Tag Archives: Seven Angels Theater

Sophie Tucker’s Life on Stage at Seven Angels


By Karen Isaacs

 You may never have heard of Sophie Tucker, but the burlesque, vaudeville, stage, movie, radio and television performer was the prototype for the suggestive (and sometimes raunchy) humor of Mae West and more recently, Bette Midler in her early career.

Cabaret and Broadway performer Sharon McNight has created a show that features the songs and life of Sophie Tucker. Red Hot Mama: The Sophie Tucker Story how has now made it to Seven Angels Theater in Waterbury where it plays through March 11. (Last year, the theater had a one man show about Anthony Newley that was terrific.)

Unfortunately this show doesn’t quite live up to that standard. Tucker grew up in Hartford and is buried there.  She started singing there but moved on to New York and then toured in vaudeville (originally in blackface) before inventing her persona. She was part comedian and part singer.

Her choice of material – often comic and/or risqué – led to the “Last of the Red Hot Momma’s” name.

In the show, McNight adapts her voice to the raspy Tucker voice which, unfortunately, can become grating during the 90+ minute show. An intermission might have helped.

The play moves between Tucker in the 1950s and her younger self, as she tells us incidents from her life including her three marriages. This occurs between renditions of many songs associated with Tucker. These range from “Darktown Sturtter’s Ball,” to “Hula Lou,” to “There’ll Be Some Changes Made” and others. Of course, her signature song, “Some of These Days” is well represented.

Despite the talent of McNight – and her superficial resemblance to Tucker – the show is only partially successful. It suffers from the problems that afflict many one-person shows: how do you get additional information or people into it. McNight does it by both using the telephone and speaking to someone outside her dressing room door. It doesn’t really work. You’d like her to play another character.

The other issue for me is that Tucker’s music did not vary much – mostly she sang somewhat risqué songs – “He’s a Good Man to Have Around,” “Last of the Red Hot Mommas,” or humorous ones – “I Don’t Want to Get Thin.” Plus her voice can begin to sound monotonous.

Despite these qualms about the show, it does remind us of any earlier period in theater/vaudeville and one of the iconic performers.

McNight is backed up by a three piece group led by conductor/pianist and music director Brent C. Mauldin. In keeping with Tucker’s success and reputation, there are terrific, uncredited costumes that capture the various decades.

In addition to performing, McNight has also directed and written the piece. While she is talented enough to do that, sometimes another person can point out areas that might be improved.

Yet Red Hot Mama: The Sophie Tucker Story can be good fun, particularly for those who may have some memories of her appearing on Ed Sullivan and other shows. It is at Seven Angels Theater, 1 Plank Rd., Waterbury. For tickets call 203-757-4676 or visit Seven Angels Theatre.



Lots to Anticipate with Pleasure in Connecticut’s Up-Coming Theater Season

By Karen Isaacs

 Every year as theaters announce their up-coming seasons, certain productions pique my interest. I circle their dates on my calendar in anticipation.

So what have I circled for this up-coming year? Connecticut theaters offer a good mixture of the new, the classics, the familiar, and the rare. I have circled some of each.

(One caveat: Goodspeed, Ivoryton and Westport have not announced their productions for the first half of 2018. I’m sure some of those would have made my list).

The Musicals:

RAGS poster Rags at Goodspeed Musicals (Oct. 6 –Dec. 10). This isn’t a new musical, but one of those shows that “failed” on Broadway but has developed a devoted following. Its authors, Charles Strouse (Bye, Bye Birdie,) and Stephen Schwartz (Pippin), have worked on the show extensively with a new book writer (David Thompson) and the revised version has been performed to good reviews. This show about turn-of-the-20th century Jewish immigrants seems timely; the score is excellent.

Red Hot Mama: The Sophie Tucker Story at Seven Angels Theater, (Feb. 15 – March 11). I’m not sure if this is a one-woman show or not, but it focuses on the life and career of vaudeville star Sophie Tucker.

bridges of madison - imageThe Bridges of Madison County at MTC (Nov. 3-19). I love Jason Robert Brown’s score for this adaptation of the novel. I’ll be interested in how director Kevin Connors handles it on the smaller stage. I suspect it will increase the intimacy and emotional impact.

