed.org.
Next Year at Goodspeed: The 2016 season at Goodspeed is the first one planned with the new executive director Michael Gennaro’s input. The season will feature two revivals plus a new musical. The Cole Porter show, Anything Goes, opens the season running from April 8 to June 16. Following will be what is billed as a fresh-take on the 1960 musical, Bye, Bye Birdie from June 24 to Sept. 4. The Goodspeed Opera House season concludes with Chasing Rainbows: The Road to Oz, a new musical inspired by the making of the classic film, The Wizard of Oz, from Sept. 16 to Nov. 27. At the Norma Terris Theater in Chester, Goodspeed will present two new musicals. Actually the first production is brand new version of the 1960s show The Roar of the Greasepaint – The Smell of the Crowd from May 19 to June 26. The original show introduced the song “Who Can I Turn To?” Next up is a musical set in 1965 and using the songs of Petula Clark and others from the period, A Sign of the Times from July 28 to Sept. 4. Season ticket packages are now on sale at 860-873-8668. For more information visit goodspeed.org.
An Opera Diva and Her Husband: When an opera diva nearing the end of her career suspects her husband, a prominent conductor, is enamored of the young woman hired to ghost-write his biography, you can expect a lot of drama and maybe some revenge in the form of an attractive male ghostwriter for her memoirs. That is the basis of the rather 1950s style drawing comedy, Living on Love which is next up at Seven Angels Theater in Waterbury. The play by Joe DiPietro will star Stephanie Zymbalist as the aging diva. The show originated at Williamstown Theater Festival in 2014 and had a brief run on Broadway last spring with Renee Fleming – a real opera star – in the lead. It runs Nov. 12 to, Dec. 6. For tickets call 203-757-7676 or visit sevenangelstheatre.org.
The Pearly Whites: For those who grew up in the 1950s, you may remember Liberace and his amazingly pearly white smile. The pianist had his own popular TV show and was known for his flamboyance at the keyboard and in his many sequined costumes. For those who are younger, Liberace may be best known for the made-for-TV movie a few years ago that starred Michael Douglas as Liberace. Ivoryton Playhouse is presenting Liberace! to, Nov. 15. The play is billed as loving tribute to the classically trained pianist. Just like the Liberace, it features music from classical to popular. Daryl Wagner plays Liberace; he’s played the man for more 20 years in a variety of shows. For tickets call 860-767-7318 or visit ivorytonplayhouse.org.
A Refuge Throughout Time: Anon(ymous) is being staged by the Connecticut Repertory Theater on the UConn campus in Storrs, to , Nov. 8. The play by Naomi Izuka is part of the theater’s Studio Series. An adaptation of Homer’s classic Odyssey, it tells the story of a young refugee (Anon) who travels throughout the history of the US meeting a wide variety of people. For tickets call 860-486-2113 or visit crt.uconn.edu.
An Early Christmas: The Shubert Theater in New Haven is not the only theater in Connecticut that is serving as a rehearsal and first performance venue for theatrical tours. The Palace in Waterbury has also served that function. This year, it will debut the 2015 tour of Irving Berlin’s White Christmas, the stage musical version of the classic holiday film favorite. The show runs, Nov. 6 to, Nov. 8 before heading out to various locales. For tickets, call 203-346-2000 or visit placetheaterct.org.
New York Notes: Fiddler on the Roof will now begin previews on, Nov. 20 and open officially on, Dec. 20. Tickets are available at telecharge.com. You can get tickets through telecharge.com for the British play, King Charles III which opens officially on Nov. 19. Yes, it imagines the reign of the current Prince of Wales.
While the national tour has just begun, the Broadway run of A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder, which began life at Hartford Stage, will end Jan. 17.
Kathleen Chalfant, who is well known to Connecticut theater goers (she starred in the original production of Wit at Long Wharf among other appearances), will play Rose Kennedy in Rose, off-Broadway beginning, Nov. 21.
September 12 marked the 5773rd and last Broadway performance of Mamma Mia!
Richard Thomas, who also has performed frequently in Connecticut, will head the cast of Incident in Vichy, the Arthur Miller play about the Nazi occupation of France. It’s at the Signature Theater and begun previews. Former Hartford Stage artistic director Michael Wilson directs. Tickets are available at signaturetheatre.org
A Chorus Line opened on Broadway 40 years ago, and it has a re-release of the original cast album with bonus tracks: two never-before-heard songs and alternate versions of some of the well-known songs. It is on the Sony label. Some of the bonus tracks are from the workshops that developed the show. It also features expanded liner notes.
Telecharge now has tickets for the revival of The Color Purple starring Jennifer Hudson that begins previews, Nov. 10 and opens officially, Dec. 10.
Dear Elizabeth, which was produced at Yale Rep in 2012 will be staged off-Broadway by the Women’s Project Theater through, Dec. 5. The play by Sarah Ruhl is constructed from the letters that poets Elizabeth Bishop and Robert Lowell exchanged. It will feature a rotating cast beginning with Kathleen Chalfant and Harris Yulin followed by J. Smith-Cameron and John Douglas Thompson, then Cherry Jones and David Aaron Baker. Information and tickets are available at wpt.org or 212-765-1706.
CT Critics Circle Give Multiple Award Nominations to Hamlet, Fiddler on the Roof, Arcadia, Kiss Me Kate and The Liar
By Karen Isaacs
The Connecticut Critics Circle has announced nominations for its annual awards which honor outstanding productions, performances and creative work at Connecticut’s professional theaters.
The winners will be honored at an award ceremony, Monday, June 22 at 7 p.m. at the Iseman Theater on Chapel Street in New Haven. The event is open to the public but seating is limited.
In the major categories — outstanding production and directing — multiple nominations went to Yale Rep, Hartford Stage, Goodspeed, Ivoryton Playhouse and Playhouse on Park. The productions represented were Arcadia, Elevada (Yale Rep), Hamlet, Reverberation, Kiss Me, Kate (Hartford Stage), The Liar (Westport Country Playhouse), All Shook Up (Ivoryton), Fiddler on the Roof, Holiday Inn (Goodspeed) and The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee (Playhouse on Park).
Most of these shows also received nominations for acting and for various features of the productions including sets, costumes, lighting, sound and choreography.
Connecticut Critics Circle Awards – 2014-2015 Nominations
Outstanding Production of a Play
Arcadia, Yale Rep
Elevada, Yale Rep
Hamlet , Hartford Stage
Reverberation, Hartford Stage
The Liar, Westport Country Playhouse
Outstanding Production of a Musical
All Shook Up, Ivoryton
Fiddler on the Roof, Goodspeed
Holiday Inn, Goodspeed
Kiss Me, Kate, Hartford Stage
The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, Playhouse on Park
Outstanding Actress in a Play
Laurel Casillo — Elevada, Yale Rep
Margaret Colin — Second Mrs. Wilson, Long Wharf
Keilly MacQuail — Bad Jews, Long Wharf
Nikki Walker — Intimate Apparel, Westport Country Playhouse
Shaunette Renée Wilson — The Caucasian Chalk Circle, Yale Rep
Outstanding Actor in a Play
Zach Appelman — Hamlet, Hartford Stage
Aaron Krohn — The Liar, Westport Country Playhouse
Luke Macfarlane — Reverberation, Hartford Stage
Tom Pecinka — Arcadia, Yale Rep
Steven Skybell — The Caucasian Chalk Circle, Yale Rep
Outstanding Actress in a Musical
Nancy Anderson – Guys and Dolls, Goodspeed
Danielle Bowen – All Shook Up, Ivoryton
Elissa DeMaria – Little Shop of Horrors, MTC Mainstage
Patti Murin – Holiday Inn, Goodspeed