Oklahoma at Goodspeed (through Sept. 27). I’ve already seen this production and while it is quite good, it disappointed me. It didn’t live up to all I had hoped it would be.

The Classics:

I like Shakespeare and Connecticut is blessed with two directors who have a track record of outstanding productions of Shakespeare. Each is directing a work this fall.

Romeo & Juliet at Westport Country Playhouse (Oct. 31 to Nov. 19).  Artistic Director Mark Lamos directed one of the best productions of this tragedy at Hartford Stage years ago. I still remember it and hope this production will live up to his earlier one.

midsummerMidsummer Night’s Dream at Hartford Stage (Sept. 7 to Oct. 8). Artistic Director Darko Tresjnak has given Connecticut an almost annual Shakespeare production including terrific productions of MacBeth, The Tempest, Hamlet, Twelfth Night and a riotous A Comedy of Errors. Now he is turning his hand to this classic comedy. It’s bound to be good.

It seems as though Ibsen’s An Enemy of the People is having a resurgence; there were two productions in New York last season and now it is opening Yale Rep’s season (Oct 6 -28). This play is about individual responsibility, courage, economics, and environmental health, yet it was written almost 140 years ago.

Dramas & Comedies (New, Familiar & Rare)

 Matthew Lopez is a fine younger playwright, whose works I’ve enjoyed (The Whipping Man, Reverberation), so I’m looking forward to The Legend of Georgia McBride at TheaterWorks (March 15 – April 22). It’s about a young man, a former Elvis impersonator who becomes a successful drag queen.

fireflies posterFireflies (Oct. 11 – Nov. 5) at Long Wharf is featuring an outstanding cast including Jane Alexander. For that reason alone, it’s on my list.

The Connecticut Rep is doing Our Country’s Good (Nov.  30 – Dec. 9). It premiered at Hartford Stage many years ago and is a fascinating look at the founding of Australia and the power of theater to transform people.

 Almost all of Hartford Stage’s productions sound interesting, but if I am to pick just one it would be Athol Fugard’s Statements After an Arrest Under the Immortality Act, (May 10- June 3). Why?  Athol Fugard is one of the great playwrights and this is an earlier work, plus it reveals more about life under apartheid in South Africa.

It’s also hard to pick which Yale Rep play will astound me: I am unfamiliar with many of them. But if forced to circle just one on my calendar, it would be Kiss, (April 27-May) by Guillermo Calederón. Why? The description sounds interesting: about people surviving in Damascus.

I did not get to see Jesse Eisenberg’s The Revisionist off-Broadway, so I’m looking forward to the Playhouse on Park production, April 11-29. It’s about a young man who visits an elderly cousin in Warsaw who is a Holocaust survivor.

These twelve selections are just the tip of the iceberg. Many of the other scheduled productions, including those at the Bushnell, sound very interesting. So check them all out. Connecticut has amazing theater!

“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

Seven Angels Theatre Delights with “Trav’ling – the 1930s Harlem Musical”

traveling 1 Gary Rosengrant

Photo by Gary Rosengrand

By Karen Isaacs

 Discovering a little known composer – at least to me – and finding his works delightful and well-presented is one of the joys of being a theater critic.

That’s what happened when I saw Trav’ling – the 1930s Harlem Musical now at Seven Angels Theatre in Waterbury through June 11.

The music for this production – which is more revue than true musical – is by J. C. Johnson. Don’t recognize the name? We’ve all heard his songs. He wrote “This Joint Is Jumpin’” with Fats Waller with whom he collaborated for many years. But he also wrote with Andy Razaf.  The Ink Spots, Billy Eckstine, Billie Holiday, Bessie Smith, Ella Fitzgerald and Connie Boswell ( and the Boswell Sisters) were among the artists who performed and recorded his music.

The plot is slim but the emphasis is on the talented performers presenting these songs that will have your feet tapping.

It’s about three couples in Harlem in the 1930s. There’s Deacon George who sort of overseas the Harlem bloc and his niece Cherry recently arrived from Chicago to go to nursing school. Then there’s Nelson, a young man who sells Bibles but is still naïve, inexperienced and awkward with women. You can bet that Nelson and Cherry will hit it off but there will be some complications.

We have the neighborhood beautician Roz who is older and wiser, but still in love with Archie Stone, a smooth talking, womanizing traveling salesman. She thinks they have an agreement that he will not mess around in NYC.

And then there’s Billie. Billie is older and arrives in the neighborhood from New Orleans; she has mission to put to rest a romantic ghost from her past, so for a while at least she is Ethel from Mississippi.

You don’t have think much about the plot – in fact, some of it doesn’t withstand logical scrutiny. Let’s just say these three couples – yes, Billie and George become a couple – each have minor bumps on the way to a happy ending.

But if the plot is miniscule, the performances aren’t. This is a top-notch cast of experienced actors who can sing and dance and even make the story seem logical. They are backed up by a four piece orchestra, ably conducted by musical director/pianist John DiPinto.

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Jacobi Hall and Cherry Torres. Photo by Gary Rosengrant

You may not recognize the songs, but quite a few caught my attention. I’m going to be seeking out recordings to hear them again. The opening number, “Somebody Loses, Somebody Wins” is terrific as performed by Lothair Eaton as George. But there is the “Empty Bed Blues,” the jazzy “Believe It Beloved,” the danceable “Hold My Hand,” and the terrific “When You Fall in Love.” And I forgot to mention “Dancin’ with My Love.”

Each of the performers knows how to put over a song, from Teren Carter as the jivin’ and smooth talking Archie to Yewande Odetoyinbo as the long-suffering Roz. Jacobi Hall conveys the uncertainty of the young Nelson and Cherry Torres projects the innocence and joy of Ella. But I can’t leave out Miche Braden as Billie and Lothair Eaton as George; he reminds you a bit of Waller.

Paul Stancato has directed and choreographed the show with finesse. He keeps the pace moving and the tone is just about perfect – respectful of the characters but with a hint of a wink behind it all. His choreography is also good and in Hall and Torres he has talented dancers.

Stephen Dobay has created a clever set that provides an interesting backdrop for the projections by Christopher Ash. Kudos also to costume designer Janell Berte and lighting designer Keith A. Truax.

Treat yourself to this enjoyable show.

Tickets are available to Trav’ling – the 1930s Harlem Musical ­ by calling 203-757-4676 or online at Seven Angels Theatre

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Miche Braden, Cherry Torres, Yewande Odetoyinbo. Photo by Gary Rosengrant.

Jon Peterson Is Fabulous as Anthony Newley

By Karen Isaacs

 Wow! Before you read any further, immediately make plans to see He Wrote Good Songs now at Seven Angels Theater through Nov. 27.

I was absolutely mesmerized by the performance of Jon Peterson who conceived and wrote this show about the life of Anthony Newley.  It is a bravura performance. He captures Newley’s vibrato and reedy voice almost perfectly as well as giving us a fully developed character. He is good you wonder why he isn’t better known outside of the business.

The show recounts Newley’s life from childhood in London’s East End until his death in 1999.  Peterson tells us about his early beginnings as a teenager including playing the Artful Dodger in David Lean’s acclaimed film of Oliver Twist, which led to early stardom, his first appearance on the West End (and later Broadway) stage in a musical by John Cranko (a well-known Royal Ballet choreographer) and his then burgeoning career as a pop singer and later the composer/lyricist and star of several musicals.

He Wrote Good Songs is not only a juke box musical but a one man show, yet it never seems like that. The songs which are mostly by Newley or Bricusse or both, fit nicely into the story. Jon Peterson’s talent makes it seem as more characters are on the stage.

As performed by Peterson, Newley has many less than desirable qualities – he was a womanizer, easily hurt people and parenting was not always his strong point. YET….and this is a big yet, he is totally charming. He is aware of his flaws even if he won’t or can’t stop from doing them. As he tells them to us, he gives us a wink and smile as if to say – “I know I shouldn’t but I can’t help myself.”