Rebecca Spigelman – Hairspray, STONC
Outstanding Actor in a Musical
David Edwards – La Cage Aux Folles, Ivoryton
Preston Ellis – All Shook Up, Ivoryton
Michael Damian Fasano – Footloose, Seven Angels
Adam Heller – Fiddler on the Roof, Goodspeed
Noah Racey – Holiday Inn, Goodspeed
Outstanding Director of a Play
James Bundy – Arcadia, Yale Rep
Jackson Gay – Elevada, Yale Rep
Penny Metropulos – The Liar, Westport Country Playhouse
Darko Tresnjak – Hamlet, Hartford Stage
Maxwell Williams – Reverberation, Hartford Stage
Outstanding Director of a Musical
Richard Amelius – All Shook Up, Ivoryton
Gordon Greenberg – Holiday Inn, Goodpseed
Susan Haefner – The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, Playhouse on Park
Rob Ruggiero – Fiddler on the Roof, Goodpseed
Darko Tresnjak – Kiss Me, Kate, Hartford Stage
Outstanding Featured Actor in a Play
Edward James Hyland – Hamlet, Hartford Stage
Greg Keller – Elevada, Yale Rep
Andrew Long – Hamlet, Hartford Stage
Carl Lundstedt – Reverberation, Hartford Stage
Max Gordon Moore – Arcadia, Yale Rep
Outstanding Featured Actress in a Play
Rebekah Brockman – Arcadia, Yale Rep
Rebekah Brockman – The Liar, Westport Country Playhouse
Kate Forbes – Hamlet, Hartford Stage
Kristin Harlow – Angels in America, Playhouse on Park
Tonya Pinkins – War, Yale Rep
Outstanding Featured Actress in a Musical
Elizabeth DeRosa – Fiddler on the Roof, Goodspeed
Barrie Kreinik – Fiddler on the Roof, Goodspeed
Sharon Malone – Hairspray, STONC
Susan Mosher – Holiday Inn, Goodspeed
Megan Sikora – Kiss Me, Kate, Hartford Stage
Outstanding Featured Actor in a Musical
Scott Cote – Guys and Dolls, Goodspeed
Stephen DeRosa – Sing For Your Shakespeare, Westport Country Playhouse
Noah Marlowe – Holiday Inn, Goodspeed
John Payonk – Fiddler on the Roof, Goodspeed
Nick Reynolds – Hairspray, STONC
Richard Amelius – All Shook Up, Ivoryton
Peggy Hickey – Kiss Me, Kate, Hartford Stage
Denis Jones – Holiday Inn, Goodspeed
Alex Sanchez – Guys and Dolls, Goodspeed
David Wanstreet – Fingers and Toes, Ivoryton
Outstanding Set Design
Andromache Chalfant – Reverberation, Hartford Stage
Alexander Dodge – Kiss Me, Kate, Hartford Stage
Alexander Dodge – Private Lives, Hartford Stage
Chika Shimizu – The Caucasian Chalk Circle, Yale Rep
James Youmans – Ether Dome, Hartford Stage
Outstanding Lighting Design
David Lander – Ether Dome, Hartford Stage
John Lassiter – Fiddler on the Roof, Goodspeed
Tyler Micoleau – Elevada, Yale Rep
Matthew Richards – Hamlet, Hartford Stage
Matthew Richards – Reverberation, Hartford Stage
Outstanding Costume Design
Tracy Christensen – Guys & Dolls, Goodspeed
Jessica Ford – The Liar, Westport Country Playhouse
Fabio Toblini – Hamlet, Hartford Stage
Fabio Toblini – Kiss Me, Kate, Hartford Stage
Alejo Vietti – Holiday Inn, Goodspeed
Outstanding Sound Design
David Budries – Picasso at the Lapin Agile, Long Wharf
Kate Marvin – Elevada, Yale Rep
Adam Phalen – Forever, Long Wharf
Jane Shaw – Hamlet, Hartford Stage
Matt Tierney – The Caucasian Chalk Circle, Yale Rep
Cast of Altar Boyz – Playhouse on Park
Brandon Beaver, Nick Bernardi, Adam Cassel, Greg Laucella. Mark G. Merritt, Brock Putnam
Cast of Picasso at the Lapin Agile – Long Wharf
Penny Balfour, Grayson DeJesus, Tom Riis Farrell, Ronald Guttman, David Margulies, Dina Shihabi, Jake Silberman, Jonathan Spivey, Robbie Tann
Cast of The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee –Playhouse on Park
Kevin Barlowski, Hillary Ekwall, Emily Kron, Steven Mooney, Maya Naff, Joel Newsome, Norman Payne, Natalie Sannes, Scott Scaffidi
Cast of Woody Sez – TheaterWorks