As we follow the ups and downs of his life – which includes several marriages, a number of children (he always seemed surprised by the pregnancies) and a stay in Hollywood, we hear many of his most famous songs.

Before he was 30, he and Bricusse had written to successful West End and Broadway shows and Newley had starred in both, at least on Broadway.  I remember seeing them both.  The shows were Stop the World, I Want to Get Off and The Roar of the Greasepaint, the Smell of the Crowd. He did like long titles. Each of these shows dealt in some ways with the British class system and the difficulty of those born into the working classes of succeeding or gaining acceptance.

Each show produced songs recorded by many top performers as well as some lesser known numbers that are equally delightful. So we get to here “On a Wonderful Day like Today,”  “What Kind of Fool Am I?” “Gonna Build a Mountain,” “Once in a Lifetime,” and others.

Plus we get songs from the film Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory which he wrote with Bricusse.

This show isn’t just about the hits – Peterson introduces us to some forgotten songs. “I’ll Begin Again” from Newley’s musical Scrooge, “Oh, What a Son of a Bitch I Am,” from his independent film in 1969 that finished him Hollywood. The film had another long title (Can Heironymus Merkon Forget Mercy Humppe and Find True Happiness) and he starred, directed and wrote it.

We also hear about his awful 9 month experience filming Dr. Doolittle with Rex Harrison, who apparently didn’t like the animals, the cast or Newley and was always trying to get everyone fired. He also hated the music that Newley wrote with Bricusse and Alexander Courage.

Semina de Laurentis has done an excellent job directing this piece aided, no doubt, by Peterson’s years of experience and talent.  It is never static, the moments flow from one to another and the pathos at the end – Newley’s death from cancer and his reconciliation with his father – is not overplayed.

Daniel Husvar has created a terrific set that shows a small den as well as other houses that serve as Newley’s neighborhood and other locations. The sound by Matt Martin was excellent as were the lighting affects by Scott Calley.  Bruce Barnes provided the musical direction as well as the vocal arrangements and orchestrations with Peterson.  One song “In London” was written by Peterson to introduce us to Newley’s early life. It is very good.

This show is dependent on the talent of Peterson and he has a huge amount of it. He grew up in England, trained at the Royal Ballet and has performed major roles on both sides of the Atlantic A Chorus Line and as the Emcee in the 1995 production of Cabaret on tour.

He brought his other two one man shows – Cohen, Tonight! and Song Man, Dance Man – to Seven Angels in the past. Both were terrific.

So make a beeline to Waterbury to see He Wrote Good Songs before Nov. 27. For tickets visit Seven Angels or call 203-757-4676.

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.

Casting, Controversy, Season Schedules

By Karen Isaacs

Bierko Comes to Long Wharf: Craig Bierko, who was nominated for a Tony for his performance as Harold Hill in the Broadway revival of The Music Man and is now on UnREAL on Lifetime, has joined the cast of Meteor Shower by Steve Martin which opens the Long Wharf season. The show runs Wednesday, Sept. 28 to Sunday, Oct. 23. For tickets visit Long Wharf or call 203-787-4282

Auditions for Kids: Hartford Stage will be auditioning children 5-13 for its annual production of A Christmas Carol – A Ghost Story of Christmas from Tuesday, Sept. 20 to Thursday, Sept. 22. Auditions are by appointment only.  For information about preparation and requirements or appointments email Auditions.

This Year in Waterbury: The season at Seven Angels Theatre has been finalized. It opens with A Room of My Own, a semi-autobiographical comedy about a writer in a wacky family; it runs Thursday, Sept. 22 to Sunday, Oct. 16. Next is the return of Jon Peterson with a one man show about Anthony Newley: He Wrote Good Songs from Nov. 3 to 27. From Feb. 9 to March 3 is George and Gracie: The Early Years about the early life of George Burns and Gracie Allen. R. Bruce Connelly and Semina De Laurentis star. Jesus Christ Superstar, the Andrew Lloyd Webber/Tim Rice musical runs from March 23 to April 23. The season concludes with Trav’lin –The 1930s Harlem Musical which recalls the period and features the music and lyrics of Harlem Renaissance composer J. C. Johnson. It runs May 11 to June 11. Tickets are available at 203-757-4676.

King Arthur:  Robert Sean Leonard will be King Arthur in Westport Country Playhouse’s production of Camelot which runs Tuesday, Oct. 4 to Sunday, Oct. 30. It is billed as a “reimagined” production directed by Mark Lamos. While Leonard may be known for his work in the TV series House, he has numerous Broadway credits and received a Tony Award and another Tony nomination. For tickets – which are going fast – visit Westport or call 888-927-7529.

Chasing Rainbows:  Goodspeed’s new musical, Chasing Rainbows: The Road to Oz which is how Judy Garland became a young star, is in rehearsals preparing for its opening Friday, Sept. 16. Of course, the show features many of the songs she made famous and also includes the making of The Wizard of Oz film which was supposed to star Shirley Temple. Goodspeed has a number of special evenings scheduled including a Saturday wine tasting (Sept. 17), teen nights, meet the cast, and others. For information and tickets visit Goodspeed or call 860-873-8668.

 Classic to Contemporary:  Westport Country Playhouse has announced its 2017 season, its 87th.  It opens (May 30 to June 17) with the British comedy Lettice and Lovage which was a 1990 Tony nominee. Following is the 2014-15 Obie (off—Broadway) Award winner for Best New American Play, Appropriate which runs July 11 to 29.  Grounded, a solo production that won the 2016 Lucille Lortel Award in that category and an award at the Edinburg Fringe Festival runs Aug. 15 to Sept. 2. Sex with Strangers, which runs Sept. 26 to Oct. 14 is about a modern relationship in the digital age. The season concludes with Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet (Oct. 31 to Nov. 19), directed by Mark Lamos, who is well known for his fine Shakespeare production. I still remember his production at Hartford Stage starring a young Calista Flockhart. For information and tickets contact Westport or call 888-927-7529.

Curtain Up: MTC (Music Theatre of Connecticut) in Norwalk opens its season with Gypsy from Friday, Sept. 9 to Sunday, Sept. 25. The iconic show features a cast of solid Broadway professionals. For tickets visit MTC or call 203-454-3883.

Investors Hard to Find: Even Barbra Streisand has problems finding investors. The most recent rumor is that the planned film version of Gypsy that has been talked about for years, is now in doubt again due to the withdrawal of an investor and distributor.

Controversy: Bay Street Theater on Long Island, had planned a concert reading of the new Stephen Schwartz and Phillip LaZenik musical Prince of Egypt, which is based on a film about an Egyptian prince who learns his true identity. Schwartz’ song for the film,“When You Believe” won an Oscar. That was the plan and the concert was cast with some high powered Broadway veterans. But the concert was cancelled after complaints that the cast was not diverse. Apparently there were not just complaints but comments on social media and online which the director termed “harassment” and “bullying.”  This is not the first time recently that a controversy has erupted over casting.

New York Notes:  The Berkshire Theatre Group is transferring its well-received production of Fiorello! to Off-Broadway this fall. It begins previews Sun., Sept. 4 at the East 13th Street Theater. For tickets visit Fiorello or call 800-833-3006. The Pearl Theatre is reviving A Taste of Honey, last seen 35 years ago. Austin Pendleton directs. It runs Tues., Sept 6 to Sun., Oct. 16q. For tickets visit pearltheatre.org or call 212-563-9261. Another off-Broadway Theater – Primary Stages is opening its season with Horton Foote’s The Roads to Home directed by Michael Wilson, former artistic director of Hartford Stage. The production stars Harriet Harris, Devon Abner and Haille Foot. It begins performances Tues., Sept. 13. For tickets visit Primary Stages or call 212-352-3101

New York Notes: Tickets are now on sale for Heisenberg which stars Mary Louis Parker at the Samuel J. Friedman Theater. It begins previews on Tuesday, Sept. 20. Tickets are available through Telecharge.  Jenn Gambatese who starred at Goodspeed in Annie Get Your Gun and has numerous Broadway credits is replacing Sierra Boggess in School of Rock on Broadway. Tickets are also on sale for the revival of Falsettos starring Christian Borle, Andrew Rannells and Stephanie J. Block. The William Finn/James Lapine musical begins previews Thursday, Sept. 29 for a limited run. Ticketmaster is handling tickets.