David Finch, David M. Lutken, Leenya Rideout, Helen J. Russell
Curtis J. Cook – Brownsville Song, Long Wharf
Carl Lundstedt – Reverberation, Hartford Stage
Dina Shihabi – Picasso at the Lapin Agile, Long Wharf
Brittany Vicars – Hamlet, Hartford Stage
Inside notes and comments about Connecticut and New York Professional Theater
By Karen Isaacs
From Film to London to Ivoryton: Ivoryton Playhouse is presenting the US premier of the stage comedy version of the popular film Calendar Girls. The show runs June 3 to 21. If you remember the film, it is about a group of ordinary, small town older women who decided to pose “au naturale” in a calendar to raise funds for charity. Their success garners international attention, and has, in fact, inspired other groups to similar projects. By the way, a musical of the film is in the works. For tickets call 860-767-7318 or visit ivorytonplayhouse.org. Opening night is billed as Cancer Survivor Night with half price tickets available for survivors.
Remember Elizabeth Wilson: Certainly Long Wharf and audiences at many other area theaters had the pleasure of seeing Elizabeth Wilson perform. The longtime Branford resident passed away recently at the age of 94. She won a Tony for her performance in David Rabe’s Sticks and Bones, and won a Drama Desk for Mornings at Seven, in a production that I believe began at Long Wharf, and was Roz Keith in the film 9 to 5 and Dustin Hoffman’s mother in The Graduate.
TheaterWorks Season: The TheaterWorks season begin in October with Wendy Wasserstein’s last play, Third through Nov. 8. After the holiday season production of Christmas on the Rocks from Nov. 27 to Dec. 23 (for the third year), the off-Broadway hit Buyer and Cellar will Jan. 8 to Feb. 14. Then comes Sex with Strangers, March 11 to April 17, The Call from May 13 to June 19 and concludes with Midsummer, billed as a play with songs from July 16 to Aug. 21. For subscriptions call 860-527-7838.
Next Year in Norwalk: MTC will celebrate its second season at its new theater in Norwalk with Evita from Oct. 16 to Nov. 1. During the holidays the theater will present The Santaland Diaries from Dec. 11-20. From Feb. 26 to March 13 is the Tony winning Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike. The season will conclude with the Jason Robert Brown musical The Last Five Years, April 8 to 24. For information or subscriptions visit www.musictheatreofct.org or call 203-454-3883.
Looking Back Over 50 Years: Long Wharf is concluding its 50th anniversary celebration with an event featuring all four of the artistic directors in its history from founder Jon Jory to Arvin Brown, Doug Hughes and Gordon Edelstein, the current director. It will be held on June 7 at 2 and be hosted by WNPR’s Colin McEnroe. For visit longwharf.org.
Sweet WWII Play at Westport: A Nightingale Sang is next up at Westport Country Playhouse, June 9 to 27. The title refers to the popular WWII song “And A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square.” It’s a love story about a working class British family and the coming of war. David Kennedy will direct. An interesting fact: the play got its premier at Hartford Stage when Mark Lamos was artistic director — I believe he directed it. Now he is the artistic director at Westport and says he has always been fond of the work. For tickets call 888-927-7529 or westportplayouse.org.
A Coup for Ivoryton: Former area resident and opera singer and actor David Pittsinger will star as Emile deBecque in the theater’s production of South Pacific this summer. Pittsinger took over the role from Paulo Szot in the award winning LIncoln Center production.