CRT Season:  The Connecticut Repertory Theater which performs on the UConn campus in Storrs is the last of the Connecticut theaters to announce its 2016-17 schedule. It begins with an ambitious play: Shakespeare’s King Lear from Thurs., Oct. 6 to Sun., Oct. 16. This coincides with the exhibition of a rare Shakespeare first folio to the campus (Thur., Sept 1 to Sun., Sept. 25) via the Folger Shakespeare Library’s tour.  Changing gears, the second show if a translation of the Feydeau farce Le Dindon, called An Absolute Turkey, from Dec. 1 to 10. In 2017, Clifford Odets’ Waiting for Lefty will play Feb. 23 to March 5 followed by Shrek: The Musical from April 20 to 30. Please call 860-486-2113 for information and subscriptions. Tickets for individual performances go on sale Sept. 1. Information is available at CRT.

Broadway People: He’s hot! Lin-Manuel Miranda has left his show Hamilton but he won’t be resting anytime soon. He’s working on the film version of his first hit, In the Heights, which is now a “go” because of the Hamilton success. He’s also signed to co-star in the 2018 Disney film that will be a sequel, Mary Poppins Returns. Emily Blunt will play Poppins. It’s a new story (set in London in the 1930s) and a new score. Angela Lansbury is not retiring; she’s returning to Broadway in 2017-18 in a revival of The Chalk Garden. She’ll be over 90 when it opens. Joe Mantello has been directing more than acting recently; he had two well received shows on Broadway last season. But he’s pulling out his acting talents to co-star with Sally Fields in a revival of The Glass Menagerie that begins previews next February. Sam Gold will direct.

On the Road to Broadway: Lots of shows have Broadway aspirations, but few make it and even fewer succeed. Among the shows that are supposedly enroute is Josephine, about the legendary American performer Josephine Baker who was a major star in Paris. It just played in Florida and producers say the next stop in Broadway.  Grammy nominee Deborah Cox starred. The musical version of From Here to Eternity with lyrics by Tim Rice has played London, but made its US debut at the Finger Lakes Musical Theater Festival this summer. Who knows if it makes it to Broadway; if you’re interested, there is a London cast album. Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty will have Anastasia on Broadway next spring and their other new musical, The Little Dancer is also continuing development. After a production at the Kennedy Center in 2014, extensive revisions were done on the book. It’s inspired by a sculpture by Edgar Degas.

From East Haddam to Broadway:  A musical that began life at the Goodspeed Festival of New Musicals in 2013 will make it to Broadway. Come From Away tells the inspiring story of the residents in the Gander, Newfoundland area who hosted thousands of stranded air travelers when their flights were diverted to Gander on Sept. 11, 2001. From Goodspeed’s Festival, the show has more recently had successful runs at the La Jolla Playhouse, the Seattle Repertory Theater and will soon open at Ford’s Theater in Washington, DC before going on to Toronto and then Broadway. It’s scheduled to open in February.


Lou Diamond Phillips’ New Play Needs Editing

burning desire 2

Tara Franklin, Lou Diamond Phillips and Ryan Wesley Gilreath. Photo by Seven Angels Theater.

By Karen Isaacs

First plays are often loaded with ideas – everything the playwright is wanting to say about a subject or a variety of subjects.  They often need draconian editing.

Such is the case with the world premier play Burning Desire by actor Lou Diamond Phillips now at Seven Angles Theater in Waterbury through March 13.

Some delightful kernels of truth and amusement exist in the work, but they are surrounded by way too much excess.

Take for example the opening.  Phillips – who is attractive, charming and can act – comes out on stage and proceeds to deliver a long – it seemed like 10 minute – monologue which is part theological and part comedy.  He is not only attempting to set the stage but give us his character’s view of the world.

burning desire 3

Lou Diamond Phillips

Who is his character?  The Devil, Satan, Lucifer or whatever more slang term you want to use.  He has a plan.  He wants the soul of a woman and plans to get it by offering her true love.

So we move into a modern romantic comedy:  Evan, an attractive woman apparently in her late 20s or 30s and Andrew an aspiring writer of the same age.  Satan arranges their meeting at a grocery store produce counter and then coaches them through the initial encounter.  Andrew is awkward and tongue-tied and makes an inappropriate joke. Both are immediately smitten but like so many such encounters it could become a lost opportunity without some luck.  Satan provides the “luck.”

The romance progresses.  A dinner in an expensive restaurant, Evan selected it and Andrew is appalled at the prices which will have him eating saltines and peanut butter for the rest of month, is followed by a steamy encounter in Evan’s apartment.

Act two opens a month later; Andrew is practically living there, but so far has not said “I Love You”.  Evan suggests he move in but he doesn’t immediately jump at the offer.

Having helped the two fall in love, Satan is not intent on causing problems in the relationship.  He nudges Evan to focus on and to feel upset by Andrew’s hesitancy to move in and to say “I Love You.’  Soon Evan is discussing the relationship with her mother (Phillips) and Andrew is talking to his friend (also Phillips) in the park.  The friend is concerned that Andrew is being “bossed around” by Evan. From there it is downhill.  Andrew receives a steamy message from an old girlfriend and is tempted.  When he leaves to see Evan, Satan makes the scene look incriminating as Evan shows up to “surprise“ Andrew.  You can guess what happens.

The ending takes place in Limbo, where Satan offers to help them get back together and lead a happy and long life. But the offer comes with a price.  Evan must say that she’d “give her soul” for it.  I won’t reveal the absolute finality; there should be some suspense as to whether Satan wins.

Let’s look at the acting.  The three principals, Phillips, Tara Franklin as Evan and Ryan Wesley Gilreath as Andrew are all fine.  As I said, Phillips has both charm and skill.  He plays the multiple characters – Evan’s mother, Andrew’s friend and the restaurant waiter –with skill, giving each unique gestures, voices and personalities. He also interacts with the audience deftly.  Franklin and Gilreath are both attractive performers who imbue their characters with legitimate doubts and emotions.

Also in the cast are two women (Sophie Lee Morris and Jackie Aiken) who play Satan’s “minions” but also dance. I’m not sure why the dancing is added to their occasional appearances while often they bring on or off scenery.

If Burning Desire were cut to 90 minutes and some of the long monologues were omitted, this could be a charming romantic comedy with a twist.

It is at The Seven Angels Theater, 1 Plank Rd, Waterbury through Sunday,, March 13. For tickets contact 203-757-4676 or visit sevenangelstheatre.org.

burning desire 1

Photo courtesy of Seven Angels Theater

Notes on Current and Up-Coming Theater


 World Premiere in Waterbury: Seven Angels Theater is presenting a world premiere of Burning Desire, to Sunday, March 13.  The play was both written by and will star Lou Diamond Phillips.  Phillips received a Tony nomination for his performance as The King in The King & I revival in 1996 as well as performing in movies and TV.  The story is about The Devil (Phillips) and modern day Adam and Eve.  It is described as “a comedic look at what it means to be in love, when it seems all odds are against you.” For tickets call 203-757-4676 or visit sevenangelstheatre.org.

Another Ghost for Hamlet:  What does it means to play Hamlet? For a comedic look at that, go see West Hartford’s Playhouse in the Park production of I Hate Hamlet. The show tells the story of an actor who comes to NYC to play Hamlet, a role made famous on Broadway by the legendary John Barrymore. When he moves into a townhouse once inhabited by Barrymore, he is visited by Barrymore’s ghost.  In a variety of comic turns, the two duel over success, women and even the apartment.  It runs to Sunday, March 13. For tickets visit playhouseonpark.org or call 860-523-5900 x10.