This content is courtesy of Shore Publications and ziip06.c0m
By Karen Isaacs
Jukebox musicals are popular because they give audiences a wide range of songs associated with a particular composer or performer. They are divided into three categories: those that use the songs to advance a story (All Shook Up uses music associated with Elvis Presley), those that are a straight revue with no real story (Ain’t Misbehavin’ is a stellar example of this), and those that attempt to give biography of the composer or performer using the music.
Stand By Your Man: The Tammy Wynette Story that opens Ivoryton Playhouse’s 2015 season is the latter type of show. The title tells you all you need to know; it is the life story of Tammy Wynette.
What a story it is, from cotton-picking child to the Queen of country music. And there the numerous soap-opera elements: A father who died when she was 9 months old, five marriages plus a romance with Burt Reynolds, four children, addiction to prescription drugs and numerous surgeries and illnesses.
But even the talented playwright Mark St. Germain has difficulty bringing any depth to the story.
The premise is that Tammy is dead and meets her mother in heaven. When her mother says that while most people have their lives flash before their eyes as they die, for Tammy it would take more than a few seconds, we are off to the races.
The story is told chronologically — we see the young Tammy picking cotton, listening to George Jones on the radio and as a teenager escaping into an early marriage by Euple Byrd. After several children, she leaves him to go to Nashville to pursue her dream. While there she meets Don Chapel an aspiring singer-songwriter whom she marries and soon they are touring with George Jones. Before you can blink an eye, Chapel has departed and Jones has declared his love. They are soon the King and Queen of Country but all is not ideal in paradise. George drinks and often misses shows and Tammy takes to medication.
Husband number four (Michael Tomlin) lasts less than two months before the romance with Reynolds and then husband number five (George Richey).
Over 25 songs help propel the story along from Wynette’s classic “Stand by Your Man” to “D-I-V-O-R-C-E,” “We’re Gonna Hold On,” “I Still Believe in Fairy Tales,” “Apartment #9,” and “Your Good Girl’s Gonna Go Bad” among others.
Ivoryton has assembled a talent cast of actors and musicians. All of Wynette’s husbands are members of a great honky tonk band. Wynette is played by Kate Barton who recreates both the sound and the look of the legendary star. Parenthetically, many thought that the constantly hospitalized country star in the Robert Altman movie Nashville was modeled on Wynette. Barton also captures Wynette’s more “catatonic” performances later in her career.
Ben Hope (who incidentally is married to Barton) plays George Jones and performs a number of songs associated with Jones including “Why Baby Why,” “The Race Is On,” “Love Bug,” and “If Drinking Don’t Kill Me.”
Marcy McGuigan is a standout as “MeeMaw” – Wynette’s mother. She bring a tartness to the role as well as concern and caring. She also gets a terrific number in the second act, “God’s Gonna Get Me for That” which includes a drum solo.
Lily Tobin plays a variety of roles including the young Tammy, Tammy’s daughter, a back-up singer and hairdresser named Dolly Pardon.
The other members of the band: Sam Sherwood, Eric Scott Anthony, Jonathan Brown, Morgan Morse, Louis Tucci and Guy “Fooch” Fischetti all play up a storm and are authentic as the various men in Tammy’s life.
Director Sherry Lutken has been ably assisted by musical director David M. Lutken (yes, they are married) in keeping the show moving and making effective use of the somewhat oddly configured Ivoryton stage.
All elements of the production — scenic design (by Daniel Nischan), costume design (by Anya Sokolovskya), lighting (by Marcus Abbott), sound (by Tate R. Burmeister) and wig design (by Elizabeth Cipollina) contribute to an authentic feel for the show.
If there is a problem with the show, it is that no one seems to display any insight into the motivations for Tammy’s actions. It is more of “and then I did/married/went…” then a true examination of the life of an important artist.
For anyone with a love of country music, this is a show that is a “must see.” Many in the audience were mouthing lyrics to multiple songs during the show and the applause at the end was enthusiastic.
So Stand By Your Man – The Tammy Wynette Story is a litmus test of sorts: if you love country music you will enjoy it immensely; if that genre is not a favorite you may still enjoy the production but you will wish for more depth.