 Austen on Stage: Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility is being given a stage adaptation at the Connecticut Repertory Theater on the UConn campus in Storrs. The show will run through Sunday, March 6. Joseph Hanratty and J.R. Sullivan adapted the novel; they also adapted the CRT production of Austin’s Pride and Prejudice. For ticket visit crt.uconn.edu or call 860-486-2113.

Tony Winner in Norwalk:  MTC in Norwalk will present the Tony winning comedy Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike to Sunday, March 13.  The Christopher Durang play uses parts of several Chekov plays but moves it action to Bucks County, Penn. and transforms the characters to an aging modern day movie star, her brother and sister, and her sexy “boy-toy.”  For tickets visit musictheatreofct.com or call 203-454-3883.

New York Notes: Next season will see Bette Midler starring in a revival of Hello,Dolly!  Kate Blanchett will make her Broadway debut next season in The Present, an adaptation of Chekov’s Platenov. Jeff Daniels and Michelle Williams are currently in previews for the Broadway debut of Blackbird. The play has played off-Broadway with Daniels in the role of the older man who is confronted by the woman with whom he had a relationship 15 years ago when she young. It is a powerful play. Tickets are available through Telecharge.  It opens officially on Thursday, March 10 and runs through June 12. This summer will see a revival of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Cats. It is scheduled to begin previews on July 14.

They Will Be Missed:  January saddened the theater world as several notable performers died.  While not as famous as some of the others, David Margulies was well known to Connecticut theater-goers, performing in Connecticut extensively.   I recall two wonderful performances at Long Wharf:  in The Underpants by Steve Martin several years ago and as the antique dealer in Arthur Miller’s The Price. But theater lovers throughout the world will miss Brian Bedford who was known for his work in Moliere, Oscar Wilde and Shakespeare.  Of course, David Bowie’s passing must also be mourned.  He performed on Broadway in The Elephant Man and his new musical Lazarus had played off-Broadway recently. It was inspired by The Man Who Fell to Earth. Bowie wrote the score which some say had hints of his illness and death.  The show may be headed to Broadway.

 Theatrical Joint Venture: Long Wharf and Hartford Stage are once again working together on a production that will play at both theaters.  Having Our Say: The Delany Sisters’ First 100 Years will play at Long Wharf to Sunday, March 13 before moving up state to Hartford, where it will play Thursday, March 31 to Sunday, April 24. The play is based on the best-selling book about the two sisters lived extraordinary lives. In the play they reminisce about their father, a former slave; growing up in the Jim Crow south;  Harlem during its renaissance; and their professional careers as a teacher and a dentist.  It’s described as “a personal tale of the fight against injustices big and small, and how they never lost sight of doing the right thing no matter how difficult.”  Olivia Cole and Brenda Pressley star, directed by Emily Mann who directed the original Broadway production in 1995.  For tickets, contact longwharf.org or call 203-787-4282 or hartfordstage.org or call 860-527-5151.

Arts and Ideas: Though the International Festival of Arts and Ideas isn’t until June, it’s been announced that New Haven will present the US premier of the musical stage play Our Ladies of Perpetual Succour prior to its presentation at London’s National Theater.  The play, which was first presented by the National Theater of Scotland and Live Theater at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, is a stage adaptation of the 1998 cult novel The Sopranos. The entire Arts and Ideas lineup will be announced in March.

 Prior to the Festival:  The Arts and Ideas Festival also announced the National Theater of Scotland’s production of The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart will return to New Haven – it was a hit of the 2012 Festival of performances — March 30 to April 3 at the Graduate and Professional Student Center at Yale. For information visit www.artidea.org.

Musical Will End Long Wharf Season:  Last summer My Paris, the musical about Toulouse-Lautrec had a successful run at the Norma Terris Theater in Chester.  Now Long Wharf has announced that it will close its season with the musical, running from May 4 to May 29. It replaces the Irish drama, The Shining City. Kathleen Marshall, the Tony winning director/choreographer, will again direct.  The musical has music by French legend Charles Aznavour with English lyrics by Jason Robert Brown and a book by Alfred Uhry. For tickets, contact longwharf.org or call 203-787-4282.

Next Year at Goodspeed, What’s New in NYC, Coming to 7 Angels and More News

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.

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