Stand By Your Man – The Tammy Wynette Story is at Ivoryton Playhouse, 103 Main St., Ivoryton through April 5. For tickets call 860-767-7318 or visit http://www.ivorytonplayhouse.org.
This review appears courtesy of Shore Publications and zip06
Theater News for July 23
Individual Show Tickets: Tickets for individual shows/performances are now on sale at both Hartford Stage and The Bushnell while subscriptions are still available. The Hartford Stage season starts with Ether Dome (Sept. 11 -Oct. 5), Hamlet (Oct. 16 – Nov. 9), Private Lives (Jan. 8 – Feb. 1), Reverberation (Feb. 19 – March 15), The Pianist of Willesden Lane (March 26 – April 19), and Kiss Me Kate (May 14 – June 7. Plus of course, A Christmas Carol – A Ghost Story of Christmas (Nov. 28 – Dec. 28). For tickets call 860-527-5151 or http://www.hartfordstage.org. The Bushnell Broadway series includes Evita (Sept. 23-28), Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat (Oct. 14-19), Wicked (Nov. 5- 23), Pippin (Jan. 6 – 11); singles tickets are now on sale for these except Wicked which goes on Sale Sept. 12. The season concludes with Nice Work If You Can Get It (Feb. 3 -8), Camelot (April 21-16), Once (May 26-31), and Kinky Boots (June 23-28); single tickets go on sale Sept. 20. For tickets call 860-987-5900 or http://www.bushnell.org.
Shakespeare Outdoors: Connecticut Free Shakespeare won’t be appearing on the Guilford Green this summer, but the company is still doing Shakespeare. They’ll present the comedy As You Like It, which is less commonly done, on the grounds of the old American Shakespeare Festival Theater in Stratford, on the banks of the Housatonic July 30 through Aug. 3 at 8 p.m. and on McLevy Green in downtown Bridgeport on Aug. 6 – 10 at 8 p.m. Admission is free though contributions are welcome. For more information visit http://www.ctfreeShakespeare.org.
Ivoryton Coup: Ivoryton Playhouse will be presenting a new play by Mike Reiss who wrote It’s Connecticut, Sept. 24 to Oct. 12. Comedy is Hard! is as the press material describes it “set in a home for retired actors and the play takes an affectionate look at the relationship and rivalry between a retired stand-up comedian and a classical actress.” Mickey Dolenz, of the Monkees will star with Joyce DeWitt. Each of the two leads has extensive theater credits. Sounds like fun.
Emmy Nomination: The Lifetime channel version of A Trip to Bountiful directed by former Hartford Artistic Director Michael Wilson picked up several Emmy nominations for outstanding TV movie and for Cicely Tyson for leading actress in a miniseries or movie.
More Assignments for Darko: Darko Tresnjak, artistic director at Hartford Stage and Tony winning director for A Gentleman’s Guide… will direct Patti Lupone in the Los Angeles Opera production of The Ghosts of Versailles next February. He’s one busy man.
Williamstown This Summer: The Williamstown Theater Festival, in Williamstown, Mass. is one of the most lauded summer theater festivals. Often plays begin their lives there. The festival attracts top notch acting, directing and production talent. The season is well underway but there is still time to plan visit. The main stage is currently offering Living on Love through July 26 with Renee Fleming as an opera diva who gets even with her egomaniacal husband. Opening July 31 to Aug. 17 is The Visit, a musical version of the famous play with a book by Terrence McNally and music and lyrics by Kander and Ebb. It stars Chita Rivera, Judy Kuhn, Roger Rees and Jason Danieley among others. At the Nikkos stage is Sam Shepard’s Fool for Love (July 24-Aug. 2) followed by the PigPen Theater Company’s The Old Man and the Moon (Aug. 6-17). For ticket visit WTFestival.org.
All Shook Up now at Ivoryton Playhouse through July 27 is one of those jukebox musicals that gives you hope for the genre. While it is not in the class of Jersey Boys or the current Broadway hit Beautiful-the Carol King Musical, it a big step ahead of many of the jukebox shows I’ve seen.
It uses the music of Elvis to tell a story that refers to so many other stories that sometimes you wonder if book writer Joe DiPietro simply threw darts at various other stage works. But rather than just using Elvis’ biggest hits, DiPietro includes a number of songs that were not number one on the hit parade. For the Elvis fan this is a delight and for those who only know the big hits, you will find some unfamiliar songs.
Take the setting, for example — it is small town America in the ’50s and the local Mayor has passed a ‘Mamie Eisenhower” ordinance that outlaws dancing, necking, rock and roll, and everything else that’s fun. (Does that remind you of Footloose?)
Then let’s move onto the plot. Natalie is a young woman with a talent for engines who longs to get out of town. Dennis is the earnest young man who loves her but can’t tell her, realizing it is not reciprocated. Chad is the guy on the motorcycle who rides into town with his guitar on his back, his tight jeans and his swivel hips. Natalie is immediately smitten as is every other girl in town. (You can fill in any number of films and musicals that use this device.)
Chad shakes things up and in desperation Natalie transforms herself into “Ed” so she can be Chad’s sidekick. In the process she stirs up some unexpected feelings in Chad and in Miss Sandra, the newly arrived “hottie” for whom Chad yearns and sends “Ed” to woo. This part of the plot references Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night among other comedies.
Then we can add in the subplots — the domineering Mayor and her son whom she keeps shipping off to military school; the young man’s attraction to a local girl; Natalie’s widower father and his romantic entanglements, and more.
What makes this show very 21st century despite it being set in the 1950s, is the emphasis on unconventional romances. Dean, the Mayor’s son falls in love with a young African American girl. Jim, Natalie’s dad ends up falling for Sylvia, the African American owner of the local bar. And Chad is willing to embrace his feelings for “Ed” — not be repelled by them.
What makes this show work at Ivoryton, in large part, is a talented and charming cast, including seven Equity performers.
As Natalie, Danielle Bowen displays a terrific voice, attractive looks and a sweetness that makes you root for her from the opening number, “Love Me Tender.” Preston Ellis as Chad has the confidence and sex appeal (and he shows that the character know it) that makes the perfect stranger-from-a-far that all the girls immediately want. He sings and swivels his hips perfectly and his smile will grab you.
But it is not just these two that make this cast so good. Nicholas Park as Dennis, the self-proclaimed “nerd” who loves Natalie from afar is not goofy but sweet. You are torn between rooting for Natalie to get Chad and for Dennis to get Natalie, the girl of his dreams.
As Miss Sandra, the sexy new woman in town, Mara Jill Herman shows she can project sex appeal with the best, particularly in “Let Yourself Go.” But this character also has some surprising depths. R. Bruce Connelly plays Natalie’s dad who is slowing starting a new life.
And in handing out the praise, you have to include Onyie as Sylvia, the bar owner, Danielle Framble as her daughter, Melissa McLean as the uptight Mayor who finally lets loose with “Devil in Disguise.” Logan Scott Mitchell who plays her son, Dean, displays great dancing ability, including a split towards the end of the show.
So is this an A plus show? Not completely, but the complaints are minor. First, since the orchestra is hidden away, sometimes the sound seems muffled — almost like it is recorded. Occasionally the direction by director/choreographer Richard Amelius is a little static: everyone is just standing and singing. Thirdly, the lighting could be more varied; several scenes that are supposedly in the evening or at night are so brightly lit you would think it was noon. But these are minor complaints and they are balanced by the terrific period costumes by Kari Crowther. I told my granddaughter these were typical of what I wore in high school.
The musical began life at the Norma Terris Theater in Chester as part of Goodspeed’s development of new musicals in 2004 before going on to Broadway in 2005 where it had a relatively brief (200+ performance) run. On Broadway, Cheyenne Jackson played Chad, the Elvis like character.
This summer you will have a rocking good time at All Shook Up.
All Shook Up is at the Ivoryton Playhouse through July 27. For tickets and information contact the Playhouse at 860-767-7318 or online at http://www.ivorytonplayhouse.org.
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